When I was a kid our family went to Rehoboth Beach most summers. I loved the ocean, and playing in the breakers. As a kid the waves seemed huge, and I found myself tossed around in a few of them. That image of being turned up side down by a huge wave describes how I feel at times when I read the news, and hear all that is going on in our modern world. – random shootings in businesses and fast food places; condoms provided at high school proms; drug wars; leaders murdering their citizens; mothers killing their children…. But Scripture said it would be this way in a world without Christ. More than two thousand years ago Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (17:9) No laws or police forces will stop the wave of evil. It is only Jesus who can change the heart. It is only His coming that will change the course of the world. Our earnest prayer is for individuals to know Him, and that there be no more delay in His coming. Jesus is our hope.
The mood was solemn in the large second floor room in Jerusalem on the day we call Holy Thursday. The Master was quiet and deliberate in His actions; the disciples troubled with a sense of foreboding at the uncertainty that lay ahead. Jesus knew what he faced in these next days. It was a task He had agreed to before the world was created. But it would cause Him a kind of suffering that He had never experienced before. He would be going through death on behalf of this creation He loved. Death, total separation from His beloved Father, a horror unknown. These next day were a path that they would all have to walk. Because of sin, death had to be faced squarely, but because of these days, the power of death would be broken. In spite of the heaviness that rested upon that room, the Lord gave assurance that this was not the end. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” He told them. And He gave them gifts that would endure until He returned in glory at the end of the age. He gave His true body and blood in the bread and wine of the supper; and the assurance of the presence of God the Holy Spirit to dwell within them giving direction and courage; concluding it by saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you.” On this solemn evening they didn’t know what lay ahead in the next days, or what it would mean for the rest of their lives, but Jesus had given them a strength to continue, and a hope that would never leave them. Those gifts were not limited to the eleven in the Upper Room, but have come down to each of us in whatever rooms we occupy. We walk forward each day with the Lord who is our peace.
The opening line of Psalm 108 says, “My heart is satisfied, O God.” I think that is a wonderful expression. There are many things we would like to see happen in life. There are many things we plan for and strive for. Motivational experts tell us it is necessary to set goals in life. All that is fine, but above it all, our ultimate satisfaction is in our God. If nothing else ever comes to fruition, we can still be satisfied that our God has called us to be in fellowship with Himself. The priests of ancient Israel were not given an inheritance of land with the rest of the Israelites. God said to them, “I am your portion and your inheritance.” (Numbers 18:20) God knows we need the basic things of life, and He provides them. It is fine to work toward the goals we set. But our God is our portion in this life, and in Him we can be satisfied.
As long as we are in the flesh we struggle with sin and temptation. We can all identify with Paul’s struggle with the flesh – “For what I do is not the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do.”(Rom.7:19) And Peter says that “Satan prowls like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” (I Pt.5:8) We all have choices to make, and many times we make those choices in ways that displease God. We can’t excuse it as “not so bad,” or “everyone does it,” or “it’s not my fault.” We made the choice, and we sinned. We cry out with Paul, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” It is then we realize the truth of the very next statement he makes, “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (vss.24-25) No, we can’t excuse ourselves, but we can throw ourselves on the mercy of Christ, who forgives and restores. That is the message of this Lenten Season. All of our sins have been taken to the cross of Christ. In His grace we can leave them there and move forward.
Living by faith is not easy. This is believing in an invisible dimension of life, while living in a very visible and sense oriented world. Many things around us in the visible world seem to deny the truth of anything in the invisible realm where we declare God lives. And yet we are not without visible evidence. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”(1:20) The visible creation is not by accident, or chance. It was made by an all wise Creator. But even more than this, there is a visible answer to the myriad of inhumane act of man that seem to contradict a God of love. Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.”(Col.1:15) He is God in human flesh, come to share all of our pain, and to provide the way of redemption. God did not cause sin to enter this visible world, we did. The invisible God entered this broken visible world to provide the way of redemption, hope, and peace. Living by faith is not easy, but it is the most reasonable of all the answers to the questions raised by this visible world.
It is easy to look around and see the corruption, pain, and folly surrounding us in life. It is here that we live, work, and try to raise our families in a proper way. We can quickly become discouraged, but there is another truth that we must keep in mind. This is not all there is. There is great hope ahead of us. The Old Testament prophet spoke, and the New Testament confirmed, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. ….the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. (Is.65:17-19) This is the hope upon which our hearts are established. But not only this. The Lord has not left us to flounder until the promise is fulfilled. He has come among us. He has redeemed us. He does, even now, pray for us. And He has given us His Spirit as our guide and strength in all times of life. The Lord, Himself, is our guarantee that His word will be fulfilled. We can look forward with expectancy and hope.
In the midst of difficult situations we will sometime hear the expression, “It is what it is!” Meaning, “That’s where we are. This is the situation we are in. Let deal with it.” To an extent it is true. We do have to deal with the situations we face, but this attitude can led fatalism, and depression. The better expression for Christians would be, “It is what it is, but it is not all that God will make it to be.” Paul was a man confronted by many unpleasant, painful, and life threatening situation. Yet he was the one who wrote, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”(Romans 8:18) There are numerous examples in Scripture, and in our own lives, where God uses difficult situations for our good and for His glory. We are far from fatalists. We deal with the things that confront us with the strength that the Lord gives, and our trust that He will see us through to His good purpose.
Psalm 73 is a wonderful Psalm of hope and strength. It is clear about the trials and temptations of life that plague us all. Yet the Psalmist’ focus always goes back to his only source of hope. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” (vs.25) This should be true for us in all times, whether good or bad. If God is our desire, our focus, the longing and hope of our life, then all things take on a different perspective. God takes all life’s situations, and all people we encounter, helping us to deal with them by His cleansing, strengthening, guiding touch. All parts of life look different with God’s hand upon them. “As for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge.” (vs.28)
On the road leading out from our home to the main street is a large plot of ground that has been overgrown for as long as I can remember. Now that it is fall, and leaves are off the trees, it is easier to see deeper into the wooded area. Back in the woods I was surprised to see the remains of a house, and what looked to be a smoke house for curing meat. What struck me is how this piece of land tells a story of a family long gone, and what would have been a productive, and we could conjecture, happy farm life. But all earthly things change, and in time return to the earth from which they came. There is only One who is enduring. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” says the writer of Hebrews 13:8. He alone invites us to share a life that is eternally enduring. We are saddened by what is lost to decay in this life, but our hope always looks beyond this life to what will never decay.
The report has come out about Steve Jobs final words before he died. “O Wow. O wow. O wow.” They were likened to Edison’s final words when he said “It’s beautiful over there.” We have reports of many near death experiences, and supposed glimpses of what is beyond death. They can be interesting, and perhaps encouraging, but we also have to be extremely caution in what we take from them. Neither Jobs nor Eidson were noted for their Christian faith, actually quite to the contrary. Scripture does teach us that for those in the Lord, there is great beauty in life on the other side of death. Scripture also says that “There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”(Acts 4:12) That name is the Lord Jesus Christ. We have our life, our joy, our hope in the living Lord Jesus. This is where we are called to stand. It is not our place to point fingers and declare anyone in hell. That is God’s job alone. But for us, we can do nothing but say with St. Paul, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”(I Corinthians 2:2)