Thursday, May 21, 2020

On Stepping Off the Path

At this stage of my life, I find that what seems just a slight bit of disobedience on my part puts a damper on my enjoyment of God's presence in my life.

When that cloud passes between me and the Son, it's a sign that something is wrong, and it always eventually brings me back to the source of the problem.  Then I can acknowledge the thing that is in the way, ask God to forgive me, and immediately bask in the sense of his Presence again.

He has promised never to leave me or forsake me, so I can count on it that he is present always, just like I can know that the sun always shines above the clouds on dark days.

So when it feels like he has moved away, it's really only that there's a cloud between us.  And he is always standing by, ready and willing to blow it away.  He just waits for us to ask.

David's 3000-year-old songs are universally true.  They are as useful to us today as they were to him back then.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
Psalm 51:10-12
 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Death: Google It


Apparently, the keyword, "death," has been showing up in Google searches a lot recently. It's no wonder. Death has been pretty much in our faces over the last three months.


And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

When things are going well for us we tend to live in the moment, and living in the present is a good thing to do--as long as living in the present moment doesn't interfere with our making plans for a good future.

It's funny that we are keen to plan for a happy retirement, but it doesn't occur to us to plan for a happy afterlife.  Death comes after retirement. And sometimes it takes us by surprise: for some of us, death will come before retirement. In any case, death is inevitable for all of us, and so it's worth doing some serious thinking about.

It's good to enjoy the present, but it's also good to plan for the future, not just the near future, but also for our ultimate future.

We probably avoid thinking about death, and what might come after, because we feel there's really nothing we can do about it. It's all a big mystery and we assume that means we should just ignore it.

Death is mysterious, for sure, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't explore that mystery. You might have noticed that Christians are more serene in the midst of the COVID 19 turmoil around us. They are less perturbed about the thought of death than others. There's a reason for that. Christians believe that God has given us information about death and the afterlife, and has urged us to prepare for it. 

In fact, God has provided the opportunity for a good afterlife for all of us. He's made a happy afterlife a free gift. All we have to do is choose to receive it.

Christians believe that, because God loves us, He has provided for us, through Jesus' life and death, the ultimate afterlife insurance policy.  Christians are less worried about death because they believe God's promise that if we put our faith in Jesus we will live "happily ever after."

This sounds simplistic.  But what if the simple answer is the true one? What if the answer to a happy afterlife is so simple a child can grasp it? Maybe the answer is worth pursuing?

Today's suggested Bible reading explains why Christians are able to relax into the present difficult situation, as well as into their future destination. It explains the process by which God has made eternal happiness available to us all.

Click on this hyperlink to read the explanation:  Our Eternal Hope






Saturday, April 4, 2020

Should We Fear The End of The World As We Know It?


Some years ago, Jerry Jenkins and Tim LeHaye released a series of books called Left Behind.  The movie eventually followed, and it scared the hell out of some people.  The movie portrays a world thrown into chaos by the instant disappearance of a large part of its population.

The story works because it's intriguing to imagine the chaos that would occur if that many people, all over the world, instantly ceased to exist.  It's only a story, of course.  A preposterous one.  We shake our heads at the gullibility of movie-goers, but people who saw the movie were shaking in their boots.

There have always been naysayers--those who question the-end-of-the-world-as we-know-it.  They say, "Where is this coming he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 
II Peter 3:4

So far the questioners have been right.  The world has not ended.  Yes, there have been frightening events.  But every time a catastrophe happens the world hiccups, rights itself, and goes on as before.  So why should we fear the end of the whole world?

Christians say we should fear the end of the world because God says it will end. The end is not yet, but it's still predicted, and, according to the Bible, it will literally be earth-shattering when it does come:

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare."
II Peter 3:10

A Warning to be Heeded?

It's beginning to look like this warning should not be taken lightly.  Yes, the world has survived, for millennia, but there's no natural law that says it will go on forever. In fact there are serious indications that it might not.  

For the first time in recorded history, we have the technological capability to destroy the whole global community. We are no longer dealing with hiccups. Disasters that used to spread out in gentle ripples now hit us more like tidal waves that wash up on the shores of our own beachfront properties.  The bad things that happen in our world happen to us, individually and collectively as a human race, and those bad things continue to happen. 

Any one of them could be the last of the world as we know it.

So should we fear the end of the world as we know it?  It's a question the questioners question.  But maybe it's time we started questioning the questioners.

Thankfully, there is one good reason why we don't have to worry about the end of the world as we know it.  God's amazing grace gives us a warning.  There are reasons to fear, of course.  That's why John Newton says, in his famous hymn: "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear." It's God's grace that causes our hearts to fear, because that fear, if we confront the reality of it, can lead us to the only One who has the power and authority to relieve those fears.

For God loved the world so much that He gave us His Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life.

The story of Amazing Grace



Sunday, March 22, 2020

Deep Thoughts in Times Like This

In times like these, I begin to think about the hard questions. 


Like....
What is the worst thing that could happen to me with this virus?
What am I most afraid of?

The worst thing would be that I could die, or someone I love could die. 
            Death is the ultimate evil thing, right?

So what would happen to me if I died?  
Would I survive somewhere after death? 
And would it be a happy place or a not so happy one? 

If I were to survive death, and find myself standing before the Creator of the universe, what would I say to convince Him that I should be allowed into heaven?
            I would probably tell Him that I have been a good person. 

But what if He probed a bit.  What if He said, "How good were you?"
            I could say, "Well, I was a lot better person than Donald Trump." 

Hmm.  That might not be saying a whole lot.
            I could say, "Well, I've been better than most people actually.  
            I've done lots of good things and I certainly haven't done any really evil things. 
            I'm over 50% good.  Way over."

            So I've probably made a passing grade.

But what if there is no grade?
What if it's just, "Are you good or not?" 
How good is good enough?

But the Creator is supposed to be good too, right?  He cares about people.  And He should appreciate all that goodness He would see in me.  

Maybe He would say, 
"Yes, you're right.  You've been pretty good.  In fact, there's only one or two little tiny sins I ever remember you committing.  A little lie or two.  Oh, yes, and that small bit of mean gossip you passed on about your coworker. 

But those little sins would not even show up under a microscope. The rest of you is really clean.
I think you're probably clean enough to enter heaven."
(Whew.  What a relief.)
"I'm sure one little microscopic bit of sinful virus won't amount to much. So we'll overlook that.  
Welcome into my perfect home."


           

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Voices in Your Head are Lying





The voices in your head hate you. 
They hate you because God loves you, and they hate God.  
The voices in your head want to destroy you.  
That's why they tell you to destroy yourself.
The lying voices in your head tell you that no one cares about you. 

The Truth: You may cast all your cares upon God, because He cares about you. 

The lying voices say that no one understands you. 

The Truth: God searches out your heart and He knows you.

The lying voices say you have no hope; 
that life will not get better for you; 
that it will only get worse.

The Truth: God knows the plans that He has for you, and they are plans to prosper you and give you good things.

Don't listen to the voices.  
Tell them to go away.  
Jesus has given you the right to do that.  
Speak the name, Jesus, to the voices and they will leave. 
Then look around you for a person who can help you overcome the voices; 
go to that person and share your story with them.

God says,  I have loved you with an everlasting love.






Saturday, January 4, 2020

Three Good Reasons for Hope in This Terribly Broken World


Near the end of this last decade I fell into the proverbial "pit of despair." For the first time in years I found myself battling some stubborn bouts of depression and annoying panic attacks. 
 
There were reasons for my angst. The world looked so bleak. My faith told me there was no reason to despair, but my observation of the things I saw around me seemed to argue there was no reason to believe.

But life goes on. One day I needed to get out of the house to run some errands. I went to the local mall and things began to turn around for me. 

After wrestling through this problem, I have come to the conclusion that there are three reasons for hope as we enter 2020. You might say I have re-gained 2020 eyesight in my view of reality. (Yes, I know, but I want to jump into the New Year punning before you all get tired of it.  It's early in the game, after all.)

So here are my reasons for faith in the future:

REASON #1:  THERE IS STILL MUCH GOOD IN THE WORLD! 

As I roamed around the mall that day, I looked up and observed a whole mess of other people who were smiling and happy and friendly. People are happy, friendly, good, getting married, having babies, surviving and finding things to live for.  

Yes, we are a mess. All of us. But when we crawl up and peak out of our little pits of despair--when we take time to observe the other side of the reality around us--we find that peace, love and joy still exist in our broken world.

I have lived in a small town for the past seven years and I bet I could count on one hand the number of times I have run into any stranger on the street who was not polite, outgoing and friendly.  

One of them is Kenneth Richardson. I met him in the mall. He drove up on his mechanical
wheelchair, with his parrot on his shoulder. He is 99 years old and feels great. Strong, (although his legs don’t work much anymore.) Happy to live, (even though he has no living relatives--just the parrot who gives him kisses as we talk.) Will be happy to go home to heaven. Says it could happen any day, even though his doctor assures him he has more years in him yet. In the meantime he makes the most of his life, with a smile on his friendly face.

So here is my first piece of advice for the New Year:

When you are anxious, get out of your house and around other people. Go to a happy place--to a mall, a dog park, a school playground, or a church service. There are good and happy people all around. Don't spend your life watching the news or reading thoughtless tweets. They only show the worst of it all. Good is still and will always be stronger than evil!

REASON #2:  WE HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE! 

We aren't the first people in history to face a seemingly bleak future with good reason to despair. Six hundred years before Christ, after their persistent rebellion against God and many stern warnings, the Jewish nation was destroyed and it's people were taken into captivity by the Babylonians.

God told these miserable, rebellious children exactly what they had done to deserve his abandonment and exactly how long they would have to suffer their punishment. For 70 years they would live in a foreign land under a pagan government. It would take them that long to learn which side their bread was buttered on.

But, as he is prone to do, God had plans to bring blessing out of the mess they had made of their nation. The Babylonians had some things to learn too, so God plopped His people down in the midst of that great civilization and told them what He wanted them to do while they were there.

Jeremiah 29:4-7 says, This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 'Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.'

Babylon was a civilized empire, but it was ignorant about the one true God. During the time of Israel's exile there, the Babylonians learned much about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (You can read an amazing account of one way the Empire was affected by the presence of their Israelite captives in Daniel 4.)
 
This little bit of history is informative to those of us who live 2620 years later. Though we have seen glimpses of it's future glory ever since the coming of Christ, this messy world is not yet God's Kingdom. It's a sad and sorry mess. But Jesus has told us we are to be like salt and light, conduits of His goodness and His glory, while we live our lives on earth. 

We who trust in Jesus are meant to be instruments of blessing to this broken, hurting world. That's really exciting. We have a purpose. A good one. That, in itself, is one great reason to have hope in the midst of the brokenness around us.

So here is my second piece of advice:

When you're discouraged and frightened about life in this new decade, look around for some dark place to shine your light into. Spread love not hatred. Spread truth, not lies. Spread hope, not despair. Pray for the peace of your nation and the world--the kind of peace that lasts--the kind that rests in God's great mercy and compassion, and His ultimate good purpose for the whole human race. God wants to redeem. That's His business in this world. And you can help bring about His good Kingdom in the hearts of hurting people you live among. The Good will always triumph. Take hope in that reality.

REASON #3: THE BEST IS YET TO COME! 

Speaking of the Kingdom of God, it is coming! The small glimmers we see of God's Kingdom in our present dark world are just the beginnings of that Kingdom--the signs of the promise that one day God will destroy evil and bring His good rule down to us on earth forever. This is the final, and ultimately the only reason we have for hope in our present time.

Evil is temporary. Good is eternal. And we who have chosen to put our trust in a good God--One who chose to put Himself in our place and die on a cross so He could accomplish redemption for us--we have a good eternity ahead of us. 

Yes. It's sometimes been called "pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by." And it's a great encouragement while we slog through the messes of our lives and the sludge of the seemingly endless evil consequences of a world gone mad in its rebellion against Goodness. That great overarching hope is the only reason we have to look for good in the world and work for a better future between now and when God comes back to set everything right again.

For us who trust in God, there will be no such thing as an unhappy ending. In fact that ending, which will come for each of us when we leave this earth, will really be just the beginning of a lasting life where God has wiped away all our tears; where there will be no more death, or sorrow, or crying, or pain. Check out that promise here.

So my third and final piece of advice is:

When it feels like the mess will go on forever, that things will never get better, that things are, in fact, getting even worse, let's resist that lie from the pit and look up. "Look up, for your salvationdraws near," says Jesus to His disciples in Luke 21:28, and to us in this new decade.  And then, as we rest in the relief that hope puts in our hearts, let's get down to the business of bringing God's Kingdom into all the dark places around us. Let's bring that great eternal hope to as many discouraged human beings as we can before Jesus comes back to rule in righteousness over the world He created, redeemed, and will restore.
  
Our faith in a good future rests on a solid reality. It's founded on the great historical event that brought God down to earth on that first Christmas 2020 years ago. Since that day when Christ was born, we have had no reason for despair.

So let's go into this new decade confident and full of peace and joy. And let's do all the good we can do, for the sake of people in the bruised and hurting world around us who don't yet have this hope to rest in. God longs for every human being to know this great hope.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Only People Who Will Go to Heaven


I have become convinced that the only people who will go to heaven at the end of this life are people who want God. 

Heaven is God's home.  It is filled with Him.  If we don't want God, we wouldn't feel at home there.  In fact, if we don't want Him, we probably wouldn't even notice His presence, and the greatest pleasure of heaven would be lost to us.

It is lost to us now. 

We were created for fellowship with God, and when Adam and Eve broke that relationship by their rebellion against His authority, that relationship was lost to them, and to all of us who are their descendants. They lost the joy, and eventually even the awareness, of His presence.  And they passed that loss on to us. 

God's presence is still here.  He is everywhere, touching us with His love. He touches us in the sunlight, and in all things that give pleasure on this earth; He gives us every breath we breathe.  But in our natural state, we go about our lives seeing only the things we can relate to with our five senses, unaware of spiritual realities that are all around us, including the reality of God's presence.  And we wonder why we are so lonely.

We try to fill that God-shaped vacuum with everything else.  We fill it with other relationships, and when those fail to satisfy we fill it with work, or temporary pleasures. 

Our striving for fulfillment drives us so frantically that we become addicted to our attempts.  Every substitute we put into our lives becomes a bondage that only makes us more miserable.

I'm pretty sure it was an awareness of God's loving presence that filled the Garden of Eden with pleasure for Adam and Eve.  They walked and talked with Him, and that had to be the most wonderful part of their Garden experience. 

Walking and talking with God was natural to them.  Because they knew nothing else, they probably couldn't imagine not being able to do it.  They were unprepared for the horror of losing that relationship. 

Maybe that's why they were so deceived by the lies of Satan.  They didn't realize, in that one fateful moment, that God's presence was their central delight, and so the pleasure of God's presence was lost to the human race forever.

But no.  Not forever.  God dearly loved the human beings He had created. He knew they would fall, so He had a back-up plan. Adam and Eve hid from God but He did not hide from them.  He sought them out. He drew them back.  At great cost to Himself, he provided a way for them to enjoy His presence once more.

And He draws us back too.  That deep loneliness we feel is the draw.  When it gets deep enough, demanding enough, we begin to want Him again.  And if we are willing to give in to that wanting, He will fill us with the pleasure of His presence once again.

Yes, there will be other pleasures in heaven--pleasures more wonderful than we can imagine.  In heaven, the distraction of pain will be gone forever and we will be free to enjoy the blessings of God's love that we are blind to in this life. But all those freedoms and wonders will be intricately entwined with the pleasure of His presence. 

If we do not want Him more than anything, heaven will hold no real pleasure for us. 

So God gives us a choice while we are alive on earth. 

We can choose Him and heaven, or we can turn away, as Adam and Eve did. 
God will honor whatever choice we make, for eternity.

FOR GOD, the Lord of earth and heaven
SO LOVED, and longed to see forgiven

THE WORLD, in sin and pleasure mad
THAT HE GAVE the only Gift He had.

HIS ONLY SON, to take our place
THAT WHOSOEVER--Oh what grace!

BELIEVETH, placing simple trust
IN HIM, the righteous and the just

SHOULD NOT PERISH, lost in sin
BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE, in Him.

John 3:16 in poetry, by an unknown author.
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