Saturday, June 8, 2019

Hope and Our Final Destination

I was quite grumpy the other day. Due to house construction, we've been without air-conditioning on humid days, without water, sewer, lights, power--coming and going--and I was absolutely tired of the inconvenience.

The new project is coming along lovely, and it's very exciting. It's fun to imagine what it will be like to have a real kitchen again, laundry, and additional bathroom space. But until then, each day is an adventure.

And that's when I thought about Heaven. Life here on earth is difficult, unpredictable, wearying.But for those who have placed our faith in Jesus, it's only temporary. We can see glimpses of what's coming. We can anticipate with joy and excitement. We can look forward to life in a perfect world with our perfect Father--and that gives us hope, joy, endurance, and purpose.

Next I thought of our teen helper, Dan. Dan works by the sweat of his brow alongside us, pulling electrical wire, picking up trash, reworking landscaping. He puts in long hours, but he does not have the same hope we do. He will not enjoy the blessings and benefits of our new home. He's working, but he's not part of our family. Instead, he receives a wage. If Dan wanted to live here, he would have to leave his own family--that's pretty drastic for simply living in a different house. But if Dan's faced destruction, pain and suffering in his current home, if we were seeking his best and could promise perfect acceptance, approval, love, and a future, it would be crazy not to.

In the same way, anyone who works for God expecting a wage will miss the prize. The wage is very different than being part of the family. Only those who are part of God's family will spend eternity with Him and one another. And the only way to be part of His family is to receive Jesus as one's Savior from sin. It is only by turning my back on a sinful, destructive heritage and choosing God's that I enter His family by faith.

A person can believe a lot of things and not belong to God. For example, I can believe that

  • God created the world
  • God is the Ruler of the universe
  • Jesus is God's Son
  • Jesus is perfect
  • Jesus died on the cross for sin
  • Jesus rose again from the dead
and not be a Christian. Each statement is true--and many believe them. But (give me a minute) Satan believes them, too. Look again:

  • God created the world
  • God is the Ruler of the universe
  • Jesus is God's Son
  • Jesus is perfect
  • Jesus died on the cross for sin
  • Jesus rose again from the dead
The difference between Satan and God's children is personal belief and submission to these truths. Have you, personally, by choice, placed your trust in Jesus Christ alone as payment for your sin? Anytime we believe salvation is a matter of Jesus and church attendance, Jesus and baptism, Jesus and sacraments, Jesus and good works--we're still working. We must practice--remind ourselves--to let go of our perceived contribution to salvation. It doesn't work that way. You and I have nothing to bring except our sin. God provides faith. God removes sin. God imputes righteousness. And by faith, we become members of His family and joint heirs with Christ. We have a hope and future worth living for...and dying for.

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven,
And whose sins have been covered.
“Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 

Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4:2-8, 13, 23-24)

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Gift of Worship

God prepares the way for worship.

When we want what God wants, when we pray and ask for what God wants, when we seek after and pursue what God wants, He is sure to answer.

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.1 John 5:14-15

Hezekiah had a heart to worship the Lord. He had a desire to put God first and that meant making changes. So he did. He removed objects of false worship and restored objects of true worship. He removed access to false worship and restored access to true worship. He removed routines of false worship and restored routines of true worship.

To say we worship God without committing the objects, time, access and routines of our lives to Him is falsehood. We are not worshiping God if our priority is family. Sports. Entertainment. Work. Children. Ministry. Material goods. We may look nice on Sunday morning; shut down the arguments before exiting the vehicle, sing at the top of our lungs, greet people on our way in and out, but if God is not at the center of our every day lives, He is not at the center of our worship.

Where is God in each day? Is He the staple of your thoughts? The first thought when you awake? The last thought at the end of the day? Do you pause to thank Him for meals, gifts, people, suffering? Is praise the language you speak? Is prayer the breath of your heart?

He is worthy. No worship or praise of our Heavenly Father is wasted, lost, or regretted. It is what we were designed for--it is our eternal hope and joy. It is the cry of our lives. Worship is fulfillment of our calling; the only accomplishment of human achievement. It is only moments of betrayal and vanity that are lost forever.

Sing to the Lord, all the earth;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and joy are in his dwelling place.

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering and come before him.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
    Tremble before him, all the earth!
    The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
Let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
    let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!
Let the trees of the forest sing,
    let them sing for joy before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.
Cry out, “Save us, God our Savior;
    gather us and deliver us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name,
    and glory in your praise.”
Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting. 1 Chronicles 16:23-36

Thursday, May 23, 2019

No More Curious George

When our children were young, we spent a lot of time reading about Curious George. Curious George, the monkey kidnapped from Africa by the Man with the Yellow Hat, got into trouble over and over: calling the fire department, painting without permission, making boats out of newspapers instead of delivering them, etc.

At the end of each story, George found a way to make up for his mistakes. He was pitied, forgiven, and restored based on his cute-factor and efforts. It took awhile for me, as a parent, to see and recognize that same pattern in our children. Like Curious George, they thought they could make up for their sin by doing something extra. That's true for many of us.

How often, when we realize we've hurt someone or said something harmful, do we attempt to win them over with kindness or generosity? Or, if we felt the slight was deserved, we reach out to someone else, putting our best foot forward?When I see the wickedness and the evil in my heart, I work to convince myself I'm not that bad; I'm not all bad; it's going to be okay.

The truth of the matter is, I am that bad. It's not okay. We cannot pay for our sin. We can't make it up, cover it up, or fix it. It is what it is.

I don't like that very much. I'd like a different plan. But that's God's plan. I don't like that plan until... Until I'm on the other side of the equation and I've been heinously sinned against. Then I think that's a good plan. Justice is good. Justice is right. There should be punishment for wickedness and evil. Because when one person sins against another, the victim lives with ongoing consequences. The wrong(s) can't be undone. They don't go away. It is part of the sufferer's identity and everyday life. The consequences of sin are very, very real. The cost of sin is always carried by the sufferer, not the offender. God does not take sin lightly. He will always exact justice. Always.

Here is a picture of God's judgment from the book of Isaiah: a sinful, unrepentant nation is trampled in the mud, "like straw in the water of a manure pile." The passage goes on, "And he will spread out his hands in the middle of it as a swimmer spreads out his hands to swim, but the Lord will lay low his pride together with the trickery of his hands."(Isaiah 25:10-11) Living on a farm, I understand that graphic word picture. It's creative. Inescapable. Awe full.

God does not overlook, excuse or ignore sin. He always sees it. It is always a stench in His nostrils, an eternal offense against a holy, righteous God. Regardless of who is involved or affected, God's Person, character, and nature are affronted. He alone is Creator, Ruler, Judge. We, each one of us, is accountable for every word, every action. And we fall short.

There is no hope. No rescue. No easy fix. No relief.... But God.

Because God sent Jesus to pay the cost of our sin against Him--a price only God can afford--we have access to forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a decision, a transaction. The offending individual admits his sin to the one he sinned against (God and ____), agreeing it is egregious, shocking, wrong. He then asks for forgiveness with the understanding that it is not an obligation but a gift. Because of Jesus, God will forgive and cleanse from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Because of Jesus, we can forgive those who sin against us. Forgiveness, then, is "sending away," sin: the punishment is removed, peace is restored. The estranged are reconciled. God is glorified.

That's why the Curious George fix doesn't work. There is no admission of wrong, no Jesus, no reconciliation or forgiveness. Just George. And George is not enough... You, and I, are not enough. We need, must have, can only depend on and trust in, Jesus.

 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)