We have a lot of squirrels around our neighborhood. The Lord has built into them instincts that guide their behavior. Squirrels do what squirrels are supposed to do. It is not so with us. When God breathed into man the breath of life He gave them a spirit making them different from all others of the animal kingdom. Our spirit can only be satisfied when it is in communion with God’s Spirit. That makes us different and higher than all other created beings. It also gives us the responsibility of seeking God, of desiring to grow closer to this One who created us. Though, as Paul said “he is not far from any of us.”(Acts 17:27) We seek to do, to acquire, to achieve all kinds of other earthly things. Like the squirrels we often find ourselves running from here to their, when what is truly satisfying is near at hand in quietness, trust, and a growing life in Jesus Christ.
At the beginning of Revelation chapter two the Lord commended the church of Ephesus for a number of things, but said that He had one things against them, they had “forsaken their first love”, or “the love they had at first”. This didn’t mean that they weren’t holding to the true faith, or weren’t caring for people. They were doing both. What had grown dull was their pure love for Jesus, and their desire to know Him deeply and have Him physically present with them. Above all of our right doctrines and sincere loving service to others is our desire to know and be with our Lord. Jesus is our Bridegroom. Our only natural and fulfilling place is with Him. As time had gone on in the first Christian century and Jesus had not returned the longing for Him had grown dull. I’m afraid it has also with many of us. We continue to teach, share His truth, and serve in His name as God gives us the strength and grace to do, but our desire, our longing, is for His presence alone. All else flows from this.
How easy it is to be manipulated by emotions. Political candidates use catch words like children, or the elderly. Higher taxes, and the rich are also good for a vote or two. TV commercials guarantee to make us thinner or more beautiful, declaring that “we’re worth it”. Emotions are fine. God gave them to us, and they have their place, but they are not to direct the course of life. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”(2:3-4) Emotional responses are concerned with what is good for me, and for my group. It narrows our focus to what we think is good, but denies the possibility of making hard choices that may require suffering, but in the long run bring real good for all. Read the rest of the Philippian passage, vss.5-8, and consider where we would be if Jesus had acted on emotion rather than the truth of God’s purpose for mankind. “Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.”(I Peter 4:7)
Christians are people who are living in two worlds. One world is the visible realm we occupy. The other is the, no less real, spiritual realm of God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom is mentioned over 125 times in the four Gospels. The preaching of John, Jesus, and all the Apostles began, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” With the incarnation of Almighty God in Jesus Christ, the heavenly spiritual realm of God Kingdom broke into this visible physical realm. With the resurrection of Jesus from the dead we have the assurance that these two realms cannot be separated. Each day we go about our normal routine, doing, to the best of our ability, all the earthly things the day requires. But our strength, our endurance, our desire to live and serve, our very life, comes from the unseen and spiritual realm of God’s Kingdom. We are citizens of that Kingdom now, each day and every day.(Philippians 3:20) That is who you are, dear Christian. Know that your are walking in the light of Christ’s Kingdom today.
In the past couple of weeks I’ve had lunch and lengthy conversations with a Baptist pastor, I’ve taught from material by an Anglican Bishop, and listened to teaching from a Lutheran seminary professor and a Greek Orthodox Priest. Are their differences in our doctrines? Very definitely. But there is also a common and very important factor. We all love the Lord Jesus Christ, and we want others to know and love Him also. Do the differences matter? Yes they do. We are in a broken and confused world and we don’t have a single apostolic, prophetic authority as they did at the first church council in Acts 15. As Paul taught, for conscious sake each one must be clear in his own mind.(Romans 14:5) But we do have the commonality of Holy Scripture and the guidance of God, the Holy Spirit. We must follow God’s Word as best we understand it. The single center of that Word is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Where we gather together around Him, seeking to lift Him up, we can rejoice together beyond our labels as one body in Christ.
A loose leaf Bible! Sounds funny doesn’t it? but that is the way many individuals and liberal Christian denominations are treating the Bible. Or to use another illustration, let’s think of a book editor. Some years ago I worked with an editor on a book I published. The editor would look at sentences or paragraphs, making changes or suggesting things be removed entirely. I was happy with the final result, but that is not the way we treat the Bible. It is true that the Bible was written by 40 different individuals over a period of 1500 years, but it is one book, all 66 individual chapters. It is a book inspired by God’s Spirit and remarkably consistent from Genesis through Revelation. It is a book that reveals the nature of the human heart, and the truth of all God has done to cleanse and redeem those hearts. There are parts that make us uncomfortable because they are speaking to our rebellious nature, but we don’t have the right to throw pages away, or edit pages out that we don’t like. We take the Bible as one book, and see what God through His Spirit is saying to us.
As Christians we believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus are central to our faith. It is in these sovereign acts of God’s grace that we have forgiveness of sins, and a new and eternal life. This is the Gospel, the old old story that has been repeated for many generations. Recently I’ve been reading a work by a theological professor writing on the meaning of the cross. He brings out a depth of truth I had not thought of before. I have found it exciting to see aspects of God’s grace that are deep and wonderful. There is excitement for a new Christian when they realize that in Christ they have been cleansed and made righteous before God. But that’s not all. There is an infinite depth in our Lord that can never be exhausted. The excitement continues as the Lord draws us closer to Himself. Continue to read, think, and pray. There is always more grace, truth, and real excitement in walking day by day with Jesus Christ.
Scripture uses a number of forms to convey its truth. Some things are quite literal, other figurative or allegorical. We don’t set aside our human reason when we read the Bible, but we do need to be careful how we apply it. I ran across one example, perhaps minor, in Psalm 147 verse 4. “He determines the number of the stars, and calls them all by name”. Well now, we know from astronomy that there are billions and billions of stars. We’ve looked into the heavens and can’t even fathom its magnitude. It is not within human reason to know the full number of them, and to give each one a name – really? But this is Almighty God we are talking about. Is it not possible that such a statement is literally true? How about a great fish swallowing a man, or creating the cosmos in six days? Let’s be careful how much reason we apply to Scripture. Let the Bible be its own interpreter. We weren’t there when creation came into being, nor were we on the boat with Jonah. Our God is a awesome God, and capable of more that we can ever imagine. “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”(147:5) Let us bow in worship.
Hurricane Florence is battering the eastern coast of the U.S. There were necessary preparations and evacuations in the Carolinas. There will be a great cost and effort to rebuild after the storm passes. Tragically, some lives may even be lost. Whether natural disasters or trials cause by the sinfulness of man, we are faced with the truth that we live in a fallen world. Yet it is a world into which God has come with His redeeming love. It’s hard to see that love in the midst of the storm, but it is there. It is seen in the lives of people who give aid. Ultimately, it will be seen in the fulfilled promise of God making all things new. At one of the most critical and frightening times in the lives of His disciples Jesus said to them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”(John 14:27) We may lose property. We may even lose physical life. But we cannot lose the love of God who will make all things new.
In the book of James the writer says, “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. “(5:11) That is true and many verses in Scripture speak of the grace and love of God. But at the same time God is not a pushover. He is a Father. Our problem is that we have lost the true concept of a man and of good father. He is not self indulgent. A father gives of himself sacrificially for the good of his wife and children. At the same time he is firm in the moral and spiritual direction the family is to go. He is a protector, but he is also willing to let his children struggle with difficult tasks, and take some hard knocks. He prays continually for his family that the Lord would protect them physically and spiritually, and that their hearts would be opened more and more to the Lord. If we begin to understand a bit more of the Scriptural picture of man, and of a good father, we will understand more of the nature of our God.