Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Monday, January 25, 2016

Everywhere Signs

He answered them, When it is evening, you say, It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.  And in the morning, It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening. You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.  Matthew 16:2-3

The religious leadership came to Jesus asking Him for a sign of His authenticity, something to affirm who and what He was.  Signs, Jesus pointed out, bear different significance as the circumstances differ.  Since those who were demanding a sign did not know what time it was, the sign was unlikely to be of predictive value to them. 

We live in the day of grace, of God’s mercy and His love, and of the reign of the Holy Spirit.  What we see around us – however confusing and disturbing and dark it may be, has to be viewed in that context.  We know that the Cross is behind us and that, whatever storms may assail us, in Christ we are alive, free, and secure. 

The unbeliever looks at the world with its darkness, chaos, evil, and violence and sees no reason for what is happening.  It is all random and accidental.  Evil is motivated by ignorance and superstition.  The signs are the same for believers and unbelievers.  What those signs mean differ because our basic understanding of reality and of history diverge.  This is not to say that believers always have the right view or that non-believers have not grasped the underlying concept even if they reject Christ.  Oftentimes our understanding is shaped unconsciously by our family, community and culture.  The Christian who studies the Word and seeks God has a better chance of overcoming the world’s indoctrination and negative programming that many others. 

There is no question that we living in changing times.  Is it the time of the Rapture?  The time of the Antichrist?  Is Jesus about to return and rule over the earth from Jerusalem?  Are we going to enter the Great Tribulation?  I don’t know. 

We live in a time of great apostasy, of decadence, and of increasing wickedness.  The last verse of Romans chapter 1 seems most applicable:  Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.  We inhabit a diseased culture that celebrates deviance and applauds arrogance. 

Yet, these are signs that God is at work.  In that same chapter, just a few verses prior, Paul says, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes … For it is the righteousness of God revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ (Romans 1:16-17).  He will not fail us.  He is not unaware of what is going on.  We do not control God, but we do not have to, for He is Good.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cleaning Windows

And he said to them, You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.  -- Luke 16:15

Abomination here is the same word Jesus uses when He referred to the “abomination of desolation” in the temple in Matthew 24.  It echoes the prophecy in the Book of Daniel and was seen historically in the idol that Antiochus IV Epiphanes set up in the temple during the time of the Maccabean Revolt.  It’s not simply something that displeases God, rather it is a thing that is in competition with God, something that draws the heart and mind away from the truth and corrodes the spirit.

 So many of us want to look good and to be thought well of, to have status and prestige.  We want our friends, neighbors, and co-workers to have good opinions of us.  When ugly things surface in our lives, we often concern ourselves with what the neighbors might think.  We don’t want to shame our families or be humiliated before the world.  That’s not bad; it’s some of the societal glue that holds civilization together.  The problem comes when that is all that concerns us, when only the world’s opinions matter to us, when we do things only for the sake of appearances and to cultivate the favor of others.

My first concern should be whether what I’m thinking about is right before God.  It really ought to be easy to live a righteous and holy life.  All we have to do is watch our thoughts and avoid self-defense and self-justification.  It’s not so easy in practice for me because my old nature is violent, blood-thirsty, lustful, and arrogant – to name a few problems.  Still, even in my case, I can catch these things before they are expressed in words and actions – not because I worry about what friends or family might think but because I talk them over with the Lord. 

Do you ever wonder what saints pray about for hours at a time?  I tend to think, more than making requests off a shopping list, they are opening their hearts and letting all their thoughts run before the Father, consulting with the Holy Spirit to see if they are missing the Way even by much as an inch.  Watch! Jesus says.  And pray. 

The Lord comes to us, not necessarily when we expect Him, but, as the parables say, in an hour when we think not.  I’m not talking only about death or the Second Coming.  He comes to those who are watching and His reward is with Him.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A World of Shadows

But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” – Ephesians 5:13-14

Everything that becomes visible is light.  I know I have commented on these two verses before, and the idea fascinates me.  It often seems we live in a world of shadows.  We have probably all been out in the woods before dawn or as the sun goes down and seen things that ought not be there.  Stumps and broken snags become ogres and trolls.  Apparitions arise from a clump of weeds shifting and moving in the wind.

The world system – that which is not the kingdom of God, is a shadowy place as well.  Lies shade the lifeless and impotent, causing frightful creatures to dance before our eyes.  I wonder if God didn’t destroy Sodom and Gomorrah by suddenly pulling back the cloak of darkness, pretense, bluster, and self-deception behind which the inhabitants lived.  They were already pillars of salt.  The light destroyed their illusion of life.

I know that’s more or less what happened to me.  I wasn’t a bad man who became good.  I was a dead man who came to life.  I was a pillar of salt hoping it didn’t rain.  I knew in my heart what I was, but, like a lot of people, I could hide it from others, though mostly from myself, most of the time. 

It’s a funny thing about Jesus as you read the Gospel accounts.  The prostitutes, the tax-collectors, the rejected dregs of society ran to Him and followed after Him.  The rich young ruler came to the Lord, thinking that he would be accepted, applauded, and approved for his virtuous activities then went away saddened; the covetousness he had hidden from himself was made plain in the light of Christ.  Religious and political leaders, the wealthy and the well-educated, in many cases, erected against Jesus a barrier of arguments, perceived offenses, and violations of law or protocol to keep out that light. 

There are cases where our faith is going to legitimately and unavoidably cause contention.  We ought to be walking in the Light with the Light of Christ shining through us.  When we go into a dark place or around fallen or backslidden people, sometimes we are going to get the sense of rats scurrying for cover to avoid exposure.  But we, too, are a long way from perfect, and we should be careful that we’re not deliberately or pointedly contentious and using Christianity as an excuse.  I think far more people are drawn to saints than are offended by them.  Those sleeping often want to wake.