Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Wanting the Reward


Every once in a while I come across someone saying something along the lines that we should love God so much that we would honor and serve Him even if there were no reward involved and we got nothing out of it. The basic argument essentially ends with the idea that if we really love God, we won’t care much about the reward of Heaven He offers. That will simply be a bonus top of everything else.

I have to say I don’t find this concept anywhere in the Bible.

In Hebrews 11 the writer states of the Old Testament patriarchs,
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

In John 14, Jesus, tells people to store up treasures in Heaven rather than earth, then during the Last Supper promises the Apostles mansions in His Father’s house. In Romans 8 Paul writes about the hope we (and creation!) have in being free from corruption. Revelation is filled with talking about the rewards God showers upon His people who remained faithful to the end.

I bring all this up to say this: if God Himself does not expect us to give ourselves over to Him for nothing, who are we to argue and disagree with that?

God has given us every chance and opportunity to be His special people. He sent Jesus His Son to die and be raised again so we could know His love for us and be set free from the power of sin and death. He makes all who put their faith in Christ and follow His path children of the Most High King. And then He goes another step and offers eternal rewards and treasures that far surpass anything we could possibly hope for in this present life.

In I Corinthians Paul through the Holy Spirit writes not to run for nothing, but to “run in such a way that you may obtain the prize.” It is a good thing to desire and chase after the promises of God. Desiring the reward God offers does not lessen our love for God, but shows that we want what God wants to give. It is a recognition that God’s promises are far greater than anything we could achieve in this life.

So let us, as God’s people, love our Father in Heaven, and chase after what He wants us to want – eternal life in perfect fellowship with Him, and all the good rewards He offers to His people.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Preparation


When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” (Exodus 13:17).

Reading through the story of the exodus, I came across this verse some time ago, and thought it interesting that even though Israel had just seen Egypt utterly decimated by the 10 Plagues, God recognized that Israel still needed time to separate itself from Egypt in a peaceful way. Instead of throwing them “from height to height,” God gave them rest a time of rest and peace so they could be mentally and spiritually prepared for what was coming. We know they were already physically prepared, since in verse 18 we read “And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.”

Israel had the physical tools necessary to get the job done; God had already seen to that. However they did not have the mental and emotional (and likely – spiritual) tools that were needed. They had been slaves for generations. They were no Spartans, trained for battle from childhood. They were brick makers, bakers, and sheep herders.

And so God took Israel the long way. He destroys the Egyptian army in the Red Sea, He feeds them mana and quail from heaven, He provides water for the nation from a large rock, He meets them on Mount Sinai showing His power and giving His Law. He confirms His covenant and tells them of the conquest of Canaan they are about to embark on. He gives the instructions for building the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant. Then He fills the Tabernacle with His glory and rests on the Ark.

In all these things God takes the time necessary to prepare His people. He shows them what it means to be His chosen people, and does everything necessary to equip them to carry out His will. Rather than throwing them in the deep end, He shows them how to swim, then says “Go.”

We see the same in the New Testament. The Apostles live with and listen to Jesus for 3 years, day in and day out. The entirety of Paul’s life appears as one big preparation before he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus. The church is in near-constant prayer and encouragement together from when Jesus ascends to the Day of Pentecost. We see God prepare His people, then tell them to act.

And act they do! Israel (after a bad miss), takes over Canaan. The Apostles preach and teach no matter what persecution comes. Paul goes across the known world teaching the Gospel. The church grows and spreads.

Things are the same for us. You may be in a time of preparation, or a time of action. It takes a genuine look at things to see which it is. If you are in a time of preparation, be prepared to take action when the time comes. If you are in a time of action, use what God has prepared you with to the best of your ability. But wherever we are, let us be faithful, trusting that God will lead if we will follow.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Anniversary


Today is the 12th Anniversary of Danielle and I getting married. In that time we have had 7 zip codes, 2 states, 10 homes, 2 children and 1 phone number (yay for cellphones!). We have twice experienced the terror of being out of work for 6 months where we had to scrape by on savings, tax returns, night-shift entry level jobs, and gifts. Then there were the difficult births and pregnancies, the car engines exploding, the house repairs that cost way more than we thought we could handle, and more.

These are not the kinds of things you are dreaming about while standing in front of your friends and family saying “I do.” Usually you are dreaming of a life where late nights are nothing but laughter, children act just as you expect and desire, and you never leave the upward curve of a better and better life.  But that is not reality. And I am thankful for that fact.

The reason I am thankful for this is the simple fact that without challenge – without effort or difficulty – nothing happens. Bonds are not strengthened, stories are not made, and life becomes very quickly becomes a shallow, bland puddle.

Consider any good movie or book. There is always conflict, difficulty, and pain. There are good times as well, but if the entire story was nothing but one soft, nice thing after another it would be boring and bland. There would be no growth, no depth, and no truth to it.

Consider Scripture itself. In it we find both terror and triumph. Pain and joy. Strength and weakness. From Adam & Eve to Abraham to Sampson to David to Jesus to the Apostles, we find meaning and strength not because everything went smoothly but because it did not. Because it did not we can find truth and help in our time of need. In Hebrews 4:14-16 we read,

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Understand, friend, that Jesus Himself was tested and tried just as we are! In doing so He became able to sympathize with and help us. I say this to say that in a different way, we too can help others from the trials and tests that we have encountered in life. Our difficulties in life are not to grind us to nothing, but to build us into those who can perform the works God has prepared for us.

At the beginning I listed many of the difficulties we have faced as a couple. We have also had uncountable joys as well. The long trips full of laughter, the movie nights, the traditions built as a family, the games, the worship, the times everything looked wrong but turned out better than dreamed of and so much more. All these things, good and bad, are what God has used to mold us and grow us as a husband & wife and as a family. Wherever you are in life, God can and will do the same, if you will let Him.

My hope and prayer for both you and I, is that we will always do so.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

"Christian Witches"

A real thing, coming this Easter.

Some time back, I read this article about the rise of witchcraft. Two sets of numbers stuck out to me in it. The first is that the number of Wiccans has grown from about 8,000 to 340,000 in the U.S. from 1990-2008. The second is that it currently looks like there are about 1.5 million Americans "identify as Pagan or Wicca," a higher number that mainline Presbyterianism (1.4 million).

I read it, and thought it interesting, but didn't really connect the dots until I read this article about the first "Christian Witches Convention," set for April 2019 in Salem, MA.

Let's just say this right now: there is no such thing as a "Christian Witch."

You might be a Christian who has fallen into witchcraft, or been lured into it by peers or culture, but if you stay there, you no longer be a follower of Christ. It is sin, and just as with all other sin there is a call to reject it and repent. Falling into sin doesn't condemn a follower of Christ automatically, but choosing to stay there and not fight against it will.

I could go through each and every Scripture that warns against it, but in the interest of space and time I will simply list several of them: Deut. 18:10-14; I Chr. 10:13; 2 Chr. 33:6; I Sam. 15:23; Acts 8:9-13; Acts 19:17-20; Gal. 5:19-20, and more.

Notice: the warnings appear in both the Old and New Testaments. It had no place with God's people in the past, and it has no place with God's people today. To live as a witch is to live in sin, Scripture leaves no room for it.

To get on with the main point however, we need to deal with what these people are teaching, namely that Jesus was a sorcerer, the Bible is a grimoire, and the Christianity and Witchcraft are compatible. I hope that last statement has been adequately answered above.

First, to imply that Jesus was a sorcerer is, simply put, blasphemy. To be a sorcerer Jesus would have to break Old Testament law, which would be sin, which would mean He could not die a perfect sacrifice for sin. It is a straight line from one to the other. Furthermore, to claim Jesus as a sorcerer because of His miracles is a fallacy. They broke the laws of nature in order to prove He was the Son of God. The miracles Jesus performed went far beyond what any of the prophets and people God used in the Old Testament did, as a proof of who He was. If you are going to live in agreement with the statement "Jesus was a sorcerer," you are living in blasphemy.

Second, to say the Bible is a grimoire is ludicrous on its face. The Bible is a book of history that shows the path God has taken in order to bring all peoples to Himself. It is the history of the world and the church, and it is the Word of God to bring salvation to all men. To relegate it to the place of a book of magic is to take it from the highest place to the lowest. It is to steal from it its position as God's Word to save all mankind and turn it into a trinket for our own personal aggrandizement, power, and glory.

If you do happen to watch the video at the end of the article about the convention, I encourage you to notice the large number of red flags throughout it. The constant use of "oh my God," the theme of the witches ball (American Horror Story: Apocalypse), her desire to see someone attend dressed as Michael Langdon, literally the spawn of Satan in the show ("however, I like him" she says), or his "witchy mother," who was a "servant of Satan", as she states.

This is something to watch out for in our churches today. Wicca is one of the fastest growing (if not the fastest growing) religion in the United States, and it is likely to only accelerate. It is a perfect match for our postmodern culture, and we need to be prepared for it. Do not take this lightly. It is real and it is growing. Teach yourself and others to stand firm in Christ alone, so we do not fall into the mindset of saying something "isn't a big deal," or that it "won't affect me." Those are traps of the the most dangerous kind. We must know what it means to stand in Christ, or we will find ourselves standing in anything but Him.

Friday, December 7, 2018

10


My oldest boy turned 10 just now,
He's grown big! Can't you see?
It seems so short a while ago,
He sat here on my knee.

For reading books and playing games
And nursery rhymes with glee.
My oldest boy turned 10 just now,
While sleeping silently.

He used to run and play and hide,
And still does to this day.
My oldest boy turned 10 just now,
In bed there where he lay.

Through Kindergarten, Sunday school,
And on throughout the grades,
My oldest boy turned 10 just now,
He's growing, so they say.

And on it goes, it never stops,
He's bigger every year.
One day soon he'll be the pops,
With his own children near.

My oldest boy turned 10 just now,
From all these too fast years.
But now, for now, he's still my boy,
And ever will be here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Mastering Sin




In Genesis 4:7 God tells Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” I feel that this translation, while basically accurate, misses the bigger part of what God is warning Cain about.

In fact, it would be better translated “And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is to master you, but you should rule over it.” That sounds a little more urgent. It is more forceful and (at least to me), a little more frightening.

I wonder if we often fail to recognize that sin is not a benign presence. Far too often we seem to treat sin as though it is passive. We say we “fall” into sin, as though it were a hole in the ground that we simply did not see and fell into. God never talks about sin like that. To Him it is something active. It is a hunter who tracks down its prey, waits until the opportune moment, then strikes out to tear it apart and consume it. Sin itself is really spoken of in the same way that Satan is: an active force out to destroy people and separate them from God.

James writes in 1:15 that “sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” I don’t know about you, but I have never heard of a passive, benign object “bringing forth” anything. Only that which is active and capable has the ability to “bring forth” something, let alone something as enormous as death itself.

It is to our detriment if we fail to see sin for what it is. It is an active, predatory force on the lives of people. If we are not prepared to fight back against it, it will happily consume and destroy us. How often the Scriptures warn us to be prepared and to resist sin! But resistance is an action, and action will never be taken unless we believe it needs to be. If our view of sin is one of passivity, we will not see the need to mount a resistance until it is already upon us.

This is not something we can do on a whim with no forethought. Paul tells us to run the race like we mean to win it. In Ephesians we are told to put on the full armor of God. Both of these things take training in order to do well. Without proper training you will never get very far in a race. In a similar way without proper training it will be very difficult to wear and move in armor and use shields and swords. In both of these cases the one who refuses to train and prepare becomes a drain on those who do.

This brings us to the fact that fighting sin is not something we do alone. A relay racer who refuses training will cost his team dearly. A warrior who refuses to train could cost the lives of those next to him. One who does train and improve himself, however, becomes a bigger and bigger boon to those around him over time. In the case of sin, God has given us the church to encourage, edify, strengthen, and hold one another accountable.

Let us be a church who takes sin seriously, who trains to fight back against it, and who strengthens each other to live as we are called by the King Above All.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Slowing Down


It is fairly popular today to tell people to "slow down" in order to improve their life. In a world where marketers and culture is saying "Buy more! Do more! Get more! Have more! Be more!" it is only natural that some segment rises up to fight back against it. The "slow down" movement instead says to have less, do less, and that ultimately, "less is more."

Now notice I only said it is popular to tell people to slow down in order to improve their life. I never said it was popular for people to actually do it. You see, it is far easier to talk about  than follow through on, because if we follow through on it then we might get bored or miss out. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is a real thing, and it keeps people from slowing down even when they say they want to. This seems to be especially true in the realm of making decisions.

When was the last time you took a significant amount of time in order to make a decision on something? Now I am not talking about analysis paralysis when choosing whether to buy Cereal A or Cereal B. Rather, when was the last time that you put a decision on hold in order to figure out what was should be done in a given situation?

Often there is a great deal of pressure upon us to make a decision "right now." The pressure says that if we do not decide right now, we will miss the opportunity and be stuck always having wondered what could have been, and we will never get another chance like this one. Its "now or never," and we've got to "strike while the iron is hot," less this one and only chance escapes our grasp forever.

Now to be fair, there are occasional circumstances where we must make a decision quickly. There are moments where time is up and something has to happen. But more and more I am beginning to feel like that is the exception rather than the rule. Where the world around us (especially in marketing) tells us you have to choose now, in reality, we do not. How many times have you seen an email or commercial saying "Last Chance for 20% off!!! Today Only!!! Final Sale for Real this Time!!" only to see another one the following week saying very nearly the same thing? How often have you felt pressured to make a decision about something in life right now when waiting a day or two would make very little difference if any at all?

In those moments when pressure is being applied to decide now, I want to encourage you to take a step back, figure out if it really must be decided on right this instant and if not, take a breather and take some time to move through the process of making the decision.

In the ancient world it looks like this is what people did. There were no cars or planes. There were no phones or emails. If you wanted to do something or get something chances were it would take at least a few days before it would even be possible to get there. Then you had to go through the process of the work without modern technology and get back. Life moved at a slower pace because the environment demanded it. There was no other option.

It is this slower pace of life that (I believe) encouraged and enabled people to take the time to make decisions on important matters. I also believe that this led to a less stressful life with a deeper sense of meaning about what was happening. When we rush through decision after decision based on whim or feeling or a random internet review we might "do" a lot but the decisions are often shallow. When we take our time to think through choices, see what they will cost us, and discover whether or not they are truly worthy of our time we may "do" less, but the decisions carry a good deal more weight and allow us to experience more deeply the things that we actually care about. Furthermore, it allows us to make better decisions and end up with better results.

The book of Acts if full of waiting and taking time to make decisions. In chapter 1 the disciples are praying, fellow-shipping, and waiting for the promised Helper. In chapter 6 they take time to seek out men worthy of the service of widows. In chapter 13 Barnabas and Paul are appointed to be missionaries only after spending time fasting and teaching with the church in Jerusalem, and the list goes on and on. We read it as one thing happening after another, but there are days, weeks, and months between many or most of these events and choices being made. Those down-times are often spent fasting, praying, and seeking God's will. They take time to figure things out and, more importantly, they take time bringing their needs and questions before the only One who can truly give them the answer.

We need to ask ourselves, are we taking the time to do this? With everything going on and the pressure to "get more done," are we relying on the help of our Father and King, or are we relying on our own instincts and desires?

I want to encourage you to take the time needed to slow down and make decisions thoughtfully, slowly, and prayerfully. Let us as a people reject the frantic hamster wheel of decision-making the world desires to place on us, and be a people who seek God's will and take the time the listen for His answer before giving ourselves over to something.

Let us be a people of depth and weight, and allow our God to bring us into that depth and weight on His time, through His plans.