stories, lessons, and a lot of nonsense

There’s a Time

One thing I love about living in Michigan is having all four seasons. When we lived in Florida, it did not feel like we had four seasons.    Everything was close to the same to me. If it wasn’t too hot for me at the beginning of the day, I knew it would be too hot for me by the end of the day.   I missed having a crisp fall. I even missed the cold and snow of winter.  By the end of a long Summer, which is usually way too hot for my liking, I really look forward to and appreciate cooler weather. And by the end of winter, I grow tired of the bitter cold and look forward to a little warmer weather. As seasons change, I welcome the change.

Life moves in seasons, too. Some are extreme and uncomfortable, some seem perfect and relaxing.  Some are joyful, while others are sorrowful. Not all seasons of life will be the same, and we shouldn’t expect them to be. I don’t always appreciate the difficult seasons in my life, but when I pass through them into a more enjoyable season, they do cause me to appreciate the next season more. When I am in a difficult time in life, I always look forward to a particular time or season that I know will be better.  I hold out hope for a better time, hopefully this side of Heaven.

I don’t know what season your life is in, but if it’s not going so well, be encouraged. God is not missing in action. He’s moving and working, and hopefully soon you’ll be in the next season, appreciating it even more when you compare it to the last one.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;” ‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3:1-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬
http://bible.com/59/ecc.3.1-4.esv

sometimes it’s hard

Somehow, somewhere along the way, some people got the idea that by becoming a Christian, life would be smooth sailing.  It could be because there are a lot of pastors who assert as much with great consistency.  But the Bible doesn’t teach that.  The Bible assures us that we will fall into various trials, and we should count it a joy, because of the maturing it brings.  We see anecdotal evidence all throughout the New Testament: we see the persecuted, the prisoners, and even martyrs throughout Acts.  And in our own lives, we’ve seen people of faith struggle, maybe even seen our families struggle, and we might have struggled ourselves.  Modern and historical reality do not line up with this perception, but we sometimes still carry it.

We can tell that we carry it when we begin to ask certain questions.  If something difficult in your life happens, you might begin to ask what you did to bring it on yourself.  Why?  Because you have a perception that walking with God should mean easy street.  When you begin to ask God how He could allow something to happen to you, you reveal that you assumed your walk with Him should preclude you from certain hardships.  And it’s not just personal; sometimes it’s external.  We wonder what that person did to deserve what they’re going through, how they made their life a mess, and so on.

But here’s the reality.  Life is hard sometimes, even as a Christian, and sometimes especially as a Christian. There road God calls you to walk on isn’t always straight, smooth, or easy.  In fact, it’s often the opposite.  Matthew 7:14 says, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  It’s difficult.  Do you know what David called the road God brought him down in Psalm 23?  The valley of the shadow of death.  But David also gives us hope in that same Psalm.  The same verse says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4 ESV)

When life is difficult, don’t ask why God is doing something to you.  Do ask Him how He wants you to grow through it.  Don’t feel like God has abandoned you.  He hasn’t! Thank Him for being there with you in the midst of it.  Thank Him for carrying you.

 

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it pleased the Father

How much do you supposed God loves you and me?  John 3:16 tells us that He loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son, so that through believing in Him, we could have eternal life.  That’s a great demonstration of love.  But was He happy to do it?  Did He only send Jesus, begrudgingly or hesitantly, to die, because it was necessary?  Was He conflicted about it?

I always think of God the Father’s position in this from the viewpoint of an earthly father, which doesn’t really make sense anyway.  I think that He surely must have been conflicted, because there’s no way I could do such a thing willingly.  Then again, I would do it at all.  I wouldn’t give up either of my sons, not to save an entire planet from certain doom.  I’d do what I could to save my boys.  So I’m not a good comparison to God.  And in not being a good comparison, I can’t really attribute my emotions to God or understand His mindset.  I assume He was conflicted, anguished, like someone who was forced into it.  But He wasn’t.  It was absolutely His will, and it pleased Him to do it.  How do we know?  Look at Isaiah 53:4-10.  I have used the Holman Christian Standard Bible, because I think it best conveys the thoughts and emotions behind the sacrifice.

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Now, you may look at whatever version you use and say, “but my version says it was His will, not it pleased Him.”  Most versions say this.  But there are different kinds of will.  I will do that, but I’m not happy to do that.  It may be my will to do this, so that something bad doesn’t happen (especially to me), but take away any fallout, and it wouldn’t be my will.  But then there is my will, which is intrinsically in my heart.  It cannot be changed.  It makes me happy.  I have a will to do it, because to do it would please me greatly.  This is the kind of will we see in Isaiah 53:10.  It was His will, because He took pleasure in choosing to crush Jesus severely.  It wasn’t a will of obligation, because the ends justified the means, and so He would live with the means.  No, it was the will of a Father – our Father – who was happy to do whatever it took to save us, to redeem us, and to protect us.

It’s important to take the whole definition into account when reading the Bible.  I never did with this verse.  I always made assumptions and projected my feelings into the text.  But it’s important, because we get the full meaning.  This is part of studying.  We must take the whole definition into account, how it’s used throughout the Bible, and this will help us arrive at an understanding.  In this case, I understand that God’s love for me was even greater than I assumed, because His pleasure was in my salvation so much so that it even pleased Him to crush Jesus severely. I never thought about it like that, but I will now remember that when I think about Christ’s dying on the cross.  It pleased Him.

If you want to read the Bible and study it more in depth, here’s a great resource: The Blue Letter Bible.  You can look up passages in whatever version you use, click on specific verses to look at them more deeply and see what the original words used actually were, and then you can click on that word to see its full definition, how many times it’s used in the Bible, and how it was used in each passage.  And it’s a free tool!  Below is the screen shot from the exact word in Isaiah 53:10 that lets us know it pleased God to do this for us.

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Many people go to church all around the world every weekend.  They sing praise songs, listen to sermons, maybe they even volunteer in one of the ministries.  They do stuff “for God.”  They even share memes on Facebook that say that everyone who loves Jesus will share them, and obviously that’s totally legit.  So we, along with them, are pretty sure they’re true disciples, true believers, real Christians.  But that may not be the case.  Though faith without works is dead (James 2:14-25), works without faith does not produce life or make someone right with God, either (Galatians 2:15-16).  We are supposed to do good works (see that passage in James), but those should be a natural outwork reflection of what has occurred inside a regenerated heart.  So salvation is by faith, which results in good works, but not faith + good works, and certainly not by good works alone.

Unfortunately, some people have faith in the fact that they are doing works instead of having faith in Jesus.  So the Holy Spirit will draw on that person, telling him he needs Christ, and he’ll shoo Him away.  “No, I’m saved.  I said a prayer when I was a kid.  I got baptized.  I serve in children’s ministry every month.  I’m a Christian.”  But these sources of security are rooted in us, who we are, and what we have done.  It must be rooted in Christ alone. Salvation is in Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone.  Not by works, you’ve been saved by God.

If you think you have been saved, but you have no inclination to ever do anything for God, I would recommend examining that, because faith does result naturally in doing good works.  On the other hand, if you feel the Holy Spirit drawing on you, telling you that you are not in Christ, you should yield to that and not rest the surety of your salvation on your own works.  No amount of good works could ever save you.

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faith is certain

The youth group is going through a 21-Day Prayer Challenge right now.  We started on Monday, coming out of our discussion Sunday night.  Tuesday, we read and prayed about hope.  Part of the exercise involves reading the Bible and praying over what it is teaching you.  Part of the reading on that day was Hebrews 11. I started reading, and the first three verses really hit me.  I’ve read them several times before, but there was something about them that really spoke to me this time more loudly than others times I’ve read them.  So I stopped and really thought about them before moving on to the rest of the chapter.  Here’s what they say:

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I was talking to Sarah the night before reading these verses again, and I said, “things look pretty bleak, but you never know.  God can do a miracle.”  And I felt like I was speaking in faith.  After all, I didn’t eliminate the possibility of God doing something big in the context we were discussing.  That was faith to me in that moment.  And that is faith to a lot of people: believing God can.  Only, that’s not faith, not by the definition in the Bible.  Faith isn’t believing God can do something.  It’s absolute assurance that what we hope for in Him will be, not that maybe, possibly, if He feels like moving, it might happen.  But don’t we have this cautious approach to faith?  It gives us an out if God doesn’t move the way we had hoped.  But the rest of Hebrews 11 is about people who lived, breathed, and lived in faith, and they never even got to see what it was they were hoping for.  Were they considered stupid?  No, not by God.  Certainly some people thought they looked stupid, because they had absolute faith that one thing would happen – perhaps that God would rescue them – and another thing happened (like maybe being killed).  But that’s faith.  It’s willing to believe that even the absurd will happen through God.

Jarrid Wilson said, “Sometimes having faith means engaging in something so bold that you will end up looking stupid if Jesus doesn’t come through.”  Have you ever trusted God for something, to do something, to show up in a way in your life that if He didn’t do it, you would end up looking stupid?  Are do you only have faith for the moderate, the things that don’t matter if they don’t end up happening?  What level of faith do you have?

take up your assigned cross

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Matthew 16:24-25

What does it mean to take up one’s cross to you?  In this context, it means to accept and bear the burden one has been called upon to bear.  The verse indicates that an intrinsic part of taking up one’s cross is to deny oneself.  That is, we must lose sight of ourselves and our own interests, so that we can focus on the burden we must carry.  We must deny ourselves, or our own will, to take up our cross, which is God’s will for us as His disciples.

We have some common crosses, in that as followers of Christ, we have universal commandments spoken to us in the Bible that we must follow.  Yet not all crosses are universal. God puts specific callings on different people, which come with different challenges.  The Bible is full of examples of this. Some were called to be Nazarites, meaning they could not participate in some things that other Jews did in the Old Testament; some were called to start the church among the Jews, while others were led to start churches among the Gentiles; some were called to kingship, while others were called to poverty; some were called to long lives, others called to die, and others called home without seeing death. And as each followed the call placed on their lives, taking up their cross, they followed God.

I am a pastor at KCC.  I have been called to be a pastor, and I follow that call.  This comes with certain challenges and realities that I must face.  They are part of my cross to bear.  I do not expect you to bear them for me or with me; they are mine.  And I am happy to take that up.  But just because I have some things I must do or cannot do doesn’t mean God expects the same from you.  Some pastors would suppose that everyone within the congregation must do as they do and live as they live and attempt to put that cross on their people.  I don’t agree. If God puts it on my heart to do something, I do not think you necessarily need to do it.  Just the same, some church people think pastors should do this or that, because it’s something they’re convicted about, and they attempt to put that cross on their pastors.  I don’t agree with that, either.  If the Bible says to do it or not to do it, I think we should all be bearing that, but let’s not assume everyone has the same calling as us and should be doing the same as us all of the time.

Don’t take up my cross and follow me.  I will not take up your cross and follow you.  Let us take up our assigned crosses and follow God.

The Quest Men’s Group is currently going through a study called Not a Fan.  It’s about being a committed follower of Christ, not just a fan who admires what He’s doing from the sidelines.  This morning, one of the questions was, “are there any stains from your past that keep you from fully following Christ?”  My initial reaction was, “no, I grew up a Christian and never really wandered far away.”  But that is a pretty lame answer and one that didn’t stick for long.

If I’m honest about it, there is a stain from my past that keeps me from following God.  My previous political affiliations and current political leanings, if unchecked, can keep me from following God’s instructions to love my neighbor as myself, to care for the poor, to welcome the refugee, etc.  My natural reaction is to see these sorts of issues through the lens of a conservative American, as an elephant, instead of seeing them through the lens of a sheep, a devoted follower of Christ.

And if there is one thing social media has taught me – besides teaching me that cat videos never get old – it’s that a lot of, if not most, Christians view people and the world through a politically assigned worldview.  We allow our political affiliation to dictate how we process various issues, often forgetting to engage common sense and a wonder at how Jesus would react.  And then we are quick to make public proclamations regarding our reactions and stances.

This goes both ways, too. Republican and Democrat Christians, the most conservative and the most liberal of Christians, and every leaning in between seems guilty of this.  The extreme of one side does seem quick to judge and discard, and the extreme of the other side seems to want to accept everything -not everyone, but everything – as though God’s position is antiquated.  There’s got to be a balance there.

The Paris bombings and the current refugee situation has amplified it and really put a spotlight on it, but it has been going on for quite some time.  Most Christians in my circles are vehemently against bringing in any Muslim refugees, and there’s been some pretty salty, racist, and even violent language used by sone to express this.  On the other hand, some of my Christian friends poo-poo that and say there’s no threat involved to bringing in refugees, as though why happened last week never really happened.  Both views are extreme and unbecoming in my opinion, because lacking compassion and lacking common sense are both tough pills for me to swallow.

I do think bringing in Syrian refugees presents obvious risks.  You lose some credibility with me when you pretend otherwise.  But you, as a Christian, also lose some credibility with me when allow fear and some evil people to dictate how you view and treat everyone else, as though God had no idea there were risks involved in welcoming refugees and foreigners when He commanded it.  I made the mistake of reading internet comments yesterday, and a great deal of Christians swore by the position that God would want us to protect America first, instead of knowingly exposing ourselves to risk by welcoming the refugees.  That was the common response to being asked what Jesus would do.  But is it true that Jesus would not welcome some in order to avoid being exposed to harm?  Some would say so, but Jesus and Judas would both disagree.

As Christians, we are called to be wise as serpents, harmless as doves, and as dedicated to following as sheep, and we are called to treat people accordingly.  We are not called to be elephants or donkeys.

 

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