The Bourne Again Identity

Screenshot (1524)

My Musings – In charades, we make the sign “sounds like.”  I recently noted the following on the internet. “The English language is hard, but can be understood through tough thorough thought though.”  Perhaps its only how we Americans have corrupted it “though?”  Some will say they “know” that this is true, while others will say “no” there is no “colonel” of truth to this claim.   Okay, so maybe we Americans can’t be blamed for that “won.”

Here are a few more similar words, with similar consequences if relied upon without being “identified” with Christ.

Indivisible – Impossible to divide or separate. The word indivisible, as used in the pledge of allegiance, is intended to convey that the United States is rock solid in its unity and cannot be broken apart.  Sadly, there is move divisiveness today than perhaps at any other time since the Civil War.  What makes this particularly troubling is that we all face a common enemy, the coronavirus, yet to a large extent we are divided in how we should respond.  This even happened in the shadow of Israel’s golden age under King Solomon, and the kingdom was divided.

The king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite. When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king:  ‘What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son? To your tents, O Israel! Look after your own house, O David!’”  (1 Kings 12:15–16, NIV 1984).

Invincible – Too powerful to be defeated or overcome.  The United States is the only remaining military superpower. Yet, in all its might, it has been unable to completely vanquish terrorism, and there is no weapon in its vast arsenal that can conquer the stealth of the coronavirus.  Madeline Albright, Secretary of State in the Clinton administration once claimed, “if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.” Did we see far enough to prepare for the danger of the coronavirus?  In the face of this silent killer, such a claim has proven to be mere hubris.  Such trust is ultimately misguided.  We are not first “world” superpower to have such misguided reliance.

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD.   Yet he too is wise and can bring disaster; he does not take back his words. He will rise up against the house of the wicked, against those who help evildoers. But the Egyptians are men and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit. When the LORD stretches out his hand, he who helps will stumble, he who is helped will fall; both will perish together.”  (Isaiah 31:1–3, NIV 1984).

Indispensable – So good or important that you could not manage without. A claim similar to Secretary Albright’s was made by President Obama. “When a typhoon hits the Philippines or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help. So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century past and it will be true for the century to come.” But we are turning inward (“America first”), during this current health crisis, making ourselves largely “unavailable” to the rest of humanity facing a plague that knows no boundaries. Soon we may not be able to help anyone, as the financial resources of the most prosperous nation on earth, very well may be strained to the point of national bankruptcy.  Pray to God that we do not also become morally bankrupt and lose our national “soul.”  What becomes of the “wealth of nations” that are not rich toward God and others?

The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:16–21, NIV 1984).

Invisible – Cannot be seen or readily perceived.  National unity, military invincibility, and indispensable economic resources — largely impotent to a microscopic virus that is invisible to the naked eye.  Such a turn of events is not unprecedented in human history.

This is what the LORD says concerning the king of Assyria:  ‘He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the LORD. I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.’  That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.”  (2 Kings 19:32–36, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Unity can dissolve.  Power may disintegrate.  Wealth can disappear. Where can we “identify” hope that does not disappoint?  In the “Bourne” Again Identity.

In reply Jesus declare[s], ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’  ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, You must be born again. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going [it’s invisible]. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’”  (John 3:3–8, NIV 1984).

What’s Your Bedrock?

Screenshot (1440)Caption:  A typical family, as they “shelter in place,” worshiping in spirit and in truth via FBC of Sycamore livestream on Sunday, March 22 @ 10:30am.  FBC Sycamore Livestream

The magistrates ordered [Paul and Silas] to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  (Acts 16:22–25, NIV 1984).

My Musings –  Greetings from northern Illinois (the “s” is silent), where we are sheltering in place.  Yesterday Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order telling all Illinois residents to shelter in place until at least April 7. “My bedrock has been to rely upon science,” Pritzker said of his decision.

I don’t mean to disparage science (after all God created the science behind His creation) but our bedrock is, and always has been to rely upon God.  Whether we acknowledge Him or not.  Whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in.  Even when we “shelter in place.”  Maybe it will be an inconvenience.  But we have not been “stripped and beaten.”  We have not been “severely flogged.”  While some may feel like it, we have not been “thrown into prison.”  Under such extreme circumstances, “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.”  We can do the same.

A final musing: “the other prisoners were listening to them.”  During these scary times, the world around us is listening to and watching us.  What are they hearing? Are they hearing griping, complaining and wailing, or are they hearing positive, reassuring words of encouragement and hope about the God we trust?  What are they seeing?  Do they see the same kind of fear that is gripping the world around us, or do they see calm, peace and assurance?

My Advice – Our circumstances have changed.  Our attitude, behavior and outlook need not change. Our bedrock is on “Christ the solid rock.”  Be like Daniel. “Now when Daniel learned that the decree [executive order] had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.”  (Daniel 6:10–11, NIV 1984).  In Illinois, for a season, we cannot come together in person to worship, as is our custom.  But we can still gather together “virtually” to worship in Spirit and in truth “just as [we] had done before.”  And that’s what really matters.  And as you do, remember, people are listening and watching what the Christians do during “such a time as this.

God bless, and have a “yabba, dabba do time,” and draw closer to God and your family  whether you are required to shelter in place or not.

 

Be The Church

Screenshot (1432)

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  (Acts 2:42–47, NIV 1987).

My Musings – While these are clearly challenging times as the world comes to grip with this global pandemic, (perhaps unprecedented to most of the world’s population living today), they pale in comparison (at least to date) to challenges that previous generations have endured.  Our grandparents sent an entire generation of young men off to fight fascism and aggression in Europe, North Africa and the South Pacific.  This came just a few short years after the great depression, where U. S. unemployment peaked at nearly 25% (probably much greater in other countries).  The Spanish Flu (probably not a politically correct name by today’s standards) infected an estimated 500 million people and claimed the lives of an estimated 50 million (some estimates go as high as 199 million) souls.  This was when the world population was around 1.8 billion.  During the 14th century, it is estimated that 30% to 60% of the world population of 450 million died from the Black Plague.

One might ask, how does the Church respond to the crisis facing the world we live in today?

I would propose that it should have very little to do with how we “dochurch and very much to do with how we “be” the Church.

In certain respects, the above text gives many a overly romanticized impression of the first century Church.  “Why can’t we be more like the first century Chuch?”  But we must remember, as persecution spread, the Church in Rome was driven underground into the catacombs beneath the city.  Then, of course, there was persecution in the middle ages where people like Wycliffe, Hus, Zwingli, More and Tyndale were put to death, not to mention the religious persecution the led to settlement in the “new world.”  Even today, in certain communist and Islamic countries, Christians constantly face persecution and death.

In light of all this, how we “do” church (worship style, time of service, length of sermon, systematic versus topical versus textual preaching, color of carpet, etc.) is fairly trivial compared to how those mentioned above were committed to being the Church.  As we reflect on the crisis facing the world today, our focus as well should be on how to be the Church in a world that needs the hope that only Christ offers.  Especially if we are just beginning (much worse to come) to experience the “birth pains” that Christ warned about in His Olivet Discourse and the tribulation to follow that the Apostle John recorded in Revelation.

My Advice – Be the Church.  What are some practical ways we can put into practice some of the following ways of being the Church to our neighborhoods and communities?

Love One Another – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:34–35, NIV 1984).

Do Unto Others – “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”  (Matthew 7:12, NIV 1984).

Live At Peace With Everyone –   “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  (Romans 12:18, NIV 1984).

Be A Servant – “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   (Matthew 20:25–28, NIV 1984).

Do For The Least Of These – “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”    (Matthew 25:35–40, NIV 1984).

Practice Pure and Faultless ReligionReligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  (James 1:27, NIV 1984).

Be A Witness – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8, NIV 1984).

Be Prepared With Your Reason For Hope Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  (1 Peter 3:15–16, NIV 1984).

What Remains? – “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  (1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV 1984).

Here are some suggestions from my local church: (https://www.fbcsycamore.com/)

Screenshot (1428)

 

 

Shall Not Prevail

Screenshot (1424)

Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”  (Acts 5:38–39, NIV 1984).

My Musings – Two thousand years and the Gospel has not been stopped.  It is hard to imagine any doctrine or philosophy of human origin could possibly withstand this test of time.  But Christianity has.  Throughout Church history, mankind has fought against it but the light still shines. It may have dimmed from time to time, but it has never gone out.  Because it is from God. God the Father conceived it, Jesus built it, and the Holy Spirit has sustained it.  When you fight against the Church, you are fighting against God.

My Advice – If you are not already, you need to get on the winning side.  See my blog series “The Born Again Experience” to find out how.

 

What Keeps You Up At Night?

Screenshot (1420)

“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?”  (Job 38:8–11, NIV 1984).

So the LORD sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the LORD was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.”   (2 Samuel 24:15–16, NIV 1984).

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”  (Matthew 6:25–27, NIV 1984).

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  (Matthews 10:27–28, NIV 1984).

My Musings – So what does keep you up at night?  What are the things that you worry and fret about?  Have they added “a single hour to his life?”  These are troubled times for sure.  Not as troubled as they will become as Christ’s return grows close, but troubled nonetheless.  But one thing we should never lose sight of is that God is still on His throne, He is still sovereign.  Troubled times come and go throughout history, a consequence of the fall.  But just like the “proud waves” God can say, and often has, “this far you may come and no farther!”  Or like the He commanded the angel afflicting Israel, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.

We may never know why certain troubled times come into our world.  And like Frodo, we may “wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (The Fellowship of the Ring – Tolkien).

So what do we do with the time that is given us, especially in such troubled times?  We need not fear the times or the trouble.  Concern yes, but fear, no.  For such things can only “kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

My Advice – Remember, no matter what we face, God is Sovereign.  If you know Jesus Christ you have nothing to fear, not even fear itself.

Even to Our Old Age

Screenshot (1394)

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.”  (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NIV 1984).

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.  (Isaiah 46:4, NIV 1984).

You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.  (Titus 2:1–3, NIV 1984).

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.  (2 Timothy 4:6–8, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “Life’s just much too hard today,” I hear ev’ry mother say.  The pursuit of happiness just seems a bore. What a drag it is getting old. — Mother’s Little Helper, Rolling Stones.

The first Thursday of each month, members or my High School (Class of 1973), get together.  I work an hour away from home, so I don’t get to attend very often.  I was able to make it this past Thursday though.  There are not many that still live in the area. After 47 years, many have left rural America.  This time there were only six of us.

Screenshot (1396)

(We’re not old, we’re merely the groovy Woodstock generation that has seasoned a bit — far out!)

It’s kind of funny (but really nice) how time has a way of drawing people together who share a common bond.  Even getting hugs from those you barely knew “way back then,” if you knew them at all.  I think (memory is not what it used to be) there were 273 in my graduating class, so it was hard to get to know them all.  Then there were the cliques, which I suspect every High School has. The walls of inclusion/exclusion no longer exist after all these years (which is really nice too), being replaced by that common bond.

Some of us bowled a few games, some (including me) just watched.  But it was the conversation that always makes for a good evening.  There was some reminiscing, as there always is.  But a lot of the evening’s conversation was about who had retired, who was still working and when they planned to retire.  Another topic was about who was recovering from (or facing) joint replacement, and other ailments of aging. And of course, who had grandchildren and how many. Before 8:00 p.m. it was time to head home.  “Can I stay up one more hour mom” has been replaced with “I’m heading to bed early dear.”

Rewind 47 years and imagine a very dissimilar conversation in the High School commons, a few short months before graduation.  In your own special clique, of course.  The conversation most likely (did I mention the memory is not what it used to be?) included topics like — what the future might hold, the job or college plans we had made, who might marry who, and how many kids we would have.  There was no mention of ailments of any kind.  Eighteen year-olds think they are invincible.  We were still optimistic about the future, despite having lived through three assassinations (JFK, RFK and MLK), race riots, and a war (Vietnam) that divided the nation and generations. Who would blame us if that optimism became a little jaded over the years as we lived through two more assassination attempts (Ford and Reagan), a Presidential resignation (Nixon), two impeachments (Clinton and Trump), a resurgence in racism, September 11, 2001, a seemingly unending war on terror, and the great recession?

Well that’s the context for this Sunday’s “amusing.”  Life may be much harder today, but we lived in a fairly privileged country and time.  But remember, our parents lived through the great depression, a World War, and most of the same things we did, while working to building that privileged time for us.  Nevertheless, for some, the pursuit of happiness may have become a bore, or worse, seemingly unachievable.  But life and getting older need not be a “drag,” even when “the days of trouble come and the years approach” that you are tempted to say, “I find no pleasure in them.”  How can that be?

For one, we have a Creator who wants to “rescue” us, “carry” us and “sustain” us “even to [our] old age and gray hairs.”  And, like our parents before us, we have much to offer those who follow us in terms of being “temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, sound in faith, and reverence,” that comes with getting a little grayer  and a bit more wrinkled.  And if you are younger, “remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come.

My Advice – The day will dawn and “the time [will] come for [our] departure.”  Live your life in such a way that you can say “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.” All of this is possible if you have (or will) put your faith in Jesus Christ.  Even if you did not “remember your Creator in the days of your youth,” you can now.

If you read this far, thanks for putting up with a little nostalgia and sentimentality from me.  Despite the “days of trouble” that came for me and my family (see my “Family Album” blog series), we are so glad we placed our trust in our “Creator in the days of [our] youth.” It made those days a lot easier as He rescued us, carried us and sustained us as we have “longed for his appearing.”  I sense He could be coming soon.

 

 

Exit Ramp

Screenshot (1364)

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  (James 4:13–15, NIV 1984).

My Musings – This was the text that inspired today’s devotional from Our Daily Bread Ministries.  It kind of resonated with me due to some news I received this week.  But first, a little background.  I turn 65 in a couple months, which is the traditional retirement age in the United States (at least for those who can afford to do so).  And so it goes, that many of my friends, family and acquaintances have been asking me when I plan on retiring.  I have been blessed with a career that I still enjoy.  Since I have not yet determined what I would do with my time when I do retire, my response has been, “I plan on working until I am 70 (mandatory retirement age for the position I hold), as long as our health permits (mine and my wife’s).”

On Monday I was told that I have prostate cancer.  It was caught early, it is not an aggressive form and the prognosis is very good — so I am blessed indeed.  It occurred to me that my standard response to retirement, specifically “as long as our health permits,” while true, is really not the most appropriate qualifier.  It should be “if it is the Lord’s will.

My Advice – None of us know what tomorrow holds.  Any plans we make for this life are short-sighted at best.  Our primary concern should not be things like how we will spend retirement?  Our primary concern should be how will we spend eternity?  It’s not about how much we have in our retirement fund.  It’s about whether we’ve placed our trust in Jesus Christ.  If you have not already done so, you need to make those arrangements now, before the mist of this life vanishes.