Expectations

WeatherI think that most of us would like to know what’s coming around the corner.  We want to be prepared. We want to know what to expect.

We take polls to predict who the next presidential candidate will be.  We look at baseball statistics to predict who will be the winning pitcher of tonight’s game.  We have weather apps to tell us what today’s weather will be like.  Yet, to be honest, our prognostications don’t often pan out the way we expect.  The person who wins the first presidential primary is not always the one who wins his/her party’s candidacy, let alone the presidency.  The wonderful thing about baseball is that any team with poor statistics can get hot and go on a winning streak.  And I can’t tell you how many times my weather app has predicted rain that never came, or told me it’s going to be a dry day, as I get soaked on the way to work.

Solomon wrote, “As you do not know what is the way of the wind, or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, so you do not know the works of God who makes everything”. (Ecclesiastes 11:5)

I tend to make predictions in my life every day.  I feel an ache or a pain and I begin to predict a diagnosis before I even contact my doctor.  Someone looks at me with an angry face and I begin to fear that a close relationship is about to end.  If I were to be honest, my prognostications are about as accurate as the weather report.  Your circumstances might look grim, but you never know what God is actually going to do.  So here are a few things we can really count on:  God loves us.  He is good.  He is coming.

Standing in Awe

OpenToGodThis week’s Pastor to Person was written by Dan Looney…

Awe is a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder. That definition falls very short when we are discussing creation.  Additionally, this definition is extremely anemic when discussing God the Creator.

This week, while reading in the book of Job, chapter 38, where God speaks to Job, I found myself re-evaluating creation. In verses 4-8 (NLT), God asked Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?…Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb…?” These are just a few of the questions God asked Job.

In reading this, I found myself awestruck with creation itself, when it hit me that God the Creator is so much more wonderful, beautiful, and powerful… He loves us, and we worship Him.

Job 37: 23-24 “We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty; but even though he is just and righteous, he does not destroy us. No wonder people everywhere fear him. All who are wise show him reverence.”

Luke 19:38-40 “‘Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the LORD! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!’ But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, ‘Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!’ He replied, ‘If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!’” I stand in awe.

Wise Advice

AdviceEvery once in a while we all find ourselves in the place of offering a little advice.  It might be something technical we actually know about, such as how to install a new kitchen faucet.  It might be something medical, like the things some of us non-doctors are prone to suggest. It sometimes involves spiritual things, like the friend who is struggling with guilt.

I like the good feeling that comes when you help someone with a bit of advice.  I remember as a teenager sitting with my friends and dishing out all sorts of advice.  My best friend and I had read our Bibles more than most, and when it came to all sorts of problems, we were the go-to guys.  At the time, I felt that the fifteen Scriptures I had learned could solve just about any problem.  Oh, to be so young and naïve.

Job’s friends had their own set of answers to life’s problems.  Since Job was having the worst day ever, it seemed obvious to them that he had done something to offend God.  It might be true that sin can create difficulties in life, but their pat answer wasn’t appropriate to Job.  Job was actually a blameless man in God’s eyes.  At one point Job commented sarcastically, “How have you counseled one who has no wisdom? And how have you declared sound advice to many?” (Job 26:3)

There actually was no wisdom in the advice Job’s friends gave.  Sometimes the advice we give others contains that same lack of wisdom. Don’t be quick to fix people.  The problem may be more complicated than you think.  Ask God for His wisdom.

Send a message

CommunionThere are many ways to send a message without words.  Indians used to communicate across long distances with smoke signals.  Parents have long warned their kids that if they dress a certain way, they are “sending the wrong message”.  If you sit there frowning at me with your arms folded, it will seem to me that you are “sending a message”.

Paul said that when we take communion, we too are “sending a message”.  He wrote, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The word that is translated “proclaim” means to “announce, declare, or proclaim publicly”.  It’s about sending a message.  Two messages actually.

The first message of communion is about the Lord’s death.  This is the “gospel” or “good news”.  How is it good news that Jesus died?  It’s good news because He died in order to pay for our sins (1Cor. 15:3), and what’s even better is that He didn’t stay dead, but He rose from the dead.  When we take communion we are remembering that Jesus gave His body and His blood to pay for us.  We are sending a message that God loves us, and He loves us so much He was willing to pay a great price to save us.

The second message of communion is that Jesus is coming again.  We will continue to celebrate communion together until the day that we celebrate it with Jesus in His kingdom (Mat. 26:29).  This world might look pretty depressing at times, but the good news is that Jesus is coming soon.  Come and join us in communion.  Come and send a message.

Rush to Judgment

GavelIt’s a term you often hear from the lips of smart defense attorneys.  They use it when there is a perceived misunderstanding of the facts of a case.  It’s a warning to slow down and examine the facts carefully before the jury is allowed to cast its vote.  “Rush to judgment” might be a popular colloquialism for mishandling of justice, but it’s something we do all the time.

Sometimes our judgment is based on what our eyes see, instead of what is going on in a person’s heart.  Sometimes our judgment is based on observing a person commit certain acts over and over again.  Sometimes we wait to gather evidence and build our case.  Yet, in each instance, there comes a time in our head where we slam the gavel down and proclaim a person “guilty”.  And to be honest, sometimes the person is indeed guilty.  The question is, are we in the place to condemn them to a life sentence of harsh treatment from us?

Paul wrote, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” (1Corinthians 4:5)

There is certainly a place for guilty people to be held accountable for their actions. There is a place for protecting yourself and your family from people who could cause harm.  But don’t forget that Jesus’ blood can make the foulest clean.  The worse sinner could still repent.  If the person is still breathing, they might still turn around.  Let God be the final judge.

How to Start

Nehemiah 2Nehemiah was a man who would one day do important things.  He would one day become the governor over Judah.  He would be the one to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and restore peace and safety to the Jews living there.  Yet that’s not where he started.

The story of Nehemiah begins with Nehemiah finding out about the condition of the people of Jerusalem.  Some fellows had just returned from visiting Jerusalem, and the report was not good.  The people living in the land were under “great distress” and “reproach”.  The walls of the city were still broken down since the Babylonians had leveled them.  Jerusalem was not a safe place to live.

So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1:4)

When I hear a piece of bad news, I too might sit down and weep.  I will also spend a night or two tossing and turning as I worry about what’s up ahead.  I might get angry. I might become depressed.  I might complain to a lot of people or even post a Facebook rant. Nehemiah prayed.

What are you facing right now, beloved?  Is there uncertainty in your future?  Are some things not going so well?  There is a God in heaven who wants to help you get through your difficulty, but He isn’t going to interrupt your pity party unless you ask Him to.  Ask Him for wisdom.  Ask Him for strength.  Call on the Lord. Start with prayer.

Choose Wisely

ChoicesSometimes I just get tired of making choices.  It seems that some days all I’m doing is making one hard decision after another.  If you ask me to make a choice at the end of a long day, I’ll probably just say “I don’t care”. Some choices seem inconsequential, like, what color shirt am I going to wear today?  Some choices are obviously more serious, such as, what career I’m going to pursue in life.

A choice is like casting a vote.  When you vote for someone and they are elected, you better be happy with the way they run things, because it was your vote that made them a leader.

Paul wrote about the choices we make when it comes to walking on God’s path.  He wrote, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16)

Solomon wrote about a young foolish man who made the choice of taking the path near the harlot’s house.  That choice inevitably led him into trouble.  We might not think the sidewalk we choose to walk on is all that big of a deal, but knowingly choosing a path towards sin will always lead to trouble.  Sometimes I need to look ahead and think about where my choices are leading me.  You can choose not to click on things that mess with your head.  You can choose not to watch that program that gives you unhealthy ideas.  You can also choose things that edify you.  Choose Wisely.

Love Your Enemies

LoveEnemiesLove can be so confusing at times.  I love ice cream.  I love my sons.  I love my wife.  I love God.  Jesus tells us to love our enemies.  Am I supposed to love my enemies the same way I love my sons?  Just what does that look like?  Are there limits to what love does?

King Jehoshaphat of the southern kingdom had formed an alliance with his neighbors in the northern kingdom.  The northern kingdom was ruled at that time by King Ahab and his wife Jezebel.  They were wicked people who did not follow after God.  Their lives were characterized by one rebellion against God after another.  Jehoshaphat’s alliance with Ahab not only involved a marriage of their kids, but Jehoshaphat also decided to help Ahab in his military plans (2Chr. 18).  When a prophet of the Lord warned Ahab and Jehoshaphat about the disaster awaiting them if they proceeded with their plans, they went ahead anyways.  Ahab died, and their forces were defeated.  Jehoshaphat came back to Jerusalem to hear another word from God. And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to King Jehoshaphat, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Therefore the wrath of the Lord is upon you.” (2 Chronicles 19:2)

It is one thing to love, pray, and do good to those who are your enemies, but we cross a line when we are helping them to further their plans against the Lord.  That is the line you don’t want to cross.  Seeking another’s good does not include enabling them to rebel against God.  Love your enemies, but nudge them toward the Lord, not away from Him.

Priorities

WhichWaySo you’re walking along the beach and you see this funny looking object sticking out of the sand.  You pick it up and as you begin to dust the sand off the object, out pops a genie.  “I am the greatest genie in the world and I will grant you one wish” he says.  At this point, a lot of jokes have some funny punch lines, but I’m not going to tell you a joke.  How would you respond if you were actually granted one wish?  Being honest with your answer (no Sunday School answers please) could tell you a lot about your priorities in life.

Solomon was faced with a similar situation, except there was no beach, and it was God he met, not a genie.  Solomon’s response came quick, “Now give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people; for who can judge this great people of Yours?” (2 Chronicles 1:10)

Solomon had just become king of Israel.  He had an idea of what he really needed, and it was wisdom, not riches or glory. Solomon himself would later write, How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver. (Proverbs 16:16)

What is it that you really need in life?  What are you spending all your time and energy pursuing?  Are your needs aligned with your pursuits?  If you have a moment this weekend, it might be a good time to take inventory and make sure you are pursuing what you really need.  Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

The Word

Open BibleLife can get complicated when the world’s standards of right and wrong are constantly changing.  Making the right choices can be confusing sometimes.  Our stability lies in the thing that never changes—God’s word (Mt. 5:18). The Psalmist wrote, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11).  Here are some ideas of what that means:

Read God’s word.  It all starts with picking the book up and reading it.  The Bible doesn’t do you any good sitting on your shelf or as an unused app on our phone.  Open it up and read.  Every day.

Study God’s word.  Make sure you understand what you’re reading.  Some passages are harder to understand than others, but don’t get discouraged.  Dig in.  There are lots of available resources to help you understand this treasure.

Memorize God’s word.  I’ve found that there is great benefit to having the word tucked away in your mind ready to recall whenever you need it.  It’s not easy, but it’s a useful discipline to master.

Meditate on God’s word.  Chew on the words.  Think about them.  Turn them over and over in your mind.  There is much more benefit in meditating on God’s word than there is in worrying about what tomorrow will bring.

Obey God’s word.  Ultimately, the book doesn’t do you any good if you refuse to do what God says.  Yet when you learn to take steps of obedience, you will have strength to weather the coming storms (Mat. 7:24-27).