Archive for May, 2018

Bypass To Nowhere

A hundred years ago Cheryl and I lived in Portland, Oregon for six of the best years of our life. While there, Cheryl’s brother and his wife lived in Seattle, Washington. It was our joy to visit them as often as we could. Seattle is big—really big—with massive freeways.

I saw the most startling sight while driving into Seattle one day. While surviving a fast moving freeway, I saw an exit ramp for a bypass that stopped in the middle of the sky. There were no indications that it was still under construction and it just stopped in mid-air. It was the bypass to nowhere.

A lot of ink has been poured into books about the will of God for our lives. Often there is great angst about living purposeful lives in the center of God’s will. God, it is assumed, has a specific, intentional plan for each person. In our culture, He doesn’t, it is implied, want us to be disabled or sick or poor or anything but successful or prosperous or happy.

Or does He? What I see is the usual call upon our lives is to walk—live—as faithful stewards (managers) of whatever He has already given, including gifts, abilities, opportunities, time, relationships (including singleness), and circumstances. Colossians 3:23 is penetrating: “Whatever you do…do…heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” (Matthew 25:21-23 does note faithfulness in the “whatevers”—the little things—can lead to greater kingdom service.) Here is the ultimate promise: Everything done for Christ matters now and soon at the time of our rewards at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).

I read the following story recently and it deeply touched me.

In a home for disabled children, Catherine was cared for for twenty years. Mentally disabled, she had never spoken a word. She only gazed quietly at the walls or made awkward movements. She did not respond to anything happening around her. She had serious medical problems, including one leg that had to be amputated. The staff were caring but quietly stated they wished God would take her home.

One day the doctor called the director to come quickly. Catherine was dying. When they entered her room, they could not believe their ears. Catherine was singing Christian hymns! Toward the end and with a transfigured face, for half an hour she repeated the German song, “Where does the soul find its fatherland, its rest?” She sang with a transfigured face, then she quietly passed away.

Who sang those songs in her presence?

And so, a gentle hug and simple prayer to Jesus matters for someone who has received bad news. Finding room in our life to talk about Jesus with a child is gold in heaven. Prized, hard-to-give-up time spent with God in the Scriptures and prayer feeds our soul or is, often, an offering only for the ears and heart of the Father and Son.

There are no bypasses to nowhere in God’s daily will for us.

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Convince Me: I Should Study History

I once had a history teacher in college who challenged the common idea that history, if not studied, would repeat itself. His rebuttal was that to say so is to say emperors, kings, and presidents did know their history and still chose to repeat its mistakes. Wars, he submitted, told the story. I have wondered many times: Why in the world, then, did he teach history? His class didn’t provide any answers.

His statement may be half right. After studying Scripture, human nature, and history for decades, I think he has correctly observed human nature, and how it gets in the way when moral choices need to be made. Given a choice, we often take the easy road or the self-centered highway. Self-preservation usually wins. That’s why theologians call it the sin nature.

It is wonderful that so some respond wisely and as noble citizens (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26). Christians indwelt by the Holy Spirit, considering what Scripture has to say, and focused on reflecting Christ and growing in personal holiness have the best opportunity to do what is right.

I am thinking about these things in my preparations to teach a class on the history of the Reformation. “Boring,” I hear some muttering. But the more I study history the more its importance meets me eye to eye. There are some healthy and helpful reasons for studying history. Here are some initial thoughts.

1. We all have roots. Understanding our past doesn’t have to control us, but it does influence us.

2. The Bible itself is largely history, with good and bad examples and principles in the context of real people living real lives. It doesn’t whitewash their mistakes; it shows them to be very human. However, the grace and mercy of God woos us to God and their lives while they make no allowances for sin. It is imbalanced to only say “To err is human” without recognizing we are no longer bound to sin (Romans 6) and we are empowered to live righteously once we are born again.

3. Akin to number one (above), church history, and in particular the Reformation, has started and/or shaped the particular church we part of. Somewhere in the stories of rebels and reformers—“protestors”—we have our beginning. Vital to our spiritual life and growth, our “protestant” churches have a beginning in the Reformation and their voice (or ghosts). At a minimum, they are our ancestors and helped us be who we are today. Their spiritual DNA is in us. Even the Catholic Church was and is untouched by the events and people of the Reformation.

4. We need heroes. Though intriguing and entertaining, we have made-up heroes with improbable superpowers and silly outfits that pull and squeeze on body parts in every direction. We don’t need placebos. We greatly benefit by the examples in history of men and women of real and realistic faith in the midst of life in a fallen world. Yes, the Bible provides us with many real heroes. But in history we find Scriptural models coming alive again. The focus and sacrifice of Hus and Wycliffe, the devotion to family and boldness of Luther against man-made religion, and the intellectual courage of Calvin all model living out the call to follow Christ with intentionality and faith. History can give us courage to do these things.

5. Doctrine. The word repels many, but truth had been lost and the Reformation found it again. Religion (as opposed to biblical truth), is distracting at the least, disastrous for needy souls for sure, and, sometimes, deadly in regard to eternal destiny and persecution (even false religions suffer persecution).

6. Understanding. Each part of the Bible has a historical context. A faithful interpretation includes knowing the setting each text was written in, to, about, or because of.

7. God uses imperfect people. The Reformation is jam-packed with them and they look like us. History humbles us.

I like J.I. Packers summary. He said, “When Henry Ford declared that history is bunk, he no doubt thought he was uttering wisdom. But his dictum is a classic instance of—well, bunk, and bunk in its purest form. Both the processes and the characters of history have a vast amount to teach us; studying them matures our judgment and frees us from blind submission to present-day prejudices. It has often been said, if we will not learn from history, we sentence ourselves to repeat its mistakes. This is supremely true of Christian history, which shows us the conflict of God’s Word with the world, in and through the lives of his servants, and sets before us the possibilities of living for God that had never before entered our minds.”

So, I am convinced history is an important exploration and, often, exhilarating to seekers of God’s heart.

If

If we could see the future it would make all the difference in the world.

Recently, I was stopped at a red light by a long train. Do you ever get irritated at a train that makes you stop? It was a long wait and then…(you know)…the train stopped in the middle of the intersection. I glared with my mouth wide open. Sit there with me for a minute.

Scriptures and therapists alike have guided us to rightly relate to time. Notably, Paul said, “[I am] forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). Jesus, the foundation for the teachings of Paul, also lived with the past, present, and future in proper perspective (see Matthew 25 and John 17).

While we rightly live in the moment and one day at a time, the trajectory of our heart-life is the future.

I have a nephew who has intentionally lived with his wife and daughter among a non-Christian people group in the United States. Preparing to live across the ocean among a people-group hostile to Christ and Americans, both my nephew and his wife have already been tested by the fire of severe health challenges when visiting there (each have been hospitalized more than once). Why not, some may ask, remain “ready to go but willing to stay”? Why risk further health problems or potential persecutions? Here are some things I sense from their hearts.

First, to them the good news of salvation in Christ alone (the “gospel”) is more than a decision in their past to follow Jesus Christ. It is a lifestyle, a love, and a life calling. And, it constantly shapes and redirects everything.

Second, they have heard our common, biblical gospel call to reach unreached people groups. It urges us to reach beyond our comfort zone and outside our friends and family. God asks us to accept what is an unnatural, often unaccepted but Spirit-led summons. And they know: It can be costly, even deadly.

Last, they have seen the desperate future for those without Christ, e.g., 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12. There is no “if” about it; they have seen what God has already said about their future. And, like the train I saw that morning, it is compelling with devastating potential for those who don’t stop or turn from it.

Speaking of the train, traveling down the highway later I saw the reason for the train slowing to a stop: Another large train was coming and the first train had to pull over to let it pass. If I had known that I might not have talked so unkindly to my windshield.

There is no “if” about it: We have seen the future for those without Christ. As Christ is being “formed in you” (Galatians 4:19), what will we do to reach those who will soon be separated from God forever?

My love ones are willingly being redirected, counting the cost, and are compelled to go to the lost right here and, soon, over there with everything.

Am I? Are you?

The Rhea Herald News

May 9, 2018


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