Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Fear Not I Am With You

When people reach those moments where they are so frustrated they don’t see any value or have any desire to continue with something, they might begin to question the value of what they are doing or maybe even their own value. Their purpose seems clouded and they begin to say things such as “Why? Why am I doing this? Why bother? I put in all of this time and effort and look at where I am. When a people’s lives have been headed in a direction without any thought of change and suddenly a change is faced upon them it can be really tempting for them to throw their arms up in the air and say, “What now? What am I supposed to do?” These past several months have demonstrated this as we’ve been told to isolate from others, to not go to school, to work from home if you are able to work at all, and to keep our distance. And, the longer this continues the more it seems at least to me that there is something far more threatening than a virus laying below the surface. Now, as we have combined this with widespread civil unrest and people forcefully telling other people that they either buy into their agenda hook, line and sinker or they then become the cause and as the cause deserve judgment and punishment, things have really gotten nasty. People have become not only alienated, but now they have also become fearful making almost a perfect storm in which the enemy or the evil one can revel.

The crazy thing is that at the heart of all of this there really is a virus and we do have a long history as a people of not treating all people with the same love, mercy and grace which our God has shown to us. We need to be careful as we walk through trying to gain victory over this virus which means also that we have to walk in love as we care for those who respond differently to it than we might feel ourselves. And, as the voices of hurt are crying out in the midst of the unrest, we do need to be reminded that particularly in some sectors of our country racism is still very much an issue. It is not a ‘some sectors’ issue. It is a “we the people issue” as we hear stories from every sector of those who have experience it resultant discrimination on a regular basis.

There is much of this later issue that I may not be ‘qualified’ to speak to because I have not been the recipient of the treatment or resident where its roots were the most evident. But I know enough to know that going after things with a distorted purpose in a distorted way is not the answer. I also know that in anything I align myself with it is my responsibility also to make sure that I know what they stand for and that I am in agreement enough to link elbows with not only the people but the cause itself.

Twenty-five years ago, Pastor Rick Warren released a book “The Purpose Driven Church” focused on encouraging pastors and church leaders to build their churches on God’s purposes and not their own ideas of ministry. Nearly twenty years ago though, in 2002 his most popular book, “The Purpose Driven Life” was released which swept through churches around the country and even the world. It’s focus was to adapt the principles of the first book to the lives of the body of the church itself. The early versions of the book had five major focuses in answer to one leading question. That question was, “What on Earth Am I Here For?” I suspect a huge part of the success of this book and the videos and studies and other stuff that sprung from it was the connection that people had with that question itself. And it was in answer to that question that Pastor Warren sought to connect people with answers or purposes.

Purpose #1: You Were Planned for God's Pleasure (Christian Worship)
Purpose #2: You Were Formed for God's Family (Christian Church)
Purpose #3: You Were Created to Become Like Christ (Discipleship)
Purpose #4: You Were Shaped for Serving God (Christian Ministry)
Purpose #5: You Were Made for a Mission (Christian Mission)

What Pastor Warren sought to do was to take people to the Word of God to guide people in answering their questions concerning their purpose in life as His in Christ. It’s not surprising that as I looked at reviews of a later version of the book that I found one particular one-star rating to stand out. This person expressed their disappointment because as a non-Christian it did not address that individual’s own questions about purpose.  While the world as we see here many not agree, the Bible boldly declares that our purpose in Him creating us was for us to be a people in a personal relationship with Him. Anything outside of this really is outside of the purpose of the Creator. It was as man acted outside of God’s purpose and instruction that sin entered the world, and it is only through His intervention through His Son, Christ Jesus that we are restored in that purpose both individually and corporately. Outside of Christ, any search for purpose is only as good as the transient issue, cause, desire, or goals that individuals and those they align with hinge themselves.

Purpose is huge. We all want to know that we have a purpose, and when what we have become used to is yanked out from underneath us it then becomes easy to surrender and lose hope. For most this might be only a momentary thing, but for others it may persist for longer periods of time. I have seen this over the years with seniors and particularly surviving spouses. I’ve seen it with those who have struggled to provide for their families. I’ve seen it with people who have chronically struggled is issue of abuse of one form or another. And now we are seeing it even in our children as their world as they have known it has been closed off and there is no real answer for what lies ahead, especially for those whose college goals are in question as they wait decisions as to whether they will be able to “go” or not.

Discouragement or the lack of courage to continue comes when purpose doesn’t exist, is distorted in some way, or is repeatedly fought back. Encouragement comes with hope. Its with hope that people move forward today with a level of trust that some normalcy will return. Its with hope that those who have suffered at the hands of others move forward trusting that good will come out of what is happening now. And while people hope their hope is also challenged by those whose desires are not as theirs and whose means are not so virtuous.

Last Sunday I taught from Acts 18:9-22, with a particular focus on verses 9 and 10. “(9) And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; (10) for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.”” (Acts 18:9–10, NASB95) In looking at these two verses I would encourage you to divide in each of them the words of Jesus into two parts (an ‘a’ and a “b’). In 9a (“Do not be afraid any longer”) and 10a (“for I am with you”) we have both an instruction and a promise that are spoken throughout the Bible in both Old and New Testaments that apply to all who trust in God. We are not to be afraid any longer. The “any longer” acknowledges that it may have described us in the past but is not to mark us for the future.

We are to stop being afraid. The reason is not found in the rest of verse 9 where Paul is instructed by Jesus in what he is to do or the purpose for which he was sent (“but go on speaking and do not be silent”). Instead it is found in the beginning of verse 10 in the assurance of the presence of Christ with him. God was with him and would never leave him nor forsake him (abandon or give up on him). And the reason he could feel comfortable in this was not even the promise that followed in the middle of the verse, “and no man will attack you in order to harm you.” No. The reason that Paul was no longer to fear was the reminder from God that God was with Him. God was on His side and ‘yes’ in that circumstance unlike many other circumstances where God also proved His constant presence, in this one unique circumstance no harm would befall him. It is then that verse 10 concluded the vision with a restatement of the purpose for Paul being there which was to reach the people that God had chosen. What Paul was reminded by God was that in sending Paul to do a work which he ordained for him beforehand that he was not to fear what the enemy might throw at Him because God’s strong hand was there for him. This was also true when he was stoned elsewhere and even when he was later martyred in Rome.

God has a purpose for those who place their trust in Him. We may not always see how that purpose is being worked out, but we do know that He does and it is our response-ability to keep our hope and trust in Him in the waiting and the walking. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95) 

The details of that purpose may not always be clear and there may be obstacles in the way with detours and delays, but we should never lose hope by focusing on those things but instead always living with hope knowing that we are His and first and foremost He has called us to seek after Him and trust Him fully for every moment, every event, and every other thing that we may encounter. “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (Galatians 6:9–10, NASB95; see also 2 Thessalonians 3:13)

Friday, April 17, 2020

In These Days

Encourage One Another

The Bible speaks quite a bit about end times events as Christians look forward to the day when the Lord Jesus will come for His church and then to establish His millennial reign. The Bible also tells us that we do not know when that time is. So, the natural thing that happens when something big happens is to wonder if the end is near. Certainly, it is nearer than it was before, but we still do not know when that is because that is information that God holds closely to Himself.

One of the passages that speaks of this time is found in 1 Thessalonians 5, verses 1-11. I’ll include the verses for context, but not really comment on them other than to address how it is that we are to live right now.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. “(1) Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. (2) For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (3) While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (4) But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. (5) For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. (6) So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. (7) For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. (8) But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (9) For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, (10) who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (11) Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1–11, ESV)

These are ominous words as they point to this future event whose timing we don’t know. In these words, we also see two categories of people. There are those who live oblivious to the things outside of what they can see, sense or even fear. They respond to things as they come in whatever way seems reasonable to them. This passage speaks of a time when things will crash as if a thief broke into their home and disrupted their entire life. In a present context, that thief may be a life-threatening virus, a cancer, loss of ability or source of work or what have you. It catches them off guard and they are not prepared, and their responses vary as I suspect we have all been a part of.

Then there are those whose hope is not in their daily circumstance, but in a God who is holding them firmly in whatever their circumstance might be. These same life events aren’t any lighter or less impacting. Disease and death still happen, and lives are disrupted in so many ways. But in these events, they know that there is hope. There is hope for the present knowing that God encloses them before and behind and that He will never let loose of them. And there is hope in knowing that even this, as good as it might get or as dark as it might seem, is not the end.

Verse 8 in this passage says that we all belong to this day. We are living through the same things. The question is, “How are we doing at it?”

Verses 9 and 10 tell us how God has provided our ultimate help. This is why we just celebrated Easter. Jesus came to pay the price for our sins and to rescue us from the wrath that would result because of them. He not only came to provide that, but He also came that we might have life even now. Because of Him we’ve been drawn into a relationship with God where He calls us children and we have become immersed in the hope of knowing that our God has us firmly wrapped in His hands and that He has everything under control.

He’s got us when we are awake (or alive) today, and He’s got us when we die (or fall asleep) and enter His presence. He’s got us and He’s got the entirety of everything we face. It is out of this reality that we then have verse 11, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.”

When we know there is help, we have reason to be encouraged and to encourage. And, as we encourage, we build into each other. As we walk through these days and this season seems to drag on, focus on the hope, the help and build into the lives of those who God has in your path.

Paul went on to write in the next two verses. “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13, ESV) Taking this out of the context of those serving in the church, the encouragement here is to look to those around you who are giving of themselves for our welfare to remember and encourage them. We’ll see an example of this Sunday in Philippians 2:19-30 in the streaming of the Grass Valley service on Facebook.

Beyond this, live peaceably with one another. James wrote these wonderful words: “Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” (James 1:19)

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Shelter in the Storm

Last night I went outside an enjoyed the most incredible sunset as the sky turned all of the wonderful orange colors setting around Mt. Hood. As I did this I reflected not only on the day and some of the stress I had seen but also on the joy that I was experiencing being where God has me and my family and the people that He has placed us with.

I wondered at the difference that a change in perspective makes, and most specifically when the perspective is reminding myself that I am always under the shelter of God’s wings. As I continued to think and enjoy the sunset, I found myself racing inside the house to grab a tablet to jot down some notes. What I wrote was about King David who seemed to be really open in his psalms about the trying situations in his life. As he would begin to write he would share about the situation, but then we find himself changing his focus Godward, and as his focus changed and he reflected on who God is and how God was faithful to him, we then find him turning to words of praise and even being able to find real rest knowing that not a single thing has changed in regard to whatever it was that brought him to that moment in the first place. The situation was still there, but David realized also that God was more powerfully there, and it was in Him that he would trust and find rest.

In 1 Samuel 22 and 24 David found himself hiding in caves from King Saul who had his full force out looking for David and seeking to put him to death. In fact, in 1 Samuel 24:1-7 King Saul himself had led three-thousand men in pursuit of David, and oddly enough we read that King Saul during that pursuit went into a cave to relieve himself (yes, that’s what he did). David was hiding in that cave, recognized King Saul, briefly thought about killing him, and then realized that he had no authority to life his hand against the king even though he was already anointed as the next king. So, he withdrew, and Saul left unaware that anything had happened.

There are two psalms that I think of that are specifically mentioned as being written while David was in the cave. One of them is Psalm 57. After going back into the house I sat down and checked my notes to find that it was this situation and this psalm that I had the privilege to preach about on September 16, 2001 just five days after the horrific terrorist attack on our country (9/11).

Today we once again find ourselves under an attack, but this time from an unseen enemy in the form of a virus and uncertainty about how it will impact us is huge. The threat extends beyond our health to that of our finances and even future. But our God who was present with David in those caves and on 9/11 is still the same and still just as in control.

Won’t you take a few minutes and read this psalm? Maybe even you can copy it somewhere to reflect on should you get a little on edge or are feeling pressed. And, possibly you might even share it with someone else as we continue to encourage one another.

Psalm 57. TO THE CHOIRMASTER: ACCORDING TO DO NOT DESTROY. A MIKTAM OF DAVID, WHEN HE FLED FROM SAUL, IN THE CAVE. (1) Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. (2) I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. (3) He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! (4) My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts— the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. (5) Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! (6) They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my way, but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah (7) My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! (8) Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! (9) I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. (10) For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. (11) Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (Psalm 57, ESV)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

God's Got This!

Not to get to deep into this coming Sunday’s message as we celebrate what is known as Palm Sunday, I find it amazing how many times in my life I’ve been caught up into something that I really didn’t know what was going on. Sometimes its been a good thing and other times something that I want no part of and that I want it quickly gone. But I think it safe to say even as now that there is much in our lives that we don’t greatly understand, have a firm grasp on or control over and we scramble in various ways to get through it and come out standing on the other side.

In John 12:12-15 we read, “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”” (John 12:16, ESV) It’s called Palm Sunday because it was their coats and the branches of palm trees that the people laid in the road before Jesus as He rode on that donkey on a quickly made carpeted path for royalty. To Him they shouted “Hosanna!” Hosanna is a word meaning ‘salvation has come,’ and as they fulfilled the words of an Old Testament prophet, they proclaimed the coming of the one they hoped would be their rescuing and present king.

Strange as it was, their king came in on a young donkey rather than a strong and stately steed. And, He surely wasn’t dressed as one might expect a king to dress. Yet the crowd rushed to hail Jesus who up to this time many had known as the prophet who healed. And as they hailed Him we know from the record of history that their expectations that day were not met as they had hoped. There was no quick and immediate relief to their oppression, and as the week would unfold their joy would be swallowed up later in the week by shouts for His crucifixion.

For many there was going to be disappointment. For others who knew Him well there was going to be distress and anguish. But only Jesus knew what was really going on. Only He knew the real reason that He was riding into town in this way. And though He would speak to His disciples during the week about humility and servanthood, their expectation was different, and that expectation was shattered, and their hopes were crushed when they saw Him give His life on that cross.

John 12:16 continues, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.” (John 12:16, ESV) It would not be until after Jesus’ resurrection and until after they had spent time with the living Christ who they would see ascend before their eyes into heaven to wait then on the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that they would then begin to remember and understand just what it was that He was doing that day and what He had shown and taught them in all of their days together.

On that day they joined in with the rest as they celebrated Him entering Jerusalem, probably amazed at the reaction of the crowds to this man that they had grown to know and love. And like the crowd, even they did not grasp the significance of the events going on before their eyes. The king had indeed returned to Jerusalem. It was there that He was crucified just as God had planned. This was followed by his burial in a tomb that belonged to someone else, and it was from that grave that He arose on the third day to be seen ultimately by a great many before leaving for a season. We live in that season of post-cross and pre-return.

The world is still a mess. But even in that mess we know that our God reigns and that Jesus is Lord over all creation, which means every single aspect. Palm Sunday is not about a parade and the coronation of a king gone wrong as people stood by and watched. No. It is and always has been about God sending His Son for the purpose of going to that cross to pay the penalty for our sins, be buried and then rise again on the third day so that we might have life.

When we look to the circumstances surrounding us we can be encouraged that our God has not loosened His grip on His creation. He’s got this. The praise on one day that turned to grieving later in the week two-thousand years ago did not catch God by surprise, and neither does a single circumstance of our lives today.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”” (Isaiah 12:2, ESV)

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Emerging From Isolation

I was thinking about my parents and my growing up this morning. Church was not a part of our lives. It's not that my parents were in opposition or anything like that, but they early on had just simply drifted away.

When as kids we wanted to go with a friend that was fine, and they even encouraged it. As a teen when I became a Christian and started attending regularly they were in favor. But neither church or seeking after God in a daily relationship with Him was a part of their lives.

Then as my dad was approaching thirty years serving in the US Navy he was offered an opportunity to retire and go to work for a major engineering firm that was building a city in Saudi Arabia from the sewers up including a desalination plant and the whole works. So, he my mom and my two youngest sisters headed off to Saudi Arabia where my parents lived for ten years.

One thing about living there is that what they could have freely chosen to do in attending church here in the United States was something forbidden for them to do in Saudi Arabia. Amazingly enough, after returning to the States and settling in Grants Pass, Oregon going to church and growing in their relationship with God became something important to them.

In this time of being told what we cannot do, though for a different reason, I have been wondering what people will first choose to do when the restrictions are lifted.

Where are you in this life picture of my parents? Has there been a drift in your relationship with God? Maybe, you've not even stopped to think about Him, you, and what might happen if this pandemic was much worse and the death toll much higher.

Man has been separated from God for a long time, and its not because God went anywhere. In fact, He has spent the entirety of our time reaching into us and through His Son, Jesus Christ we have been given free admittance into a relationship with Him here and now and the certainty of His presence for eternity. This is real hope. The hope that doesn't fade away when the situation of the moment does or on the other side when things become so big that we are tempted to give up, crawl in a hole, and hide.

When I first learned about God in this way I had invited myself to church and the pastor was speaking on Psalm 139.

Here are the words of that psalm. Why don't you think about them for you, particularly in this context of our disease imposed isolation.

Psalm 139. "For the choir director. A Psalm of David. (1) O Lord, You have searched me and known me. (2) You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. (3) You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. (4) Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all. (5) You have enclosed me behind and before,  And laid Your hand upon me. (6) Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it.

(7) Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? (8) If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. (9) If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, (10) Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. (11) If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,” (12) Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.

(13) For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. (14) I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. (15) My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; (16) Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.

(17) How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! (18) If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. When I awake, I am still with You.

(19) O that You would slay the wicked, O God; Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed. (20) For they speak against You wickedly, And Your enemies take Your name in vain. (21) Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? (22) I hate them with the utmost hatred; They have become my enemies.

(23) Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; (24) And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139, NASB95)

That was forty-six years ago, and this simple truth that I had heard years before made all of the difference in coming to Him.

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95)

[After making the post I was thinking about verses 19-22. Maybe we don't have enemies in this sense that are foremost in our minds and lives, but this season of the flu reminds us that there are always things that challenge us and from which we desire deliverance.]