Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nine Times Out of Then

I, along with most sane folks, weren't surprised when the world didn't end last Saturday around six pm. The percentage of doomsday prophets who got it right is still zero, or to put it more positively, they are batting 1.000 pct. One day the percentage will go up a little, but nine times out of then it stays the same. I'll admit to some minute disappointment. In some ways I'm ready for the Lord to get on with His new heaven and new earth format. I'm tired of people hurting. I'm tired of caner, Alzheimer's, ALS, and whatever diseases and maladies strike family and friends. I'm tired of war and rumors of war. I'm tired of praying for peace in the middle east. ( I know I'm not suppose to say that so hold the letters) I'm tired of murders, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, gambling, politics, corruption (I know-redundant), world hunger, greed, arthritis and cell phones. I'm really tired of death. But I've read Matthew 24 and 25, Revelation 19 and 20, and II Peter 3. and I know where this corrupt earth thing is headed. A part of me says, "come on Lord, it can't get much worse so just do it."

But just a part of me.

For the most part I was glad the world kept going after Saturday. It means, among other things we keep some good things going with chances for greater things. I still like the way cool air feels on fall and spring mornings. I like the sound of the golf ball hitting the bottom of the cup, though often after six or seven strokes its more relief than joy. I like the way grandson Kaden says "Mimi" and "GrandCos." (he holds the "o" and hisses the "s.") I love to see a good pick-and-roll and the smell and taste of smoked brisket. And these are minor things. In the major categories we humans already have the capabilities to end world hunger, end all manners of self inflicted heart-ache and disease from abuse and bad habits. On the medical front strides are being made to alleviate the pain and death associated with diseases that years ago their diagnoses were considered a death sentence.

But there's another reason I'm glad the world didn't end just yet. Not everyone is ready. It is just a fact and according to the Apostle Peter in II Peter 3: 9, the Lord is holding back, not being slow as it looks in coming back but being patient so people can come to repentance and not perish eternally.

One of these days the Lord will return. It will come like a thief in the night. Jesus said that no one knows the day or the hour, not angels, not the Son but only God the Father. So anyone who says it is going to happen at this time or that is being unbiblical and should be ignored. One day it will happen and what the bible teaches is readiness. We get ready by surrendering our lives by faith to the Lordship of Christ and getting busy doing justice, acts of service, kindness, and love. Peter goes on to say  in the afore mentioned chapter that "you ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming." The church is extended time to witness and share the good news that all may have eternal life in Jesus. We've got a lot of work to do, much of it hard but nearly all of it rewarding if you can keep the eternal goal in mind. I"ve got family and friends who frankly aren't ready yet. So hold off Lord, if you can.

Now excuse me, I've got a few sermon notes to write. Then I've got to make a few visits to the sick and unchurched. Then I'm going to get a brisket sandwich, go the putting green, and call Kaden on the cell phone. Look, you get ready your way, I'll get ready mine.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

With Robes Not Torn

In Matthew 26:65 the high priest, Caiaphas, tore his robes when Jesus affirmed that He was indeed the messiah, the son of the Living God.  This is not the first instance of the tearing of one's robe in the face of grief or distress. Israel's kings often did it when confronted with a nation about to defeat them. Young King Josiah did it when he heard the word of the Lord concerning the sinful ways of Judah. Job did it when he was in grief over the loss of his family and seeming absence of God. But Dr. Larry Crabb points out that one group of people, priests, were not to ever tear their robes except in the face of blasphemy. Scriptures in Exodus 28,29 and Leviticus 10 and 21 indicate that priest were not to tear their robes in the face of distress or personal grief but only in the case of blasphemy. Even when Aaron's sons were killed he could not tear his robes in grief lest he too be killed. This is why Paul and Barnabas tore their robes in Acts 14 when the people in Lystra declared them to be gods. Paul, a rabbi, tore his robes to affirm his humanity and grieve the Lystrians blasphemy.

Why the harshness on priests? Do they not grieve as others at the loss of family and friends? Do they not face distressing circumstances and are they not human with the same needs and emotions? Yes, but the priest also had another calling. Once a year one of them would be chosen to go into the Holy of Holies and make atonement for all of Israel. He would sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat for the sins of the people and pray that God would accept their offering as an atonement for sin. The implication is that one who stands in the presence of God should never view any circumstance, no matter how dreadful, costly, distressing, and grievous as hopeless beyond the ability of God to bring salvation and relief. The Apostle Paul put it this way, "we do not grieve as those who have no hope" (I Thess. 4:13).

The implications for the church are especially relevant in the light of so many problems which plague our world. With wars, disease, poverty, wild fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, drugs, terrorists, job troubles, relationship troubles and brussel sprouts, it is understandable if we went about in distress with our robes figuratively torn because of our grief. I haven't even mentioned the ultimate nemisis, death. But we in the church join others and feel for ourselves the weight of these painful demons and problems loosed in our world. Yet, we are not to tear our robes. Wait, you say, we're not priests. Yes, you are. Eph. 4:11-12 tells us all believers are ministers. Revelation 1:6, 5:10 and 20:6 reminds us that we are indeed a kingdom of priests. And Hebrews 10:19 informs us that all believers can confidently enter into the Most Holy Place, the presence of God, through the blood of Jesus. Therefore, even in the face of horror, disease, and even death we, in essence, do not tear our robes. We greive, we hurt, we cry, we ask why, but never without hope, never without the very presence of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We ared pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecutied, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (II Cor. 4: 7-10)

As believers, our hearts can ache and break. As believers, our minds can frazzle and our emotions fume but we do so with robes not torn for our robes are robes of righteousness, whole and complete in the salvation of Christ.

Hole-y, wholly, Holy,

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Christian Reactions to OBL's Death

I have heard people make the connection between Sept, 11, 2001 and May 8, 2011 by saying we will never forget where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news of both events. The first date was met with horror, disbelief, anger, rage, sadness, resolve and grief. The news of OBL's death evoked joy, relief, euphoria, hope (for more peace), and regret that it took so long. All of this led to fist pumping, spontaneous celebrations at ballgames, in taverns, and in the streets. The USA's no. 1 enemy had been destroyed which prompted the impromptu  parties.

My own immediate reaction was a shout of "whoopee, we got him!" My next reaction followed on its heals with a more somber question: "should I yelp for joy at the death of a human being, who from all my understanding of God and His word is now in hell for eternity?" I answered my question with polarized clarity: yes and no. "Yes," because a conduit of demonic evil was eliminated. OBL was a mass murderer, a radical religious fanatic with no compassion for any but those that fit his narrow definitions of proper belief and action. He was no friend to any religion but his own brand and was obviously murderously intolerant of any he believed unfit. The world is better off without him. Period.

So why any sympathy or feeling of misgivings at OBL death at all? Actually, there were few for the man himself. A feeling of melancholy did waft over my soul at the whole thought of war and death. God didn't intend for OBL to be the way he was. He made choices. He saw things he didn't like and acted and reacted with evil. His ego got in the way. I have done all these things myself to some degree. OBL obviously had intelligence and leadership capabilities. These qualities were wasted unless you view things from a demonic standpoint of hatred for anyone not like you. The loss of such potential for good is saddening but this was lost long before a bullet brought an end to his life.  Ahh, what could have been...

 And honestly, I was somewhat repulsed by some of the reaction in America at the news of OBL's death. Understandable to a point, but death and war and the crafts we have honed to win at these are serious. I remember the gut wrenching agony of seeing the dismembered bodies of our servicemen dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia and the celebrations that were spawned by that horror in the Arab world. I also recall the street dancing and flag burning in radical Islam enclaves after 9-11. Some in the US looked no different, I'm sure, to the Muslim community when those news tapes were shown on their tv's last Monday. I guess I'd like to believe we are different and we don't gloat over death, even the death of evil. We do away with it and move on quietly. Let the SEALs clank a glass in their private remembrance for a job well done with the thanks of a grateful nation. Then they as a team and we as a nation move on to the next assignment. We do this because we know that even though OBL is dead, evil is not. It will have to be faced again.

So what is the next assignment? I have no authority over the SEALS, the nation, or any person to give them one. Let me just tell you some assignments I've made to myself.
One is to be humble in the face of evil, or, when I should prove victorious at some points, in the aftermath of victory. James 4:10 admonishes us to humility and Proverbs 27:21 reminds us that a man is tested by the praise he receives. Spiritual victories are hard fought (see the cross) and possible only by the grace of God--so be humble.
Another assignment is prayer. I need to remain vigilant in prayer for evil is real and present in this world. It affects all of us and even all of nature (Rom 3:23, Rom. 6:23, and Rom. 8:21-22.). I need to pray for the end of evil and the death of death. This only comes by the power of God's grace and love. All other battles against it fought by weapons forged by the hands of man will bring fleeting victories at best. In the recorded history of man, only seven years have passed without some of us in the world fighting with others. So be prayerful for our nation which has lost its way on so many levels. Freedom and justice cannot be secured nor maintained without a connection to righteousness. Pray for justice and freedom for the nations.

Related to prayer is another assignment--be evangelistic. We never know when our sharing with another human being about our faith in Christ might prevent all manners of evil down the road in that person's life. Jesus changes hearts. He transforms lives. He changes people's destiny from hell to heaven. Walking with Jesus in a relationship of faith brings peace, joy, and hope to a person's life for now and forever more. Did OBL ever hear the real salvation story of Jesus? Did he ever  really see Jesus or just another religion that he didn't like that he viewed as one needing to be eradicated for his to succeed? I don't know but I do know Jesus still saves. Pray and witness to the lost. You may prevent an Columbine, a 911, a divorce, a murder, a suicide or an empty life by sharing Jesus with another soul. We may not ever know now, but someday we will.

The last assignment I'll share today is this: be grateful. Be grateful that God sent His son to offer eternal life to those who trust in Him. Be grateful that God changes lives. Be grateful for His grace and truth. Be grateful for freedoms won and freedoms held. Be grateful to men and women who fight for us, pray for us, share Christ's truth with us and model grace and freedom for us. And be grateful that in the end, the living and true God revealed in Jesus-wins.