Growing through Hardship

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Frank E. Graeff (1860-1919) was a Methodist minister in Philadelphia, who went through severely trying experiences most of his life. During one especially difficult time of loss, overcome with grief, in despondency and doubt he began to question whether Jesus really cared about him and the tragedy that engulfed him. All he could see was darkness and despair. But fortunately, when he went to the Word of God, he read these words: “Casting all your care upon him for He careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

As he meditated on the words, “He careth for you,” they spoke deeply to his need. The truth behind the words gave light and assurance. Frank realized that, even during times of trials, struggles and weakness, Jesus still cares for His children. The Lord’s love and care for His children would never end. As he thought on that verse, the lyrics of a song began to form in his mind. He wrote:

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained too deeply for mirth or song,

As the burdens press, and the cares distress, And the way grows weary and long?

Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares, His heart is touched with my grief;

When the days are weary, the long nights dreary, I know my Savior cares.

It is easy to get discouraged when difficulties come. We are facing a scary pandemic. But we know for sure that God knows for sure about our future that is sure, because it is in His hands. He is our Heavenly Father who, better than any earthly father, always loves and cares for His children.

Inspired words of Scripture can strengthen our faith, no matter what we face. As we saw last week, Peter wrote to encourage those suffering Christians by reminding them of their salvation in Christ and their hope of heaven, even while tribulations threatened to sweep them away. His reassuring words for them then, also apply to every believer in Christ now, because they are founded on biblical principles.

In First Peter 1:6, he revealed four principles we need to know as we face times of hardship:

1st Trials are Temporary   ”In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while…”

Difficulties, trials and hardships are not eternal, nor for a lifetime, but only last “a little while” – the King James Version renders it “for a season”—a short determined amount of time.

2nd Trials are Necessary   ”…if need be…”

The truth is, we need trials in our lives. When times of hardship come, they often help us grow as Christians, become fruitful, develop endurance, and be more devoted to prayer. As we have learned during the Coronavirus pandemic…trials forced us to stop and evaluate our lives.

3rd Trials are Difficult “…you have been distressed…”

Make no mistake—trials are difficult, distressing, even depressing. Though the period of grief is not long and is needful, that does not make it easy. The King James Version renders it: “ye are in heaviness” because of your trials.

The word for “distressed” or “heaviness” means a time of great pain or grief. It is the very word used to describe what Jesus endured in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He “began to be grieved and distressed” (Matthew 26:37). The KJV renders it “sorrowful and very heavy.” Imagine Jesus enduring such agony before the cross. Yes, trials are difficult.

The apostle John adds that Jesus said, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name” (John 12:27, 28). Vance Havner, the great Southern Baptist evangelist used to say: “What do you say, when you don’t know what to say? Say what Jesus said: ‘Father, glorify Your name!’”

We often experience trials, and the distress that accompanies them, when someone dies. This same Greek word for heaviness or distress was used by Paul to describe the sorrow that accompanied the death of a loved one—“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). It is natural to grieve—to be distressed and depressed—when a loved one passes away. Christians should not put on a stoic face or act unaffected, but should be honest in expressing their grief. But for the believer, who dies, the hope of the resurrection and future reunion in heaven, should prevent a life-shattering, hopeless grief.

4th Trials are Varied ”…by various trials.”

The Christian will face trials and tribulations of many kinds, from many sources. We may be distressed by “various trials.” The word means variegated or many-colored.

In any year, you may face financial trials, family issues, marital woes, job related problems, doubts to your faith, church troubles or health complications. Trials we face are varied, may come from many directions, but our solution is always the same—God’s help.

Through every difficulty, in the midst of each trial, facing any tragedy, God does not change. 1 Corinthians 10:13 reads, “No temptation [or trial] has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted [or tried] beyond what you are able, but with the temptation [or trial] will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

No matter what you face, or what may unexpectedly come at you; no matter what happens in your life—God is faithful! He has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” so we may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5, 6).

 

FAITH in the FIRE

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If you heard that within one month, 16 million people would lose their jobs; churches would close doors from coast to coast; People across America would not meet in groups greater than 10, but would stay at home, indoors, week after week; would you have believed it? Me neither.

But that is exactly what happened. People around the world are staying apart, wearing masks and using hand-sanitizer religiously—to prevent spread of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Even with these precautions, almost 2 million people have contracted the virus and over 100,000 have died worldwide; more than 20,000 of these in the United States.

Because of the pandemic, we have learned new words and phrases, like: social distancing, mitigate, shelter-in-place, apex, self-quarantine, asymptomatic, transmission, and flatten the curve.

We have learned that all those appointments on our calendars and planners for April were really not that important, as most have been cancelled, postponed or abandoned.

The pandemic has taught us that man’s inclination to believe he is in control is a joke. Covid19 proves the final words of “Invictus” to be cruel sarcasm: “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” Really?

So, if we are not masters of our fate, or captains of our souls, are we mere mortal pawns on some celestial chessboard? Does God care about what is happening here? If so, where is He? What can we do during times of crisis and danger? Fortunately, the Word of God speaks to these issues.

Peter touched on God’s Four Principles His children should know as they endure trials (1 Peter 1:6), and God’s Four Purposes for His children when they encounter trials (1 Peter 1:7). Remember that this letter was written to Christians scattered throughout northern Asia Minor, who were being persecuted because of their faith in Christ.

In his letter, Peter sought to encourage them and to strengthen their faith. He began by reminding them that they were born again by faith in Christ and had a living hope (1 Peter 1:3), a guarded inheritance in heaven (verse 4), and a secure salvation in Christ (verse 5).

Though they possessed these spiritual gifts by faith in Christ, they were being relentlessly persecuted for it. So they would not be discouraged, he revealed God’s principles for trials (verse 6) and God’s purposes in trials (verse 7).

God’s Principles for Trials…1 Peter 1:6

  1. Trials are Temporary…”In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while…”

Peter noted one characteristic of trials is that they are temporary—they do not last forever. God’s Word compares trials to seasons that are of short duration. The four seasons of our year are three months in length. The seasons only last a short while. After the heat of summer, comes the coolness of autumn, then the coldness of winter, followed by the colors of spring.

In a similar way, trials are temporary. Difficult times come on all of us, but thank God they do not stay with us. Paul wrote, “our light affliction…is but for a moment” (2 Cor. 4:17). Warren Wiersbe said, “When God permits His children to go through the furnace, He keeps His eye on the clock and His hand on the thermostat!”

  1. Trials are Necessary…”…if need be you have been distressed by various trials…”

Whether we like it or not, we need trials in our lives. When times of hardship come, other superficial things are disregarded. As we undergo hardship, it narrows our focus to important, valuable things, and away from frivolous, empty things.

God’s Word reveals several reasons for hardship.

Sometimes, trials come as discipline, when “those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6). God’s discipline takes many forms, but because He is a perfect, loving Father, it is ALWAYS for our benefit. Trials remind us to be in subjection to Him (verse 9). God’s discipline is always “for our good, so that we may share His holiness” (verse 10). And, though, “all discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (verse 11).

At other times trials are necessary for spiritual growth. After Paul had prayed for relief from his suffering and the “messenger of Satan to torment me” (2 Cor. 12:7), God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (verse 9). Paul understood the trial he faced was to make him weak so he would trust Christ more. So he said, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (verse 10).

Another purpose for trials is so the Christian can develop patience, as James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2, 3). Through tough times we learn to patiently wait.

A fourth reason trials are needed is that they push us to pray. We should “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be make known to God” (Philippians 4:6). He meant: “Don’t worry about anything—Pray about everything.” If you had no trials, tribulations or hardships, what would you pray about? Truthfully, we pray more often with greater intensity and fuller sincerity—when we are threatened, tried or hurting.

See? Trials and hardships are of short duration, are necessary and are good for you. They will make you fruitful, help you grow, bring about endurance, and drive you to God! Even during the Coronavirus pandemic, let’s remember that: “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15, 16).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quarantined But Not Quiet

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Our pastoral staff has been debating what to do for the upcoming Easter service, in light of the nationwide Coronavirus shutdown. One thing we know—Sunday will be the strangest Easter any of us have ever seen, as we celebrate that holy day, mostly isolated in our homes. And, though the world hopes the circumstances this Easter will never be repeated—it remains that the message of this Easter has never been more needed.

Christians world-wide celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the Sunday following Palm Sunday, designated, “Easter.” It was during this week of Jewish Passover almost 2,000 years ago that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. When they were accusing Him, the High Priest and Sanhedrin Court could not enter the Roman court for fear they would be ritually defiled. John wrote about the Jewish religious leaders: “they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover” (John 18:28). It is ironic that they rejected the true Passover (1 Cor. 5:7), so they could partake of His picture.

John recorded that Jesus was crucified on “the day of preparation for the Passover” (John 19:14). This was also the reason His accusers wanted His body off the cross, into a tomb before sunset, “because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day)” (John 19:31). Passover was considered a high Sabbath, and dead bodies on crosses would desecrate that holy day.

Palm Sunday was important, the crucifixion was vital, but, thank God—the resurrection was essential! Jesus, crucified and buried, was raised the Sunday after Passover.

“He is not here, but is risen” (Luke 24:6), was spoken by angels standing at the tomb where Christ’s body once laid. Think of that statement: “Not here…but risen!” The words stimulate our thinking and alter our eternity: He Is—Not Here—But Risen!

 So, what does Christ’s resurrection 2,000 years ago mean today?

  1. His resurrection means believers in Christ will have life after death.

Because of Christ’s victory over death, every believer has the same promise of life after death. Paul wrote, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11). Paul told the Corinthians: “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you” (2 Corinthians 4:14). Believers in Christ have hope because of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

  1. His resurrection means believers in Christ may have hope in this life.

Many times things go wrong in this life and tragedy comes to steal our hope. But Christ’s resurrection means things, though tragic, are never hopeless. Peter reminded the persecuted Christians of his day that God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Because Christ is a resurrected, living Savior, we have an overcoming, life-giving hope.

  1. His resurrection means believers in Christ are justified in God’s sight.

Though we are all sinners by nature and practice, every believer in Christ will stand justified in God’s sight. They are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). It is a wonderful truth that when Christ arose from the dead, He assured our justification because He was “delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Amazing! He was crucified for sins—He was raised for justification.

  1. His resurrection means the sins of all believers in Christ are forgiven.

God promises full forgiveness of sins to every person who trusts in Jesus. Peter said, “through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39). However, if Christ had not been raised from the dead, our sins could not be forgiven, as Paul wrote, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor. 15:17-18).

  1. His resurrection means every person will give account to God.

Unbelieving skeptics may think: “That sounds good, but does not apply to me.” However, the consequence of Christ’s resurrection applies to everyone. When Paul preached to unbelievers on Mars’ Hill, he said, “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30, 31). Because Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again, all people will give account to God.

Because of Christ’s resurrection any person can have life, hope, justification, and forgiveness of sins. Because of Christ’s resurrection every person is accountable to God. Aren’t you glad “He is not here, but is risen”? Trust Him as your Savior, rejoice in His resurrection, and share this message of hope with others. The best news the world has ever heard came from a cemetery in Jerusalem!

 

 

 

“He Shewed Himself Alive….”

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“He shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs…” (Acts 1:3).

The week before the Lord’s sacrificial death and glorious resurrection is known as “passion week”—His week of suffering. Acts chapter one describes how the 11 disciples met with Jesus following His “passion” and resurrection, before His ascension into heaven. During those days He gave many “infallible proofs”—convincing evidence—that He was God’s true Messiah raised from the grave. Jesus was “appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.”

The Lord’s Passion Week comprised the eight days from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday. The New Testament gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, highlight the important events in His life each day leading to His resurrection early on Easter Sunday morning.

Why not begin preparing your heart for Easter Sunday, April 12th, by reading the Scripture accounts of this week, beginning Palm Sunday, April 5th? If you want to understand what His “passion” included, read your Bible in this order:

PALM SUNDAY – Mark 11:1-11; Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-19.

MONDAY – Mark 11:12-19; Matthew 21:12-19; Luke 19:45-48.

TUESDAY – Mark 11:20—14:11; Matthew 21:19—26:16; John 12:20-50.

WEDNESDAY – Mark 14:12-72; Matthew 26:17—27:1; John 13:1—18:27.

THURSDAY – Mark 15:1-46; Matthew 27:1-60; John 18:28—19:42.

FRIDAY/SATURDAY – Mark 15:47; Matthew 27:61-66; Luke 23:55-56.

EASTER SUNDAY – Mark 16:1-14; Matthew 28:1-15; Luke 24:1-43; John 20:1-25.

It will touch your heart to follow the words and life of Christ during Passion Week. If you will read the selected passages of Scripture daily, and allow the Author of the Book, the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16-17) to communicate His truth to your spirit, you will be blessed.

The final, painful week of Christ’s earthly life began on Palm Sunday. But when you read the biblical account of Palm Sunday, it seems to paint a scene of celebration instead of a portrait of dread. That day in Jerusalem was the beginning of the week of Passover – the high point of the Jewish calendar. Worshipers from the world over came to celebrate this special week. The historian, Josephus, recorded that the population of Jerusalem during Passover often approached one million.

The gospel writers describe how Jesus, on Palm Sunday, entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, amid shouts of praise. Luke stated that Jesus came to Jerusalem, “near the descent of the Mount of Olives” and “the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice” (Luke 19:37). Matthew added that, “Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road.” The huge crowds were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:8-9). “Hosanna” meant, “save now,” and these people, under the hand of an oppressive Roman government, wanted national salvation from that tyranny. They did not understand that the first coming of Jesus was to offer spiritual salvation from a worse tyrant.

The rejoicing multitudes thought Christ’s entrance signaled the return of the Jewish Kingdom—“They supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately” (Luke 19:11). The truth became obvious a few days later, when shouts of “Hosanna” on Sunday, turned to cries of “Crucify Him” on Thursday. Israel longed for the kingly-Messiah, who would break the chains of Rome—but Jesus came as the suffering-Messiah, who would shatter the shackles of sin.

As a nation, Israel missed the fact that the Messiah came first to be a sacrifice for sin. In 750 BC, Isaiah had written about the Messiah: “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

That Jesus came first as a suffering Messiah—but will return as a ruling Messiah—was totally missed by Israel on Palm Sunday. Jesus had tried to correct those who thought He would rule and reign at that time, by giving a parable that began, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself; and then return” (Luke 19:23). He will rule and reign, but not until after He was crucified and resurrected. So: First the cross—then the crown.

As the crowds cheered Him on Palm Sunday, Jesus saw what was soon to come on them, and wept. Luke wrote, “When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes’” (Luke 19:41-42). Palm Sunday proved to be, instead of the awesome reception of Jesus, the awful rejection of Him as their Messiah.

However, this event was perfect in the plan of God because He was crucified and resurrected so that believers can be redeemed. Jesus was rejected and suffered for our sins on the cross so that we might be saved, forgiven and accepted by God. Scripture records: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

What at first appeared to be a glorious welcome to Jesus on Palm Sunday was, in fact, the first day of Christ’s week of passion and ultimate death on the cross. But, thank God, His rejection on Palm Sunday was followed by His resurrection on Easter Sunday!

In Times Like These

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Ruth Caye Jones (1902-1972) was the wife of a pastor in Erie, Pennsylvania, and mother of five. In 1943, rationing, because of the war was hitting hard. Families across America were sacrificing for the war effort—some paying the ultimate price. A list of casualties from the conflict was published daily in the newspaper. Discouragement was everywhere.

One morning Ruth read 2 Timothy 3:1, “In the last days, perilous times shall come.” It seemed to her perilous times had already come. As she thought about that verse, words and a melody came to her that seemed to fit together. She quickly took a notepad and wrote the words that became a song that has blessed the hearts of millions of people the world over.

In times like these you need a Savior.

In times like these you need an anchor.

Be very sure, be very sure,

Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

This Rock is Jesus, Yes He’s the One.

This Rock is Jesus, the only One.

Be very sure, be very sure,

Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

This song became one of the favorites of George Beverly Shea who sang it for Billy Graham in crusades around the world. The lyrics speak to the deepest needs of human hearts. It brings comfort during illness, tribulations and great loss. It reminds us when times are tough—we have a Savior, an anchor, a Solid Rock—in Jesus—and we need to trust Him. Although people need a Savior whether they are under threat or not, He is truly our anchor during the storms of life.

Today, we are living “in times like these”—with the Coronavirus a worldwide pandemic—bringing normal life to a grinding halt. Everywhere people are isolating themselves, meetings are cancelled, factories are closed, and church gatherings are suspended

Though the panic that grips the world now is unusual, it is not unique. The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 took the lives of 54 million people worldwide, among them, 675,000 Americans. In one year, it shortened the life expectancy of Americans by 12 years. During those days the government mandated the closing of schools, public gatherings and churches all across North America. Many died of the Spanish Flu right here in Drew County, including the great-grandparents of our UAM MBSF Director, Robert Leonard.

So, what can we do in times like these? Fortunately, God’s Word provides an answer.

The prophet Isaiah wrote about 750 years before Christ was born. He was a true prophet of God, with a backbone of steel, skin of asbestos, and a heart of compassion. A former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary used to say, “The work of the prophet was to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable” (Howard G. Hendricks). Isaiah was just such a man of God.

In the midst of his writing, Isaiah penned a great promise from God for troubling times—Isaiah 26:3-4: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.”

These inspired words from God give great hope for today. Note:

  1. The Refuge God Offers —“Thou wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace….”

God’s promise begins with “Thou” – referring to God Himself. He is the One, sometimes the only one, who can bring peace to troubled hearts. In the midst of trials, problems, issues and dangers, God claims He can “keep” people in “perfect peace.”

This peace God offers forms a refuge from harmful things. It is a shelter that protects from threatening thoughts. What God promises is literally, “Shalom, Shalom” – “Peace, Peace.” God can guard your soul and mind with a peace beyond human comprehension. God’s peace is described in Philippians 4:7, as “the peace of God, which passes all comprehension,” and it “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

  1. The Response God Requires—“Whose Mind is Stayed on Thee because he trusteth in Thee….”

God promises to guard, protect and keep with an amazing supernatural peace, those “whose mind is stayed on thee.” The New Living Translation puts it, “whose thoughts are fixed on You.”

In order to enjoy God’s peace, you must fix your thoughts on Him, and trust Him completely. “Stayed” is a word that means to lean upon, or to be sustained by something. As a crippled man leans on his crutches, or an injured woman is carried on a stretcher—so must we fix our thoughts, and place our trust on God. He always has our best interests at heart.

  1. The Results God Promises—“Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is Everlasting Strength.”

So, if we accept that He is our refuge, and respond by trusting Him in our circumstances, the results will be that He, the Lord God, will be our strength. Threatening circumstances, extreme difficulties, and physical anxiety, will pale when compared to the Lord, who has everlasting strength! Nothing on earth or in heaven is stronger than He.

May we say with David: “The LORD also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble; And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:9-10).

Our hope is in Him! Our faith and trust should be in HIM! He, and He alone, is our strength, because “in the LORD Jehovah is everlasting strength!” In Jesus, we have an ANCHOR that will HOLD…but WE Must TRUST in Him!

 

 

The God Who Is There

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I heard it in the hallway of my high school—God was dead! Until then, the possibility that God could die had never occurred to me. Apparently someone in my circle of friends had read some writings of Friedrich Nietzsche about the death of God. In 1882 Nietzsche had promoted the idea that the Enlightenment had eliminated the possibility of the existence of God. So, in his opinion, God was dead—apparently killed by the Enlightenment.

So, my first thought was: Why did it take 80 years for me to hear about His death? One of my friends, upon hearing the news of the possible passing of God, quipped, “He is not dead; I just spoke with Him this morning!”

Thankfully, about this time a Christian philosopher and theologian, Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984), published a book entitled, “The God Who Is There.” I never bought into the idea that God could die, because, like my friend, I enjoyed a real relationship with a living Savior. But, Schaeffer’s book encouraged my faith in God.

In one place Schaeffer wrote: “If we are unexcited Christians, we should go back and see what is wrong. We are surrounded by a generation that can find ‘no one home’ in the universe…. In contrast to this, as a Christian, I know who I am; and I know the personal God who is there.”

With appreciation to Dr. Schaeffer, think with me about, “the God who is there.”

First—God has spoken to man, and the Bible is His Word

Paul wrote to Timothy: “From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God…” (2 Timothy 3:15-16).

If God had not spoken, inspired people to write, revealing Himself and His plan to man in His Word, all of mankind would be in total spiritual and moral darkness. We would be left with no guide, no morals, nor standard for behavior. Without God’s Word, we would know nothing of our origin, purpose, or destiny. We would be alone in a dark place with no map or compass.

Second—God is Creator, Lord and King over this world

He created all things and rules over all things for His own glory. God constantly displays His perfections in all He does, so that all mankind and angelic beings may worship and adore Him. God is self-existent, infinite, eternal and unchangeable. Moses wrote: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (Psalm 90:2).

If God is Creator, Lord and King—that makes us creatures, servants, and subjects. This means, “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12). God is Creator and Lord—we are creatures and accountable.

Third—God is Savior, rescuing believers from the guilt and power of sin

Since the entrance of sin and death in the Garden of Eden, God has been actively at work in love through the Lord Jesus Christ, saving and redeeming repentant sinners. All who come to faith in Him are adopted into His forever family as children of His own.

Because He is the God who is there, and we are not—only He could move to save, redeem and restore His fallen creatures. God loves His creation, despite the entrance of sin with its accompanying destruction. Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He goes on to state, “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (verse 9).

Fourth—God is Triune, Father, Son and Holy Spirit

God is three persons in one—existing in perfect harmony. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are each involved in the work of saving people for eternity. The Father purposes redemption, loving and providing for it; the Son secures redemption, sacrificing and dying for it; and the Holy Spirit applies redemption, convicting, drawing, securing and sealing it.

The person of God could not be better described than what is stated in the Westminster Shorter Catechism that reads: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”

Fifth—God longs for people to respond to His revelation.

God makes believers godly through the revelation of His Word, as they receive, walk and obey His Word in life. Godliness comes when His people live in the light under the direction of His Word.

The Scriptures teach that God invites, convicts and longs for people to respond to His invitation to come to Him. But sadly, many reject Him. To some unbelievers of His day, Jesus said, “you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:40). They could have come to Him, He invited them to come, but God would not violate their right to choose. He didn’t then—and He doesn’t now.

However, Jesus said, “the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). If you come to Him, repenting of your sins, calling on His name, He will save you. And, after all, He is the God who is there.

Heaven Help the Home

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“Good night, John Boy.”

“Good night, Elizabeth. Good night, Daddy.”

“Good night, Son. Good night Mary Ellen.”

“Good night, Jim Bob.”

“Good night, Ben.”

“Good night, Mama. Good night, Erin.”

These words ended each episode of one of the most popular television shows of all time. Every week, as bedtime came to Walton’s Mountain, the lights would go out room-by-room, and two parents and seven children would say good night to conclude the show.

“The Waltons” was so popular, it was recognized with awards almost every year. The program received five Emmy awards its first season, and more than a dozen more during its ten-year run from 1971 through 1981. The attractive thing about this TV series, set during the Great Depression, was the warmth, loyalty and adventure experienced by a large family during difficult times.

The television series was based on a semi-autobiographical novel, “Spencer’s Mountain,” written by Earl Hamner Jr., who created and narrated “The Waltons.” It was based on real people—Hamner’s family—including his grandparents, parents, and seven siblings, who grew up in Schuyler, Virginia. Hamner said his large family lived in “a little cracker box,” where his father labored in a soapstone quarry.

In a Los Angeles Times interview in 1972, Hamner explained the success of his television program. He said, “Audiences in all entertainment media have been brutalized by crudities, vulgarity, violence, indifference and ineptitude. We are attempting to make an honest, positive statement on the affirmation of man.” If that was true in 1972, how much more is it true in 2020?

The attraction people felt to the “The Waltons,” was probably rooted in a deep desire for transparent relationships in the home, based on love, loyalty, individuality and respect. All people long for a place where they can be themselves, and be accepted for who they are, as well as to be challenged to be better, and be accountable for what they do. This is why God created the family.

Unfortunately, marriages and families have gone a long way in the wrong direction since episodes of the Walton’s flooded our living rooms. The latest statistics show that between 42 and 45 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce, not including legal separations. For those who choose to marry a second time, 60 percent end in divorce. Incredibly, the average length people stay married in the United States is 8.2 years.

Those divorce statistics are even sadder when you consider that, according to the 2010 U. S. Census, 7.6 million, opposite-sex, cohabiting couples (15 million people) live together, outside of holy matrimony. This number of unholy unions has increased a whopping 138% since 1990, and 40% of these unwed couples are rearing children without the solid foundation of parents who are legally, ethically and morally committed to each other, “until death do us part.”

The dissolving of marriage and the breakdown of the family has had a devastating effect on our nation as a whole. And, we haven’t seen the end of it yet. Truthfully, when we tamper with God’s plan, we do so to our own peril. The solution to this immoral mess will be difficult to accomplish, but is not hard to discern—people need to follow God’s plan for marriage. One man—one woman—for life: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Howard Hendricks wrote, “Some people spend more time planning a wedding than preparing for a marriage. They spend more time thinking about what they will wear for a one-hour ceremony than what they will do to build a strong marriage that should last the rest of their life on earth. They spend more time building a house than a home” (“Heaven Help the Home,” Victor Books, 1973).

When Jesus quoted Genesis 2:24, endorsing the proper union of marriage, He added: ”What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). He pointed out that God Himself joins people in marriage. Divorce was not unheard of, but was supposed to be rare, especially among believers.

Later when Paul quoted the same passage to the Corinthians, he prefaced it by stating that sexual sins like fornication, adultery, and homosexuality, along with the sins of theft, drunkenness and covetousness, belonged to their past, and not to their present life. He wrote: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Their sins were past. Once confessed and forsaken, they were to have no more stranglehold on them. Being forgiven and free, they were to walk in obedience to God.

Paul longed for them to know the joyful freedom that results from living for Christ. He wrote, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be!”(verse 15). Christians, though sinners saved by grace, were never to be content to live in sin, but instead, were to live for Christ.

The best news in all of this is that, falling short of God’s original design for husbands and wives in marriage is not irreversible. We can repent of our selfish sins, confess them before God and to our mates, then with forgiveness and understanding, take steps toward wholeness and healing. Every marriage fails in some ways—every husband messes up—every wife falls short—but with God in the picture, failure is never final.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great Expectations

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“Great Expectations” (1861) is the title of a literary classic written by Charles Dickens. For some reason known only to the guild of literature teachers, it is thought to be important. So, during my high school sophomore year, it was included in my reading assignment. Well, I was 16 and more interested in other things, so I found “Cliff’s Notes” on “Great Expectations,” turned in my paper and passed the class.

Fast-forward five decades. As I was preparing for a trip to instruct a week of seminary classes in Honiara on Guadalcanal, I decided to use the 30-hour transit time reading some of the books I had avoided in high school. A guilty conscience is a powerful and long-lasting thing. So, I downloaded “Great Expectations” on the Kindle app of my iPad and headed out. It actually took me two trips halfway around the world, one year apart, to finish reading that classic, but I am glad I did.

“Great Expectations” is a literary classic, but in my opinion, is a mediocre book. However, I love the title. So, with apologies to Mr. Dickens, I want you to think with me about the “Great Expectations” God has of us.

God, our creator, anticipates responses from His creation. He expected Adam and Eve to obey Him regarding the fruit of one particular tree (Gen. 2:16-17). He was disappointed when Cain killed his brother, Abel (Gen. 4:10-12). God expected Abraham to follow when He called him out of Ur (Gen. 12:1-3). The Bible is full of God’s commands for obedience from His people, and their responses to Him.

In Hebrews 10, the writer records three great expectations God has for those who believe in Him. God’s expectations of believers are based on the fact that we can come into His presence, spiritually, because of the blood of His Son, Jesus (verse 19), who provides the access to God through His sacrificial death (verse 20), and intercedes for us as our great priest (verse 21).

So, what are God’s great expectations of His people? We find them following the words: “Since we have a great priest over the house of God….”

1st “Let us draw near….” — Look Upward (verse 22).

God invites us to come near to Him. “Draw near” is a compound word meaning to come close. It is an invitation to get intimate or familiar with God. Though God is our Creator, is sinless and far above us, He longs for us to come near Him.

He wants us to come near “with a sincere heart” —that is, with a true, not phony or hypocritical attitude. We can fool people, put on a front, hide behind a façade—but not with God. When we approach Him, it should be from a sincere desire to know Him, an openness with Him, and a longing to connect to Him.

Another condition for coming to God is it must be “in full assurance of faith” —that is, with complete trust in Him. It would be foolish to pray to God if you didn’t believe He would hear or answer your requests. We know that, “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

The third condition for drawing near Him is “having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience”—that is, we need a clear conscience coming to God. Because He is all-knowing (omniscient) and always nearby (omnipresent), we cannot hide any sin from Him. Instead of hiding sins, God calls on us to clear our minds of them.

Then we are to approach him with “our bodies washed with pure water” —that is, with a cleansed life. These words remind us that, as the priests ceremonially washed before entering the Holy Place, we are to cleanse ourselves symbolically by renouncing and confessing known sin, when we come to Him.

2nd “Let us hold fast….” — Look Outward (verse 23).

Believers in Christ are to: “hold fast the confession of our hope”—that is, we are to consistently manifest and proclaim the hope we have in Christ, to people near us. Everyday we are surrounded by people without Christ, and without hope. These people need the hope only the Lord can bring, when they acknowledge, receive and follow Him. Christians are to “be ready always to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

We are to hold this confession of hope “without wavering”—that is without doubting, because, “He who promised is faithful.” This assurance of hope is in God, who cannot fail, who has never broken a promise. Christians profess hope that is not in themselves, but in Him, who died for their sins, and rose again.

3rd “Let us consider how….” — Look Around (verses 24-25).

The third thing God expects of His people is that they look around and “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds”—that is, to get our eyes off ourselves, and on struggling Christians around us who need encouragement to love and serve God better.

There are discouraged Christians in every church. God expects us who are seeking to please Him, to consider them—focus on them—and find ways to bring them back into effective service for the Savior. Think and plan how to “stimulate” or stir them up to more “love and good deeds.” When God’s people are loving and serving Him, He will be glorified and will bless.

God indeed has great expectations for those who follow Him.

What about my other missed high school reading assignments? On my fourth flight to the Solomon Islands, I read half of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” I expect to finish it on my next trip.

 

 

 

 

 

An Audience with the King

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In 1992, Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating, met the Queen of England. But things went terribly wrong for him when he violated royal etiquette and touched Queen Elizabeth. The British Press had a field day, roasting the Prime Minister for his gaffe, and conferring on him the title: “The Lizard of Oz.”

Several years afterward, Pat and I had the privilege of stopping over in London on the way to Nairobi, Kenya, to teach in a Bible School. One day we went to see Buckingham Palace, one of the residences of Queen Elizabeth. We peered through the wrought-iron fence surrounding it and watched the pageantry of the changing of the Palace Guard. But the queen must not have known we were in town, because she did not invite us for tea.

Looking back, it is a good thing the queen was busy with other things that day, because we had no idea of the protocol for meeting royalty. If we had met her, we probably would have made “The Lizard of Oz” look good.

The official protocol for approaching royalty includes things like: 1) Not initiating a handshake or touching the queen; 2) Bowing your head or doing a curtsy when introduced; 3) Only addressing her as “Her Imperial Majesty, the Queen,” not Liz or Lizzy; 4) Not laughing or making jokes in her presence; 5) Always making eye contact with her when she speaks; And, 6) Never slouching or crossing your arms in her presence.

I doubt that any of us will ever have an audience with royalty—But that is fine, because, through Jesus, we can have an audience with the King of all kings. God is the King over every earthly leader or royal throne.

One of the greatest earthly kings, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon (605-562 BC), said, “I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Daniel 4:34, 35). He concluded: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride” (verse 37).

So, how would you approach such a great king? One answer is found in Hebrews 10:19, 20: “We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh.” The primary protocol—the etiquette for an audience with the King—is the blood of Jesus!

What do we need to enter the presence of the King?

FIRST: We need CONFIDENCE“We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19). This “holy place” speaks of the very presence of God. It pictures the Holy of Holies that was behind the veil that separated it from the Holy Place in the Tabernacle and Temple. This was where God dwelt and met Aaron and later High Priests on the Day of Atonement. Access to this Holy Place was restricted to the High Priest on one day per year.

In the presence of a great King, you would think confidence would be scarce. But standing on the blood of Jesus, you realize you are there by His worth, through His sacrifice, by His grace—So you can have boldness because of His merit, not your own.

SECOND: We need ACCESS“By a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh” (verse 20). The believer’s access to God is available by a “new and living way.” We now come to God, not through the old way of dead sacrifices, but through the new way of a living Savior. Jesus initiated for believers a new way to God. That new way was through “the veil, that is, His flesh.”

Mark recorded: “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed His last. And the veil of the Temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom” (Mark 15:37, 38). When he gave his flesh as a sacrifice, the veil in the Temple, that symbolically barred access to God, was torn completely in two, allowing entrance to the Holy of Holies—God’s presence.

THIRD: We need A MEDIATOR“And since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near” (verses 21, 22a). We can come into God’s presence because we have a mediator to intercede for us. John wrote, “If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous; And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:1, 2).

When we approach the King, we need someone who can mediate for us in His presence. That is what Jesus does, “For there is one God, and one Mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

I hope you will seek an audience with the King of kings, and not wait until you are summoned to His presence. Jesus paid the penalty for all your sins and provides access so you can come boldly into the presence of the King, as He also intercedes for your failures. “He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). He—the very King of the universe—invites you to come to Him through faith in His Son.

 

 

 

 

Core Values of the Family

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God has a sense of humor. Over a 20-year span He gave Pat and me five children. I am not sure God laughed about it, but we sure laughed a lot and cried a little, in the midst of it. A friend of mine said insanity is inherited—you get it from your kids—and he wasn’t far off. There are times, dealing with teens in the midst of adolescence and raging hormones, you think you may lose it. However, you can learn a lot from your children, and I wouldn’t trade one lesson learned for all the tea in China, however many metric tons that may be.

Solomon wrote, “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward, like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (Psalm 127:3-5). Some have larger quivers than others—but regardless of the size of your family—children are a “gift,” a “reward” and are like “arrows” to be dispatched toward targets. And, if God gives you children, you are truly “blessed.”

A few years ago I was scheduled to speak at a Leadership Conference on “The Family,” and was struggling to put something together that would be coherent, truthful and challenging for couples in ministry. So, as part of my preparation, I decided to send my grown kids a 14-question survey about their home life growing up: what worked—what didn’t—what they needed that they didn’t get—and what they had that should have been eliminated. Now, these children God gave us are Daren (48), Julie (47), Mark (43), Timothy (41), and Deborah Sue (29).

To complicate matters further, my kids spent all their growing up years in a pastor’s home. Everybody has heard horror stories about PK’s (Preacher’s Kids), so I thought I would document it, and see what I could learn. What I learned was amazing, enlightening and humbling. The responses to my survey brought tears and laughter, joy and pain—But it was real.

Though each child filled out the survey on their own, there were some amazing similarities centering on things that were important and worked well for them and in them, as they matured. After analyzing the survey results in my unprofessional way, I was left with 8 Core Values—Family Priorities. Here are the ones that most influenced my children for good. I hope they will be helpful to you who are blessed with children of your own.

Family Meals—Gathering the family around the table scored high. During these daily times, enjoying food and talking about the day, laughing about events, talking about challenges and even admitting blunders was a powerful, wonderfully blessed thing. There is something powerful about breaking bread together. We always tried to make the family table a safe zone, where we could all share anything, without facing scolding or correcting.

Family Day—Designating one day per week as Family Day where we would spend time playing games, going to parks, riding bikes, enjoying picnics, or just hanging out playing basketball or Frisbee was valuable. Memory makers do not have to cost a lot of money. When my grown kids get together and reminisce earlier days that begin: “Hey, remember when we….” it is nearly always something that didn’t cost much money but made a memory for a lifetime.

Trips Together—for family reunions, vacations, or just getting out of town. Traveling together in a car for a day or two may frazzle your nerves, but your children will learn things about you and each other that they did not know—good and bad, that can help them mature.

Daily Talks—even when they don’t want to talk, and say “nothing” when you ask them if anything is wrong. Don’t let a day go by without spending a little time talking to your child, asking about their day, and inquiring about their activities. This is especially important when they come home from school. Kids carry so much inside, that you, as a parent, need to bring out and discuss—but it takes time and commitment.

Be their Number One Fan—by enthusiastically supporting their activities. If your children play in the band, sing in the choir, play baseball, football, soccer, basketball, tennis, golf, runs track, are on the debate team, or builds robots, BE THERE in the stands rooting them on! They are looking for you.

Daily Devotional—whether at breakfast or some special time, pray, read Scripture, or some daily devotional story, as a family. In this way you demonstrate the value of spending time in the Word and of praying together, especially during times of crisis or family emergency.

Personal Accountability—for each family member’s actions is imortant. Teach them to work, stick with it and not quit or give up, as they do chores, jobs or make other commitments. This includes non-negotiable family activities, like attending Sunday School, Worship, Youth and other church activities. These family things we do together.

Apologize—Parents make mistakes too, and should own it when they are wrong. Children see our mistakes before anyone else. When you apologize for mistakes and failures, your influence will rise, not fall, in their eyes. Once I embarrassed Daren by wrongly calling him out in church. As soon as we dismissed I took him into my office and apologized. He shocked me no end when he said, “That’s OK Dad, we all make mistakes!”

As you work through your responsibility to God as parents, I pray you adopt priorities and core values that will honor God, bless you, your children, and their children, for years to come.