Friday, September 27, 2013

Tunnels



PRINCIPLE: “When you see the tunnel ahead, claim your faith.”

Traveling through the mountains involves an occasional passage through a tunnel. I always find it somewhat eerie. I know it's safe and that it's really no different than the open road, but being totally engulfed by rock, with no view of the sky or familiar scenic surroundings, and with no avenue of escape can quickly produce dark thoughts – and even fear. I just like being able to see where I am and  having the assurance that there are options for escape should something happen. Tunnels do not allow for either. I have these feelings even though I've always made it through to the other side.

Recently, however, my thoughts about tunnels began to change. I read these words from John Henry Jowett[1]: “A little while ago I discovered a spring. I tried to choke it. I heaped sand and gravel upon it; I piled stones above it! And through them all it emerged, noiselessly and irresistibly, a radiant resurrection! And so the empty tomb becomes the symbol of a thoroughfare between life in time and life in the unshadowed Presence of our God. Death is now like a short tunnel which is near my home; I can look through it and see the other side! In the risen Lord death becomes transparent. 'O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?'” (1 Cor. 15:55) “When you see the tunnel ahead, claim your faith.”

Think about it. Is it mere coincidence that most of the contemporary accounts of people being on the edge of death – or actually dead – and then regaining life involve traveling through some type of tunnel? I believe it's more than coincidence. While Jesus never described what His coming would look or feel like, the bottom line is that He did say He was coming to get us.  “There are many rooms in my Father's house, and I am going to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so. And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.” (John 14:2-3 GNT) Taking us to be where He is involves traveling through unknown territory engulfed by unknown, unfamiliar surroundings, with no avenue of escape. But because of Jesus we know we'll make it safely to the end of the tunnel and into territory more beautiful than we can imagine. And we're traveling through with Jesus!

Tunnels now remind me that when we, or someone we love, is facing death, we have  this great assurance. Death is not the end – it is just a passageway, a thoroughfare, a tunnel, through which we pass with Jesus  to the life of glory. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; and those who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 GNT – underlining mine) We will not die – we simply travel to a new homeland. So “When you see the tunnel ahead, claim your faith.”

From now on, my journeys through the mountain tunnels will cause me to reflect, for they will point me to the truth that only those who believe in Jesus know: we will never die! And that's cause for rejoicing. The next time I see a sign stating that there's a tunnel ahead, I'll remember “When you see the tunnel ahead, claim your faith.”

Perhaps you or a loved one is facing life's last journey; there's no way around it; it's a difficult time. It's hard, on this end of the tunnel, to say goodbye. But “When you see the tunnel ahead, claim your faith.” We can only imagine what's on the other side! As Paul poignantly wrote (1 Cor. 15:57-58 NLT):
But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”


[1]          Springs of Living Water, April 4, Baker Book House, 1976

Friday, September 20, 2013

Lesson from Puzzles




PRINCIPLE: “When the way is the problem, remember the way.”

Barb and I enjoy putting puzzles together. We relish the challenge and like the fact that, supposedly, doing puzzles is one way to keep minds fresh and alert (and we need all the help we can get with that!) But early on we learned there's a problem – there's more than one way to do a puzzle. And there's the rub. The first thing Barb likes to do is turn over and lay out all the pieces; the first thing I like to do is find the edge pieces and get the frame together. Both ways work – but when we're working together it's difficult to use both approaches. Something – someone – has to give. If we want to complete the puzzle in the most efficient, least stressful way, we need to be on the same page regarding the process. The way to success is teamwork. That's worth remembering. “When the way is the problem, remember the way.”

It reminds me of the apostle Paul. In his first letter to the Corinthian Church he dealt with divisions in the church, primarily with divisions caused by selfish attitudes. Paul talks about some specific issues causing divisions in the Corinthian church. There was, he said, more than one way to approach what kind of meat to eat,  more than one way to worship, more than one way to celebrate the Lord's Supper, and more than one way to use spiritual gifts. But, he warned, do not let your way get in the way. (10: 23-24) “'Everything is permissible' – but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is permissible' – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” (10: 32-33) “Do not cause anyone to stumble...I am not seeking my own good but the good of many.” Give up the demand for your way – the way to success is teamwork. “When the way is the problem, remember the way.”

To illustrate the principle, Paul – in chapter 12 – points to how our bodies work. (12: 12, 26)) “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body....If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” All the parts can work independently, but then the whole body would be dysfunctional. But for the body to function in a healthy way the many parts must work together. So for Paul the way to healthy functioning is through great teamwork – and the way to great teamwork is seeking the good of others. “When the way is the problem, remember the way.”

I have a strong suspicion that what works in the body of Christ, works as well in athletic contests, office staffs, government agencies, marriages – and even in completing puzzles. Granted, leadership sometimes, in special unique circumstances, demands leadership that states “My way or the highway.” But in most of our everyday situations, there is another way, a healthier more productive way.“Do not cause anyone to stumble...I am not seeking my own good but the good of many.” “When the way is the problem, remember the way.”

Yet Paul brings the body illustration to a climax by nailing down why we should seek the good of the other (12:31): “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” And that way is love. (13:1-8) “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” In all things, “When the way is the problem, remember the way.”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Loving the Cot



PRINCIPLE: “When going out and coming in, be thankful for the cot.”

Being a counselor at summer camp had its privileges. One of them was the sleeping arrangements. Campers and counselors all slept in A-frame tents which had been constructed on wooden platforms. But while the campers slept in their sleeping bags on the floor, we counselors slept in sleeping bags on a cot. While there were several reasons for this privilege, one was tantamount. At 'lights out' time, we placed our cots in front of the tent door so no one could go in our out without our awareness. No one could sneak out, or even go out to the restroom, without our knowledge. And while it was sometimes frustrating for the campers to awaken us and then have to step over us,  it was  for the safety and well-being of the campers. Sometimes we had to remind them of that purpose. “When going out and coming in, be thankful for the cot.”

In reality, sleeping on the cot was not so much a privilege as it was a responsibility. The safety and well-being of the campers was upon us. But we weren't the first ones to take up such a position. “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture...I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.” (Jn. 10:9-10) Jesus took that position centuries ago. He took responsibility for our safety, our well-being, and, indeed, our very lives. Jesus was the fulfillment of God's promise in Ps. 121:8 - “The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

What a wonderful truth to know! Once we come to God through Jesus Christ – once we enter into eternal life – we are part of a gated community. And Jesus is the gatekeeper. We go nowhere without His knowledge. Wherever we are, He knows we're there. That means there, in that place, we can find pasture; our needs will be supplied. And no matter what choices we make, no matter what happens, we can always go back inside the safety, shelter, and pasture of our gated community – because Jesus be is always at the gate to welcome us back and let us in.

But as the gatekeeper Jesus also keeps out the wolves seeking to attack and destroy us (10:12-15 CEV). “Hired workers are not like the shepherd. They don’t own the sheep, and when they see a wolf coming, they run off and leave the sheep. Then the wolf attacks and scatters the flock. Hired workers run away because they don’t care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and they know me. Just as the Father knows me, I know the Father, and I give up my life for my sheep.”  Whether going or coming we are under the protective care of Jesus.

To be honest, we must admit that there are times when knowing Jesus is at the gate frustrates us. Just knowing He's there makes it difficult to go out to places we might want to go, and to do things we might want to do, of which He disapproves or from which He discourages us. We, like the campers, cant just get up and go out and do what we want to do; we have to check in with the Counselor –  the gatekeeper – first. We just can't step over or around the cot – it's always right there in front of the entry. But it's always for our good: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Here's how some other translations state this glorious truth: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  (New RSV) “I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.” (GNT) “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (NLT) “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” (MSG) Get the idea? So “When going out and coming in, be thankful for the cot.” It's there – Jesus is there – to guarantee our well-being. We know – because the cot on which He laid was a cross; He did give His life for us. And we can have life in all  its fullness, richness, and abundance. So “When going out and coming in, be thankful for the cot.”

Thursday, September 5, 2013

When It's Misty Outside



PRINCIPLE: “When it's misty, get a clear view.”

We were staying in a cabin up in the mountains. Upon awakening the first morning I stepped outside to enjoy the view and snap some pictures – but there wasn't much to see. The mist covered both the mountain peaks and the valleys. Disappointed, I went back inside. A while later I went out again and found the mist burning off and the view improving. At that point disappointment turned to reflection. “When it's misty, get a clear view.”

I thought of James, who wrote, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)  In the grand scheme of life, all our lives short-lived. We can cast aside this truth as morbid, depressing, and defeatist – or we can accept it as the motivation for living each day, each hour, each minute, each second to the fullest. If we choose to cast it aside we have every reason to live life with reckless abandon – grab all the gusto we can for tomorrow we die.  If we choose to accept it, we have power and purpose for living.

The power and purpose are clear in James. Read the verse again, this time in its full context (4:13-17). “Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.” “When it's misty, get a clear view.”

It reminds me of something I asked my pastor when I was in high school; “If you knew you had just one day to live, what would you do?” His response, in essence, was that he hoped he was living in such a way that his last day would be lived the same way, doing the same things, that he did every day. In other words, since our lives are short-lived, since we do not know when we will take our last breath, we should live each day, each hour, each minute, each second as if it were our last. James said we should do the good we ought to do.

And what is that good? Jesus said (Mark 12:30-31), Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” The word Jesus used for love is 'agape' – agape love is not an emotion but an action of the will; it's a conscious decision to do what love demands. It's the love Jesus has for us – He doesn't love us because we make him feel so good, but because He chose to love us – with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength – all the way to the cross.

I think it would be appropriate to start each morning with some mist – because “When it's misty, get a clear view.”  Today, what does love require of you? In this moment, what would loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength look like? What would loving your neighbor as you love yourself, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength look like? After all, in the grand scheme of life,  our lives short-lived – should we not live it to the fullest?

Lord God, “Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise.” (Ps. 90:12 GNT)