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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Are We Rich Toward God?



Are We Rich Toward God?

 

 

When Jesus walked the earth he told stories everywhere he went.  Jesus traveled all over Israel teaching and healing along with his disciples.  And always there were huge crowds following Him.  Jesus was a great Teacher and he often taught his lessons by telling short stories or parables which often had hidden meanings.  These hidden meanings or truths challenged those who were spiritually hungry to ask more questions and discover truths and spiritual treasures.  Jesus promised that anyone who was serious about looking for truth and life would find it. (Matthew 7:7 & Luke 11:9)    

 

 One of Jesus’ stories or parables was the Parable of the Rich Fool.  It goes like this: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.  And the rich man thought to himself, “What shall I do?  I have no place to store all of my crops and my goods.’ Then the rich man said, ‘This is what I will do.  I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” (Luke 12:16-18)  

 

“And I will say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for yourself for many years.  Take life easy: eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool!  This very night your soul will be required of you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’”  (Luke 12:19-20)  After Jesus told this story He added: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:21)

 

I don’t think Jesus is saying here that it is wrong for a person to be wealthy or to store up provisions for themselves and their families.  There are many scriptures in the Bible that encourage people to work and save for their futures.  (Luke 14:28, etc)  And there were many very rich men in the Bible who were also very close to God – Abraham, Job, David and Solomon are just a few.

 

I believe that Jesus is telling us in this little story that life consists of far more than just being rich or getting things.  We can store up provisions that we may need in the future but that is not enough to make a good life or a life that is pleasing to God.  Making money should not be our first priority.  Our first priority is to follow the Lord.  If our lives are not “rich toward God” all the money in the world cannot lift us out of our poverty.

 

God wants us to enjoy a full and abundant life and He has made provisions through His Word for us.  He has promised to supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19) and He has promised to fulfill the desires of our hearts. (Psalms 37:4)  Jesus promised: “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”(John 10:10)  Jesus has come to give us an abundant life and that doesn’t necessarily mean having a big bank account.  Jesus said: “A person does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  (Matthew 4:4)

 

When the rich man in Jesus’ story saw his big crop, instead of thanking God and rejoicing that now he could take care of himself and also feed some of his poor neighbors, his only thoughts were for himself.  He immediately began to worry about how he could build bigger barns and store all of his produce.  It was folly for him to call all the crops “his” crops. Scripture teaches that all that we have is lent to us for our use by God.  Everything belongs to God and we are stewards of our Lord’s goods.

 

The rich man says to himself: “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years: take your ease: eat, drink and be merry.”  (vs.19)  But life is more than gourmet food, trendy clothes and constant entertainment.  This foolish man has put all of his efforts into producing food and comforts for his body during his time on earth. But he is destitute of that which would enrich his soul and make him rich toward God and rich for eternity.   

 

In this story Jesus is warning us not to live our lives just for ourselves.  Perhaps that is why Jesus is calling the rich man a “Fool”.  Jesus seems to be teaching that only a fool believes that he has the right to run his own life!  The worldly person thinks that she owns her own life and that she can live it just as she pleases but the spiritual person gives her life to God and tries to follow His will.  Scripture says:  “He who loses his life for My sake will find it and he who finds his life will lose it.”  (Matthew 10:39)

 

Everywhere in the Bible we find warnings about what our relationship with money and valuables should be.  This is important enough that one of the Ten Commandments commands us not to “covet”. (Exodus 20:17)  The word “covet” means to desire or to lust after.  Wanting something may not be wrong, but wanting it at the expense of others can cause trouble.  Scripture says: “The love of money is the root of all evil.”  (1 Timothy 6:10)  When a person “covets” something that another person has, he may rob or kill that person to get what he wants.  Many wars are fought because one nation wants something that the other nation has.  And the love of money has been used to separate friends and family members also.  

 

Jesus’ story ends with God speaking to the rich man: “Fool, this night your soul will be required of you.” (vs.20)  That very night the rich man would die and God would require an accounting of what the rich man had done with his soul - the soul and the life God had given him.  Only a fool forgets that his soul belongs to God!  And like the rich fool in Jesus’ story, we too will someday stand before God and give an accounting of what we have done with our soul and our life.  I wonder how that will go?  Will our lives have been spent building bigger barns for ourselves?  Or will we be found to be “rich toward God?”       

 

        

 

 

 


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Lamentations



Lamentations

 
I’ll bet you haven’t heard many sermons in church taken from Lamentations.  Preachers seem to skip over this unpopular little book in the Bible with all of its doom and gloom.    The theme of Lamentations is human suffering and God’s punishment for sin and about more human suffering and more of God’s punishment for sin.    

 
Lamentations describes in poetic form how the Jewish people felt when they lost everything.   How they cried and mourned and despaired when in 587 B.C. the Babylonian army surrounded the walls of their beloved Jerusalem and kept them imprisoned inside the city for many weeks!  How the citizens of Jerusalem were unable to get outside to their farms and to their sources of food and how some of them resorted to cannibalism and many starved to death. 

 
The poetic laments describe the pitiful cries of little children dying in the streets from hunger!  And desperate parents not being able to do anything.  And later the soldiers breaking into the city and burning and sacking it.  And dragging the people still alive away to Babylon to be slaves.  And the neighboring tribes making jokes and laughing at them as it is happening.    .  

 Lamentations begins by describing the city of Jerusalem as a widow who has lost everything and like a princess who has been captured and forced into becoming a slave.  And Lamentations ends with: “Turn us back to You, O Lord, and we will be restored: Renew our days as of old, unless You have utterly rejected us and are furious with us!”  (Lamentations 5: 21-22)  Their sin had led them to sorrow and suffering.  (Lam 1; 8) And their sorrow and suffering had led them to repentance (Lam 1:20) and hope (Lam 3:19-24) and then hope to prayer and prayer to faith for restoration. (Lam 5:21) 

 
As bad as the suffering was, it worked to change a whole generation.  A rebellious Jewish nation returned to faith in their God.  The Jewish people all knew that God was allowing them to suffer because they had disregarded Him and ignored his laws.  For centuries they had sinned and sinned with abandon.  And now it was finally catch up time!  Their sins were catching up on them!  Their God of justice would not wait forever! 

 
Lamentations is a book of poems written about how it feels when all has been lost. And poems about hopelessness and loss and shame.  Not very upbeat topics.  The poems seem to have been composed during and after the time in which all this was happening.  The first poem or chapter tells about how the Jewish people’s feelings were hurt because their neighbors didn’t care.  And it describes the defeat of Jerusalem in battle and the temple being destroyed.  The people know that God has allowed this because of their rejection of Him.  They know!

 
 The next four poems continue describing the homesickness of the people for their beloved homeland and their memories of what they used to be.  Briefly faith in God is rekindled when they remember God in all his love and mercy. (Lamentations 3:19-33)  But then the poet depicts defeat: death of loved ones, the loss of freedom, loss of land, loss of respect, rape and cruelty and forced labor.  And the knowledge that they brought it on themselves!

 
 The author of the book is unknown, but Bible scholars believe that Lamentations was probably written by Jeremiah.  God had made a covenant or a promise to the Jewish nation that He would bless them if they would follow Him and worship Him and that He would punish them if they refused to worship and follow Him.  (Leviticus 26)  It was a two way promise or covenant.  The Jewish people quickly forgot the promise that rejecting God would eventually have consequences.  And their God of justice would eventually punish them for their sins! 

 
The books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles describe the moral decline of the Jewish people over hundreds of years before finally God had had enough and allowed the Babylonian army to destroy Jerusalem.  The Jewish kings and religious leaders were mainly responsible for leading the Jewish people away from God.  Soon the people were worshipping idols and even killing and sacrificing their little children to these idols.  They believed that their idols would give them a good crop and help them win a battle. All of the other nations were worshipping idols and the Jewish people wanted to do what everyone else was doing, even if they had to disobey God!

 
Over the many years before this disaster God had sent prophet after prophet to the Jewish people to warn and plead with them to return to Him.  God wanted so badly for his people to trust Him and He begged them to be kind and fair to one another.  But sadly the Jewish people didn’t listen.  They had become a violent nation constantly fighting against one another.  And a greedy group, as they took advantage of the widow and the orphan and treated their slaves poorly.  Finally judgment was God’s righteous response to sin and rebellion.

 
What can the book of Lamentations teach us?  First of all that we are living under a different covenant than the Jews of 587 B.C.  They were living under the Law and we are living under Grace because since that time Jesus has paid the price for our sin.  Even unbelievers are not normally punished for their sins until the next life.  (2 Peter 2:4-10)  And we do not bear punishment for sin we commit, since Christ has suffered in our place. 

 
The book of Lamentations shows how weak people are when they try on their own to obey the Law, and how unable they are to serve God in their own strength.  This drives us to Christ.  (Romans 8:3)  Even in these poems in Lamentations, glimpses of Christ shine through.  He is our hope (Lamentations 3:21, 24,29)  He is the manifestation of God’s mercy and compassion. (Lam.3:22, 23,32).  And He is our redemption and vindication. (Lam.3:58, 59)  God had promised them a Messiah!

 
God’s judgment for sin is not a popular sermon topic in Christian churches today.  And it is not fashionable for Christian leaders to preach about hell even though Jesus spoke often about hell and hell is mentioned many times in the Bible.  One of the pastors of a mega church of 45,000 people here in Texas brags that he never preaches about God’s judgment for sin.  He says he wants to make his congregation “feel good”. It’s nice to feel good but in order to become followers of Christ we will need to look at our sins and try to turn away from them and come to God with a repentant heart.

 
The destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. and the lessons God taught His people were so significant that the Jewish people started reading the book of Lamentations every year at an annual service.  They did not want to forget how easy it had been for their people long ago to slip away from God and go down the wrong path.   They did not want to have to learn those painful lessons all over again.

  Defeats as well as victories need to be remembered by all of us.  Sin is serious business.  It may not “feel good” to be sorry for our sins but repentance is at the heart of our Christian faith.  (1 John 1:9)  As followers of Christ we might take time often to prayerfully examine our lives asking God to show us where we are sinning against Him, so that we can repent.  And encourage our churches to do the same.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Leaving Insecure Feelings Behind



Leaving Insecure Feelings Behind

 

 

It’s easy to feel insecure in this world.  People today are performance oriented.  And we can be made to feel like failures when we don’t have a perfect performance record, or when we make a mistake.  Since we all make mistakes and are all sinful we can experience criticism from people in our workplace as well as from friends and even family when we slip up.  And this can cause us to feel even more insecure and sin and make even more mistakes!

 

Satan wants to bombard us with negative thoughts about ourselves and keep us insecure and depressed.  How many people commit suicide because they believe that they aren’t loved and have failed?  These poor souls allow the way other people treat them to determine their value in their minds!  In this blog we will mention a few things that we Christians can do to help us leave those insecure feelings behind and move out in the security that is ours in Christ. 

 

 Instead of believing Satan’s lies telling us how bad we are, we can believe God’s Word which tells us that if we are in Christ we are “righteous”.  Scripture says: “God caused Jesus, who had no sin, to become sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

 

Romans 4:24 says, “Righteousness will be given and credited to us who believe in God, who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”  Righteousness is God’s gift to us who believe in Christ as our Savior.  Satan does not want us to go about our lives understanding that we are covered with the righteousness of Christ.  Let’s start believing who we really are in Christ!  Yes, we are sinners, but we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness and are dearly loved of God (1 John 4:19) (1 Peter 5:7) Let’s start seeing ourselves the way we are described in the Bible.. . 

 

Insecurity can hit us in other areas of our lives.  In the past when I would be given a difficult job to do, I would stop and worry.  I would feel insecure taking on a new challenge and fear that I would fail.  In the past I would turn down these jobs and then feel guilty.  But then one day when I was faced with a problem I remembered that God’s Word says that: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  (Philippians 4:13)  Why was I shaking in my boots about failing when I have Christ?  I claimed that verse and my fears lifted a bit and I felt empowered to do the job in front of me.  

 

So now whenever I am faced with a new challenge I ask God for the courage and strength to meet it and then I seem to feel stronger, more secure and freer to move forward with God’s help.  It’s really neat!  God has given us many promises in his Word and we can start believing and standing on these promises and stop walking through life in our own strength and insecurity.  Learning to trust God and growing our faith is an exciting adventure.   

 

Scripture says that we are caught up in a spiritual war here on earth (the kingdom of God vs. the kingdom of Satan).  As long as we live we will have to fight against evil forces in this world.  Negative feelings, fear, anger, etc. And Scripture also tells us that Satan is our accuser, (1 Timothy 4:13) He tries to load us down with guilt and with a critical spirit along with hate and insecurity. Satan wants to break down close relationships–loving bonds between families, friends, and even nations.  How can we feel secure in such a messed up world?

 

I personally have often had feelings of insecurity, but when I remember to bring my problems to Christ I am always comforted and strengthened.  He is my security, my strength.  I am weak but He is strong.  You too can find security in Christ.  Scripture says that Jesus is the Rock – the Cornerstone.  The cornerstone of a building is the stronghold that all the other stones are built onto and the cornerstone holds the building up.    

 

Ephesians 2:20 says: “We are built into the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the cornerstone.”  Jesus mentioned this by saying: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”  (Luke 20:17)  We are not out there alone and insecure by ourselves but we are part of the body of Christ and we are built into the temple or the Church with Christ being what holds us all together - the cornerstone.  We can enjoy the security of having Christ in our lives as our cornerstone.    

 

Often we mess up when we keep trying to “fix” people who are angry with us (or we are angry with them). Having an argument with another person can cause us to sin and to feel insecure.  We may need to be extra careful when these problems arise.

 

 If there is a person or persons who we have big problems with, and we have done everything to make things right, we can give this person – or persons - to God. Ask God to take care of this person and bless this person.  Let go and let God.  Stop expecting this person to act the way we want him/her to act and forgive her/him.  Refuse to play the game of winning arguments.  Keep praying and leave the outcome in God’s hands. Scripture says: “Having done all …stand.” (Ephesians 6:13) 

 

God gives each one of us a gift or gifts – talents that we can use for Him.  (1 Corinthians 12:11)  We can overcome insecurity in our lives to some degree when we discover what God has called us to do – discover our talents – and use them for Him.  (Romans 12:7)  And the Holy Spirit will be our Helper. Jesus said: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter (the Holy Spirit) that He may remain with you forever.”  (John 14:16) 

 

Sometimes we become insecure when we are trying to impress others.  St. Paul said: “Am I trying to win the favor of people or of God?  Do I seek to please people?  If I were still trying to impress people, I should not be a bond servant of Christ.”  (Galatians 1:10)  You can’t always please everyone else when you are following Christ!  Often you have to make a choice.

 

Often we may feel insecure because we cannot pay the bills or find a job.  We worry that our family will be out on the streets!  Perhaps we have serious health issues or family members are having troubles.  There are enough problems to go around and none of us get through this life without something.  When we are going through trying times we can learn to trust God for help.  He promises to be with us and help us when we call upon Him.

 

 Psalm 46: 1-4 reads: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth be removed.  And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.  Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling.  There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God….”  God had always been a reliable help in the past, so we can trust Him in the future.  These verses speak of the raging environment.  But then not to worry as there is a peaceful river in the background.  A river of supply in God’s sanctuary that produces life! 

 

Psalm 46 ends like this: “Be still and know that I am God.  I will be exalted in all the earth!  The Lord of hosts is with us:  The God of Jacob is our refuge.”  (Psalm 46: 10-11)  Knowing God involves experiencing times of silent waiting before Him.  We often forget to spend time listening for God to speak to us.  Let us come before God daily and be still before Him, offering our life to God as a living sacrifice.  Then we will have rest for our souls and He will be our refuge.  Then we will find security in Him and know that He is bigger than all of our troubles.        

 

Some of these ideas were taken from Joyce Meyer’s book, “Straight Talk”  pp.247-322.      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Remaining Unbroken




Remaining Unbroken

 

 

Louie Zamperini died last year (2014) at the ripe old age of ninety-seven.  Recently Angelina Jolie directed the movie, (Unbroken) which was about his life (a true story) and about the challenges and hardships that this man suffered.  Challenges and hardships that would have broken me and perhaps you.  Let’s look at his life and see if we can find any clues as to how this man was able to live ninety-seven years and still remain “unbroken”.

 

Louie was born in 1917 in New York and when his large Italian family moved to the little town of Torrance, California as immigrants some years later, they were not welcome.  In the 1920’s Italians were thought to be lawless and revolutionary by prejudiced people and the citizens of Torrance had picked up this prejudice!  The boys at Louie’s school would gang up on him and beat him up while cursing him for being Italian.  And Louie fought back by becoming the town “bad boy” and drinking and smoking, playing pranks on the kids who hurt him and getting into fights.

 

Louie’s older brother Pete was the “good boy” in the family and he encouraged Louie to join a sport.  Pete thought if Louie put his energies into a sport he might not have so much time to get into trouble.  Louie reluctantly agreed and decided to try running.  When Louie would go out for a run Pete would ride his bicycle along side of Louie coaxing him to run faster. And by the summer of 1932, Louie did almost nothing but run.

 

In the 1930’s track was hugely popular and Louie won every race.  People in the bleachers would cheer and stomp and all the high school girls had a crush on him.  Now that Louie Zamperini was a super star, the people of Torrance forgave him everything.  Louie finished high school and went off to college but he ran every day and won every race.  In 1936 this hometown boy made the Olympic team and was soon on his way to Berlin, Germany to compete in the Olympics.  He was the youngest distance runner to ever make the team. 

 

Louie was a hero even though he did not come in first place in the Berlin Olympic races in 1936.  With more practice Louie knew he could win the gold in 1940.  A few weeks before, the officials had announced which city would host the 1940 Games, and Louie shaped his dreams around Tokyo, Japan.  He couldn’t wait to run through Tokyo and he set his heart on it.

 

But it was not to be.  Louie started college and as he worked through the summer of 1940, America slid toward war.  In Europe, Hitler had driven the British and their allies into the sea at Dunkirk.  And in the Pacific, Japan was tearing through China.  In early 1941, Louie joined the Army Air Corps.  And before a year passed by Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and America was at war.

 

After basic training Louie was accepted into flight training in Midland, Texas and he later ends up as an officer bombardier.  Eventually he was flying with his friend Phil in raids over Wake Island in a B24 plane.   This plane, the B24 was scary to fly as it often had fuel leaks and engine problems and Louie saw several of his buddies’ burn up in these planes. Day after day Louie and his buddies were sent out on missions flying long distances over the South Pacific and engaging in battles in the sky with Japanese fighter pilots.  Nerves were always on edge and death was a constant companion.  They prayed that their luck would last.

 

But one day their luck ran out.  Their plane had engine problems and went down in the middle of the ocean.  And Louie, Phil and Mac went down with the burning plane.  Louie passed out when they crashed into the sea and when he woke up he was underwater inside the plane with his finger caught in the metal frame.  Air was gone from his lungs and he was gulping reflexively and swallowing salt water.  He ripped his finger free from the metal and found a window of the plane, crawled through and pushed off kicking clear of the plane.  Louie fumbled for the cords on his Mae West, and the chambers ballooned.  The vest pulled him upward through a stream of debris.  And finally he burst into dazzling daylight.  He gasped in a breath of air and vomited up salt water and fuel that he had swallowed.  But Louie had survived! 

 

Louie saw Mac and Phil a few dozen feet away clinging to a fuel tank.  Blood spouted from Phil’s head and nearby the life rafts were bobbing on the water and drifting away..  Louie swam for the rafts but the rafts slipped farther and farther from reach.  Louie swam faster to reach them knowing that the life rafts meant their very survival.  But the currant of water was moving the life rafts faster than he could swim.  Just then he saw a long cord trailing off the raft nearby.  He snatched the cord, reeled the raft to him and he and Mac climbed in one of the rafts and pulled Phil aboard too.

 

Phil’s mind was woozy and he lay vomiting and delusional in the bottom of the raft.  There were pockets in the rafts containing some survival provisions: chocolate bars, tins of water, a flare gun, fishhooks, a brass mirror.  They wouldn’t have enough water to last more than a couple of days.  Adrift near the equator with little water and no shelter meant trouble.  Mac went into a state of shock and curled up wailing, “We’re going to die!  We’re going to die!”  And Louie took charge. 

 

The men soon ran out of water and they suffered terribly from thirst.  They would open their mouths when it rained to get a few drops of rainwater to drink.  The men soon became sun burned and shriveled and sharks circled the rafts waiting for them to die.  They caught several fish and ate them raw. Day after day the desperate men bobbed around in the open sea praying that someone would come and rescue them.  But no one ever came.

 

 Finally a Japanese plane spotted them and turned around and came back and circled their rubber rafts shooting scores of bullets down at them.  The men dove into the water under the rafts to avoid being shot but one of their bullet ridden rafts sunk and the other one began to slowly sink as they had no way to plug the holes.  Each man shriveled up and kept losing weight and finally Mac died and Louie and Phil buried him at sea.

 

Forty seven long days had gone by now and Louie and Phil knew they couldn’t hang on much longer.  Louie lay on the sinking raft looking up at the starry sky while drifting in and out of consciousness.  Louie began to pray and his prayers turned to begging.  “Please God, if you will save us I will give you my life.  I will follow you anywhere, do anything you want.  I promise.  Please God, save us.  Please!”

 

The next day a Japanese boat spotted the sinking life raft and picked the men up.  Louie and Phil became prisoners of war.  As prisoners they were beaten and tortured and given very little food.  The guard broke Louie’s leg in many places and hobbled around on it.  He would never run again he figured.  For two long years Louie was beaten and humiliated and nearly starved and he watched helplessly as his fellow prisoners were tortured and starved and beaten.  When the prisoners were sick or hurt or diseased there was no medical help available.  Two out of three prisoners died and those who came out alive looked like living skeletons

 

One guard in the Japanese prison camp, Watanabe, had been especially cruel.  One day Watanabe forced all of the prisoners in the camp to sock Louie in his face.  Already Louie had a broken jaw.  Watanabe knew how to humiliate the men and enjoyed watching them suffer and die.   .

 

The war ended and Louie and the surviving prisoners went home overjoyed but broken and changed men.  Americans in the 1940’s did not understand post traumatic stress disorder or P.T.S.D.  Folks in the 1940’s believed that the men who fought in World War 2 should suck it up and come home and be the same men as before.

 

After months on a hospital ship, Louie did come home, and there was a joyful reunion with his family!  But Louie wasn’t the same man. He wanted to settle in and get a job, but the years of stress and depravation had taken their toll.  He married his girlfriend Cynthia, and tried to be a husband and father to their two children but he had flash backs of prison life.  Louie trembled constantly and couldn’t settle down and hold a job.  After awhile he wouldn’t even look for a job. 

 

All Louie could think about was revenge.  Unforgiveness was breaking him down.. He wanted Watanabe, the Japanese guard who humiliated and tortured him for those two awful years in prison to be punished.  Hate and anger consumed Louie and he would wake up in the night screaming and shaking from nightmares.  He was back in the prison camp watching his buddies die.  He was back on the raft waiting for help that never came.  Hate and anger had taken over!  Years went by and nothing seemed to change.  Cynthia loved Louie but she couldn’t hold on much longer.  It wasn’t fair to the children.  She told Louie she was thinking of divorce.

 

But then one day (October 1949) the Billy Graham Crusade came to town (Los Angeles) and set up a huge tent.  Thousands came to the tent meetings and hundreds went forward to accept Christ as Savior.  Cynthia went to one of the meetings and she came home and begged Louie to go back with her the next evening.  He refused at first but finally went but he got angry and left early.  The next evening Cynthia pushed Louie to go just one more time with her and he agreed with one caveat: When Billy Graham ends with, “Every head bowed, every eye closed,” they were leaving. 

 

Under the tent that night, Graham was preaching about creation – how God runs the whole universe and still knows how many hairs are on our heads and cares when a sparrow falls.  Louie started remembering the day on the raft when had looked up at the night sky – God’s creation – and was awed

 

“What God asks of people is faith,” Graham continues.  Louie jumps up and grabs Cynthia’s hand charging for the exit.  He feels cornered and accused. But then as he is running out Louie remembers that day on the raft when he promised God that if God would only save his life he would follow Him always.  He had long forgotten that promise.  But now the memory of his promise to God is upon him. 

 

Louie let go of Cynthia and turned toward Graham.  He felt supremely alive.  He began walking toward the altar.  “That is it” said Graham.  “God has spoken to you.  You come on.”  Tears were rolling down Louie’s eyes as he walked down the sawdust aisle toward Graham.  Cynthia was standing in the back crying too.  Around the tent one could hear whispers of “Praise God” and “Hallelujah!”  Louie kept walking to the front altar along with hundreds of others as everyone sang and prayed and cried.  Louie knelt at the altar, head bowed and opened his heart and life to Christ, promising to follow God as Graham prayed and blessed him and the others. Louie’s face shone and he was a changed man. 

 

Louie and Cynthia started a Christian camp – a ministry - for troubled boys and ran it for many years helping hundreds of boys.  Years later (when he was 80) Louie finally got to run through the streets of Tokyo in a race (not the Olympics).  He also tried to find the guard who had harmed him to forgive him personally.

 

 Louie had many challenges throughout his life that threatened to break him but he seemed to overcome each one of them with sheer grit or talent or endurance.  But Louie was not able to overcome the anger he held for the Japanese prison guard or to forgive the inhumane acts that he lived through as a prisoner of war.  Not being able to forgive his enemy was too heavy a burden for Louie to carry and the stress it caused was breaking him, where nothing else before had broken him.  

 

God knows that we cannot carry the burden of not forgiving those who wrong us either. Perhaps that is one of the reasons God commands us to forgive those who harm us.  To give these persons to God to take care of.  To live in love and not hate so we too will remain unbroken.  To let God change us when we can’t change ourselves.  Louie  allowed God to change him.  And with God’s help he remained unbroken. 

 

Louie’s life was no longer about hating and winning, but about forgiving and serving and following God.  Louie forgave Watanabe and everyone else who wronged him!  And Louie kept on forgiving.  His new life now was about living generously and loving his enemies. That was where God was leading him and he must follow. . Louie knew that God would take care of him.  He lived out his life unbroken to the end.  What can we learn from his example?

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Saturday, January 3, 2015

My Lord Knows the Way Through the Wilderness




My Lord Knows the Way through the Wilderness

 

 

 

Many years ago there was a popular gospel chorus that went something like this:  “My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow.  My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow.  Strength for today is mine always and oh there’s hope for tomorrow.  My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow.” 

 

I was a young new Christian when I first learned this song and the words meant little to me as I sang them in church.  As far as I knew back then, following Jesus meant immediate answers to my prayers and happiness and joy in my life and victory and salvation for the future.  But I am much older now and have had time to watch and see that many who follow Jesus not only follow Him through the triumphs and the good times but at some point must also follow Him on a path of self emptying surrender.  His way is always the way of the cross – the way through the dry and desolate wilderness.

 

I believe the word “wilderness” in this little song may refer to the wilderness that Moses and the Jewish people traveled through on their way to the “Promised Land”.  This occurred in approximately 1,400 B.C. (Exodus 14-Joshua 1)  Even though God miraculously freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt and  pushed back the waves of the Red Sea so that they could escape from the pursuing Egyptians, the Jewish people still complained constantly!  Their time in the wilderness was a scary unsettling time and they fussed and fussed on and on about it.

 

They fussed about not having a ready supply of water in the dessert, even though each day God led Moses to a new hidden water supply. What if they ran out of hidden water supplies and then they would all die of thirst?  What if? It was scary worrying that they might not find water each day for their children to drink.  Miles and miles of hot dry sand as far as the eye could see with no oasis or spring in sight!  What if one day God didn’t come through?  Did Moses bring them and their children out here to die of thirst in this barren wasteland? 

 

And then they fussed about the lack of a reliable food supply in this desolate desert.  They would all starve for sure out here in this dry expanse!  But then God came in and took care of their food worries by sending them manna!  Fresh bread (manna) from heaven sent to them each and every day!  They had a God who cared and provided!  But did that stop them from fussing?

 

The Jewish people were learning lessons in the wilderness that they had not learned when they had been living in Egypt.  In the wilderness they were not able to hunt and farm and draw water from the well for themselves.  They were forced to trust God each day for their basic survival – their supply of food and water. If God didn’t supply their food and water each day then they would all die. 

 

But there was more.  The Jewish people felt lonely and vulnerable in the wilderness!  The Egyptians would make them slaves again if they turned around and went back to Egypt.  But they were frightened to keep going forward too.  They were on their way to the land where their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had lived.  The land that God had promised would be their land!  But someone else was already living there!   

 

At that time the fierce warring Canaanites were living in this Promised Land.  Their prophet Moses had been telling the Jewish people that God had spoken to him and told him that He had given this land to them and they were to go take it back from the Canaanites.  But that was scary! 

 

 The Canaanites living in the land were a fierce warring tribe that sacrificed their little children to their idol gods.  It would seem that possibly the Canaanites had been weighed and found wanting by God and God would no longer continue blessing their lifestyle.  Some have criticized the Bible saying that surely God shouldn’t help the Jewish people take the land from the Canaanites.  But God is God and He sees and knows everything.  God can make judgments that humans cannot make.  Many of the Jewish people were afraid of the Canaanites and didn’t believe that God would be with them if they met them in battle.

 

But God was always with the Jewish people!  That was a wilderness lesson He was trying to teach them.  The people could see God’s Presence right there with them guiding them in the right direction and protecting them from their enemies.  In the daytime they could see His Presence in the “pillar of cloud” that went before the camp leading them and at night God’s presence was with them in the camp as a “pillar of fire” guarding them as they slept. 

 

In the wilderness, God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses to give to the Jewish people.  And Moses also taught the people that God commanded that they bring sacrifices and burnt offerings to God for their sins – pointing to the future “Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.” – Jesus.  God commanded his people to love and forgive one another and to be kind to one another always.   

 

The older Jewish people in the group did not believe that God would help them take over the Promised Land.  They were afraid of the Canaanites.  They voted to turn around in the desert and not follow God’s leading or continue traveling on to their new land.  Scripture records that none of the ones who voted against following God onward ever enjoyed the joy of living in this Promised Land.  After forty years of wandering around in the wilderness the older folks were all dead.

 

But the next generation, - their children - learned to believe and trust God while following Him around in the wilderness and then they learned to follow Him all the way out.  They lived to march around the walls of Jericho blowing their ram horns and praising God!  And they stood and watched as the walls of the city came tumbling down!  They learned to trust God all the way!  And they enjoyed finally being in the land that God had promised them.    

 

More than a few Bible scholars have compared the experiences that the Jewish nation had in the wilderness 3,400 years ago to the experiences a follower of Christ may have today when the Lord leads us through our own personal wilderness.  I have watched in horror as fellow Christians have descended into their own individual wilderness.   Watched as they have been stripped of every shred of accustomed comfort and watched and prayed for them as they have been forced to give up every expectation and ambition they counted on.

 

A friend and devout Christian woman comes to mind.  Sally was a woman who loved God and loved and dedicated herself to others.  But Sally developed ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease in her late 30’s, an illness that slowly, inch by inch, robbed her of her speech and her ability to move and smile and eat.  First Sally had to give up her prized teaching position and then she could no longer be a part of her church.  And finally she had to be separated from her beloved children and husband and live in a special facility for the disabled.  Today her family almost never visits her and year after year passes as she waits to die in her paralyzed state, forgotten and alone in this place.  I trust and believe that God is with Sally there in her wilderness and someday she will arrive at the Promised Land.

 

And then a Bible scholar and dedicated caring Christian pastor we knew so long ago comes to mind.  His wife ran off with the choir director and divorced her pastor/husband, taking their children with her.  The church members believed that divorce was the worst sin ever to be committed and demanded that this good pastor resign.  Fellow Christians turned against this distraught man in his hour of need and his goodie good church denomination ex- communicated him.  His ex wife and her choir director lover raised his children and taught them that he was a bad person with false accusations ruining his reputation.  Everywhere this good man turned in his personal wilderness he was met with condemnation and rejection which he did not deserve.  I believe he had to walk through a dark wilderness.   

 

We may never know why God lets bad things happen to good people!  But, like the Jewish people, we will have to rely on God for our emotional and often our physical survival during the bad days in ways that we did not need to do when we were going through the good times.  God’s assurance of love and His presence allows us to learn to be at peace in the dark nights of our spiritual journey, knowing that victory is promised if we keep on trusting.  

 

If God is leading us through our own private wilderness we will need to learn how to walk through it.  How to follow Him.  We can remember the lessons the Jewish people learned as God lead them through their wilderness.  First we remember that God is always there with us to comfort and to guide.  As He fed the Jewish people every day with manna, God will feed us with spiritual food every day and find us hidden springs of living water in our desert. 

 

We will need to remember to keep on following the Lord toward our Promised Land – claim the promises in Christ that are there for us.  And never turn back to Egypt or to our old life of slavery to hate and sin.  In the wilderness God taught the Jewish people to offer a lamb as a sacrifice to Him.  The lamb would represent the coming “Perfect Lamb” or Jesus who would be sacrificed and die to forgive their sins.

 

  Because God forgives our sins He commands us to forgive those who sin against us. So we can learn how to walk through our darkness forgiving those who harm us and loving those who make us mad.  God will help with that one. And our last lesson for walking through the darkness.- Keep believing and trusting God.  And keep remembering that our Lord knows the way through the wilderness.  All we have to do is follow!