Time To Re-Focus?

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“As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent Me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”  (John 9:4, NIV 1984).

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “They were disappointed but believed they could solve the problem.  So they started earlier, stayed longer, and worked harder.  They kept doing the same things over and over again and wondered why things didn’t get better.  They were beginning to realize the difference between activity and productivity.”  (Adapted from “Who Moved My Cheese?” By Spencer Johnson, M.D.).

Activity or productivity? Start earlier, stay longer and work harder.  Doing the same (unproductive) things over and over, but things don’t get better.  Sound familiar?  Jesus knew there was much work to be done, and that His “night” was coming.  But He never confused the important with the urgent.  As a result, with merely three years of ministry, He completed the work that the Father gave Him to do.

How are we doing?  We are called to follow in His steps.  Are we starting earlier, staying longer, and working harder, but getting nowhere?  Maybe it’s because we are doing things in our own strength and wisdom?  Striking out on our own?  Straying from the path?  Losing sight of our calling?

My Advice – How can we follow in His steps if we are not keeping our eyes on the path He followed?  Maybe it’s time to refocus

The Life I Live…

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“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, NIV 1984).

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20, NIV 1984).

My Musings – A couple well-known verses, with interesting paralells:

  • Deny Yourself – “I no longer live.
  • Come After Me – “Christ lives in me.
  • Take Up Your Cross – “I have been crucified with Christ.
  • Follow Me – “I live by faith in the Son of God.

My Advice – Christ gave up so much (denied Himself) to pursue (come after) us.  This took Him to the cross (crucified), so that we might live (by faith).  The cross we are asked to bear pales in comparison to the one He bore.  Let’s deny ourselves, our path, and follow Him.  Though it might lead through the “valley of the shadow of death,” it ends up in “green pastures.

 

Saddle Up!

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Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9, NIV 1984).

My Musings – This is a charge given specifically to Joshua.  What could he possibly have to fear?

  • He Succeeded Moses, the only person that God spoke with face-to-face.  Talk about a tough act to follow.
  • But because Moses messed up, God did not allow Moses to lead the Israelites into the promised land.  Something that Moses had been anticipating for over forty years.  Better not mess up, Joshua.
  • And now Joshua was being told to cross over the Jordan to lead these “obstinate, stiff-necked” people to battle multiple kingdoms (Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites), drive them out, and take possession of the land.  No small task for a group of wandering nomads.

Yet Joshua “saddled up anyway.”  Why wouldn’t he have wanted to run the other way?  Not because of the subject of his  faith (capability of accomplishing the task at hand), but because of the object of his faith (capability of the One commissioning him for the task at hand). “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Joshua 1:5, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Do you have a tough act to follow?  Are you afraid of messing up?  Do feel inadequate for the task you face?  I know this charge was given specifically to Joshua, but I believe we can appropriate it for ourselves.  “Have I not commanded you?”  If God calls you to it, He will see you through it.  So, “be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged.”  Because “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”  (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV 1984).  If God has indeed called you to it, you don’t have to scared to death. Saddle up. Ride to victory, not retreat.  He “will never leave you nor forsake you.

Where Many Have Gone Before

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Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!”  (Matthew 10:17–25, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals” is the title of an op-ed penned by Katherine Stewart and published by the New York Times on March 27, 2020.  In it she writes, “Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown.”  Later she adds, “by all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction…But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base.”

This reminds me of another story — the burning of Rome in 64 AD. “Despite the well-known stories, there is no evidence that the Roman emperor, Nero, either started the fire or played the fiddle [had not been invented yet] while it burned. Still, he did use the disaster to further his political agenda. Nero did not like the aesthetics of the city and used the devastation of the fire in order to change much of it and institute new building codes throughout the city. Nero also used the fire to clamp down on the growing influence of Christians in Rome. He arrested, tortured and executed hundreds of Christians on the pretext that they had something to do with the fire.”  (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/neros-rome-burns).  “The persecution of Christians because of the fire started about 250 years of Roman persecution of Christians, a practice finally ended in 313 AD when Emperor Constantine legalized the Christian religion with the Edict of Milan.” (https://www.historyandheadlines.com/july-18-64-ad-great-fire-rome-nero-blames-christians/).

These stories differ in that the Roman Emperor blamed the Christians for burning Rome, whereas one media story is blaming a certain segment of Evangelical Christians (referred to as “religious nationalists” and the “Christian nationalist movement”) for “fanning the flames” of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.  We do not know what “spark” will ignite the widespread persecution of the Church that Jesus spoke of in His Olivet Discourse. Perhaps “inflammatory” rhetoric, such as that used in the above referenced article, and which casts dispersions on all evangelical Christians in particular, will eventually spread to “engulf” all true followers of Christ in general.  When I say “true followers” I do not mean this as either a commendation or a condemnation of the any of the people or groups that are criticized in the article.  I do not know enough about any of them to pass any kind of judgment.  What I take issue with is how wide the net is cast in her criticisms.

We do know for certain that a day is coming when a “pandemic” of Church persecution will ultimately rise from the “ashes” left over from the persecution of early Christendom.  It many respects, it already has begun.  It may only be a “brush fire” now (at least in the United States — much worse in other countries), but soon enough it will become a “blazing inferno.”

My Advice – “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”  Will you be prepared to follow in His steps? The cost of following Him may be high.  It was high for Polycarp, and others like him.  “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”  (Polycarp of Smyrna, Christian martyr and a disciple of the Apostle John, circa 160 AD).

Be prepared to “boldly go where [many have] gone before!” Just make sure that it is “on [His] account” you are persecuted and not on account any political agenda of this world that is not firmly established by the Gospel of Truth.  For our Kingdom is not of this world.

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.‘”  (Acts 4:18–20, 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.

 

Shall Not Prevail

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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.

 

Even to Our Old Age

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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.

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(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.