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He Promised

Matthew 28:6b- he has risen, just as he said.

A one time popular Christian TV personality once told a TV audience: “The Christian life is just so great that I think I would become a Christian even if it wasn’t true!”1 Tim Keller says, “As a young Christian, I had come up through mainline churches, I was a religion major at a secular university. The common message he got about the stories of the resurrection was that they “were literalistic, symbolic representations of these higher spiritual truths.”

And then I read what the Apostle Paul wrote: “If Christ is not risen…your faith is useless.” The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is greatest event in human history. It is in fact the hinge; it is the pillar on which our faith stands. Continue reading

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Hang in there.

Stand firm, and you will win life.-Luke 21:19

One day Jesus is talking with some people who are admiring the beauty and permanence of the temple. Jesus shocks them by declaring that even the temple won’t last. Then he uses this opening to warn about threats to life: fear, being led astray, self-indulgence. He urges his followers to “stand firm,” “Hold on” (Phillips). The Bible is clear. Endurance is crucial to reaching God’s destination for us. The text in The Message puts it this way “Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.”

Hope Reborn

we had hoped”-Luke 24:21a

What a sad text. To loose hope is the bottom of the human spirit. Two followers of Jesus, distraught over his death and confused by reports, had lost hope.  And they represent most of Jesus’ followers at that point. They were not gullible, ignorant people as critics suggest but hard-headed realists who needed to be convinced.  Even as the risen Jesus walked with them, they did not recognize who he was. Then, gathered with flawed but like-minded followers, Jesus convinced them.

Discouraged, struggling, hurting, at wits end? Join other lovers of Jesus and look for him to show up.

 

Power AND Love

More than once I have heard God say that power belongs to him and that his love is constant. –Psalm 62:11,12 b (GN trans)

Recently a young woman came to our church saying she was overwhelmed with life.  She thought it hopeless and didn’t see how she could go on.

Do you sometimes feel a little overwhelmed with life?  Does it sometimes seem like no matter how hard you try, no matter how many times you overcome particular obstacles, life just keeps relentlessly eroding your strength, your resolve, your confidence?  Does it seem to you, that life just becomes more and more complicated and harder to keep together?

Flip Wilson once expressed it this way.  “If I had my entire life to live over, I doubt if I’d have the strength.”  Dilbert, the comic strip character had this advice: “When you don’t know what to do, walk fast and look worried.  Eat one live toad the first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Jesus warned his disciples these times would come.  He paints a rather gloomy picture of the course of history.  We are specifically told that it is not about progress—things aren’t getting better and better.  To the contrary, civilization will become more and more dangerous, more and more ungodly, more and more inhuman.  Only God’s personal intervention will bring this to an end.

He warned of the threat it poses to our spirit.  He described it in terms of its effect on the heart.  Hearts will fail for fear.  There is the danger of our hearts becoming “weighed down” so much that we would be unable to keep our spiritual perspective and could even be caught unprepared for God’s glorious intervention.

At her request, I prayed with the young woman mentioned earlier.  I also shared with her these words from Psalm 62: One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you O God, are strong, and that you O Lord, are loving.  It is critical that we hold those two things together.  But it is not easy.  We tend to either emphasize God’s love or God’s power.  Put those two things together and nothing is hopeless.  God cares about you and will use his power for your good.

Yes, we live in perilous times for the human spirit.  Yet we live in times of unprecedented opportunities and are closer to God’s final victory than any people have ever been.

“God’s Children Bear A Family Resemblence”

I John 3:2 we are God’s children now; …we will be like him.

All important events in the life cycle are connected to certain rituals which most of us know and in which we readily share.  For instance—when a baby is born:

“Who does she/he look like?”
“He has his Dad’s nose.”
“Her face is shaped just like her mother’s.”

            Now, often that is not a fact so much as expectation.  We look for and expect a child to resemble its parents and family members.  As a child grows it usually exhibits more and more traits of family.  It may not be so noticeable to those who see it every day but is often obvious to others.

So when John says we are God’s children, it raises some expectations.  If you were reading this in the Greek text, it would say “NOW we are God’s children.”  The emphasis is on the “now.”  In context, it is clear that those who are trusting Jesus belong to God’s family.

To say we are God’s children has powerful implications.  Not the least of which is that it establishes our identity.  To know who you are, to have a sense of identity, may well be one of the most important factors in your mental and emotional health.  If you do not have a sense of identity, if you do not know who you are, chances are, you have some real problems in your life.  This is especially important in our day, because we live in a world where there is a tendency to treat a person as an object, to manipulate a person, to see a person as disposable, to see one as useful only as he/she serves me and my ends.

To have a sense of belonging, to have a sense of identity is also vital to our spiritual health.  Often when someone introduces me, they tell my name but add something to that.  He’s our neighbor, a pastor at Messiah Church, Alana’s husband.  And the less they know me personally, the more likely they are to do that, to identify me by my function, my job.

Probably you have been identified, not by who you are so much, as by some relationship—Joe Blow’s wife or Susie Blow’s husband, or by some job you perform.

But when we say we are God’s children, it establishes our identity, not by our function or even just our relationship but OUR NATURE.  The CHRISTIAN LIFE IS NOT SIMPLY TAKING ORDERS FROM GOD OR EVEN FOLLOWING JESUS’ EXAMPLE.  THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS LIVING OUT A NEW NATURE, being part of a new kind of people.  Obviously as to “behaving like God’s children” most of us have a ways to go.  The child is not yet what he/she may become.  But the genes are there and with normal growth and development maturity will come.

And we have that amazing promise: “We shall be like Him!”  “Not yet but shall be” is essential to being human.  There is always the tension between what I am (performance) and what I shall be.  As Gordon Allport has said, “All people are in transit.”

Are you anxious to be like Jesus?  Keep trusting him and following and it will happen.

Living In the Present—For the Future

“Wait.” “Now is the time…now is the day.” -Acts 1:4, I Corinthians 6:2

Do you remember the Fram oil filter commercial.  A mechanic tells about a major repair job on a car, and suggests that if the owner had spent a little more on a Fram filter it could have been avoided.  And then, he holds up a filter and utters the ultimate advertising wisdom, “Pay me now or pay me later.”

It is a classic human dilemma—tension between having it now or later, living for the present or the future.  For almost all of our early lives, there is someone telling us to wait for something:

            wait until you’re old enough to go to school
            wait until you’re in High School
            wait until you’re married
            wait until you’re through with your education
            wait until you have a good job
            wait until you have some security to get married

There are right and wrong times to wait.  Some years ago this story appeared in Reader’s Digest:

 An Air Force TAIL-GUNNER was being court-martialed.  “What did you hear in your headset?” demanded a superior officer.  “Well,” replied the airman, “I heard my squadron leader holler, ‘Enemy planes at five o’clock!'”  “What action did you take?”  persisted another officer.  “Why, sir,” replied the gunner, “I just sat back and waited.  It was only 4:30.”

There are some people who live their whole lives in the waiting mode.  They never seem to “experience life.”  Totally goal oriented, so much so that when they get there, satisfaction, fulfillment seems to allude them.

On the other hand, there are competing voices saying do it now.  Our desires often want it now, want immediate gratification.  Our environment, advertising says, “Have it now, buy now, pay later.”  “Grab all the gusto you can.”

When life is lived on this basis—pursuit of immediate gratification, we are robbed of the most important things in life, like character, meaning, joy.  These things only come with time.

Some might suggest that this is a non-issue from a Christian perspective.  All Christian living is future oriented, is lived for future results/rewards.  And in one sense that is true but it is short of the whole truth.  You will find both “wait” and “now” in the Bible: 

The problem is that we are inclined to want to put off what we ought to do now and to want now what can only come in time.  How can we live making the most of the present but also building for the future?

Know that life as God intends it is both an experience to be appreciated/ enjoyed/ lived now and a goal, destination to be anticipated.  The living now and the future are part of the same parcel.  The secret is trusting God and living with sensitivity to God’s timing.

 

This Is True Grace

After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace,…will himself RESTORE (PERFECT) you.  I Peter 5:10

One evening, G.K. Chesterton and some writers were discussing what single book they would choose if they were stranded on a desert island.  One writer quickly said, “The complete works of Shakespeare.”  Another responded, “I’d choose the Bible.”  When Chesterton was asked, he replied,  “I would choose Thomas’s Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.”

Now what Thomas’s Guide to Practical Shipbuilding would be to a person stranded on a desert island, the Bible is to those whom Peter says are “strangers in the world.”

All through this letter of 105 verses Peter has talked of what it means for them to live as followers of Jesus:

Joy in midst of sadness,
holy,
submissive,
loving life,
and stewards of the grace of God.

He sums it up in a final and wonderful encouragement to stand firm, because God will “exalt you” (v 6).

Then he adds one more basic necessity for spiritual victory, to come out of a world like this intact: v10- “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace,…will himself RESTORE (PERFECT) you.

It is not easy to live as strangers in the world.  There are pressures—our internal weaknesses, circumstances, others, even persecution.  Most of all Peter reminds us of the enemy of souls, who like a roaring lion prowls looking for victims.  Living in a world where we are strangers and which is often hostile can take its toll—deterioration, wearing and tearing.

Who of us have not retreated from engagement with life, the worse for wear—wounded, damaged, broken.  What congregation has not known conflict, division, in the struggle to be God’s people.

But Peter reminds us, restoration is God’s special work.  God is not a throw-away God.  He puts things back together, restores, perfects.   Frazzled, at loose ends, in pieces?  God will repair to perfection.

What is special here is the emphasis—it is God’s personal work.  God does not leave this to instrumental means, but it is His own “personal active ministry to His people.”  And it is true grace.  Peter was exhibit A.  This could not have been lost on those to whom he wrote.  They were too near to it.

When the struggle, the battle has taken its toll, God’s word to us is not just “try again”, “try harder” but grace, “true grace” which is all we need.

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)