Do you feel good today? I hope so. It’s nice to feel good, but we have become a society that strives to always feel good. We expect our doctors to make us feel good. We look to our politicians to give us what we need to feel good. Teachers want students to feel food about themselves, and even some churches advertise that they make people feel good about coming. God never promised that we would always feel good. Certainly, there is nothing spiritual about feeling bad. That is not the point. But nowhere does God give us a promise that we would always feel good. He does, however, promise that He will never leave or forsake us; that His strength and grace are sufficient for all our needs; and that we can have His peace regardless of our circumstances. That is a far better promise than just making us feel good.
What is of first importance in your life? An interesting question, and I suppose would have many answers depending upon who you asked. Paul gave an answer that should be true for us all. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received,…” he wrote to the Corinthian Church. Paul had many things that he was dealing with. Many people who were dear to him, many churches for whom he had the deepest concern. Yet what was of first importance to him? He told the church his central truth, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared …”(1C.15:2-7) The Bible testifies to the truth that Christ died as an atoning sacrifice for our sins; that He was buried, truly dead, nothing faked; that God raised Him again to life, death could not hold Him; and that He appeared to many as a proof that He was truly alive and had over come death for all time. Amidst all his other concerns, people on his heart, things he loved, this was of first importance because it is the truth upon which all the rest of our life depends. It is the truth that give us hope in the midst of all our concerns, and the joy that touches every relationship in life. What could be more important?
I’ve been reading some of the history leading up to and including the early years of World War II. I find it irritating the political maneuvering and self serving that was involved in so many decisions. The people that made a lasting difference were the ones willing to sacrifice their own interests, their time, their financial resources, whatever was needed for the wellbeing of others, even setting aside their own safety. These were not only soldiers in battle and civilians in the midst of devastation. There were a number of men and women in high positions, humble and unwilling to separate themselves from the plight of their people. These events are more than 75 years in the past, yet the characteristics they displayed are timeless. They are of the same nature that our Lord Jesus has sought to build in all His disciples, and continues to do so today. It is this grace, God’s grace, that alone has the power to change hearts and lives.
The Old Testament book of Esther gives the account of a Jewish girl who became queen in the nation that had conquered her people. The King did not know she was a Jew when he consented to the order to destroy all her people. If she remained silent, her people would suffer. If she went to the King without being sent for, she could die. A difficult time. A difficult choice. There is more to the telling than I can relate here, but her uncle sent word to her saying “Who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”(4:14) I thought as I read this again how many people have come into my life at strategic times. The college dean who set me on the right path that saved my career. The pastor whose preaching touched my heart at the right time and changed the direction of my life. And on and on. These were sent “for such a time as this”. Think about your own life, and as you identify those who have had a positive influence in past years, give thanks. Rejoice in the hand of the Lord who has used His servants (they would not have thought of themselves as that) to direct your life. Sometimes the Lord seems far off and silent, but He has many who speak for Him to guide our way into the path of life. Give humble thanks and know that our Lord will never leave or forsake you.
Most people believe there is life after death, but that opens up a lot of confusing and shallow images. We believe heaven is good. Some have the image of an eternal family reunion, or an unending worship service, or people becoming angels wearing a white robe and having wings. A man in a Bible class once asked the teacher what heaven is like. After getting one of these shallow answers, the man asked what hell was like. He wanted to know if that was a better alternative. What should our real image of heaven be? Let’s first think about what Jesus offered His disciples when He called them. They were to walk in close fellowship with One who loved them, and worked to bring out the best in their lives. As they walked along with Him in ministry they were continually growing in understanding many of the deep questions of creation and life. They would have challenges that would stretch them personally, giving them many satisfying accomplishments. All of this continues in heaven in a sinless realm. Now we only see through a glass dimly. Paul says further that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”(I Corinthians 2:9) Our times are in God’s hands. We will enter His Kingdom when He is ready for us, but it is important to think about heaven in the right terms. For a Christian, we are walking with and growing in Christ now, and that will never end.
We are currently taking a few days vacation on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. This is the historic area where the colony of Maryland was founded in the mid-1600s. There are historic markers along many of the roads declaring “religious freedom”. The area was settled by Catholics who were coming out from religious persecution in England. On these shores they declared that there would be no animosity between Protestants and Catholics, and that “toleration was to be extended to all settlers believing in the Trinity”. In our day even that would be considered far too narrow of a standard, but it does show how deeply Christian faith was rooted in our founding. The issue of religion freedom has never left our consciousness. Neither has religious persecution which is alive and well today. Both Christians and Jews find themselves under attack for trying to hold to the tenants of their biblical faith. There was then, and there is now, a need for tolerance, understanding, and a willingness to listen to one another’s beliefs – if not agreeing and accepting at least honoring the other person as one whom God created and loves, and granting the other the religion freedom to live out their faith as their conscience dictates.
I thought about the name I have on this blog which I have been writing for over twenty years – “Life’s Meaning Ministry”. That perhaps sounds a bit arrogant as if I was the only one who knew the meaning of our earthly years. That is not my intention at all. Rather, I was thinking of the sign my wife has at here desk. “We were created by God and for God. Until we understand this, life will never make sense.” Scripture repeatedly underlines this truth. Paul writing to the Corinthian church said, “for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.”(IC.8:6) We are taught that we are not our own we have been bought with a price….that we have been created in Christ Jesus to do good works….repeated again and again in different ways. Seeing this helps us understand that our gracious Lord loves each of us individually, has redeemed us by the blood of His dear Son, Jesus Christ, and seeks to work in us by His Spirit and through our circumstances to call us and bring us closer to Himself. My desire is simply to help a few understand this a bit better.
There was a body of Christian believers in the city of Corinth. Now Corinth was a cosmopolitan city and an important trading center in the Roman world. It was known throughout the empire as an immoral city. The new Christians had a difficult time giving up some of their old habits and practices. At the end of chapter four of Paul’s first letter to these believers he had to ask, “What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?”(vs.21) Obviously they wanted the love and gentleness, but for some they also wanted to continue their old practices as well. Sound very contemporary to me. However, Paul went on to say that they couldn’t have it both ways. He had to rebuke them harshly for a number of their practices. There is a verse repeated twice in the book of Proverbs that tells us “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” God came to give us life, but as Paul was trying to show the Corinthians, that life is found in a way that brings honor to our God. God has given us forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ. This is a grace gift beyond measure. Paul calls us to rejoice in the new that has been so graciously given.
[categoryt Good Morning]
There has been a focus on the moon in these last few weeks since this is the 50th anniversary month of the first astronauts walking on the surface of the moon. It was striking to me last evening that there was a bright full moon illuminating the sky. The thought was also raised about the moon in our men’s Bible study last evening. How are we like the moon? Think about it. As bright as the moon was last night we realize that it has no natural light of its own. It only reflects the light it receives from the sun. OK, now how are we like the moon? We have no natural light of our own – we really don’t. All that is good is only a reflection of the Son. By the grace of God the life of Christ works in us by the presence of His Spirit. His nature of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, meekness, gentleness, faith, and self-control, the fruit of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), grows in our lives as we seek to be a part of Him. It is that we are reflecting to others when any good comes forth from us. So with all the moon talk this month keep in mind that you and I are called to be like the moon illuminating our world with what we receive from our Lord Jesus.
The Apostle Paul wrote about the abundance of visions and revelations he had received from the Lord. Yesterday I wrote about the glimpses of God’s glory we sometimes receive through music. Paul wrote to the Roman church that what can be known of God is clearly seen in the things He has made.(Romans1:19-20) Maybe it is though the marvel of the cosmos, or the astounding complexity of the human body, or the wonder of why God created mankind, we are allowed these small windows into the very Kingdom of God. They are marvelous experience, but as I said yesterday we can’t live there all the time. We have our daily tasks and challenges in this fallen world. But those glimpses, those windows, do affect all that we do now. By having even a small look into God’s Kingdom it deepens our love for God and our love for our neighbor – the two great commandments. Writing to the Corinthians Paul said that we “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory…”(2Co 3:18) This is not a point for our own pride, but a deepened desire to draw all others into that same glory.