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Hope Deferred

Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

Delayed promises, unfulfilled dreams, missed expectations. The things we humans hope for yet trust God that He has our best in mind and our puny hopes are replaced with His grand plans.

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Broken promises, disingenuity, deception. These are NOT words associated with a perfect heavenly Father. They are also not words and phrases one would expect to hear connected with God’s Church, yet today we see it still in many areas.

Why?

I believe one reason is that we’re in the last of days. No doubt our enemy, satan, knows this. Using every tactic he’s honed he desires to get the Church off track. His game plan is to get Christians focused on their belly buttons or the lint in someone else’s… Discourage believers with the heart-sickness of broken dreams… Cultivate Pastors and Elders deluded with authority, who forget servanthood and become like the Pharisees of old. He’d like to convince regular church goers that their weekday sins somehow fly under the radar and get as many folks believing they are Christian as if it is the same as “American” or “Canadian” while  being nothing remotely Christ-like.

Christ’s followers expect to be a fighter in a battle, not a potato on a couch. We’re promised tribulation, we’re asked to die to ourselves. We’re promised victory and great reward when we endure to the end. Somehow, though, it’s easier when the battle is against evil, against injustice outside the church walls. It’s harder when we find ourselves wounded by our own family. Yet isn’t our response to be the same? Keep our eyes on Christ, draw close to Him, count on Him for our justice either now or later, count on Him for our joy in spite of the pain.

I’m certainly not saying that’s easy. I think it’s one of the hardest things to do. Natural emotions are real. God gave us those emotions and doesn’t begrudge us when we experience them. My heroes in the faith have experienced deep emotions as a result of brother- or sister-inflicted wounds yet instead of retaliation they seek God and a trusted confident to work through the pain and arrive at a place of healing and wholeness.

Life is messy, inside and outside of the Church. I’ll take the messiness with a loving Father, Brother, and Helper to guide and comfort me over messiness with no hope and no support. This time on earth is a blink of an eye compared to eternity, what will be our response to injustice (inside and outside the church) and the call of God to die to ourselves?

Put on the “whole armor” friends — I don’t think the ride is going to get any smoother. 🙂

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2013 in Relationships, The Church, The Journey

 

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Broken Resolutions and New Beginnings

What is the real secret of the new year? It’s real secret lies in that we know nothing at all about it. Year after year men and women make their new resolutions. They realize above all else what is needed is a fresh start and a new beginning. They decide to turn their backs on the past, to turn over a new leaf, or even to start a new book of life. That is their desire, that is their firm conviction and intention. They want to break with the past and for a time they do their utmost to do so, but it doesn’t last. Gradually they invariably slide back to the old position and to the old state of affairs. And after a few such experiences they no longer try, and come to the conclusion that all is hopeless. Up to a point, the fight is kept up and maintained, but sheer weariness and fatigue eventually overcome them, the pressure and the might of the world and its way seem to be entirely on the other side and they give in. the position seems to be utterly hopeless.

Well, now, there’s a cheery thought for the new year! But for how many does this ring true? By our own determination we try to keep our new year resolutions. And it lasts for a little while. (My daughter commented last night at how she dreaded January at the gym because beginning January 1 through about mid February, the place was packed with newbies starting their resolutions… for about six weeks.)

This is my first day back at work this year, so the “real” beginning. Thought I should make it count. The above quote comes from a sermon on The Parable of the Prodigal Son by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones (1898-1981). (I wonder if he preached it in January.) He goes on to say (and the rest of this text is largely taken directly from his sermon):

Do  you feel that your life has gone wrong, has gone astray? Are you forever mocked by the haunting spectre of the might-have-been? Do you feel that you have got yourself into such a position, and into such a situation that you can never get out of it and put yourself right again? Do you feel that you are so far away from what you ought to be, and from what you would like to be, that you can never get there again? Do you feel hopeless about yourself because of some situation with which you are confronted, or because of some entanglement in which you have got involved, or because of some sin which has mastered you and which you cannot conquer? Have you turned to yourself and said, “What is the use of making any further effort, what is the use of trying again? I have tried and tried many and many a time before, but all to no purpose, and my trying now can lead to but the same result. I have made a mess of my life, I have forfeited my chance and my opportunity, and henceforth I have nothing to do but to make the best of a bad job.”

The very first word of the Good News (the Gospel) is that people in this position should lift their head! All is not lost—there is still hope, still the possibility of a fresh start, a new beginning. And it can begin right now without a moment’s hesitation, and not by hoping on something imaginary, something that relies on our strength of determination, or something in the unknown future, but rather by leaning of something that happened in the past nearly 2,000 years ago, but which is as strong and powerful today as it was then. There is a possible turning point even along the blackest and most hopeless road. There is a new beginning.

But conditions are attached. Drawing further from the parable, there are three things we must do if we wish to avail ourselves of a new hope and a new start:

  1. First, we must face our position squarely, honestly and truly. It is one thing to be in a difficult position and quite another to face it honestly. Like the prodigal son, we don’t get into that kind of a pickle over night. It’s gradual, it’s quiet, and we scarcely see it at all until we hit bottom. Then we tend to avoid thinking about it. We busy ourselves with other things or say, “what’s the use, here I am anyhow.” But the very first step back is to face the situation honestly and clearly.
  2. The next is to realize that there is only One to Whom you can turn and only one thing you can do. The prodigal had tried and exhausted all his own efforts and the efforts of other people. He was finished and no one could help him but his father. If we pathetically try to cling to our own means, our money, our friends, we will never be pulled from the pit of repetition or the snare of our own doing. The  improvement will only be transient and temporary. You can go on trusting yourself and others and trying with all your might, but a year from now the position will not only be the same but actually worse. God alone can save.
  3. But as you turn to Him, you must realize further that you can plead nothing before Him except His mercy and His compassion. The prodigal left home full of himself, his rights, his own confidence, but he returned determine to be nothing more than a servant in his father’s household, at least they had it better than what he finally made of himself. We are nothing before God—we have turned our back on Him, ignored Him and flouted Him. Yet if we cast ourselves upon Him and His mercy, asking Him if in His infinite goodness and kindness He can possibly make something of us, then all will be different.
  4. If you do, you will find that in your case, as in the case of the prodigal, there will be a real, solid new beginning and new start. The impossible will happen and you will be amazed and astounded at what you will discover. In Jesus Christ, a real genuine new start, and new beginning are possible. And they are possible alone in Him! We see the prodigal son’s father rushing to him as he sees him returning, kissing him, stripping him of his filthy rags of clothes, preparing a huge celebration feast, treating him like the son he always was and not the beggar he had become. God is amazing and surprising. He rises far above our way of thought.
  5. But in order to have a really new start, I require something further. It is not enough that every trace of my past be removed, I require something in the present. I desire to be clothed, I must be robed. I need confidence to start afresh and to face life and its people and its problems. The father does not stop at kissing his son and removing his filthy rags, he clothes the boy with dress that is worthy of a son and places a ring on his finger. He announced to all that his son has returned and clothes him so as to make him feel unashamed when he meets people. No one else could do that but the father.

It is precisely the same with us when we turn to God. he not only forgives and blots out the past, He makes us sons and daughters. He gives us new life and new power. He will so assure you of His love that you will be able to face others unashamed. He will clothe you with the robe of Christ’s righteousness [right standing], He will not only tell you that He regard you as a child, but make you feel that you are one….The world only tries to clean the old suit and make it look respectable. God in Christ alone can clothe us with the new robe and really make us strong. Let the world try to point its finger and remind us of our past. Let it do its worst; we have but to look at the robe and the shoes and the ring, and all is well.

Here is opportunity for a real new beginning. It is the only way. God Himself has made it possible by sending His only Son into this world, to live and die and rise again. It matters not at all what you have been, nor what you are like at the moment. You have but to come to God confessing your sins again Him, casting yourself upon His mercy in Jesus Christ, acknowledging that He alone can save and keep, and you will find that

The past shall be forgotten,

The present joy be given,

A future grace be promised,

A glorious crown in heaven.

My prayer for us all this new year is that we don’t waste time or waste our lives, waiting for some unknown imaginary event or new year resolution to improve our lot. Faith in Christ alone will do that. Such an amazing gift, such a wonderful, unfathomable promise. Time to leave the pig sty and return to the Father.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in Grace, Jesus, Salvation, Sin, The Journey

 

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Why Church is Fantastic

My pastor said something this morning that pleased me to no end: “If a church is dictating behaviors, that’s a huge red flag!” The church should stand on the authority of God (the Bible) and nothing else. We are to imitate Jesus, and no one else. So, if the church has expectations of its members that are outside that, major red flags should cause us to run to the scriptures and stand on truth alone.

I thought that was a very fitting thing to be said and a good way to start what I think is a deserved and required response to, “Shunned: When the Church Goes Terribly Wrong.” I mentioned that the response to that post was tremendous and it saddened me greatly that so many have been hurt by church leaders, church members or bad church doctrine. BUT it must be made very clear that those unfortunate and terrible situations should not and do not diminish the glory and perfection of God and His design for His followers on this earth.

Church is fantastic — when you’re in a good one! Here is why:

  1. Love! Everyone needs it and it’s not so easy to find. A good, solid church community is filled with people who love God, love each other, and love others outside their community. Jesus said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
  2. Related to this, the church is home to the proliferation of authentic relationships based on the solid foundation of shared beliefs. It is important to know what you believe and what the church believes. If either one doesn’t line up with the word of God, then there is a problem.
  3. Purpose. There are things we can do in community that we can’t do on our own. We are “better together.” Corporate worship is rich and fulfilling and a mirror of one of our major pastimes in heaven. We are encouraged and challenged by the preaching of the word of God. We use our gifts to help others and others’ gifts are used to help us. Only in a community of believers can we obey Christ’s command to remember Him through what we call “communion” or “the Lord’s supper.”
  4. Hope and healing. We get beat up all week long. We hear more lies than truth, we experience stress and anxiety, pain and fatigue, sometimes even depression and despair. The church is a safe haven where we can find arms to hold, words to comfort, empathy that others have been there and come through, and very real help in time of need.
There are many more reasons why church is fantastic, and I am so glad that most people I heard from, who were shunned from previous churches or experienced major hurts, are now happily engaged in a healthy community and healing from those wounds. But since we live in America, a nation where over 75% of its citizens believe they are Christian, there are a bunch of churches that are nothing more than “spiritual clubs” of sorts, with very little to recommend the Christ on Whom they base their name. A good set of guidelines for finding a good church and running from a “bad” one:
  1. Does the church preach from the Bible? Know the word of God and test the beliefs of the church against God’s word alone. Reject church doctrine or rules that are not grounded in the word of God. Reject churches that don’t preach the word at all. Don’t be shy about asking questions, both initially (who are you, what do you believe?) and later on (where is that in the scripture? can you explain more about that?). God gave you a brain: It’s OK to use it!
  2. Do you feel welcomed? The church is your spiritual family — you should soon feel like a welcomed friend, not an outsider. But don’t judge a book by its cover: One visit doesn’t provide the whole picture and the people you meet sitting next to you might be visitors just like you! You wouldn’t buy a house without checking it out thoroughly, do the same with your church family. Look for love and care demonstrated between people; Look for smiles and laughter, hugs and tears; Look for diversity; Look for authenticity.
  3. Pray. God knows exactly what you need. He knows others’ need that can be met by you. There is a place where everything gets worked out. It’s not always neat, because people are often messy, but within our fallen, messy, human relationships, there is beauty and something precious that just doesn’t happen elsewhere. Pray that God would clearly reveal the right community in which to become a part of the family.
There is more, like my personal favorite: Diversity! I love churches made up of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures, but above are the things that I have found to be very true, and very healing, for me.
And now I can say, “Church is fantastic!” Glory to God for His grace, mercy and love!
 
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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in God's Word, Relationships, The Church

 

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