Sunday, November 25, 2012

No Stumbles – Security of Light

Riding down the luge
One of my favorite bike rides includes a downhill section known as “the luge.”  Here’s a picture of it (top photo) in the daytime.  As you can see, it’s a very narrow trail with a steep drop on the right.  What you cannot see is how steep downhill this is, and the places where the trail drops a foot or more off the edge of rocks. 

The Luge at night

The next picture was taken on the luge at night … what one sees with the little bike light is almost nothing.  And the bottom picture is what I would look like if I rode the Luge at night. 

Me at night (probably)

Imagine riding a steep and difficult trail with a deep ravine on one side … if you fall, you may be very seriously injured.  Sure, it’s fun and fast to go flying down the luge at top speed, but if you don’t have the skills for it … you may find your fun replaced by pain and regret. 

showering in the dark
The showers in my dorm in college were communal showers …. everyone on our floor showered in the same place.  One night I entered and heard someone showering in the pitch dark.  Very creepy!  I needed to shower, so (afraid of what I was about to see) I turned on the lights.  Turns out the guy showering the dark was blind – he didn’t even know it was dark in there! 

Our world is also a very dark place, but worldly people are blind.  They’re having fun racing down the luge of life without realizing how much danger they’re in.  Sadly, many so-called Christians also live in the dark:
The one who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness until now.  The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.  But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
1 John 2:9-11

Isn't that an interesting picture?  If you hate your brother, you can’t even see where you’re going, but you don’t KNOW you can’t see, because you’re blinded, and therefore ignorant. You're like the blind guy in the shower ... you don't even know you're in darkness.  When we don't love, we are blind and self-deceived. 

there is a remedy
Peter wrote something about this blindness and our possible fall.  You should read this section below and pay special attention to Peter’s promises and the facts.  And then … if you want to “have eyes to see,” open your bible to 1 Peter and read what “these qualities” are that will help us not to stumble.  Be careful, though … you must “PRACTICE these things,” in order to keep from falling.  Reading about them isn't enough … you must DO them: 
For if these qualities are yours and are increasing,
they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
he who lacks these - is blind/short-sighted,
having forgotten his purification from his former sins.
 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for
as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;
for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. 
2 Peter 1:8-11 
So what do you say?  Want the “fun” of the luge in darkness?  It’s pretty great, really.  You get to do whatever you want … you can chase money & power, be popular, enjoy the benefits of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll (or if you prefer: wine, women and song), and you can really have quite a great ride through life in the dark.  But be forewarned: this is a trail you cannot finish without falling, and when you do, the outcome is eternal death. 

For those of us who prefer to walk in the light … the question is, will you stay in that pathway, and will you share the light, or will you attempt to light only your own path?  Will you neglect others and let them plummet to their death, or will you take a moment to be the light to them? 

Remember Jesus’ promise (from John 11.9-10) and do something about it!  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Light in Philippi

The Philippian church of Christ was discouraged when Paul wrote his letter to them.  They were being taught different things by different teachers, and each of these had differing motives for teaching.  They were troubled because Paul was in prison, and it seemed as if God has abandoned Paul.  As discouragement darkened their eyes of faith, they began to grow tired, grumpy, and temptation to disobey became powerful.  Read part of Paul’s prescription to them here:  

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed (not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence) work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
 Do all things without grumbling or disputing;
So that:
You’ll prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I’ll have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.
Philippians 2:12-16
Now ask yourself how this may apply to your own life.  Do you appear as a light in the world because you never grumble or complain?  Are you “above reproach” in your behavior?  Are you working out your salvation with fear? 

If not, don’t be surprised if you are struggling with your attitude, your behavior, or having disputes with fellow disciples. 

Remember that being a light in the world means you will be different.  The world is dark, and those who blend in and go unnoticed are also dark, not light.  In this context it means you’re blameless & innocent, you refuse to grumble or dispute, and it means that you are holding fast the word of life. 

If you feel despondent and need a shot of joy to fuel your journey, maybe you need to make this passage real in your life.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Perfect Protection – No Fear

Give ear to my words, O Yahweh, Consider my groaning.
Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God, for to You I pray.
 You’re not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; no evil dwells with YouThe boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity.
You destroy those who speak falsehood
 O Yahweh, lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes; make Your way straight before me.
 There’s nothing reliable in what they say; their inward part is destruction.Hold them guilty, O God; by their own devices let them fall!
In the multitude of their transgressions thrust them out, for they are rebellious against You.
 But let all who take refuge in You be glad, let them ever sing for joy. And may You shelter them, that those who love Your name may exult in You, for it’s You who blesses the righteous man, O Yahweh, You surround him with favor as with a shield.
     - Excerpts from Psalm 5
Many psalms are like the one above.  David understood something it would do all of us well to learn: that for a righteous person, God is the perfect shield.  I’m posting this today because it fits with the ideas we’ve been studying from Romans 12.14-21 about the way we should treat those who persecute us: our enemies.  There are two things that struck me when I read this:
David’s enemies are God’s enemies … and …
It’s a righteous person who has nothing to fear.

When we are true friends, allies, and slaves of God, then everything we do is in His service.  If that’s true, then the only enemies we’ll ever have are people who are also (whether they know it or not) enemies of God.  So that asking God to “thrust them out,” as David did, isn’t because they were just mean – it was because they had rebelled against God Himself! 

The wicked man flees though no one pursues…
…but the righteous are as bold as a lion.             Proverbs 28.1
The second thing that strikes me about this psalm is that God is a shield to the righteous.  That’s why David’s son could write the Proverb above: because when you are a righteous person, you can be bold and confident and never fear or worry, because God is a shield about you. 

Satan tempts us to retaliate against enemies by making us afraid.  He knows that he can convince us we need to strike back, or be protective or angry or fearful or bitter … in order to defend ourselves.  But when we walk in righteousness, faith and love, there is no need for fear.  We don’t need to protect ourselves, because we know God has our backs.  We won’t be tempted to lash out in anger or fear, because we have the strength of knowing God’s shield is round-about us. 

If you’re worried, nervous or fearful … consider focusing on becoming as righteous as possible.  It sounds weird, but that simple focus on righteousness will guide your heart and mind.  If you need help from a brother or sister – ask. 

“Seek first God’s kingdom and His RIGHTEOUSNESS

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day Advice … WWJD?

This week the people of the United States will select a President, and others to represent them in D.C., and their state and local capitals.  The words of that sentence were chosen carefully.  Most people believe we choose leaders when we vote, but we don’t – we hire politicians to represent us. 

The US constitution begins with the words: “We the people,” and President Lincoln described our nation as one “of the people, by the people and for the people.”  That means that we are a nation led by its own citizens.  We are the leaders – and now we’re looking to hire someone to do a job for us. 

In Paul’s letter to the church of Christ in Rome he contends that government authority comes from God, and that God establishes a nation’s leaders … as His minister (deacon/servant), for good  (Romans 13).  If Paul is right, then according to our constitution, “we the people” are the leaders of the USA – established by God!  That means it’s our responsibility to govern well, and that our responsibility is ordained by God, and it is an act of worship. 

So, Christian leader – how do you choose someone to represent you (as an American) to the world?  Remember: we are not choosing someone to represent the Kingdom – we already have a King.  And our primary citizenship is in that kingdom. (Philippians 3.20)  We are merely selecting a representative for the temporary earthly nation called the US. 

First, go back and read Romans 13 again, and see what function God wants the government to serve:  
“It is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil”
To put this in modern terms, God is using earthly governments to serve as law enforcement and military.  Strong, just courts, a just and effective penal system, and a strong and fair military – these are things God wants. 

Does that mean God wants only those things?  Does it mean God is opposed to government sponsored social programs or education or disaster relief?  This is debatable among honest people.  Some would say that if God specifically mentions some things, all others are excluded.  Others would say that if God didn’t say there’s nothing wrong with it … then it is allowed. 

But I will add this: many times in scripture God makes it clear that He expects social justice (aid for poor, orphans, widows, education, etc) to be the responsibility of the individual child of God.  That means it’s my job – and yours - to care for them.  But (as far as I know), He does not say how to accomplish this, only to make sure it gets done.  So if you see the US as an effective distributor of your talents for social good, then that is surely fine.  If you are doing better - or your church, neighborhood or other groups are doing better than the government, then vote accordingly.  (Notice I say ‘are’ doing better – not ‘can’ do better.  Lots of people can do better than the government, but many actually do nothing at all)

Second, consider the capability of the people you hire to do this enormous job.  Yes, it’s just an earthly nation, and not nearly as big a deal as God’s Kingdom, but it matters.  Earthly nations start and end wars, they take money from the pockets of Christians and redistribute it, and they have a huge impact on the lives of billions.  So let’s be wise about our choice, and not be foolish. 

Remember that we are not picking leaders, we are electing representatives … hiring someone to do a job.  So it’s as if you had the job … will this person do what you would do?  That’s hard, because the choices we have are between politicians.  It goes without saying they are dishonest.  Both Presidential candidates in this election, for instance, have shown themselves to be very loose with the truth.  (Even though they both claim to be Christians, and simultaneously are deceptive … neither are capable of representing the our Lord in any remotely reasonable way)
So you must listen less to what they say – and pay more attention to what they actually do – their record.  Remember that our Lord said, “You will know them by their fruits.”  He was talking about false teachers, but the same principle applies.  He also said, “Wisdom is proved right by her children.”  Or, as the popular saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.”  This cannot be stressed enough.  All their words, speeches, ads and debates amount to nothing.  This is true, even for the guy you like!  They must ALL be considered to be dishonest.  After all … how many candidates do you know who are committed, true, hard-core disciples of Jesus?  I cannot name one, or even imagine one. 

So … test their actions!  Examine their records, and ask a simple question: did they actually do what they said they’d do?  Did Romney do in Mass. what he promised?  Did Obama end the war in Iraq when he said he would, or end the war in Afghanistan, or reduce troops, or close “Getmo” or repair the US economy, or make peace with conservatives as he promised?  It should be obvious that neither of them has done what they promised.  But which one came closer?  Which candidate shows the most promise for giving us opportunities as disciples of Jesus and soldiers in the kingdom?

Finally … remember these words of Solomon:

He cuts off his own feet and drinks violence who sends a message by the hand of a fool.
Like one who binds a stone in a sling, so is he who gives honor to a fool.
Like an archer who wounds everyone, so is he who hires a fool….
     Proverbs 26:6, 8, 10

The President is our representative … we send our message through him.  We honor him, and we hire him.  Hiring a fool to be President is hiring an archer with a quiver full of nuclear bombs instead of arrows.  He will be a man with power over trillions of dollars of debt and the future of your children.  Pay attention to the record, and choose wisely – or leave it to those who will take the time to make an informed decision and govern wisely and - stay at home.  Not voting is better than voting foolishly. (Proverbs 17.28) 

This is our diakonos (service, ministry) to God as leaders of the USA. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Enemies of the Ambassador

In the late 1500s, Queen Elizabeth of England and King Philip of Spain were involved in an undeclared war.  In these days before telecommunication, they tried to communicate with each other through their respective ambassadors.  At one point Philip sent Bernardino de Mendoza to England, but he was caught spying on the side, and plotting to kill the queen.  Elizabeth then sent William Wade to Spain to explain why she had expelled Mendoza, but King Philip wouldn't see Wade, and ran him out of Spain claiming he was fortunate not to be killed.  This is the way things worked. 

I tell you this to help you understand our relationship with God, so stick with me.  England and Spain had issues, mostly religious and personal between their king and queen.  But for the ambassadors, it wasn't personal (or shouldn't have been).  Phil wanted to kill Liz, not her ambassador.  Under other circumstances, those two men may have been just Phil and Bill, two guys having a beer together and hanging out.  But in this case no one cared to think of William Wade as Bill, and no one cared what kind of marriage he had, or where he went to school or what NBA team he loved.  He wasn’t even himself – he was just almost a robot under the control of the queen.  Her servant, sent on a mission.  It was the same with Mendoza.  No one in England would have called him “Bernie” and would care about his personal issues, his family or friends or favorite food.  He was 100% the representative of King Phil.
Recently the USA had an ambassador killed in Libya, and again … it wasn't personal.  They didn’t really care about him, they killed him because they hate the USA.  His family and friends will remember him as Chris, but the world will remember that he was the main victim in a terrorist plot to hurt the US. 

We know one another personally, and may like or dislike each other.  But here’s the thing you should remember: in this world, we are ambassadors.  We represent God and His son, Jesus.  Satan hurts us because we are God’s.  The world hates us because they belong to Satan, and are not in our kingdom (John 15.17-21).  But don’t take it personally – we aren’t disliked or ignored or mistreated for the reasons people will say.  They don’t even know themselves that they are in bondage to evil!  They are blinded by it, and misdirected. 

Our passage (Romans 12.14-21) from Sunday – and for this coming Sunday – has lots of supporting scriptures that further explain and affirm Paul’s words.  Please understand that we are supposed to bless those who persecute us, not because we like it – or because we want to suffer, or because God is unkind.  We do so because it’s just not about us.  It’s about the One who sent us – the one we represent. 

Study this passage, try to understand it, pray for understanding, try to apply it for real … and be ready for Sunday to discuss:

2 Corinthians 5.16 – 6.10
Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh….  
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.  

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Therefore, we’re ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain— for He says,
“At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.”
Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation”—
giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry won’t be discredited,
but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God:
in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God;
by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report;
regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known,
as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich,
as having nothing yet possessing all things.