I don’t know what she saw but it initiated a full scale attack. All 100 pounds of our beautiful black lab hurled toward the dangerous object. Unfortunately there was a thick glass storm door in her way. I have never heard such a sound before as she lay crumbled on the floor. It was a pain-filled wail. Fortunately, it only lasted a few seconds. She is okay but her nose took a horrendous hit. I am sure she will never do that again. She is a fast learner.
Just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there. And of course the opposite is true. Just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it is there. We need to sense other factors. Paul wrote in Ephesians 6, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
There are some who love conspiracies and think some evil plan lurks behind every event in their lives. Actually, we are quite capable of inventing ways of self-demise. I doubt if the world would be any better if Satan died today. Humans are quite adept at creating and doing evil. Yet, we should not be so quick to write off conspiracies. In his first letter Peter wrote that Satan is like a prowling lion seeking to devour us. Fortunately, there are other unseen beings. Psalm 91:11 assures us there are angels assigned to guard us. The fact is we are not alone. Just because we cannot see them does not mean they are not here. Hopefully, we will be fast learners and be aware.
I had a chore this morning that needed two extension cords for extra distance. I plugged them in and started across the yard. However, I ran out of cord before arriving at my destination. Looking back to see what was wrong I discovered instead of plugging them together I plugged the end of the second one into its own receptacle. It was a loop. It was plugged into itself. It was hopelessly powerless.
At this point I can imagine you know what I am going to say. You think I am going to say that cord is just like people. As long as we are plugged into ourselves and not into a true power source we are hopelessly powerless. If you thought that, you were absolutely correct. Now, we might not be totally powerless. We are like batteries that have some self-contained power and can accomplish some things. But all batteries no matter how good eventually run dry.
If we want to accomplish great things, if we want to exceed our expectations, then we must plug into real power. In Matthew 19:26 we read, “But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” As long as we think we can do it by ourselves we are destined to be so much less than what we were created for. Paul wrote, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, . .” Ephesians 3:20. God has great plans for us and they will happen if we cease being plugged into ourselves. Then and only then will our Father’s dreams for us be fulfilled.
Lots of prayers and some very good doctors have been responsible for my recovery from leukemia. I am going on three years of excellent health for which I am deeply grateful. However, there have been some undesirable remnants. One of which is I have been left with a very low tolerance for bug bites. The tiniest of creatures can create on my arms or wherever swollen, itchy patches that take days to subside. Springtime is wonderful but in Massachusetts May skies fill with little black flies that swoop in like Kamikaze pilots. Finally, we got a 90 degree day that should take care of them for another year. In a few days I can stop scratching as long as I avoid mosquitoes and ticks which will be with us all summer.
Our bodies are wonderful at repairing themselves, yet scars and other annoyances are usually left behind to remind us. We are never quite as good as new. Our souls are the same. We mar them with sinful deeds. We ask for forgiveness. God is gracious, merciful and good to us and He cleanses us. See I John 1:9. Yet, we are never the same. Sin diminishes us. That’s why something is labeled sin. If it enhanced us it would be labeled a blessing.
God gives us a new start, record-wise. But our brains don’t. We are never quite what we could of, should of, been. God looks at us as if we had never sinned. But the person looking back at us from the mirror always knows better. So flee from sin as we would from a roaring lion. While we might survive the lion’s attack, we will always be scarred, at least until this mortal puts on immortality. See I Corinthians 15.
This afternoon I called one of those Papa places to order a pizza. I told the girl I wanted a large with two toppings and asked her the price. She told me it was $16.00. I then said I was sure she could offer me some kind of special. “Oh yes,” she said. “You can have a large four topping for $9.98.” So I said, “I want a large four topping pizza with onions, green peppers, pineapple and mushroom. Oh, could you please hold the green peppers and pineapple.” “Great,” she said, “That will be $9.98.” I just love talking to teens.
It’s natural for us to want things as cheaply as possible. Often we wait to purchase something until it is on sale or if we can find a coupon. If eternal life was offered for sale I’m sure we would do our best to get it as cheaply as we can. The rich young ruler asked Jesus what he had to do to be saved. When Jesus told him to give away all his goods, the young man went away sorrowfully. The cost was too much. In Luke 14 Jesus told us to count the cost before embarking upon a project.
So just what is the cost of salvation? It’s free. But there’s a rub. It cost everything you are. The issue is love. We can’t buy love but once we experience love we would give everything – even your life. Notice I said everything we are and not everything we have because God isn’t interested in what we have. He only cares about what we are. He wants us to be His child. He wants us to be like Him. It’s because He knows if we are like Him we will live the most abundant life possible and that makes Him happy – Very Happy.
One very pleasant evening I walked down a street in Honduras and passed house after house watching American television plucked from satellites. A few years later I sat in Moscow, Russia and watched the Today show while I was having breakfast. It does not matter where you go American culture blankets the world. American commercials with images and sounds designed to infiltrate the pockets of American youth are being absorbed by African, Asian and Moslem youth. Any thoughtful non-American adult knows it is only a matter of time, a generation or so, before the traditions and values of their heritage and belief structure will be replaced by the commercialism and materialism of the American market place. We need not wonder why conservative parents and grandparents of the world look upon us with disgust and fear. The values they hold dear are being overwhelmed.
If we saw our heritage being taken apart commercial by commercial and program by program we too would rise up in arms to destroy the “Great Satan.”
It is important to present truth and let the power of its veracity proclaim its worth. However, once in a while it is important to recognize and speak of the greatest enemy of what we hold dear. It is not foreign but internal. We are not immune. We cannot entertain ourselves with morally decadent dialogues and listen to people infer we will be better people if we use their product and then expect ourselves to grow into good people. What we watch. What we feed upon we become.
Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
I received a pamphlet today from the Audubon Society telling me how to attract birds to my yard. Numbers one through three are to provide food, water and shelter. This isn’t much different from evangelism. We want to draw people to to our churches and to do so we have to provide those three things. Number one is to be sure to offer a satisfying diet of spiritual food. This seems so obvious but often that is not the case. Sometimes people come to hear about Jesus but instead they hear negative things said about their childhood faith. They are put off by a message of exclusiveness and leave not hearing much at all about Jesus. Jesus told us He is the Bread of Life. John 6:35. If we are to be successful He must be the entrée.
Number two – Jesus told us He is the Water of Life. John 4:14. And number three – Jesus said He is with us unto the end of the world. Matthew 28:20. He is the shelter in a time of storm. People are fearful and need the assurance of being safe.
Jesus is the key to real evangelism. People, like birds, will come if their hunger and thirst are satisfied and if they are assured of eternal safety. Real Christianity abundantly supplies all our needs unlike counterfeit Christianity that lures people in only to then tell them all the things they now need to begin doing to be saved. Counterfeit Christianity makes people anxious and fearful that they are failing to perform perfectly enough to satisfy God. See Galatians 5. But Jesus said, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. When we clearly see Jesus we see what God is really like. To know Him is to love Him because He provides all three necessities.
The art of preaching is the art of motivation. One can move a crowd with fear, another can do it with pride, another can motivate with love. If you have attended church much in your life you will have heard all three. Perhaps some of the best motivators are footfall coaches during halftime or corner men between rounds getting their man back into the ring. Two of the best motivation speeches ever have to be found in the film Brave Heart and in Shakespeare’s Henry V. In both situations men are about to go onto a killing field. Henry V says to his men, “This story shall the good man teach his son . . . We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother. . . . And gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
In I Peter 1:12 we read that angels longed to understand the secrets of the Gospel that have been shared with us. For eternity we, the redeemed, shall be princes and princesses of the Most High and beings from the far stretches of the universe will know that we, sinful as we were, weak as we were, were the apple of God’s eye. We few, we happy few, recipients of the blood of the King of the Universe will forever be special. Angels will not hold their positions cheap but they will know that we were blessed to be from earth. Only we will be privileged to sing the song of Moses and the Lamb. Revelation 15:3.
There is a bank in our city advertising on a billboard with huge letters beside the face of a pretty lady, “Banking should be about a relationship not about transactions.” REALLY! So it doesn’t matter if they make mistakes on my monthly statement, it only matters if they are nice to me. I don’t go to the bank to have pizza with the tellers. I want to cash a check. And I want all the money written on that check.
What fascinates me about this is the billboard is hundred percent correct if we change one word. “Christianity should be about a relationship not about transactions.” So often we get this reversed. People are fearful they will go to bed without having asked for forgiveness. They fear there must be a sinful debit on their account. Asking for forgiveness is a nightly transaction.
Jesus wanted so much to have us understand God is our Father. He told us to begin our prayers with “Our Father”. In Galatians 4 and in Romans 8 Paul assures us we can be adopted into the heavenly family and not only call God Father but we are allowed to use the familiar name Abba which simply means Daddy. This is all about relationships. I am not saying we don’t need to ask for forgiveness. But that is not a transaction. It is a good daughter or son saying, “Dad I’m sorry I disappointed you.” This is not complicated. What is truly fascinating is real Christianity is the only religion in the world that is this simple. So why was it when I got a degree in Systematic Theology at the seminary it seemed so difficult?
Shakespeare said it so well. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts. . .” We are moms and dads, students and teachers. The list for each of us is almost infinite. We at times are sinners and at times saints. In my years as a pastor I have seen people do the meanest of things and a week later be generous and kind. It’s no wonder Jesus told us not to judge others. If we did, the judgments we pass down would surely be wrong. They would be tainted with our biases and loads of prejudices. Please don’t object and say you are not prejudiced. You are. I am. The challenge is to admit it and then compensate with all the fairness we can muster.
If we live long enough we get to be grandparents and I have friends who have advanced to yet the next level. Human developmentalists tell us that somewhere after 50 the wonderful quality of wisdom has an opportunity to bloom. However, we can’t count on it. Many older people never exhibit any signs of it. Foolishness knows no limits.
Proverbs 1 is a great primer on wisdom. Verse 7 tells us where wisdom begins. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” Unfortunately there are those with lots of university degrees who are saturated with information, but it doesn’t make them wise. Wisdom is what we do with all that information. All the world is a stage and how grand it is to exit when one is filled with wisdom and love and gratitude for the privilege of life.
So I know this guy who I think is a bit strange. Actually all of us are strange to someone. But I mean really strange. His wife is newly pregnant and he is throwing up in the mornings. I’m watching him to see if he begins bloating. He claims it’s happening because he loves his wife so dearly he feels her pain. I think he’s stumbled upon something better than bringing home flowers. This is free and his wife is loving it. (Why didn’t I think of this?)
Lest I sound too cynical I do have to admit there is a parallel in Scripture. Isaiah 53 very clearly states, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
However, this really isn’t the same. My friend’s pains, while real in his head, are symptomatic. Jesus’ pains for us were more than in His head. Those nails, those beatings, that crown of thorns, the thirst, that triangle of wood trust up between His legs were all actual. In addition, there was the pain in His head of feeling His Father’s withdrawal so He could be alone as He died for our sins. He had to pay the price for our sins and the price for sin is not death with the Father’s comforting presence. And so it was that He cried out, “My God, my God. Why hast thou forsaken me?”
It wasn’t just Jesus who suffered for us. The Father was suffering as much or perhaps even more because He could not comfort Jesus without spoiling the plan of redemption.