The Road Ahead

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As we begin a new year our life’s road stretches out before us.  Look ahead; what do you see?

Like the picture you might see cold snow and ice for a piece, and then the thaw of spring out ahead…

Maybe you are going through hard times right now; many people are.  Maybe things are going well… even many of these are worried about the future in such uncertain times.  There are nasty economic rumblings out there; in some places there are people in the streets crying out for change.  In some parts of this world there is unrest; unease everywhere.

Are you walking down your life’s road all alone?

Maybe you are going along with your family and your spouse as a strong unit; if so that’s a very good thing. If you falter, maybe they can carry you a ways…

What if you all falter… then what?

Just to be on the safe side, I like to take Jesus along on my life’s road: He can handle things that I can’t quite seem to manage on my own.  He can help me when I stumble, He can carry me if necessary; in fact He can carry the whole family if we need it. We are never alone out in the wilderness to freeze, or in the desert to die of thirst, for He fills out needs.  We are never overpowered by strangers, for He is with us.

Yes, taking Jesus along life’s road is a good idea, don’t you think?

Look!  Just a little farther and the sun is shining!

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The Right, the Wrong, and the Radioactive

Over the past couple of weeks, I have noticed the firestorm over the Duck Dynasty Program, and those of you who are frequent readers here (bless you!) may have noticed that up until now, I have been silent on this issue. Even now, particularly that the network has reversed its decision, I intend to remain silent, for I have never seen the show, nor frankly, have I even heard of it before.  What I would like to discuss with you all, as we sit here around the kitchen table, coffee or tea in hand, is the issue of homosexuality.  Note that I did not say “homosexuality” but “the issue of…”.CAP 032-LR

For it is the issue, rather than the subject that is instructive for Christians, and that is because the issue is politically radioactive. It is the bright shining light of oppressive political correctness at its most oppressive state.  Before we can go any further, it is crucial that we understand that political correctness is nothing more than a thinly veiled move to silence opposition to people who adhere to a certain political agenda.  It has nothing to do with polite behavior or getting along with each other; it is a tool for domination, and it is effective.  People in the public arena who voice opinions that don’t go along will be attacked.  They will be fired, they will be called nasty names, they will be, in short, silenced. If you pay attention to politics, you may have heard things like “code words for racism.”  If you watch the news stations like CNN and MSNBC, you may have heard “experts” explain how opposition to tax increases is “code” for hating minority groups, for example.  Think about it: It is much easier to brand political opponents as a racists, than it is to convince taxpayers that they aren’t paying enough in taxes!

The same folks that push this kind of thing, are the ones who are always lecturing us on Civil liberties, and yet they seek to since their opponents, keep our phone records (without a warrant) keep our emails, texts and tweets, not to mention Facebook pages and track our banking transactions and travel.  By the way, if this is news to you, you haven’t been paying attention!

How can people do these things to violate civil liberties on the one hand, and be the champion of civil liberties on the other?

Easy, they favor total freedom in anything relating to sex.  Everybody likes sex, so we support whatever you want to do sexually, as long as there are no children involved and it is consensual.  Everyone who differs will become a handy scpegoat.

Here’s Where it gets Dicey

If my theory is correct, homosexuality and gay marriage provide the perfect storm for Christians.  At first glance, there are two possible responses to this challenge.  First, just go along with the crowd; even join them, and all will be fine.  Many churches have done this, even to the point of allowing openly gay or lesbian pastors. The second option is to stand up in the public square and boldly proclaim opposition to all of this.  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen many dozens of blog postings that take one or the other of these two approaches, but to what end?  If we say that God favors homosexuality, are we faithfully representing His Word? If we condemn it, are we being Christ-like in our behavior, or are we being more like the Old Testament prophet?  Is either of these approaches doing anything to build the Kingdom of Heaven?  I hope that my awesome readers will resist the temptation to give a knee-jerk reaction to these questions, for they are complicated and profoundly significant.

Let’s look at the situation from the point of view of those whose agenda is advanced by political correctness.

First, by being in favor of all sorts of sexual activities that have traditionally been considered out-of-bounds, this provides the appearance of loving individual liberty while actually taking it away bit by bit.  Second, Christians, who are potentially a danger, are set up for a no win situation.  Churches and others who embrace the idea lose credibility with the majority of those who are in no particular camp because they are going in a radically different direction than ever before, and thus they may appear to be rather ‘watered down’ in their beliefs.  Churches and others who stand up in opposition will come under vicious attack, and few will want to join them and be subjected to the attack themselves.  The result is that the Christian community as a whole becomes radioactive, just like the original issue.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is exactly what spiritual warfare looks like!

I know that I will be taken to task for saying this, but when you get sucked into this issue, you are playing the Enemy’s game by the Enemy’s rules on the Enemy’s home field!  Consider what Jesus told His disciples:

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Matthew 7:6

Surely, this issue requires discernment!

A Third Option

There is another option in this situation, and I hope that we will consider it prayerfully.  You see, just because the world around us is acting like it is lost and without God, does not mean that we need to jump into every controversy.  You see, the world around us is lost and without God!  Jesus did not establish his church to go straighten out the lost world, He commanded us to take the Gospel to the world.  If you look carefully at the gospels, you will notice that Jesus only confronted and pronounced “woes” on the religious elite, i.e. the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were misleading the people God had given them to shepherd.  To the sinners, He took God’s love and the offer of forgiveness.  No, He didn’t condone their sins, whatever they may have been, but He didn’t beat them about the face with the Law either.  Nor did He complain about being persecuted when a private company, not the government, decided they didn’t want a radioactive political issue hung around their neck.

So then, how is it that we can allow ourselves to be dragged into politics, to the detriment of the Gospel at any provocation? Rather, may we turn our eyes upon Jesus, and be about the task of building His Kingdom, taking the message of reconciliation to those around us by reaching out to them in a loving and caring way, just like Jesus did. May we discern what the world around us is all about when these things arise, and not allow ourselves to be so easily distracted from the task that our Lord has given to us!

Now, before you send me hate mail for being either pro or anti gay, please take note of the fact that I haven’t shared my opinion on that question, for it is of no importance whatsoever.

Thinking of a better life

 

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With Christmas past and the new year looming, all of us have the opportunity to make a new start.  Most of us have areas of our lives that we aren’t entirely satisfied with, why keep doing the same things?

I’m not really talking about the traditional “New Year’s Resolutions” here, because as most of us have discovered, they really don’t work all that well.  I think the reason for that is that they are an attempt to deal with a symptom of something, rather than dealing with the underlying problem.

Now I guess that is a big statement to make; what ‘underlying problem’?

Here’s a theory:  Most of us have a problem with focus.  Here’s what I mean:

Are you focused on good things?  Are you focused on others, on your relationships, family, job…?  Are you focused on your relationship with Jesus Christ?

You see, most of us are focused on a lot of things at once; so many in fact that we really aren’t focused on anything.  ‘Focus” tends to be exclusionary, that is to say that if we are focused on one thing, the others slip…

There’s one exception to this rule; our focus on our relationship with Jesus Christ.  If we are focused on our relationship with Jesus Christ, the other necessary areas of focus will not slip, but rather we will be motivated to do all of them better.  If we focus on our relationship with Christ, our relationships with other people will improve, our job performance will improve and our entire outlook on life will improve.  The only area of focus that will slip is in being focused on self… that will begin to wither, and maybe that’s the part that will allow us to live a better life.

I don’t know about you, but my strategy for being a better human being in the new year will be to focus on Jesus Christ!

Sunday Class Notes: December 29

Today, we complete Messianic Prophecy with the fulfillment of a prophecy about a whole new age…

 

The Great Day

Joel 2:28-32

Joel, like the other prophets we have studied, has predicted bad times ahead because of the unbelief and unfaithfulness of God’s people.  In chapter 2, beginning around verse 18, God’s ultimate deliverance begins to be revealed: First God’s judgment, then God’s deliverance.  That deliverance begins to take shape in our passage: 2:28-32.  Joel speaks of a new age; a new time where God’s spirit is upon all people.  Verses 28 and 29 speak of the outpouring of God’s spirit on all peoples and the effect that this has.  Verses 30-31 speak of wonders on earth and in heaven that will come first.  These wonders are figures commonly used within the prophets to describe God’s judgment.

 

Verse 32 speaks of a time when salvation will come to all people who call upon the name of the Lord.  This is God’s ultimate deliverance for His people: Salvation.  Chapter 3 goes on to speak of the glory of the coming Israel and the judgment of God against those who have fought against His people.

At this point, it is difficult to place our passage into historical terms: Is this referring to the return of the remnant to the Holy Land after captivity?  Is it a reference to something at the very end of time?  Or could it fit in somewhere else?

Acts 2:16-21

This passage clearly sets the time of fulfillment for Joel 2:28-32, as it is quoted verbatim by Peter on the Day of Pentecost.  The Apostles had the Holy Spirit poured out on them in a very public and obvious way (2:1-13) and then addressed the crowd that gathered.  People in the crowd wondered at what was going on  and speculated that they must be drunk!  But Peter set them straight, and in verse 16 told them directly that what they were witnessing was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy.

But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
 And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.
 I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
 And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Shall be saved.

Acts 2:16-21 cf. Joel 2:28-32

The portions of the Joel passage that refer to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit are fairly obvious in their implications, but what about the judgment?  Note that Acts 2:19-20 are the judgment verses (c.f. Joel 2:30-31) we see judgment preceding salvation (“great and glorious day of the Lord”) Consider that God poured out His judgment of our sins upon Jesus on the cross before sins could be forgiven.  Consider also that the sun was darkened while Jesus died upon the cross. Note also that immediately after this comes the salvation verse (Acts 2:21 c.f. Joel 2:32).  Salvation through Christ is made possible by His death (sin being judged) and is now being announced to the public for the first time ever.  In the section that follows (Acts 2:22-41) Peter goes on to amplify the point that this prophecy was fulfilled in Christ, citing His miracles, His Messianic nature and His sacrifice for sin.

White as snow

 

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There’s something about fresh snow that’s sort of comforting, although it also seems a little dangerous at the same time.  Yes, it is cold, and it can be uncomfortable physically, and heaven knows I’m not all that crazy about shovelling it; in spite of all that there is a comfort in seeing it.

It does have a nice way of covering the brown of winter… not to mention the left-over fall leaves, and it all looks so very clean.

The clean look of fresh snow is more than just in covering up the ground with a fresh white covering, it is representative of something much more profound… and a little scary.

Fresh white snow is mentioned several times in the Bible in connection with the righteousness of God and the purity of His Word, and I don’t know about you, but to me there is something slightly intimidating about that since I am so acutely aware of the fact that I just can’t measure up to His standard.

The comfort, however is greater than the danger, for in Christ we too can be made to “measure up”.  Not, of course, by our own work but instead by His.

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

Isaiah 1:18

Our sinfulness and imperfection, our unholy thoughts and motivations, our inadequacies and unfaithfulness are made white as snow by the blood of Jesus Christ.  It doesn’t matter than I am my own worst critic, it doesn’t matter than somebody might not like me or that I might stumble and fail.  What matters is that our Lord has taken care of all of that ‘stuff’ and in God’s sight, by His great mercy and love we are as white as snow in His sight by and through Jesus Christ.

Since Jesus has done this for us, doesn’t it motivate you to redouble your efforts to live a life pleasing in His sight?

Important or Just Urgent?

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“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”

1 Peter 1:3

Here is the point of beginning for a fresh start in life: Praise be to God!

Just think of all of the riches you have in Christ; a new life, a living hope and a better way.  What else could anybody ask for?  Any reasonable person who honestly thinks about it would likely conclude that this is about as good as life can be…

But… we all have our problems, our challenges, our past and distractions galore.  We all have plenty of times when we need to give our attention to the urgent, rather than to give attention to that which is truly important.  Of course in management, this is considered a great time waster!  We deal with the things that come up and demand attention, and as a result we have little time or energy left to deal with matters that are important for more than a few minutes or hours… and we suffer in the long run.

What is really important in life is our relationship with Christ; we need to develop the ability to separate that from the chaos of the day so that we can keep it in focus.  Of course, this will also make dealing with all of the other things a lot easier.

Let’s stay focused on the important rather than things which seem urgent, but not really as crucial as they seem at first: Everything will turn out better if we do!

You ain’t seen nothing yet!

Have you ever planned out a nice dinner for guests, spent a lot buying the food, then worked to get everything just right, spent the whole day preparing the meal and then sat down at the table to eat… and in 10 minutes it was all over?  All of the planning, expense, work… done in 10 minutes!1213 003_sharp

Christmas can be like that.  We decorate, shop, wrap, plan… and the day flies by so fast!  I remember my Dad once described Christmas as the big build up to the great let down, and perhaps that’s the way many people feel about it today; let down.

For those who put Christ first in Christmas, there’s no let down because we know that as special as the celebration of His birth may be, it’s just a day.  The result of His birth, life, death and resurrection are with us every day.  We have learned a better way of life, a way of life that encourages us to put others first and to keep a perspective about things; a priority system that puts importance on things that really are important, instead of putting priority on that which is merely immediate.

Through Christ, we have also received His gift of grace, of forgiveness of sin and restoration of our relationship with God… not to mention eternal life.  We know that our relationship with Him is in place and active at all times, and that there is no reason for a “let down” when the festivities are over.  In fact, having just celebrated His great gift, we have more reason to be excited today than we did yesterday, and why should that trend ever end?

Time to reflect is great, and so is special time with family and loved ones, but I am so thankful that when the time comes for “normal” to return, there is nothing lost, nothing gone, there is always more from the One whose life we celebrate!