Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Better Country

Only time will tell what legacy the 2016 election will leave behind for our nation, but there is already one lesson we Christians can learn from it today: Politics does not exist to inspire divine hope. Dearest Christian, you must remember that we are resident aliens in this country, our citizenship is in heaven. We live today as strangers waiting to go home to our eternal country with King Jesus.

The book of Hebrews reminds us of our eternal county that we will possess if we stick with Jesus, our only hope. The original readers of Hebrews were struggling to keep believing in Jesus. They were tempted to leave the gospel to go back to their old Jewish religion. The author of Hebrews argues that the old Jewish religion is obsolete because it pointed them forward to Christ. However, many believers died during those old covenant times before Christ came. They were people like Abraham and Joseph, who both died before inheriting all of God's promises. But they died in faith, looking forward to the hope coming in Jesus and ultimately in their heavenly country. The author writes:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on the earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16 NIV). 
Our hope for a sinless nation or at least one where all its citizens are Christians will only be fully realized when God's Son returns for us, and takes us to the place he has prepared for us. So for now we can only see these things from a distance; we can't clearly see it yet with our eyes. But we do see something, don't we? Each Sunday when we are gathered to hear God's Word and to worship him, we see a glimpse of the better country, the eternal one that will come. We gather as one body, focused on our God, worshiping our God in unison. It is a glorious glimpse of what is to come. 

The coming eternal nation will not gain power through an election cycle, but through Jesus' second coming. Its citizens won't disagree over sinful issues like abortion, rather its citizens will please God in obedience from the heart. This perfect city will be visibly ruled by our Messiah, who will rule with pure justice, love, and all power. This hope will soon call us away from our temporary residence and unto a better citizenship, and eternal country where God will be our God and our King and we will be with all his people, one Christian family and country.

"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20).

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Why Do You Look for the Living among the Dead?

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead” (Luke 24:1-5, NIV)?

Words like “conclusion” and “irreversible” enter my mind upon a person’s death. The gravity of death pulls us to think it is final. However, for Christians the grave is not final; it is more like the beginning. Jesus’ death was terminated with new life. “He is not here; he has risen” (Luke 24:6a). Jesus’ death was the beginning of new life for everyone who had followed and would follow him.

Hours after his death, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary (Luke 24:10) went to the place where Jesus was buried. What do you suppose they were expecting? They expected see his body lying still, grayish, cold, wounded, and without life. They were not happy. Death drains joy from the living; there is no hiding that. Neither euphemizing death as some generic passing nor renaming the funeral service that commemorates it as some generic celebration of life does not fix death’s joyless and cold sting. Death is hell, and Jesus’ mother and her friends were experiencing it. That is, until they stumbled upon evidence of life permeating Jesus’ former grave.

Nothing brightens a day like life. Holding a new baby automatically makes me smile. Also, the joy that comes when God saves a sinner is unavoidable. The church rejoices in new life and new salvation!

In the same way, the mourning women who expected to embalm Jesus’ body were jolted with joy upon hearing this question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Like in any mystery their curiosity was overwhelming, Jesus’ body was gone. They probably figured someone stole his body. After all, that was the logical conclusion, but then they heard that question:

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The Son of Man, Jesus, is alive. Death could not hold him. Just as he taught his disciples, so it was (Luke 24:6-9). Joy crowds out the darkness of hell with this question.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” There is hope for every Christian. We who are in Christ will not die forever, just as Jesus didn’t die forever. We will be resurrected, just as Jesus was resurrected. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Stop thinking that death is the conclusion. In Christ, death is reversed. For just as Jesus arose from the ashes of death, so does the church at his return.

And when he returns, perhaps it will be asked of those who look for us at our graves, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

How Many Times Can You Forgive Somone?

Showing others mercy as God has shown mercy to you is a visible mark of genuine conversion. In this article I deal with Peter's question to Jesus about mercy in Matthew 18:21-22. My post can be viewed over at Western Seminary's blog, Transformed. To view my article click here.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Enjoy Him Forever

Has Christianity become a chore? For a lot of men it has. In most churches the number of women is greater than the number of men. It appears that Christianity or church is just another chore for many men. This was my attitude for a season. I worked a lot of Sundays because there was work that needed to be done on the ranch. My attitude didn’t change quickly. For a time, shooting trap and bird hunting was more important than Christianity. Those activities brought me joy. Unfortunately my heart toward God was cold. Christianity became a chore without much joy. 

I’m writing this from our couch where I’m ill, but I’m grateful for this illness because in it I’m reminded to enjoy God. Perhaps one of the reasons God takes our physical strength away is to remind us to enjoy him. Enjoying God is the best we can do in situations like this, and may be the only thing we are able to do. I didn’t have the strength to preach last Sunday, and haven’t felt well enough to leave my house. However, I can enjoy God by singing to him, praying for you, reading my Bible, and meditating upon his wondrous grace and faithfulness.

As a church, have we forgotten to enjoy God? Think about the first line of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Glorifying God is not complete without enjoying him. Remember Lazarus’s sister Mary? She enjoyed God, but Martha was too busy for Jesus. 

Jesus entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he said. But Martha was distracted with all the preparations she had to make, so she came up to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work alone? Tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42, NET). 

Mary chose to enjoy Jesus instead of the chores, and she made the best choice. Who do you think made the best choice? Was it Martha who was busy working, or was it Mary? Mary wasn’t afraid of Martha, the Lord had walked into her house and she was going to savor each moment. Perhaps the better question is, why isn’t Martha enjoying Jesus with Mary? And why don’t we enjoy Jesus like Mary did?

Philippians 4:4 reads “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Paul wrote that with enthusiasm because he had learned how to enjoy God in every circumstance. And now he tells the Philippians, and us, to always rejoice in the Lord. Enjoy God in your poverty, or in your wealth. Enjoy God in your sickness, or in your health. We must learn to enjoy God at all times without letting circumstances get in the way. Martha allowed kitchen work to pull her away from joy in Christ. You may allow your job to pull you away. Whatever it is that is pulling you away from enjoying God at home, and with your church family, set it aside and come back to Jesus. 

As we begin 2016 we could start a new list of chores, but all that matters is Jesus. If you make a list, put Jesus at #1. Determine to enjoy him every day of your life in 2016, enjoy him by hearing his word read, preached, and taught. Enjoy him as you pray to him. Enjoy him as you worship him at home and with our church family. Enjoy him when we take communion. Enjoy him as you care for your children or your grandchildren. Set aside time each day to spend with Jesus, to read and to pray. Then the next day, do it all over again.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Christmas Questions and Answers

     For the past several months I have had the privilege of working with many of the children and youth during Sunday School. One of the tools we use to teach is a catechism. This little booklet consists of 114 questions and answers, it guides us to understand what the Bible teaches about our Triune God, and us humans. Below you’ll find the catechism’s questions that help us understand the meaning of Christmas, or Advent, if you will. There is much more to Christmas than decorations, buying gifts, preparing food, and hanging lights. All of those cultural traditions are great but let’s remember the true meaning of Christmas this year as we are gathered with family and friends. Let these questions and answers from the catechism assist you and your family to remember why it is that we Christians celebrate and emphasize Christmas. 
     1. What did God do to save his people from his anger and punishment? 
He sent his Son so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life. 
John 3:16  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (NIV).

     2. Who is God’s Son? 
The Lord Jesus Christ
Luke 1:35  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (NIV).
     3. How did he come to this world? 
He was born in Bethlehem in a stable. 
Luke 2:4-7  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them (NIV).
     4. Who was his mother? 
The virgin Mary. 
Matthew 1:18  This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit (NIV).
     5. Did he have an earthly father? 
No. He came into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. 
Matthew 1:18 (see verse above) 
     6. Why did he come in this way? 
So that he would be free from original sin.
Hebrews 7:26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens (NIV).

     I numbered these questions 1-6 for our purposes here, but they are questions 43-48 from Carine Mackenzie’s booklet, My First Book of Questions And Answers. (Christian Focus Publications, 2011). 

     The Lord Jesus Christ is the Son who was born to die and rise again. He is the Lord of life. May he be given his rightful place among our families and around our dinner tables this Christmas season. Have a very merry Christmas! 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

You Are Not Alone in The Fight

Halloween tends to remind us about spiritual warfare, at least it does for me. The verse quoted frequently for spiritual warfare is; “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness [...]” (Eph 6:12). These are good reminders, but what can we actually do about it? We often attempt to work through them alone but spiritual struggles are not just hidden within individuals, nor are they to be fought alone. The spiritual struggles we engage in involve the whole church, and are visible since they include people. 

An example of spiritual battle is the one that occurred on Crete. Titus was the appointed pastor to the small island, and his first job was to engage in spiritual warfare. That is, there were “many rebellious people, idle talkers, and deceivers, especially those with Jewish connections” (Titus 1:10). This battle against the gospel was obvious to everyone, and it included many churches on the island, and it had to be stopped. Moreover, we can learn a lot about engaging enemies by reading Titus but there are two items that prove to be especially helpful: First, nobody is in this battle alone. Second, this battle is frequently visible. 

You are not alone. By taking a step back we realize that the spiritual fight for the gospel includes more than just one individual. This is why Paul wrote this letter to Titus which was then read to all the churches on Crete. Paul wasn’t going to handle this by himself, nor was Titus. In fact, no one can engage such things alone, not even you or me. 

We are not to engage in warfare alone. Paul specifically told Titus to recruit faithful elders to stop the rebellion (Titus 1:5-11). Please note the “s” on the end of “elder” in verse 5. That is, each local church was to have more than one elder so as to engage the enemies together, and when we engage the enemy together we often win. On the other hand, sometimes we face struggles as individuals. Perhaps you may be evangelizing a person and they keep refusing to trust in Christ. That is heavy stuff; we are not to engage in these struggles alone. Bring it into the light by teaming up with a Christian brother or sister for prayer, or talk to an elder. 

Whatever the fight may be, from any color of temptation to those people who are trying to get you to doubt your faith, please get the help that you need quickly. The church exists to help one another. This is why we emphasize ministries like grief share, Sunday school, and our worship service. We need each other, and the enemy tends to stay away when we are gathered. You’ve never seen a pack of coyotes try to devour a herd of deer, but we all know what happens when a pack gets a young deer by itself. 

Speaking of deer, here in eastern Oregon they are fairly visible. If you’ve ever lived on the west side of the Cascades you remember that the deer over there are not as visible through all of the brush, which makes them harder to hunt. So like the deer around here our spiritual enemies don’t really lurk in the brush, they are visible. We often think that spiritual warfare happens in some other world, a demonic world, where God and the devil are fighting each other. But when we read the Bible we learn that isn’t the case so much. As it turns out, it isn’t the case at all. The church’s enemies are visible. Titus was facing very real and visible enemies. They were the false teachers. Likewise, Paul instructed the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God, and to pray for him as he preaches the mystery of the gospel (6:18-20). Make no mistake, anytime the Bible is read, taught, proclaimed, lived out, memorized, or meditated upon, you are engaging in spiritual war, and it may be with a person close to you. And the very thing that we pick up to engage in this war, is the very thing that protects us. Ephesians teaches us that our armor is truth, righteousness, the gospel, salvation, and the word of God (Eph 6:10-17). So it shouldn’t surprise us when we read that Titus was to give careful instructions to his men, so that they would use the word of God to stop the enemies of the gospel. Thus we use the word of God to guard the gospel.

The marvelous thing about all of this is that we have no reason to be fearful. We have every tool that we need to engage in this war, specifically, the Bible and prayer. Importantly, you have a church family who loves you and does not expect you to struggle through life on your own, in fact, Christian living is impossible to do alone. You need the church and the church needs you. Also, remember that you can usually see and hear your enemies. Unfortunately, we are exposed to the world which provides a variety of temptations, along with people who are trying to get us to stop believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Be sure to bring those struggles to the light. Furthermore, as we engage others face-to-face or online remember that our aim is that they would become healthy in the faith (Titus 1:13). When Jesus draws unbelievers to himself, that is the true victory. So let’s not worry about those Halloween ideas of spooky invisible spirit worlds, let’s face spiritual life together today, and plan on victory in Jesus. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

For The Interests of Others

"Then Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David with cedar trees and carpenters and stonemasons; and they built a house for David. And David realized that the LORD had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel" (2 Samuel 5:11-12).

Loving our neighbor as ourselves isn't easy, but with God it is possible. We see love in the life of David, who is at the center of the story in 2 Samuel 5. It is here that we read of the third and final anointing of David, which unites all Israel's people under him. Life in Israel with David as king is what life should be like. That is, David was different than Saul. He was a king who loved God so much that he believed Him and was good to His people. But David's God was better than David, He loved His people so much that He gave them a king for their sake.

Speaking of people, a neighboring king named Hiram became friends with David. Although Hiram wasn't Jewish, he recognized the distinctiveness of David and David's God, so he wanted to do good to Israel. Perhaps he saw the power of God as Israel grew and though it best to became an ally to David rather than an enemy. Whatever the case may have been, he sent his timber and his men to build David a new house. After all, David was Israel's new king. And this would be the perfect time for pride to well up in King David since the king of Tyre recognized his authority. Was it David's popularity that made Hiram like him? Was it his military prowess? Or did David's promise keeping and loving God have something to do with it?

In His providence, God used Hiram to help establish David. Many years before all the elders of Israel anointed David he was anointed by Samuel to be the king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1-13). God selected David; the most unlikely king there ever was. But through him God would someday establish His kingdom and, because God's promises never expire, David became king. And he knew it was Yahweh that did it. "David realized that the LORD had established him as king over Israel (2 Samuel 5:12a). It wasn't David's ruddy appearance or his military prowess, it was God who made him king over Israel, and his new custom built gift palace from Hiram the king was proof positive that the nations viewed David as such. But why did God do this? Couldn't he have just shown Israel that He loved them another way? Perhaps, but with David we learn that God uses men to be mediators between He and his people. David was there to extend God's love to the people.

Now, we all know that King David was far from sinless, but 5:12b teaches us something special. "and that He exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel." Yes! David understood that God made him the king not for his own self-interests but for the interests of others.  We too must understand that we exist not just for hobbies, or to have fun, but to benefit other people.

We often use our positions for ourselves rather than for others. The employee who hogs as much free food and other nice things from the workplace isn't looking out for the sake of others. I once had a boss who screamed and cussed a lot, which never helped his employees, although it made him feel powerful. True power comes from God and living for the sake of others, which starts with your family.

David's example is not only instructive for us, but it also points us forward to another, better king that would be established for the sake of His people. The king came but his own people didn't recognize him so they killed him. But his death and resurrection were for the sake of His people. This king is Jesus Christ. Dearest reader, please remember that God loved his people so much and kept his promise so well that he sent Him, who is another David, only this One is perfect in every way and will not die.