Sunday, August 24, 2014

Press On

"Brethren, I do not regard myself 
as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do
forgetting what lies behind 
and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 
press on toward the goal 
for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 3:13,14

What lies behind can be life altering.  How many of us struggle to forget the past?  How can we forget it when it has shaped and molded us into the person we are today?  The past contains the keys to our thoughts - we dwell on past relationships, past conversations, past scenes, past could we forget what lies behind?  What in the world is Paul talking about?

It's no wonder we are a depressed society. 

Here are two scenarios for your consideration:

1.  You wake up in the morning and your first thought is a reminder of the argument you had with your husband before you fell asleep.  You turn over in bed and he's already up and gone.  Good, you don't have to deal with that.  In the shower, you remember the four things you forgot at Meijer and try to figure out when you're going to have time to pick them up later today.  You can feel a dull headache coming on, but brush it off in lieu of your morning cup of coffee - the caffeine will handle it.  Kids are running late, lunches aren't made yet and for some reason you've run out of hot water before the conditioner is out of your hair.  So much for a good shower.

You finally get the kids ready and off to school and your phone rings.  It's your mother and you just don't have the time to deal with her so you let it go to voice mail.  Her divorce from husband number 3 is still too fresh and you just don't feel like being a sounding board about how terrible all men are.  While you're thinking of it, your husband isn't rating so high either.  

Work is a pressure cooker today.  The new management doesn't like the way things were run in the past and you feel like it might be easier for them to just hire someone new, rather than train the old staff in their new ways.  You miss your old boss - he never worried about your schedule or your priorities - if you got it done, he was happy.  But this new boss has no patience for your personal limitations - he doesn't care that you never went to college and are self-taught. He expects you to be on top of the latest technology and makes it clear that there are many women younger than you who can do this in their sleep.  If only your mom and dad hadn't been so focussed on ruining their marriage, you might have gotten that education that was spent on their divorce instead.  

The after school babysitter just texted you that she's running a fever - now you'll have to call your mom and endure a 20 minute male bashing just to get the kids covered.  You're not going to call your husband because in the past, he's not very cordial the day after fights.  

Things continue to weigh down on you.  You forget the Meijer stop and as you walk in the front door, your son meets you with his cleats in hand - time to head out to soccer and it's your turn for treats.  No one ever considers the working mom when they schedule treats.  You're pretty sure you can drop him off at practice and grab some apples at the store and get back, but the unexpected low fuel light means you're late back to practice and the kids are almost all gone.  Once again you've proven yourself to be the unreliable mom.  But you'd hate to start something new and actually do what was expected of you for once...

Dinner is McDonalds, your husband rolls his eyes, you get the kids in bed and decide not to start the laundry, wipe down the kitchen, clean the bathroom or run the vacuum - all things on your to-do list from last week.  You're too tired, you're too unappreciated and you just want to go to bed.

2.  You wake up in the morning and your first thought is the argument you had with your husband before you fell asleep.  You reach over and he's already gone.  You grab your phone and type a quick text - "Call me when you have a free minute. I love you and hate when I go to bed mad."  You jump in the shower and immediately the praise song from Sunday is in your head. You sing full voice and even though you are apparently the last one to shower this morning because the water has turned cold, you're just glad the rest are up and moving.  You work on your memory verse that is taped to your mirror in the bathroom as you blow dry your hair, thankful for another day.

You whip up lunches and get the kids on the bus as your phone rings.  You chat with mom on the way to work, encouraging her to come to study with you tomorrow night.  When you hang up, you ask the Lord to move her heart to come - she needs a savior so bad and maybe now, after another failed marriage, she'll reach out to God.  You want a front row seat for that transformation!

Work is tense and though you might not be there forever, there are a few gals who need to see Jesus in you.  You run to Meijer at lunch, grab the apples that your son says are not a treat but a fruit, and head back to work.  Your husband calls you and things are headed in a better direction and in the car on the way home, you turn on last Sunday's message by Matt Chandler and grasp at a few minutes of wisdom.  You hit pause, load up the kids and sit in the parking lot at the practice, munching on an apple and finish the sermon.  

Dinner is McDonalds, there's snuggle time before bed and once the kids are tucked away, you spend another 45 minutes getting on top of some cleaning that was neglected over the weekend.  You fall into bed, thanking the Lord for another day, for a faithful husband, for children that keep you running and for the promise that one day you will be with Him in glory.

Which one of these gals is struggling to forget what lies behind?  Which is reaching forward to what lies ahead?  Can you see which one is on the road to depression?  Can you see why what goes on in your head during the day can wear you out?

Our past is a part of our history, but it is not our future - our future is in Christ - made whole, without sin, without struggles, in perfect communion.  We have a future.  We have a hope.  We have so many promises.  We must determine to set our minds on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth - when we do this, it will set our focus in the right place and transform our lives rather than dwell on the past which is absolutely unchangeable.

So what will you do?  Hold on to the past or press on to towards the future?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Reality Check

Current Events:

  • The battle in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas is far from over - the world seems to be taking sides and the underlying question is whether Israel has a right to exist - they are fighting for their very survival and the terrorists' agenda is being promoted even in America - a line is being drawn in the sand
  • Russia is creeping into Ukraine, with darker intentions that we realize - tell me why the downed passenger flight has not been vindicated?
  • Christians in Iraq are not only losing their homes due to ISIS invasions, but they are losing their lives - young children being sawn in two and beheaded - fleeing to the mountains only to be starved out
  • The ebola virus outbreak, according to the World Health Organization this morning, is much worse than what is being reported.  Rumors of terrorist groups attempting to manipulate the outbreak for their benefit has left governments to worry about how to manage this new threat while the death rate of those exposed is rising above 60%
  • In the south, the immigration crisis continues to rise, as in this year alone nearly 70,000 children will cross the border illegally.  Congress continues to debate while many Texas towns are struggling to manage the onslaught of women and children, let alone the drug running that is taking place
  • And it's almost time for school to start again - do I need to review Common Core and explain how it is rewriting American History to change us from a nation of freedom lovers to a nation who oppresses African Americans, women and the homosexual community?

This world is broken.  We almost have to turn off the news because our hearts can't carry the load much longer.  We try to ignore it, we run through our day, keeping ourselves busy with life, knowing that we can't change what is going on out there anyway, so why worry about it.  Then a celebrity dies and suddenly we are thrust back into the sadness of this broken world, not through the avenue of world politics but through the gateway of mental illness and depression.  You can't go on Facebook or turn on the television or pull up the news without seeing major discussions about depression.  And to be honest with you…it's pretty depressing.

Okay, friends, the previous reality check comes to you courtesy of a horizontal world view.  Let's do a vertical reality check.  God tells us to set our minds on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth, for we've died and our life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:2,3)  What does the Word tell us?

  • Israel vs.. Hamas - Jeremiah 29:11 is a favorite verse of many - "I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope." While this verse is precious to the believer, it's primary focus is the nation of Israel.  Jeremiah was a prophet and he was bringing the Word of the Lord to His suffering people.  And guess what, God still has plans for Israel and though they are going to have to go through a great valley to get there, He is in control and His will is being accomplished even today.  So though it is very hard in Israel, we have to trust that God is in the center of their future and our prayers need to flow up to a God who is intimately involved in every detail and greatly loves His chosen people - bottom line, fight hard, Israel, turn your eyes to the Lord, and trust that He is with you
  • Russia's intentions - Heb. 4:12 tells us that only God can judge the thoughts and intentions of man and Proverbs 21:1 tells us that God turns the hearts of kings like channels of water in His hand - we trust that God is doing things that we do not understand.  At this time our "king" is unwilling to act - are you willing to trust that God has placed it on his heart to do nothing?  God is orchestrating something that is far beyond our comprehension, so we pray for our leaders and we pray for God's will to be done on this earth - but we don't lose sleep because we are worried that God is not in control…
  • ISIS vs. Christians - Matthew 24:9 tells us that in the last days the world will hate us, persecute us and deliver us to death for the sake of Jesus name.  We cannot be surprised by this ordeal - we can be heart broken and we can be outraged, but surprised? No.  Jesus warned us of the cost and friends, it's coming.  Prepare today to give up your life for Christ - sobering but not depressing.  Jesus died to save us from the price of the horrid sin and brokenness we see, so we pray for our brothers and sisters who are under fire, knowing that it is coming our way.
  • Ebola - Is this outside of God's control?  Is God frustrated that this has happened and He can't stop it?  Of course not.  Proverbs 3:5,6 tells us to trust in the Lord and not to lean on my understanding - to acknowledge Him and let God direct my paths.  This Ebola outbreak is obviously outside of my control and my understanding, but God knows what is going on.  So I need to trust Him.  Yes, I see the affects of a broken creation, but the Creator is fully intact and in control
  • Immigration crisis - What can I do to affect what is happening there?  Pray.  Pray for these little children who are without their parents.  Pray for their mothers. Pray for the churches and government workers who are meeting their needs. Pray for the translators and pray for our government to figure out what to do.  James 5:16 says the prayers of a righteous man can accomplish much - trust the Lord and pray about it.
  • Common core - your children's education is not primarily in the hands of the public school teacher.  God has placed that child in your care.  Whether it's public, private or home schooling, you must know what your child is learning and deprogram with the truth when necessary.  Ephesians 6:4 says we are to train them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord - teach your children to know truth.
Friends, we must understand that this life is not our story.  It is God's.  It might be confusing that God's story is riddled with so much sadness and sin, but He is revealing His character through the brokenness of life.  God is good.  He is rich in mercy.  He hates sin.  He is patient and kind.  He is in control and He is steering the sinful, rebellious hearts of man to accomplish His will.  We must trust Him and we must get our eyes vertical.  Let me end with some scripture for you to take to heart today:
  • Romans 14:8 - "…for if we live, we live for the Lord and if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's."
  • Galatians 2:20 - "I have been crucified with Christ and it is NO LONGER I WHO LIVE, but CHRIST LIVES IN ME…"
  • Colossians 3:4 - "When Christ, WHO IS OUR LIFE, is revealed, then we also will be revealed with Him in glory…"
  • Genesis 50:20 - "As for you, you meant evil against me, but GOD MEANT IT FOR GOOD in order to bring about this present result…"

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Heart Check

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, 
the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, 
the testimony given at the proper time.
I Timothy 2:5,6

In these two verses, one sentence actually, Paul gives the gospel - he lays out what separates Christianity from the world.  Boom.  Said.  Done.

Here's the problem with religious tolerance - being accepting of a lie does no good for the believer of that lie.  Let me explain it this way:  Your child comes home from school and is working on her math homework.  It's pretty straight forward - addition. When she finishes, she asks you to check it. Here's what it looks like:

1+2 = 4
2+2 = 5
3+2 = 6
4+2 = 7
5+2 = 8
6+2 = 9
7+2 = 10
8+2 = 11
9+2 = 12
10+2 = 13

Now, she's not that far off really - each answer is just a little bit wrong, but they're still wrong.  So what do you do?  In the name of tolerance and acceptance, do you just pat her on the head and say, "Good for you!  You did a great job! Keep up the good work!", fully knowing she is going to fail that assignment?  Of course you wouldn't do that.  You would sit down with her and correct the errors and have her rework the problems.  You might grab a few apples and use them as a visual aid, as well.  But you wouldn't just tolerate her misunderstanding about addition.  You would gently correct it or else she will fail.

Here's the problem - we know that 2+2 = 4 is a universal truth, right?  It doesn't matter what society you come from or if you're right or left handed - it's truth.  But some would argue that I am not comparing apples with apples - that "religion" (sorry, I hate that word) and mathematics are not comparable.  Religion is personal - it's subjective, so it can vary from person to person. Math is objective and that makes it truth.

But remember, Jesus said to Pilate that He was born to testify to the truth (John 18:37,38), to which Pilate asked, What is truth?  The world cannot quantify truth - today truth is subjective, therefore each of us is allowed to believe whatever he wants to believe, and as long as he lives by his convictions, he's a man of integrity.  Recently the Pope agreed with this assertion, declaring that eternal life is for people who live according to their convictions, even if they do not believe in God.  

If this is the new truth, then 2+2 can equal 5 and we'd better not correct it because we'll be offending our child's version of truth.

Pretty skewed, right?  Murky reasoning leads to bad conclusions.

So now let's turn to the gospel.  You believe it's truth, right?  It stands in complete opposition to all other religions - it is based on DIVINE ACHIEVEMENT rather than HUMAN ACCOMPLISHMENT (you see the difference, right?).  We know the scriptures teach against empty tradition, vain effort and false religion.  In our verses above, we are clearly taught that there are not multiple avenues to God - that all religions can't take it's own pathway to God and in the end, we all end up okay.  Do we just believe this and hope we're right?  Or do we confidently stand on truth, seeing its evidence within creation and thousands of year of transformed lives?

Here's another problem with tolerance - Christianity clearly claims to be the ONLY way to God. If you are a Christ-follower what place does religious tolerance have in our belief system?

If we truly believe the gospel, then what do we do about it?  Do you stand by quietly while your neighbor turns in a faulty math paper?  Or do you love them enough, knowing their eternity hangs in the balance, to sit with them, gently correct them and share truth with them?  Or have you bought into the lie that truth is relative and you're hoping everything ends up fine in the end for everyone…here's a suggestion - spend some time with I Timothy 2:5,6 and do a heart check.  

You have the truth - what are you going to do with it?  Don't fear rejection - Jesus had plenty of that and it didn't hold Him down. You have a precious gift that gives life.  Share it and see what God does...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Once for all

For Christ also died for sin once for all,
the just for the unjust,
so that He might brings to God,
having been put to death in the flesh, 
but made alive in the spirit;
I Peter 3:18

The great religious conflict - cross vs. crucifix.  The Catholics depict Jesus suffering on the cross and the Protestants emphasize the resurrection by hailing the empty cross.  It's a rather heated debate - if you don't believe me, just google it.  Chat rooms on both sides are heated - Catholics claim the Protestants focus on the resurrection to lessen their guilt but they choose to remember the suffering that saves them.  Protestants claim the body on the cross equates to idolatry and the 10 commandments warn of making graven images.  

These are the nice arguments - it gets pretty nasty after that…

So which is right?  Is it sin to have a crucifix?  Are we looking at nothing if the cross is empty?  Why does it even matter?

I want to encourage you, my friends, not to live in ignorance but to inform yourself.  This is not an argument over a Psalter (Reformed vs. Christian Reformed).  This is not a spat amongst family.  This is a debate between two belief systems:
  • One system requires penance and personal suffering, prayers to a holy mother as well as deified saints, rosaries, sprinklings, candle lightings and extra biblical writings
  • The other system puts its faith and trust in Christ alone - in what He did and that He died once for all - Jesus in my place.  It's not what I do, it's what He has done
  • One system embraces works for salvation 
  • The other embraces works because of salvation
  • One emphasize suffering
  • The other emphasizes grace
  • One has a Savior hanging on a cross, continuing to suffer as we sin
  • The other has a risen Savior, seated at the right hand of the Father, finished in His redemptive work, now interceding on our behalf
Many of us in the church believe that the Catholic faith is consistent with the Christian faith - that there are many Catholics who are Christians.  I am not the judge of the heart by any means, but I want to warn you today not to fall for the lie that Catholicism and Christianity are close cousins.  They're not.  They could not be farther apart.  Just as Mormonism claims to be a cousin - it's not.  Both Catholicism and Mormonism claim the name of Jesus, but their claims are not consistent with the Word of God because they add to the gospel. 

Let's take a quick look at the five Sola's, birthed out of the Reformation which was the result calling out the Catholic belief system in comparison to the Word of God:
  • Sola Scriptura - scripture alone - the Catholic Church said the foundation of faith came through scripture, tradition and the teachings of the Pope - the Reformers said scripture alone
  • Sola Gratia - grace alone - the CC said salvation came through a combination of God's grace plus merits earned from good works and penance, plus the good works of those who preceded you - the Reformers said grace alone saves
  • Sola Fide - faith alone - the CC said man is justified by faith and works - the Reformers said by faith alone - faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ
  • Sola Christus - Christ alone - the CC said we are saved by the merits of Christ and the saints, and Mary and all who intercede for us - the Reformers said we are saved in Christ alone
  • Sola Deo Gloria - the CC said the glory of salvation comes through and it thereby accredited to  Christ's works, Mary's works, the saints' works and the sinners works - the Reformers said the true gospel is that which gives glory to God alone
There is a big and ever widening gap between Christianity and the Catholic church and our verse above is a foundational one for the Christian faith - once for all - Jesus' suffering is complete and His work of salvation is finished - that's why He sits at the Father's right hand.  The suffering on the cross was so much more than the physical torture - it was bearing the wrath of God.  If Jesus continues to suffer when we sin (a Catholic teaching), then He could not be in the presence of His Father right now, as our sin would not be allowed in the presence of a Holy God.  No, His salvation work is complete - His death and sacrifice was sufficient - it is enough.

Back to the cross - I am not going to be legalistic and say it is sin to have a crucifix. There are much greater battles to fight.  But we need to be informed about where our imagery in the church comes from and understand the theology that is behind it.