Friday, September 23, 2016

Fine Line

I am not calling for a boycott!  No I’m not calling for a boycott, nor am I decrying the “soulless" state of American big business.  But I do have to tell you a story that I think illustrates a telling sign of the way our culture is gently closing its eyes to reality.

I was on my way to visit someone in the hospital, and I was concerned because I didn’t know if I would ever be able to see this person again after their recovery.  I wanted to leave something with them that could give them true help and comfort in their difficult season of life.  So, I stopped by a “big-box” store in town and went to the book section to see if I could find a gift Bible.  

I found the section I was looking for, and even found a set of shelves marked “best-sellers”.  Try as I might, I was not able to find a Bible anywhere on the shelves of the store—anywhere.  Finally, deciding to break manly tradition, I decided to ask for help from one of the store’s associates.  “Do you have any Bibles in the store?” I asked.  With a shrug, the the store’s employee told me they did not carry Bibles anymore.  She cautiously informed me that they had to “watch out for that fine line…”  What?  What fine line?

I am certain that she was referring to the current tensions in political and religious life in America.  And I am sure that she was doubtful of her own company’s decision not to carry such a significant work of literature, but I was looking in the Best Sellers section for a book that is clearly the best selling book of all time.  There is no thin line between the Bible and other books in print.  The line, in fact, is quite thick!

A December 2012 "Business Insider” article written by Jennifer Polland  cites a startling statistic.  She quotes writer, James Chapman, who gathered a list of the most read books based on book sales over just the past 50 years.  The Bible checks in at an incredible 3.9 billion copies sold in the last 50 years, with the second best seller, “Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung” coming in at 820 million.  That’s a difference of over 3 billion books!  Let me put this another way:  if you sold one copy of Mao’s quotations every second, it would take twenty-six years to sell 820 million books.  If you sold one copy of the Bible per second, you, your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would be selling Bibles for 124 years!  

There is a reason that the Bible is the most loved and well-read book in all of human history.  The Bible is a book that God wrote by inspiring forty different authors from a variety of cultural backgrounds over a period of about 1,500 years.  It is filled with wisdom, romance, intrigue, prophecy, instruction, and correction that still applies to us today, and all of this serves the purpose of revealing to us the God who made us and loves us!  It tells a broken, sinful and hurting humanity of a God who can heal, forgive, save and empower for abundant living.

2 Peter 1:16, 19-21 says, "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty….And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

These are powerful words for us to admire about the Bible.  I pray you will find your answers in the Word of God, and that you will find hope and joy in the God of the Word!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Don’t Give Up

“The problem with life is that it is so daily”.  I first heard this common phrase from my Dad.  He was impressing on me the importance of keeping a ‘big-picture’ perspective on life.  It is important not to get bogged down in the daily-ness of life, or discouraged from an apparent lack of progress in what we are doing.  I find myself struggling at times with this very concept, and I find it fascinating that the Bible speaks to our need to keep on going with an eternal perspective in view.  

Consider these words from Galatians 6:9…"And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  First of all, in this passage, the apostle Paul acknowledges the reality of becoming weary even at doing good things.  There is a point where our best and most helpful opportunities for help and service seem to become burdensome and lose their luster.  It is important that we remember we have been given these opportunities from God for a purpose that He has in mind.  There will be a harvest “in due season” if we don’t give up or give in to the temptation to quit.

When we feel weak or discouraged, here are some encouragements from the Bible that can help us keep going:

  • John 6:35  "Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  God’s strength in Christ Jesus is the power we need to live and love every day.

  • John 4:13-14  "Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  Our soul-thirst is quenched and renewed in Jesus.

  • Romans 8:37-39 “ all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  When we feel discouraged or defeated, the truth is that any victory we have is in Jesus. 

In Christ we live and move and have our being.  By His strength, His daily provision, and the encouragement we receive from the Holy Spirit, we can overcome discouragement and weariness and keep walking with the Lord!

You are Not Alone

I want to share a brief passage from scripture from which I take great encouragement. It is from the book of Hebrews, chapter four, verses fourteen through sixteen.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

This passage reveals two truths worth grasping, and one admonition worth following, all of which would suffice to be our spiritual life’s work for the rest of our lives if we truly understood and treasured them. The first truth is this: We do not stand on our own before God the Father, we have an advocate in Jesus Christ, God the Son. God looks upon those who are in Christ Jesus and He sees not our own goodness, but the goodness of His Son. Scriptures tell us that Jesus acts as our Advocate, like a lawyer before a judge, and He stands to tell the judge that in spite of the guilt of His client, He has already paid our fine by dying on the cross.

The second truth is this: Jesus represents us to God the Father with an intimate understanding of our frailty. It is understandable that we get a general impression of God being powerful, mighty and distant because He is so much different than we are and He is so holy. But the Bible clearly tells us that Jesus can identify with us in the way we are tempted and afflicted because He himself faced those same trials and difficulties. I don’t know why it works this way, but there is some measure of comfort and assurance in knowing that someone else has gone through the issues we are dealing with. God comforts us by saying “I know…I’ve been there.”

Finally, we are called to “draw near the throne of grace”. This means that we are able to draw near to God’s throne with confidence instead of terror. It means that we need never feel alone because we have a confident expectation of God’s loving care for us. In Him we can find mercy, grace, and help in time of need.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Finding Gold

Gold is one of the most commonly sought after precious metals in the history of the world.  Its rarity and beauty make it a highly prized treasure, and the standard of measurement of wealth.  It is diligently harvested from rivers, lakes, and mines by people who make it their life goal to “strike it rich” and find big money in the earth.

Sometimes reading and understanding the Bible is like a hunt for hidden treasure.  In fact, Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings to search things out.”  This might explain why it is occasionally hard to understand the Bible.  We read, and though we understand the words, we sometimes don’t understand the meaning or the application to our personal lives.  So, what can we do?  How do we “seek things out”, and find God in His word?  Here are some pointers to help you as you read your Bible:

  • Read every day.  Sometimes understanding increases with familiarity, and developing a habit of daily reading can help you become more familiar with the rhythm and flow of scripture.
  • See the big picture.  It is possible to lose the details of what you are reading if you don’t know the context in which it was written.  There are lots of different kinds of writing in the Bible.  There is a specific structure to the arc of the entire story of the Bible.  Knowing where in biblical history the passage you are reading is taking place may help your understanding.
  • Talk to the Author.  Scripture is inspired by God, and He is available to its readers through prayer.  When you sit down to read your Bible, take time to pray and ask God to help you understand.  God seems to greatly enjoy revealing Himself to those who want to know Him.  
  • Take God at His Word.  Sometimes our confusion and struggle with God’s word comes not from difficult words or concepts, but rather it comes from our unwillingness to believe what it says or comply with what it teaches.  This is a challenge, not of the mind, but of the heart as we are confronted with challenges to our self-will.  Just remember, God is God and you are not.
  • Take notes.  Highlight significant ideas or terms.  When you run into a question about a passage, write it down.  Perhaps some other time you will come across the answer to your question and you will be able to go back and jot that down as well.  Enjoy the glimpses of truth you find as you explore God’s word.  
  • Share with a friend.  It is always a good idea to pursue knowing God in community with others.  Share the blessing!

So why would it be the glory of God to conceal a matter in the first place?  Think of it as God’s way of drawing us in to an adventure that will ultimately reveal to us something about Him.  Seeking God in His word is how we get to know what kind of a God He really is, and how we might see His blessing in our lives.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

In Times Like These

I have a fond memory of something we used to do in church when I was growing up.  Every once-in-a-while, we would have a simple “hymn-sing” Sunday.  Our pastor or music leader would stand up and lead us through favorite hymns that people would call out from the congregation.  A lot of good singing, heads nodding ‘yes’, smiles, and the occasional tear of joy would be seen across the congregation as we sang of the promises of God, and His love for us.

On one occasion, when I must have been very young, a similar singalong was called for at the beginning of a midweek Bible study.  The pastor called out, “Are there any requests?”.  Wanting to get in on the action in youthful zeal, I opened the hymnal and called out the first song number I saw.  The pastor chuckled when he saw the title, and then let the rest of us know that he was not familiar with that song, but we might as well try to sing it anyway!  The song began like this:

In times like these you need a Savior
In times like these you need an anchor;
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

This Rock is Jesus, Yes, He's the One;
This Rock is Jesus, the only One!
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

I distantly remember Pastor looking over at me and smiling and saying something like, “We’ll have to remember that one…”.  I still do remember that song.  It was a bit of a surprise to us all that night, but it became one of those musical seeds that sits in the back of your mind, only coming to fruition just when it is needed.

In times like these, we do need Someone to rescue us from the political, social and spiritual struggle we face.  His name is Jesus.  In times like these, we do need an anchor to help us hold to unfailing, timeless truths, upon which we can build our lives.  That anchor is God’s word.  In Psalm 103 we read these words:

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Never forget where your salvation lies.  It is not in the promises of a political candidate, nor is it in the musings of a poet.  It is not in legislation, experimentation, or exploration.  The elusive fix for the spiritual woes of the world is not so far off, unseen and unheard, it is found in Jesus Christ, it is right here among us!  Be very sure your anchor holds, and grips the Solid Rock!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Job Questions God

If you had the opportunity to ask God a question, what would it be?  I am willing to guess you have a question or two you would like to ask, but when God is not immediately present, and we can’t see Him face to face, it is hard to formulate the question and feel like you are getting an answer straight from Him.  You are in good company, the Biblical character Job thought the same thing.

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Job, you should know that throughout the entire book, Job endures some intense suffering and loss.  This is due to the fact that Satan is afflicting Job, effectively ripping away every earthly blessing God had given him.  Job’s cattle, crops, family, and social reputation were all decimated by these trials.

For the first five chapters in his book, Job holds true under all of the persecution he is enduring.  He worships God in spite of His loss.  He honors God in spite of his wife’s despairing call to “curse God and die”.  In Job chapter 6, he begins to ask questions, wondering how he can possibly endure all that is going on.  After all, he says, he does not have the strength of stones and he is made of flesh, not bronze.

I am sure that Job had many questions for God, but he did his best to hold true and honor God through it all.  Job’s friends weighed in to share what they thought his problem was.  Despite his friends uninformed counsel, Job continued to assert that he was righteous before God and had no need to apologize.

In chapter 38, God finally breaks His silence to Job, and surprises him with a series of questions His own.  For the next four chapters, God asks a  series of more than sixty questions like, “Where were you when I formed the mountains”.  In asking these questions, God does not appear to give any kind of answer to Job’s questions at all.  God’s questions put Job in a place of humility before His almighty power and wisdom.  Woven into His questions are scientific, philosophical, and theological truths, so profound Job finally replies in chapter 42 verses three and five:

“…Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you…therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

I wonder, if you could ask God any question in the world, what would it be?  Would you ask Him why, or how He had done something in your life; perhaps ‘why not’ would pass through your mind.  More importantly, I wonder what question do you think God would have for you?  Were you there when He formed the mountains or measured out the depth of the sea?  Do you direct the creatures of the earth on how to live and where they will find food?  Can you truly control anything about anything in life?

God is glorious and worthy of being praised in the best of times and the worst of times.  We would be wise to learn from Job and simply stand in awe of God, and worship Him.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Fish Bait

The guys are getting their boats ready again, and talk of finding that great fishing spot on the lake is firing up! I have a couple of friends that absolutely get each other rolling on talk of getting out to Devil’s Lake to find some walleye. It’s fun going with them and learning various setups and the bait or lures necessary to catch the big fish.

On one occasion, I walked into a bait shop and was dazzled by all of the lures and their packaging; spinners, spoons, live bait, hooks, beads, buzz bait, crank bait, and more! I chuckled to myself, thinking "I’ll bet they catch more fishermen than they do fish with all of this!” There are some pretty ingenious lures that have been concocted, but out of the great variety there are some common traits about the bait…

A fishing lure is designed to trick the fish by a variety of methods. Some lures are shiny to attract attention, others feature life-like movements, while others are made to exploit a fish’s watery sense of smell. Lures imitate the “real thing” but they have a nasty bite. They are equipped with hooks that bite into the flesh of their unsuspecting victim with a hold that will not let go. That which appeared to be a tasty treat becomes a means to their capture and eventual death.

The book of 1 John warns of worldly lures that seek to grab our attention by imitating the real thing. In chapter two, verses 16 and 17, the Apostle John writes, “For all that is in the world- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions- is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” A worldly system of philosophy and endeavor finds it necessary to replace the reality of God’s glory and worthiness with a lure of its own making. These lures are also known as temptation.

We are daily tempted to pursue the "desires of the flesh"- those things that claim to satisfy our search for physical pleasure. We are daily drawn by the "desires of the eyes”- the constant search for bigger, better, faster, more… and social media, television, radio and advertising call out to tell us that the elusive mother lode is just around the corner. We regularly face temptation from “pride in possessions”- which is a very subtle self-satisfaction we derive when we place our confidence in the things we own.

All of these lures come with a significant hook. Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but the ends thereof is death”. Things that are temporary cannot satisfy eternally. Things that are corrupt in nature cannot please our holy Creator. Our hope, the “real thing” that will eternally satisfy our souls, can be found in the God who gives us every good thing as a gift. Author and pastor, John Piper, is famously quoted as saying, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

Victory over temptation comes when we value and cherish God, and everything He is, more than the imitations that beckon us to distraction, destruction and death. Drugs, alcohol abuse, illicit relationships, gambling, acquisitions, bank accounts, and the rest will never be able to eternally satisfy. But, by God’s grace and by the power of His Spirit, we can overcome the false hope of temptation, and pursue the reality of new life in Christ.