Saturday, November 21, 2015

Overflowing with Thanksgiving

He has made me glad.  He has made me glad.  I will rejoice for he has made me glad.

Worship the Lord with gladness.  Come before him with joyful songs.

I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart.  I will enter his courts with praise.

Thanksgiving is a time of joy.  It is a time for our spirits to be uplifted.  Everyone just feels good when Thanksgiving rolls around.  Well, that is, unless they don’t.

What if we feel hard pressed; sometimes it seems like from every direction?

What if we feel perplexed?  We just can’t get any traction.  Our heads are spinning.  We are overwhelmed with what is going on in our lives and the insane world that we live in.

What if we feel persecuted?  It’s not just that we don’t understand the world.  It’s that some in this world don’t’ like us and make a point to do what they can to make our lives miserable.

What if we have actually been struck down, knocked down, and kicked around?  We have lost a job, had a stroke, had our car repossessed, or suffered a death of a loved one.

Can we really sing with thanksgiving? 
I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart.  I will enter his courts with praise.
But what if the words come out.
I lost my job, my uncle died, and all my bills are still unpaid.  What song can I sing today?

That’s a tough challenge.  Can we still be thankful?  All of us have so much to be thankful for in all circumstances but can we muster true thanksgiving in our hearts when the world is pressing in from all sides.

Paul tells us that the strength that he knows is not his.  He is but a clay pot.  He is a common vessel but has this all surpassing power from God.  He is going through trials, but has not yet bottomed out.

The trials have not gone away, but he is still hanging in there.
He is pressed, but not crushed.
He is perplexed but does not despair.
He is persecuted but God has not abandoned him.
He is struck down but not destroyed.

Sometimes it is really hard to be thankful for the things in our lives when it seems that the things in our lives make us hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and even struck down.

Sometimes when we just can’t find the blessings that bring our hearts to give thanks to the Lord, we give him thanks in and for our trials, because in them we remain faithful to our Lord.

This faithfulness is our testimony.  Sometimes, perhaps many times, our faithfulness in our trials may not be for our immediate blessing, but it blesses those who witness our testimony.

Sometimes our trials of this age will only bring us glory in the age to come.  Sometimes we have no immediate relief from the world that persecutes us and knocks us down. 

Sometimes it feels like we are wasting away, swimming upstream, or trying to build a paper Mache house in an Oklahoma windstorm. 

Sometimes our life just seems so bad that we must fix our eyes on what we can’t see.  We forgo seeking our relief in the temporary and are content in the eternal reward that awaits us.

Sometimes we just have to tough it out in the here and now.  Sometimes when we say that we have died with Christ, it feels like that is exactly what is happening to us—that we are dying.

We are ready to be raised to life with him but the world is closing in on us and we feel like we are getting too much of this pressed and crushed and persecuted business without any relief in sight.

But we press on towards the goal.  We proclaim Jesus as Lord even in our trials.  Sometimes it seems as if death is at work in us that that life may be at work in others.

Sometimes we just persevere until the day that we are raised to life with Christ.  Sometimes we know how Paul felt as he penned this part of this letter to Corinth.

We persevere to the end, but this is not an endurance test without benefits in this world.  It is just that sometimes, we are called to sacrifice as the benefactors so those around us may be the beneficiaries.

Sometimes we persevere so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Sometimes we stay the course so that others will see our faith and hope even in the worst of circumstances and come to know the grace of God.

Sometimes being a living sacrifice means persevering through trials and persecution so that others may come to know the Lord.

I will contort Paul’s mantra of selfless utility somewhat to fit this pericope.  We persevere all things, in all trials, so that some might be saved and bring glory and thanksgiving to God.

So that some might be saved.
So that some will give thanks to God.

We sing count your many blessings, but we have days when it is hard to see what we do have because of what is pressing in on us, everything that doesn’t make sense, those who truly persecute us, and even being knocked down in life.

We have days when our trials seem so insurmountable that singing give thanks with a grateful heart just seems impossible.

But we still proclaim Jesus as Lord.  We still strive to be the light that shines in the darkness of this modern world.  We stay the course in spite of our trials and tribulations and in so doing, we will bring some who may be living in darkness to see the goodness of God and come to know him and his grace and give thanks to him.

In those days or weeks or months when life seems to be obscuring our blessings and we struggle to sing with thanksgiving in our heart; we stay the course proclaiming God and his goodness, Christ and his death as verification of God’s love for us, and Jesus raised to life as our hope—even in the worst of times.

Sometimes faithfully staying the course of discipleship will evoke thanksgiving in others.
Sometimes just holding on to hope for one more day will be enough light to lift the blindness of an unbeliever.
Sometimes just taking the next step in faith in the unseen is enough to bring glory to God.

Even if right now, you can’t sing I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart.  I will enter his courts with praise, but you continue to love one another, pray without ceasing, tithe, serve, and faithfully trust God and his goodness, proclaim Jesus as Lord, and do all that you can be to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth; you might just evoke thanksgiving to God in those who witness you negotiating your trials.

You might be doing more than you know in just faithfully staying the course.

Sometimes we give thanks just by trusting in the Lord and acknowledging him every step of the way, even if that way is marked with being hard pressed and perplexed, persecuted, and even knocked down.  Sometimes our trust in the Lord in the worst that the world can throw at us shines brighter than the most melodious song that we can offer.

If at all possible, sings the songs of thanksgiving and praise with all of your heart.  We can trade in our sorrows.  We can have peace that goes beyond our understanding.  We can know the joy of the Lord in the worst of circumstances.
But if the world is closing in on you and you feel hard pressed, don’t be crushed.  If you are perplexed, do not despair.  You may be persecuted but you are not abandoned.  

You may get knocked down but you are not destroyed.  Stay the course of faithfulness to your Lord and Master and you may just evoke thanksgiving from the most surprising people and places.

Your faithfulness in tough times brings glory to God.  You can be thankful with your life even when it is so difficult to be thankful with your lips.

As we grow in grace, we will become thankful in all things and in all ways, but for the time being we are still growing. Some are still struggling to have thanksgiving in their hearts.  When we struggle,  the words of thanksgiving seemed forced.

We want the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts to be pleasing in the Lord’s sight.  We do, but sometimes, the words won’t come.

But we remain thankful in our faithfulness.  This is not stoicism.  This is faith under fire.  This is faithfulness during trial.  This is our living sacrifice and sometimes it feels like a sacrifice.

Faithfulness is how we give thanks to God when we can’t sing the songs—our lives say, Thank you Lord!

Our lives say, thank you Lord.

When I was running a lot, I had a favorite seven-mile route that I did three or four times a week.  Going out was a series of ups and downs, gentle hills.  I loved these.  I would accelerate up the hill, almost to a sprint and then coast down the back side. 

These were short and manageable ups and downs, but on the back side of the run was a one-mile stretch where there was no relief.  It was one long gradual uphill mile.

While on the first part of the route, I could think and compose and even draft orders in my mind; for this one mile, I just had to get up the hill.

There was no dialogue or creative thought going on in my mind while the endorphins took care of my body.  I had to just keep going.

Obviously, I chose this route because I wanted the challenge.  I wanted to push myself.

In our lives, we generally don’t get to pick our long and arduous uphill stretches, and sometimes that abundant life doesn’t seem quite as abundant as we had pictured.

Sometimes we just gut it out through these times, hardly singing I will rejoice for he has made me glad, perhaps with just some repetitive words:  Thank you Lord, thank you Lord, thank you Lord, thank you Lord…

I hope that you can sing songs of thanksgiving and praise and lift up the joy that we know in our hearts right now.  I pray that one day you can do this in any circumstance.

Paul learned to be content in any circumstance, but my hope is that you may be thankful in any circumstance.

But for those times when we are pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down and the words won’t come, keep the faith, follow Jesus, proclaim him as Lord and let your very life be such a light that brings glory to God so that others will lift up songs of thanksgiving for you.

People will see your faithfulness to the Lord in trying times and lift up songs of thanksgiving.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Psalm 35

Dear God,

I know that I will be standing in your presence in the age to come but things are pretty tough right now.  Just so I know that I am still in good standing with you, and so the evil people know that they are not, would you please:

·       Give all the kids that pick on me at school a bloody nose.

·       Give my boss, you know him—he is meaner than mean for no reason, would you please give him a bad case of hemorrhoids for at least a month.

·       Lord, would you please make the telemarketers who keep lighting up my phone get struck by lightning every time they call my number.  I don’t want them struck dead; just scorch them good so they can’t call me anymore.

·       Would you please add a “Praying” button to Facebook so I don’t have to click “Like” when somebody posts that Uncle Bob had a heart attack and needs prayers.  I don’t want people to think that I “like” the fact that he had a heart attack and it takes so much effort to type in the word “praying” as a comment.

·       Lord, this one is near and dear to my heart.  Would you just smote some ISIS people just so they know they are bad and need to throw in the towel before the rest of them get smoted.

·       While you are at it, would you smote some of the other terrorist groups too.  Just sayin’ that those of us who follow you would like to watch a good terrorist smotin on CNN every once in a while.  It would be good for morale.

·       And I almost forgot, you know those people that I helped a couple times expecting nothing in return, and then they went and talked bad about me behind my back, please grant them ingrown toenails for life without relief and let them know it was because of the way that they treated me.  Really, I would like a little vindication to go with proclaiming your name in the assembly and being a man after your heart.  I would like to cash in on some benefits now, just a few please.

·       Lord, I need some vindication.  I can’t take much more of these yahoos  strutting their wicked ways in my face and saying na, na, na, na na…

·       Lord, if you want I will put together a smotin’ list.  We could publish it on the back of the prayer list.  You could knock out 4 or 5 a week.

·       And of course, Lord, if you do all of this I will be singing your praises all day long.

I had some fun putting these together but the fun part was that sometimes we are a little like this.  We want some vindication.  That is very much our human nature.  We don’t always go to the extreme of being vindictive in our desires, we just want some vindication.

We want God to make a public announcement that we are doing things right and the rest of you had better take notice.  Sometimes we just want to cry out to God, or write a letter or a psalm, asking God to vindicate us.

Enough of my fun, let’s hear what David said.  Let’s hear David put a very human spin on a man after God’s own heart who just wants a little vindication; and after that I will ask you to consider what the Son of David said about all of this.
Read Psalm 35

David gives us insight into our own human nature.  The Son of David would challenge us to exchange this human nature for his own divine nature.  How?

Try this on for size:  Love your enemies.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Eschatology Survival Kit - PRP

There was an age, a generation, from Adam to the flood.

There was an age from Noah to the advent of the Messiah.

We live in an age with bookends as well.  They are the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world and the coming of the King.  Jesus marks both ends of this age.  We share this age with people named Peter, the apostle formerly known as Saul—yes we know him as Paul.

We share this age with Martin Luther, John Calvin, Samuel McAdow,  Finis Ewing, Samuel King, Mother Theresa, Corrie ten Boom, James Hendrix, Gene Reeves, Junior Delp, Robert Rush, Briley Reeves,  and Emma Ray Stegall.
We are the generation of what many have come to call the church age.  Jesus didn’t name it that, but it’s a good name for it.  It works.

Jesus sometimes referred to this generation as “wicked.”  We do not have to wear this title because we follow Jesus and we belong to the Kingdom of God, even in the here and now; but this generation is rightly fitted with the label “wicked.” 

We have surrendered our lives to Jesus.  He has made us right with God; but the world, this present generation, cannot make the same claim.  It seems to be moving in the opposite direction.  There will come a time where God will declare this age to be complete.

Some dread this day.  Some are storing up food, fuel, and ammunition for the time that comes at the end.

Some are just singing, People get ready, Jesus is coming.  Soon we’ll be going home.

Intellectual Christians discuss pre-tribulation rapture, mid-trib rescue, and post tribulation endurance to the end.  Jesus is coming and speculation of how much tribulation will we have to go through is rampant.

I tell you that you will go through some tribulation.  How can I say that?

Because you go through some tribulation now.  You have the pressure of the world upon you now.  We know tribulation.  We call it by its included terms:  pressure, stress, anxiety, worry, job loss, hunger, homelessness, hopelessness, and others.

We know the pressures of the world.

Most of us have not experienced true hunger, homelessness, or hopelessness, but we still feel pressure from the world.

Jesus tells us not to worry; yet it happens even among long time Christians.

The disciples are with Jesus near the temple and one of them says, “Wow!  Now that’s something to look at!”

I have seen the IMax movie Jerusalem and can tell that I would have said, “Wow!  Now that’s something to look at!”

The movie folks took what remains were left and did a virtual reconstruction and even on the big screen, I thought:  “Wow!  Now that’s something to look at!”

The disciples were surely hoping that Jesus would be impressed.  “Look at the house that our fathers built for our Father in heaven.”

But Jesus came to remodel the temples that we live in not to admire those that were made of stone.

He told his followers that this building that they admired so much would just be rubble one day.

This surely silenced everyone for a while; at least until they were sitting in the Mount of Olives, still near the temple. 

Four disciples asked Jesus when will this happen and how will be know it is coming?

Be careful what you ask Jesus.  He might just give you more than you are ready to hear.  He said that:

·      Many will come in his name.  They are imposters.
·      There will be wars and rumors of war.
·      Nation will fight nation and kingdom will fight kingdom.
·      Earthquakes.
·      Famine.
·      Persecution.
·      Testimonies before government leaders.
·      Disruption of families because of Jesus.  Families will divide and turn upon each other.
·      People will hate you because of Jesus.
·      Holy places will be defiled.
·      God’s people will not only be persecuted but some will be pursued.
·      Some may have to go and hide.
·      False Messiahs will start popping up.  People will be invited to follow them.  It might even be tempting to do so.
·      Deception will be at an all time high.

But this isn’t the end.  This is the beginning of the end of the age.  These are the beginning of birth pains.  Things are just getting warmed up.

And if that were not enough, in the days following this earthbound distress; there will be massive and very noticeable cosmic disturbance.

One might look at the heavens and say, “Wow!  Now that’s something to look at!”

Be careful what you ask Jesus.  You might just get more than you bargained for when he gives the answer, and some people dwell on all of these things that will come.

But what else did Jesus say?
Don’t be troubled by the troubles of the world.
Watch out that no one deceives you.
Watch out!  Be alert!  Don’t be deceived.

Jesus said that impostors will come and many will be deceived, but you must not be deceived.

He said, times are going to get really tough and people will want to hear what the imposters are saying but you must stick to the truth.

Do not be deceived.

Jesus said that before the end comes, the gospel will be preached to all nations.

He said that when you are handed over to worldly authorities do not worry about what you will say.  The Spirit will give you the words.

Take note, Jesus did not say that you would be delivered from what the carnal world will do to you, but you will not fail in your testimony.

What difference does this make?  Have you ever asked the question, “Would I deny Christ if my life was at stake?”

We don’t need to worry about things that have not happened.
Jesus tells us that God’s Spirit will be with us if we are around for that sort of trial.

We are around for that sort of trial.  We are seeing this happen not only in other countries but within the borders of our own nation.

Jesus warned his disciples that trials and tribulation show no deference to physical condition or season of the year.

If you are pregnant or become pregnant, tribulation doesn’t care.

For all of the information and instruction that Jesus gave, none of it was about avoiding the things that are coming.
Jesus says be on your guard so that you are not deceived.
Do not be deceived!

The message given to us is that in whatever shape the world is in, and from the looks of things the fig branches are coming out of winter and getting tender and ready to bud, but in whatever condition the world is in, we are not to be deceived.

We are to trust in the Lord over our own understanding.  Better yet, just accept what the Lord says as our own understanding.

How can we ever do that?

I have three recommendations.  Abbreviation - PRP

First, pray.  Yeah okay, I do that.  Not just bless this food and now I lay me down to sleep, pray continuously.  Have a conversation with you heavenly Father that continues throughout your waking hours.  Make lots of time for listening.  He may even keep talking while you are asleep.


Next, read you Bible.  Not just the verse of the day.  Read chunks of your Bible just as you would eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and probably a couple snacks to sustain your physical self.

Memorize some of it.  Have some verses that you can rest in.  You know them by heart and can say them all day long even while doing something else.

And while we are on the subject of Bible reading, get a hard copy of the Bible.  Having it on your phone is great.  I love using Google as my super fast concordance, but I will not be without a hard copy Bible that was published in my native language in my formative years.

I keep the 1984 version of the New International Version handy at all times.  I love having 5 versions displayed in parallel on my computer screen, but we should know how vulnerable electronic media is to manipulation.

Keep at least one hard copy Bible around and read it often, even if you are a Bible Gateway junkie like me.

Pray.  Read your Bible.  What now?

Practice.  Put God’s word into practice.

I do not know the day and the hour when Jesus is coming to claim us, but I know this.  He will catch me doing what doing his will.

He will catch me loving my neighbor.  Sometimes that will look like me giving out a box of food.  Sometimes it will look like me holding back my carnal self so I don’t choke someone as I say, “No, we are not going to buy your cigarettes this month.  Use that money to pay your water bill.”

Sometimes it is just going to be listening to the things that all the kids who come on Wednesday night have to tell me.

Sometimes it will be to preach those parts of the Bible that most preachers skip over because they make folks uncomfortable.

Sometimes it will be me challenging you to get to know your neighbor and be downright salty—God seasoning—when you do it.

The question is, what will you be doing?  It won’t be about what is going on elsewhere in the world.  It will be about what will you be doing?

Visualize these scenes between Jesus and a believer as we approach his second coming.

So you heard that I was coming soon, so you bought 24 cases of green beans and a pallet of MREs.

So you heard that I was coming soon, and you built a bunker complex under your home.

You heard that I was coming soon, so you rushed to convert your VHS library to digital format.

You heard that I was coming soon so you got your taxes in early so you could spend that refund check before I got here.

You heard I was coming soon so you post dated the check for your tithe.

Do not be deceived!

Our time in this age is about being God’s love at every opportunity, not outsmarting the things and pressures of the world.

We are not to be deceived thinking there is an easy way out of whatever tribulation we have.  There is only trusting in the Lord every step of the way until the day that he comes for us.

He is coming for us.  We don’t know the day or the hour, but the season has been right for some time now.

He is coming soon.

At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

What are we to do in the mean time?

Stay the course.
Be God’s love.
Share the good news.
Be the salt of the earth.
Be the light of the world.
Call those that we know to come home.

Pray.  Read and study God’s word.  Put it into practice.

Do not be deceived.  God has a time to come claim all of his own but until then we need to face each day with a heart and mind ready to do the will of the Lord one more time.

One more time.

The world will challenge us and try to deceive us, but we will be faithful one more time.

We will stay the course one more time.

Why do we study the end times?

So that we are not deceived!  It is not to try and change the course of what will come, but so that we can change lives. 

We can be a part of a rescue from those lost to the ways of this world.

We come to a very familiar place when it comes to living in a world of deception.

Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your path straight.

We are alert, vigilant, and watchful not so we can avoid those things that must come, but so that we remain faithful as we minister to a faithless world.

We will not be deceived.  We will not give in to the world’s pressures.

We will continue to be God’s love in action until the day Jesus comes to claim us.

When God comes he is going to find us doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing, being his love to the very end.

We will not be deceived.