Thursday, December 19, 2013

Life is hard but not hopeless!

            It’s a sad story. It’s hard for me to write about it. Churpie, the canary, never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage, whistling a song, the next he was sucked out of his cage by a vacuum cleaner. She didn’t mean to do it. She was only trying to clean out the seeds from the bottom of the cage when the phone rang. When she reached for the phone, she brought the hose of the vacuum up and suddenly Churpie was gone.
She quickly opened the vacuum and pulled Churpie out of the dust and took him to the kitchen sink where she drenched him in cold water attempting to clean him up. Then she realized that the poor bird was chilled to the bone so she got her hair dryer out  and tried to warm him up. Churpie made it but was never quite the same.
There have probably been times in our life when we felt much like Churpie. Everything is going along just fine and then the bottom falls out. It seems like the problems we face are more than we can bear and we wonder if they will ever end. There is no escaping it. Life is hard.
If you watch the news of late you know how hard life can be. Unemployment is high. College grads can’t find decent jobs. Savings accounts have been depleted. Retirement delayed. Big purchases delayed.
Syria’s civil war, Iran’s threat of going nuclear, continued strife in Iraq and Afghanistan remind us that the threat of terrorism is still out there.
I am sure that you can look at your personal life and find a long list of troubles you could add to the list. Troubled and broken marriages, a rebellious child who is about to get kicked out of school, parents or grandparents with health problems, the death of a loved one, etc. These problems are real. They make our lives hard. But the situation is not hopeless.
Long ago, a man named Job, went through some difficult times. He was a wealthy man who had been richly blessed by God in every way. He had huge flocks and herds, thousands of sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys. He had many servants, a large family with ten kids, a happy marriage and good health. Life was good.
Then the Lord allowed all that he had be taken from him. He lost his possessions, his children, and his health. At first, Job’s faith was strong. He blessed the Lord even in the midst of adversity. Job also struggled. His friends told him that God was punishing him for something he had done. Job kept asking God ‘why?’ ‘Why was all this happening to him?’
While Job questioned God, he never lost his faith. He knew that the greatest blessing of all was to know God as his savior. Job knew that his sins had been forgiven. Job knew that when this life was over, he would rise from the dead and see God with his own eyes. (Job 19:25ff – I know that my Redeemer lives….and I will see him with my own eyes….”
In the end, God restored to Job all the things he had allowed to be taken from him. Job lived another 140 years. Yet the greatest blessing Job enjoyed was to know his Lord and Savior. In the midst of life’s trials, it is there that we find our hope.

Make your Christmas celebration a truly joyous one.

            A five year old girl went out shopping with her grandfather. They had traveled to a Christmas tree farm to cut a live tree for their home. Over and over the little girl told Grandpa that she was going to pick out the perfect tree. After they arrived, Grandpa with his experienced eye led his granddaughter to some great looking trees. Once they were inspected, however, the young girl would say, “Not that one. It’s not perfect.” After several hours of searching, Grandpa began to grow tired and a little impatient. He finally told her that they had to pick one out even if it is not the perfect tree. She agreed and then remarked. “Maybe we’ll find a tree with lights on it next year.” This little girl had her idea of what the perfect Christmas tree should be like. It was one with lights on it. Something less than that meant disappointment.
Lots of people approach their Christmas celebration like that. They have their idea of what the perfect Christmas should be like and anything short of that leaves them feeling disappointed. For many getting the perfect gift, having all the kids home Christmas Eve, having the yard and house decorated to the max are essential to having a really great Christmas.
No wonder so many are depressed around Christmas time – their expectations for the holidays have not been met. They have no job and no money for paying the bills let alone buying gifts. They are in the hospital recovering from surgery. Their spouse is overseas in a war zone. There will be an empty chair at the dinner table this year because Dad past away last March. You fill in the blank.
Isn’t that the way most people approach their lives? They are happy and joyous only when their lives are perfect. When their job goes well, they feel good, the kids are doing well in school, etc. life is good. When these expectations are not meant, their joy and happiness flies out the window.
We can sympathize can’t we? How can someone be happy who comes back from serving overseas after losing a limb? How can parents be anything but filled with despair when their five year old dies from cancer? What reason is there to smile when we are spending our first Christmas alone since our spouse ran off with the secretary at Thanksgiving? We’ve lost our job, our health, a loved one. Don’t all these things make it impossible to find joy and happiness especially at Christmas time?
They do if our lives are not centered on the Lord. Knowing Jesus, knowing his love and forgiveness turns things around. When we know that he will turn every trial into a blessing, the loss of our job or a loved one, while difficult to endure, can be seen as something good. God’s primary concern is not how many gifts we have under the tree or how much money we have in the bank or how big our house is. His concern is our soul.
We have every reason to rejoice when we believe that the baby born in Bethlehem is our Savior. We have every reason to be happy when we know the peace that comes from knowing that our sins are forgiven through Christ. We have every reason to look to the future with hope because God is watching over us and has promised us eternal life with all its blessings.
Our lives may not be easy. In fact, they may be down-right difficult at times. Yet our lives can be perfect, our Christmas celebration complete, if we know Jesus as our Savior. Only he can make your Christmas a truly merry one.

Does God see your faith by how you live?

            Five military recruiters came to a high school to make a presentation to the senior class. Each recruiter represented a different branch of the service. Each was given 15 minutes to make their pitch. The Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force recruiters each got up and did a nice job but they ran over on their time. When the Marine recruiter got up to speak, he only had two minutes left before the kids would be dismissed. He walked up and stood completely silent for the first minute and just stared at the students. When he finally spoke, he said, “I doubt whether there are two or three of you in this room who could even cut it in the Marine Corps. But I want to see those two or three in the dining hall as soon as we are dismissed.” When he arrived in the dining hall, he was mobbed with requests for applications. The motto for the Marines is “We’re looking for a few good men.”
            If you look in the Bible, you can find several “good men” - Moses, Job, Joshua, the Apostle Paul, John the Baptist, Peter, and many others. They were not perfect but set a beautiful example we would do well to follow. The Scripture also gives us many examples of “good women” – Esther, Mary the mother of Jesus, Lydia, Mary the sister of Lazarus, etc.
           The one that the Bible holds out as one of the best is Abraham. He is called the ‘father of believers.’ That’s because he had such a strong faith. One example of his faith was when the Lord asked him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Don’t forget, Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old. He was the son to whom the promises were attached – that Abraham’s seed would be as countless as the stars, he would be the father of a great nation, and most importantly, the line from whom the Savior, Jesus, would come.
            One day (cf Genesis 22), God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. As difficult as this request must have been for Abraham, he shows us that he was willing to carry it out. Right before he is about to slay his son, the Lord intervenes. He told Abraham that he now knew that Abraham loved the Lord more than his son.
            While I can’t imagine ever being faced with such a request, I know the Lord asks me to demonstrate my love for him all the time. Abraham’s faith was evident from his love for God, his obedience to his command, and his trust in God’s promises. Our faith is made clear in the same ways.
            When we make it clear by our choices and our priorities that we love the Lord and his Word more than anything else, we demonstrate our faith. Will you go to church on Sunday morning or stay in bed? Will you read Scripture or simply watch TV?
            When you are tempted to lie to your boss, have an affair with someone at work, cheat on your taxes, etc. you let the Lord know what you think of him. Abraham showed his faith by his readiness to do what God asked.
            When you do not worry about the future, face trials and troubles in life knowing the Lord is watching over you as he has promised; when you know that death is no longer your enemy but your friends; that your sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ because God says so; you are living by faith.
            We can never be as “good” as God wants us to be. Our faith is often weak and imperfect. Thank God we have a Savior who wasn’t. Through his perfect life and innocent death, he gained forgiveness, life and salvation for us. That’s why we rejoice and look forward to celebrating his birth and his return to take us to glory on Judgment Day.

Contentment is a Thanksgiving blessing.

            All you have to do is watch news clips from around the world to see how richly blessed we are in America. We have a living standard that is the envy of most in the world. Though millions of people have migrated to our land for over 200 years – they still come. Coming to America doesn’t seem to get old. People everywhere leave their country, family, and culture behind to come to our country. Most are looking for what is called the “American Dream.” Many are willing to enter illegally and risk their lives in the process just to get here. All these facts testify to how richly our country has been blessed compared to so many nations around the world.
But there is a strange yet common irony in our land. Though our lives are filled with more blessings than we can use, our constant desire is to want more. What causes us to think that the more we have the happier we will be? I am sure it is just part of our human nature. It leads us to be unsatisfied, and always wanting more.
When we consider our incredible standard of living in light of the thoughts raised above perhaps we should take some time to think about the One who has given us so much – everything we have and need.
What a blessing it would be to simply honor the Father in heaven with contentment. What a blessing to rise above the national cry for more. How blest we are when we take time to consider how each material blessing has fit so perfectly into our lives and fulfills our needs. There is a famous saying taken from God’s Word which says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (I Tim 6:6)
Contentment is just not part of our conversation today. Work harder! Make more! Spend! Charge it! Enjoy it! You deserve it! Retire early! These are the cries of the world around us. Now don’t get me wrong. It is not wrong to work hard or to achieve success or to improve our lot in life. It is quite another thing to be content with what God has given us. Take a test. How happy would you be if you never got a raise; if you never were able to buy a new car; if what you have now was taken from you?
Being content, really content is a gift from God. You can be rich or poor and, if you are content, you will find happiness and peace. Contentment is the foundation of true thanksgiving.
May your Thanksgiving Day be a blessed one! O give thanks to the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endures forever!” (Psalm 106:1)

God’s promises help us through hard times.

            You’re in a long distance race and you feel like you are going to die. Your lungs burn. You’re legs feel like lead. You only have a short way to go but you feel like quitting. All you want to do is lie down and rest. Then you hear the crowd cheering. “You can do it,” they cry! “You’re almost there!” And with that bit of encouragement you find the strength to go on and finish the race.
There are many times in life, when we are faced with difficult situations. We don’t feel like we can go on. Then we get some words of encouragement from a friend or family member and it gets us through.
That’s what I find when I read many of the words of our Lord. I find great comfort and encouragement when our Lord says, “I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20). We receive the same when a loved one dies and our Lord promises, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies….” (John 11:25).
One of the most comforting and encouraging passages I find in the Bible is taken from the book of Romans. There Paul says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
 Some others I like – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
These and many other passages which relate to us the promises of God help to encourage us, to keep us going. Over and over again we are faced with problems in this life. We may have to deal with family strife, financial burdens, or the loss of a loved one. We may be burdened with chronic illness or disease. We may have constant pain and suffering in our life. All of us have our burdens to bear and there are times when we may wonder how we can go on.
That’s when we need encouragement, the kind of encouragement that God gives us in his Word. We need to have some of these passages memorized so we can take them with us wherever we go. We need to make them in our Bible so we are reminded of them again and again and can find them easily to share with others.
Unlike the cheers of the crowd that leads us to find the inner strength to finish the race when we are tired. God’s Word gives that strength. It comes from the Lord. Through his Word we get all we need to get it done. I don’t know how people get through their lives without it. I wouldn’t even want to try. How about you?

God always keeps his promises!

            Promises – we’ve all made them. Who hasn’t? Who of us has not also made a promise we did not keep? Has there not been times when we have given someone our word, told them we would do something but did not follow through? Oh, we may have had good intentions but something happened, something beyond our control that kept us from following through. We promised to give someone a ride to work at 7:30 sharp but then the power went off and the alarm didn’t ring.  We told our daughter we would be at her soccer game. We promised. On the way, however, we were hit by a car when it ran a red light. Promise made! Promise broken.
Listen to those seeking political office at election time. Politicians are notorious for making promises which are often cast aside once election day has passed. Maybe that’s why we call them ‘campaign promises.’
Sometimes our promises are about small things, things that are not all that important. “I’ll call you on Thursday. I promise.” If we break them, it may not matter all that much. On the other hand, a broken promise may crush us. Think of how many times people have stood before God and promised to remain faithful to their spouse yet, someone where down the line, cast those vows aside.
What it boils down to is that the promises we make are not that reliable. We may break them without much thought because they are not all that important to us. Sometimes, we may not have the ability to keep them due to circumstances beyond our control. Other times, we may just decide to break our promises no matter how important they might be.
What a comfort it is to know that this is not the way God works. When God makes a promise, he keeps it. He doesn’t forget. He doesn’t let it slide because it is not important. There is not one promise he has made that he has not kept or will keep before all is said and done.
The unbeliever needs to think about this for God threatens to punish and send to hell all those who do not believe in him (Mk 16:16). These are not veiled threats. God will and does punish those who do not believe in Jesus as their Savior. On the other hand, he promises eternal life and the joys of heaven to all those who trust in Jesus (Mk 16:16).
God’s promises may not be answered as soon as we like. Adam and Eve never saw the fulfillment of the promise of a Savior. Abraham waited until he was 99 before God gave him and Sarah the son he had promised. It took thousands of years for the Savior to arrive.  Don’t let God’s delay in returning on the Last Day, make you think that he will not keep his word. He always does.
The Bible is filled with the promises of God. They are great and glorious! God will keep them all. From his promise to be with us, to use all things for our good, to raising the dead and taking us to heaven – God will keep them all. You have his Word on it!

If God took you to court, how would you plead?

            Have you ever had to go to court? Maybe you have been in court because you were summoned for jury duty. Maybe you went to court to get your first driver's license. Sometimes people appear in court to testify to something they know or saw. Most often we end up in court because we have done something wrong. More often than not it is for speeding, running a stop sign or some other offence.
            If you are in court because charges have been brought against you, it is not the most pleasant thing to do. Depending on the severity of the offense, your guilt or innocence, the decision made by the judge or jury, your life could be changed dramatically. You may end up paying a great deal of money in fines. You may have to spend weeks, months, or years behind bars. If your crime was a particularly heinous one, it could mean that you will lose your life or spend the rest of your life behind bars. What sentence the judge pronounces on you could cause you to lose right to drive, your job, or even break up your marriage. In the end it all boils down to whether you are found to be guilty or innocent.
About 750 BC the Lord, through the prophet Micah, took the people of Israel to court. He put them on trial, so to speak, for flagrant sins committed over centuries. Even though he had sent prophets to call them to repentance, even though he warned them that his judgment would soon fall on them, they ignored him and refused to change.
Before the verdict was pronounced, the Lord reminded them how he had kept every promise he made to them. He reminded them how he brought them out of Egypt, given Moses to be their leader. He had kept adversity away, blessed them along the way, and brought them to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In spite of their unbelief, idolatry, immorality, and countless other sins, the Lord remained faithful to them and his promises. Yet they turned away from the Lord to serve other gods. It was an open and shut case.
If the Lord took you to court, how would you fair? If your life is anything like mine, sins against the Lord are common place. The evidence is clear. It mounts up day after day with each lie that is told, with every sinful thought that crosses our mind or sinful desire that fills our heart. The unkind words we speak, the gossip we share with co-workers, the times we had too much to drink, the X rated sites we visited on the intranet all condemn us.
We may try to make up for them by our good deeds. We go to church, say our prayers, give to charity, read our Bible, and teach Sunday School. These good deeds may move a human judge to show us leniency, but they won’t color the decree of the judge of all mankind. Our sins still condemn us. We are guilty. There is only sentence a just judge could pronounce. The sentence for such crimes is eternal torment in hell.
That’s where we will go and what will happen if we got what we deserved. By the grace and mercy of God, Jesus changed all that. He died in our place. He was declared guilty because of our sin. He was sentenced to death instead of you and me. Through Christ, we, who are sinners through and through, are righteous in his sight. God’s verdict, by his grace, is NOT GUILTY!