This Christmas season I am reminded of a former era when great grief was experienced around the birth of our Savior. Matthew 2:16-18 records,
“Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great morning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’”
It is overwhelming to think upon the great grief and sorrow that came to Bethlehem during the reign of Herod. No less is the heartache that surrounds Newtown, CT. Such a paradox that the birth of Jesus is surrounded with the shouts of joy as the angel heralded the coming of our Savior.
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11
What a joy to know that no matter how horrendous our situations may seem, we have this assurance that God is with us. In fact, Immanuel means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:23 Be sure to connect with your family, friends and church community as a source of joy in the midst of challenging times. In seasons when we just don’t know what to think, it’s important to fall back on what we do know—God is gracious and He is the God of all comfort.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Cor 1:3-4
Here is some great news for us all,
“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” 1 John 5:11-13
If you are looking for a short devotional read that will take you to the core of your self-life, read Let Go by Fenelon. He was a very reflective and devout spiritual influence on many people in the Court of Louis the Fourteenth during the 17th Century. He writes in the 28th letter, “Please understand about love. I am not asking from you a love which is tender and emotional. All I ask is that your will should lean towards love, that you should make up your mind to love God, regardless of your feelings. And no matter what corrupt desires you should find in your heart, if you will make a decision to love God more than self and the whole world, He will be pleased.” 1 Corinthians 13 of course describes the amazing virtues of love all as active verbs not as adjectives. Love is what we do, not just what we feel or say. As the title of Bob Goff’s book affirms, Love Does. Or the new leadership book, Love Works. And we would do well to learn The 5 Love Languages as we seek to be a blessing to those we love. And all these books have sold millions… hmmm, maybe I should write a book, Love Loves.
There are so many complexities of life and eternity. To contemplate the Divine and to ponder great things like the Trinity, predestination and human will, the Scriptures’ divine origin through fallible human beings, or better yet, understanding the dynamics between infralapsarianism, supralapsarianism and sublapsarianism. You gotta love how theologians tend to pontificate with the profundities of their great minds. Perhaps Paul needed to remind himself of keeping things simple when he abridged his message to focus on Jesus Christ and the cross (1 Corinthians 2:2).
It is within these musings that I couldn’t help to catch the metaphor from the new iPhone 5. It’s in reference to Steve Jobs’ maxim, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” The complexities of Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and the development of teeny tiny systems is outright fascinating. Within the workings of the iPhone are over a hundred thousand proximity sensors, motion sensors, light sensors and moisture sensors. In addition there are very complex binary codes and circuitry. All of this working in harmony in order for us to have the simplest of devices that even a three year old can operate with the touch of a finger. Perhaps it’s with a chuckle that Jesus’ quipped in Matthew 18:3, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Truly the complexities are very real, but within the faith of the Gospel, God has simplified all of the mysteries of life and eternity into His succinct assertion, “Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:33-35) And notice Jesus refers to His disciples as “little children.” Like the touch of the finger on the pulse of life, the convulsions of existence are reduced to the simplicity of LOVE. Love God and love people, that’s it!
I think we would do well if we follow Fenelon’s wisdom to “lean towards love” in every situation. If there’s potential conflict, die to yourself and love. If there’s an undesirable task or chore at hand, Love Does. If there is a need to be met, have Crazy Love. Why? Because Love Works and because it’s His Eternal Love Language. And perhaps I should just go out and upgrade to an iPhone 5 as a daily reminder of love’s simplicity. Gotta LOVE that idea!
Psalm 11:3-4 asks the question, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? The Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven.” The book of Habakkuk is also filled with the cries of a prophet musing about his assumptions regarding justice. The “why’s” and “woes” of the prophet’s heart are raw and poignant. But he too comes to the conclusion, “But the Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (Habakkuk 3:19)
Of late I have been reflecting about my own responses to the uncertainties and challenges that frequently come my way. What is a phrase or concept that can help me stay centered in my faith when the ridiculous befalls my simple existence? “God is on the throne!!!!” promptly flowed from my heart in harmony with my Biblical mentors. I trust that this mantra will blossom more fully beyond a mere quip. I’m hoping that this truth will echo daily at the core of all that I live and believe. It is at this intimate chamber that prayer takes flight. It is here that faith grows and brings the fragrance of Christ to all whom I encounter. God is God and He does whatsoever He pleases. And God is good, which assures us that all things will truly work together for the ultimate good and glory.
This week I was confronted by the stark reality that there are now close to 7 billion people on the planet. What’s more is that 140 million more people are born each year. But the statistic that bursts my heart is that each year about 57 million people die. And if this statistic is accurate, it means that 156,164 people die every day around the globe, which is 6,500 every hour and over 100 every second. And God knows the depth of every broken heart and He knows of the multitudes who chose to live a life apart from His gracious love.
Wow, it’s beyond my exhausted imagination to wonder of God’s personal touch made available to every soul. It is unimaginable that there are those who would assert that, “the way of the Lord is not fair.” (Ezekiel 18:25) To which God rightly affirms, “is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair?… ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord God. ‘Therefore turn and live!’” No matter what befalls you in this season of life – the good, the bad and the ugly. God has it under control. Let go, and let God be God! It isn’t “seeing is believing,” but rather, “believing is seeing.” God is on the throne.
“And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You. Deliver me from all my transgressions; do not make me the reproach of the foolish. I was mute, I did not open my mouth, because it was YOU who did it.” (Psalm 39:7-9)
As an emergency services chaplain, much of my life is involved around helping people in the midst of their various crises. As such, I am privileged to have a window seat to the majesty of God’s grace, comfort and accomplishment within people’s expeditions through agony as well as through the testing of prosperity. Rarely do people go through life without the effects of the fall stinging them severely. And it is really here in the crucible of refinement that life defines us and reveals to us the knowledge of our true self. Of course God already knows the depth of our souls. It is we who need to take these journeys to the mountaintops and valleys to discern the core of our virtues (see Deut. 8:1-4).
In King David’s younger years he was very strong against the vile nature of others. I believe it is within these youthful times that David penned Psalm 18 as he shouts for justice and vindication according to his righteousness. However, much later in life, seasoned by his own failures and the brokenness of others, David inks out Psalm 39 which whispers of the humility of refinement. In his anguish, he is silently waiting under providence, knowing that nothing comes to him except that which first passes through the discretions of God. I can’t help but muse that David was foreshadowing his future Savior. “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’ who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed himself to Him who judges righteously.” (1. Peter 2:21-23)
It is living within the domain of a Christ-centered life that frees us from the fears, anxieties and maladies of the uncertain and always shifting “WHY?” This discourse is actually the thread that ties the book of Job together. Job and his friends are trying to make logical sense out of the extremes within prosperity and suffering, until God speaks out of the whirlwind. We need to realize that we are not the center of the universe and that our perspectives of what is good, right and just are very feeble and finite. God alone in all His majesty has the vantage point of what is ultimate benefit.
The other day I was humbled to learn publically that “faux pas” is not pronounced, “fox pause.” Yes, in all my education within my Ph.D. program, I don’t ever remember reading this French phrase in print. My mortality in linguistic efficiency has given way to me being the brunt of the office jokes, and rightly so. It has been a gentle reminder of my frail wisdom and scholarship. Know this, no matter what comes your way, embrace it within God’s omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent vantage point (I like the omni pas better than my faux pas). After all God spoke the universe into existence and He sustains it by His power. Who are we to question the Almighty? It is when we center our gaze from within our own feeble outlook (or should I say in-look) that we squeak out our complaints as if God owes us. It’s similar to a vile robber complaining to a gracious and righteous judge that the law is unfair to limit one’s pleasures of prosperity through theft.
Between work, school, travel, relationships and the business of family life, there is always potential to experience extremes that should gently remind us of our dependence on God’s daily loving and sustaining grace. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-32, 37-39) Above all, I know this fact – you are LOVED by God.
Here’s some Scriptures and perspectives that I like to cling to during the questions that come my way about the hardships of life.
- 2 Cor. 1:1-8 – We are not alone in our struggles. In our suffering we learn to comfort others.
- Phil. 3:10; Heb. 13:5 – God is present in our sufferings .
- Rom. 8:18 – God promises victory over temporal suffering in eternity.
- Heb. 2:9; Isa. 53 – Christ has experienced our pain.
- Heb. 12 – At times suffering is part of God’s discipline.
- John 9:3 – Suffering has intent to reveal the glory of God.
- Eph. 6:10-20 – Suffering can be the result of spiritual attack.
- Gal. 6:8 – Suffering is sometimes the result of reaping and sowing.
- 1 Peter – Suffering often brings purification.
- James 1; Rom. 5:1-5 – Suffering truly produces character.
In addition to the above, here’s an encouragement that should remain a foundation while in the midst of hardship. When circumstances take you to the place where you just don’t know what to think, then fall back on what you do know. These Scriptures provide glorious declarations about what God reveals about Himself. God is glorious in His grace and mercy towards us no matter what doubts we may have. God is faithful to His nature.
Jonah 4:2 Ex. 34:6-7 Num. 14:18 Deut. 32:4
Psalm 86:15 Psalm 103:8 Psalm 145:8-9 Neh. 9:17 Micah 7:18-19
“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” Psalm 34:18
The Christian researcher, George Barna, recently expressed his observation after 30 years of research regarding the most significant influences on a person’s renovation in faith. He has noticed that most substantial growth in a believer happens when a person is in an intentional spiritual relationship and when a person lives through hardship. I too have witnessed this dynamic. In fact, as I have often affirmed that beyond the traditional means of grace and spiritual disciplines in faith, the three most dynamic propellments in faith are failure, suffering and the most dynamic of them all – witnessing the suffering of those you love the most. In such a state, you find yourself collapsed before the throne of God in persistent and passionate prayer and intercession. And it is in this desperate posture that God is given permission to engage His love and transformation in all that is beautiful and good. It is at the Cross that God suffered while at the same time witnessed the suffering of His Son. He has gone before us in this dimension of love beyond what we could ever imagine (Hebrews 2:14-18).
It is this experience that I believe Jesus was referring to in His discourse on the hills above Capernaum. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3-5) And it is in this type of heart where God dwells most powerfully – “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” (Isaiah 57:15) Yet the mystery of it all is that we can’t strive and force our hearts into this position of contrition. It is only a work that God enables within His grace.
Now here is the conclusion of it all. Life and faith are found in relationship with Jesus. God desires for us to return to our initial created order within His image as we surrender to His Gospel. We are transformed by grace as He enables us to partake of His intimate love. And it is this place of intimate love that we live and move and have our being. We don’t have to try to be broken and humble. These virtues grow within the shadow of Jesus’ love for us as His love crushes our ego. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if Go so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1. John 4:10-11).
Here’s my encouragement for you today. No matter what comes your way, no matter how painful or pleasurable, embrace it within the saturation of the intimate love of Jesus Christ. It is there you will be impelled to taste of the sweetest joys and graces of life, not matter what your circumstances may dictate. It is there that God is most satisfied as our contentment is fixed completely on Him. My Tweet for today was, “To be fully surrendered to God in love and to give up your will to Jesus is true freedom indeed.” Happy True Independence Day! To be set free from self, the world and the devil is independence indeed.
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’” (Revelation 21:1-5)
At times when I read a book I like to read the ending to get a good understanding of where the author is going in his or her conclusion. What is so amazing about the Bible is that it ends where it began. There are two marriages, two trees, two gardens, etc. and God is in the midst of it all. In the beginning God created oneness for us in relationship with Him and each other. In John 17:20-26 Jesus prayed for our oneness to be restored. In Revelation 21-22 Jesus’ prayers are answered and we are back to where we began but in the fullest sense of oneness. Throughout the entire Bible God keeps repeating that He will be our God and we will be His people. It is this covenant theme that is a thread of truth that expresses God’s eternal purpose for us all in this glorious relationship.
My heart is so overjoyed to ponder this future reality. However, it is not just a hope, it’s a true expectation of what is more real than even our current life experience. Of this I remember kneeling in the hospital by a man who had just come back from the dead. He had said that “everything in the Bible is true, I saw it.” And again he asserted that he had heard Jesus’ voice saying, “save the children. The children are suffering.” I don’t know what all that is about, but I do know of the veracity of the fullness of God’s promises being fulfilled. And again I’m reminded that God promises the best for the life that now is and of that which is to come (1. Timothy 4:8).
This week I happened to read the book by Billy Graham, Nearing Home. What a dear saint Billy is as he is in his 90’s and is close to experiencing Revelation 21 up close and personal. He is such a gracious man, and he offers great insights and encouragements for us to establish a faithful course within our eternal accountability. Ecclesiastes 11-12 describes a beautiful portrayal of the aging process. The physical and temporal slowly fades but potentially one’s ultimate purpose is apprehended. The peril of so many is that they put aside God’s priorities waiting for a more convenient time. However, this heart only reveals the complacency of the soul. But God patiently waits and waits and waits for His beloved to finally grasp a life of significance over the choices of mere existence. And in His grace the Lord will occasionally resort to allowing various crises and difficulties to come into our lives to gently move us closer to His fruitful design. For sure the aging process alone will move people to either embrace His grace or to reject Him altogether. As Billy Graham testifies, there is little gold in the Golden Years as the challenge of aging diminishes many of the frivolities of youth. As we all progress along this fateful path, we should embrace the transition with great expectancy to taste of the sweetness of the divine pleasures of faith, hope and love much more than the delicacies of youthful turpitude.
I am reminded of a great quote from over a century past. It’s an encouragement to evaluate each of life’s challenges as a prescription for navigating towards the eternal destination. In 1895, pastor and author, Andrew Murray, was in England suffering from a terribly painful back, the result of an injury he had incurred years before. One morning while he was eating breakfast in his room, his hostess told him of a woman downstairs who was in great trouble and wanted to know if he had any advice for her. Andrew Murray handed her a paper he had been writing on and said, “Give her this advice, I’m writing down for myself. It may be that she’ll find it helpful.” This is what was written: “In time of trouble, say, ‘First, He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place, in that I will rest.’ Next, ‘He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.’ Then say, ‘He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.’ And last, say, ‘In His good time He can bring me out again. How and when, He knows.’ Therefore, say ‘I am here (1) by God’s appointment, (2) in His keeping, (3) under His training, (4) for His time.’”
“Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘ Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’ Then said I: ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’ But the LORD said to me: ‘Do not say, “’I am a youth,’” for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the LORD.” Jeremiah 1:4-8
Perhaps one of the greatest mysteries of our human existence is the wonder of the amazing harmony between God’s sovereignty and our personal choices. Of course much has been contested over this subject through the centuries. As noted above, Jeremiah was chosen to be a prophet to the nations long before he had any choice in the matter. Yet, Jeremiah had daily preferences and decisions in which he participated within his own volition. Now I don’t intend to solve this antinomy within a short blog. By the way, antinomy is a word that I think was made up to basically put a placeholder on this debate. Antinomy: “a contradiction between two statements, both apparently obtained by correct reasoning.” Two truths that apparently contradict each other but both are substantiated.
Scripture reveals that God is totally sovereign in all His interactions in human affairs. His power is unlimited. Therefore, we pray accordingly. But then again, we have moral choice and freedoms by which God’s providence is progressing through our lives. Akin to this is the whole subject of Theodicy (theos=God, dike=justice). If God is all loving and all-powerful, why does suffering exist? Theologians and philosophers have written profusely on this subject. And here is something for you to ponder as a potential resolve.
The above picture is a product in China that a missionary friend showed me. Now here is my question to you: “Why do wild Jews eat ear fungus in China?”
Different cultures have different dietary preferences. The cuisine of Asia is definitely different from Mexico. But then it’s hard to fathom a culture that markets ear fungus. What’s more, this product is actually a delicacy that is used to flavor soups and other palatable dishes. How are we to understand “Wild Jew’s-ear Fungus”? As you have probably already figured by now, it’s a translation problem. Actually a better translation of this product would be “Wild Israeli Mushrooms”. These special mushrooms originally imported from Israel happen to grow in the shape of an ear, hence, “ear shaped mushrooms.”
Maybe this is a round about way to address this subject, but it works for me. How is it that God reveals in His Word that He is totally sovereign over all of our choices, while at the same time Scripture discloses our human freedoms? Within the finite human mind there would be an apparent contradiction. How could two truths both be accurate but contradict each other? I believe it’s a translation problem. There are eternal truths within the infinite Mind of God that are very clear from within the eternal perspective. However, these don’t translate well into a finite closed system. I have great solace in concluding that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and that His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:12-13) “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (1. John 3:2-3) Some day we will all see God face to face. We will know as we are known. At that moment, I believe all questions will be answered in the face-to-face reality of the presence of the Almighty God. When we see Him as He is, the infinite perspective will provide perfect clarity to all of our finite musings. What’s more, even the great challenge of suffering will be put into a proper perspective. Paul asserted, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
So, the next time you seem to stumble over apparent mysteries of life that go beyond understanding, pause for a moment, look into someone’s ear to see if there is any fungus, and then have a bowl of soup. Chicken soup is always good for the soul, or so they say. And who are “they” anyway?
As I pause and savor the moments of today I’m reminded of A.W. Tozer’s wisdom, “How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none. Eternal years lie in His heart. For Him time does not pass, it remains; and those who are in Christ share with Him all the riches of limitless time and endless years. God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which He must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves. For those out of Christ, time is a devouring beast.” Every year, every month, every day, every hour, every moment is given to us as a precious gift within the bounds of His eternal perspective. To us is given the privilege to be stewards of this most precious gift – TIME. We can invest time, enjoy time and savor time as we journey through the moments of eternity. Yet many just spend time, waste time, squander time or just try to get through each day’s burden, missing the gift of the moment. I have always had the burden that people would “get it.” “Get what?” you may ask. “GET LIFE.”
It would appear that much of what I deal with in my life and ministry are serving a multitude of people who are missing the point of it all. People rush through life, and like Peter in the Bible, they “follow Him at a distance.” (Matthew 26:58). It truly breaks my heart which is only a hint of what God experiences within His eternal perspective. And then finally life slaps people on the side of the head and there’s an awakening to regrets, having missed the extravagance of God’s timeless moments. Yes, it’s a paradox but it is all so very real and all so very beautiful. The life of God in our very souls is to be savored each tick of the day. He bids us to drink of this life throughout every waking moment. This was perhaps most striking to me of late as I have prayed with so many brokenhearted people who were depressed, suicidal, wounded, scarred and regretFULL – and rarely do I counsel with those who have a daily diet within the things of God. When one is Christ-centered, he or she will be Spirit-filled bearing the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, longsuffering…). God promises this abundant life to all of His followers. Get God, get life and then the moments are filled with His presence. This doesn’t mean that trials won’t come our way, but within those painful times, God is with us, walking in the midst of the fire (literally – Daniel 3:25).
Paul wrote in 2. Timothy 1:8-9, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” Think of this, before time began, before there were any successive moments, God had YOU on His mind within His design to display His divine purposes for an eternal relationship with Him through His Son. Thus before time, God created the gift of time, so that we can experience His love through the filling of His Spirit within time. So my encouragement is to drink in His gifts of grace every year, month, day and moment. Don’t squander the moments and live every day mindful that you can chose to obey God’s plans and purpose in which you will never have regrets. Once again my life verse blossoms with the fragrance of this virtue of His grace, “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) Glorify God and enjoy Him FOREVER and ever and ever and ever and ever. And this promise is not only for the future, but it is to be enjoyed every moment of every day in the life that NOW is (1. Timothy 4:8b). God has created you for His purposes. Perhaps it’s TIME for you to get on board with that purpose, before time runs out.
As a fire department chaplain, I have had the opportunity to see many life and death situations. For some it’s a near death experience where people get a wake up call to their mortality. However, as a pastor I’ve also witnessed many people having a near life experience. These are the times when people hear the truth of God, and know it to be true, but make excuses to put off their commitment to live under God’s blessings. Jesus shares a story that warns us of this peril in Luke 14:15-20 (take time to read it some time today). In Acts 26:28 Paul the Apostle has an encounter with King Agrippa who put off the truth in saying, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” Likewise, Governor Felix rejected the truth, though fearful, he asserted, “Go away for now; when I have a more convenient time I will call for you.” (Acts 24:25)
I’ve noticed that the older people get, the harder they seem to get. When people put off eternity for a more convenient time, it would appear that for many there will never be a convenient time.
Once on a ride along with the SDFD, we responded to a call where a 48 year-old man was having a heart attack. The paramedic asked him a series of questions, and with each question the gentleman’s countenance intensified with despair. “Does your family have a history of heart problems?” “Yes,” was his answer. “My father died of a heart attack.” Ensuing question, “How old was your father when he passed?” “He was 47.” “What is your age?” “I’m 48.” The paramedic continued, “Are you currently on any medications?” “I have a prescription for some heart issues, but my prescription ran out a week ago and I haven’t gotten around to renewing it.” Next question, “Do you smoke?” “Uh, yes.” “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much pain are you feeling?” To which he replied, “It’s like an 8 or 9. I feel like a car is on my chest.”
The questions continued, but what got my attention was looking into this man’s eyes. It was as if this was a quiz on the choices to make to die young. This man was living out his life choices rejecting the truths about which his doctor had warned him. His eyes were filled with terror, to the point where he clutched the paramedic’s jacket and pleaded, “Don’t let me die!” Fortunately, this gracious medic didn’t assert, “A little late to get serious about your health situation, don’t you think!” But I would imagine he thought it.
Think about it. Are you putting off eternal decisions that you know you should be attending to? Are you making excuses for a more convenient time to get serious about the things of God? Are you almost persuaded to align your life with the truth? Every day, the Lord calls out to us through circumstances, through people and through our consciences. And every day, we have opportunities to respond in faith and obedience. These are near life experiences. In Deut. 30:19 Moses pleads with an entire nation, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live!” Stop right where you are, survey your heart as to where you honestly are in relation to eternity. Choose life! It’s as serious as a heart attack? If you need help, meditate on 1. John 5:11-13, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life,and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”
Of late I have observed quite a number of quick tempered people who are swift to criticize, assume, judge or flat out blow up over other people’s perspectives or efforts. I actually witnessed an angry criticism from an individual who was distraught that Bible study software was being promoted at a church to help people study the Bible more. Really?! Even the current “Love Your City” series at the Rock Church has upset a few people because a vision to bring Hope to San Diego and the world has been shared that will involve sacrifice. Pastor Miles even qualified his entire message that he is just asking people to pray as to what God will have people do and he encouraged people to simply be obedient to God. Rick Warren’s recent interview about all the rumors and slander against his ministry makes a clear case how people take second-hand information to spread discord, which by the way, God hates (Proverbs 6:19). (The interview I’m referring to is at www.edstetzer.com/2012/03/rick-warren-interview-on-musli.html )
Then there’s the YouTube video “Kony2012” that seeks to rally people around stopping the murder and kidnapping of children. Just read the trailer comments and you will see the sparks fly. It just so happens that Jason Russell who leads Invisible Children and who is the director of Kony2012 is a family friend. I know the man and the organization in relation to their humble hearts and that they simply are burdened to stop the killing of children. I’m sure there are as many opinions on the issues as there are people who have watched the video. But to know the family is to know that their hearts are simply burdened to see children saved. To react to or to assume about situations without first-hand information or relationships leads to so much heartache. And perhaps right now, as you read this blog your heart rate is starting to race because you have strong opinions on subjects I’ve just introduced. I guess we are not too different from the early church. Paul dealt with division, but his response was “…whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.” (Phil. 1:18) When those who came to Jesus and had a different way of doing things, He stated, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” (Luke 9:50) Now please hear me, I’m not saying that truth doesn’t matter. Paul also wrote, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8) Truth and love tend to be in tension at times. Truth does bring division into situations (just read Matthew 10:34-39). But before reacting, hear people out, listen, learn and discern. Consider the grace shown to you in Christ and then reflect that grace to others. Then pass everything through the filter of 1. Corinthians 13. “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…” (verses 4-8) I have found that when I take the stance of love, seldom does it fail. I fail, but love never does.