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“Things To Come”

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. -Jeremiah 29:11-NRSV

These days we hear a lot about living in the present—“go with the flow,” “seize the day,” “enjoy the moment,” “have it now.” And while, in the right context, these ideas have merit, they also can muddy our efforts to live full lives.

It is not without significance that when God reveals his plan for our life, an inescapable characteristic is that much of it is about the future. It is promise. So, much of the experience is anticipation. Anticipation is a powerful thing. Looking ahead to some desired event, a trip, a family get together can bring as much or more pleasure than the actual event. Negative anticipation can create dread, fear that is worse than what we actually encounter.

God has done a lot to help us have a holy anticipation. And if we don’t pay attention, we can really get in trouble with false assumptions and expectations about what God is doing in our lives and the world.

Joel Barker in his book, Future Edge tells about a man driving on a curvey, dangerous mountain road. As he comes around a curve, he sees this red convertible, careening back and forth across the road. The driver is a pretty, young, blond woman.
He slams on the brakes, and heads for the shoulder to avoid her. At the last minute she swerves and narrowly misses him. As she passes, the woman driver screams at him, PIG!
His face red with anger, he yells back at her, WENCH!” Muttering to himself he steps on the accelerator hits the curve at full speed and crashes into the biggest pig he has ever seen standing in the middle of the road. (as told by Maxi Dunnam)

Anticipation lets us risk as we break out of such assumptions to see a new vision of the world and the future. It will enable us to see beyond ourselves and beyond the obstacles.

God’s word to us warns us that things are not always what they seem to be. Looking around us doesn’t give us a whole lot of evidence for what we are told the final outcome will be.

In Birmingham, England, there is a store called Louis’. It’s a great chain store in one of the main streets, and it wanted to expand. But a little chapel of Quakers, a Friends Meeting House stood in the way. The store sent a letter to the leaders of this Friends Meeting house:

“Dear Sirs,
We wish to extend our premises. We see that your building is right in the way. We wish therefore to buy your building and demolish it so that we might expand our store. We will pay you any price you care to name. If you will name a price we will settle the matter as quickly as possible.
Yours, Sincerely.

They got this letter back:

Dear Sirs:
We in the Friends Meeting House note the desire of Louis’ to extend. We observe that our building is right in your way. We would point out, however, that we have been on our site longer than you’ve been on yours, and we are so determined to stay where we are that we will happily buy Louis’. If therefore you would like to name a suitable price we will settle the matter as quickly as possible. –by Donald English

Can you imagine how the person from Lewis who read that letter must have been laughing? A little Quaker Meeting House will buy Lewis’! All of that would change when they saw, “Signed, Cadbury.”

Yep. Cadbury, as in England’s Cadbury chocolate candy. They are Quakers. Who signs the letter makes all the difference.

The promise of heaven, eternal life is signed by God.

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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.

 

What Are You So Happy About?

“Rejoice because your names are written in Heaven.” -Luke 10:20

There are some great benefits to being a Christian.

  • There is purpose and meaning for life,
  • peace with God and with ourselves.
  • There is opportunity to see the remarkable power of God to affect individual lives, to bring healing, both spiritual and physical.
  • The power to change society–
    • greed, hatred, corruption, indifference,  self-centeredness all have been overcome when the gospel has been heeded.
  • Hospitals and churches have been built.
  • the poor and the sick have been helped.
  • And there is opportunity to be part of the family of God.

But Jesus had a way of getting to the real issue, and he reminded his disciples of a very important fact.  Though the benefits of responding to God’s good news are many and varied, there is one central cause for the Christian’s joy—your names are written in heaven.  The ultimate reward is heaven, with all that involves.  The real benefit of knowing Jesus as Savior and Lord is life, eternal life, i.e. heaven.
How important those words, how important that is for us to remember in a world like this, when life isn’t going well for us.  It was Malcom Muggeridge who said, “The only ultimate disaster that can befall us,”…is to feel ourselves at home here on earth.”1  This is especially true when we are faced with our mortality, our death.  Death for the believer is simply arrival at the final destination.
The Gospel, the good news gives us that hope.  It is a simple (yet profound) story which we often make very complicated.  The Bible teaches that each person has a fatal affliction called sin.  The basic element in this affliction is failure to believe, to trust God, “un”faith.
However God, has provided the remedy—“God loved the world so much that he gave his only son [Jesus] so that whoever believes in him will not die but have life.”
In short, the gospel, the good news is that though each of us has been infected with sin, if we acknowledge it, confess it, place our trust in Jesus by surrendering our life to him, he will give us eternal life—ultimately heaven.
Every other benefit pales in comparison.

1quoted in Christianity Today, 12/8/72, p.54

His Eye Is On the Sparrow

In the two weeks since the earthquake in Haiti we have heard so many words–sorrow, anger, courage, hero, fear, weary, shock, miracle, unbelievable.  We have heard explanations, promises, assurances, warnings.  Some of them have been wise, some foolish, some sinful and evil.  In these words there have the words from God, but also from fallible humans, and some straight out of the mouth of Satan himself.  Sometimes it is hard to know which are which.

The Bible helps us put things in perspective.

First, we are reminded that we cannot rid the world of suffering.  Someone has said, “This is a world where robins die, and sparrows, and people: the ones we love, the ones Jesus loves.”  The Peanuts characters put it this way:

Charlie Brown: “I have a new philosophy…’Life is like a golf course.’
Snoopy: “And ‘a sand trap runs through it.'”

The Biblical view says that God’s original creation has been damaged.  It is defaced, messed up. And earthquakes happen.  We can endlessly debate the philosophical and theological issues here, but the reality is clear.  This is a world where people, innocent people, get hurt.

However, in the midst of this, God is paying attention.  God listens, God sees, but most importantly God cares.  In the Old Testament God promises Soloman and the people just that–My eyes and my heart will always be here. (II Chron 7:16b-NLT)  Jesus says that even the fate of sparrows is not lost on God (Matt. 10:29).  And in the defining text of the Bible He says, For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only son. (John 3:16)

God is not just an observer, but, in fact, is in the midst of all this—in the Salvation Army relief worker, World Vision, UMCOR and scores of other Christian groups and individuals.  But, also in secular groups—the Red Cross, Chinese disaster teams, American military units—any one there with the will to help is doing God’s work whether they know it or not.

Finally, hope is intrinsic to the Christian message.  Along with faith and love, hope makes up the triangle of the Christian’s attitude.  A pastor dying of cancer took a leave from his church.  He was able to return and in a sermon he said, “We want to worship God in this church, and for our worship to be real, it doesn’t have to be fun, and it doesn’t have to be guilt-ridden.  But it does have to be honest, and it does have to hope in God.”

Hope is the future tense of faith.  Though we cannot deny what God has done and is doing, we must keep our perspective.  In our lives and those around us, much of  the Gospel is promise of what is yet to be.  But God is here, God is at work and is preparing a better place for us.  It is called heaven and without it, disasters/tragedies cannot be reconciled with a loving God.

Sisters, brothers keep the faith.

The Goal of Your Faith

For you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (I Peter 1:9)

            What is the purpose, goal of faith?  To make us feel good?  To help us adjust to life?  To better handle adversity, hardship, even defeat?  I expect we could spend a great deal of time simply listing all those things we have heard given as reasons to believe.  
            Many of them seem to reflect the same logic as a statement contained in an article published in a Lewistown, Maine newspaper: “The fire department quickly brought the fire under control, but not before the building had burned to the ground.”   Now maybe I’m wrong but I thought the goal of the fire department was to put out the fire, to prevent the building from burning to the ground, i.e. to save it.
            Peter says the goal of your faith is salvation—not success, a comfortable life, wealth or a myriad of other things we often look for.  This is one of the great words of the gospel.  In one sense, in fact, salvation is the word of the good news, the subject matter, what it is all about.  Consequently it is a comprehensive word. It has the idea of deliverance, rescue from danger, disease, death, fear—all those physical and emotional ills of life.  But, most of all, it was to deliver, set free from sin.  Jesus was to be the one who “would save his people from their sins.”
            Isn’t it amazing how this idea is avoided?  Forgiveness—YES!  But deliverance from—well, that’s a different matter.  The story is told about a man who came to prayer meeting and kept telling about things which keep coming between him and God.  Cobwebs, he called them.  Finally, someone prayed, “Oh God, kill the spider.”
            The goal of your faith—salvation from your sins, all that would destroy you, to eternal life in Christ.  Praise God!