Sunday, July 26, 2015

Million Dollar Highway

About this time last year we went on a short trip into southwestern Colorado.  We drove to Ouray and took the most direct route, meaning that we traveled over the section of road known as The Million Dollar Highway.

The Million Dollar Highway is a beautiful bit of road, running between Silverton and Ouray.  Spectacular mountain views are around every corner.  And there are very many corners as the road winds through the mountains, although the driver of the car should attend to the road, and not the views.  The road is set in the mountains, and in many places it appears to be barely clinging to them.  And it clings to the mountains without the benefit of guardrails.  The Million Dollar Highway is not for the faint of heart.

A veteran Colorado driver told me it's really no big deal.  "After all, the highway is the same width as any other two-lane road."  While that may be the case, most other two-lane roads don't appear to be just a very few feet away from imminent disaster.  Going off the edge of this particular highway will result with near certainty in a car falling a very long ways down the mountainside. 

When I drove it the width of the road was not the problem.  What raised my blood pressure was the absence of guardrails and the apparent nearness of catastrophe with the slightest error in steering.

Going through life can have some things in common with the Million Dollar Highway.  The path can appear narrow, with danger at each turn.  And not a guard rail in sight. 

And while there may not appear to be any guard rails in life, I believe that the Christian can turn to God's word in the Bible, and find that God provides protection, again and again.  By learning, trusting, and relying on God's word we are better able to stay in the proper lane of life and much less likely to stray into danger.  It is like driving down the road and seeing the rail in our peripheral vision, reminding us of the proper spacing between safety and danger. 

Psalm 119 is an excellent example of this.  Again and again to it teaches us the value of God's word. 

Verses 4-5: "You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! " 

Verse 15: "I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways."

Verses 65-66: "You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to your word. Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments."

These are but a few of the examples found in Psalm 119, a song of devotion to the power and care of God, given to his people through His word.  May you find safety and security each day in the guidance and promises of God's word.

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, July 21, 2015

Bad news, or Good?

Last Sunday afternoon I was reading Acts, chapter 7.  Most of the chapter contains the words of Stephen, a disciple of the early church, as he was on trial before a court of the Jewish rulers.  In his testimony Stephen briefly highlights several key points of the history of the Hebrew people and their relationship with God.  He talks about the call of God to Abraham.  He tells the story of Joseph and the Hebrew people going into slavery in Egypt.  He tells the story of Moses, and how God rescued His people and brought them into the Promised Land.  And then he tells the story of Jesus. 

One of the reasons he tells a story with so many parts is to show these people, who are the leaders of the Hebrew people, that the history they have with God moved towards, and reached its completion, in Jesus.  His testimony culminates with a vision of heaven, as Stephen says,

"Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

And the response of the Hebrews to this story and vision of heaven? 

"But they cried with a  loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.  Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him."

Stephen gave these Hebrew leaders a guided tour of their history as God's people and showed them how it reached its peak with the coming of Jesus.  In the shorthand of the church we call this the "Good News."  Judging by the response of Stephen's audience this Good News was the very last thing they wanted to hear.  The account in Acts shows us that these people found it to be bad news, and the killing of the messenger as the most appropriate response. 

Today it remains the call of all Christians to carry the Good News to the world.  Jesus gives us this task in Matthew 28:18-20, saying,

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We live in a world that is just as opposed to hearing the Good News of Jesus as the people that Stephen preached too.  We may not face the kind of direct and violent response that he did, but the hatred that  exists towards God, and particularly towards the mercy that He would give to sinners through His Son, Jesus, is just as prevalent.  What we call Good News is taken by the world as anything but good news.

But the response of the world does not change the fact that the news of Jesus is not simply Good News, but the Very Best News. 

So seek the Lord in prayer and then seek to share His Good News, wherever He would lead you.  We share this news knowing, like Stephen did, that however the world may respond to it, ultimately all authority, on heaven and earth, is in the hands of our Savior and Lord.  The response the world shows you is not a personal response towards you.  Their acceptance or rejection is ultimately the acceptance or rejection of Jesus. 

Jesus is your living Savior and Lord, now and forever, and you can carry His Good News with confidence wherever you go.

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, July 14, 2015

None like You

As part of my devotional reading this morning I read Jeremiah 10.  Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet of doom and gloom.  The prophet we get the word 'jeremiad' from, or "a prolonged lamentation or mournful complaint," although in all fairness that is due to his being the author of Lamentations, and not the book bearing his own name.

There is a lot in the book of Jeremiah that sounds harsh, particularly the repeated prophecy of judgment against God's people for their lack of faithfulness and their unwillingness to repent. 

But there is also a lot of God's goodness to be found in Jeremiah, and chapter 10 is a prime example.  Chapter 10 contrasts the Living God with false gods, with idols.  Here is the example from this morning that just seems to stay with me today.

In verse 5 Jeremiah says this about the idols of the people:

"Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk.  Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do any good."

Verse 5 gives us a picture of something that is completely without any power or ability of its own.  At best, it is made to do whatever we might make it to do.  Carry it over here.  Pose it like this.  Give it our undivided attention.   

And in return it gives us…what?  

Nothing.  That's what. 

Then verses 6 and 7 say this:

"There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might.  Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?  For this is your due, for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like you."

Jeremiah reminds us that there absolutely no equals to God.  He reminds us that no one, nowhere, comes even close.

In contrast to a scarecrow in a cucumber field we have One who is totally unique and without equal.  One who is great in every possible way.  One who is the only One deserving of our worship.

I have never bowed down to a scarecrow in a cucumber field, but many are the times that I have pursued something with the attention, the devotion, that I should have given to God.  Some of those things have been things that were very clearly wrong.  In others it wasn't the thing itself that was wrong but the devotion I had towards it.

God is gracious and merciful.  And today I thank him for the way He speaks through Jeremiah, reminding me to look out for the idols of my life and to turn again to the only One who deserves my worship.

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, July 6, 2015

Where is your hope?

Over the past few months my wife, Robin, and I have been walking with some people going through very trying times. Some of this has been at a distance and some has been face-to-face.  These include:

A granddaughter who died in February, following an accident at home. 

A very dear friend who was diagnosed with advanced and essentially untreatable cancer, who passed away in late June. 

A relative who was recently diagnosed with advanced and essentially untreatable cancer.

A relative recently diagnosed with a circulatory problem, who declined high-risk surgery, her only treatment option.

Two extended families within our church who each lost family members very unexpectedly last week. 

In addition to the care, concern and prayers that we have offered I have preached two funerals, one for our granddaughter, in June, and one for a church family last week.

As I think about these people tonight I find myself coming back to this question: Where do we find hope?

Do we find hope in medical care?  Sometimes, but not always.  And even at its best, medical care can only delay what one day comes to all of us.  Our death.

Do we find hope in our friends and family? Perhaps in them we receive encouragement and support.  Very often they may provide very real and much appreciated care for our physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

Do we find hope in our own grit and determination?  Again, perhaps, but only for a time.  Stubbornness, the refusal to yield to a cancer that is inexorably advancing, can only last so long.    

Do we find hope in something that lies beyond the reach of this world?  Yet again, perhaps, depending on what it is you believe in while you are in this world.

The apostle Paul touched on the idea of hope when he wrote to the church at Thessaloniki.  He understood that the hope that some people were holding on to was really no hope at all.  In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 he wrote,

"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep."

In saying "those who are asleep" Paul is talking about believers in Jesus who have died.  And Paul makes crystal clear that the only true hope for all Christians, is in Jesus.  All who have faith in Him are His own, eternally.  And as He rose from death to eternal life, so too will they.  This is a sure and certain promise from God.

The opening section of the Heidelberg Catechism states the certainty of God's hold on His children this way:
Question & Answer  1
Q. What is your only comfort
in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, 1
but belong—
body and soul,
in life and in death— 2
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. 3
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, 4
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. 5
He also watches over me in such a way 6
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven; 7
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. 8
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life  9
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him. 10

Where is your hope?  It is my prayer that your hope is in Jesus, for it is my belief that He alone is our only hope.

He is our only hope in whatever may lie ahead for us each day in this world.  And He is our only certain hope for eternal life.

May you know hope, true and everlasting hope, in Jesus.

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.