Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Thirsty Soul

I like to run and in just over one week I'm going to run another marathon.  Training this spring has been good and I'm looking forward to the race.  The race is in Kayenta, AZ and I ran there last year.  In not sure how to describe that section of northeast Arizona.  Barren?  Rugged?  Arid?  There is a kind of beauty there that is perhaps better seen than described. 

One thing I recall from last year was how it was starting to get noticeably warm towards the end of the race.  The day began cool but there was a delay to the start and as I was heading back to town and the finish line I was beginning to feel the heat.  I wanted to finish, not only because 26 miles is a long ways to run, but also because historically I don't do very well running in warm temperatures.

When I crossed the finish line one of the first things I did was drink water.  And drink more water.  And drink still more water.  Water at that time felt so good.  I drank for two reasons.  One, that it felt good, and two, because I know that left to my own sense of thirst I usually don’t drink enough of it when I run.  I knew my body needed more water than I would be inclined to give it.

Those images came to mind when I read Proverbs 25:25 the other day, in this week immediately after Easter.  It says,

"Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country."

Here we are, just a few days after Easter, where Christians mark the defining event of all human history, the death-and resurrection of Jesus.  And in a sense, Easter, more than anything else, is very much "good news from a far country." 

In Easter we have the culmination of the earthly life of Jesus.  God incarnate, laying aside His deity, coming from a place of glory that our imaginations can’t do justice to, living among us and ultimately laying down His life, so that one day we can live in His very presence. 

More than mere "good news" this is the best of news.  And in a manner similar to my drinking water after the race, taking more than I need to satisfy my thirst, this news of Jesus for my salvation, is something I shouldn’t be easily satisfied with, but something I should seek again and again. 

The world is full of thirsty souls.  May they find and know true satisfaction, which only comes through 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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Our Only Hope

The world is a beautiful place.  Here on the reservation natural beauty is all around us, and a short drive in any direction will take us to another place of beauty, one that will be very different from here near town, but glorious in its own way.

And while natural beauty is so abundant we all also know that everyday life can, and often is, quite hard.  We have responsibilities and obligations to fulfill.  We may be living or working with people that we have a  hard time getting along with.  We may be struggling with illness, or someone close to our heart may be wrestling with addictions.  The stress of life can be hard and there are times when our best day is one in which we somehow make it to bedtime, where we can get a few hours of respite as we sleep before beginning all over again the next day. 

The apostle Paul knew quite a bit of hardship in his life.  In writing to the church at Corinth he felt that he needed them to understand what he was going through, saying:

"For we do not want you to be ignorant brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia.  For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death."

Paul and his companions felt that the weight of their hardship was so severe that they were on the verge of death.  But he goes on to show us what he learned in that trial, adding these words:

"But that was to make us not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.  On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again."

Paul had learned to rely on God, and it was God in whom he placed his hope.  And Paul can hope in God because it is God "who raises the dead."   More specifically I believe that Paul is referring to the resurrection of Jesus when he writes to Corinth, for it is in Jesus, and Jesus alone, in whom we can truly have hope. 

Paul speaks of earthly peril, but he also points towards the eternal pain of separation from God for all who refuse the saving work of Jesus.  It is in the Easter moment, the death-and-resurrection of Jesus, where God clearly shows the lengths He will go to in order to give hope to all who come, in faith, to Him. 

May you live in the hope of Easter, the hope of eternal life with Jesus, as your faithful Savior and Lord.  This is true hope, and it is truly our only hope.

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.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Proverbs, Good Friday and Easter

The book of Proverbs, that nearly never-ending collection of wisdom sayings.  It's in the Bible, so my brain tells me I should read it.  And it would be hard to say that what is written there is not wise, but frankly sometimes the proverbs seem so isolated. They seem like one wise saying after another, with little connection to either the one before or after, and with little connection to God.  But every once in a while God shows Himself clearly, and He knocks my socks off.  Such was my reading of Proverbs 16:6 yesterday.   

"By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for,
    and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil."

This proverb was written long before the coming of Jesus into the world, but it is a word from God that looks forward and finds it's fulfillment in Jesus. 

A number of things are present in the work of Chris on the cross, one of them being the atonement for sin, or what the author of Proverbs calls "iniquity."  Any sin, and all sin, the things we would all call serious sins and the things we try  to minimize as being "not that bad," are grievous offenses against a holy God.  Their presence demands payment, or "atonement," by anyone who would desire to come into the presence of God.  Not being holy ourselves there is no way that we can wash the stain of sin away.  There are no good deeds that we can do to balance the scales in our favor.   We are left in a mess that has no possible solution, except for the one the proverb points to.  Iniquity is atoned for "by steadfast love and faithfulness." 

Try as we might, we cannot live lives of steadfast love and faithfulness.  The only one who did that is Jesus.  As God the Son, He lived a life of steadfast love and faithfulness towards God the Father, a life that was free from the stain of sin and filled with love for both His Father and for those He came to save.  As we think of Good Friday we think of the atonement He made with His life, a life laid down for the sin of all who would have faith in Him.  A life laid down for my sin.  Laid down for yours.

He lay his life down, and two days later He took it back up again.  This is the Easter moment, and this is where the second half of the proverb speaks just as powerfully as the first.  I can live in "the fear of the Lord," understanding "fear" to be "great reverence," because I know that Jesus gave His life for me.  For my salvation.  I can live a life of great reverence for Him, having an understanding of those things that please God and those that don't, leaning on Him as I turn from evil and towards Him. 

Proverbs, Good Friday and Easter come together.  Iniquity is atoned for by the steadfast love and faithfulness of Jesus, so that I can live for His glory, today and every day.  

God spoke to me through this proverb.  As we move through Good Friday and to Easter may He also speak to you.  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.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Don't take my word for it…

If things work out I'll get my hair cut this week.  When he is finished the barber will get out a small mirror that I can use to look at the job he has done.  If I hold to form when he does this I'll say something like this: "You're a professional. I don’t need to look at it.  I trust you."  The reality is that he either will cut it well, as he has in the past, or he will have botched it.  If he does the latter my looking in a mirror won’t make any difference, and I'll find someone else to cut it next time.  He cuts hair.  I don't.  I trust him to do his job and to do it well, without involving me with the details.

This came to mind as my wife came home from the dentist last Friday.  The dentisit had a camera so that, if desired, she could see what he did that day.  Thinking of my upcoming visit there I had the same thoughts as when I visit the barber: "You're the professional, so I trust you to do the job you have trained for."

But this morning it came to mind that my attitude of "trusting the professional" isn't always best.  I serve as pastor of the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church and one of the things we do nearly every time we gather for worship is a congregational prayer of confession of sin.  Then after the prayer I read some words from the Bible that are intended to provide the assurance of forgiveness.  They are words that speak of God's forgiveness of those who have sinned and who have then turned back towards Him in faith.

Words that convey the assurance of forgiveness are found throughout the Old and New Testaments.  This morning I read John 8:34-36.  Next Sunday, on Easter, I'll read Psalm 32:3-5.  Last Sunday it was Psalm 130:3-4.  The point of reading God's words of forgiveness is that while I may be the church professional, no one is forgiven on my say so.  The only one who forgives sin is God, and so as the barber uses a mirror to show me my haircut I use God's word to show people God's forgiving work in their lives. 

When it comes to understanding God, his nature and character, His attributes, His ways of working in the world, His purposes…virtually anything involving God that we could imagine, it would be easy to do one of two things.  The first is to understand those things through our imagination, what we think that they should be, or would be, if God had left it up to us to decide.  And the second is to believe what others have to say, perhaps on the strength of their learning, the force of their personality or their role in life. 

But perhaps the harder way, and the truly much better way, is to look into the Bible and see what God Himself has to say about the matter at hand. 

God promises to forgive His people, and He promises them so much more, but don’t take my word for it.  Take His. 

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.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Pondering Proverbs

I have been doing some reading in Proverbs.  While filled with wisdom, it is not an easy book of the Bible to read.  Some parts of it are easy to grasp but many parts take much more than a quick reading to begin to appreciate.  They need to be read, and pondered, before the (proverbial!) light switch goes off.  And I'll admit that it is easy to reach a point where one just decides to move on and hope that God shines His light the next time through.

That said, I want to share what happened when reading earlier this week.  I read Proverbs 6:16-19, which says:

"There are six things that the Lord hates,
    seven that are an abomination to him:
 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
    and hands that shed innocent blood,
 a heart that devises wicked plans,
    feet that make haste to run to evil,
 a false witness who breathes out lies,
    and one who sows discord among brothers."

When I read the first verse I thought, "Does God hate six things or seven?  What's up with that?"  But then I grasped the other aspect of the verse, that there are things "the Lord hates"  that are an "abomination."

Hate is a pretty strong word, and abomination is even more intense.  There are some things that God, who is infinitely patient, has no time for.  Then the list:

1.      Haughty eyes
2.      A lying tongue
3.      Hands that shed innocent blood
4.      A heart that devises wicked plans
5.      Feet that make haste to run to evil
6.      A false witness who breathes out lies
7.      One who sows discord among brothers

Well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that not a one of those things is any good.  Humanly speaking, if any of those are our habits we will have a hard time getting along with anyone.  And on top of that the Bible has taught us that God hates them.

But if these are things God hates, then perhaps the opposite things are ones he finds favorable.  Examples of these would be:

1.      A humble heart
2.      A truthful tongue
3.      Hands that bring healing
4.      A heart that devises Godly plans
5.      Feet that make haste to run from evil
6.      A person who lives and breathes the truth
7.      One who heals relationships

Again, from a human perspective this is a list that makes sense.  These are the kinds of things that strengthen relationships and that most people would say are good qualities for one to cultivate in their character.  But, as the TV ads so often said, that's not all.

In the person of Jesus Christ we see each item on the second list lived to perfection.  While we might want to do each of the things on the second list each day, every day, we can't.  In spite of our best efforts we fall short.  But when we look to Christ we see someone who understood perfectly what God hates, and what God loves. 

We want to follow God's path but we so easily wander off in this direction, or that.  But in Christ we see a life lived with unfailing obedience, not even leaning towards one side or the other of the Father's path. 

Yesterday I preached a funeral sermon from 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, which says this in the closing verse:

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

My reading from Proverbs made it easy to see what God hates.  A little pondering pointed to what God loves.  And then God turned on the light to point from Proverbs to Christ.  And it is only in Christ, whose life was one of perfect obedience, that anyone can possibly find righteousness before God.  This is true wisdom, and by faith in Christ may it be yours. 

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.