Monday, February 24, 2014

Relying on God

Earlier this week I met with a woman who belonged to our church at one time in the past.  She is one of many people I have met who told me that they grew up as a part of this congregation.  I don't know why or when she left, and she belongs to a different church in town now. 

We met because she wanted to find out when some members of her family were baptized.  I invited her to come with me to the church and look through some records.  Being in the building brought back many fond memories for her.  She told me a few stories of things she was involved in at church as a young girl. 

The thing that made the most impact on me as we talked was when she told me that she prayed first thing every morning, because her mom had taught her to do that.  "A wise woman, your mom was" I told her.  Her mother also taught her to develop a heart that could be thankful.  Her mother taught her to find things to be thankful for even during difficult periods of life.  That is another wise thing to teach a child.  Or anyone, for that matter. 

In Philippians 4:10-13 Paul writes this:

"I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter.  It was during a period of imprisonment that would end in his death.  When we read Paul's story in the book of Acts we learn that there was much hardship in his life.  Beatings, being stoned, shipwrecks, prison.  And with that as a background Paul can look on his life and say "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

Paul doesn't mean that because he believes in Jesus he can do whatever he wants, because he certainly couldn't end his imprisonment.  But he does mean that because of who Jesus is, and what Jesus has done, that Paul can find peace and God's presence in each and every circumstance of his life.

The work that God does in the heart of each person who has faith in Jesus is powerful, almost beyond belief.  Like Paul and the woman I met with this week, let us each learn to rely on the presence and power of God in each circumstance of our lives, giving our thanks to Him, to His eternal glory.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Long Journey Home

Yesterday I returned to Dulce from a short trip to Minnesota.  I had gone to Minnesota on Sunday for the funeral of the friend I wrote about here.  I was anticipating a smooth trip home.  There had been a significant snowstorm Monday but yesterday the roads were cleaned up and everything was moving easily. 

I had stayed at a motel close to the Minneapolis airport.  I had a late AM flight to Denver, with a 90 wait for a connecting flight to Durango, Colorado.  My car was parked in Durango and it would take about 2 hours to drive to Dulce.  That drive would take place during daylight and I hoped to be home in time for dinner with my family. 

When I made the arrangements for the trip I thought that it was a pretty good plan.  As the day unfolded things went quite a bit differently. 

Getting to the airport went okay and I easily found the rental car return.  A brief conversation with the woman checking my car in and I was on my way to the terminal.

"Are these your keys?" she called out.  They were.  I had attached the rental keys to my key chain and in my desire to get moving I never thought to separate them before heading to the airport.  "That would have been a disaster in Durango" I thought as I put my car keys back in my pocket.

Went to the terminal. Found the United Airlines desk.  Got in a short line and was quickly at the counter.  Where the next bump unfolded.  About the time I was walking into the terminal United's computer system was crashing.  After about 30 minutes of waiting and numerous conversations among United's employees as they sorted out the procedures they were able to issue manual boarding passes.  I got one and  made my way through security and to the gate. 

First the departure time was delayed.  Then the gate changed.  Then it was back to the original gate.  United's computer system came back to life and I got a boarding pass for the Minneapolis flight and also the Denver flight.  We got on the plane and on our way about one hour late.  Denver is a big airport but I was hopeful I'd make the connection, especially because I had heard a United employee mention that the flight time was shorter than planned.

We landed in Denver with about 30 minutes to spare.  The pilot told us what gate we would dock at, Gate 50, and because I had the United app on my phone I knew that my next flight was at Gate 56.  I could see Gate 56 from where we were parked on the tarmac.

And we stayed parked.  It looked like they were closing the door on the plane at Gate 56.  Then they pushed the plane back.  And our plane pulled into that spot instead of Gate 50.  So much for making my connection. 

I got off the plane and got into a fairly long line for customer service.  A long, slow-moving line, with very competent employees helping some very frustrated customers. 

My wait in line was over an hour and I reached the desk resigned to the possibility that I may spend the night in Denver.  United put me on a 3:45 flight to Durango.  At 3:45 the incoming plane that we were supposed to take outbound still hadn't arrived but we did get in the air a bit before 5, landing in Durango just as the sun was setting.

I got in my car and made my way from Durango to Pagosa Springs.  It is a beautiful drive through the mountains, one that I had made two other times.  Driving that segment during the day on Sunday I had seen mule deer in four different places, so I stayed under the speed limit and was quite content to sit behind other cars rather than pass anyone.

A very brief stop for food in Pagosa Springs and then another hour to Dulce.  I have driven that road more often, in night and day.  Elk inhabit that landscape so while I was anxious to get home I took my time on the drive.  I had texted my wife when I got something to eat so she kept our daughter up a bit past her bed time.  We were all very glad when I got home.

It was a long journey home.

It was a longer journey than I expected but I never doubted that I would actually get there.  There were some things I could control and others that I could not.  I trusted that eventually I would get to my destination.

The book I took to read on the trip was about the doctrine of definite atonement.  In a nutshell definite atonement is the belief that Jesus is going to save eternally all of the people that he came to save.  It understands the Bible to teach that Jesus does not save everyone, but that of the ones he does save there is no doubt that he saves them.  From the perspective of salvation, Jesus definitely does what he sets out to do.

So during the day, as my trip had its ups and downs, I was also pondering definite atonement.  I'll admit that this isn't the best analogy but in a small way my trip home helped to illustrate definite atonement.

First, I had no doubts about my destination.  Similarly, for all who have faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord, there can be no doubts about your destination.  Romans 10:9 says,

"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." 

Those words of Paul are not a comprehensive statement of all Christian belief but they do state unequivocally that people who confess faith in Jesus will know eternal life.  If you have faith in Jesus then there is no doubt about your eternal destiny.

Secondly, while I knew my destination and believed I would get there I still had to endure obstacles, some completely unexpected, before arriving there.

In a similar fashion, it is a fact of Christian life that just because a person has faith there are no guarantees that the remainder of one's earthly life will be smooth sailing.  Rather, we are warned of the opposite.  1 Peter 5:8-9 says,

"Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world."

Bumps in the road of life as a Christian are to be expected, and some of them can be pretty big.  But God is faithful and the destination is sure.

And lastly, I eventually arrived home, to be warmly reunited with my family. 

We don't know the number of the days of our lives, nor the events that will fill them, but the Bible teaches that they are fully known to God.  And in that knowledge we can trust God to carry us through them, be they good or bad, easy or hard. 

One day we will be received into heaven, into the arms of our faithful Savior and Lord, Christ Jesus.  And in that there will be great rejoicing, of which my return home was just a small preview. 

My trip home was just a small image of the fulfillment of definite atonement. Promise, journey, and joyful arrival at a certain destination. 

As a Christian be encouraged.  The journey may at times seem long, but the destination is certain.  An eternal home with your faithful Savior and Lord.  To His eternal glory. Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Called home to glory

Yesterday a very dear friend breathed his last and was called home to glory.  The picture here of he and I was taken at my ordination last August.  We had one more opportunity to spend time with him and his wife after the ordination before we moved to New Mexico later in the month. 

Our friendship went back at least 26 years, and maybe a bit longer.  I recall where we met, in a general sense, but not when.  He had sustained a spinal cord injury in his late teens, so that the "normal" that he lived with on a day-to-day basis was much different than mine.  There were several times over the years of our friendship when his medical issues became life-threatening.  His body rebounded time-and-again, sometimes back to his baseline and sometimes with a new normal.

He was in pretty good health in 2012 when his daughter married.  Things in his body seemed to be gradually slowing down over the past year and I am glad that he could come to my ordination, and also for our last phone call, for I treasured his encouragement in following the track that God was leading me on over the past seven years.

Last Sunday I preached from 1 Corinthians 2:1-13 and two thoughts come to mind from my sermon as I recall my friend.

The first was a reference to the question asked of Eve by the serpent in the Garden.  Eve ponders the apple, and the instructions given by God not to eat of it, and the serpent asks "Did God really say…?" 

In the sermon I noted that not only did God really say something about not eating the apple, but God made his most profound statement in the finished work of Christ on the cross.  

At the cross we see that God very clearly said something.  At the cross we see that God very clearly did something.  At the cross, in the finished work of the Son, those who know the Son by faith are reconciled with the Father.  In verse 7 Paul points out that we can believe this with complete certainty because it is something "which God decreed before the ages for our glory." 

That God would establish a plan of salvation prior to any act of creation is something that defies human logic.  But while I may not understand how God could do such a thing I can take great comfort in the fact that he did it that way, for a plan of salvation that pre-exists creation is a plan of salvation that cannot be defeated in any way.  There is nothing that can take salvation from those God gives it to.

The other point from my sermon has to do with verse 9, where Paul looks back to the prophet Isaiah and writes:

"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him."

Paul is teaching that the things God has prepared for us in heaven are so good that as they are seen from this side of life they are beyond our ability to imagine.  Isaiah had a glimpse of heaven and brought that back for us.  It is a wonderful glimpse, but the difference between his words and the reality is something like the difference between a child's crayon drawing and a Rembrandt.  They both certainly show beauty, but we can't imagine the richness of Rembrandt if all we have ever seen was done in crayon.

My friend knew Christ Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  Today, while I read God's word and imagine what future glory may be like, my dear friend has entered into it.  My heart aches for his family and the pain of their loss.  But my heart also rejoices that one of the Lord's own, claimed by him before anything was created, is in the eternal presence of his Savior. 

To God be all glory, now and forever.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

ha hin day

This evening we went to a community activity where we had a chance to learn about some after-school and summertime programs available for youth here on the reservation.  They are programs run by the Jicarilla Apache Nation but a child doesn't have to be Jicarilla to participate.  Our daughter is on the waiting list and we enjoyed having a chance to learn more specifically about what the various programs were and which ones might be a good fit for her.

While we were there we ran into a few other people we have met in town, and it was nice to visit with them.  And there was a meal.  One person in charge of the activity knew I was a pastor, which resulted in an impromptu invitation to give a blessing over the meal.  Such is life in a small town.

The real blessing tonight, for me, was that while we were sitting, by ourselves, a woman asked if she could sit and eat at our table.  She had spent the day at a program devoted to Native American culture and so a large part of our conversation was about culture and the various challenges Native American groups face in maintaining their culture and passing it on to future generations. 

A few weeks ago, at a pot-luck at our church, I had a conversation with a man from our church.  He is not Jicarilla but Tiwa, and told me that in their language there is no word or phrase for "good bye."  Instead, they say "see you later."

Since we have been on the reservation I have only learned a few words of the Jicarilla language, one of them being a greeting.  So I asked the woman eating with us if there was a Jicarilla word for "good bye" or "see you later."  There is no "good bye" but there is a "see you later," which I transliterated as "ha hin day." 

I like what a phrase like "ha hin day" suggests, particularly in the absence of "good bye."  It suggests, to me, that a parting from someone else is only temporary and that not only will I see that person again but I will look forward to seeing them.  I am sure that there are times when people use the phrase as a courtesy, ending a meeting with it even if they have no desire to see the other person again, but that won't be my intent as I work it into my vocabulary.

That phrase, ha hin day, or see you later, also points me to the something Jesus taught his disciples.  In John 14 he talks to them about their home, not here on earth but their eternal home, with him, in heaven.  In verses 2-3 he says:

"In my Father's house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."

Jesus was preparing his disciples for that time when he would no longer walk the earth with them.  In a manner of speaking he was saying "see you later," but his "see you later" is much more than a simple reunion.

When his disciples, the ones he walked with, taught among, and shared meals with, and all of his disciples since then, see him again they will be seeing him in all his glory.  They will see him as Savior and Lord.  Joy will abound, between both created and Creator.  It will be a reunion unlike any other, and a reunion without end.

I'm looking forward to it.  Are you?

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A better question

Tomorrow there is going to be a debate of sorts.  Bill Nye, of Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, are going to get together to publicly discuss this question: "Is Creation A Viable Model of Origins in Today's Modern Scientific Era?"

In the interest of public disclosure I'll say that before yesterday I had little awareness that this event was coming up and now that I have heard more about it my intention is not to pay much attention to it. 

Yesterday I stumbled across this article in the Chicago Sun-Times, which brought the pending debate to my attention.  What surprised me about the Sun-Times piece was the animosity of the authors towards Christianity in general, and Protestantism in particular.  To my understanding of history they made some profound misstatements about the origins and intent of the reform of the church in the 15th/16th century and the descendants of that reform today. 

Yesterday I preached from 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.  My sermon was titled "Wisdom: Not What You'd Expect."  One thing I tried to bring out of the passage was that there is a difference between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of the church.  Paul says that various factions of the world seek proof of God through either signs or logic.  The desire to prove, or as in the case of the debate and the Sun-Times article, to disprove, the methods chosen by God to reveal himself to the world through logic continue today. 

In contrast to the wisdom of the world Paul holds out what he calls "the word of the cross."  Verse 18 says:

"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." 

The "word of the cross" is a very brief way of saying this:

You and I are sinners.  Our sin is not merely doing something wrong or making a mistake.  Sin is rebellion against a holy God.  And rebellion against God deserves punishment.  Because God is holy, and you and I are not, we cannot possibly take the punishment that God's justice demands.  So God, the Father, in his mercy, sent Jesus, his Son, to live a sinless life and take on his body the punishment you and I deserve.  The Father found this work by the Son acceptable and raised the Son to eternal life.  When, by faith, we believe what Jesus, the Son, has done, we receive the promise of eternal life.  The punishment for our sin, all of it, has been paid by the Son, and our destiny beyond this world will be eternity with God. 

What Paul calls "the word of the cross" is a message that no amount of logic will arrive at.  There is no possible way to go from "A to B to C to etcetera" and arrive at "salvation in Jesus."  It is a message that is only arrived at through faith in what God has done in Jesus. 

Not faith in Jesus the good teacher.  Not faith in Jesus the example of a better way.   Only through faith in Jesus, the Savior.

I started writing this post with a somewhat negative opinion of tomorrow's pending debate. While I still don't have much interest in the central question that Nye and Ham will discuss, perhaps their discussion will touch some people in such a way that they begin to look more deeply into the central message of the Bible. 

For me, a better question, or perhaps the only question that matters, is about Jesus, and it is this one, the one that he asked to his disciples:

"But who do you say that I am?"

Peter's response was this:

"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Like Peter, I believe that Jesus is the Son of the living God, and so I find great comfort in what Paul called the "word of the cross." 

How does that word speak to you?

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.