New Year, Old Problems

Yes the world is spiraling towards the abyss. Yes the world seems to think that right is wrong and wrong is right. Yes there seems to be an amorality pervading the world. Yes it looks hopeless. But I’m here to tell you, in spite of the downward trajectory of our culture, there are better times ahead. These are not the good ol’ days.

Happy New Year! 

So it is 2015 already. I remember all the hubbub about Y2K and the associated paranoia about computers going bonkers that day. I was working for a defense contractor at that time and we had to take steps to ensure that a our systems were Y2K compliant. What a nightmare that was! Do you remember that time? Do you remember that next-to-nothing bad happened? And now we are 15 years beyond Y2K. You know what? We still have the same problems we had before Y2K – only worse.

Our society is breaking down. We have some folks chopping heads off. We have riots in the streets of the US because someone gets shot. We have police officers who are getting executed in their cars because they are police officers.

Drugs. Disease. Murder. Mayhem. And it is only getting worse. Is this as good as it is going to get? Are these the good ol days?

As Christians we must answer those questions with a resounding NO!

Yes the world is spiraling towards the abyss. Yes there are times it looks hopeless. But I’m here to tell you, in spite of the downward trajectory of our culture, there are better times ahead. These are not the good ol’ days.

Evil seemingly grows stronger

So is this statement a contradiction; “Evil will increase in the world but the future is bright”? Nope, not in the sightest. In fact I think it is the most biblically based statement I could make about the future. You see the Bible is full of statements regarding the ever-worsening state of this world. At one point in history Satan (through his anti-Christ) reigns on earth for seven actual years. That can’t be good.

For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. Matthew 24:21 ESV

Take a look at this verse for a moment. In Matthew 24:21, Scripture states that there is coming a time of great tribuation. This time of tribulation will be unique in its intensity. When this time occurs there will be nothing like it in history. That sounds pretty bad. But we shouldn’t stop there.

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. Revelation 13:1-8 ESV

Ugh! Here in Revelation we are introduced to the beast. This beast is empowered by the dragon, normally understood as Satan himself. He’ll seem to suffer what should be a fatal wound to his head yet survive. He will be worshipped and he will gladly receive that worship. This beast will blaspheme and be a prideful person. He will reign for forty-two months (3.5 years).

These two passages highlight the problems waiting in the future. They seem insurmountable, don’t they. For some these future problems create fear and paranoia. They stock up on food and water, They pack their basement full for the coming problems. They fear the future. Because of this fear they become unreasonable in their present life. Their problem isn’t with seeing the tribulation as bad. Their problem is seeing God as less than sovereign.

But is there any hope for us? Is there anything positive about the future? There will be problems like never before. Satan empowers his beast to rule the earth for 3.5 years. There will be blasphemy, pride, worship of Satan…geez, where is the good?

Our future is bright

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.   Revelation 19:11-21 ESV

The problems come. Evil seems to be winning. Until the return. Jesus Christ comes back riding on a white horse. He comes with the armies of heaven and destroys the nations that have gathered for battle. And it isn’t even close. In chapter 20 there is 1000 years of Christ reigning on earth. Boy that sounds great doesn’t it. Christ stomps His adversary and then reigns on earth for 1000 years. In those 1000 years there is unparalleled peace and prosperity on the earth. Noting could top this, right? Well, like Paul Harvey used to say, here’s the rest of the story.

After Jesus reigns on earth there will be a rebellion. Yeah, you read that right, a rebellion. But never fear, like before, this battle is a battle in name only. Jesus stomps His adversary again, and the final judgment occurs. After that judgment, those who belong to Christ – whether  save 3000 years ago or during the tribulation or thousand year reign of Christ – will enter into eternity with Him.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4 ESV

It will be a happy new year for sure. You see though our new years are plagued by old problems, this final new year will include a new heavens and new earth…and no old problems. The core issue – sin – has been dealt with and completely defeated. No more sin. No more death. No more drug abuse, disease, murder, or mayhem.

So for us who belong to Christ, no matter what happens in the next few years, we should be joyful. Regardless of who is President, who is murdering others, or who is wreaking havoc in the word, our future is bright. It is bright because Jesus has this. He is in control. He is sovereign. Since we know where we are going to spend eternity, does it really matter all that much what happens while we await our arrival there?

If you are worried about the times and trials, set your mind on the future. Set your mind on Christ and where He is. Remember that you belong to Him forever.

Lift your head, Christian. Your redemption is near.

Christmas on the Couch

Though the time was not a happy one, it was joyful.

 

Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays tucked in my least favorite season of winter, So it is always kind of an oasis for me in the midst of cold, blustery weather. But this year was just wow. It was THAT good.

For many an ideal Christmas would include snow, plenty of presents, family, food and friends. A Christmas would include a trip to grandmother’s house, a cracking fire, hot chocolate, special coffee. The smell of mincemeat pie wafting through the air while Nat King Cole plays over our speakers would make things perfect.

So was this the kind of Christmas I just experienced? Not quite. In fact, it wasn’t even close. But still, this year was the best Christmas ever.

My family got sick the Sunday before Christmas. It was a particularly ugly bug. There was throwing up, fevers, chills, stomach aches, sore throats…the whole shebang! This bug decided it liked us so much that it hung around through Christmas (and beyond). Just when we thought it was over, we would have someone throw up again. Couple this with a severe lack of sleep and the recipe was there for a horrible Christmas.

We were on couches with blankets and buckets around. We were physically miserable. But my was this a magnificent day. We looked like a quarantine area for a deadly virus but we had a wonderful day. How did THAT happen?

We re-discovered joy.

Make no mistake, we were not happy. Our circumstances stunk. We were sick and could not do the many things that we normally would do on Christmas. I think that was the point God was driving home to me and my family. Because we were not slowing down, God put the brakes on and stopped us. And it was wonderful.

So how do we rediscover joy when we are struggling? Here are some hints I hope are helpful.

 

Always remember your position in Christ is unshakeable

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NASB

In Paul’s closing of his dissertation on our deliverance from bondage and our victory in Christ, Paul minces no words, leaves no doubt that our eternal destiny is secure. When you are sick on the couch and the pressure of the now closes in and makes you wonder of God’s goodness, think about your security in Christ, Regardless of what you or I experience, knowing that when this life is done I have an eternity in the presence of God guaranteed makes me rediscover joy though I may not be happy.

 

Always remember the trial here now is not always going to be around

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 NASB

Here James centers us on some very important truths. First, trials are a part of the Christian life. Second, trials have a divine purpose. Third, that divine purpose is competed in us. Our sanctification is accomplished through these trials. Fourth, trials come in various shapes and sizes. Each trial is custom made to give us a missing part.

Trials come and go. How they affect us though, remains forever. For our Christmas on the couch, we learned through the trial of sickness that we did not need our traditions or preferences. We needed only to focus on Christ.

 

Always remember that others can help you bear the burdens that come up

 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 NASB

During our weeklong illness we had a number of co-laborers in Christ encourage us and offer to help us. We also had a few who braved our infectious house to drop by and say hello and drop off some yummy treats for when we were feeling better. We received encouragement from our Pastor as well. A final bit of advice about having your unexpected burden shared – be humble enough to joyfully accept the help. Don’t rob those who offer to help of a blessing. Though the time was not a happy one, it was joyful.

So how was your Christmas?

I hope you were well, experienced a wonderful Christmas, shared Christ with others and, most of all, had a joyful time. This is my prayer for you for the coming year – that you will grow closer to Christ, become more like Him and experience life-altering joy all year long.

My prayer is for you to have the best year ever.

Wet Feet, Deep Faith

While our life’s journeys take us to different places with varying degrees of difficulty, we need to always remember that God is always in control.

What is the fascination I have with water? I love listening to water running. I love to listen to water flow in a stream or river. I love waterfalls. I love the sound of water. I love the feel of water. I love being near water. And don’t get me started about the beach! The salt air, the waves beating against the beach, the salt air…ah, the beach! Flowing water has a calming effect on me.

But I’ve noticed something about water in all my time studying it. It can’t support my body. If I step into it, I sink. If I try to float on it, I sink. When I try to swim, you guessed it, I sink. I sink like a rock. I’m sure there is a mathematical equation that explains why I sink. I don’t really care about the scientific explanation; all I know is that I sink when I get in water. Oh, and by the way, I don’t have gills, I have lungs. I need gills to breathe under water…lungs don’t work well when filled with water. But I do like to get my feet wet. I do like to play in water. I just don’t like to sink.

Life can sometimes seem like the place we are and the place we need to be are separated by a wide gulf of deep water. Other times it seems like we are a little boat getting tossed around on an angry sea. Sometimes I wonder if I’m gonna sink…you see I can’t swim well and if I enter deep water, there is about a 100% chance I’ll sink. It seems though that God often calls me to get into water. Deep water. Have you ever felt this way?

How do we act when God calls us to believe Him to provide a way for us when there seems to be no way? Do we act on His call or look at our circumstances? Sometimes, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve focused on the raging waters around me instead of God’s voice calling me to the opposite shore. For all my bluster, I can be such a coward sometimes. But God works with this coward and glorifies Himself in and through my weakness.

Do you remember when God called Israel out of Egypt? He led them through the desert. He fed them, He protected them, He went before them and was an ever present God.As they were fleeing, the Red Sea was between them and their destination. God said you belong “over there”. Behind Israel was Pharaoh with his army of chariots pursuing them. In front of them, blocking their path forward was the Red Sea. Oh boy! There’s nowhere to go, nothing to do but die.

God decided that He would call Moses to do something that seemed odd.

“Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.” Exodus 14:15-16 NASB

So God says to Moses, stretch out your staff over the deep water of the Red Sea and I’ll take of the rest. All of Israel will pass through on dry land. Now the text isn’t clear where Moses is standing but I think Moses was in the water a little bit because he needed to stretch out his staff “over the sea” not toward the sea. So, if I’m right, Moses got his feet wet while God parted the water.

Pharaoh was pursuing Israel and was pretty close to overtaking them. But God took care of that too.

“The angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night. Thus the one did not come near the other all night.” Exodus 14:19-20

Right after this, Moses did as he was commanded, the waters parted, Israel passed through and Pharaoh pursued. But the waters didn’t stay open for the Egyptians. God closed them, drowned them and blessed Israel. God continued to lead Israel to the Promised Land. He continued to lead them where He had called them.

This journey, as you know, took a lot longer than previously expected. But after 40 years wandering in the desert, Israel came back to the Promised Land. Moses has died, Israel sent spies into the land to take a look, found Jericho, met Rahab and returned. The nation was at the Jordan River. At this time the Jordan was overflowing its banks. So here we go again. A deep, wide body of water separated Israel from the place where God called them. If I had been there the coward in me would be looking at the water, not my destination. I would hope that my faith would defeat the coward in me.

So what happened?

“Now the LORD said to Joshua, ‘This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you. You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the Ark of the Covenant, saying, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” Joshua 3:7-8 NASB

So God tells Joshua He will demonstrate He is with Joshua the same as He was with Moses. He tells the priests to get their feet wet while carrying the Ark of the Covenant. Do you notice something? God said “get in the stinkin’ water!” Well, maybe I’m paraphrasing and interpreting things a bit. But I imagine God was pretty emphatic with His command to proceed, placing their faith in Him and Him alone.

“So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people, and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.” Joshua 3:14-17 NASB

So the priests dip their feet into the water. They begin to walk in, believing God would take care of things. God parted the waters, just like He did at the Red Sea. Israel went through on dry land. The overflowing river dried up. God did it. But the Priests and Israel placed their faith—and exercised their faith—in God. They got their feet wet.

But what about us? We can see how God acted towards Israel, but what about us? We are not Israel, we are the church. What about us?

“Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ And He said, ‘Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son!’” Matthew 14:22-32 NASB

Do you see what happened here? The disciples are in the boat, a sea is buffeting them, and they see a ghost on the water. Jesus tells them not to worry it is He that they see. Peter calls out. He says “If you’re really Jesus, tell me to come to you.” Jesus says “Come on out, Peter.” So what does Peter do? He got out of the boat, and walked toward Jesus.

Don’t miss this: the wind is “contrary” and the boat is being “battered” by the sea. It wasn’t a glassy smooth surface. It wasn’t a nice, calm boat trip. Imagine a stormy sea. And yet Peter got out of the boat. He walked toward Jesus. When Peter began to focus on the effects of the storm, he began to sink. Immediately Peter called out to the only One who could save him. Jesus saved him and asked Peter what he doubted. They got into the boat, the wind and sea calmed down.

Peter got his feet wet. He acted on Jesus words, just as Israel acted on God’s words at the Red Sea and the Jordan River. In these three incidents both Israel and Peter were faced with some difficult if not impossible circumstances. God had called them to these circumstances. God had called them to these places. And God determined to glorify Himself through His people Israel and through Peter. You know what? God wants to glorify Himself through you.

We can have seemingly impossible circumstances confront us. Sometimes when God calls us to a new place of ministry, there is a wide gulf of water between us and our destination. When we stand on the shore facing our “promised land”, what are we to do? When we are in our boat getting blown about by the vicissitudes of life, and our boat is getting swamped by the waves of difficulty and the unknown, we must act on our belief in God. We see our Savior and He calls us to get out of our boat—our security “blanket”. What will we do?

Faith isn’t some theoretical thing. It isn’t something that is impractical. Faith is the verb of our belief. What we believe will show itself in the action of our faith. We must act on our beliefs or those beliefs really are not our beliefs.

Do we believe that God calls us to a destination to serve Him? Do we believe God will provide for us when circumstances oppose us? Are we pursued by the enemy of faith while facing deep waters ahead? Do we sometimes get afraid when we are faced with stormy seas?

While our life’s journeys take us to different places with varying degrees of difficulty, we need to always remember that God is always in control. When God calls us to a new place, we need to go without worrying about the circumstances. Yes the circumstances might cause fear to creep in. And that is OK. What we need to do when that happens is to have our faith defeat our fears, not the other way around. He has called us to this place for a reason. He will glorify Himself in our lives. We must be willing to act on our beliefs—to willingly choose to follow His call into the water no matter how scared of water we may be.

After all, waters never part until our feet get wet.

A Race Worth Running

Even with all the aches and pains that go along with running

this race, it is a race worth running.

 

Years ago I used to love to run. I didn’t like to run for speed but for distance. I always tried to run farther and farther each time I would run. I really didn’t care how long I took to run, I just enjoyed running. After a few knee surgeries, a broken ankle, and aches and pains that come with getting older, I began to make excuses. The pain I felt running outweighed the joy I got by running. To me running in a race against myself just wasn’t worth running anymore because of the pain it caused.

Have you ever felt this way about life? Have you come to a place where you are ready for the world to stop so you can get off? I’ve been there. I get tired of some of the junk of life and those who shovel it around. But each time I get discouraged, my mind is brought back to a particular passage of Scripture that encourages me. I hope this encourages oyou.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB

“Therefore…”

Whenever we see a “therefore” in Scripture, we need to know what it is there for. In this passage the author of Hebrews had just penned the “Hall of Fame of Faith” in chapter 11. That forms the basis of this passage. The “therefore” in v. 1 makes us look back on chapter 11 and remember all these persons of faith. Were they perfect? Had they lived an easy life? Uh, the answer would be an emphatic “No”. In chapter eleven you had a liar (Abraham), a murderer (Moses), a harlot (Rahab), and an adulterer (David). Perfect? No. Easy livin’ folks? No. But all listed as ones who lived their life by faith. So how does this affect chapter 12? Let’s take a look.

“since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us…”

The author states in v. 1 that we have a “great cloud of witnesses surrounding us”. These witnesses must the ones listed in chapter 11. The “therefore” in v. 1 makes this so. So the author is saying because of these witnesses surrounding us, we should do some things.

Before we get to the things we should do, what are these witnesses doing? Well picture a stadium filled with these witnesses. Now picture you are running on the track below. The witnesses are so much cheering you on as much as they are inspiring you on. They are examples of those who ran their race by faith. This life run by faith should inspire us to look for the One in whom these folks placed their faith. I believe that all these lives, if properly understood, point not to themselves but to the One who perfected them.

“let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us…”

First we need to lay aside everything that encumbers us. This is clarified by the next phrase “and the sin that so easily entangles us…” Do you have something that is always tripping you up? Get rid of it! The idea is not that we are sinless or perfect. In fact the text makes clear that the runners have sin issues. If you want proof, just look back at chapter 11. The idea here is to strip off anything and everything that causes us to stumble. So if you have issues with things on the internet, get off the internet. The same goes for TV. No matter what it is that causes you problems, you must get rid of it. After all, isn’t your love of Christ greater than your love of whatever thrill received through a particular sin.

Now recognizing a sin and ridding oneself from that sin are different things. Recognizing sin should be pretty easy. At least I want to believe it should be easy. Sometimes sin can become so ingrained in us that it is hard to recognize it. Has that ever happened to you? Honestly it has happened to me. Sin is sin no matter what we call it. We can get a little too comfortable with sin, can’t we? Well the author says that we need to get rid of these encumbrances and the sin that “easily” entangles us. We have to make a decision to rid ourselves of THAT sin. And once we rid ourselves of THAT sin, we need to move on to the other sins that will invariably come to the forefront.

“let us run with endurance the race …”

We are to run with endurance that which has been laid before us. Look at this again: run with endurance. We are not to run quickly, crazily, or in spurts. We are to run with endurance. The Greek word for endurance here is hupomone. It means “to remain under”. The idea is to remain in the stressful situation and not to look for an escape. This is the essence of endurance. Staying under pressure until the pressure achieves its purpose. Does this hurt? Yeah. Would I rather not be under pressure? Honestly, no. I have learned to embrace the difficulties. I’ve learned that the pressure is meant to purify me. While the pressure is not so pleasant, I’ve learned that it is necessary if I am to mature as a believer.

Have you learned to embrace the difficulties of life? Perhaps you have a “Mr. Helper” like me. He (or she) is always looking to remind you of past failures, real or imagined. These folks are everywhere. They have no other reason to live other than to try to knock you off your stride. They want to discourage you. They want to stop you. When you have a Mr. Helper in your life, embrace the challenge. And rely on your family in Christ. We need to be about encouraging one another, especially when there is a Mr. Helper involved.

“that is set before us…”

So endure as you run your race set before you. Did you see that? You don’t choose your race course. It is set before you. Your race—the road you take in life—may be quite different than the race set before me. That is fine. Actually that is better than fine! God is sovereign and we need to recognize that fact. When we submit to His sovereignty, things that previously made no sense and discouraged us now become part (somehow) of God’s plan for us. I can rest in His sovereignty knowing that nothing surprises Him.

“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, ”

But not only are we to put off sin and run with endurance, we are to fix our eyes on Christ. We are to place our gaze on Him—the One who authored our faith and the One who will make our faith complete. That is a “for sure” thing. So what is the bummer here? Through trials and tribulations our faith is perfected. We will one day be perfect. That day may not be today, but it will surely happen. It is guaranteed to happen.

“who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Jesus, who is the one who authored our faith and the One who will perfect it, is our example. Just like Jesus endured the cross with its shame because of the joy set before Him, we should all endure the temporary pain of running this race of life because of the joy that is set before us: we are being used by the creator of the universe in glorifying Him.

So, have you had a tough day? Week? Year? Are you finding the pressure of life getting to you? Do you have a Mr. Helper who just loves to ridicule you and harass you? Well, you’re in good company because if you don’t have struggles and difficulties, you need to examine if you are even on the race course. Those who are engaged in the race of life will have difficult times. We will struggle. We will be tested. And we will be refined. The refining process, while hot and pressure filled, is rewarding. So submit yourself to the sovereignty of God, stand up, live under the pressure with grace. And experience God perfecting the faith He has already given you.

Even with all the aches and pains that go along with running this race, it is a race worth running. Run your race well.