Saturday, June 29, 2013

Cracking the Case

PRINCIPLE: “When the case can't be cracked, give thanks for the seal.”

I needed more razor blades. Being on Sabbatical and not in our home town, we went to the nearest store. There I found the brand of blades I use. They were packaged differently, with the container of blades encased in a bigger, hard plastic case. But why should that matter? They were the right blades.
All was well...

Until I needed to use them. When it came time to open the bigger, hard plastic case, the trouble began. There was no way to open it. I'm not kidding! There was what appeared to be a little switch that could serve as a lock but it wouldn't move. So I got out my trusty little knife and pried – and pried – and pried. Nothing changed. Being in a motel, I had few other resources so I banged the case on the counter-top by the sink. Nothing but a loud noise – not even a crack in the plastic. After a few more bangs - each harder and louder but with no results - I gave up. I was mystified. Access to guns and drugs appeared to be easier than access to these blades! The old blade currently in my razor would have to work another day or two until we arrived at my sister and brother-in-law's home. There we'd find a way to 'crack the case.' Long story short – after chucking with us about the crazy case, my brother-in-law took it out to his garage and cracked open the case with his hacksaw.

I'm still not sure why razor blades had to be placed in such a secure case. But I do know no one was going to get at them without tremendous effort. They were securely sealed – which brings to mind our security in Christ. We, too, are securely sealed. No switches, no knives, no banging; nothing can get to us. Suddenly I realize that being locked out had a message for me: “When the case can't be cracked, give thanks for the seal.”

Paul preached it forcefully. “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Cor. 1:21-22) “You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ.” (Eph. 1:13 CEB) “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30) We are sealed, held fast, protected. No one and nothing can get to us but through the hands of Jesus. The Heidelberg Catechism confesses it beautifully:

(26) “What do you believe when you say “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?” That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth with all that is in them, who also upholds and governs them by his eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ his Son my God and my Father. I trust in him so completely that I have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul. Moreover, whatever adversity he sends upon me in this troubled life he will turn to my good, for he is able to do it, being almighty God, and is determined to do it, being a faithful Father.”

(27) “What do you understand by the providence of God? The almighty and ever-present power of God whereby he still upholds, as it were by his own hand, heaven and earth together with all creatures, and rules in such a way that leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, and everything else, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.”

No one, nothing can crack His case around us. Not knives, not counter-tops, not hacksaws. For Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (Jn. 10:27) “When the case can't be cracked, give thanks for the seal.”

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Puzzles

PRINCIPLE: “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.”

In doing puzzles I've learned that at least one thing is inevitable – there will comes points where I'm stuck and can't find any pieces that fit anywhere. I've learned that, rather than stressing and quitting, it's best to switch positions, to go to the other side of the table, to get a different perspective. “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.” It's amazing how many pieces I then find that fit. And it's all because I put myself in a position to get a new perspective.

I've also learned that the same is true when it comes to viewing and understanding life. The Bible is filled with admonitions that say, in essence, “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.” Consider Joseph's words to his brothers about understanding the circumstances of life: Now do not be upset or blame yourselves because you sold me here. It was really God who sent me ahead of you to save people's lives. This is only the second year of famine in the land; there will be five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor reaping. God sent me ahead of you to rescue you in this amazing way and to make sure that you and your descendants survive. So it was not really you who sent me here, but God...But Joseph said to them, “Don't be afraid; I can't put myself in the place of God. You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people who are alive today because of what happened.” (Gen. 45:5-8 & 50:19-20 GNT) “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.” Reflect on Paul's words about viewing other people: “So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!” (2 Cor. 5:16 NLT) “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.”Think about Jesus' words to Martha about her dead brother Lazarus: Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40) “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.” Viewing life's circumstances, other people, and the issues of life and death from Jesus' perspective rather than our provides new, significant sight.

Jesus explains it this way: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) Once we believe in God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son, we live in the environment of life rather than of death. We see circumstances, people, and all of life differently; we see it from God's perspective. And to be sure we understand how to cross over, Jesus told us “If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (John 7:17) We change sides, we cross over, we move into the environment of life by obeying – by doing what Jesus says to do. There's comes a time to quit trying to understand and figure out everything that happens to us in life, to stop evaluating and judging people from our own prejudices, to cease from focusing on death and darkness and to cross over to Jesus' sight. We do it anytime, every time, we obey. Just do what He says, think likes He thinks, serve like He serves, love like he loves. It will be amazing how many pieces will fit. “When puzzled by the puzzle, switch places.”

Friday, June 14, 2013

All that Trash

PRINCIPLE: “When admiring the falls, remember the fall.”

Barb and I were enjoying the hike – not because we were in shape (far from it!) but because we knew we'd get to see the beauty and awesomeness of the majestic waterfalls. And sure enough – they were awe-inspiring. We not only took pictures but stood quietly as we reflected on and rejoiced in our great Creator God who designed it all.

Then my eyes shifted to a site some distance before the falls, just off to the left, along the shoreline of the river. Downed tree limbs and shrubbery had fallen into the river creating a natural dam. But it was not a thing of beauty. Rather, the dam was serving as a trap for all kinds of garbage; it was an absolute eyesore. People had dumped everything imaginable into the river – and all the garbage was dammed up for all to see. It was a condemning sign of our human-created pollution. I was stunned and appalled.

Yet as I pondered the sight, I thought of another kind of pollution – the pollution caused by our sin. As I admired the falls, I remembered the fall. Certainly Eve never contemplated the impact of her one sin – yet it is the fountainhead of all the pollution piled up in the dams of our world. “When admiring the falls, remember the fall.” I suspect few who threw garbage into the river did it with the intent of piling up garbage; in fact, many of them, if they thought at all, probably thought that just one little thing would not hurt. They just didn't know it that one piece of garbage here, one there, and one there eventually dam up to spoil the beauty and health of the river. “When admiring the falls, remember the fall.”

And isn't that the way it is with us and our sin? Surely this one sin, we convince ourselves, won't hurt. Who else will see it anyway? No one else will be affected by it. Yet put it together with all our other sins, and with the sins of all others, and what do you see? And consider what God sees: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb. 4:13) God sees all our sin as it dams up his view of our lives. And He sees not only our sins but the sin of the whole world. One sin here, another there, and another there all combine to dam up the pollution our world and spoil the beauty and health of life. Just imagine how appalled God is when He sees the pile. In the midst of His beautiful world stands a humongous, ugly pile of garbage. “When admiring the falls, remember the fall.”

Yet we can praise God today that He built another dam to catch all our pollution and garbage. It, too, was made from a tree. He placed it on a hill called Mount Calvary. The dam was shaped like a cross. On the cross hung God's Son, Jesus, who, while dying, offered forgiveness for sinners when He said “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” As Peter later wrote (1 Pt. 2:24), “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” As with the dam in the river, the cross stops the garbage and the pollution – it stops up the sins. The pollution ends with Jesus. “When admiring the falls, remember the fall.” As George Bernard wrote in that great Hymn “The Old Rugged Cross”, “In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, A wondrous beauty I see, For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, To pardon and sanctify me. So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, Till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, And exchange it some day for a crown.”

“When admiring the falls, remember the fall.”  It will point you to Jesus and lead you to rejoice in our great Creator God who designed it all.

Friday, June 7, 2013

When Nothing Is Everything

Principle: “When you have nothing to say, say everything.”

The parsonage in which we lived was, like most, right next to the church. I had a standing rule that when our boys came home from school they could, if I was in my study at the church, stop in and say “Hi.” They often did. Many times it was brief, and they had little to say – except “Hi.” I'm not sure what it meant to them, but I know what it meant to me. They didn't always need to say much – their presence enriched me and deepened my love for them.

That's why I think I can at least begin to understand why Jesus likes for us to take the time to be with Him. It took me way too long to figure out that I don't always have to say much to Him. Sometimes just taking the time to be with him, to say 'Hi' is enough. I realize now that I have spent needless hours berating myself. In trying to establish a discipline of regular times to 'pray', I would grow frustrated because I felt my prayers were either getting repetitious or empty and that the time was therefore becoming more a duty than a delight. I now realize that it's not about me, it's about Jesus. He cherishes my presence and my 'Hi.' It enriches Him and deepens His love for me. So it's okay to say nothing. “When you have nothing to say, say everything.” My boys said everything when they took the time to to check in; and I say everything to Jesus when I take the time to check in.

Perhaps this is what the Psalmist was saying when he wrote, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” (Ps. 84:10) He had come to realize that just being in God's presence was sometimes enough. In fact, what could be greater than that? Certainly there were times the Psalmist had plenty to say to God; but there were times when silence was the order of the day – and that was okay. There were times my boys had plenty to say – and oftentimes questions to ask; but there were times when silence said it all. “When you have nothing to say, say everything.”

I am thinking of all the wonderful moments of love I would have missed if my sons had only come in when they had something they wanted to say or ask. In fact, I realize now that without the moments of the simple “Hi”, I might well have begun to feel like I was needed and wanted only when they needed something or someone to talk to. But because they did come in when they had nothing to say , they said it all. “I love you.” And that meant the world to me and deepened my love for them. “When you have nothing to say, say everything.”

So I am working on being okay with spending moments with Jesus when I have little, if anything, to say. (And believe me – it's tough for a preacher not to say anything!) I realize how important it is that when I have nothing to say I must say everything. And taking the time to touch base with Jesus, to spend a moment in His presence, says it all. And you know what else? I'm finding out that it not only deepens Jesus' love for me – it deepens my love for Him! Maybe, just maybe, one of these days I will actually spend one day in His presence, with nothing – yet everything – to say.

Is it time for you to start stopping in to say nothing – but everything – to Jesus? “When you have nothing to say, say everything.”