Community Day!

A Church in our neighborhood hosting a “Community Day” today.  It’s a wonderful event.  There are all kinds of fun things to do, especially for kids: inflated bounce houses, nail painting, craft stalls, information booths for community service organizations and local community colleges and universities.  Ethnic Christian and contemporary music blares from two large speakers.  A disc jockey gives instructions, introductions, and comments.  Church leaders and members are working together to ensure that the entire operation runs smoothly. Plus, they are providing hamburgers, hot dogs, and fried fish together with side dishes and beverages.

Even though the outside temperature is in the mid-80s, the humidity causes it to feel more like the mid-high 90s.  There is, however a nice, steady breeze.  Everyone seems to be having a great time – especially those playing basketball outside of my window.  The church is providing free haircuts for those who wish.  There is also a clothing closet and even free school supplies! I pray that God will use this event to bring people to Jesus and extend his kingdom.

Everything seems to be going very smoothly; it is well-planned and executed.  I spoke with one of the leaders, who was well pleased said, “… if the rain only holds off.”  So far it has.  As I write this, it is sunny and 88° and no rain! 

This reminds me of an event hosted by a church I was serving in northern Georgia.  The activities were similar but not quite as elaborate.  One major difference is that of precipitation.  As we were setting up, there was a sudden thunderstorm, which thoroughly doused most everything – especially the participants!  I spoke or rather mostly listened to a disgruntled lady in a nearby booth.  Since it was raining when we began to set up and start cooking, she strongly suggested that I should have had better weather.  I told her we would pray for the rain to stop.  Later, after the brief thunderstorm ended, she said, “If God were really on your side, there would not have been rain at the start of the event.”

Unfortunately, many people equate their own desires with God’s blessings. This concept that God should bless me (i.e. give me what I want!) if I try to please him is a common one.  It prevails, not only in the community, but it surfaces in churches – even in our own inner thoughts and motives. 

If you disagree, remember the last time someone insulted you or failed to appreciate some kind deed you did for them because you love Jesus.  The sting of rejection often results in thoughts like: “They should appreciate me, after all I’ve done for them!”  Or, “That’s the last time I do that; they could have cared less.”  Friend, if you did it for Jesus, he knows what you did for him.  Rest assured that He will reward every good deed.

1 Kings 17 reports a couple of narratives, which shines some light on this erroneous attitude.  The opening verses report that Elijah abruptly confronts the wicked King Ahab.  This was a daring feat itself.  His message: There would be no rain until God’s prophet commanded it.  Wicked King Ahab did not take this lightly; so, God sent Elijah into hiding – a safe distance away.  During this drought, Ahab was unable to find Elijah.  God was protecting and providing for him.  Ravens miraculously brought food to Elijah and he was able to drink from a little brook.  Elijah apparently got along fine.  But as the drought persisted, the brook dried up.  Note that Elijah was protected from, but also suffered the consequences of the drought.  Even though he was obedient to and blessed by the Lord, he experienced what seems to be good and difficult circumstances.

Next, Elijah is commanded to leave his place of hiding and to go to the hometown of Ahab’s wicked wife, Jezebel.  There, he will find a widow whom God had commanded to feed him.  Arriving in Zarephath, Elijah encounters a destitute widow who is gathering firewood to cook her last bit of bread. Elijah commands her to make a small loaf for himself before making one for her son and herself.

Amazingly, she obeys.  The Lord continues to bless her with bread and oil through the duration of the famine.  Her obedience is rewarded.  After some time, her son becomes severely sick and finally dies.  One could identify with her if she felt that obeying the God of the Bible wasn’t worth the trouble.  Wasn’t God supposed to bless her for her obedience?

There are many lessons to be gleaned from these passages.  The Bible does not teach an inevitable cause-and-effect connection between sin and suffering.  (The same is true of obedience and blessing.)  The scriptures leave room for suffering which is undeserved and, from the human point of view, unexplained.  Elijah himself clearly had no idea why this tragedy had struck.  His prayer in verse 20 shows him both bewildered and angry. By the way, if you read the rest of 1 Kings 17 you will see that the widow’s son was restored to life – the first resurrection recorded in the Bible!  1 Kings 18 describes God’s great victory through Elijah.

We often think that pleasant personal circumstances are the direct result of our obedience.  We think that God owes us that much!  One huge problem with this is that God is God and we are not!  He is our Creator and we are his creatures.  We owe him!  He does not owe us. 

More than that, the account of Elijah and the widow demonstrates that the Lord is working out a major, intricate project, which includes individuals as well as nations.  In other words, God’s plan encompasses every individual person as well as every nation – beyond that all of creation!  Put bluntly, God’s plan is bigger than me!

I am reminded that I am part of a part of the process – not the focus of it.  So, it is for all of us.  To many this is shocking.  To others, it seems preposterous.  To me, it is greatly comforting to think that with all the details in such a grand scheme, the Lord is concerned about me.  I am loved by God.  Further, I am part of a community, which God is building and developing.  Our Lord Jesus wisely uses storms and sunshine to complete his project. Jesus loves me personally and he loves every other member of this cosmic community. 

Loss of an old friend

Earlier this week, an old friend quietly slipped away almost unnoticed.  The strong, steady and reliable voice became silent.  No longer can we count on its company through sleepless nights; warnings of approaching deadlines or of running late are past.

I had noticed that things were different, but Judy spoke of it first.  “My parents’ mantle clock quit working.  The motor must have burned out.”  We have had the clock since about 1993 when it moved from the home of her parents to ours.  Prior to that, it had devotedly served their household since 1954, according to the date inscribed on its back door.  Sitting proudly on a fireplace mantel or dining room buffet, it faithfully proclaimed the “Westminster” chimes each quarter hour.  Since my injury, I have spent many nights listening to its relentless rings, as time marched on.

When we first got the clock, it’s peals were very noticeable, at least to me.  But before long, I became accustomed to its dings every quarter hour.  Although it rang consistently, I was often unaware of its message, subconsciously choose to ignore it.  Nevertheless, it faithfully announced its message.

Some parallels from my life and experience

As a pastor, I can identify with the clock.  I consistently attempted to proclaim God’s message, which seemed to be ignored by many.  I was often encouraged by the Scripture promise that God’s word will not return to him empty but will accomplish the purpose for which he sent it.  God gives his preachers a prophetic responsibility to declare his message.  Faithfulness to his word is what pleases God.

Psalm 19 rings a similar note.  Verses 1 – 6 tell of God’s glorious and continuous self-revelation in nature.  Romans 1 informs us that we ignore it and also records God’s response: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18–20) .  God declares who he is through and to his creation, but we often ignore it.

Finally, the old clock reminds me of God.

Of course, there are many dissimilarities.  For instance, the clock was dependent (on electric), while God is utterly independent.  The Clock wore out, whereas God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable.  You can probably think of more.

But it reminds me of God’s love, mentioned in my last blog.  God’s steadfast love or HSD, is the loyal, covenant love of God which he has promised to us.  There are many times in life when we really need to relish in and rejoice in God’s gracious love to us.

But there are also many more times than we would like to admit, when we forget, ignore or reject this love.  But, just as the clock continued to declare its message, the LORD God demonstrates his unfailing, steadfast, loyal love.  Even when we do not discern it or cannot recognize it – even when it’s hidden or hard to understand, even then, the LORD wisely, compassionately and consistently cares for his own.

Exodus 34. 6 – 7 reports part of an interaction between God and Moses.  God has been instructing Moses about leading his people and Moses needs reassurance.  Moses asked God to show him his glory.

The Lord responds by hiding Moses in a cleft of a rock as he passes by declaring his name. “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”” (Exodus 34:6–7, ESV)

Volumes could be said or written about these words.  I will not try your patience, except to mention one the highlighted phrases.  The LORD abounds in steadfast love.

Many years ago, Judy and I visited her parents in upstate New York.  They had recently retired and were establishing their farm.  Her father wanted a bandy rooster and hen and suggested we go to see the “chicken man.”  The chicken man lived several miles away, but we eagerly make the trip.

Pulling into his lane, we were overwhelmed at the site of chickens.  Not only the barn and barnyard but the lawn and every outbuilding housed chickens – they were everywhere.  Getting out the car, I called out but no one responded.  Standing at the door, I again cried out.  This time I heard a distant, “Come on in…” Entering the front door and going into the living room, I was overwhelmed not only with the smell but the sight of – chickens!  They were everywhere – all over the furniture, in the closets, on the table in the dining room, on the chairs – everywhere.  The kitchen was filled with chickens, some in cages, some running loose. Chickens in the sink, chickens in the cupboards, on the chairs, on the table, on the counter…

When we came face-to-face with the chicken man and told him what we wanted, he suggested that we look in the bathroom.  You guessed it, chickens in the sink, chickens in the tub.  Even chickens in the commode!  It is not a stretch to say that he abounded in chickens!

Even though the chicken man abounded in chickens, his abundance was limited.  The steadfast love of the Lord is unlimited – Yahweh abounds in loyal love for his people. More than that he guards his steadfast love.

What’s more dependable than the old clock?  The LORD’s love for his people.

 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…

I have HSD…

That’s right. I have HSD…

HSD is a serious condition, influencing the lives and circumstances of many people.  Not everyone has it; although some do.  HSD is contracted before life begins and although it may run in families, it is not hereditary.  Its symptoms are not always obvious, especially at first.  After it is recognized, its effects seem obvious as one thinks back over his or her life.  Those who receive it often transmit it to others.

Although the effects of HSD are contagious, humans cannot transmit it to one another.  It comes from an outside source.  Additionally, it is closely related to another more familiar concept known as agape.

You probably have guessed by now that I am referring to something biblical.  The HSD to which I referred is actually a Hebrew term used in the Old Testament.  Hesed often indicates God’s committed love, especially to his covenant people.

For hundreds of years, HSD was usually thought of as “loving kindness.”  Then, about 100 years ago, a German Old Testament scholar suggested that the term was closely related to the covenant or contract which God established with his people.  This shifted the emphasis from mercy to loving loyalty to a binding agreement or treaty.  The stress was on lovingly “keeping the bargain” which had been agreed upon.  Others, somewhat later, argued against this, saying that you did not sufficiently stress the attitude of freedom in giving love or kindness.

HSD has been translated in various ways, especially by recent versions of the Bible.  For instance, the KJV reads loving-kindness or mercy; the RSV and ESV use steadfast love; the NASB loving-kindness, kindness or love; the NIV unfailing love; Lexham: loyal love; CSB: faithful love.  The point is clear enough.  HSD refers to God’s unconditional, undeserved, unending and always dependable love.

To help us understand the true nature of HSD God has given us an account of a one-sided marriage in the book of Hosea.  To drive home the point of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, the Lord commands his prophet, named Hosea, to marry a promiscuous woman (“wife of whoredom” – prostitute).  Her name is Gomer and she bears one son to Hosea and then has 2 more children, a girl and a boy, specifically identified as “children of whoredom.”  In other words, she was unfaithful to Hosea.  Violating her marriage vows, she lived with her illicit lovers.  The parallel between Gomer and Israel is clear.  When God’s people ignore their God, they are committing spiritual adultery.  Their shame is well deserved.  More than that, their loving God suffers anguish comparable to the hurt experienced in a failed marriage.

But that’s not the end; there is more.  God’s love for his people is so expansive that he declares he will pour out his HSD and mercy on her forever.  To demonstrate this, Hosea is instructed to seek out and win the affection of his still adulterous wife.  Finally, Hosea redeemed his wife at a high price, returns her to his house and continues showering her with constant and undeserved love.

Most of us are familiar with the words of the children song Jesus loves me.  Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.  Little ones to him belong; they are weak but he is strong.  The words to the first verse are very familiar.  They were written to give comfort to young children.  One time I heard a variant: Jesus loves me, when I’m good, when I do the things I should.  Jesus loves me when I’m bad, though it makes him very sad.  I’m not sure whether these words were in the original lyrics, but they do emphasize the wonderful truth of the love of Jesus.  He always loves us – even when we disobey or ignore him.

Sometimes, when life seems to go sideways – we become confused, disappointed or hurt, we might wonder if God still cares.  We are tempted to think that if God really loved us, our situation would be different – much better.  We wonder where the Lord is.  Is it really worth serving him?  We might know Bible verses which tell us otherwise, but we feel like we are forgotten and unloved.

In times of difficulty is helpful for me to recall and consider what I might know in my head but don’t feel in my heart.  For instance, I consider the words of Psalm 23.  Near the end of that favorite Psalm are the words: “Surely goodness and HSD will follow me…” It’s good to hear God promise, “I’ve got your back.”

We live in a world which is constantly changing and where we are often hurt and disappointed, even by those who love us (because they are as limited as me!)  What a great encouragement and comfort it is to know that I have HSD.

Adventure – Walmart and beyond…

Earlier this week I needed to run a couple errands – the post office and Walmart.  My daughter Katie was visiting from out of town and I conscripted her as my driver.  Our journey to the post office was uneventful.  From there, we made our way to one of the local Walmart stores to pick up a prescription.  It was late in the afternoon on 3 July and we were surprised to find a suitable parking space.

Katie jumped out of the van and opened the side door for my exit.  I, in turn, began to back up my motorized wheelchair only to encounter difficulty in moving.  By now, I have mastered navigating with my lower lip and chin.  But exiting my van is tricky.  My chair was stuck; my wheels refused to rotate.  Persevering I rolled over something but managed to back up and finally descend the ramp to the parking lot.  Rolling up to peer into the van, I was surprised to observe the left leg brace and foot bracket where I had been sitting.

Desiring to complete our chore, I told Katie to ignore it and we proceeded out of the heat and into the store.  Inside, I attempted to contact my local wheelchair rep and left a message.  It was now after 3 o’clock in the afternoon before 4 July!  I was not hopeful for a reply and I was right.  After picking up the few things that we needed, it occurred to me that the VA medical center in Hampton had a wheelchair repair clinic.  I made the necessary phone call and was connected to a helpful mechanic who would help me, providing we arrived before 4:15 PM.  Normally, this would not be an issue.

We hastily departed from the store and dropped off the prescription for Judy.  Expecting that the traffic would be problematic, I suggested an alternate route, which would be less traveled.  Initially, this proved to be a solid choice.  We made good time until we were about 1 mile from the VA.

Cresting the summit of a bridge.  We were confronted with what I had attempted to avoid.  The VA is located just off an exit of the interstate highway which was predictably backed up because of the tunnel.  By now it was 3:45 PM and everywhere I looked I observed traffic congestion.  Not only was there a lot of traffic but nothing was moving.  There were no workable options; every possibility was stymied.  I silently prayed for patience and asked for the Lord’s assistance.  I’m getting really good at praying once I have expended all other opportunities!

Actually, I had prayed earlier for the Lord’s intervention while in the parking lot.  I may be a slow learner, but at least I am learning slowly!  Now I had the opportunity to demonstrate my trust.  I again phoned the VA and was patched through to the wheelchair mechanics, apprising them of my intention to be there as quickly as possible.  I was politely informed that they leave at 4:30 PM.

A traffic jam is a wonderful place to observe human behavior at its finest.  Some drivers try to force their way ahead, while most are polite, following the mantra: “you’re next, right after me.”  We persevered and finally made it to the entrance of the VA compound.  By now, all the exits of the parking lots were choked with traffic.  It was quitting time.

We finally arrived at the wheelchair repair clinic at about 4:22 PM.  There is no parking lot, only a narrow driveway.  Descending from the van into a small crater, which I thought I could manage, the wheelchair snagged the edge of the sidewalk.  Katie quickly sought assistance and the wheelchair technicians quickly arrived to extricate me.  They ushered me into the clinic and carried the displaced footplate.

Inside the clinic, a courteous technician named Michael examined and repaired my wheelchair.  Even though he was delayed from leaving his regular quitting time, he was both cheerful and competent.  Sometimes, the VA gets a bad rap for being inefficient and abrupt.  This is not usually true, and Michael was noticeably pleasant and efficient.  He was an answer to my prayer.  I thank God for him.

Psalm 121 (ESV)

1I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?

2My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

3He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.

4Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

5The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.

6The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

7The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.

8The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

Where have you been?

Where have I been? I have not posted for almost 3 weeks now. No, I’ve not been on vacation, I have had my annual physical examination at the luxurious Veterans Administration Medical Center in Richmond Virginia. These yearly routine examinations were conducted over a period of almost 2 weeks. I am happy to say that the worst outcome was the inconvenience and endurance of some minor issues. Plus, the relatively uncomfortable nature of this inevitability is not really worth mentioning.
Praise God that, for my condition, I am relatively healthy with only a few chronic issues related to my paralysis and the concomitants of getting old! So, even though my health is delicate and subject to change, I was encouraged by the reports.
My physical evaluation was combined with respite care, which allows Judy a well-deserved break from the gruelling routine of my care. She well knows the grind of “24 and 7.” She enjoyed a wonderful time in her beloved upstate New York. Not only was she able to paint to her heart’s content (at least for a week), but she had the opportunity to see close friends and family. Her stay was abbreviated by an outburst of pine pollen, which attacked her eyes and sinuses. She is still recovering but did produce some beautiful paintings.
My 2-week hospitalization was highlighted by some very pleasant experiences. Several people from our church, including our pastor, made the trip from Newport News to Richmond. Fighting both holiday traffic and unpredictable construction to spend some time with me, they were a great encouragement. So, special thanks to Dave, Ray, Jake, and Jeff for making the effort to visit.
On another evening, I had the opportunity to watch the Richmond Flying Squirrels (AA baseball, San Francisco Giants) in action. Since it was Flag Day, active duty military and veterans were honored. Not only did we have good seats, we are also given tickets for refreshments. Yes, I did have a hot dog at the ballpark! They also threw in a T-shirt, advertising a local enterprise. Even though the home team was losing when we made our early departure, it was a great time, enjoyed by us vets.
The final Sunday of my sojourn was Father’s Day. I received well wishes and love from Judy and each of my family members via the wonderful technology of face-time and phone. Then came the surprise…
Since I had not had the opportunity to be out-of-doors during the week, I was catching the rays by sitting at the spinal cord injury portico/entrance. Enjoying the warmth of the sunshine, and a good read (thank God for my 7-year-old iPad), I glanced up to notice a familiar face on the young man who was running up the sidewalk and waving wildly to me. He was closely followed by 4 other smiling faces! My daughter Sarah and her family came to visit and brought me a delicious “Junior Bacon/Cheeseburger” from 5 Guys!
Truly it is a wonderful blessing to have family and friends who are concerned for me and show it. I thank God for them and for many others who continue to remind me of God’s love.
Of course, like all of life, there were difficult times when I was uncomfortable and inconvenienced. Rather than focusing on these, the Lord has given me positive instruction:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4–7, ESV)

True or false?

God only admits sinners into heaven.

Think before you answer – it’s a loaded question.  In some ways, it is similar to the question: Have you quit beating your wife?  Whatever your answer, clarifying information must be added.  (You can deal with the second question on your own.)

My interest is in the first.  Does God only admit sinners into heaven?  If you answer false, your reasoning might be that God is himself holy and wholly adverse to sin.  Sin is odious and offensive to him – he cannot and will not tolerate it.  The Bible abounds with passages asserting the holiness of God.  He is holy, holy, holy!  (Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4)

Exodus 34 contains what I call a “self portrait of God.”  Verses 6 and 7 record the very words which God uses to describe himself: “…, The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6–7, ESV)

God heaps up every known Hebrew word to describe his mercy and compassion towards wrongdoers (sinners), and yet he insists that guilt (iniquity) must be punished.  The Bible frequently asserts God’s holiness and holds it in tension with the rebellion and culpability of people.

Before going further, here is a brief biblical understanding of sin.  There are, of course, many definitions but 1 John provides two accurate and concise descriptions.  1 John 3.4 (… sin is lawlessness) and 5.17 (… All wrongdoing is sin).  So, basically, sin is violating God’s commands and instructions.

Jesus pointed out that sin is more than overt actions, but he is also an internal infection.  “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20–23, ESV).  Additionally, in his “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5–7), Jesus taught us that rebellious thoughts and motives are also sin.  We sin in thought, word, and deed.

Now, back to our original issue.  (God only admits sinners into heaven.)  God (morally pure), and sin are incompatible.  All people sin, and thus are sinners, alienated from God.  God cannot admit sin or sinners into his presence. So, the statement “God only admits sinners into heaven” is false.

But wait!  This conclusion does not consider all the evidence.  It is a selective summary, which ignores vital information. For instance, the passage cited above (Exodus 34.6–7), overwhelmingly reveals that the LORD God is compassionate and forgiving.  Again, the Bible overflows with information highlighting the forgiveness of God.

This dilemma of how a holy God can accept sinners is resolved by Jesus Christ.  The apostle Paul explains: … in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:19–21, ESV)

Following explicit statements asserting the divine nature of Jesus, the Nicene Creed, written in 325 A.D., summarizes the teaching of the Bible regarding Christ’s humanity and mission:

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

Reconciliation with God results from the actions of the Lord Jesus Christ who paid the price for our sin and rebellion in order that we might have peace with God – more than that, that God might be at peace with us.  Jesus redeemed sinners through his voluntary and substitutionary suffering, death and resurrection.  This forgiveness and peace is offered to sinners in the gospel and received by sinners when they repent and believe in Christ.  Repentance involves the owning or acknowledging of our guilt and rebellion and then turning away from it and to Christ.  Believing in Christ means relying only on him and his actions on our behalf to receive acceptance by God.

Back to our issue, God only admits sinners into heaven.  Absolutely true!  But with one caveat.  They must be redeemed sinners.  God only admits redeemed sinners into heaven!

Christians are redeemed sinners who have been reconciled to God, repented and are resting Christ alone for redemption.  Scripture states: But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1: 12–13, ESV)

So, here’s good news: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

But before you believe the good news, you must acknowledge the bad news.  You are a sinner and must be saved by Christ.

God only admits redeemed sinners into heaven!

Happy Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary?

Eight years ago, on a warm and sunny afternoon in upstate New York, my life was dramatically altered.  Riding a road bike on a smooth country road seemed safe – even healthy.  I was enjoying the day and making great time over the course when I heard a car approaching from behind.  Suddenly, the screeching of brakes startled me.  Swerving to avoid the anticipated contact, the front wheel of my bicycle veered off the asphalt on to the soft shoulder of the road.

So, the front wheel slowed dramatically, but the rest of the bicycle, including me, did not.  What happened next probably looked like an old cartoon, when one rowdy character shoves a stick into the front wheel of a speeding bicycle, sending the rider head over heels.  This is exactly what happened to me.  Landing on my head in a ditch about 5 feet deep, I severely damaged my third and fourth vertebrae together with my spinal cord.  Unaware that I was seriously injured, I instinctively attempted to bounce back up.  Nothing doing – I could not move.  I was paralyzed from my shoulders down.

Often, I summarize what happened next by saying that on May 25, 2010, I set out on a bicycle ride and returned thirteen and one-half months later riding a motorized wheelchair.  My life had radically changed in an instant.  I had been strong, energetic and active; I am now disabled and sedentary.  (Still stubborn though!)

By God’s grace, I praise the Lord for the activity I now enjoy!  Unknown to me, the Lord had made careful preparations to provide for me in these circumstances.

Forty years earlier he had given me a beautiful and loving bride, who would faithfully maintain her wedding vows which included, “… For better or for worse.”  Her help to me often approaches the “for worse” category.  She is living a different life than we could have ever imagined.  What a wonderful gift and amazing person!  I thank God for her and regularly, but inadequately attempt to express my appreciation and admiration.

In addition, I have loving children, including their spouses and my grandchildren, who constantly encourage and assist us as they can.  We also have extended family and many friends who encourage us through prayer and the support of various kinds.  Our church has been a tremendous blessing.  God has used them in many ways to provide for our needs.  God has provided me a tremendous support group!

On my website and in previous blogs I have written most of the above.  I write now to not only highlight God’s provision but to also demonstrate the way in which God works both in the background and in advance for the benefit of his people, especially me.

For instance, in early May 2010, President George W. Bush signed into action a bill which greatly expanded benefits for veterans of the Vietnam era.  The legislation included additional and far-ranging benefits for veterans who were catastrophically injured, even if not on active duty.  For me, this has meant comprehensive healthcare (except dental), adaptive technology, such as a motorized wheelchair, electric Hoyer lift, etc. I cannot even begin to express how huge a benefit this is.  I am certain that there are many others who have benefited from this legislation.  From my perspective, however, I am convinced that God had planned this from long ago for my personal benefit.  Then, three weeks prior to my injury, he put this part of his plan into action – for my benefit!

Going back to the day of my injury as I lay flat on my back and wondering about the future, God, my heavenly Father, granted me a peace which goes beyond my understanding.  I knew he was my refuge and strength, but I did not realize specifically how he was going to meet my needs.  Praise God for his committed love, wisdom, and power.

I have two reasons for blogging about this today.  First, it is the anniversary of my injury.  Notice I did not say accident, for it was not!  God had planned this and was active in giving me just what I need.  This brings up the second reason.  When God works “in the background,” it is often unnoticed and thus, unappreciated.  To my way of thinking, these unobserved blessings are also God’s answers to many prayers – long before, up to, during, and after the injury.  I have often prayed, “give us this day our daily bread.”

In this series of blogs we have been considering the prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples, often called the Lord’s Prayer.  After focusing on the Lord, our heavenly Father, his majestic being and his glorious reputation in the unfolding of his creative plan, we have come to the first personal petition,

Give us this day our daily bread…

Martin Luther, the great sixteenth-century reformer, suggests that we are instructed to ask our Father for his blessing in this physical and temporal life.  This would include peace and protection from disorder, a wise ruler, good government, and God’s provision and protection for all his subjects.  Luther also includes favorable weather, good harvests, healthy and prosperous families, together with the wisdom to manage and guide them.  Finally, he proposes that we request protection from the Destroyer and his angels who would do us harm and mischief in this life.

Good advice.  May the Lord encourage us as we petition our heavenly Father to fulfill our needs and wishes.  Sometimes when we pray we do not immediately see the answers: we think that God has not heard.  More often than we would like to admit, however, God answers, but we fail to recognize his answers.  This might be why he encourages us to be thankful people.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4–7, ESV)

Changes

Recently I noticed a picture of Prince Charles of England on a website. We share the same birth year. My initial response was something like, “Wow! He looks old.” I also noted recent photos of friends who face the same issue. A lot of people I know are looking older.

Just last week in church, the pastor was making a point about relevancy. He did this by drawing a comparison between a young twenty-year-old college student and a seventy-year-old retiree… I read comments in the social media regarding the late 1990s and early 2000s suggesting that these times were long ago.

I warmly recall a conversation with my grandfather on or about his 69th birthday, in which he asserted that he was now almost 70 and “70 is old.” Up until then, he had been extremely active and productive, even in retirement. From then on, he resigned his roles and duties in the church and community. He quit his favorite hobbies and sat in his garage, waiting for the hopeless Phillies to be broadcast over the radio. It was a good lesson for me and I vowed that I would never be like that, but always be active for as long as I lived.

If you know me, you also know that I’ve broken that vow. Eight years ago I was catastrophically injured on a bicycle ride; I was 62 years old and training for a “century,” (a cyclist’s marathon – 100 miles). Thus, I injured my spinal cord. I had embarked on a bicycle training ride and returned thirteen and one-half months later riding a motorized wheelchair. Up to that point, I really didn’t feel like I lost much energy or strength, although I know I had. Obviously, this has severely impacted my activity level. I am paralyzed from the shoulders down.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I have turned 70 this past week. Yesterday at the VA Medical Center, my physical therapist and a dietitian separately reviewed my records and politely commented, “You do not look like 70.” I thought to myself, “You probably think that look like I am 80. My body may be getting older, but my vision has not failed. Plus, I have glasses to help!”

At the ripe old age of seventy, I am well aware of the Bible passage which describes the lifespan of people. Psalm 90:10 (ESV) The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

For the last eight years, I’ve been very much aware that my life is fragile. However, I still feel like I have more years left. One never knows. Our times are in the hands of our Lord. I am now acutely aware of my limitations and the many factors which hinder me from doing more.

A few years ago (say three or four) we planted some peonies in our yard. Even transplanted bulbs require a few years before they produce beautiful blossoms. The plants struggled initially but have survived. This was to be the year of the first beautiful flowers. We waited all April and early May watching the buds develop. Although Initially hindered by the cold weather, they finally produced beautiful blossoms. That was this past Wednesday. On Thursday we experienced a huge storm. Guess what? The large blooms filled with rainwater and were weighed down to the ground. We enjoyed them for one day!

Life is like that, isn’t it? We wait and wait and wait for a development and before we have the opportunity to really enjoy it, it’s over – gone. This shouldn’t surprise us. Life is all about changes. Circumstances do not remain the same. I could go on and recount some of a great many changes which have occurred in my lifetime and experience. This may interest some and bore many others. Besides, you can do that for yourself.

Instead, I will reflect on two things which have remained constant in my experience. First is the LORD. He is the one who is and was and is to come. He is Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8 (ESV).

God does not change and his love for his people does not change. My favorite biblical word is Hesed, a Hebrew term frequently used by the Lord to describe his “committed love” directed toward his people. It is often translated as abounding love, loving-kindness, mercy, steadfast love, etc. What a tremendous comfort it is that God has and will always love me. He loved me and other rebels so much that he sent his one and only Son into the world to save the world. What a benefit to know that God loves us. We can count on it.

The other constant in my life has been wife Judy. In October 1970, she committed her love to me and I committed mine to her. Since then, the Lord has been our Shepherd through many good and pleasant times. We have also walked through many dark valleys together. She has faithfully and lovingly honored those commitments. Little did we realize what these commitments involved. Judy has endured much on my account. She has cheerfully remained a loving wife and supportive helper, a wise and self-sacrificing mother, devout Christian and cheerful friend. Surely, God has richly blessed me with a wonderful helpmate.

This week someone blessed me by telling me that I have been an encouraging example. I responded that if I had been, it was primarily due to the Lord and Judy plus a whole lot of supporting actors – both family and friends.

So, I thank the Lord for the years that he is given me – 70 so far. I trust that I will be able to serve him for a few more. Thank you for your prayers and interest.

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May the Lord bless you.

Rough road reminders

On our way to worship last Sunday morning, we turned on to a familiar road. Exiting the major commercial artery, we were abruptly reminded that changes were ahead. In fact, they were already evident. The surface of the side street had been peeled off, leaving relatively small grooves, bumps, and ruts. Following the jar of the experience, I observed large orange signs indicating “rough road.” Additional warning signs alerted us to the fact that “elevated manholes” were to be expected. Next, came the larger bumps and hollows, precursors to some major potholes! Even though the journey to the church building was about a mile, the unpleasant jostling, with its bumps and jolts, seemed endless. But it was worthwhile – something I had to endure for the benefit of participating in worship and fellowshipping with God’s people.

The strange thing was that the jostling didn’t really irritate me. Why? Because I recognized that I would soon be with other believers at our church. Plus, the inconveniences were merely indicators that the road was going to be resurfaced. I knew that in a short while (hopefully!) things would be much better soon. The road would be smooth and well-marked – a pleasure to ride on. Better times are coming.

It took me a little while, but after reflecting on this, it occurred to me that this was an excellent illustration of life – not only my life but also the lives of all those who love the Lord. Let me explain.

In my previous blog, while focusing on the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, which is “your kingdom come…” I mentioned “the already and the not yet.” That is, because of Christ’s work (think: life, death, resurrection, ascension, intercession, and return) for his people, we experience present and future benefits. Presently, we have all the benefits of being reconciled to God as his children. More than that – we have been promised a glorious future. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us.

Although the future may seem a little cloudy because we don’t have all the details which we would like, we are assured by Scripture that our future will be better than we can comprehend. The kingdom of God will be expanded, in the sense that the entire world will be restored and recognize our Lord as King! Sin and death and the devil will not even be in their memory banks. Is it any wonder that Jesus taught us to pray, “… Your kingdom come…”? We long for better things, like the resurfaced road…

Yet, we still live in the here and now – the bumps and jostling of this broken world, are difficult to endure. Often the crashes and knocks produce ungodly reactions. Sin and its effects produce more sin. My reactions often may not honor the Lord. This, however, is not what he wants of his children. He wants us to love, honor and obey him and show love to others. To this end, Jesus taught us to pray, “… Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

That last phrase is convicting. Can you imagine one of God’s angels, who have not had the great benefits or future as we do, saying to the Lord, “Wait a minute. I’m busy now. I want to finish this movie… Or I don’t really feel led.”?

Remember what Jesus said? “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21)

When I pray for God’s will to be done, I pray that I would know and do God’s will. So, I pray that God would soften my heart and open my eyes to his truth as revealed in his word. I should ask him to help me to be cheerful, faithful and diligent in submitting to his will, in the same way that his angels in heaven do.

Here is expert advice which always helps me to keep things in focus. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

Christian, let the bumps and knocks in your life remind you that better times are ahead. The present hardships and inconveniences are merely indicators that the road is going to be resurfaced.

 

Let it come – the kingdom of you!?

Strange words – unusual to us! When Jesus taught us to pray, “let your kingdom come…”?

The concept of kingdom is unfamiliar to us. The term might prompt us to think of the United Kingdom, comprised of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. We tend to think in terms of geography, boundaries, and landmass when actually we ought to be thinking in terms of government.

The term kingdom is used over 300 times in the English New Testament. Frequently it is used in the sense of a nation. But more often the term kingdom is used to refer to an orderly community of people governed by a roaring authority. A close parallel for us would be to think of kingdom as administration of a President, such as the Obama or Trump administration. It has to do with authority and rule.

There is a sense in which God the Lord is the great King over all that he has created. His providential rule and authority demonstrate his dominance over creation. But this is not what Jesus refers to in teaching us to pray, “your kingdom come.”

Further, the kingdom of our Father in heaven is not a political kingdom. At his trial, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king. Jesus responded, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36)

Jesus was not concerned with creating a political superpower or in establishing his kingdom by force. This is rather striking inasmuch as the Bible consistently shows a fierce conflict going on between God and his archenemy Satan.

Near the beginning of human history, two rival kingdoms have been at war. Augustine (400 A.D.) accurately and artfully described this conflict in his influential book. The City of God describes the flow of history recorded in the Bible as a struggle between two kingdoms. From the Fall of humankind into rebellion against God, there have been two family lines or peoples – the people of God and the people of Satan. Each of these two kingdoms has its own ruler, its own people, its own desires, and its own destiny.

The battle was engaged in the Garden of Eden; the conflict continues throughout the biblical storyline, through the present, and into the future. Obviously, this is a huge topic; volumes have been and still could be written regarding it.

The biblical account shows that Jesus is the promised and long-awaited King, of the royal family of David. He is the Messiah – Christ, who preached the good news of the kingdom during his days on earth. In fact, he said, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

The good news of the NT is that the Messiah has come.  Jesus is the son of David, who suffered, died and rose again before entering into his glory.  He did this to provide salvation – to reclaim a people for God. Now he is on the throne.  He said that all authority in heaven and earth has now been given to him.  The book of Acts is an account of what the Messiah, King Jesus, does from the throne.  He sends divine power to earth.  He rules over his people by his word and spirit.  He extends his kingship from Jerusalem to Rome, the capital of the known world.  The book of Acts concludes its record of the open-ended story, as Paul preaches the kingdom of God and teaches boldly about Jesus Christ. Even now, King Jesus is subduing all nations and making them his disciples as he works through the church.

The decisive battle has been won, but the war is not over yet.  Christ has established a new order, new values are becoming real, but the old still lingers.  Christians live in the tension of this already and not yet.  Our Lord is on the throne, but all his enemies are not yet under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  Although we know that we are accepted in God’s sight because of Christ and that our sins have been forgiven on the basis of his sacrifice for our sin, we still stumble into sin. This tension between the already and the not yet presses us to pray, “establish your royal rule, O Father!  Your kingdom come!

This tension has been expressed by the history of World War II.  In June 1944, the Allied Armies paid the costly price of establishing a beachhead in Europe.  They broke through German defenses with a successful invasion that spelled the doom of Hitler’s army.  This was D Day, June 1944.  The war was not over until May 1945.  The day of victory is known as V Day.  For almost a year, there was fierce fighting, much hunger, pain and suffering by those in Europe.  The church is praying between the D Day of God’s invasion and the V Day of his total victory.  The liberation has begun; please complete it, O Lord.  Make us completely free.

The Heidelberg Catechism explains how to pray this petition of the Lord’s Prayer by dividing it into four requests.

  1. Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that we submit to you.
  2. Keep your church strong and add to it.
  3. Destroy the devil’s work and thwart every conspiracy against your Word.
  4. Do this until your kingdom is complete and perfect.

Our times will have a conclusion.  But we must pray your kingdom come until our time is complete.  O Lord make us completely free.