Giving Life to a Dead Battery

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Our pastor preached on John 3:14-21 this morning. Included in this passage is the familiar verse John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

Pausing at these words, she then likened a life without Jesus to a car with a dead battery. This car, without a life-giving boost of electrical energy, will sit. It simply cannot function. Pastor Diane then went on to say that we can picture the forgiveness that Jesus offers us as jumper cables. They provide the connection between the power necessary to bring life to the lifeless vehicle. I love this analogy!

Throughout my early adult years and through my 30’s I drove a series of what we call here in Upstate New York winter rats. Generally speaking, these vehicles have seen better days. Road salt usually has eaten through a fair part of the body, while years of hard driving and neglectful maintenance have rendered them less than reliable modes of transportation. Their one positive is that they are inexpensive to purchase.

Because these cars I drove during these times were not consistently dependable, and after a few times of having to call someone to come jump my dead battery, I purchased a booster pack.

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(image courtesy of verizon.com)

This neat invention allows a person to jump start their own car without the help of another vehicle. The booster pack has its own set of pos/neg cables, so as long as you keep it charged up, it is available at a moments notice to transfer the life giving power within it to the dead battery.

As often happens with me when I get to thinking on these things, I carry the picture of jump-starting a car to my own life. It becomes easy to see that my life before Jesus was as dead as they come. Oh, I had all the working parts, but they existed without purpose or meaning. My spirit was without life. I was, without question, destined for the scrap heap as yet another vehicle that would no longer run.

God, by His wondrous grace, did for me what I could not: He attached His ‘cables’ of life to my dead terminals. He used the precious blood of the Savior Jesus Christ to bring life, true life, to me. Now I know that despite the various dents and faded paint on my ‘car,’ it is going to run forever because God has poured His eternal life into it.

As if that were not enough, I can picture God’s jumper-cables as more than a one and done connection. His power is absolute. It is unending and always available. All I need to do is recognize when my ‘battery’ starts to run low on power. I can then simply ask the Lord to plug that energy into me again. He has provided several options as to how I can do this.

I can get re-charged by reading the bible. The word of God has come from His very essence, therefore it contains all the power of the Almighty. I can also make this connection with God through prayer. He is available 24/7. All I need do is to come humbly to Him, speaking what is on my heart and listening for He has to reveal to me. Spending time in worship is another way I get a fresh influx of God’s power into my life. Praising Him simply for who He is and what He has done/is doing helps to align my spirit with His.

How about you? Do you have ways that help you connect to God’s infinite power. I would love to hear about them!

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

OUCH! That Hurt!

 

Sarah Young: It is easy to make an idol of routine, finding security within the boundaries you build around your life.  Although each day contains twenty-four hours, every single one presents a unique set of circumstances.  Don’t try to force-fit today into yesterday’s mold. (Jesus Calling; HarperCollins Christian Publishing: 2004) February 17th.

What Ms. Young wrote for February 17th in her devotional Jesus Calling really grabbed my attention. You see, I find great comfort in routine; so much so that I am often zealous in protecting it.  In fact, as I ponder what she has written, I see how easy it can be to make an idol of routine.  As a pastor, I will often caution folks about the sly way things in our life can become idols in our hearts.  I usually define an idol as being anything that wants to bring attention away from God and toward whatever the particular thing is.  A thing becomes an idol when it assumes more importance in one’s life than it should.

I am beginning to see that I need to take my own advice! I have begun to notice several ways in which I have allowed the striving to maintain my routine to do this to me.  As I said, I really like the comfort of my routine.  This is a crazy world in which we live, and retreating to the comfort of the familiar is easy for me to do. I often see first-hand the ways in which the world today so easily turns lives upside down.  Nor am I personally immune from this.  Personal upsets such as loved ones being ill or injured, misunderstandings within my family and that ONE MORE demand on my time can all shake me from my cozy routine that I put such emphasis on maintaining.

As I continue to think about this as I type, I am wondering why it is that routine provides such comfort to me.  Am I really saying that I prefer the comfort of my snug little schedule over the opportunity to operate more fully under the divine guidance of the Lord?  Ouch if that is true!

For if it is, it means that I am relying more on my ability to manage life than I am on the always available and overflowing grace of God.  In other words, I’m saying “Thanks, but no thanks to you God, I’ve got this.’  Ouch indeed! How shallow and short-sighted of me.  How hypocritical of me, as one who teaches and proclaims the abundance of God’s care for people, to snub my nose at it.

Ok, God got my attention with this one.  Again, following what I guide others with, I have asked His forgiveness for my selfish attitude.  With this acknowledgement also comes a request that He keep me aware of my tendency to go self-reliant; that as I practice being more aware of His ever-present presence, I keep my eyes and heart on Him.  In this way I will learn to be more trusting of His ability to always keep me in His care, thus keeping me away from more OUCH! that hurt times of realizing I’m tearing off on my own again.

How about you? Do you struggle with control of your time like me? Or anything else you might want to share? I’d love to hear how you have/are overcoming these issues.

Blessings to you all,

Pastor Chuck

If it’s Good Enough for Dirty Harry . . .

 

Those who know me know that I do not go to the movies very often. Taking one trip every two or three years is my average.  That’s not to say I don’t watch movies, it’s just that I tend to watch the ones I really like over and over (and over!) again at home.  Anyone who has sat through my recitations of various scenes from Jaws (Quint’s speech about the USS Indianapolis), Caddy Shack (Bill Murray’s Cinderella Boy) or just about any part of Godfather II is well aware of my quirky viewing tendencies.

There is another to add to this list, and it (hopefully) will give some direction to this blog: Clint Eastwood as Inspector Harry Callahan in the movie Magnum Force: “A good man has got to know his limitationshas been a long-time fave of mine. Though this dialogue from early in the movie was used by “Dirty Harry” as an insult toward his lieutenant, I believe we can find something useful in it by taking this iconic line out of the movie context and applying it to our own lives as we run it through the biblical filter.

2000 years before Clint, the apostle Paul wrote about the wisdom a person can gain when they take honest stock of their experiences:

I know what it is to have plenty, and I know what it is to be in need.  I have found the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Philippians 4:12 NIV

 Paul knew his human limitations.  He knew that the plenty he had experienced was a blessing from God, as well as having the faith to believe that no temporary hardship meant an absence of God’s presence.  The Apostle understood that current circumstances did not define him.  They are merely the reality of our human existence.

Being honest, I don’t often have this clarity of vision.  My pride wants to leap up and declare that seasons of abundance are a direct result of my own hard work.  Like many, I suppose, I find it easy to take credit when things are going well.  I tend to consider the rewards of my efforts as being limitless, thus clouding my perception of my own limitations.

Likewise, I am usually far from content when I find myself in need.  When in this place, I tend to focus on the particular need to the exclusion of almost everything else.  There is little to no consideration of my own limitations here, only a deep desire to have my need met.  If I allow this thought process to have full reign, two things normally pop into my head.  First, I will decide that the situation is hopeless and will never end (insert whiny voice here). No need to concern myself with limitations, because my world is collapsing, taking me with it.  The other non-helpful thought is to take extreme measures to rectify the situation on my own.  Just as in my pity-party, this approach discards any possibility of my own limitations, leaving me blind to any other courses of action.

Thankfully, I have discovered a far better way to proceed: Learning to follow Paul’s example.  He wrote of the secret of being content in every situation.  What’s great is that the secret really isn’t a secret.  Paul’s message for us is to get and stay focused on Jesus first and always.  This gives us the chance to grow beyond the surface level existence of our fleeting experiences.  As we do, the contentment that the great Apostle found can be ours as well.

As usual, I find the application of this truth simple, but not easy.  The difficulty arises from having to admit my limitations.  I proclaim (and sometimes even am able) to live my life totally dependent upon the Lord Jesus.  Though I am sincere in my desire to do this, in my heart of hearts I know my pride still often gets I the way.

Which brings me back to the not so secret ‘secret’ Paul wrote about.  As I read that verse again, he says he has found the secret of being content in any and every situation.  There it is! He found it! How? I assume by learning from the differences of how he managed things on his own through his various challenges and comparing that to how things went when he sought the Lord’s guidance.

Now that I have a better understanding of how this works, I’m still lacking in ways to make it apply to my day to day life.  That is, until I read my devotional this morning (January 17th).  For 2019, I’m reading Jesus Calling, written by Sarah Young. (I recommend it highly!).  On this day she is writing about the very thing I have been pondering in this blog: knowing the secret of having God’s contentment each day.  Young says that by staying in continual contact with Jesus throughout the day, you can live above your circumstances even while you are in the midst of them.  The secret to godly contentment is to stay in constant communication with the Almighty! With my eyes and heart focused on Him, I am immediately and always able to live above the circumstances I am in.

There you have it; a new quote I will carry with me and repeat often!  Nothing against all those movie lines I’ve committed to memory, but meditating on the fact that it is possible to live above your circumstances even while you are in the midst of them is going to have a greater impact on me than anything Dirty Harry ever said.

The Appeal of Christianity

Does the person who cut me off on the highway know I am a Christian.  Did my one-fingered salute clue him in that I profess to follow Jesus? Do the folks around me at a hockey game experience my love when I loudly disagree with the referee’s call? Does my wife see the love of God displayed in me when I grudgingly agree to help with a project around the house? No, no and no.

Looked at in this light, I am missing by a wide margin the command Jesus gives in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (NIV).

The word love in these verses is God’s all-encompassing love.  It is the love given to us that we are to express back to Him and others.  Another place in Scripture tells us that, we love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

How do I do this? On my own, I can’t.  I/we can only exhibit the love of God if it is in us.  In order to obey this command, we must believe Jesus to be the Son of God who gave His life for all sinners and was raised from the dead to give the final victory over death.

Ok, I do believe that; why then do I have trouble obeying this command? The answer comes down to understanding the sacrificial nature of Jesus love.  More than understanding, I must become willing to supplant my wishes in favor of others.  That means I have to grow to be less selfish as I live my faith out.

Allow me to share some insight into what I see as the lack of appeal in today’s Christian to the outside world.  My current ministry has me visiting different churches in our area as I fill in for vacationing  pastors or as I help my wife lead worship when there is a need.  These churches have some things in common.  One, the people that are there seem genuinely glad to be there.  Second, there aren’t many of them.  The churches we help out at always seem to be more than half, if not two thirds, empty.

Why is this? Why are there more empty seats than warm bodies present on any given Sunday (except for Easter and Christmas)?  The answer, as I see it, is that going/belonging to a church has lost its appeal.  What has happened in the relatively short period of time from the commitment of  my parent’s generation to weekly attendance to the mass exodus from church today? I understand we live in a busier world today, with each of us seemingly being pulled in multiple directions constantly and that Sunday morning for many is the only chance to catch up on sleep.  There is also soccer and hockey and a myriad of other activities going on these days that never were on help on Sunday morning before.

Ok, I get it; folks are busy, stressed, or just too tired to even think about church.  This has resulted in a generation of people who are not necessarily anti-Christianity, they simply have not had any exposure to what a life of faith is all about.  The majority of this group has formed their opinion of what a Christian is based on how it is portrayed on television sit-coms.

This my fellow-believers, is our fault.  Somehow, in the busyness of our own lives, we have lost the attractiveness of what being a Christian should be.  Many of us, myself included, tend to ‘love others’ at our convenience.  In so doing and ever so subtlety, we have traded the command to love everyone for the desire to love ourselves first.  Said another way, once our wants our met, we can see to the needs of others.

When we profess faith in Christ, yet live with a ‘me first’ attitude, we fail miserably at obeying the Lord’s command to love others.  Our love of self limits our ability to experience the love God gives us.  With this restricted flow of heaven-sent love in us, we become far less appealing to the hurting world around us.

If we find ourselves falling into this trap, there is but one way out; ask God to forgive us our selfishness and restore to us the joy of His salvation.  This allows us to see our relationship to our Creator more clearly.  As we do, we bring our weakness in to the light; His light!

Remember, God is not a about condemnation when we screw-up.  What He is always doing is inviting us to enjoy a deeper life of fellowship with Him.  As we accept this invitation, we will find our ‘wants’ list to be greatly reduced in size as we realize our utmost need is being met.  Living in this freedom then allows more of the Father’s love to flow in to us, thus making us better able to love the world around us.  That appeals to me and it is what will make the life of obedience to Jesus appeal to others.

It’s simple really, just not easy.  But it is so wonderfully worth it! Let’s all make today the day we will take the Lord’s command to heart and love others as He has loved us.  In this way we can best make our appeal to those who don’t know Him yet.  For my part, I will pray blessings on that next driver who cuts me off, I’ll acknowledge the referees good work at the hockey game and joyfully join with my wife in our next project.

 

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Jesus said to His disciples, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15 NIV)

Jesus calls us His friend. What a friend indeed!  Our human experience with friendship pales when compared to the friendship offered by the Son of God. Sure, most of us get blessed with that one close friend in life.  Someone to confide in and that you trust completely.  The friend who wants to be around you; not because of your stuff or your home, but just to be with you.  As kids it’s called inseparable; impossible to see one without the other.  Plenty of laughter and good times; a person you spend time with and it seems completely natural to do so.  They stand with you in trouble or even get in the middle of it if they see you are hurt or threatened.  This rare kind of friend is a blessing for sure.

Yet I, for one, have never been a perfect friend to anyone.  Likewise, even my closest friends during my life have all had their share of imperfections as well.  Not so with Jesus!

Friendship with Jesus is an immeasurable upgrade over even the best we have known here on earth.  In the scripture passage at the top, He tells us all about it.  We are no longer simply servants, but in fact we become co-laborers with Him.  Jesus let’s us in on His business, which He has learned from His Father.  We can’t go any higher than that!

To be sure, this is not an ‘all get and not give’ relationship for us.  Jesus is also clear that if we are to be His friend, we will voluntarily obey His command to love Him.  We demonstrate this love for God as we unselfishly love each other.  Though this may seem difficult (or at least it does to me when I consider some of the people I know that seem pretty unlovable), God supplies the means: We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

It is simple, but not always easy.  When we struggle in this area of loving others, might I suggest we take a step back to consider what it is Jesus offers when He extends friendship to us.  It is a friendship I haven’t earned or deserve, but it is offered to me nonetheless.  We get the opportunity to love Him simply because He loves us.  When I stop looking at others through the lens of my understanding or perception and start to consider them simply as others that the Lord loves equally as much, my heart softens.

When we obey the call to love others, we are directly involved with God’s business.  Remember Jesus said He no longer called His disciples servants because He had let them in on the Father’s work.  The same applies to us to today.  We don’t know God’s Master Plan, but we can participate in our part of it: Love others as Jesus loves us.

Never forget that it is Jesus who brings the ‘weight’ to this friendship relationship.  He has already done immeasurably more than we ever could hope or imagine.  He proved His love to mankind by dying in our place that our sins could be forgiven.  What a friend! If you know that forgiveness, you have a pretty good idea of What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

If you don’t know Jesus as your friend but find yourself interested in doing so, open up your heart to Him.  I have experienced enough of His faithful friendship to know that if you want His friendship, He will make the way so that you can.

 

You Think This is Hot?

I enjoy reading and occasionally commenting on the blogs I follow.  It was as I read the various accounts of a heat wave being felt in various places around the globe that I got the inspiration for this entry.

It is hot here in Central New York also! The temperature (Fahrenheit) is above 90 today and will remain so for the next 4 to 6 days, with an expected high temperature of near 100 degrees later this week. A genuine heat wave like we are experiencing is rare here.  We are much more accustomed to cold and snow than we are to the heat.  My little city averages about 250 inches of snow (that’s over 20 feet!) each year and the air temperature rarely gets above 30 from January through March.

Some places get a ‘dry’ heat, which in theory makes the high temperatures more tolerable.  I have spent time in Denver Colorado and the desert of the southwest US; trust me, 95 degrees is hot whether it is dry or wet! Closer to home, when we get a heat wave it is always a ‘wet’ one.  The dew points will be in the low to middle 70’s during this event, which will make journeying outside for even the briefest time make you feel and look like an extra in a jungle safari movie.

As you may have guessed by now, it’s not the air temperature that I really want to talk about; but as long as we are on the subject of heat, let’s talk Hell for a bit.  Admittedly, I don’t know much about that place, but I can say my understanding has grown from thinking it is simply a hot, nasty place (se Dante’s Inferno).  The Scriptures do plainly say that a place of eternal punishment exists, I just don’t think it’s fire, brimstone and devils wielding pitchforks.

The punishment for those there, as I understand it, will be the eternal realization that life was spent wasted by non-belief in Jesus.  Regardless of the treasures and pleasures amassed, all will be found for naught when the last breath is drawn.  A separation exists between the Holy God of heaven and this place of hopelessness.  Jesus alludes to this unbridgeable expanse in the parable of the beggar Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31).  This is horrible news for those blinded to the truth of salvation through Christ alone.  Maybe fire and unquenchable thirst might be preferable, at least in so much that the physical suffering might temporarily take one’s mind off the eternal ramification of being separated from God.

However, this bad news is more than counter-balanced by what we preachers often call ‘The Good News.’  Knowing that there is a bad makes the good that much more wonderful. The Gospel (gospel=good news) proclaims that God has prepared the way for sinners like me (and everyone else) to stand guilt-free before His throne when life as we know ends.

The certainty of salvation is based on where it comes from; God Himself.  Jesus Christ somehow bore the sins of the world in Him as He died on the cross.  In His mercy He took my/our/all who would believe place.  We cannot earn nor do we deserve what He has done; we need simply to believe it.  The Apostle Paul describes how salvation works: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 NIV)

It really is that simple.  The hard part is coming to grips with it.  I have heard it said that we are all born with a God-shaped hole in our hearts that can only be perfectly filled by Him.  I love that imagery.  It describes my need (if I want to be complete) as well as the complete solution.  And it is all done for me!  God takes the pressure off us; asking only that we submit our will to His as we accept by faith His salvation: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Let’s review: The current (outside) heat wave plus humidity is oppressive but with history on my side, it is safe to say that it will end sooner than later.  The far bleaker forecast is for those who are feeling the heat (whether they admit it or not) of not choosing to have faith in Christ.  Crushing loneliness and helplessness are their future, the worst possible news.

My friend, if you haven’t ever considered eternity, please do in the context I’ve tried to describe.  Deciding not to decide is still a decision, and a bad one at that.  Put your trust in Jesus, He is who the Scriptures claim He is.  Though I cannot promise you that your life on earth will be all sunshine and roses, I stand (as you can) on the foundation of God’s saving love that continues to bring peace to those who believe.

Uncomfortable weather conditions come and go like the seasons.  Only God is constant.  Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  No number of fans, a/c or cool showers can give the lasting relief and comfort that the certainty of God’s love can, if only we will let Him.

How Would Jesus be Received Today

 

I sometimes wonder how well Jesus would be received if He came to the earth in this day and age.  I’m not talking about His promised Second Coming, but rather if He and His message were being heard for the first time right now. The gospels tell us that He ruffled quite a few feathers in the religious establishment back then.  So many in fact that those very same ‘religious’ leaders plotted to have Him killed.  I hope we as leaders who follow Him would be less territorial; yet even so I’m sure there would be many meetings of church boards and committees formed to discuss what was going on!

I’m more intrigued to know how every day folks would receive His message in this enlightened time.  His message of love and forgiveness resonated with many when He walked the earth; so much so that we are still talking about Him 2000 years later!  Would it today?  After all, Jesus didn’t teach a complicated system.  It can be boiled down to this: Love and obey God, love others, and be as forgiving as you have been forgiven.

The Good News of salvation because of His death and resurrection is straight forward.  It is just as straight forward when dealing with sin.  That’s where I think the greatest resistance would be today.  Jesus taught that sin was an affront to God; it is what keeps us separated from Him on an eternal basis if it is not dealt with by trusting in Christ’s forgiveness for salvation.

It is here that I believe today’s culture would take exception to what Jesus was telling them.  You see, the things that are going on in our society aren’t all that different from the vices and problems people had 2000 years ago.  Granted, life seems to happen at a faster pace now than it did then, but that doesn’t change the basic things still confronting people.  We may call them different things and certainly technology puts all sorts of things out there in the moment, but the condition that plagues humankind now is the same as it was then.

What is that condition? The seeking of gratification of our desires above all other things.  Frequently, these things are not in line with what God has in mind for us.  When we follow these unhealthy desires, we are then in disobedience to God.  In a word, we sin.  Generally, our culture doesn’t like that word.  What current society champions is that individuals have the right to do whatever and whenever he or she chooses is.  Scripture would define this attitude as selfishness.

We as humans have gained almost immeasurable wisdom over time.  Our understanding of how things work, the progress in science and medicine have made our lives quite comfortable in many ways.  Unfortunately, I do not believe we have learned how to consistently put the needs of others before our wants.  Nowhere does this seem more evident than in our society’s embracing of the breakdown of traditional sexual values.  Current culture calls this being progressive and open. But these thoughts are a contradiction to what Jesus taught, hence my belief that He would meet considerable opposition if He were bringing His message of obedience to the Father to the world today.

Today’s ‘anything goes’ mentality has become so pervasive that it seems to ostracize someone like myself and others like me, who proclaim as unchanging truth what the Bible teaches. God clearly states in the Book of Genesis that He created humankind male and female and that marriage was to be a union of the two into one.  The physical aspect of biblical marriage is designed to not only have us pro-create but also to have it be such a pleasurable act!  How far we have fallen from our Maker’s plan for marriage and His over all desire for us to live in peace under His headship.

This is but one example of the ever-widening gap between what is acceptable in today’s world and what God intends for people who willingly follow His decrees.  As I look at the places where I minister, I see much pain, disillusionment and despair.  Much of the pain and suffering I am called to bring comfort to is the result of lives lived, and choices made, that are outside of God’s desires.  If I were to see that current lifestyle choices were bringing true peace and happiness, I might re-consider my stance on biblical truth.

However, it is not happening; and because I know that our God is a God of love, I will continue, with His help and to the best of my ability, to minister that godly love at every opportunity.  One of the ways I do this is to gently explain that God has not arbitrarily set up rules for our conduct, but rather He has only our best interest at heart.  The lifestyle God wants us to live is good for us!

Please know that I hold no judgment against anyone who is caught up in the lies of today’s society.  I am simply to follow the example Jesus gave, to minister His love to folks right where they are in hopes that they can come to experience the freedom His truth is all about.

I started this blog out wondering how Jesus’ message of love would be received today if He were to be delivering it personally.  History shows that mankind, for the most part, has refused to embrace the call of obedience to the Word of God.  People, having not really changed much over the millennia, would undoubtedly harbor the same doubts that they did when Jesus walked the earth.

Don’t let this dissuade you!  I believe the power of God to transform lives is still active today.  I know this to be true because He did it for me!  It is that hope that there are others who will receive the loving forgiveness of the Savior that motivates me each day.  Jesus has already come to deliver the message of salvation.  I need only be a carrier of that hope and in so doing let others see that the power of God is readily available, for everyone!

Call Me Foolish

 

We live in a time where everyone’s opinion is to get equal hearing.  The internet and social media have given a vast majority the ability to express their views and have them read/heard at virtually that same moment.  The current culture says to embrace all views because truth is relative; what’s true for you may not be for another.  This approach does not want to hinder anyone from expressing their beliefs.  In fact, it seems to me the more unconventional one claims to be, the more that view is accepted.

Yet, there is a disconnect between this warm and fuzzy approach and reality.  If current culture is as open as it claims to be, why is it a traditional belief, that being Jesus is Lord, is shunned as narrow or closed-minded? Please note that I am not defending the long-standing approach of the institutional Church.  Mankind has basically made a shamble of it and because of this I understand why so many stay away religiously.  What I am standing up for is the all-encompassing truth found in the Bible.

Relativism says that what’s true for you may not be for another.  Biblical truth, on the other hand, is true for/to all.  That doesn’t mean it is agreeable to everyone.  If my believing whole-heartedly in the eternal validity of the Scriptures makes me rigid in your eyes, I am truly sorry for your misunderstanding.  I may indeed misrepresent the truth I believe in by my thoughts or insensitive actions, but that’s on me, not God.

God’s truth applies to everyone, regardless of your denial of it.  I don’t mean to sound ‘holier-than-thou’ by expressing this when in fact the opposite is true.  It is only through humbly accepting and then allowing God’s truth to lead me that I can ever come close to sharing what I have experienced in my walk of faith.

What is this faith I claim to walk in? The Bible defines it this way: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1 NIV).  I look at this definition as being in two parts.  The first is the easier: being sure of what I hope for.  I know the true longings of my heart and have put my hope for their fulfillment in God.

It is the latter part of Hebrews 11:1 that has caused me some consternation.  Whereas as my hope is a somewhat less tangible thing, certainty in things I cannot see tends to fly in the face of my tactile tendencies.  Therefore, I do have empathy for those who want to see before committing.  There is an inevitable tension there.  The only way I have found to resolve this tension is to willingly submit to the authority God has over my life.

To do so requires that I recognize God for being who he says he is.  To the nonbeliever this sounds absurd, but not unexpected.  Hesitancy to have faith in God is not something new.  Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus a group of believers in Corinth were afflicted with doubts about many of the claims being made about Christ.  This is addressed in the first letter written by the Apostle Paul to them: I know very well how foolish it sounds to those who are lost, when they hear that Jesus died to save them. But we who are saved recognize this message as the very power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 The Living Bible Translation).

There it is.  This is the ‘rubber meets the road’ truth around which all of Scripture is founded.  There are those who are ‘lost’ and those who have been saved through the atoning death of Jesus Christ.  It is a harsh truth that is not readily accepted by modern culture.  Again, simply rejecting this does not make it untrue.  There are certainly more warm and fuzzy thoughts about our eternal destination out there being held to by many.  The concept of being lost in our enlightened society is considered foolishness.

Go ahead and call me foolish then! If I am foolish to believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, so be it.  I would rather be considered a fool than to give up the peace God has revealed to me through the Scriptures.  If the assurance I have about eternity because of faith in Jesus makes me seem simple in this advanced time, I’m ok with that.  If I am not taken seriously because I recognize my helplessness before the Almighty, I am good there as well.

The bottom line is this: It doesn’t matter what anyone else calls me so long as I answer the call of God.  In so doing I recognize and submit to my need of a Savior.  This is God’s love manifest for ALL mankind.  His offer of eternal life is extended to everyone, always and everywhere.  I’ve taken him up on it because I believe it would be foolish not to.  Won’t you consider it as well?

The Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

 

I am asked many questions as I continue this ‘second’ career journey of being a pastor.  Some of the more frequent ones are: ‘You mean you quit a good job to do this?’ (Answer: Yes, this one has better benefits!); ‘Where is your church?’ (We are currently ministering out of our home); and the question that gives birth to this blog, ‘Do you teach only from the New Testament and/or what do you think about the bible as a whole?

The answer to those last two is that I understand the entire Bible to be the inspired word of God.  I believe it contains timeless, infallible truth.  For me to arbitrarily decide to only consider one part, or only certain sections as being relevant would be rather presumptuous of me.  I based this belief on what the Apostle Paul wrote to his young understudy Timothy: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)

Now, teaching from the fullness of the Scriptures can be a daunting task.  There are several (many?) parts, sections or verses that I do not fully understand, making it difficult for me to teach them.  And in full-disclosure, I am not familiar with either the Hebrew or Greek languages, which make up the majority of the Old and New Testaments.  I compensate for this lack of knowledge by having been instructed in the use of language tools, which allow me to delve into the original texts without having to be well-versed (pun intended) in Hebrew or Greek.

Using those tools on the two verses mentioned form Paul’s second letter to Timothy helps to strengthen my faith in the truth of God’s word.  The little word ‘all’ gets the ball rolling.  Allow me to get theologically deep for a moment: ‘All’ means all! The entirety of the Bible is covered in that little word.  It stands to reason, then, that if all the Bible is from God, I ought not be ignoring any part of it simply because I don’t fully get it, don’t see how it applies or, I don’t agree with it.

To the last point I need only put myself in Job’s place as he was lamenting to God the great calamities that had befallen him, wondering why they happened and by the way, where were you, God, when all this was going down? God’s answer to Job helps me when I find myself starting to question and or whine: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” (Job 38:4 NIV)

If I am to take all of Scripture as inspired of God, I must take this humbling question to heart.  In doing so, I am more inclined to see my place in the universe as somewhere away from the very center of it! Taking in the totality of Scripture as being God’s own word allows me to also better process this type of response He gave to Job.  Though I will never fathom the depth of God’s character, I can know enough of it to realize that He wants only the best for his kids; and sometimes He must speak to us in ways or allow things to happen, that are sure to get our attention.  God is indeed love, peace, mercy, forgiveness and so much more, but He is also a God of justice, order and holiness.  I am not to bend His truth to fit my likings, rather I am to conform my will to His.

Helping me to do this is another word I investigated from the 2 Timothy passage above: God-breathed.  To the best of my knowledge, this wording is used only this one time.  The word translated God-breathed in the original Greek meant direct communication from the deity.  I have also heard this referred to as God exhaling his Word to us.  The overall sense to take away is that the written Word of God contains the very essence of God.

This raises the level of the Bible! It is not just a book of good ideas and healthy recommendations, but rather it is the heart and mind of God; His entire character and nature are contained on its pages (or at least as much as we can take in).  He has poured Himself into the Scriptures.  His perfect truth is reflected on every page.

There’s the rub.  If His character is accurately and completely portrayed in what we read in the Bible, there are some difficult things that we must be reconciled to.  The existence of a literal heaven and hell and that my sinful choices do have real consequences are just two off the top of my head.  That God in His perfection is angry when I blatantly act/live/speak in disobedience to what He has said is almost enough to make me say, ‘Enough, I can’t handle anymore of this truth of God’s word stuff.’

Yet God’s word is the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  So don’t stop now, read on! As true as it is that God is holy and righteous and hates sin; His love, mercy and forgiveness are equally true! As difficult as it is for us to wrap our minds around this, we must.  God is all these things I’ve mentioned, and infinitely more.

We must not fall into accepting only the parts of God (and therefore the Scriptures) that we are comfortable with or fit into our concept of how God is.  Those who believe He is only about judgment miss out on His unending love and kindness.  Conversely, if we take only the ‘softer’ side of God into account, we quickly lose sight of His holiness.  When that happens, we tend to go far to easy on ourselves and our thoughts and actions.  We cheapen the unfailing love of God by telling ourselves He will forgive us anyway, so what I do in the here and now is not that important.

To conclude, for now, if God’s truth is all encompassing (it is), where to we go from here? Please know that I am not promoting any ‘middle of the road’ compromise.  Anytime I/we attempt this, something important invariably gets left out.  Instead of middle of the road, I am suggesting we go ‘full circle;’ meaning that we, as best we can, consider the fullness of God’s character as it is described to us in the bible.  Because He is God, He can be both all judgment and all mercy rolled into one.

Truth be told, He has told us the truth, and nothing but the truth.  Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 NIV).  The sooner I/we can accept this awesome truth, the more willing we become to reign in our self-will so that we can discover His will for us, which truthfully is far better than we could ever hope or imagine.

Hands Free

 

Betsy and I were blessed with the opportunity to buy a new car just before Thanksgiving this year.  This is a really, really, big deal for us, as the previous (and only other) new car purchase we made was a 1983 Renault Alliance.  Needless to say, there have been some technological advances over the past 34 years in the automotive industry.  Though cruise control and heated seats intrigue me, they pale when compared to the wonder of the ‘hands free’ connection offered between the new car and my phone.

Hands free? Free to do what? Drive the car? No, I won’t will not get on my soapbox about distracted drivers at this time.  Rather, I will opine on what I and we should all be doing, caring for others.  If you have read any of my other entries, you know I am writing from a Christian perspective.  More importantly, I hope to be living as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ and in so doing, be involved with the care of my fellow human beings.

The Bible gives us clear direction about this in James 1:27:  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27 NIV).  Everything Jesus taught about helping others was meant to encourage us all to get actively involved in caring for our fellow humans.  When we do, we move religion, with its many negative connotations, into the more positive light of relationship.  This is the heart of the Lord’s message; not formal once-a-week gatherings to simply check a box of obligation, but rather an involved, intentional life that thinks of others before self.  We need free hands to do this.

The Apostle John says it this way: Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:18 NIV).  Good intentions are simply not good enough.  We are to use our freed hands to share the love of God with everyone.  The Baker Bible Handbook describes it this way: The Bible connects two important realities that are often separated: paying close attention to our own spiritual formation and meeting people’s basic needs. (p. 929)

 

But being hands free in life is a bit more complicated than having my phone synced with our new Subaru.  In it, merely pressing one button gives me access to my entire list of contacts (that’s not completely hands free now that I think about it).  Prompts from the vehicle then allow me to call anyone of them.  I can be connected with the outside world just that quickly and easily.

Hands free in life is rarely as simple as that however.  Often our hands are tugged in several different directions, usually at the same time.  The day to day demands on our time and resources hardly feels like freedom.  We do what we have to do, which generally leaves us too exhausted for anyone or anything else.

Perhaps your hands are held captive by something more sinister.  Hands that are tied by addiction, in its many forms, are polar opposite of being free. The darkness of these types of bondages seems to envelop you.  It is impossible to be truly helping others when you basically cannot help yourself.  If you are reduced to survival mode by your addiction, only your survival matters.  Others are to be used by you, not helped.

Those of us not tied down in this way, when we do take the time to look around us, we see that there are many who need our help.  The numbers seem overwhelming and that alone can keep our hands bound by inactivity.  Thoughts like, ‘What can I possibly do against the flood of pain and strife,’ often stop us before we get started.  Yet, the scripture quoted from the letter of James gives clear indication that we must be engaged in reaching out to others.  I have often pondered that verse, trying to understand it more from God’s perspective.  It is, after all, God who has freed our hands to be of service to Him.  He has revealed some of His unlimited care to us, hence His viewing of helping others is truly ‘pure and faultless.’

Perhaps you are thinking that this sounds good, but how can I possibly fit one more thing into my already full and hectic life? My question to you in response is: How are you rationing you time?  For me, I can easily get over-protective of ‘my time.’  This happens when I focus on what I have been doing instead of who I am doing it for.  I quickly tend to tip the scales in my favor, telling myself I deserve this or that because of what I have already done.

When I get to this place, I have lost sight of what James 1:27 is teaching.  I need to get myself back to proper perspective, which means realizing once again that the universe is not revolving around me.  The IVP Bible Commentary sums up well what James is saying: Scripture says that God is committed to caring for the powerless and defenseless, including the poor, the alien, the fatherless and the widow. Since the needs of such people are on God’s heart, he expects that same heart to be in us. Further, Jesus himself so identified himself with needy, oppressed people that when we care for one of his people in need, we do it unto him. Any practice of Christianity that does not exhibit this concern in action is deceptive (it misrepresents the truth about God’s own heart) and worthless (it is of no value before God).

Not only is God’s word giving us clear direction as to how we are to respond to the needs of those around us, we have the example of the Son of God to follow as well.  The heart of Jesus was and is for all people to know the love of God.  He constantly had His hands free as He extended forgiveness and the promise of eternity to all.  His love was so great for mankind that He freely allowed His hands to be pierced with nails so that all might be saved.

Few of us are called to anything nearly as drastic; but we are called to give of ourselves.  Whether it is our time, talents or treasure, we are to keep our hands free and hearts open to the hurting world around us.  May we all know the blessing of being a blessing to someone else!