Over a number of years our congregation has provided funds for a congregation in Tanzania to help build their building. It has gone from a series of polls in the ground with a tin roof to a very substantial and attractive building that seats several hundred. These are wonderful, faithful, and generous people even in the midst of their poverty. The attractive building is important to them. It is a place of worship, which they do wonderfully well, but it is also a part of their identity, part of the pride of who they are. It strikes me that this is the way we are to see our Lord. We know His greatness, our God who created the heavens and the earth. He is our God who loves us and has given Himself for us. He is our God who has worked in so many ways throughout our lives. We look at our God with the greatest pride, “He’s my Lord!” That is not pride in anything we’ve done or accomplished, but overwhelming rejoicing that He has called us to be His child in Jesus Christ. That touches every part of who we are and what we do. It is the little child looking up in love to his father, “That’s my daddy!” “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”(Philippians 4:4)
I have said a number of time in the past that I am not an economist. I don’t understand many economic terms, and I really don’t like even having to manage my own money – strange guy that I am. But I do read the Business page in our local paper which does give some food for thought. You see, I’m in the habit of contrasting values, those of natural life compared to those the Lord seeks for our good. Too much of what we have accepted as good, right, normal, standard practice, and so forth is not at all what our Lord desires for us. I realize that I cannot and should not expect the world to follow God’s values, but where we see the contrast it should make us think. Perhaps it will draw us closer to what God established for our good. Now back to the Business page. Under the title “Shell-shocked investors worry when, where next the next bomb will drop”. Many speculative investors are seeing a number of markets drop simultaneously. “In the global nervous system connecting modern markets, the synapses are misfiring.” The speculative investment market is not where most of us live. I can leave it to you to think about some of the parallel verse that tell us not to worry or be anxious about material things. I only draw the contrast for us to think about where we do live. How we are called to trust our gracious Lord, not being anxious about God’s provision for tomorrow?
A few years ago we had a small boat. Out on an excursion we would pull into a cove, throw the anchor over, enjoy the scenery, and have lunch. The anchor would keep us from drifting or running aground. Anchors are very important, especially in foul weather. We have anchors for our faith, also. What we believe about our Lord is firmly held in the truth that has been delivered to us. Peter wrote, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”(IIP.1:16) These eye witness accounts have been given to us in God’s Word. We have the promises of God given in both the Old and New Testaments, confirmed by the Holy Spirit, and witnessed to us by the lives of saints and martyrs over many generations. We have the truth confirmed in the grace of our own baptism, and we have seen the hand of God in many situations of our own lives. Life can be a choppy sea, but as the writer of Hebrews says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”(6:19)
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.