Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Getting Free Through Forgiveness

Many years ago during a trip through the Guatemalan mountains, I saw people carrying heavy burdens on their backs. The loads seemed enormous for one person to be carrying. It reminded me of people carrying huge emotional and spiritual burdens in everyday life. These burdens come from the guilt and shame of the wrong people have done to them. Others suffer from the resentment and hurt inflicted on them by other people. As they go through life, they drag these heavy loads of anger, shame, guilt, resentment and deep sadness. Is there a way to lay these heavy burdens down? Is there a way to get free?

Yes, there is! The Apostle Paul talks about it in his letter to the Philippians: “…But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14).

The “one thing” that Paul is talking about here is forgiveness. First, the forgiveness we receive when we repent of our sin and turn to Christ, then we receive his gift of forgiveness. Next, is the gift of forgiveness that we give to others by forgiving them of the hurts they have caused us. This is the way to be free of spiritual and emotional problems we have accumulated over the years. Some of it comes from our childhood years, for others it comes from divorce, or a hundred other things. Once forgiven, we learn to forgive others, then we are free to focus on Christ because he is the prize.

Teaching my daughter, Carin, to ride a bike was a challenge. She would do all right as long as she knew my hand was on the back of the bike. If she ever looked back and saw that I had taken my hand off or had stopped, she would tumble over. After so many tries I decided to try a new strategy and that was to get her started and then run ahead of her so that she could follow me. You know what—it worked! I became her goal which she could focus on. That is what Jesus is to us. Christ is the one who sets us free, then goes ahead and leads us to live a life free of guilt, shame and regret.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Greatest Job on the Planet

Yesterday I had the privilege to speak to fathers at the church I pastor on Father’s Day. I love these occasions because I have a heart for fathers. This is the greatest job on the planet. I have three children that I deeply love and 7 grandchildren that are the apple of my eye. I was blessed to have a wonderful father. He drove dump trucks, and I loved to ride in the trucks with him when I was very little. It was so much fun being up so high and going so many different places. It was fun taking naps and waking up and having a coke and some peanuts. My dad always kept paydays and peanuts in the glove compartment.

I learned responsibility from my father. My dad was like a machine, getting up so early and going to work. He enjoyed work and made it look easy. He always worked at making whatever he did better than the last time he did it. He made you want to take care of things, whether it was animals or machinery or tools. Most of all he was responsible with people. He treated people kindly and fairly. However, when he came home, he wanted to play and work with his kids. I cherish the moments I had with him.

Dads teach us what is important in life. They teach us how to handle money and make sure it doesn’t handle us. My dad paid his bills on time, and he liked to spend his money responsibly. He didn’t talk about money much, he just managed it well. He resisted the temptation to materialism that has consumed our culture today. He liked to use his own money to buy things, and if he had to borrow any—then he payed it off as soon as possible. He never wanted the latest or newest of anything, only if it was necessary. It never bothered him to use something that was out of date or even a relic if it worked.

When kids make mistakes, it is a wonderful opportunity to encourage and teach them to persevere. My dad did not criticize me when I made mistakes, he would encourage me to try again. When I did succeed, he would build me up and make me feel like I was the best.

Dads are teachers from the moment they begin to hold their little sons and daughters. My dad was so good at teaching us how to do things, such as run machinery and drive trucks and equipment. If he thought we had an interest in something, he would encourage us to pursue it and develop that skill. I remember when I wanted to learn how to arc weld, my father rounded up scrape metal and showed me how to build a metal table. We used it in our shop for years.

When dads love Jesus, they have such a powerful influence with their children. I have memories of my father taking us to church, of him reading his Bible, paying his tithes every week, giving offerings above his tithes and acknowledging that it was God who had blessed him. I have memories of him praying and most of all, of him living out his faith. I am grateful that he shared his faith with me. I know that my father prayed for me as I have learned to pray for my children.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Resurrection is a Reality

Many different Jewish groups tried to trap Jesus, but all failed. Just days before Jesus died on the cross, a group called the Sadducees tried their hand at setting a trap for him. These men were very materialistic, and they did not believe in life after death. Their belief was when you die, it was all over; there was no judgment and no resurrection. They argued that God never intervened in your life here, and there was no later life to worry about. Their beliefs sound like many in our culture today.

Knowing that Jesus believed and taught about the resurrection, they devised a trap to prove how ridiculous this belief really was. They started with a provision that Moses had allowed for families that would lose their name and wealth when the men died. Moses said that “if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother.” Their story was that a woman’s husband died and left her childless (Luke 20:27-33). Each brother married her but with the same result—all seven brothers. Then they asked in heaven whose wife will she be? This was meant to mock the belief of a resurrection, and they were sure Jesus wouldn’t be able to answer to this riddle.

Jesus responded that there would be no marriage in heaven because we would be like the angels and there would be no death. There will be no funerals in heaven because there will never be anyone die there. Our bodies will have been transformed by the resurrection. Our capacity for life will transcend anything we can imagine (Luke 10:34-36). He stated that God is God of the living not the dead.

At my first funeral in Spanish in Argentina many years ago, I was very nervous because it was my first funeral in the language. It was for an elderly lady who had gone to be with the Lord. She was very poor, so she was given a state funeral, which meant that the plot and the burial were provided by the State. The whole experience was demeaning because the workers treated everything as just another body to be buried. The pine box that held her body was placed in the open grave—the fifth coffin to go in that one grave. The gravediggers were paid very little to dig common graves, and they were drunk. They dropped the box and stumbled around robbing the ceremony of the dignity that we tried to give it. I did my very best but felt very troubled that I couldn’t have done better. Later as I was reading about the resurrection, I gained a clearer understanding into what awaits the Christian on that great getting up morning.

Jesus will one day speak to that little lady in Tucuman, Argentina, because this is what he said, "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29). We will all be resurrected to life or to death.

Paul writes about the way this woman was buried and the way she will be raised, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:42-44).

Like the Sadducees of yesterday, there are still those who don’t believe in the resurrection. As for me, I choose to listen to what Jesus says about the resurrection. In addition, the rest of the Bible is full of references to the resurrection. We will be resurrected! We will live for eternity. The question is will it be to eternal life or eternal death?