Falling and Standing

Ezekiel 1:28 – 2:2 Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

Revelation 1:17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not…”

The power to stand before God comes from God.  We may protest that the records of Ezekiel and John are visions.  But what are visions if not God-given windows on the truth?  We might also recall the experience of Job who long sought an interview with God, and when it finally came, said, “I lay my hand on my mouth.”  Isaiah trembled along with the temple in Isaiah 6 and finally said, “I am ruined.”  Peter witnessed the revelation of God’s glory in the person of Jesus and could only say, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Glib, off-handed, and careless worship reveals nothing about God and much about us.  It testifies to how far we are from real encounter with him.  When real encounter happens, all fall down.  (Philippians 2:9-11)  The only question then is who among them will stand up?

Ephesians 6:10  Finally, be strong in the Lord, and the strength of his might.  He caused Ezekiel to stand.  He raised John to heaven itself.  He strengthened Isaiah and Peter and sent them out on mission.  He can do the same for you.  When we can’t, he can.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Of First Importance

1 Corinthians 13:13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures

There are many things that are true but they are not of first importance.  When face to face with a grizzly bear, it is true that they like to eat fresh fish.  But it is not of first importance. When you come home empty-handed on your anniversary and your wife hands you a gift, it is true that many husbands have forgotten their anniversaries.  But it is not of first importance.

At First Church in Corinth, they had elevated a number of concerns to first importance.  The church debated who was the best pastor, who was the wisest church member, and who had the most important spiritual gift.  The took liberties with morality, took offense with each other, and took first place at the table of fellowship.  The items that consumed their time and energy were not big, just swollen, infected with spiritual pride.

Paul prescribed a two-fold therapy.  First, they needed an injection of the supreme virtue, love.  Then they needed to be re-infected with that which is truly of first importance, the magnificent story of Jesus.

I recall a pastor lamenting that so much of what they were doing at church had nothing to do with church at all.  Sometimes even matters that are related to church become swollen with a significance out of proportion to their real importance.  We have all heard of the “tail that wagged the dog.”  Paul wanted the Corinthians to quit gloating over the tail and start tending the dog.

The supreme virtue is love and the supreme teaching is Christ.  He died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day.  Motivated by love, tell his story.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

The Morning After

Mark 16:7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.

“The morning after” is not a happy phrase in many circumstances.  It is the warning sign that greets us on ‘Consequences Avenue.’  But for people of the resurrection, it is a different road altogether.

On Monday, after the Feast of the Resurrection of Christ Sunday, you might well be thinking of consequences.  But every consequence you can conceive flowing from Christ’s victory over sin and death is a good one.  He has opened windows of glory and revealed paths of significance.

Monday found the disciples trying to convince a skeptical Thomas, making plans for Galilee, and, no doubt, occasionally halting in their tracks to meditate and wonder all over again. “Was that really him we saw last night or was I dreaming?”

I will be like Puddleglum in the underworld of Narnia.  If my vision of walking in the free air of a goodly land is but a dream, then my dream beats this pitiful world hands down.  If that wasn’t Jesus I saw yesterday, then I will live like I saw him.  Because what I saw in Jesus was everything this old broken life of mine is missing.  You can have your death and taxes.  I will take life and grace.

Isn’t it the most amazing thing to know such a wonderful Savior?

Unnatural Silence

Luke 19:40  He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.

The disciples were not only praising him, but they were praising him with words from Psalm 118, praise that solely belonged to God’s Messiah and Israel’s eternal King.  The Pharisees recognized it, thought ill of it, and tried to stop it by telling Jesus to rebuke his disciples.  Jesus did not stop it.  Instead he pointed out that all creation was waiting in the wings, as it were, and ready to carry on if humanity failed to honor God as Creator and Savior.

The silence of God’s people is an unnatural silence.  I was in my teens before I experienced a total eclipse of the sun.  Shortly after noon, we went outside to observe the phenomena.  As things began to darken, what I remember most was the unnatural silence, as if all nature was momentarily confused by this displaced darkness.  I am told but cannot verify that ninety-eight percent of church people will invite no one to join them for worship in the course of a year.  If that is true, it is not only unnatural but unhealthy.  People need to know what’s up.

Luke 19:41-44 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

The Savior warned of a coming darkness and then went to the deepest darkness of the cross.  He came out of that darkness victorious and God’s people should not be quiet about it.  It isn’t natural.

What a Savior!

The Purpose of Prophecy

Isaiah 48:3-5  The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth and I announced them; then suddenly I did them and they came to pass.  Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’

The blindness that grips the sinful heart is so complete that it can gaze at a work so obviously from the hand of God and claim the glory for another or for itself.  God, as a witness to his glory and to counter the darkness of unbelief, raised up prophets.  To these he revealed things yet to be and sent them out to proclaim the future before a stiff-necked and hard-headed people.  Then, with a suddenness that fairly steals one’s breath, these things came to pass.  If only they would see that what he had said before was true, then they might listen to what he is saying now.

There must have been days when the prophets wished they were wrong.  When God revealed to Amos what he was about to do, Amos cried, “Lord GOD, please pardon!  How can Jacob stand, for he is small?”  Twice Amos saw.  Twice Amos pleaded.  Twice God relented.  Then Amos saw a third time and he no longer pleaded, for God said, “I will spare them no longer.” (Amos 7:1-9)  For the prophets, wishing it was not so finally gave way to reality.

If I had not written it in January of this year I would not dare to mention it today.  How terrible.  How terrible.  I weep, for we think we are so great when, like Jacob, we are so very, very small.  You may read it again if you are so minded.  It is here.  The paragraph which begins “Our judgment is unfolding…” was the trigger of my own recollection.  How I wish to be wrong!  But with a suddenness that is startling, what he said comes to pass.  The seeds of our own destruction are sown daily.  How terrible it seems when the innocent are the first ones in the path of terror.  Yet we do not know.  Perhaps they have been rescued from worse to come.

He is still a wonderful Savior.  Turn.  Turn.  Turn.

Sesame Street Combo

The day did not begin well.  I must have been thinking of something other than backing out of the garage when the crunching sound brought me back to the matter at hand.  Why I did not put the garage door up before backing out and why I did not look in the mirror to check are questions forever beyond my comprehension.  I hit the button.  The door still went up.  I backed up, hit the button, and the door still went down.  Life is good.

On my way to another town to make a visit, I drove under a cloud burst.  It did not seem like an electrical storm.  I was preaching to myself, a habit I have for good or ill, when just in the corner of my eye I glimpsed a streaking ball of lightening.  This was accompanied by a canon-like explosion that brought my preaching to a sudden end and caused to me ask, out loud, if I had said something wrong.  I realize that in writing this down my church family will now know how to always get out of church on time.  They only need to harness lightening and release it at 11:55.  It works.  Even so, life is good.

Late in the afternoon I attended a meeting of a certain service organization where I narrowly escaped  being made president.  It was only by angling my way into the chairmanship of the nominating committee that I was able to forestall the disaster and remain in charge of the vice for another year.  It was close.  But life is good.

On the way home I stopped at the Chinese restaurant.  I suppose it was the kind of day it had been, I don’t really know.  But I stepped up to the counter and ordered a Sesame Street Combo.  There was a moment of silence.  There should always be a moment of silence at times like this.  The two gentlemen behind me must have had indigestion because their bellies began to quiver and they were swallowing hard.   Probably acid reflux.  But it was the curious look in the eyes of the young lady who was taking my order that brought me back to matters at hand.  Somehow I read in those eyes a question.  “Does he want me to wring Big Bird’s neck?”

You know the feeling.  Well, perhaps you don’t.  Perhaps you have never ordered a Sesame Street Combo.  “Chicken!  Chicken!  Chicken!” I cried, “Not Sesame Street.  Sesame chicken combo.”  Head in hands, I began to laugh.  It turned out that the gentlemen behind me had neither indigestion nor acid reflux.  They were only having a good time.  I have no idea what happened to my day, so I simply joined them and we all laughed until our orders arrived.

Just as well laugh.  It would take a mighty big bag to bag Big Bird.

I remembered this verse.  Proverbs 17:22 A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.  But then I also remembered this one.  2 Corinthians 5:13  For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you.  Obviously, on this day, I was for God.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

An Open Mind

Luke 24:44-45  Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures

Sooner or later, a follower of Christ will be accused of being close-minded.  Actually, I had a professor who was concerned about both the open and closed state of our minds.  He said he wanted to us to be open-minded, but not so open that our brains fell out.

The accusation of close-mindedness implies intolerance of other views and, no doubt, there are Christians whose intolerance is carried about like a chip on their shoulder.  But in the western regions of the world it is increasingly the case that almost anything will be tolerated but Christianity.  Each day unfolds with new testimony to the world’s closing mind against the Christ.

What a contrast when we meet him in the Scripture!  Here is a man who wants to truly open your mind for the first time.  He wants to show you a kingdom that you didn’t know existed. He wants you to hear the voice that has been calling for your attention in every sunrise and on every page of the Bible.  What kings and prophets and angels longed to see, he wants to give you, to keep, forever.  He wants to open your mind.

It is true.  If you let him open your mind, it will begin to close on some other things.  But it will not be from intolerance.  It will be much more like forgetfulness, like forgetting a bad dream over a good breakfast.  The old will be gone precisely because the new has come.  (2 Corinthians 5:17)  When the mind opens to Christ, a lot of other doors seem to close all on their own.

What a Savior!

Don’t Be Fooled

2 Timothy 3:13-15  But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

There was a big snowstorm in Minnesota this week.  Talk about an April fool!  I was reminded of a bit of folk wisdom that I found in the Old Farmer’s Almanac.  It appeared in the month of March when a warm day in New England might lead an unsuspecting soul to believe Spring had sprung.  “Stick to your long-johns til your long-johns stick to you!”

One tactic of the enemy of our souls is to repeat a lie until fools come to believe it.  And believe it they will.  That is how they got the name ‘fool.’  But Paul didn’t want Timothy to be fooled.  The antidote to lies is exposure to the truth.  Paul sent Timothy back to the Scriptures.  If I may purloin a phrase from the Old Farmer, stick to the word til the word sticks to you.

No word in history has been so maligned, mangled, and ridiculed.  That should tell us something of its danger for deceivers.  Yet all the detractors of the word of God finally fade from view.  The word stands.  Don’t even fear its demise!  Just stick to it and don’t be fooled.

Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Calling Yet Again

Ephesians 4:1-2 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love

The call of Christ begins in what you are, not what you do.  With Christ it always works from the inside out.  Change the heart and you will change the person.  Change the mind and you change the direction.  The description of the call of Christ given in these verses will impact both whether we do a thing and how we do a thing.  If this is what you really are, then you will be this in all you do.

Humility.  This is the virtue which the world will never exalt.  It is not, as the world so often thinks, self deprecation.  It is always God glorification.  It is how you come to see yourself before the God of glory.  It is that place where it is safe to be small but where you are never belittled.  Indeed, when humility is in tiptop shape, it doesn’t think of itself at all.  The eyes of genuine humility are too full of the glory of God.

Gentleness.  Seeing him first and knowing ourselves in his light will change our ways with others.  The gentleness of God in Christ to save a miserable sinner must of necessity reach out with that same gentleness to others.  Sometimes this word is translated ‘meekness,’ a good word but often misunderstood as weakness.  It is in fact strength under control.  Jesus is the essence of it.  Moses was a prime example.  It is when you could be rough, but seeing how God has dealt with you, you choose gentleness.

Patience.  We may be inclined to say ‘good luck with that,’ but luck won’t help you a bit with patience.  Only the Holy Spirit can cultivate a genuine patience in us.  It takes real power to curb the pride that is the root of impatience.  And make no mistake, it is pride.  Impatience is nothing other than an attempt to reorder the universe and make it go our way.  Let us rather be thankful that it has not gone our way and then let us pray fervently that it will go God’s way.  The end result of that will be patience.

Bearing with one another in love.  That phrase is easily read, but it will be blood, sweat, and tears to carry it out.  For the assumption is that the other person in question has some qualities that require bearing with them.   Rest assured that it will be just that quirk of character that so infuriates us, you know, the one we probably have ourselves but have not noticed.

What a calling!  Who you are in Christ will cast its shade over all that you do.  How can we possibly do it?  Only one way.

What a Savior!