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)