Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Not Our Home

"This world is not our home."

Those were Robin's words to me as I told her of the sudden death yesterday of the son of friends from our former church in Minnesota. Not only were his parents very supportive of us during our six years at that church, but the man's wife has been a friend of mine for 28 years, beginning the week after they married.

And the news of this particular death comes on the heels of my conducting a funeral today and another one yesterday. One man, one woman, each in their 30's and between them leaving behind nine children.

And as I write this it is about 24 hours since the terrorist bombing in Manchester, England killed 23 people and injured 59 others. 

Christians looking at the world through the lens of the Bible clearly see evidence of sin and the brokenness that travels with it all around them.  It is a view that is crystal clear as I think about the four events mentioned in the first part of this writing. 

But Christians looking at the world through the lens of the Bible also see clearly, that God has something much better in place as the true home for His children.  I noted that in yesterday's funeral sermon from John 14:1-6, where in verse 3 Jesus says,

"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." 

John later gives an eyewitness report of this image of home in his Revelation, describing the new heaven and new earth in 21:1-4.  Verse four is particularly clear in the way it talks about how drastically different the this dwelling with God will be, saying,

"He [God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."

If you are in some way suffering from the broken nature of a world soaked in sin, may you know rest and peace in the arms of a loving God.  Jesus lived and died that you might know true peace and true hope. 

For the Christian, this world is not our home in the truest sense of those words.  But it is place where we can live with faith in Jesus, serving Him until that day He brings us to be with Him forever.

(The picture is of the southwestern San Juan mountains, looking north into Colorado, about 40 miles west of where we live. I took it today while traveling to do some hospital and nursing home visits.)

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, May 17, 2017

Hail, part 2.

Last week our family got caught in a hailstorm while in Denver.  The storm gave me a few things to think about, one of which I wrote about on Monday, and the other, which is today's post.

I have been inside the house during a hail storm before, most noticeably the storm that came through Dulce two years ago.  There was really large hail that day and Kat and I watched it fall and then bounce three feet into the air. From the comfort of the house it was primarily entertainment.

But that storm wasn't entertaining for Robin, who was outside at the post office parking lot, using a box to protect her head.  She came home with bruises from hail hitting her shoulders and arms. 

The storm last week was intense.  The hail started falling as Robin was checking our family into a motel.  Kat and I were waiting in the car and the storm turned from rain to hail while Robin was in the motel.  Several things came to mind during the fifteen minutes, by my best guess, that the hail lasted.

First was the violence of the storm.  As we sat in the car the noise of hail striking our car was so loud that Kat and I had to yell to hear each other.  The violence was also evident when particularly large pieces of hail struck the car.  The noise sounded as if someone was swinging a framing hammer on our car.

Second was the relentless nature of the storm.  When I think of hail I think of a storm that is intense, but brief.  My memory of hail in Minnesota is the it would only fall for a few minutes  and then the storm would either turn to rain or just fade away.  There was so much hail during last week's storm that the city had to get plows out to clear off the freeway.

And lastly, as I hoped that everyone who might have been outside had found shelter, I wondered what it would be like to out outside in a storm like that, with no options for shelter.  Violence that is intense and unrelenting, and with no escape and, while it is happening, no end in sight.  That last image is one that I think gives us a glimpse of the wrath of God towards human sin.

From our point of view, as sinful humans living in a fallen world, the wrath of God against sin is almost impossibly hard to grasp.  We can make all kinds of excuses and give all kinds of reasons for believing that there is no such a thing as God pouring his wrath out against sin.  "God is love." "That is old fashioned; a hold-over from the Old Testament."  "Sin isn't really that bad."  "Surely you are misreading the Bible."  The list could go on and on.

But whatever we might want to say against the idea of God's wrath, we can't deny that from Genesis through Revelation, God hates sin and promises to deal with it.  And one of the ways he promises to deal with it is to offer a substitute, to bear his wrath against our sin, so that we can be made whole with him.  That substitute, Jesus, knew the truth of God's wrath when, as he approached the moment of bearing it, the Bible says:

"And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”"

Last week's hail storm gave me a glimpse into the wrath of God against human sin, wrath that I fully deserve, whether I can grasp how terrible it truly is or not.   But is a wrath that I have been delivered from, in the mercy and grace God gives to all who call on Jesus as Savior and Lord. 

Salvation is found in no other name.  May you know salvation in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  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.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Hail, part 1.

Last week Monday we went to Denver so that Robin could watch her favorite sports team, the Chicago Cubs, play a game against the Colorado Rockies.  We had a good trip, but certainly not the trip we had expected!  One of the unexpected things was getting caught in a hail storm late
Monday afternoon, which inspired me to think about a few things.  One post comes today, and I'm hoping to write along a different line of thought later this week.

We had an uneventful drive to Denver.  It was a beautiful day to travel.  There was minimal road construction and the traffic was light.  As we got close to Denver it looked like it might rain and a storm began as we ran a few errands before checking in to our motel.  And that's when things really got interesting!

We drove to the motel.  Kat and I sat in the car while Robin went in to take care of the arrangements for our room.  The rain, which was not falling very hard, turned to hail, which quickly increased in intensity.  As it struck the car it got louder and louder.  Looking outside there were pieces on the ground ranging from the size of a dime to the size of a quarter.  Judging from the violence of the noise and vibration as some struck the roof of the car some pieces must have been larger. 

I usually consider hail to be a fairly brief phenomenon but this storm last about fifteen minutes.  The picture is of the hood of our car, after the storm.  The car's roof looks about the same.  The hail also broke both side view mirrors and the taillight covers.  Inside the motel lobby, where Robin was, the hail broke four double-pane windows.  Fortunately the blinds were closed as the storm began, minimizing the spread of glass shards in the motel lobby.

During the storm, and in its aftermath, I was glad that everyone in my family was in a sheltered place.  To be outside in that storm would be physically dangerous and perhaps terrifying emotionally. And then I thought of Martin Luther

One of the turning points in Luther's life occurred on July 2, 1505, when he was caught outside in a thunderstorm.  A bolt of lightning struck so close to him that he cried out in a vow to pursue a life of particular devotion to God.  We might say that one thing led to another and the rest is history. 

My experience in the hail of last Monday gave me a glimpse into the terror that Luther felt at the time of the thunderstorm.  Like Luther, I am glad to have come to understand that the God who created the heavens and the earth is not merely a God of law and judgment, but also a God of gospel and mercy. 

Psalm 91 begins with these words:

"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”"

My refuge and fortress, Luther's refuge and fortress, is not the protection given by a car in a hail storm or a vow made during a thunderstorm. 

The refuge and fortress that was Luther's over five hundred years ago, and is mine today, is only found in the person of Jesus Christ. 

By faith in Jesus Christ, and Him alone, you too can know the only refuge and fortress that will never falter.  

Life will still have its hazards, and storms will come into your life, but your eternal place will be with Christ, and He will never fail.  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.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A First Time For Everything

There is a saying that goes, "There's a first time for everything."  As a pastor on the rez I had not one, but two, of those experiences yesterday.

It began when I went over to church to look for a package that supposedly had been delivered Monday, while we were out of town.  Supposedly, because the tracking info from the delivery service said that it had been left at the front door, yet it was nowhere to be found.  The regular UPS and FedEx folks know where we live, but if it was a substitute driver then there are no guarantees.  Not all buildings in Dulce have street addresses and if a person puts our address into Google Maps they are taken to a location ½ mile up the street.  Go figure.

So I expanded my search from the house to the other buildings on the property.  I went to the church.  No package there.  It was raining so I walked through the hallway connecting the church to the gym/office/classroom building.  And as I entered that building I heard several voices.

Multiple voices got my curiosity up.  Our cleaning person usually works alone and to the best of my knowledge we had no organizations or people using our building yesterday.  I also thought I smelled cigarette smoke. 

Following my nose and ears I went upstairs and  in the large classroom were three men, smoking and drinking.  I don't recall the conversation verbatim, but the gist of it on my end was telling them they had to leave, and on their end telling me that "so-and-so" had let them into the building.  I told them I didn't know "so-and-so" and that they still had to leave.  And so they gathered their things, leaving behind half a can of beer, and headed outside.

Finding people drinking inside the building…that was the first "first time for everything."

When they were outside and I was checking the lock one of the men asked me if I would pray for them.  I get those requests often, sometimes from people I have never met.  Sometimes from people who are intoxicated.  I always pray for them, although perhaps not always in the way they quite expected.  This time I did something different.  I said, "Pour out the rest of your liquor and then we'll pray."  Attaching a condition before agreeing to pray was my second "first time for everything" of the day. 

They very briefly considered my requirement, and then walked off in the rain.

In John 8 we have the story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus calls out those who intend to stone her, saying:

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

We read that story and are reminded  that we are all sinners and to pretend otherwise is hypocrisy.  But that isn’t all Jesus says, as he tells the woman:

"Go, and from now on sin no more."

Alcohol abuse is like a cancer here on the rez, except that people with cancer are much more interested in seeking treatment than people abusing alcohol.  I have no idea what other issues in the lives of those men drives their alcohol abuse, but living here for four years has taught me that each of them knows at least one person who is no longer living as a direct result of alcohol abuse.  The issue here is that pervasive.

This is one of the occasional weekends on the rez where many people are going to have more cash on hand.  More cash on hand means a number of things, including, unfortunately, an escalation of all manner of behaviors related to alcohol abuse. But as I think and write of all this right now I have a new thought, which is that perhaps this weekend will be the one where someone stops by the parsonage and says, "Pastor Brad, I really need to make my last drink the last drink of my life. Will you help me?"

There is a first time for everything, and that is an invitation I would readily accept.

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, May 7, 2017

Earned or Given?

Out here on the reservation of the Jicarilla Apache Nation they have a lot of respect for veterans of the US military.  There are signs as one crosses the boundary onto the reservation saying that the Jicarilla Apache Nation thanks all veterans for their service.  During the community summer festival they have a program and lunch for veterans and their families.  I went last year and the lunch was incredible!  On Veteran's Day they have a breakfast and parade, and the newspaper that day includes the names of all tribal members who have served in the military of the United States.  And if all that wasn't enough, veterans get free coffee at the gas station, year-round. 

The Nation appreciates veterans, and most of the ways they thank them are available to any veteran, and not just tribal members.  Peace time service, wartime service, overseas service, or service no farther away than the next state, none of those differences matter.  All that matters is that a person signed up for the military and served honorably. 

That last distinction is where things get just a bit more complicated.  I spent four years in the US Navy and in the Navy, as in any of the other branches of service, in order to serve honorably one, at a minimum, has to complete basic training.  A person isn’t truly an airman, soldier, sailor or marine until they have completed basic training and earned that title.  The Marines even used that in their advertising at one time, noting that the title of Marine was "Earned, never given." 

It occurred to me that the title of "Christian" works in a way that is exactly opposite.  In Romans 10:9, Paul writes:

"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."

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says:

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

And in John 4:13 Jesus tells the woman at the well:

"Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

To receive the gift of salvation in Jesus there is absolutely nothing that we can do except to come to Him and have faith in what He has done on our behalf.  All we can do is to believe that He gave His very life so that our sin against God could be forgiven.  That is it.  It is something that is impossible to earn but which He very freely gives away.

Since coming to live on the reservation I have become proud of my service in the US Navy in ways that I had not really considered before.  But something of infinitely greater value is the name of "Christian," a name that is impossible to earn, but is very freely given to all who have come to have faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. 

May this name, His name, be the name that you are known by.  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.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

No Other Options

In my last post, which was derived from my piece for our church newsletter, I encouraged people to think of one friend or family member they know who is not a Christian and to pray for that person daily in the month of May.  I suggested two different parts to those prayers, which were:

1) Pray that God might soften their heart and prepare them to receive the good news of Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

2) Pray that you might be sensitive to an opportunity to serve God in working to reach that person.  This could happen in any number of ways, such as being willing to pray for them over a situation in their life, or inviting them to come to church with you, or perhaps even directly sharing the Gospel with them.

There is a road leading east of town I run on several times a week.  In doing so I go past a ranch, where there are some cattle, horses and goats.  We live in a part of the country where there are predators, including coyotes and mountain lions.  I've never seen a lion in the wild but early one morning I did see a dead deer in the area of that ranch that had recently been fed on by a large animal.

At that ranch the horses and cattle are generally out all night, year-round.  But the goats are brought in to a fenced area near the barn and house every night.  The goats may or may not know the dangers around them, but the rancher knows, and in they come, each night.  For the safety of his herd there are no other options.

The refuge found in the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is so much like what I see with the goats that even Jesus speaks of it in similar terms, saying this in John 10:7,

"So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.""

The hazards of the world, both the visible and the invisible, are very real.  The damage that can result from some of them is eternal.  Jesus never promises that we will go through life problem-free, but He does offer the only place of safety from the very worst of hazards, which is spending eternity apart from Him. 

When it comes to a person's eternal destiny, the only place is through Jesus.  There are no other options.

As you continue to pray this month for your non-believing friends may they come to find in Jesus the way, the only way, to everlasting safety, peace and joy. 

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.