Thursday, September 20, 2018

It's Not All About You!

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 
Matthew 20:26-28

It would have been one of those moments when I would have wondered, “Did she really ask that?’  The mother of James and John came to Jesus with a request.    Actually she doesn’t ask for a favor.  She makes a demand.  “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” That took some “hutzpah.”  Did she just think that her two boys were more deserving of it than the others?  Did her sons put her up to it?  We don’t know.  The point is she understood how this world works. If you want to get ahead you have to make life all about you.  You have beat out the other guy.  You get your foot in the door first.  That’s exactly what James and John did here.  They want to be on top dogs in Messiah’s kingdom.  They want it to be all about them. 

This is no different than a bunch kids racing, pushing and shoving to see who get to be first.  This is no different than my sisters and I fighting over who got to sit behind dad in the car.  This is no different than spreading rumors about a friend to make yourself look better… than lying about someone so that you get the good job.  This is no different than what I did to a friend in college.  I told him someone wanted to talk to him.  While he was gone, I asked out a girl before he did. That’s the way you get what you want.  You push and shove, lie and  gossip – You make life all about you.  .

The problem is that kind of self-centered behavior carries a price  - lost friendships, broken relationships, of strife, bitterness and division.   It divided the disciples. When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with the two brothers.    What’s more greatness sought this way doesn’t last. You are only on top until someone else comes along. It’s like the 7th grade girl who loved all the attention from the boys in confirmation.  She thrived on it.  The other girls resented her.  Then the next year a different pretty girl moved in.  She wasn’t the center of attention anymore.  The glory was gone.  Jesus asked, “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?” 

So when this mother asked her question, Jesus set out to teach them a faith lesson we all need to learn – life isn’t all about me!.   Jesus said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.   In God’s kingdom greatness is not measured by how high you reach but by how low you stoop… not by how many serve you, but by how many you serve. The road to glory is traveled by putting others first and yourself last.  That’s scares us.  Oh we talk about being servants.  We sing its praises when we are here.  Yet when push comes to shove we are like those disciples who didn’t want to wash feet. Each was too proud to do such menial labor.  There they sat there and no one moved. They knew that whoever got up would become the doormat, the fool, the loser.  We are just like that.  After all, once you start doing the tasks no one else wants to do people will take you for granted.  They will give you all the dirty jobs.  You become slave, not master.

Yet this is the road our Lord Jesus traveled.  Jesus says it here, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Yes Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”   When the disciples insisted his work was too important to be bothered with little children, Jesus took the time.  “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.”  When those around him complained he was spending too much time with “tax collectors and sinners” Jesus reminded people, “I have come to seek and to save the lost.”  When all the disciples were too proud to wash feet, Jesus became the foot washer.  Then the next day He stooped even further…  He listened to the false charges against him and said nothing.  He endured the whipping. He wore the crown of thorns. He went to the cross.  He gave His life as a ransom for many, for all, for you and me.

Instead of worrying about what would become of Him, Jesus put Himself in His Father’s hands.  His Father did not fail.  “God has highly exalted Him and placed on Him the name that is above every name…”  Having been crucified for the sins of the world, the third day God raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him with Him at His right hand in the heavenly places…” 

Now He offers to you and me the towel and basin full of water.  He invites us to travel on our knees a road that leads to a glory that does not end.   Don’t get Him wrong.  You don’t earn heaven by becoming a servant.  No this is the road to greatness because this is the road Jesus traveled ahead of us.  By giving His life Jesus purchased for us a greatness that you and I could never earn -  no matter how far we rise, or how much we own, or how many people must wait on us.  That’s why we can give up all the power struggles.  That’s why life doesn’t have to be all about you or me.  In Christ, ours is the attitude that says, “So what if others take me for granted?”  We don’t lose anything by serving.   In Christ, we are God’s children.  We have His glory to bask in.  We don’t need to push and shove. We can let others go before us. We can say please and thank you.  Maybe, just maybe, by our service they might meet Him who came not to be served but to serve them.  They might meet Jesus who give His life for them.  In Him we are free to be what God intended us to be, to be servants walking the cross-lined path to the glory and greatness of heaven.  So learn the lesson of the towel and bucket of water. Life is not all about you… It’s all about Him!   Amen.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

It's Okay to Ask Questions

“They found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers and asking them questions.”
Luke 2:46

When you are little asking questions is natural.  “Why is grass green? Why is it going to rain? What does the sun do when it’s raining? Why is that baby crying? Why is he tired? Why is it nighttime? Why is that lady mad?  Why?  Why?  Why?”  You are curious about everything. You are totally unafraid to ask any question.

That changes as we get older.  It becomes hard to ask questions.  Parents, teachers, Pastor and others have to repeat to us -  “It’s okay to ask questions?”  There is any number of reasons.  One is a fear that you are the only one who doesn’t know the answer to your question.  So if you ask everyone will wonder, “How could she not know that?”  Nothing could be further from the truth Almost always there are many who are afraid to ask the same question.  There is also the fear that our question might make others feel uncomfortable. A lot of times, people won’t ask someone who is grieving how they are doing.  Why?  Because they are afraid of making the other person cry.  Sometimes we just want to know the answer.  Have you known people who didn’t go to the Doctor because they were afraid of what might be wrong?  Sometimes we are afraid to ask questions because we think we are already supposed to know the answer.  We think everyone else knows the Bible so well and we don’t want anyone to think that we don’t.  Sometimes we don’t ask questions because we think that having doubts or questions is wrong.  We think that means our faith is weak.

That’s why I love the story of Jesus in the temple as a 12-year old boy.  Now remember that He is the Son of God.  He is the Almighty, all- knowing creator..   Yet here his earthly parents find Jesus in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  If nothing else, this one scene makes it crystal clear that, “It’s okay to ask questions.”  If He can ask questions, then surely you and I have no reason to be embarrassed when we have questions. Since He asked questions, we can be sure that He understands completely when we have questions.   There are no dumb questions. He welcomes our questions.  He invites our questions. 

Listen to Solomon in Proverbs describe the eagerness and energy with which we should seek to understand and know God. My son, if you receive my word and treasure up my commandments making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for  understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasure..”   I love people who ask questions.  I love to think through and debate the things about God.  I loved it when our DCE came in the other day and told me about a controversial book he’s reading.  We both raised lots of questions. Its how learning happens. He can give… If we are eager to know God better we should be asking all sorts of questions.

It’s essential to ask questions.  Listen as Solomon describes two great blessings that God gives to those who seek understanding.   “If you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.”   The first blessing God gives to those who ask, is an ever-increasing fear of Him.  That means that the more you ask questions… the more eagerly you seek to understand what God has revealed about Himself, the more you will stand in awe of your God.  You will be truly amazed that such a great God loved the world, loved you enough to give His Own Son… to be born in human flesh and die for your sins… You will stand at the foot of the cross, at the mouth of your savior’s empty tomb and say “Wow.  God did this for me?”  That’s the second blessing. You will know God intimately You will grow in your faith.  You will know that You can trust Him.  You will become like the man I knew in Nebraska.  For 35 years He had suffered with excruciating pain.  In that pain He had asked God many questions, searched out the Scriptures, had conversations with his pastors.  In the process God had grown him in his faith to the point where facing a very dangerous surgery, he knew the Lord well enough to say to me, “I’m not scared Pastor.  I can’t lose.  If the surgery works, praise God.  If it only makes me worse, He will take care of me.  He always has.  If I die, I go to be with Him.”

Remember the parables that Jesus told. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Again the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls.  Who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought that pearl.”  The kingdom of God, the wisdom of God, knowing God intimately by faith is that kind of treasure… that valuable a pearl.  So ask any question you want.  It’s okay!  Amen!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Real Golden Rule

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 7:12

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  There you have it, one of the most important things our parents taught us… direct from the mouth of Jesus – the Golden Rule. 

It’s sounds so simple.  Yet so many people get it so wrong.   I googled this question – What does the Golden rule mean?  Listen to some of the answers I found.  One person equated it with Karma… called it giving good vibes to people. Another said, “Be nice to people so that one day they might be nice back to you.”  “Be nice to others so that they will like you and not hate you.”  Another said, “Generally I try to live by this rule but if the other guy is being a jerk – in that case I return the favor.  I believe in the Golden rule, not turning the other cheek.”  “It means be nice and don’t give others a reason to hurt you.” “Be nice first.  It throws them off their game… If you are mean to others they will be mean to you.  If you are kind to others, you will get kindness back.”  “It means if you can’t take it don’t dish it out.  But if you can take it, then go ahead.” 

There is something wrong with all of these statements.  They all make the golden rule about you and what you will get out of it by being nice.  In each case, being nice to people comes with strings attached.  Think about it – are you kind to others because you have a need to be liked and approved?  Moving to Germany one of my fears was that my kids would discover that they could get along without me.  That begs the question – Is that why I did nice things for them – because of my need to be needed by them?   Think how hard it can be to be gracious towards other people.  We want them to make the first good move.  They were wrong.  They should apologize. Then we will do so to them also.  We want a guarantee that our treating them nicely will lead to something good for us.  We ask “What’s in it for me?” before we do unto others.   See how the “strings attached” golden rule gets it all backwards!   If we attach strings to our kindness to others then by its very definition we are not being gracious.  That’s not what Jesus meant.

It simply doesn’t work to take the Golden Rule out of context.  Listen to the promises Jesus makes just before He speaks the Golden rule.  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Jesus encourages us to seek out our heavenly Father. He assures us that He is the Father who is ready to be found. He is eager to answer and to give.  After all, if we want to give only the best to our kids, how much more can we count on the generosity of our heavenly Father who for us gave His own Son?  It’s in that context that Jesus says, So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…  With the word “so” Jesus connects seeking out our giving God to how we are to treat others.  It is because of who God is, because we can depend on His love in everything that we are free to treat others the way we hope to be treated. 

That’s why Jesus puts the golden rule in the context of God’s unconditional, no strings attached love for us.  Our heavenly Father gave His Son to us and for us knowing that we could not give back to Him.  By His death and resurrection Jesus purchased for us a salvation that we could never afford ourselves, one for which we can never repay Him.  He made it yours and mine in baptism – for free, no strings attached.  There is no need to be so needy… We aren’t dependent on others needing us… on whether or not others love us or like us or approve of us.  We have all the love, all the acceptance, all the approval and grace and forgiveness we need in our God and Savior.  It doesn’t matter if people love us back when we love them.  When all our strings are attached to Jesus, we are free to love others the way we wish to be loved and to do so with no strings attached. That’s the real golden rule. Amen. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Remember to Wash

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
Isaiah 1:18

“Remember to wash your hands!”  That’s what my mom would tell me every evening before we ate dinner.  Every evening I would answer her, “But Mom, my hands aren’t dirty.” “Yes they are!”  “No, look, they’re not dirty.”  “If I say they’re dirty then they’re dirty. I can see dirty that you can’t.  Go wash your hands.”  “But mom, my hands aren’t dirty.  Look at dad’s hands. Now those are dirty.”  “Go!”  “But mom…”  “Don’t ‘but’ me mister. Just go wash your hands.”  So I would go.  I would pour a little water over them, dry them off and come to the table.  She would look at me, smile and say, “You still need to wash your hands.”  “I did.”  “Pouring a little water over them is not ‘washing your hands.’  Get back in there.  This time use some soap and REALLY WASH YOUR HANDS.”  There was no fooling my mom.  She knew the difference between pretending to wash my hands and really washing them.

Our Lord knows that difference too.  In the first chapter of Isaiah, the Lord tells His people to wash up… that their hands were stained with sin.  When the people pointed to all the “religious things” they had done as proof that they had washed, this was the Lord’s answer,  “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.  When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.”  God was not fooled.  He knows the difference between pretending to wash and real washing. 

What’s the difference?  Soap!  Absent the soap of repentance and faith, all of our “religious activities” are just pretending.   If all that you and I are doing here on Sundays is just going through the religious motions… if we think we can do as we please because God will forgive us anyway… if we convince ourselves that if we simply say the right words about sin and a change of heart, without our hearts actually changing – we are fooling ourselves.  But we aren’t fooling God. 

God desires a real washing in your life and mine.  Our sin is more than just a matter getting a little dirt on our hands…  Our “sins are like scarlet… they are red like crimson.”  Our sin leaves a stain so deep, that simply going through the motions of religion will not remove it from our hearts.  The stain is so deep that there is nothing we can do to cleanse ourselves. 

We can’t.  But He can!  He has.  That’s why God gave His own Son Jesus to be our savior.  God so desires to wash away sin that He gave Jesus to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  Jesus had to take the stain of our sin on Himself.  “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by Himself being cursed for us…”  He bore our sins and carried our sorrows.  He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.  Then on the third day He was raised to life… death’s power broken, sins price paid, everything changed. 

Now He invites us to Himself.  He says to you and to me, poor blood stained sinners, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.   That’s what He did at baptism.  Jesus washed our robes and made them white in His blood…  There is a modern day parable that really illustrates what Jesus has done.  It is called “the Ragman.”  This big strong man is walking through the city offering new rags for old.  He finds one mother crying tears of grief into her hanky, a little girl whose head is bandaged and bleeding, a man who can’t work because he lost his arm, a drunk man sleeping on the street under an old worn out coat.  Each time the Ragman exchanges one of his new rags for their old ones. With each old rag He receives the affliction and the person He meets is made whole. The mother cries no more, the little girls head is healed, the man has two arms and the drunk man is sober and strong.  But the ragman leaves crying, head bleeding, one armed and drunk.  He climbs to the top of a hill outside the city. There all these ailments take His life.  But only for a while.  For on Sunday morning, low and behold He is alive again.  All those old rags are folded, and neat, washed and made new again.  The Ragman of course is Jesus, the Christ.  The rags are our old sin stained rags, now washed clean.  

In Jesus, your faith is so much more than simply going through the motions.  In Jesus the Father offers to really wash you.  He promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  That’s the daily pattern of a faith that is real.  Every time you come to him, He takes your old rags – your sins of thought word and deed, of evil done and good left undone.  He takes the old rags and gives you His new ones.  No matter how deep the stain, He washes your clean.  He keeps this promise… though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.  Amen!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Someone Always Sees

“You have searched me and know me!”
Psalm 139:1

It always boggled my mind.  How was it that my parents always seemed to know it when I had done something wrong?  They could even at times anticipate the dumb thing I was thinking about doing.  I couldn’t hide anything from them.  Well now that I am a parent, I understand. One reason they seemed to know was that they had been kids too. There wasn’t anything I was going to try that they hadn’t tried.  However, the main reason was that parents have a network of informants.  Their network is wide ranging – their friends, your teachers, your friend’s parents, and yes even your siblings.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was one of my parent’s informants.  When my sisters would have friends over, I was often sent down into the basement with them, to let them know what was happening.  This is all part of a very important lesson my parents tried to teach me – “You can’t hide anything,” they’d say. “Someone who knows you will always see you. You will get caught. Someone always sees.

After all, even if we can hide things from each other, we can’t hide from God. God always sees!  That message of Psalm 139.  O Lord, you have searched me and known me!  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?   If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.

There is nothing that you or I do or say or even think that He doesn’t know.   He is acquainted with all our ways.  He knows the evil we are thinking about saying or doing before a word is even on our tongues.  That’s our parents really secret.  When they told us, “Someone always sees” this is what they were trying to tell us. This is how they knew we would get caught.  Even if you can hide what you are doing from everyone else, you can’t hide it from God.  He will put someone there to see you… I have a good friend from College whose husband was cheating on her.  He kept it hidden for a long time. But then one day he and this other woman had a car accident. No one got hurt physically but he got caught. Someone always sees because He always sees!

Believe it or not there is great comfort in this truth.  For one thing, God loves us too much to allow us to keep walking down paths that lead away from him… that end up hurting us and the people around us. He cared too much about that wife to allow her to keep living with the unknown, with the doubts about her marriage she couldn’t explain.  And he loved that man too much to allow him to continue down that path.  He wants more than anything to forgive us our sins.  But before we will be open to His forgiveness we need to see the miserable truth of our sin.  So, He brings us face to face with our sin.  He makes sure we get caught. Even though that moment of getting caught is terribly shaming and painful, you need have no doubt that God’s chief desire is to forgive.  After all, He gave His own Son.  over to death for our sins and raised Him to life that we might be made right with God.

The comfort doesn’t end there.  The fact that God always sees means He is paying attention to you.  Think of the words of the Psalm.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. He knows what’s happening.  He knows what’s coming.  You are never all by Yourself.  He sees.  He is with you.  One woman whose marriage was falling apart, tells the story of one morning when she was in complete despair.  She felt alone and forgotten.  That morning she turned over one of the scripture cards she kept at the kitchen table.  The text that morning?  “In my distress I cried out to the LORD and the LORD heard my cry.”  “I see God was saying to her.  “You are not alone.  I am here.”

 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.  This is a Psalm I like to use when praying with people.  Sometimes they are worried because they don’t understand what’s happening.  Sometimes they are sick and the doctor doesn’t know what is wrong.  What comfort to know that the God who loved us enough to give His own son for us knows what is going on.  What peace there is in knowing that even there His hand will guide us.  When people go in for surgery they are often scared – scared about the surgery, scared about the anesthesia.  Even there God’s right hand holds us fast.  Remember who sits at God’s right hand – Jesus!  The hands that hold you are the nail scared hands of the Savior who loves you.  The hands that hold you are the powerful living hands of your Savior Jesus who conquered death.  It makes me think of the story of a father and his little two year old in a swimming pool.  They start in the shallow end and move deeper. Each step the water rises higher.  The father chants “Deeper and Deeper and Deeper” the little guy holds on tighter.  The reality is that little boy is just as safe in the deep end as he was in the shallow end.  In both places His dad is holding him.  That’s us – whether in the shallow end enjoying life’s pleasures, or in the deep end of life’s troubles – the same God is always watching us… the same God is always holding us… He always sees.  Amen. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Go Outside and Play!

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?
Ecclesiastes 2:24-25

Mom said it to us whenever she needed a break from us kids.  This was her solution when I came complaining that I was bored.  When my sisters and I would argue, this is how she restored peace.  This was how she rewarded us when our chores were done.  This is the permission she gave when my friends would come over – Four simple words “Go outside and play.” 

We all understand how important play is for children.  Play is how they learn things.  Play is how children socialize and develop relationships with parents, siblings and others.  As they play children learn creativity, problem solving and more.  What is sad is that somehow we have relegated play to children.  Play is perceived as unproductive, and unimportant for adults.  I remember one day in Germany. We had guests from America.  I was feeling guilty about taking a day to take our guest to the Rhine.  But then one of the members of Trinity told me that was silly.  In essence she said, “Go outside and play.  Besides you will learn more about Germany which can only help your ministry.”  Play is as important for adults as it is for children.  Think of all the things adults do for play – movies, theater, concerts, golf, football, reading a book, going for a walk.  Consider what play does for you – it clears your minds, helps you relax, relieves stress, focuses your attention.  One of the staff members in Flower Mound was having a real hard time with her prayer life.  I told her to go do something she loves and then sit down for devotions.  She went on a long a bike ride.  At the end she sat down in a park to read her Bible and pray.  Playing first helped her to focus. 

Play is important.  In fact, I would say that play is a gift of God.   He wants us to take time to play.  Solomon tells us as much in Ecclesiastes.  There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God…  When God first made Adam and Eve He gave them a garden to live and work in.  He called the place “Eden” which means “a delightful place, a paradise, a place of ultimate happiness.”  It sounds to me like He intended them to do more than work.  It sounds to me like He also intended them to enjoy it.  He gave them a playground to live, work and play in.  Jesus turned 180 gallons of water into wine so that a party could keep going.  He was always ready to go to a dinner party with anyone who asked him.  The disciples of John the Baptist complained how the disciples of Jesus were always feasting while they were fasting.  I love how Jesus answered, “Can the wedding guest mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?”

You might even say that Jesus has redeemed play.  Ask this question - Is there anything that makes ‘play’ different for the believer?  The answer is right here in the text.  “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? It’s the same thing that makes grief different for a believer.  Our grief is not hopeless grief.  “We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.”  In the same way – what makes play different is that we have hope in Jesus Christ.  Ours is not the outlook on life that despairs and says “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”  Ours is not the selfish, “You might as well indulge yourself because this is all there is.”  Because of Jesus there is something else, something more in store for us… He has purchased us a place in His Father’s house, at His Father’s banqueting table… Because of Him play is an act of worship. Bethany loves to send us pictures of her getting the boys to giggle.  That’s Bethany celebrating the wonderful little lives God has given to her and Jason.  When Linda and I were with Ben and Anna at a cabin in upstate New York, we remarked on how beautiful the countryside is – we were in fact praising God for the beauty of His creation.  When we play… when we sit with our families to play games, or to swim in the pool we are celebrating that there is purpose, meaning, beauty, a future for all of God’s creation because He is creator and redeemer.  Just as a father or mother takes great joy from the play of their children, so our Father in heaven takes great joy as we celebrate His creation… Solomon was right - “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God,  for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?  So go ahead my friends, “Go outside and play!” Amen. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Try It! You'll Like It!

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
1 Peter 2:2-3

My parents had all sorts of things they taught me about eating. “Don’t talk with food in your mouth.”  “Don’t chew with your mouth open.”  “Don’t play with your food.”   “Eat this.  It’s good for you.”  That was a sure signal I didn’t want to eat whatever it was.  Then there were the times when mom would make something new.  I’d often turn up my nose.  I was very suspicious of new foods.  Inevitably they would urge me, “Come on Wayne.  Try It!  You’ll like it!”   Peter says much the same thing in the second chapter of his first letter.  “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”  As we get close to fall when Sunday School and Bible classes begin anew, He is urging us to add a healthy helping of God’s spiritual milk – His word – to our diet. “Try it!  You’ll like it.”

Changing diet is never easy!  A few years ago the doctor diagnosed me as a Type 2 diabetic.  What did that mean? I asked him. He said, “It means you have to change your diet.  You have to cut back on sugar.  You have to watch how many carbs you eat.  You have to eat less of a lot of the things in your diet.  You need to lose weight.  And you can’t just do this for a couple of months.  You need to change your diet permanently.  I have not done a good job.  Changing diet is not easy. 

The same is true spiritually.  There are things going on our lives that are not good for our relationship with God… not good for our spiritual health.  Peter lists some of those things. “Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”  Malice – that has to do with harboring evil intentions in your heart – holding a grudge, harboring resentment, wishing or even working to cause harm to someone.  Deceit involves treachery.  A good example is when Judas, pretending to be a friend, betrayed Jesus with a kiss.  Hypocrisy is pretending to be one thing when you are really another - loudly condemning gossip, then repeating some gossip. Envy is jealousy – the young lady who resented the fact that all her friends were getting engaged but she wasn’t.    Slander is what gossip is all about.  It is all about spreading information about someone, true or false, in order to destroy that person’s reputation.  Can you see how a study diet of such things could do great harm to your soul, to your friendships, to your church, to your faith in God? 

God in His word provides a much healthier diet.  Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation… A diet rich in God’s word has much to recommend itself to us.  For one thing the milk of the Gospel is pure.  Literally the word “pure” means “not deceitful.”  In Peter’s day merchants would water down the milk in order to make it more profitable.  That was “deceitful milk.”  In the word of God, you get pure milk.  You get the whole truth. In His Word God holds up a mirror so that you and I can see the truth about ourselves, about our sinful condition, about our need for a savior.  But He doesn’t stop there.  In the Gospel He holds up Jesus. He shows you how much He loves you.  In the death and resurrection of Jesus He gives us the full picture of His unconditional, no strings attached love.  He waters nothing down. 

Second Peter tells us that the milk of the Gospel is “spiritual milk.”    People are fond of telling you that they are “spiritual” not religious.  I am not sure what people mean by that.  The Bible though is clear.  To be “spiritual” is to have a faith relationship with God in Jesus Christ.  To be spiritual is to know in your heart that God loves you, forgives you, and has claimed you as His own because of Jesus.  That’s the relationship God invites you to in Word.  Here He invites us to commune with Him, to hear the voice of His spirit, to offer Him our prayers.  This is “spiritual milk.” 

Finally, the milk of God’s word is nourishing.    “By it” He writes, “you may grow up into salvation…”  Peter is comparing God’s word to the “mother’s milk” that nourishes a young baby.  God has designed a mother’s milk as the perfect food for newborn babies. It will immunize her baby from many illnesses.  It nourishes her baby for growth.   In the same way He has designed this word to provide all that we need to grow up in our faith.  Although there comes a time when babies are weaned, not so for us and the word. We need to drink freely of the milk of God’s word our entire lives.  There is not graduation from God’s word.  Paul told young Timothy,  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 

So as the Fall approaches… as Sunday School and Bible classes begin anew – take this advice from my parents, “Try It!  You’ll like it.”  “Try God’s Word.  You’ll like it.”  More to the point, “Try the Word.  You will crave it.”  That’s the literal translation of this text.  Like newborn infants, crave… intensely desire the pure spiritual milk.  Peter says that we should be as motivated as a newborn babe is when he is hungry.  It doesn’t matter if it’s 3 a.m. If they’re hungry, they let you know about it and don’t stop letting you know about it until they get what they’re after!  A Pacifier won’t fool them.  They want to be fed.  That’s how strongly God wants us to desire the pure spiritual milk of His word.  Amen!