Monday, March 27, 2017

Defeating the Enemy

In this world we face many opposing forces each day.  There are the forces of the sin that draws us away  from God and (as said in Hebrews) weighs us down like chains.  There is Satan, a real presence in all the evil that comes against us.  But there is one enemy that might be the most difficult to face and defeat.  That enemy is us.

On April 22, 1970 a famous comic strip published a quote that has endured years beyond the life of that little cartoon.  The comic strip was a poster penned by Walt Kelly for the first Earth Day.  It said simply (through the words of the character Pogo) , "we have met the enemy and it is us."  The point?  If we litter, pollute and ignore the setting in which we live, our setting will become unlivable.

But let's take this a little further.  Our own worst enemy is often our self.  Pogo was right.  But Pogo's statement is a clue to overcoming this formidable foe.  Our personal environment is littered, polluted and unlivable because of an enemy ... self.

The first key to defeating self is to see our self clearly, honestly and critically.  I cannot defeat self when my focus is on all the other people who are at fault for my problems.  I must focus on how I can make changes that will allow me to grow as a person and become more Christlike.  David said, "search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts [Psalm 139:23]."  David understood that he could not defeat self without God's teaching and drawing him to become better.

The second key to defeating self is to act on the behaviors that are destroying the things I should be.  David's words from Psalm 139:24 ring true ... "Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life."  David knew that seeing the truth in God's Word is valid but totally useless unless it is acted on under Godly guidance.

Finally, self cannot be defeated without sacrifice.  Jesus told the self-focused disciples, "Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage [Matthew 20:27-28]."  He modeled this behavior by making Himself nothing, even to death on a cross.

I often talk to people with problems in their lives and relationships.  They often know Scriptures and are very willing to tell me they have read God's Word, sometimes even using it to justify their behavior against another person.  They need to meet their own worst relational enemy ... their self.  They need to see clearly who they are, act with God's guidance on their behavior and then model God's teaching by becoming less than the person they are in conflict with.  It works every time!  Randy

Monday, March 20, 2017

Ex Nihilo

I don't use a lot of fancy terms because most often these terms are used to convey what the speaker knows verses to communicate what God is saying.  But here it is ... Ex Nihilo.  The term looks intimidating but back away and the meaning is pretty simple.  It means ... out of nothing.  The theology here is that when God created all things He began with nothing.  But the meaning of this theology is both supernatural and reassuring.  Here's why.

In Genesis 1 the Bible says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:1-2 KJV)."  The theology behind ex nihilo is those words ... "formless and empty."  There was nothing there ... even a form that could be defined or described.  That is what God had to start with as He began the process of creation.  It is interesting how we get so caught up in the process of creation that we often fail to grasp this miracle described right in the text of the pages of Genesis 1.

Last week we had a lot of cooking happening at AUMC (we love to eat).  There was the Wednesday night fish fry.  It looked like we would not have enough cole slaw so I went to the store for more cabbage ... I couldn't start with nothing.  On Sunday morning the Men's Breakfast was a great success, so much so that Tom had to go get more eggs ... you can't make an omelet without eggs (you gotta start with something).  God didn't ... God created.  That's the supernatural as (however He chose to make it happen) God set this world and all people into the context of time.

But here is the part of this that is incredibly reassuring to me.  It is the reality that God doesn't need much to make something out of nothing.  The words of "Rock of Ages" bring tears whenever I think of their meaning ...  "Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling; naked, come to Thee for dress; helpless, look to Thee for grace; foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die."  When I came to God I brought nothing of value.  Only through God's creation ... God speaking my new life into existence ... do the things I am, the talents I have, the energy I exert or the time I invest have any value.  They are nothing without God's touch.  Like that very first day of all time, the Spirit of God is hovering over each soul, wanting to bring life from death and beauty from vileness.  With our little yes and God's Word speaking life and salvation into us, God creates, yet again, ex nihilo. AMEN!  Randy

Monday, March 13, 2017

In Training

Several people in our congregation would identify with the term "training".  One person has been challenged by a daughter to participate in a Triathlon.  Another has exams that are on the horizon.  I have learned that I have to keep up my exercise just to tread water in the whirlpool of life.  We are in training.

In preparation for battle or other exercises our military men and women train continually.  Athletes train repetitively so that they will learn their craft so well that it becomes 2nd nature.  Paul often expresses the Christian walk in the context of a race or athletic event because Paul realizes that we have a destination and an eternal goal.  We are in training!

In The Message, Jeremiah gives us God's words saying ...  "I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for."  If God has got plans for us, we need to do all we can do to follow and seek the future that God has so graciously prepared. How do we get there?

First, we realize that the plans are God's and the plans are good.  In order to follow God's plans we must place our plans as a secondary priority.  When I go to the house after a days work I don't often say ... "WOW, I am looking forward to getting on that bike and riding 14 miles."  I must forget what I would rather do and do what will train my body to become more healthy.  Often it hurts.  But God designed me to need this work to be more able to function on a daily basis.  The short-term pain is worth the benefit of the long-term gain.  God's plans and designs challenge us and sometimes we must make painful choices.  But they are God's plans and they are good.

Second, we realize God's plans have an eternal nature.  God is preparing us for a future.  That future is with God and He is forming us into solid citizens of the Kingdom of God, both now and in eternity.  To become contented citizens of God's Kingdom, we must continually grow, train and learn.  It is both our responsibility and our blessing to become more cognizant of the good things God has for us.  The first time I traveled to Brazil I just went.  Because of this I had significant discomfort and made many social mistakes.  So the next time I learned about the country and also reflected on the mistakes I made on my first trip.  I learned, and the 2nd trip was a blast.

Finally, we understand that this world we live in is our "boot camp."  We let ourselves think this place is all there is.  God reminds us that eternity and our future with Him is like the ocean and our time here is only a grain of sand.  God's Kingdom and God's place is far more real than the world we travel through every day.  So ... train hard ... learn well ... strive ... press on toward the goal God has prepared.  To quote the Emperor on Star Wars ... "It is your destiny!"  Randy

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Double-Edged Gift

God gives His people gifts.  Those gifts are (according to Paul) to be used to build up and strengthen God's Church.  But there are even more foundational gifts that are part of the human experience ... part of God's divine imprint.  One of these is a two-edged gift called "Free Will."

Free will is the subject of many theological discussions and much denominational doctrine, but the real issue of free will is that it is a reflection of our divine creation.  In fact this gift is the gift that allows us to truly love and become more Christlike.  Let me unpack that by retelling a Biblical story.

We (Genesis) were made in the image of God.  Jesus expresses this image in a beautiful way as he begins His ministry in the wilderness of temptation.  Satan knows Jesus can do anything He wants, so Satan tells Jesus to exercise His supernatural authority over the physical world, all for the purpose of meeting His physical and spiritual needs.  Rather than exercising His power over these things Jesus chooses to use free will and He chooses not to exercise His divine authority.  He doesn't turn the stones to bread, he doesn't throw Himself down off the temple and He expresses His love for God (and His rejection of worldly power) by choosing to worship and follow God.

This holy attribute returns as Jesus hangs on the cross and his antagonisers tell Him "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down and save yourself."  Instead Jesus chooses (free will) pain, suffering, death and salvation of the people He loves.

How is this relevant to daily life?  Do you ever ask, "If you are God save my friend."  "Jesus, if you are sovereign and all-powerful, make my illness and pain go away."  Jesus often answers these requests with a very quiet and puzzling, "Trust My will!"

It is also relevant when Jesus asks Peter ... "Do you love me?" and when He asks us, "Do you love me?" We can answer that question yes or no because we have been given the gift of free will.  If Jesus compelled the answer and exercised His authority over us He could force that love, but we all know that the very nature of love means it is a free choice.  It is the lyrics of the Billy Joel song that says "And you can have this heart to break."  In His sovereignty God chooses to not exercise His authority over us by giving us the ability to choose to love Him, to follow Him, to lay down our selfish desires for Him and to do what Jesus did for us ... give up our lives freely, willingly and completely.  We can love God or break His heart.

We have been given free will.  We, in God's image, have some divine semblance of authority over the direction of our lives.  God allows this because He wants to be sure our love for Him is our free choice.  And this divine gift also comes with the ability to not choose God.  It is a double edged gift, always most wonderful and beautiful when we choose to give up something we value to receive the most precious thing we could ever have ... Christ.  Randy