Sunday, November 29, 2009

Preparing for a Thief to Rob Your House

When my oldest son was only a year old, I drove him to Oma’s house for a change of scenery. Even though our knocks on the back door showed nobody was home, I put him down and began wiggling the key in the always-difficult lock and then pushed my knee into the stubborn door, hearing it squeak slowly open from its too tight frame.

One step forward and I froze as my gaze reached across the room to fix on the front door standing wide open.

Over the past few months, one house after another on our road had been struck by thieves. And yet my it-won’t-happen-to-me mind was in such shock that I just stood as my son’s small feet padded right into the house and across the room to the open door.

What should I do? Should I close the front door? Call the police? Check to see if anything was missing first?

Shaky fingers pulled the phone from my hip pocket and dialed my husband. One of his first questions was whether the door to the hallway and bedrooms was closed.

It was. The robbers could still be in the house.

“Get out of there,” my husband said.

In a matter of seconds, I was across the room, son tucked under my arm as I fled the house and put my van in gear, not even taking the time to strap him in the car seat as I raced back home.

Once the two of us were safely locked inside our fortress, I sank to the floor and unloaded the stress of the past few minutes in a flood of choking tears. How could I have been so STUPID to just stand there!? I could have gotten us both killed.

The answer is simple. I wasn’t prepared. I knew the risk of thieves breaking in, but I hadn’t prepared because I didn’t really believe the risk applied to me.

How similar is this truth to the relationship many people have with The Bible? They believe it with their minds, but their actions show their heart believes it doesn’t really apply to them.

For instance, Scripture speaks of a “great white throne” of judgment for all “the dead, great and small” (Rev. 20:11-12, 15). It speaks of faith in Jesus Christ alone as being the only way to escape God’s “coming wrath” on judgment day (1 Thes. 1:10). And yet many are living in rebellion to God’s commands because they believe God’s lovingkindness, goodness and mercy alone will save them from hell in the end.

Jesus’ last sermon warned against this kind of false belief. In one of several parables describing our need to be prepared for His return, He describes himself as a thief. Jesus said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matt. 24:42-44).

What a strange metaphor for Jesus to use. But imagine a midnight break-in at your own house. How fearful would you be? What terror would strike your heart?

This same fear will be found in the hearts of many when Jesus returns. For the unrighteous person, it will literally be a moment of fear and because of the judgment to come.

Earlier through the prophet Amos, God also warned that the unrepentant in Israel should not to look forward to the day of the Lord: “Alas, you who are longing for the day of the LORD, For what purpose will the day of the LORD be to you? It will be darkness and not light; As when a man flees from a lion And a bear meets him, Or goes home, leans his hand against the wall And a snake bites him. Will not the day of the LORD be darkness instead of light, Even gloom with no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:18-20).

These two passages are not how we want to view Christ’s return. My own mind soars in joyous anticipation at the thought of the eastern skies breaking open and my Jesus descending from heaven to take His throne as King of all heaven and earth. I can almost hear the Statler Brothers singing on one of my childhood records: “ Oh the King is coming, The King is coming PRAISE GOD, He's coming for me!”

Judgment day will be a time of joy for those found in Christ. But it will also be the horrible end for those who have not repented. The point? We all need to prepare. Whether that preparation is deciding that now is the time to put your faith in Christ alone or deciding to live a more committed, faithful, obedient life for Christ.

Like a thief--Jesus is coming soon.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

STOP Giving Back!

Moving from green beans to corn, from yams to Stove Top stuffing, I take a box and add it to my pie crust mix, my frozen turkey. Just a few extra items added to my regular grocery run. Not enough to change the world by myself. But enough to give one needy family a well-rounded Thanksgiving meal.

We have entered the season of helping others. And yet a recent survey states “of the nation's 400 largest charities, half of them projected a decline of at least 9 per cent.”

In past years, Americans have been used to giving from their excess. But now with the loss of jobs, salary cuts, and higher costs at the store, we have tightened our budgets. Now, we’ll feel the pinch if we give. And for many, that has meant choosing to give less or nothing at all to those not as fortunate.

I, like many of you, am not rich by the world’s standards. This year alone, my family has added two hungry mouths at the table and has been impacted by the permanent loss of my husband’s career. So, I know about learning to do with less.

But I also know that no matter how stretched the dollar is around our house, God always has provided enough for us to give something when He places a need on our hearts.

I’m not talking about God blessing my family just enough to give our 10% tithe as commanded in Scripture. I’m talking about God enabling us so that we can give an offering above and beyond the requirements.

For we as Christians to be generous in our giving, though, our hearts first must be right with God so that we are willing to release the offering He has given us already. Secondly, we must understand that in the previousness of God, He has already provided us with offerings to give. Scripture gives several examples of these two concepts.

In the Old Testament when Hezekiah became king of Judah, he led the people to get their hearts right with God and then said, “Come and bring sacrifices and thank offerings,” and “all whose hearts were willing” brought more offerings than anyone could have imagined (2 Chron. 29:31). This wasn’t an ego-trip for the people, though. They “rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people” (v. 36, my italics). The people understood they were merely giving back what God had given them to offer in the first place.

King David understood this same concept when he asked Israel’s leaders to give an offering to help build the temple. They did—again, in great abundance as well as “freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD” (1 Chron. 29:9).

David’s prayer over this offering beautifully expressed his thankfulness to God for the ability to offer these gifts: "But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand….O LORD our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you” (v. 14, 16).

Oh how I love David’s prayer. But my favorite passage is found in Israel’s early history when Moses was building the tabernacle and asked “Everyone who is willing to bring to the LORD an offering” (Ex. 35:4). The people brought so much that Moses ordered everyone to STOP: “’No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’ And so the people were restrained from bringing more” (Ex. 36:6). Can you imagine too much giving?

Paul perfectly sums our why Christians should give with a willing heart: “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God….Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else….Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corr. 9:11,13,15)

What if everyone who read this posting ate one less meal a week? Bought one less toy for our children this Christmas?

Small sacrifices to give out of the abundance God has given us.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Endless Possibilities for Sweeping Reform

Each time America holds an election, the political candidates spout lofty goals and promises for change. We listen. Some of us hold out hope in our hearts that this person may be the one to finally make a difference and enact such changes. But once that person enters his term of office, we sit back in disappointment and watch as few (if any) of those goals are achieved.

And then we remember the old adage: “Change doesn’t happen overnight.” We accept the truth of this phrase. We give up on the concept of a true “sweeping reform.” We learn to be content with baby steps forward.

But what if change could happen that fast? Could one man really change an entire country in a matter of a month?

Twenty-five-year-old Hezekiah did.

There’s no way he would have been elected king in any democratic society. Everyone knew Hezekiah’s dad, King Ahaz.

Ahaz had been a bad leader in more ways than one. He led his people to defy God’s commandments and give themselves to idol worship. He sold off Judah’s temple treasures to hold off the King of Assyria who threatened to conquer Judah and send its people in exile. He “sacrificed his sons in the fire” as part of his idol worship (2 Chron. 28:3). In a way, Hezekiah was lucky to have survived his father’s reign.

And yet despite his family baggage, Hezekiah came to power in a big way--he didn’t start his reforms slowly. He didn’t wait 90 days to figure things out. No. He immediately went to work turning the country back around to God:

Starting on day one, he went to work tearing down every idol altar around the country and restoring the temple of the Lord that his father had defiled: “In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them” (2 Chron. 29:3). By the “sixteenth day of the first month,” the temple was open and ready for worship (v. 17).

And worship they did—sacrificing burnt offerings, sin offerings, and thank offerings to the tune of 3000+ sheep and 600+ bulls, so many that the few consecrated priests couldn’t skin all the offerings without help. The people didn’t balk at this quick reform, either: “Then Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced over what God had prepared for the people, because the thing came about suddenly” (v. 36).

All in sixteen days.

But Hezekiah didn’t stop there. In month two of his reign, he sent messengers all over Judah and Northern Israel, inviting all to come celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. Wow—this was different. Since the country split in two shortly after Solomon’s death, the kings of Northern Israel had done everything in their power to make sure the people didn’t return to Jerusalem to worship.

Scripture says some in Northern Israel “laughed them to scorn and mocked them” (2 Chron. 30:10). Not everyone loves a reformist. But for the many who participated in the Passover, healing and joy abounded: “So there was great joy in Jerusalem, because there was nothing like this in Jerusalem since the days of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel” (v. 26).

Can you imagine a political leader making such sweeping changes in our age? He’d get mired down in legislative maneuverings before the ink dried on his swearing-in papers. And yet when God is behind something, He can move it through overnight…if that’s part of His plan.

Sweeping reform will take place when Christ returns. And I’m a firm believer that our nation isn’t beyond hope of a revival. But I also must realize that reforming an individual life is just as much a miracle as reforming a country. One soul transformed by the Holy Spirit and through Jesus’ precious blood…that’s the truest overnight reform you’ll find.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Art of the Counter Offer

“Can I have two gummy bears, Mommy?”

I opened the jar and brought out a green bear-shaped blob. “How about one.”

Surprisingly, he countered my offer: “How about three?”

Just earlier in the week, someone made my father-in-law and husband an offer on some land they’re trying to sell. But unlike my almost three-year-old, they understand the offer / counteroffer dance.

In the Christian life, we don’t use terms like “offer” and “counteroffer” in our prayer relationship with God. We use loftier terms like “intercession.” But the concepts are similar in some respects.

Scripture says, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (Jas. 5:16b). And we believe that…when we need something, when we are hurting. We pray for God’s hand of healing on those whom He has afflicted with a terrible disease. We pray for God to supply a job where He has taken one away.

But how many of us sometimes give up on our families? Our neighborhoods? Our nation? Our world?

In what Matthew Henry calls the “first solemn prayer upon record in the Bible,” Genesis 18 paints a portrait of God sharing with Abraham His plan for destroying the city of Sodom. But more interesting than God’s plan to destroy wickedness is Abraham’s intercessory exchange with God, a pattern for how we should intercede for the world around us.

Abraham’s intercession begins with a simple concern for the righteous men and women living within Sodom’s walls and then a “counteroffer” of sorts: “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it?” (v. 23-24).

I think it is key that Abraham doesn’t question God’s judgment of the wicked. He understands that a just, holy God must judge sin if He is truly just and holy. But he also knows God’s heart is with the righteous, and he appeals to that facet of God’s justice with a two-fold concern—(1) God destroying the lives of the righteous and (2) God destroying the place where the righteous reside.

Then, in a quick outburst that sounds like Abraham is reminding himself more than anything , he “reminds” God how destroying the lives of the righteous would not be consistent with His character: “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (v. 25).

God doesn’t respond to the question about His just character, which is a response in itself and perhaps shows He understands the rhetorical nature of Abraham’s last question. But it does seem God accepts Abraham’s counteroffer: “So the LORD said, ‘If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account’” (v. 26).

Then Abraham realizes who He’s dealing with—THE Supreme God. Jehovah. Sovereign over all. Who is he to ask anything of God? And his response is humble: "Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes” (v. 27).

But he doesn’t stop there. He still intercedes on the behalf of the righteous, this time counter offering by asking what if there are only 45 righteous found in Sodom? God accepts.

And again, Abraham continues—what if there are only 40 righteous? What if only 30? What if only 20 righteous? Each time, God accepts the offer until Abraham makes one final request: “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” (v. 32). And God responds: “I will not destroy it on account of the ten” (v. 32).

That was it. Abraham went home. And God destroyed the city of Sodom because there were not 10 righteous within its walls. The next chapter tells us Lot and his family were spared, but the city fell and all the wicked who were within it.

I’ve often wondered why Abraham stopped. God was still saying “yes” to every request. Why not ask “Lord, what if there are only 5 righteous?” Or three? Or one?

Why not keep asking until God said “no”?

Sometimes I think we as Christians almost seem happy to see God’s judgment falling like rain on our neighborhood, nation, and world. We clothe ourselves in a “well-what-did-you-expect” attitude and just submit to the idea that since America and the world is full of evil, we will just sit back and watch it fall…and watch the wicked fall to eternal damnation with it.

But what if we kept going in our intercession with God for our world? What if we were like Abraham and asked God to “spare the place” for the sake of the righteous?

Would that not give more time for the wicked to repent and be spared? Would not that show a true heart of compassion for the lost?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

And Nothing But the Truth

From the back of the van comes a pitiful voice of a tired little boy: “Mommy, can I have some milk?”

I sigh because this is the thousandth time he’s asked me the same question. “Yes, sweetie. You can have some when we get home. I promise.”

“You promise?” he whines in that high-pitched voice.

“Yes, Wyatt. I promise.”

We repeat this exchange several times a week because I want him to know that I am to be trusted. But one day, he will learn that sometimes mommy may say something that turns out to be untrue because it’s beyond her control. Even though every time I leave him somewhere, I tell him I will “be back soon,” I know the truth of those words is contingent on God’s will and that I may never fulfill it if God takes me home to heaven first.

But my God is not me. My God does not make a promise that He cannot fulfill—there is nothing beyond His control.

Instead, my God is faithful and always keeps His word. He is a “God, who cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). If He says it, it is truth.

Even when God says something that may seem totally unbelievable, He is always to be believed. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, found this out late in life when God promised her a child. She laughed at the idea—it was unbelievable. But Scripture says, “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised” (Heb 11:11).

Although science would have said “impossible,” God was faithful. He spoke the truth.

Another Old Testament character, Joshua, reminded Israel of God’s faithfulness: “Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the LORD your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed” (Joshua 23:14).

Did you catch that? “Not one word” from our God has failed.

This should give us great hope because of all the encouraging 100% truths God has given us in Scripture, His Word, such as Hebrews 13:5 where Jesus says He is always with us--“I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.

Or better yet, when Jesus says He’ll come back for us someday: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

But since God only speaks the truth, this should give us cause for concern, too, especially scriptures about God’s judgment of sinners who have not been saved by the blood of Jesus: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works” (Rev. 20:12-13).

All that the Bible says is from God. All that God says is truth.

When it seems impossible. When it seems unbelievable. Trust in what His Word says. You can’t go wrong.