The report came out a day or so ago that the number of so called hate groups in the U.S. has increased markedly. I think the number they said was around a thousand. These are groups strongly opposed to a particular race or ideology and at times use drastic physical means to oppose them. Unfortunately, at times, the Church wrongly is lumped into these groups. It is true that some Christian people have used drastic means to oppose certain things, but these should be condemned along with all the rest who use force, violence, and intimidation for their cause. The Church does oppose certain actions or behaviors, abortion for example. But it is to use education and other peaceful means. The Church’s mandate is to love all people. Our desire is for all people to have the best life the Lord gives. We do not, should not, hate anyone. It was Jesus who ate with us sinners and wanted wholeness for us all. So it must be with His Church.
“I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.”(Psalm 18:1-3) David gives us a wonderful prayer of trust in this Psalm. He is clear in saying that life is a struggle. There are many battles and enemies to the point where he feels overwhelmed, but the Lord is always there, bringing him through to life. This is our trust in all times, and all conditions. Life in our fallen world is not easy. There are many things that try to separate us from our trust in the Lord. Circumstances don’t turn out as we would like, or even as we can understand. Yet, God is there. He is our rock, our fortress, and our deliverer. He is worthy of our praise in all times, and our praise turn the eyes of our heart to Him.
Toward the end of Joshua’s life he gathered the people of Israel and challenged them, Choose this day whom you will serve…the pagan gods of the nations around you or the one true God of Israel.(Josh.24:15) Many years later Elijah stood on Mt. Carmel and asked the people “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God follow him, but if Baal is god, follow him.”(I Kings 18:21) This is the question that comes down through all the centuries since creation. The Lord God has revealed Himself to mankind in many ways, but we live in a world of many competing voices all seeking our allegiance. Who do we serve? Jesus asked His disciples one day, “Who do people say that I am?”. They gave him a variety of answers that they had heard. But then Jesus asked them directly, ” But what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”(Matthew 16:16) This question comes to us and is of ultimate importance for life. The answer we give is the difference between living in a world of confusion, questions and contradictions, or a world that begins to make sense because the Living God has chosen to occupy this life with us. Who do you say that I am?
One of the hardest things I’ve had to do in recovering from my hip surgery is to slow down. But I’m used to getting things done, mentally listing my accomplishments at the end of the day. So slowing down is hard. But there is another aspect to slowing down. A while back I heard a prayer, a rather simple one, “Lord, help me to see all people with the same love as You see them.” Such a request should be taken fore granted, should it not? After all isn’t that what Christians are supposed to do? Yes. But when I consider myself I very clearly don’t do this all the time. I’m in a hurry, I make quick judgments by outward appearances, size, manners, speech, skin color, and a host of other features. My Christian training tells me that each person is one for whom Christ gave his life, but do I really care? I’m busy, got things to do, a schedule to keep. So I think the Lord impressed this prayer upon me again. Lord, help me to see all people with the same love as You see them. Slow down. Don’t make those quick superficial judgments. Even consider a quick prayer of blessing for them. – I’ll try Lord, but continue to work Your grace in me to cleanse out what is not of You, and above all I bow in humble thanks for the mercy of forgiving grace in Jesus Christ. – So slowing down can be helpful in a lot of ways.
How do you read the Bible? Do you start at the beginning of one book and work your way progressively through? Or do you let the Bible fall open and read whatever you find there? Not recommended, though I’ve tried it at times. Reading the Bible is a discipline one cultivates. And here I have to be honest and say I’ve not always done so. It is far too easy to let it slip in the press of other things. Yet it is important for the whole direction of our lives. There is a wonderful verse in Psalm 119. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”(vs. 105) The image is real. Walking in darkness it is easy to stumble and fall. We need a light for our path. The light of God’s Word is of supreme value in walking through this dark world. It is what make sense of the things we see. Let’s work on that habit of the daily reading of Scripture.
Today is Valentine’s Day or properly St. Valentine’s Day. It has become a day emphasizing romantic love with flowers and gifts for sale in many of our stores. The romantic love between a man and a woman is a wonderful gift of God. However, it is not the deepest form of love, but only one form pointing to something far deeper. St. Valentine has unfortunately become submerged under all of the flowers and chocolates. St. Valentine was a third century priest in Rome who worked to help many Christians who were being persecuted at that time. His efforts finally cost him his own life. Jesus has said “no greater love has any man than this that he lay down his life for his friend”.(John 15:13) This is the true self sacrificing love of God. It is the love that St. Valentine showed toward those he served. It is also the love that makes romantic love truly complete.
Over the years I’ve done quite a few weddings. Couples come with a variety of desires and expectations. If I’m not familiar with the couple the first question I usually ask is why do they want a pastor to do their wedding, and why in the church? I usually get a variety of answers with few having anything to do with the real reason they should seek a church wedding. And then there is the business of couples wanting to write their own wedding vows. That doesn’t go over too well either. Too often couples treat the wedding service like another part of the beautiful decorations for the day. It’s all a big beautiful party. But it isn’t. Marriage is one of the most serious commitments we make in life. If we want it to last “till death us do part” then it must be done in the way God designed it. Years ago there was a TV program called Father Knows Best. In the case of weddings our Father really does know best. After explaining all this at the beginning of a counseling session I’ve had one or two couple walk away and go somewhere else, and that’s OK. We need to understand the seriousness of the relationship we enter. Only then can it grow into the beauty of the male/female bond as God intended.
Getting older we tend to forget things and have trouble quickly recalling words or names. Our God, of course, has an infinite mind that forgets nothing. He knows all of our actions from first to last, the good and the bad. Yet, scripture assures us that “when we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.(I John 1:9) In His divine grace Isaiah tell us that “you have put all my sins behind your back.”(Isaiah 38:17) Think of the magnitude of what our gracious Lord is doing.”Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”(Isaiah 1:18) In our time of confession in our Sunday worship I am allowed to say, by Christ’s command, “I declare unto you the entire forgiveness of all your sins.” The magnitude of that statement is beyond measure. By the blood shed on Calvary our sins, all of them, are cleansed and we are allowed to stand before our Holy God having the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. No, God doesn’t forget, but He forgives – and that is supremely more valuable.
Our Adult Bible class is currently looking at the Book of Psalms. The hundred and fifty Psalms were written more than 3000 years ago yet many of their expressions are as current as today’s news. The human condition has not changed in all that time. We have the same needs, we commit the same sin, we find the same joys in life as then. But above all, and perhaps something we’ve grown dull to, they assumed that God was a part of all life. He heard their cries. He received their praise. They expected His intervention. Maybe that is why people love the Psalms. It shows a God who cares about the people He created, and has not left them alone. But then we have an even greater witness to this truth in the person of Jesus Christ, Almighty God come among us. He came to share all parts of human life, but even more. The Psalms testify to the only begotten Son of God who came to redeem mankind, defeating the power of sin, death, and the devil. Jesus is the assurance that God cares, that He is present, and the strength we need. God really is a part of all life.
Some scientists are working on technologies related to human longevity. Some have declared that Immortality may not be a reality yet, but rapidly evolving technology is making it more realistic. Scientists are expecting a tremendous transformation in health and medicine in the next 10 to 20 years. Honestly, I weep at such a report, and they are not tears of joy. It is absolute humanism and paganism akin to the Tower of Babel recorded in Genesis 11. It is a complete lack of understanding of both man and God. I am certainly not opposed to healing diseases, but the emphasis on human longevity denies the truth of our faith in Christ. In Jesus Christ we have the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Physical death is simply a step over into a perfect kingdom without sin. There is the key. Any human kingdom or society that men make will be one with the same fallen and corrupt natures, even if people have a 1000 years of life. All they gain is more time to exercise that corrupt nature. God calls us to life, true life in a relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. This is an unending life more beautiful than anything we could possible conceive.