Will Batman Escape? Stay Tuned

Friday

Psalm 77

7″Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

When I read these words, I hear the music to the theme of batman and I picture scenes from the end of each batman episode?  Will the Caped Crusader make it out alive?  Is this the end of Batman?  Will Gotham City  be under control of the Joker?  Stay tuned next week.  Same bat station. Same bat time.  Same bat channel.    I watched those episodes with wide-eyed wonder?  The situations all seemed impossible.  Surely this was the end of batman.  The more I watched, however, the more it dawned on me.  It’s not a matter of “if” he will escape, it’s a matter of “how” he will escape.

The same can be said of our relationship with God.  The history of the faithful is filled with impossible situations.  There is always a Joker, a Riddler, or even a Catwoman who will try to stop the inevitable victory of the kingdom of God.   Pharoah’s army is behind them and the red sea is in front of them.  An army of overwhelming force is bearing down and Gideon is down to 300 men.  Shadrach Meshach and Abednego are going the fiery furnace and there is no way out.

The Christmas story comes on the heels of one of these impossible situations.  It was a situation of utter despair.  The Romans are in control, a few faithful people like Mary and Elizabeth, Simeon, and Anna are holding out hope but God hasn’t been heard from in 400 years.  The Christmas story is God’s proof that His promises never fail.  Some of us are in tough situations this Christmas.  Jobs have been lost, health is failing, children are straying.  Advent tells us to stay tuned.  The last chapter has not yet been written.  Death itself cannot even impede God’s great march through history until its ultimate consummation in heaven.  Stay tuned.

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What Will Be

Today’s reading: Psalm 74-76; Revelation 5.

The book of Revelation really excites me. There’s scary things in there and confusing things that I don’t understand, but the important part- the ultimate message of the story- is that God wins! And we get to be on the winning team! I think heaven will be awesome: I can’t wait to get there.

Revelation 5:9-10 “And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.””

What creates a sense of camaraderie? I hope everyone reading this has at some point in their lives had a group of people that they were close to and felt a strong connection to. I have had that in a couple different contexts, and there’s nothing like it in the world. The most intimate, powerful bond comes from undergoing a grueling, shared experience where you have to lean on each other for support. I think it’s why Basic Training in the military is such a big deal: after going through the “initiation”, if I could be forgiven for characterizing it as that, you feel a powerful bond with the others who’ve done the same thing, and come through the other end of the crucible. Veterans after a war, a sports team that wins a championship, a small working team that accomplished something great; they all share a sense of camaraderie based on something they experienced and/or accomplished together.

I’m excited about heaven because we’ll spend eternity bumping into people who used to live on earth: spoke different languages, lived in different centuries, some of them will have lived totally, utterly different lives than I do today. We’ll all have very different experiences from each other. I think, however, that when we get there the most powerful feeling for each other will be the same camaraderie I was describing, though; every person I meet who spoke a different language on earth or lived in a different century will have been saved by the same grace, will have struggled against most of the same sins, and will be in awe of the same God as I am. Life in these mortal bodies on Earth will have been a crucible (we could even call it a “Basic Training” I suppose) that we all will have shared, and will remember with mixed emotions. “Remember having headaches?”, we’ll ask each other, and laugh at how our bodies don’t even feel pain anymore, but it was such a big part of life back on earth. “Did you ever  try to lick your elbow? Why did God make our noses run when we got sick? Why on earth did God invent hiccups, anyway?” Some of these universal human emotions and experiences will be remembered with nostalgia, and will be a bond that will link me with monks from the Middle Ages, and Armenian Christians persecuted by the Persian empire during the days of Rome, and Israelites who lived under King David. It’ll be so much fun to compare notes and swap stories.

And in the midst of it all, in some way that I don’t pretend to understand, God will give us new things to accomplish and work to do. We will be “a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and [to] reign on the earth.”What that will be like I can only imagine, but I think it’ll be awesome. Maranatha, Lord Jesus!

 


Having Ears to Hear

Today’s text: Zechariah 13-14      Revelation 3-4

In the early 19th century John Paton announced his intent to take his wife and child to an island in the South Pacific called Vanuatu. Paton was aware that just 19 years prior, missionaries, John Williams and James Harris had been one shore only a few minutes when they were clubbed to death and later eaten by cannibals. Paton was confident that God had called him to the people of Vanuatu. He looked to the leadership of his church for support and encouragement but their response could be summarized in the words of one elder, Mr. Dickson, who exclaimed, “You will be eaten by cannibals!” Paton’s response was bold, “Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.” Paton’s faith was even more sorely tried when in less than four months after his arrival he dug, with his own hands, a grave for his wife and infant son. When thinking back on that day he wrote, “Stunned by that dreadful loss, in entering upon this field of labor to which the Lord had Himself so evidently led me, my reason seemed for a time almost to give way. . . . But for Jesus, and the fellowship he vouchsafed to me there, I must have gone mad and died beside the lonely grave!” Four years Paton toiled with little fruit to show for his sacrifice. Finally, one day he and his handful of converts found themselves surrounded by hostile natives intent on killing them. Paton and the others fled but were soon overtaken. Paton records the event in his own words, “They encircled us in a deadly ring and one kept urging another to strike the first blow or fire the first shot. My heart rose up to the Lord Jesus. I saw Him watching all the scene. My peace came back to me like a wave from God. I realized that I was immortal till my Master’s work with me was done. The assurance came to me as if a voice out of Heaven had spoken, that not a musket would be fired to wound us, not a club prevail to strike us, not a spear leave the hand in which it was held vibrating to be thrown, not an arrow leave the bow . . . without the permission of Jesus Christ, who is all power on heaven and earth. He rules all nature, animate and inanimate, and restrains even the Savage of the South Seas.”

Many of us can relate to the words of Paton because we have experienced moments of truth. Moments when standing for the gospel cost something. Perhaps we have not had to stare into the face of death as Paton did but we have had to stand knowing that doing so would cost us our job, or a friendship or would result in having to endure hardship, ridicule or jeering from our peers. Such was the case with the church at Philadelphia. They had elected to stand steadfast despite present and persistent persecution that threatened their very existence.

So how do we find the courage to hold on? In the encouragement that Jesus brings to Philadelphia he reminds them of several points:

  • He reminds them of who He is, “the holy one the true one, who has the key of David.”
  • He reminds them of who they are before him, “I know your works.” “You have kept my word.”
  • He reminds them of their passion, “Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.”

Lets look at it one more time so that he who has an ear, may hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. 8 “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie- behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:7-13


BE CAREFUL

GUARDRAILS

 Ephesians 5; Revelations 2,3

As 2012 continues to wind down, I have been doing a shoulder check and reflecting on some of the good things that have come my way through the year.

One of the most impacting teachings that I have heard this year did not come from our own pulpit, but through Andy Stanley.  Andy Stanley pastors a “mega” church in Atlanta.  Early this year, I heard his teaching on “Guardrails.”  Andy pointed out in his opening message how valuable guardrails are.  Guardrails are designed to keep us in bounds.  When we hit them, it may do a little damage, but they prevent us from much more destructive things like going over the side of the bridge or entering a line of oncoming traffic.  The obvious application was that the Bible erects guardrails to keep us from getting out of bounds and ultimately destroying ourselves.

Ephesians 5:15 says, “Be very careful then how you live…”

Andy Stanley effectively pointed out God’s concern for us in warning us by placing checks and balances, guardrails so to speak, in our lives.

So much for Andy Stanley.  I thank him for his good work.

I find the book of Ephesians to be a noble work. I notice as I move through its six chapters how many verses I have underscored.  I find notes to myself in the margins throughout the book.  The Apostle Paul did a great job in turning the Ephesians from idolatry to the Savior. I have often run to the Ephesians letter for support through the years.  Paul had a lot to say bout the clear distinction between the Christian life and the sinful life. His instruction on the conduct of the Christian family has blessed the Body of Christ immensely.

Included in today’s reading is Revelation 2.  Chapters 2, 3, and 4 are addressed to the seven churches of Asia Minor.  The Revelator does an assessment as to how each church is performing, now some years after their founding.

To the Ephesians, the Spirit addresses the fact that this church was known for hard work, and perseverance.  “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men. You have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false.  You have endured hardship for my name and have not grown weary.” Rev. 2: 2,3

 

Any church would be thrilled to get such a report, especially from the Apostle Paul. However, the story does not end there.

“…you have forsaken your first love.  Remember the height from which you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first.” Rev. 2: 4,5

What happened in Ephesus has happened in lots of churches, perhaps yours, or mine.  The folks in Ephesus held on to their good works.  A sense of superiority had come over them.  They could see and criticize in others what they could not see in themselves.  They kept their good works but lost their Grace.

Why not reread Ephesians in light of the guardrails God has placed upon you.

 

 


You Ain’t Seen Nuttin’ Yet

Friday

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

This has been an amazing day for me.  I have been talking to coaches and mentors about the future of our church and I am overwhelmed with a sense that it is just a matter of time until God will surpass all our hopes and dreams.  I can feel the excitement at my former church as they embrace their new pastor.  I am beaming with a real sense of having heard from the Lord as I think about the McNeely’s being in Southern Illinois.  Frankly, sometimes it has been a little difficult to hear of the joy and excitement, because most of the growth we are experiencing in Knoxville has been below the surface.  I have nothing to complain about.  The people are wonderful and I have been received with open arms.  There is a rumbling in my spirit, however that says the best is yet to come.

This passage in Haggai speaks to the way I’m feeling today.  He is speaking to a people who remember the magnificence of Solomon’s temple and dares to say that the glory of the future temple will be greater than the former.  What kind of building could be built that would outstrip the golden age of the monarchy when David and Solomon reigned.  What could be more glorious?  Notice that it’s not the amount of gold or silver that will make it more glorious.  The glory will come because “the desired of all nations” (as one translation puts it) will come.  Whatever the limitations of your facilities and finance, the glory of the Lord wants to transform our churches into a a house where His presence is manifested.  The Presence of God can make a simple surroundings into a spirit enlivened life-giving church.  This is my advent hope.  I am believing that for all of us, our best days can still be ahead of us.  As we approach the new year and new seasons in our lives and churches, we say with Moses, “Show me your glory”


Our Faith

Today’s reading: Ezra 3-4; 1 John 5.

1 John 5:4 “This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith.” In all the battle between God and the ponderous dragging weight of our sin nature, this is the greatest victory that can be achieved: not great things that we strive to accomplish, not impressive sacrifices that demonstrate a depth of devotion, not anything like that. The greatest victory God has ever won over the pull of the world system in my life is seemingly the simplest, perhaps the most basic: my faith in Him. That is the point at which the world system around me tries to attack every day, in every way that it can. That is the one point that Satan most hates and that he tries to weaken at every opportunity. But it is one aspect of my resistance to the pull of the world that is fully in my control: whatever happens, I choose to have faith in God and in His goodness.

Every time that things go wrong and you choose, instead of becoming bitter and angry at God, to trust that He knows what He’s doing and must have some plan behind it all, that is the victory that has conquered the world. Every time that common sense screams at you not to take the chance and risk comfort or security for something you feel moved by God to do, but you choose to ignore that common sense and trust God that He will look out for you, that is the victory that has conquered the world. Every time you choose to view the future, even the future after death, with something other than worry and uncertainty, and choose to “store up your treasures in heaven”, and not in this life, that is the victory that has conquered the world. These small decisions aren’t as impressive as doctoral degrees, or as concrete as financial empires, but they are the stuff that victory in God’s kingdom is made of. This is the victory God has called us to. Have faith in Him, and let Him win the battles for us.


Defining Love

Today’s text: Ezra 1-2, 1 John 4

In today’s passage John mentions love 27 times. John repeats the command of Jesus that we “Love one another.” He also makes the pronouncement that, “God is love” what a pronouncement that is. God has lavished his love on us because God is love, and because that love is so generously poured out upon us we have and are required to give that love to others. Even though there will be times when we feel unappreciated or taken for granted we still can pass along the very thing that defines us as one of his. Where God dwells love abounds. When we share or lavish on others that which has been given to us we become a reflection of our source. Simply by receiving his love we become so filled, so saturated, that is spills out to others. John encourages us to not just let it spill but to open up and let it flow onto others.