KNOWING HIM WELL

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:6-7 (NLT)]

spiderwortMy husband and I have been married for fifty years now and there’s not much that surprises me about him anymore. Even the surprise birthday celebration he planned for me earlier this year wasn’t a surprise. Oh, the way he managed to fool me into thinking I was just going to a business dinner—that truly was a surprise; that he chose to do something special for me was not. I was sure that, true to form, he had something wonderful up his sleeve for my 70th birthday; I just had no idea what it actually was!

After fifty years of togetherness, more often than not, my husband and I think alike. When one of us makes a suggestion, the other usually admits to having the same thought and, with at least 97% accuracy, we know what the other will order at any restaurant. We recognize each other’s voice in a crowd and probably have a good idea what the other is saying! After half a century, we’ve seen one another at our best and worst; there’s nothing left to hide and any awkwardness, embarrassment or shame is long gone. I know when he needs some nudging and he knows when I need words of encouragement. Appreciating each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we rest comfortably in the knowledge that we love, trust, and honor one another completely. It’s not boring in the least; it is relaxed, pleasant and peaceful. Even though we usually know what to expect, as my birthday celebration proved, we can still surprise one another in beautiful ways.

The covenant relationship of marriage is much like our relationship with God with one major difference. Through five decades, both my husband and I have changed to complement one another. God, however, doesn’t change and any changing that must be done is done by us, not by Him. As in any relationship, the more time we spend in His presence, the easier it is to recognize His voice and to hear the Holy Spirit’s whisper in our hearts. The more we read God’s word, the more likely it is that our prayers will be in harmony with His plan. As we draw closer to Jesus, we become attuned to His rhythm and pace and we’ll even begin to walk like Him.

At its most basic, Christianity isn’t a doctrine, philosophy, code of ethics or a way of life; it is a relationship with God and believing in Jesus is not the same as having a relationship with Him. We have to spend time in His presence, praying, listening to His voice, and reading His word for that relationship to flourish and grow. No relationship is developed overnight; it took decades for my husband and me to get to this point in our marriage. Fortunately, developing a deep relationship with our triune God doesn’t take nearly that long. Like marriage, however, it is a relationship that continues to mature and mellow through the years.

After fifty years, I can ask myself, ”What would Bob do?” and pretty much know the answer. As we develop our relationship with God, we’ll be able to ask, “What would Jesus do?” and know that answer as well!

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. [1 John 2:6 (NLT)]

You must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen. [2 Peter 3:18 (NLT)]

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ENTERTAIN ME

So my people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words, and their hearts seek only after money. You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it! [Ezekiel 33:31-32 (NLT)]

maccaw - naples zooEzekiel proclaimed God’s message to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. As the Lord’s prophet, he was commissioned to deliver words of both judgment and hope. Some of the exiles recognized him as a prophet but more did not. Although they found Ezekiel’s message entertaining, they had no intention of putting his words into practice. There’s a lesson here for today’s churches: pews filled with people there only for the music, amusement, food, or activities mean nothing if God’s word is not planted in people’s hearts.

In an effort to fill their seats, many churches are moving toward a liturgy of entertainment and many church-goers are becoming more interested in show than substance. I’ve attended services featuring ice skaters, a fighting cage, a t-shirt cannon, ballerinas, a live camel, an angel flying on an aerial hoop, a dragon-like Satan, wide-screen TVs showing popular movie clips, and even the Blues Brothers. While those were memorable services, I wonder if the line between entertainment and witness is getting blurred. The purpose of worship is to please God, not us, and it’s more about offering ourselves to God than offering applause to the band, singers and pastors. Church is about being active worshipers and learners, not passive listeners and watchers. Liking the sermon is not as important as learning from it and changing because of it. Jesus was never boring and, while His parables are interesting, He definitely was not about entertainment when He walked the earth. If entertainment had been His goal, there would have been far more miracles and far less talk of things like discipleship, sacrifice, cross-carrying, self-denial, commitment, and separation from the world.

For churches to be trendy and entertaining, they must keep reinventing themselves with bigger and better gimmicks. While a certain amount of entertainment might get us into church, it is commitment, depth, and community that should keep us there. Let’s not confuse filled seats with saved souls! It is God who is the star attraction at church and a relationship with Him is why we attend worship services. A.W. Tozer cautions us not to be like discontented spoiled children who, instead of a piece of candy, must be wooed into God’s house with promises of amusement, refreshment, fun and games. God might capture our attention with the big things but, as Elijah learned, God isn’t in the whirlwind, earthquake, or inferno; He is found in the gentle whisper.

Worship is not about my enjoyment. It is about my enjoyment of God. It is not about my pleasure or my delight or my satisfaction. It is about my pleasure, delight, and satisfaction in God. Worship is not simply about glorifying God. It is about glorifying God by enjoying Him forever. [Sam Storms]

And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. [1 Kings 19:11-12 (NLT)]

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THE TRILEMMA

We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. [2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (NLT)]

spiderwort - wild flowerIn C.S. Lewis’ children’s fantasy novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the youngest child, Lucy Pevensie, happens upon an enchanted armoire and steps into the magical world of Narnia. Upon returning, she rushes to tell her siblings of her astonishing adventure. Hearing such a tall tale and finding no concrete proof of its truth, her older siblings assume the story to be a figment of her imagination. They take their concern over her falsehood to their wise elderly uncle. He cautions them to use logic and consider Lucy’s story carefully. He points out there are only three possibilities: either she’s lying, crazy or telling the truth. After pointing out that lies are usually more plausible than Lucy’s tale, he asks if she’s lied before. The children admit she’s always been truthful. After pointing out that none of Lucy’s behavior indicates mental illness, they all agree she can’t have gone mad. He then suggests that since she’s neither a liar nor crazy, they could consider the possibility that Lucy’s story is true.

Interestingly, this is the same line of reasoning Lewis uses in what is called the “Lewis trilemma” or his “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” argument found in Mere Christianity. Lewis uses this logical argument when people claim to believe in the existence of Jesus as a great moral teacher but not as God (which, unfortunately, many people do). Jesus talked as if He was God. He professed to be able to forgive sins and to be the only way to the Father. He claimed to have existed since the beginning of time, that He was a heavenly king who offered everlasting life, and would judge the world at the end of time. Lewis points out that we have only three choices about those fantastic claims: Jesus was either a liar who perpetrated a fraud, a madman with delusions of grandeur, or the Lord. The one thing Jesus couldn’t have been was just a principled man or an excellent teacher of morals and ethics! Jesus was either a very bad or troubled man or He was divine and exactly who He said He was!

There are many people who consider Jesus simply to be a Jewish version of Buddha or Socrates: a great man, filled with compassion and love, who had some profound and noble ideas. That whole Messiah/Son of God thing, however, just doesn’t sit well with them. We should remind them that neither Buddha nor Socrates claimed to be God; Jesus did! The Pevensie children soon learned the truth of Lucy’s claim and, hopefully, others will see the logic and truth of Jesus, as well!

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. [From “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis]

The Father and I are one. [John 10:30 (NLT)]

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. … Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. … And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. [John 14:6,11a,24b (NLT)]

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SETTLING THE ACCOUNT

Buena Vista, Iowa
Your wickedness will bring its own punishment. Your turning from me will shame you. You will see what an evil, bitter thing it is to abandon the Lord your God and not to fear him. I, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken! [Jeremiah 2:19 (NLT)]

One autumn day, the atheist farmer told the minister that he’d plowed, disked, fertilized, planted, cultivated and harvested all of his fields on Sundays. He bragged that he had the biggest crop ever while defying the Biblical command to rest on the Sabbath. Moreover, he’d cursed the minister’s nonexistent God the entire time he worked. “Explain that!” challenged the farmer. The minister calmly replied that God doesn’t always settle his accounts in October!

For much of the year, I live in southwest Florida in an area with one of the highest life expectancies in the nation—83.5 years. That’s more than four and a half years longer than the average American and more than ten years longer than someone in Gasden, Alabama. Among other things, statistics show that the fatter our wallets and the thinner our bodies, the longer we’re likely to live. Nevertheless, no matter where we reside, how much we weigh, how well we eat, how many doctors we visit, or how wealthy we are, we will all say farewell to our life here on earth; life is terminal. We never know when God will settle his accounts but we do know that, someday, He will!

In Jesus’ parable of the rich man and the destitute and diseased beggar, we are warned about eternal judgment and that once we reach our journey’s end, there are no transfers. Hell is a real place and our final destination is final. When death arrives, and it will, what we’ve accumulated here on earth will mean nothing. Neither richness nor poverty is of importance; what matters will be our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Like the rich man in the parable, we are free to ignore the cries of those around us, but we’d better be prepared to do some crying ourselves. Like the farmer in my story, we are free to reject the message of Christ but, if we do, we must be ready to face the consequences of that choice. God is not to be disregarded or treated carelessly. Our loving God doesn’t send anyone to hell; He just honors the sinner’s choice. If we wish to live apart from Him in this world, He will be happy to oblige us in the next.

 If you board the train of unbelief, you will have to take it all the way to its destination. [Erwin W. Lutzer]

And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents.” [1 Peter 1:17 (NLT)]

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. … Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. [James 4:14,17 (NLT)]

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AFTER THE STORM

compass plantThe terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone. [Acts 27:20 (NLT)]

“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves. What a blessing was that stillness as he brought them safely into harbor! [Psalm 107:28-30 (NLT)]

While walking this morning, I could see the toll last night’s hail storm took on the wildflowers. Many that yesterday stood tall and proud over the prairie were now bent and broken. These defeated looking plants made me think of a friend and the storm that overwhelmed and nearly defeated him.

Raised in a Christian home and once a believer, he lost his faith in a loving God years ago when a series of medical errors left his child with severe brain damage. Angry at God and then disillusioned by the hypocrisy he saw in his church, he decided to worship the god of achievement and wealth. All went well for him until one day it didn’t. The storm hit when the multi-national corporation for which he worked closed its doors. In spite of his stellar resume, nearly two years passed without employment. When the economy tanked, so did his investments and his savings dwindled to nothing. Upside down with his mortgage, his god of success and prosperity was nowhere to be found. It was at that point that this once proud man literally fell to his knees and humbly admitted his defeat and nothingness to God. He wanted to believe but needed to know that God really was there. He didn’t ask for relief; he asked for reassurance of God’s presence. “Show me that you exist, that you care, that you are good!” was his simple prayer.

Most of those drooping wildflowers along the trail will again stand tall when the sun shines. Like those flowers, my friend was raised up when he turned to God and allowed the Son back into his life. Within a day of his prayer, he received a call from a struggling Christian-based non-profit and, within a week, he’d started working there as the CEO. Several years have passed and he is happier and more content than he was in his previous life. Because of his business acumen, the organization he serves is now thriving and people’s lives are being changed in incredible ways. His child is still disabled and his standard of living is not what it was before the storm, but he lives joyfully in the knowledge of a loving and good God—a God who can still storms and lift a drowning man out of the sea.

A hail storm can knock down flowers and, sometimes, God knocks us to our knees with a storm of troubles. It’s when we’re on our knees, however, that the only place to look is up! When we ask God to reveal Himself to us, we shouldn’t expect Him to do it with a job or financial support. After all, God only promises relief from all of our troubles in the next world. In this life, we will be relieved only from some of them; other troubles He will enable us to endure. Nevertheless, when we humbly and sincerely ask God to reveal himself to us, He will.

If God seems far away, who moved? [AA slogan]

But whenever they were in trouble and turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him out, they found him. [2 Chronicles 15:4 (NLT)]

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THE SANCTUARY CANDLE

Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to keep the lamps burning continually. [Exodus 27:20 (NLT)]

HibiscusAlthough an acolyte usually lights the altar candles at our northern church, our pastor did it yesterday. He came out of the sacristy with an unlit brass candle lighter in his hand, reached up to the sanctuary lamp, removed its red glass globe and took it out of the holder. Using the sanctuary candle, he lit the candle lighter before using it to light the altar candles. After returning the sanctuary lamp to its rightful place on the wall, he explained that, although there had been several books of matches in the sacristy, they all were empty. No one seems to smoke anymore and, being new to our parish, he had no idea where matches might be stored. A resourceful man, he solved the problem perfectly.

Sanctuary lamps probably date back to the original rules Moses was given for the tabernacle and they are often found in Jewish temples. Also called the Christ candle or eternal flame in Christian churches, they burn continually as a reminder of the eternal presence of God. While a sanctuary lamp often is present in traditional or liturgical churches, it certainly isn’t necessary for worship. Our mountain church, for example, doesn’t have one and our Florida church, which meets in the park, doesn’t even have a sanctuary let alone an altar or candles!

What, I wondered, would have happened if, while fiddling with the sanctuary light, our pastor had inadvertently extinguished its flame? Although he would have been embarrassed, worship would have continued without that symbol of God’s lasting presence. Candle or not, God is eternally present and the light of Christ continues to shine in our dark and troubled world. The flame from that one candle lit the altar candles much as the light from Christ lights our lives. God’s flame, however, must not stop with us. Jesus is the light of the world and it’s not enough for us just to shine; like that brass candle lighter, we must pass that light along to those waiting in darkness.

It only takes a spark To get a fire going,
And soon all those around Can warm up in its glowing.
That’s how it is with God’s love Once you’ve experienced it;
You spread His love to ev’ryone. You want to pass it on.
I wish for you my friend This happiness that I’ve found.
You can depend on Him. It matters not where you’re bound.
I’ll shout it from the mountain top. I want my world to know:
The Lord of love has come to me. I want to pass it on.
[“Pass it On” by Kurt Kaiser]

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)]

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