Monthly Archives: October 2014

Life – God alone defines and provides

A man and his wife had questions about life.  To secure answers they made a trip to Tibet and climbed the Himalayas in search of a particular holy man.  They found their guru after hiking up and down 15,000-17,000 foot mountains.  At length he allowed an audience and told the Americans, among other things, that the nature of existence is impermanence.

They had to go all the way to Tibet to discover that the “nature of existence” is impermanent?  They could have saved the expense and time by entering any cemetery in the country!  Their trip typifies the misguided futility of many who claim to be searching for meaning, but never intend to find it.  They consider the search the reason for their existence.

With good reason:  while they travel anywhere on earth to find answers, they won’t seriously read even a single page in the Bible.  They seek help from self-appointed experts, but no sure, sometimes-painful guidance from the only God.

God desires to give us life, in all its fullness; to fill us up, to the brim.  He seeks to share himself with us, so we can appropriate his nature in our own lives.  Despite the bounty of his feast, many starve to death spiritually, because they won’t eat at his table.  Blinded by worldly wisdom, the Bible to them seems simplistic.

God continues to offer eternal life to all.  “To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.  He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son” Revelation 21:6e-7.

If we want to find life, God has it.  If we want to receive life, God gives it.  Every day.  To the full.  Forever and ever.  But only he through Jesus Christ.

If we want to know what will happen to everyone who seeks answers to the questions of our mortality outside God in Christ, read Revelation 21:8.  If God’s great Love in Jesus Christ won’t draw us to him, maybe Revelation 21:8 will scare the Hell out of us.

God – ruling universally through Jesus

Cecil Rhodes, the 19th century apostle of English imperialism, dreamed of making virtually all the world a British colony.  He shamelessly promoted Britain’s interests and yearned for her universal rule.  He once took a friend aside and showed him a map of Africa.  Putting his hand on the vast region in the middle that no European power had appropriated, he declared it his dream to make it all British.  100 Great Modern Lives, p. 206

Twentieth century nationalism, beginning in WW I, and finalized in WW II, proved his dreams an illusion.  No European nation would ever rule universally.

God had the same kind of dream, Isaiah 49:5-6 said. It was spiritual, to be sure, not political.  It involved human minds and hearts, not geographic areas and bodies.  But it involved no less than the entire world and all human history.  It meant sovereignty over civilized and barbaric peoples, Jewish and Gentile, the many-tongued nations and those living in the Isles.

Throughout the Old Testament period he dreamed his dream and planned its execution, then realized it in Jesus Christ.  To the Lord Jesus God gave rule of all the earth.  He would not remain a Jewish rabbi, for leading Israel wasn’t nearly a big enough task for him; he would be the Universal Man and Savior, the whole world as his realm.  When he gathered the 11 disciples on the Galilean mountain, he opened their minds as he revealed his universal vision:  all authority his, all nations his object, his all-embracing presence accompanying his people everywhere, all life-long Matthew 28:18-20.

Jesus – the only safe anchorage

In September, 1981, divers found the sunken ruins of one of the most luxurious yachts afloat in the 19th century.  The Alva, which cost William Vanderbilt $500,000 to construct, sank in 1892 off the Massachusetts coast.  A few hours before the disaster, the Alva slipped from her moorings to sail to a nearby resort.  When, near Monomoy Island, the captain encountered dense fog, he  anchored and began blowing continuous fog whistles.  Unfortunately, he had anchored near steamer lanes and, within two hours, the H. F. Dimock ploughed into the yacht, sinking it in 15 minutes.

How often, how fatally often, our most treasured possessions, secured at phenomenal cost, vanish before life’s unexpected collisions.

Isaiah’s prophecy of God’s outreach to the human race centered around a “chosen one”, 42:1, God’s own Servant.  In him reposed God’s cause and will.  Only in him.  There would be no need to look to another, for none existed.  No need to seek other truth, for he would bring all truth in himself.

Everyone ties his life to something, somewhere—to education, fame, career, a valued leader.  Which is never enough.  We must anchor to a safe, secure place, out of harm’s way, where it cannot be ripped loose or rammed by an irresistible force and destroyed.  Indeed, it must be anchored on someone who can rescue us when danger looms and retrieve us when death carries us away.  That ONE safe anchorage for life and death is none other than Jesus Christ, God’s Only Begotten Son.

Security – the kind God provides

During the holocaust of artillery exchanges in the battle of Arnhem, a chaplain tried to minister to hundreds of wounded men.  He could barely hear his own voice in the building where they lay.  He suddenly felt the need to combat the noise with God’s peace.  He quoted Matthew 6:33 aloud and then began to sing Abide With Me.  At first the men just listened.  Then they began to hum…then sing softly…then louder…and soon against the thunderous barrage outside hundreds of men sang those soothing, powerful words of hope:  “When other helpers fail and comforts flee, God of the helpless, O abide with me.”  A Bridge Too Far, p. 548

Isaiah wasn’t blind to the tragedies he saw.  Neither was he intimidated by them.  Nor did he allow them to surface doubt about God’s existence.  While he saw Satan’s power at work in the world, he also witnessed God’s stronger power at work.  And from God’s presence with his people Isaiah took his hope, Isaiah 35:3-4.

We must have God as the source of our security.  God:  not a “nothing” in particular and an “everything” in general, but the One Particular Being of his kind; who exists by himself, with no one’s assistance.  The Absolute Being:  not just “up there,” but “in here,” in our minds.  Different from us, to be sure, but one with us in our daily experiences.  He is God Almighty, and we are his children, and he cares.  That awareness gives us the permanent confidence to overcome all life’s adversities.

God – we are no mystery to

A professor of criminology found it easy to criticize the behavior and reactions of policemen.  One day, however, a student and former officer, argued that the professor couldn’t possibly understand a policeman’s life until he had experienced it.  The professor accepted the challenge and, after undergoing the required hours of preparation, found himself a cop on his beat.  His education began almost at once, and a change in his ideas with it.  He found it one thing to sit in a classroom mentally discussing crime, or in an air-conditioned office talking with the criminal about his past life, but another to confront the situation in the streets, in cheap bars, darkened alleys and among hostile crowds.  Reader’s Digest, 1975.

Personal involvement and personal identification:  traits often missing in those who lecture, teach or encourage others.  Once they experience the lot that others know, how differently they feel and act.

God never has that problem.  He knows us because he made us.  He understands us because he lived with us.  He knew what it means to lose sleep, to be astonished, hungry, disappointed, grieved and forsaken.  He got inside humanity by becoming human.  In so doing he is able to think our thoughts and predict our behavior and attitudes.  His experience cost him heavily in time, effort and eventually life itself, but it gave substance to his every teaching.  And when Jesus gave up his spirit, he had shown perfect identification with us.  He who had formed us had become one of us, and lived among us.  We can never say, “Jesus doesn’t understand us.”  He does.  We don’t want to say, “Jesus intends to change us,” for that imposes demands we don’t want to hear.  Nevertheless change—conversion—is a necessity if we hope to live with him.

God – gives triumph in trouble

In the horrid Japanese death camps along the River Kwai Allied prisoners suffered every possible affliction:  maggot-filled food, inhumane treatment from brutal guards, exhausting physical labor, minimal medical treatment.  In short, all the barbarity and torture that would deprive humans of hope.

But it wasn’t able to.  Even while the men had no building for worship, no ordained ministers to lead, no publishing house to provide literature, and no headquarters to offer advice, they prayed, read the Bible and accepted Christ as their Savior.  And the Church grew!  Through the Valley of the Kwai

 The Bible nowhere promises exemption from hardship, even for God’s chosen.  In fact it warns us of the inevitability of suffering.  We’re in a fallen world, and all who live here experience the effects.

However, through his prophet, Isaiah 43:2, God made a promise that gives victory over all we experience:  “I will be with you.”  God takes for granted that we will all experience trials.  No exemption from them should be asked or expected.  But in them…while in their very midst, he offers this safety:  he is with us.  And this security:  he will never leave us.  God’s presence makes even our sorrows smile.

 

Christian – our coming change

On their return to Europe after 20 years in the Orient, Marco Polo and his father looked horrible.  Wearing the coarse clothing of Tartar peasants, they reeked of filth and poverty.  No one in Venice recognized them.

The Polo’s prepared a banquet and invited the Venetians.  To the surprise of the guests, the hosts appeared in rich garments, and changed clothing several times during the meal, appearing in something more exquisite each time.  At each change they cut up the previous clothing or gave it away.

Then the Polo’s brought in those foul-smelling Tartar clothes and ordered their linings ripped out and their pockets torn open.  And what fell to the floor but rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds, all from the Kublai Khan!  Washington Irving’s Works,  Appendix, p. 696-697

They weren’t so poor after all.  They had enormous wealth hidden under their peasant garb.   A parable of the change coming for God’s people when the Redeemer finishes his work.  We may now look, act and be like the Polo’s when they arrived in Venice:  terribly weak, sinful and almost hopelessly imprisoned in our skin.

But deep down inside we are something else, and it will one day be freed and allowed to rule the body that has so long dominated it.  When that happens, as Philippians 3:20-21 promises, the redeemed will change instantly and completely, morphing from what mortals had been since post-Eden into the likeness of glorified Jesus Christ.  Then, from that instant and forever afterwards, we’ll be like God’s precious jewels, Malachi 3:17, shining and glowing and sparkling.

All that, and far more than minds can now conceive or tongues can speak, becomes the new reality when Jesus Christ appears and we are re-fashioned in his likeness.  Then we “shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” I John 3:2.  We shall be in his presence and see his face, serve him and reign with him forever and ever Revelation 22:3-5.

 

 

Forgiveness—and the change needed in

As any soldier in the front lines knows, a combatant cannot keep clean, or even think of it, while fighting.  On rare occasions he withdraws from the lines to shower and shave.  One soldier in the battle of Aachen in1944 told of standing in line for the shower, then standing in the shower as long as possible.  He washed again and again, rubbing the soap into his skin, hoping to get the dirt and stench out.  Then, clean and fragrant, he stepped from the shower into the same filthy clothes and made his way back to the same muddy foxhole.  Bloody Aachen, p. 108

As Isaiah 31:6-7 stressed, God wanted to forgive Israel.  He didn’t delight in condemning them.  Heaven rejoiced whenever a single sinner repented.  Unworthy as Israel was, God loved her.  And, though offended by her flagrant wickedness, God took the initiative and offered forgiveness, a magnanimous gesture only he could make.

That forgiveness exacted a demand in the forgiven:  they had to abandon idolatry and serve God alone.  No more could they live as before.  Neither can we.  After forgiveness is experienced, we must display a change in attitude, lifestyle and behavior.  Yet, how many times we, like that soldier, walk fresh from God’s forgiveness and climb right back into the old way of life!

God – the right leader

On January 18, 1982 four Air Force Thunderbird jets plunged into the desert north of Las Vegas, Nevada.  Since all members of the squadron kept their eyes fixed on the leader, it was feared that he had made an error of judgment, dooming all.  An investigation uncovered a plane malfunction, not pilot error.

In a larger sense, though the pilot had made no mistake, the crash of the rest resulted from following the leader.  Since his plane malfunctioned, and the others keyed on it, they all followed his plane into the ground.

In Isaiah 31:1 the prophet whiplashed the Israelites for their obstinate adherence to treaties, horses and military power to assure their survival.  God alone was their deliverer, he stressed.  His message is relevant to our society.  There is no end to man’s search for security and peace.  The frequent long journeys of statesmen to converse with their foreign counterparts, and the endless meetings of the United Nations Security Council, may have good motives, but they would be no less successful if they all merely corresponded via e-mail.  Such efforts invariably raise hopes that conciliation is possible, only to dash them when national interest dooms the peace process.

It’s all because the Right Leader hasn’t been followed.  All human leaders, despite their efforts to succeed, always fail in critical ways.  So humanity essentially finds itself relying on itself to solve the problems it has created and follows each generation in futility.  God is the final Quotient in history, not we; spiritual forces are, not arms or treaties.  There is no hope humanity will ever understand that, but God’s people, like God’s prophets, must keep declaring it.  Like their message long ago, positing God Almighty in Christ as humanity’s only hope must be preached because it’s TRUE, not because people accept it.

Witness – we must respond to forgiveness with a

A man visited a ramshackle building that served as a mission school.  When he entered he saw a young man standing and holding a child in his arms while he read him the story of the Prodigal Son.  The reader couldn’t pronounce some of the words, so he skipped them.  The visitor was astonished that such an inferior messenger would try to teach about Jesus.

When the meeting was over, the man told his visitor that he had only one talent.  He had no education and no money, but he did have love—for the Lord Jesus, for the people he came to save, for ministry.  He simply wanted to do something for Jesus.  That man was Dwight Moody.  Life of Moody, p. 93

Isaiah experienced the same response after his forgiveness, Isaiah 6:5-7.  Having seen Almighty God in Jesus Christ, John 12:41, having been humiliated by his own sins; having been cleansed of his sin, the prophet instantly volunteered when God called for a messenger to preach his word.

The initial, natural response to forgiveness should be a desire to share it with others.  That instant willingness to serve should characterize every Christian.  No question should arise as to the cost involved or the difficulty of the task.  Experiencing in ourselves the Presence of God, we feel compelled to bear a witness to others.  If we don’t feel that compulsion, how thorough has our conversion been?