Friday, February 28, 2014

The Value of Steeples

PRINCIPLE: “When everything is looking down, look up!”

My wife and I had the privilege of attending a pastor's retreat at a lovely place called the Normandy Inn. The buildings, not surprisingly, are all designed to look like Normandy. Therefore many of the buildings had steeples. Our host told us that the steeples were intended to draw our eyes upward to the heavens; they were an invitation to look up to God. That was a new and inspiring insight for me. No matter the weather, no matter the time of day, look up. “When everything is looking down, look up!”

I began to think of numerous passages in the Bible which give us the same invitation. Numbers 21 records the story God's response to the grumbling Israelites. God sent venomous snakes; all who were but by them died. So they people cried out to God to save them. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.” (21:8-9) “When everything is looking down, look up!” Jesus gave this even deeper meaning: In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.” (Jn. 3:14-15 MSG) “When everything is looking down, look up!”

The Psalmist, in Ps. 121:1, declares, “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” “When everything is looking down, look up!”

In the 40th chapter of Isaiah God is proclaiming his greatness to the Israelites to turn them from idols back to Him. “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing. Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the
Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God,the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the
Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,they will walk and not be faint.” (25-31, underlining mine).“When everything is looking down, look up!”

Jesus, in Luke 21, is teaching about the signs of the end of the age. He drives home His application when He says (28), “When these things begin to take place,stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” “When everything is looking down, look up!”

Notice how all the looking up draws us to Jesus. And looking to Jesus leads to life – eternal life. “For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (Jn. 6:40) The message of Scripture, from beginning to end, is “Look up and live.” I've begun to thank God for steeples. The next time you see one, I'll just bet you look up! And in looking up you'll be reminded of Jesus – and you'll experience new life.

Yet the really great news is that even if there is no steeple in sight, you can still look up. “When everything is looking down, look up!” And live!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Going for Gold

PRINCIPLE: “When you're awake, go for the gold!”

Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the Olympic Gold Medal for Ice Dancing. It was, as is always the case with Olympians, the result of persistent hard work over many years. Shortly after their victory NBC ran a short congratulatory piece in which they mentioned that Meryl and Charlie won the gold because they had been working together 17 years, practiced over 29,000 hours, entered 75 competitions, and skated 41/2 minutes of perfection. It's truly a picture of dedication, commitment, and perseverance. I couldn't help but think that they spent every waking hour thinking about or participating in their skating. Perhaps their motto was “When you're awake, go for the gold!”

I also thought about someone else who spent every waking hour thinking about or participating in his passion. His name was Paul. He wrote, Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Cor. 9:24-25) Near the end of his life he reflected, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:7-8) He spent every waking hour living for Jesus. “When you're awake, go for the gold!”

Paul's entire life was spent in preparation for the race. While I have no idea how many hours Paul spent 'practicing' and training, I do know he said, Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Cor. 9:26-27) “When you're awake, go for the gold!” I don't know how many times Paul entered into competition, but I do know he felt the pains of opposition: “Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? “ (2 Cor. 11:23-29) “When you're awake, go for the gold!” I also know that Paul didn't need to rely on perfection; rather he rested in grace. “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Cor. 15:9-10) “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Cor. 12:9) “When you're awake, go for the gold!”

I know the gold – the crown – is in store for me, because I have been saved by grace through faith. But it makes me wonder: how have I been running - how strict is my training – how purposeful, or aimless, has my running been? At the end of my race I want to be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” So from now on, I will strive to spend every waking hour living for Jesus. From hereon my motto is “When you're awake, go for the gold!” Will you join me?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Irritation



PRINCIPLE: “When the irritants irritate, drive!”

There are many things in life which irritate me. I'm irritated, for example, by the driver ahead of me on a two lane road, who keeps speeding up and slowing down – all because he's paying more attention to his cell phone conversation than his driving. He's a danger to others. I'm irritated when someone calls for tolerance but refuses to listen to my viewpoint. She's a divider, not a unifier. It's irritating when someone says “If I were you...”, because they're not me. I imagine you have things which irritate you as well.

But there's another kind of irritant that has grabbed my attention. It's not something someone else has done or is doing that irritates me – it's what I'm doing or not doing that causes the irritation. The nation of Israel was troubled by these irritants. In Numbers 33:55 God tells them “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live.” God knew their hearts – He knew that if they allowed temptations and evil to be among them, they would cave under the pressure and turn their backs on Him. So as they moved into enemy occupied territories God told them to drive out the inhabitants, to get rid of all evil that could potentially turn them in the wrong direction. If they did not, God warned, they would become barbs, splinters, pricks in their eyes and thorns in their sides. These tempting evils would irritate them to the point where they give in and give up.

What temptations, what habits, what tendencies towards sin are irritating you?  What are the 'pulls' on your life that that fill you with guilt or cause you anxiety? You're tempted to click on that porn site, to take that one extra drink, to have that one 'romantic' fling, to lie on that application, to seek revenge on that person who hurt you...Whatever it is, drive it out. “When the irritants irritate, drive!” When someone or something other than Christ is controlling your desires and passions, when someone or something other than Christ is controlling your time and energy, when someone or something other than Christ is your focus drive it out. “When the irritants irritate, drive!” Or the irritants will become barbs and thorns that trouble you everyday. As the NLT puts it, “...they will harass you.”

But what does 'driving' look like? The primary action that will help you begin to drive is to put and keep God's Word in your heart. Ps. 119:9-16 is clear and powerful: “How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed and keeping watch [on himself] according to Your word [conforming his life to it]. With my whole heart have I sought You, inquiring for and of You and yearning for You; Oh, let me not wander or step aside [either in ignorance or willfully] from Your commandments. Your word have I laid up in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” (Amplified Bible) Eugene Peterson, in The Message, paints this picture for the same verses: “How can a young person live a clean life? By carefully reading the map of your Word. I'm single-minded in pursuit of you; don't let me miss the road signs you've posted. I've banked your promises in the vault of my heart so I won't sin myself bankrupt. Be blessed, God; train me in your ways of wise living. I'll transfer to my lips all the counsel that comes from your mouth; I delight far more in what you tell me about living than in gathering a pile of riches. I ponder every morsel of wisdom from you, I attentively watch how you've done it. I relish everything you've told me of life, I won't forget a word of it. Be generous with me and I'll live a full life; not for a minute will I take my eyes off your road. Open my eyes so I can see what you show me of your miracle-wonders. I'm a stranger in these parts; give me clear directions. My soul is starved and hungry, ravenous!— insatiable for your nourishing commands.”  “When the irritants irritate, drive!”

There is more to do to drive away the irritants, but this is where it begins. Remember Jesus used the Word of God to drive away Satan in the wilderness. “Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Mt. 4:11) It can be so for you. “When the irritants irritate, drive!”

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Grabbing the GLue



PRINCIPLE: “In the midst of chaos, grab the glue.”

It was one of those wild Sundays. Worship went well and no one knew what all went on behind the scenes. That's because God is good and honors our best efforts. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I need to set the stage.

As usual, the worship orders were set, the music rehearsed, and the media presentations prepared. But as the Worship Team began to rehearse prior to the service, something went wrong with the technical equipment and we concluded there would be no multimedia for the opening song set. Not to be unglued, our Worship Leader quickly pulled out familiar songs for the opening set, and in the process moved one of the originally planned opening songs to just after the sermon – in hopes things would be up and running by then. Our pre-service prayer was filled with pleas for the Holy Spirit to work powerfully in the midst of the chaos. We knew Jesus would be our glue. We truly believed that when “In the midst of the chaos, grab the glue.”

Many things happened during that service, two of which are important to know here. First, the worship went off smoothly, no one missed a beat or note, and people sang from the depths of their hearts. The glue held it together. “In the midst of the chaos, grab the glue.”

Second, by  sermon time the technical equipment was working again, so following the sermon we could invite people to sing Potters Song, the number that was moved,.  A visitor to the service was deeply moved by the song and following the service asked for prayer. Her life was in chaos and she sincerely wanted Jesus to take control. So we prayed. “In the midst of the chaos, grab the glue.”

I was in awe of Jesus. Think about it. If there had not been a tech glitch, Potters Song would not have been placed at the very end and been such a powerful plea for submission. If our Worship Leader had not been so sensitive to the Spirit, we would  have canceled singing Potters Song. If our media tech had not been able to get the system up and running, we would not have sung the song. If, if, if...but Jesus! But Jesus holds it all together. “In the midst of the chaos, grab the glue.”

Jesus took our chaos and held it all together. Jesus took our visitor's chaos and held it all together. In fact, I believe God created our chaos to lift up her chaos so she could experience Jesus' healing touch in the midst of her chaos. As the Heidelberg Catechism so powerfully confesses, Providence is the almighty and ever present  power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty – all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.” It all happened by His fatherly hand! God created the chaos of the morning so Jesus could heal the chaos of one woman's life – and in the process heals ours as well.

I'm still in awe of Jesus, in whom all things hold together. Your life either is, or will sometime again be in chaos. Don't come unglued. Rather, “In the midst of the chaos, grab the glue.” You'll be in awe of Jesus.