You would think we would get it right by now. However, the more you know about the world, the more you realize the mess we’re in. I believe it’s important to involve ourselves in making this life a better experience for all. But, let’s face it, we need more than man’s abilities to correct all the problems. The Bible clearly reveals the mission of Jesus as two-fold: (1) to come to earth as a humble servant and die for the sins of the world, and (2) to come back to rule and reign over His creation. As a young believer, I often heard messages about the second coming of Christ. Books and movies about His soon return were also plentiful. But, interestingly, now few people seem to be talking about the return of Jesus—in spite of the fact that so many of His predictions are coming true right in our day. In Matthew 24 Jesus clearly taught us about His return. He did not give dates, but He wants us to focus on being ready for His return by our attitudes and lifestyle. He said, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44). Jesus then goes on to describe the one who is ready as a “faithful and wise servant” (v. 45). This servant occupies her time by investing in helping others. On the other hand, Jesus warns us about a deadly attitude. “But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time, and begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards’” (v. 48). This servant will be judged severely and filled with extreme regret. So, Jesus presents us with two ways to live in light of His coming. We can choose to be faithful and responsible, knowing that we will give an account to Him, the owner of all. Or, we can throw our faith to the wind and live for our own selfish desires, not caring about who we hurt or the consequences. The one will receive honor and promotion, and the other will receive shame and regret. Choose well…Jesus is coming back!
Twelve years is a long time…especially when you’re sick and waiting to get well. In Matthew 9 we read of a woman who “had been subject to bleeding for twelve years” (v. 20). It’s easy to give up when year after year you struggle with the same issue. But then she heard that Jesus was nearby! Faith was born in her heart. What she imagined through faith overcame her depression and inaction. “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed” (v. 21). Without attracting attention to herself, she quietly approached Jesus, reached out and touched His garment. And then it happened! Power went out from the Lord and healed her. Jesus stopped, turned to her and spoke life into her spirit and body. He said, “Take heart, daughter… your faith has healed you” (v. 22). The first need Jesus addressed was inside her heart. In that day an issue of bleeding labeled this woman as “unclean” and kept her isolated from the fellowship of others. When Jesus called her “daughter,” He broke through her despair of loneliness and revealed her true identity with God…as a member of the family! Then, He proclaimed the answer to her prayer and attributed her bodily healing to her faith. This is what we need to remember: Faith is God’s gift to us. Through faith, we can imagine a future different from the present circumstances. Such faith then reaches out to the Lord and receives what He graciously gives. Be careful about some preachers today who teach faith as a type of “grocery list” we give to God (just name your desire and God is somehow obligated to come through). However, true faith, as revealed in the Bible, is based on the Lord helping us to persevere in the vision He has deposited in our heart. His grace enables us to believe that He is able to accomplish His will over our lives. Never stop trusting God! Continue to reach out to Him for the miracle you need—even if you have been waiting for a long time. He is faithful…take heart!
In order to live well in the present, we must learn how to deal with the past. While visiting our daughter and son-in-law (Nicole and Tirus) a few weeks ago, Terry and I heard a wonderful sermon about “Stones of Remembrance” from Joshua 4. I credit Pastor Joel for key thoughts for this article. In Joshua 4 we find the children of Israel crossing the Jordan River after wandering 40 long years in the wilderness. This crossing was no ordinary fording of a river! God miraculously dried the Jordan, allowing the people to pass over to the Promised Land, even during the rainy season when the river was at its peak. During the crossing, God instructed Joshua to have some men gather 12 stones from the middle of the river and bring them to shore (see Joshua 4:3). These stones were to serve as “a sign among you” (v. 4) and “a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (v. 7b). The wonders of God must not be forgotten…especially for the next generation! God proclaimed, “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord” (vv. 6-7a). So, what does God want us to remember? What has He done in the past year (and years) that we must call to mind and share with others? He is the faithful God who saves us and keeps us! He proves His love and kindness by providing for us and answering our prayers. May we not forget Him by whining and complaining when we experience trials. Do something tangible to remember the Lord. It may not be stones that you set up, but at least write down answers to prayer and blessings that have come your way in 2018. In the sermon next week, during our vision-casting Sunday, I will be sharing some of these “stones of remembrance” so we can remember and rejoice in the Lord and His grace toward us.
I think about “the fear of God” a lot. People have told me, “Fearing God is not healthy or good for us.” That’s not what the Bible says. Don’t get me wrong, I know there’s an “unhealthy fear,” where we try to run from God (think Adam and Eve after sinning). But, the good kind of “the fear of God” is connected with all kinds of blessings. Let’s consider Abraham. His son of promise, Isaac, was the joy of his life. Born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, Isaac (whose name means laughter), brought praise and laughter to all who knew them. Suddenly, in the very next chapter after the rejoicing over Isaac’s birth, we see Abraham immersed in the greatest test of his life. It came down to this: would Abraham fear the Lord and obey Him—even if it meant giving up his son? What meant the most to him in this earthly life? The intensity of the drama continues to the very moment of Abraham raising his hand to bring the knife down on his son Isaac. Suddenly, the angel of the Lord speaks out, “Do not lay a hand on the boy…do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (Genesis 22:12). The “angel of the Lord” is a designation for the Lord himself. Why would the Lord say, “Now I know”? Is this because the Lord did not know of Abraham’s devotion and needed to find out by this test? Not at all. The Lord does not test us for His information but for our revelation. His tests reveal the grace of God working in us and through us. Abraham realized through this experience that God was truly first in his heart and that he feared God more than anything else. So, how do we know if we truly fear God? Can we honestly say that nothing is more important to us than the Lord? When put to the test, will we be willing to release what is near and dear to us? Or, will we say no to God and perhaps turn from Him? His grace is available to us and will carry us through every test. We can come out on the other side of the test and say, “Yes, I fear the Lord because He is first in my life”…and be blessed!
I’m glad God believes in new beginnings. I’m reading in the Book of Genesis about how God created the earth and mankind. It doesn’t take too long before we discover people corrupting themselves and the earth. “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5-6). God had seen enough. The floods came and destroyed what God created. However, that wasn’t the end of the story. “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark…” (Genesis 8:1). All life was not extinguished. God’s grace gave us a new beginning through Noah and his family. They were protected from the flood and stayed on the ark for many months. Finally, it was time to leave the ark. “By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth” (Genesis 8:13). There’s something in this verse I had not noticed before. God dried the earth for Noah and his family at the beginning of the new year! It’s as if God is saying, “I’m giving you another chance by giving you a brand new year.” While reading about Noah this morning, the Lord put the words of Jesus on my heart: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37). Yes, we are living in times that resemble the world before the flood. Wickedness is growing. Violence is increasing. Most people live as if there is no God. Be sure that God is the righteous Judge and all evil will be accounted for. His plan, however, is not to simply destroy the earth through judgment, but to provide a new beginning for His people! Be among the faithful—like Noah, who found favor in the sight of God (Genesis 6:8). May the beginning of this new year remind us of Noah. We are given a new opportunity in this new year to follow Jesus, love people, and share hope!