Wednesday, May 28, 2014

No More Tears

How important is it for us to contemplate heaven while we live on this earth? It is incredibly important because it is a real place that will be our eternal home. I am grateful that John has given us a marvelous description of heaven in the book of Revelation. I have read this passage several times in the last few weeks, and I am struck by several of the statements here.

Rev 21:1-4 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

John’s description of heaven says that we will be his people, and God will dwell with us. That is a powerful thought to think of as we live fully and completely with God as his people. Secondly, John states there will be no more tears because God will finally wipe every tear from their eyes. We all see sadness every day, and some of it is our own. As a pastor, I see tears almost every day in some form. There is sadness from sickness; there is sadness from death, and sadness from financial hardship. There is sadness in disappointment and sadness from injustice, and on and it goes. But, in that place there will be no more tears. The thought is incredible. Only God can do that! Thirdly, the phrase that there will no longer be any sea is really interesting.

We find this phrase so facinating because so much of our earth is an ocean. What a drastic change from this earth as we know it. David Mc Cloud, in his book The Seven Last Days, gives us a better understanding of this phrase in its heavenly context:

The first heaven will pass away, and a new atmosphere will surround the new world. There will be no more violent deadly storms, smog, or menacing blackness. At first glance we notice that there will be “no longer any sea. Ocean lovers and fishermen might be taken back by that statement. Consider for a moment why the ocean exists. Over 70 percent of the surface of our earth is covered with salt water, and the avergage depth of the water is 2.3 miles. Why does our planet earth need such a massive covering of salt water? The answer is to cleanse the earth and make life possible. The sea might be described as a big sewer system or better God's great antiseptic solution, composed of 96% of H20, 3.5 % salt, and about 0.5 % trace elements clorine, magnisum, calcium and the like. The salty brine of the sea purges, cleanses and preserves our planet making it fit to live in. Many of the pollutants and waste that humans produce get washed out of the soil and into the streams and rivers. Other places those things are deliberately dumped into there. The rivers wash these materials into the sea, and the antiseptic solitity of the sea absorbs, scrubs, and breaks down these pollutants and waste. The sun heats the sea causing only pure, clean water vapor to float up into the sky forming clouds which bring refreshing rain back to the land, a continual cylce of cleansing and renewal. But in the new earth there will be no more pollution, no more decay, no more need for cleansing and thus no more need for a salty sea. This present order of things is going to come to an end, and there is nothing that more powerfully communicates the idea than the assertion that there is no longer any sea.[i]

[i] David McCloud, as quoted by Charles Swindoll, Stop Criticizing & Start Contemplating Heaven, CDR-SCC928, 3.2.14

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Acceptance, God’s Answer to Our Shame

Forgiveness is God’s answer to our sin. The word gospel means good news, and that is what the gospel is. It is good news to know that we can be saved from our sin and deserved judgment. We receive that forgiveness through accepting God’s gift of grace he gives in Jesus Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, he received our judgment that was our due. God judged our sins upon Jesus so that he could forgive us. God forgives us, not because we deserve to be forgiven, but because of his grace and mercy.

However, have you ever noticed that many Christians still deal with a sense of shame long after they have been forgiven? There are hurtful memories of experiences where they experienced shame in their earlier years that still haunt them. Shame is one of the most powerful negative emotions a human being can experience, and it leaves a scar that is a constant reminder of that dreadful experience.

God’s answer to our shame is his unconditional acceptance. Most people have never known unconditional acceptance. The acceptance they have known has always been predicated on performance. Many have been raised in homes where they were compared with others; when they didn’t make the grade, they experienced shame. Some carry deep scars from the shaming experiences experienced at the hands of bullies or even neglectful or uncaring teachers. Others have worked in environments where they have been publically shamed for not achieving the boss’s expectations.

God wraps his arms around us and tells us that we are accepted and that acceptance eradicates our shame. This is beautifully illustrated in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger son of a father rebelled against his father and asked for his inheritance even before his father’s death. The father surprisingly complied with the request. Upon receiving his portion he left and traveled far and wasted his money and resources. His life spiraled out of control until he hit bottom. While feeding pigs he “came to his senses,” and said to himself, “‘How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father” (Luke 15: 17-20).

Most likely this son had been gone for years, and though the father had never gone looking for the son, he never gave up hope that he would return. Luke beautifully describes the scene, "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

The picture of the father running to the son and throwing his arms around him and kissing him is one of acceptance. The son gave his speech that he had rehearsed at the pig pen, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” However, he did not give the whole speech because the father interrupted him with this response of acceptance, "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:21-25).

This is a picture of how God responds to all sinners who go home. We long for acceptance, and in the Father we have it. The shame of our past and the scars we carry are covered by his acceptance. Even though we don’t deserve to be a son or daughter, the Father receives us as such and accepts us into the family.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Rose From Brier

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) was born in Ireland and became a missionary to India. Amy’s lifelong mission began in India when a little seven-year-old girl, who was one of so many little girls given to the temple to become prostitutes, ran away and came to her. Amy founded a home for these girls and spent 55 years in ministry in India. She wrote more than 35 books and so many beautiful songs. Her songs and poems reflect a depth of understanding and relationship to God that few know. Here is a poem that Amy wrote. It reflects her struggle and her willingness to remain faithful to God, even when things don’t turn out like you expect. Truly a rose did bloom in Amy’s brier, and her life still ministers to thousands of people.

A Rose From Brier
Thou hast not that, My child, but thou hast Me,
And am not I alone enough for thee?
I know it all, know how thy heart was set
Upon this joy which has not been given yet.

And well I know how through the wistful days
Thou walkest all the dear familiar ways,
As unregarded as a breath of air,
But there in love and longing, always there.

I know it all; but from thy brier shall blow
A rose for others. If it were not so
I would have told thee. Come, then, say to Me:
My Lord, my Love, I am content with Thee.

There was an Amy Carmichael because of the impact of a wonderful mother. Amy was born the first of seven children to David and Catherine Carmichael. Catherine’s influence on her daughter was remarkable. She provided an environment for her children in which they thrived. She was generous in affection, but firm in her discipline. She inspired them to pursue their dreams and answer the call of God on their lives, but at the same time she taught them personal responsibility. She trained them to have a heart for God, but most importantly she taught her children to learn to be dependent on God and not on her. She helped them learn how to solve their own problems and face the consequences of their own choices.

When Catherine learned that Amy was feeling directed by God to go to India for her life’s work, she wrote a response. In her words is reflected this unusual ability to see her children as belonging to God, and therefore she released them to him.

Yes, dearest Amy, He has lent you to me all these years. He only knows what a strength, comfort and joy you have been to me. In sorrow He made you my staff and solace, in loneliness my more than child companion, and in my gladness my bright and merry hearted sympathizer. So, darling, when he asks you now to go away from within my reach, can I say nay? No, no, Amy, He is yours—you are His—to take you where He pleases and to use you as He pleases. I can trust you to Him and I do…All day He has helped me, and my heart unfailingly says, Go ye.”[i]

[i] Lindsey  O’Connor, Moms Who Changed The World, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR 1999, pp. 161-162.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Finishing Well

Ever wonder how you are going to finish your life’s race? We all have known people who completely abandoned their faith and turned into bitter people. What can we do to make sure that never happens to us? The Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to learn to draw his strength from the grace of Christ. Secondly, he exhorted him to endure hardship like a good soldier and compete as a trained athlete and finally, be patient like a hardworking farmer (2 Tim 2:1-7). Paul also asked Timothy to reflect on this theme of being faithful to the end. Timothy not only reflected on it, he did it. He, too, was imprisoned, but he like Paul remained true to his convictions, and he lived out his calling. Timothy and Paul finished well.

One of the greatest examples of faithfulness in modern years is the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was a pastor, seminary professor and ultimately a prisoner of Hitler. Bonhoeffer lived in tough times that coincided with the rise of Adolf Hitler. The Nazis did everything possible to draw the church into their plans, and for the most part they were successful. However, there were a few like Bonhoeffer who fiercely opposed the Nazi domination of the church and even founded a defiant church that stood for Biblical principles. Eventually, when Bonhoeffer saw the Final Solution, which was the systematic elimination of the Jews and other undesirable people, he joined the resistance movement. The Nazis thought they could silence the man by putting him in prison, but it didn’t work. Bonhoeffer continued to write from prison, producing some of his finest works from the prison cell.

Bonhoeffer was hanged at Flossenburg Concentration Camp in Germany at dawn on Monday, April 9, 1945. His execution was according to Hitler’s orders that were carried out even after Hitler himself was dead by his own bullet. Hitler, being pathological, saw to it that his enemies would not see freedom. Even when it looked like Bonhoeffer might be released and finally was not, he remained faithful to his Lord. As his lifeless body hung on the gallows, his words became his testament. The testament of a man who finished well.

One English officer who was in that last meeting with Bonhoeffer before he was executed wrote about it:

Bonhoeffer always seemed to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive. He was one of the very few persons that I ever met that for whom God was real and always near. On Sunday April 8, 1945 Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in way that went to the heart of all of us. He found just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment. The text on which he spoke on that last day was “With His Strips We are Healed.” He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and they said, “Prisoner Bonhoeffer come with us.” That had only one meaning for all prisoners—the gallows. We said our goodbyes. He took me aside and whispered “this is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.” The next day he was hanged. He was 39 years old.[i] 

[i] Charles Swindoll, Tender Words from a Mentor, CDR-SCC653 July 19, 2009.