Saturday, June 24, 2017

THE UPSIDE DOWN KINGDOM - PART 1

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 4:3

Poverty, true poverty, is something that most of us in America have never experienced. Many that Jesus spoke to, however, knew the desperation of poverty, the helplessness, the gnawing hunger, and the total lack of resources. So maybe the multitude that heard Jesus pronounce that the pour in spirit are blessed, picked up on what may elude us. Those who are desperate for God, those who know that they are helpless without Him, those who cry out for true spiritual food, those who look to God for all that they need are the blessed ones. Why? Because theirs is the kingdom of God. Their spiritual poverty drives them to find God, to believe in Him, to trust in Him, and to fully yield to His Lordship. They are willing subjects to the King, and the King cares for His own. They find true riches in His Kingdom.

So, in what way is this idea upside down? It clearly stands in contrast with the world’s values. In Jesus’ day, as in ours, it is the wealthy, the powerful, the gifted, and the famous who are considered blessed. They don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. They have everything that they could possibly need or want and then some. People respect them. They have influence. They don’t think that they need God – He is irrelevant to them.


But on a deeper level I think Jesus was contrasting the poor in spirit with the rich in religion – those who think that they have all their spiritual ducks in a row. Like the Scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, those who believe right doctrine, who go to church, read their Bibles, pray, tithe, fast, and don’t commit the big sins. Have you been there? I have. At times I’ve lost that spiritual desperation, that deep hunger for God. Recognizing that we have strayed from being poor in spirit is half the battle. God so graciously, so mercifully draws us back to Himself: renewing our hearts, bringing us again to the place where we can say with the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but thee, and what is there on earth that I desire besides thee.” – Psalm 73:25

Thursday, June 15, 2017

LISTEN

“The Heavens above declare the Glory of God and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. “ – Psalms 19:1

Once upon a time a family of mice made their home in a piano. From time to time, beautiful music would fill the piano. The mice came to believe that some benevolent unknown being produced the music.  They were content to enjoy its beauty.

One day a curious member of the mouse family ventured forth to explore the inner workings of the piano. He discovered that vibrating strings were the source of the music. He also noted that the hammers activated by keys struck the strings. The mice then decided that the beautiful music was produced by a machine, and they ceased to think it necessary to believe in the unknown being as the source of the music.

I love science. I enjoyed being a research chemist for over three decades. Science is a God given tool, which mankind is using to discover the mysteries of our universe, the atom, and even life itself. We have learned much, and there is much more to learn about how God has structured creation. As we do so, however, we run the risk of repeating the mistake made by the mouse family. We can become so impressed by what we’ve learned about the machine of creation that we lose sight of the Creator.


The mice enjoyed beautiful music, not because the piano existed, but because a musician owned and played the piano. The beauty, variety, and wonder in this creation exists because it was brought into being by a God of beauty, variety, and wonder. All of nature is playing a song. God is singing to us in and through all He has made. Enjoy the song. The heavens, and all of creation, are declaring the glory of God.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

EYES LIKE A FLAME OF FIRE

 “On turning I saw…one like a son of man… his eyes were like a flame of fire,… his voice was like the roar of many waters… and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” -  Revelation 1:12-16

This is John’s description of Jesus when he encountered Him during his exile on the Isle of Patmos. John then received from Jesus the amazing vision we call the book of Revelation. Fascinating as the vision is in its entirety, it is this passage that grabs my attention.  This is hardly the Jesus pictured in most Sunday School material. There is nothing wrong with the gentle Jesus in a white robe carrying a lamb on His shoulders. Jesus is humble and kind. This is the Jesus that draws little children to Himself. I’m grateful for the gentle Jesus that I learned of in my childhood.

Today, however, it is the Jesus whose eyes are like a flame of fire that I need to see, or rather that I need to see looking at me. It is the voice like the roar of many waters that I need to hear. It is the face that shines like the sun in its full strength that I need to see.


Why? I too often lapse into a comfortable, easy Christianity that is self-serving, long on grace, and short on holiness and godly fear. He searches mind and heart (Revelation 2:23), uncovering compromise, unforgiveness, hardness of heart, impatience, unbelief… not to shame, nor to wound, but to cleanse, to heal, to restore, and to fill afresh with His love and peace. Don’t be afraid. He can be trusted. Our hearts are safe in the hands of the one whose eyes are like a flame of fire. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

KEEP IT SIMPLE - LOVE

“Whoever loves his brother abides in light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling… Little children let us love not in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”  - I John 2:10, 3:18

I have to admit that for much of my Christian life I’ve struggled with John’s writings. His letters especially just seem to monotonously hold to one theme – love. Okay, love one another. I get it! Or do I?

As a young man, John must have been a real character. Jesus called him and his brother James “sons of thunder”. (Mark 3:17) They wanted to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village that failed to receive Christ. (Luke 9:51-55)

John wrote his three letters (First, Second, and Third John) late in life when he was likely in his 70’s or 80’s. What changed him from a “son of thunder” to the apostle of love? I think it was decades of life in Christ- all of church life – the good, the bad and the ugly. Early on, he was in Jerusalem at Pentecost and experienced the powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit, conversion of 100’s, miracles of healing, and even the dead being raised back to life.

As the years passed, he witnessed the enemy’s attacks on the church.
From the outside came persecutions, torture, and martyrdom. From within the church came false doctrine – leaders drawing Christians after themselves with twisted versions of the gospel.

How could the church keep on track? How could tiny gatherings, scattered across the Roman Empire, resist the enemy’s attack? Much of the New Testament was written, but it was not compiled into the Bibles we hold in our hands today. So John in his short letters gave the believers a simple test. How can we tell who is of Christ and who isn’t? Love. Genuine love, the kind that led Jesus to the cross, is the test of a true believer. Don’t be led astray by Charisma. Don’t trust someone’s new and better gospel. Don’t trust those who appeal to the flesh. Trust those who love – not in word, but in deed and in truth. This love kind of comes only from Jesus. Those who love like Jesus loved us are the true followers of Christ.


Keep it simple – thrust love. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

MY LIFE IS NOT MY OWN

“And he died for all, therefore all have died, and he died for all that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” – 2 Corinthians 5:5

I decided to retire last December. One morning while reading, praying, and meditating on the Word it came to me: “It is time to retire”. It came not as a command from God, but a gift, something good and desirable. Before this, I could not see myself as a retiree, but now I could. May 1st seemed like a good date to start for an outdoor guy like me.

People’s first response on hearing that news was typically, “So, what are you going to do?” My stock reply has been that I plan to restore another antique car and do more gardening, hiking, fishing, and reading. I look forward to spending more time with my wife, Barb, and slowing down a bit. In addition, to volunteer pastoral work, I would like to do some inner city ministry.

A keen awareness has come, however, that my life is not my own, it belongs to God. There is nothing evil or sinful on my wish list. The issue is that it is my wish list for how I want to spend my retirement. I am not free to live my life as I choose. As Paul told the Corinthians, “…he (Jesus) died for all that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him”.

What does this mean for me? Jesus has full and complete claim on my life. He has a specific plan for this season of my life that trumps my plans. Exactly what all His plan entails is not yet clear to me, but step by step, as I seek Him and am obedient, He will make his purpose clear. I am still thinking about finding an old VW beetle to restore, but as I hike and garden, my prayer is “Lord lead me. Show me how to lay down my life for You as You laid down Your life for me. “


And your life?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

GOD MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh.’? ‘So they are no longer two but one flesh.’ What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matthew 19: 4-6

The late 1960’s and early 1970’s were tumultuous times: the Vietnam War, anti-war demonstrations, and racial strife. I am part of that generation. No, I never grew my hair long and took on the hippie look. I did not burn my draft card. However, I was a Jesus Freak. A group of us met regularly in the student union of Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, to pray and study the Bible. We were labeled Jesus Freaks because we were always talking about Jesus. We chose not to rebel against the establishment and not to be part of the sexual revolution.
The sexual revolution has progressed, in the ensuing years, beyond the “Free Love” advocated by the hippy crowd to the point where sexual relationships of all kinds and descriptions are not only accepted, but are being promoted as “normal and desirable”. Gender has been redefined, becoming more of a personal preference then a biological reality established at birth. At the risk of being again labeled a “Jesus Freak”, I have to take a stand.
My stand on sexuality is radical and narrowly defined. Sexual relations are to be confined to a man and a woman who are married. Period. The only other option is celibate singleness. Sex before marriage, adultery, homosexuality, and all other sexual relations outside the marriage of a man and a woman are wrong. They are destructive. They are a sin against ourselves, our partner(s), and God. No, I am not homophobic. I do not hate transgender people and I am not a prude. Sex has been a wonderful and fulfilling part of my marriage for over four decades.

I firmly believe God’s ways are the simplest and the best. We were created male and female by God, created for the lifetime union of a man and a woman. Any other sexual relationship is less than God’s best for us.

Friday, May 12, 2017

LISTEN TO HIM

“This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Polarization in politics today in the United States is to a degree maintained and even intensified by the media. Left leaning Americans listen to liberal media outlets and right leaning Americans listen to conservative outlets. People hear what they want to hear and their views are reinforced.

Who do you listen to? Who shapes your view of reality? No, I am not talking about your political views, but your spiritual. The battle for the hearts and minds of people in the spiritual arena is even more intense than the battle in the political arena. And more is at stake than the economy, health care, and even world peace. The battle raging in the spiritual realm is for our very souls.

On one side we have the deceiver. His message is one that exalts the self, that appeals to our passions, and that distorts the truth. He comes as an angel of light with arguments that sound so plausible, even religious. His message promises the world, but in the end only delivers death.

On the other side we have the One, Christ Jesus who is the truth. His message is one of humility and of dying to oneself. It is one of grace and forgiveness, peace and wholeness. It always delivers life.


Chapter 17 of the book of Matthew recounts the transfiguration. Peter, James, and John went with Jesus to a mountain top and there they saw Jesus in a glorified state talking with Moses and Elijah. If His miracles hadn’t convinced these disciples that Jesus was the Son of God, surely they were convinced now. The Father then spoke from heaven confirming that Jesus was indeed His beloved Son. And the Father’s message to Peter, James, and John, as well as to us, was very simple. Tune out all the other voices, quiet yourself, and “Listen to Him”.