Monday, April 30, 2012

A Tribute to a .. Car?

This past weekend, my wife and I were able to buy new cars.  This is truly a blessing of God.  It was only by His strength and direction that we were empowered to pay off our credit card debt. It was only by Him that we were able to work out a phenomenal deal.  I mean our salesman happened to be someone who knew my wife's family.  The sales manager owned the repair shop where my my wife and I and my father-in-law's business get all their auto repair work done.  And for some reason, the General Manager of the dealership got involved in our negotiation and just said to the others to do whatever they needed to do to make the numbers work for us.  In the end, we essentially got my wife's car for half price.  A week ago, God gave me a number and I thought that number was reasonable.  After seeing the discounts and everything else that needed to be done, that number was really miraculous. 
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him [be] glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  Ephesians 3:20-21 NKJV
Of course in getting new cars, we had to trade our old cars in.  Men oftentimes have a funny relationship with their cars.  I am no different.  After 133,000 miles you tend develop some kind of a relationship.  I know my car is not a person, it is a thing.  I know it has no sentience, but it does have a personality.  After that much time, you know what it can and can not do.  You know if it will give you enough boost to pass a car before oncoming traffic or if you had better stay put.  You know how fast to take a turn.  You know how it will handle in any kind of weather and therefore know how to handle it in any kind of weather.  You know every noise it has and know when just one of them does not sound the way that it should.  You know the way that it drives and so any difference in how it drives tells you that something is wrong.  The seat is practically worn to your preference.  You can reach any control with your eyes closed if you needed to,  In a sense, when you are driving, you almost feel as though the car is an extension of you.  It is not just a vehicle, but it is almost a person.  In the end, that is why we call our cars "she" and not "it." 

In that, it was bitter sweet to trade her in this past Saturday.  Her time was up.  She had a small slip in the transmission, her air conditioning was not working, and she had an airbag issue as indicated by the warning light.  She was also at an age where health problems begin to become more and more frequent.  But, it was bitter sweet.  As I said, our cars almost become a part of us.  More than that, though, there are the memories.  I met my wife in that car.  I went on road trips to Creation Fest where it also served as a tent for one of the kids who came with us.  It took my wife and I to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  It took me to visit my future wife week after week.  It was used for a church ministry to take kids just about anywhere and everywhere and I think my wife even used it to take her class on a trip.  It has been loaded solid with Hess Trucks helping me earn money.  I had better stop now because I can write forever the memories that were part of that van. 

Then there was the weather.  If you have read this blog for any amount of time, you know about the weather I had to drive through last year.  That van took me thought anything I faced.  I remember back to its first test in the snow.  I was on a road trip to Maine and there was a surprise snow storm.  They had predicted an inch even after 6 inches had already fallen.  I was on unfamiliar winding mountain roads and despite cars spun out and stuck all around me, I safely made it through.  The same was true of all of last years snow storms.  Whether it be the 30 plus inches just after Christmas, the ice storm, or the various other smaller snow storms, she rode solid.  No matter the weather, I was safe on the road.  Neither snow, ice, hurricanes, Noreasters, or anything else kept my van from driving through safely.   As for its reliability, that is another story.  Another good story, that is.  She had her problems now and then but she never ever left me stranded on the road.  Other than the car carrier she was brought to the dealership on way back when, she always went wherever she went under her own power. 

Am I glorifying my Kia Sedona minivan?  It may seem as though I am.  If that were the case, though, I never would have traded her in.  I would have spent whatever it took to keep her on the road.  I would never ever have let her go if she were the reason for any and all of what I just wrote.  You see, I may have traded in one car for another and it may take some time for me to know that car as well as I knew the Kia, that will all change in time.  The car does not make the memories, God does.  God gave me the ability to go on those trips.  God put me in a ministry where that car was useful.  God led me to the wife that He had for me.  I just happened to have the van at that time.  As for safety, can I really give glory to the van?  If I let go of the steering wheel, it would not have driven itself.  If I had the best tires in the world, it was still rubber on ice.  It was not the car who kept me safe and sure, it was God.  And the same God who kept me safe in that car I have to believe will keep me safe in the new car. 

So I guess the point of what I am saying is that we can not hold on too tightly to earthly things.  I will miss my minivan.  I will miss it just as I missed my Kia Sephia, Eagle Summit, Dodge Daytona (well maybe not this one!), Chevy Cavalier hatchback, and Dodge Turismo (my first ride).  Someday I will probably miss my Jeep.  We all get close to things and that is not a problem so long as it does not interfere with our God or God's plan for our lives.  Nothing on this earth can be considered our treasure.  Everything we have are merely tools to help us get by until we begin our eternal life in our true home.  Remember that next time you think of the good tires you have, the picture on your television, the lush green of your lawn, the crystal clear water in your pool, your perfect garden, or whatever else you get close to in this world, remember to keep them in their proper perspective.  They are useful, diversionary, entertaining, and they can even give us a little joy, but they should never interfere with your relationship with God and His plan for your life.  As nice as they can be, they are just temporary things, our real eternal treasure is still waiting for our arrival in paradise.  Whatever we have here begins to wear down the moment we start to use it and nothing of it will last forever.  I do not know exactly what this treasure is, but I can guarantee that it will make anything we have ever owned here on earth look like junk.  Making it even better, that treasure is eternal. 
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.   Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Reality of Evil

We often think of evil in the obvious sense.  Murdering a child is evil.  Stealing is evil.  Rape is evil.  We all know that quite well, but what we miss is the evil in our every day lives.  While those things are evil, that is not the kind of evil I am talking about today.  The kind of evil I am talking about if the kind that is not so obvious.  I am not talking about Satan with a pointy tale and pitchfork.  I am not talking about horrifying demons with horns and sharp teeth.  I am talking about the real Satan, not to glorify him, but to expose the reality of who he truly is. 
But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. For such [are] false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore [it is] no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.  2 Corinthians 11:12-15 NKJV
Many like to talk of Satan as the accuser of the brethren in that he accuses us.  While that may be true in some circumstances, what that Scripture is mostly referring to is Satan accusing us to God.  The examples of this are Job and Peter.  The Satan we usually encounter is not the one who is going to try and make us feel bad about our sin lest that conviction turn us to God.  The Satan we usually encounter is the one who puts his arm around us and encourages us in our sin.  He wants us to believe we are right in our sin and to feel good about it.  He tells us "everyone is doing it."  He tells us "you have a right to be happy."  He tell us "just follow your heart, your heart can't be wrong."  Depending on the sin he will either tell you "it will not hurt anyone" or "that person deserves to be hurt, that person wronged you."  He puts his arm around us as a friend and coaxes us to fall further and further into sin.  We may even try to argue that what we are considering is wrong, Satan (who knows the text of Scripture better than you) will twist the Word of God.  Just as he said to Eve, he will ask "Has God really said..?"  

Many believe that Satan likes to tells us how much God hates us, but is that really the case?  Satan did not say that to Eve or even to Jesus when he was tempting Him.  Satan is more likely to, once again, encourage sin.  He will tell you "don't worry, God will forgive you."  (Technically that is true, but our motivation to sin should never be that God will forgive us.)  After he gets you to take that first step in sin, he will tell you "See, no lightning, God is ok with it."  He will show you others who are doing the same thing and living well and tell you that God has not judged them.  Just as Satan said to Eve, Satan will tell you "surely you will not die" each step further into apostasy that he leads you. Satan is there to ruin you relationship with God, to drive you away from the Lord.  He wants you to sin, to create that wedge in your relationship. 

Finally, once we are caught up in sin, Satan will try to convince us that God made us that way.  The homosexual movement is big on this one.  He tells you that you can not change and that God must have made you that way.  He tells you that you are just being true to who you were created to be.  He tells you that God loves you just the way you are.  Again, God does love us as we are, especially when we come to Jesus.  But God also loves us too much to leave us in the same condition we were in when we met Him.  God will cleanse us, sanctify us, and grow us from babes in Christ to men and women of God. 

We like to think of Satan as a scary snarling beast.  We like to think of him as a hateful dreadful being with blood dripping at his fangs just waiting to destroy us.  More likely, when you meet him, he will be that smooth talking friend putting his arm around your shoulder and gently encouraging you down the path of destruction.  He is not going to be one to intimidate you, but one to deceive you.  He was so bold as to try to deceive Jesus into sinning knowing full well who He was, please do not ever think he would not try to the same to you.  There was a book written some time ago called "The Beautiful Side of Evil" and it is about a woman who was seduced by the false peace and beauty of evil (in her case it was the New Age movement) before God revealing to her the wickedness of what she was involved in and ultimately leading her to Christ.  Evil only sometimes appears evil.  Usually it looks "spiritual", fun, enriching, natural, and even beautiful.  It is when we put our guards down and allow ourselves to be seduced the the false and shallow "beauty" of evil that we fall.  

What I write today is, again, not to glorify Satan.  He deserves no glory.  I am merely sharing the reality of our enemy and that he is out to get you.  What I am writing is a warning.  Stand strong, remain vigilant and steadfast, and always keep your eyes on God.  Never feel you are so strong you can never fall.  Peter thought that, as did countless ministers in recent history who fell to shame when caught in their sins.  It is when you let your guard down that Satan comes in, puts his arm around you, and begins his wicked plan to destroy you, your witness, and your relationship with God. 
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual [hosts] of wickedness in the heavenly [places].  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Ephesians 6:10-13 NKJV

Thursday, April 26, 2012

When God Says "No."

We all love it when God says yes when we ask Him for something.  Some like to think of Him as a spoiling Father giving us whatever toys we ask for and some even teach that kind of doctrine.  As for fathers, I am sure they love to say yes to their children.  It is easy to make children happy by giving them whatever they ask for, but would we count that as a responsible father?  I would say that most of us would not. Sometimes being a father means being the "bad guy."  Sometimes it means telling your child "No." no matter how much it will hurt them or upset them.  Fathers do that because they know better and know that whatever is being asked for is just not good for the child.  Sometimes our heavenly Father is in the same situation.  We ask for something and He has to say "No." 
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.  Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.  And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  2 Corinthians 12:7-9 NKJV
Saying "No" must be one of God's most difficult jobs.  Creation began with just a word, miracles were merely by His will, and He sustains the universe with no effort at all.  But this is something different.  This is something that puts Him in the position to have to hurt one that He loves.  Yes, He knows that things will work out in the end, but He knows that person who prayed does not know that the way He knows that.  It would be so much easier to just say "Yes."  Just give the desired answer to each and every prayers and life would be peachy for everyone, right?  Well, not so much.  There was a movie out some years ago called "Bruce Almighty."  It was about giving a man the power and responsibility of God and it was a comedy.  It is not a movie to watch to learn anything about God, but there is a point in the movie that illustrates my point perfectly.  The lead character was receiving all the prayers in the world and he set it up to be received by email.   In the end, he just answered "yes" to everything.  One example was that everyone who prayed to win the lottery won and being that everyone won they each won some ridiculously low amount.  The point is that know who to say "yes" and "no" to is not an easy task.  God has to take into account the ramifications of how each answered prayer will affect the whole of human history.  It is an extreme real-life example of the Butterfly Effect where the tiniest thing done in your life can amplify to great implications to the lives of others who are not even born yet. 

Personally, I do not know how God does it.  How does He watch a teenage girl with a broken heart pleading for some comfort, any comfort, and knowing you have the power to do it and yet know it is better for her to go through this. How does He watch a child plead for the life of his young mother, dying of cancer, and not heal her?  How does he make that child understand that it had to be this way, and that he may not even be able to understand why until he is present with Him.  How does he let a person get attacked, assaulted, and even murdered, begging God the entire time to intervene yet not intervene?  For some of these we can never understand in this life why God chooses not to act at times.  In fact, for some, it turns them bitter against God. 

I am not even going to pretend to explain or understand why God sometimes intervenes and sometimes He does not.  Why He does what He does is so far above human comprehension it is pointless to even try.  I do believe it all has to do with God's desire that all should be saved, but of course these are things we can not begin to understand until we are out of this world.  I can say that I am pretty sure that many times this part of being God must break His heart.  It broke God's heart when He had to judge the world in the time of Noah.  It broke God's heart all of those times when He had to chastise Israel.  Again, I do not know how God does it.  I do not know how He holds back when he could smite the attacker, heal relationships and broken hearts, and cure diseases. 

This is where trust comes in.  We can approach this aspect of God in two ways.  We can take the way of some who use it against God. They say He is not there or that if He is, He is evil, heartless, and cruel.  I do not subscribe to that belief.  That is merely wishing foolish wishes that there is no God or projecting your own failures onto God.  It also represents a misunderstanding of God and how He sees things.  God does not see things in moments as we do.  God sees all of history at all times and knows how His actions today will affect someone else tomorrow.  The other approach is understanding that God knows better and trusting that whatever his action of lack thereof is for a greater purpose we can not see or understand at this time.  Sometimes I want to believe that to have hope that things will turn out in the end and sometimes I have to believe it when seeking comfort when some horrible thing has happened. 

Of course, that requires faith.  We must have faith that God is there and working things out even when they seem to be going in the wrong direction.  We have to have faith to believe that when God does not make things go our way that it is for a better purpose.  We have to believe that God knows best, not us.  I know we hear all this talk on how God will give us the desires of our hearts or that whatever we ask in His name, He will give us, but we need to take those Scriptures in their right context.  Yes, God will give the Christian the desire of his or her heart, but what is the desire of your heart?  Is the desire of your own heart for anything you want to somehow alter God's greater plan?  It is for whatever you want to harm your life even if you do not understand how?  Is the desire of your heart to get what you want even if it means another not receiving Jesus?  If you answer yes to any of those questions, then can you truly say those desires are of your heart?  I daresay that they are of your flesh that you are failing to crucify.  If they are of your heart, then you heart has not changed.  If your heart is not changed, you have never received Jesus.  Furthermore, if you answered any of those questions as yes, can you say then you are really asking in His name?  Think about that for a moment.  Can you ask God to change His better plan for the world in the name of the one who submitted to the will of God even as He prayed in the garden for the cup to be passed?  Can you ask in the name of Jesus something that would affect His Father's promise to complete the good work He began in you?  And, most importantly, can you ask for something that would affect someone else coming to Jesus in the name of the one who left His throne, lived as a man, and suffered and died as a criminal so that you might be saved? 

I think that puts things in perspective. Some may scoff at those times when God does not intervene, but I take comfort in knowing that He has something even better in mind, even if I can not see it yet and even if it is not in this life.  We may never understand why God does and does not act at times, but we can be sure that He knows what He is doing and that someday we will understand.  Before I close, I want to share a story that reflects this kind of trusting heart:

Horatio G. Spafford and his wife, Anna, were pretty well-known in 1860’s Chicago. And this was not just because of Horatio's legal career and business endeavors. The Spaffords were also prominent supporters and close friends of D.L. Moody, the famous preacher. In 1870, however, things started to go wrong. The Spaffords' only son was killed by scarlet fever at the age of four. A year later, it was fire rather than fever that struck. Horatio had invested heavily in real estate on the shores of Lake Michigan. In 1871, every one of these holdings was wiped out by the great Chicago Fire.

Aware of the toll that these disasters had taken on the family, Horatio decided to take his wife and four daughters on a holiday to England. And, not only did they need the rest -- DL Moody needed the help. He was traveling around Britain on one of his great evangelistic campaigns. Horatio and Anna planned to join Moody in late 1873. And so, the Spaffords traveled to New York in November, from where they were to catch the French steamer 'Ville de Havre' across the Atlantic. Yet just before they set sail, a last-minute business development forced Horatio to delay. Not wanting to ruin the family holiday, Spafford persuaded his family to go as planned. He would follow on later. With this decided, Anna and her four daughters sailed East to Europe while Spafford returned West to Chicago. Just nine days later, Spafford received a telegram from his wife in Wales. It read:
"Saved alone."

On November 2nd 1873, the 'Ville de Havre' had collided with 'The Lochearn', an English vessel. It sank in only 12 minutes, claiming the lives of 226 people. Anna Spafford had stood bravely on the deck, with her daughters Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tanetta clinging desperately to her. Her last memory had been of her baby being torn violently from her arms by the force of the waters. Anna was only saved from the fate of her daughters by a plank which floated beneath her unconscious body and propped her up. When the survivors of the wreck had been rescued, Mrs. Spafford's first reaction was one of complete despair. Then she heard a voice speak to her, "You were spared for a purpose." And she immediately recalled the words of a friend, "It's easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God."

Upon hearing the terrible news, Horatio Spafford boarded the next ship out of New York to join his bereaved wife. Bertha Spafford (the fifth daughter of Horatio and Anna born later) explained that during her father's voyage, the captain of the ship had called him to the bridge. "A careful reckoning has been made", he said, "and I believe we are now passing the place where the de Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep." Horatio then returned to his cabin and penned the lyrics of his great hymn.
What great hymn was penned?  It's title is "It is Well With My Soul" and it is one we all know.  May we all have that heart. 
Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD." In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.  Job 1:20-22 NKJV

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chili Contests and Trusting Man

Yesterday I participated in a chili contest representing my department.  I did not win.  I did not even place.  Of course, knowing me, I had to find message in this to post on, and there is a message in my loss.  My department had high hopes for me and had confidence I would bring home the trophy.  They all trusted me to make something spectacular to dazzle the judges and I trusted the competition to be run fairly and according to established rules.  We all learned a lesson.  Never trust in man.  Not in me or my abilities and not in human judges or organizers to run things properly. 
[It is] better to trust in the LORD Than to put confidence in man.
[It is] better to trust in the LORD Than to put confidence in princes.  Psalm 118:8-9 NKJV
There are several reasons why you should not trust in man.  The first reason is that man is never perfectly capable.  No matter how skilled, no matter how talented, and no matter how experienced, no man is perfect in performance.  The best pitcher does not pitch a perfect game every game, striking out every batter.  No batter ever had a perfect batting average and none ever will.  When we put our faith and hope in any man, we are guaranteeing that at some point in time we will be disappointed and that disappointment often turns to anger and resentment.  We blame that other person for whatever went wrong.  An example of this would be blaming a kicker for missing one kick that would have made the difference between winning and losing a football game. 

Another reason we can not trust man is that no man is of perfect character.  There is no such thing as a man who is entirely without bias.  There is no such thing as a man who is above reproach.  No one has zero character flaws.  No one has no weak points.  Even King David, a man after God's own heart, had his Bathsheba incident.  The hard truth is that we have all sinned and we all still continue to sin.  Even for the Christian, sin still rears its ugly head in our lives.  Putting our faith in any man, once again, is setting ourselves up for disappointment.  How many were once considered role models for our children are now living prodigal lives?  How many politicians have we entrusted to lead us have turned out to be liars and crooks.  How many Christian leaders have fallen into sin and disgrace?  We should never put our confidence in man.

One other reason is that no man is of perfect intent.  We never really know the motives of others.  There is no such thing as perfect selflessness.  Even those who would die for another often do so with dreams of posthumous glory.  Even if someone is skilled, even if someone is of relatively good character, we do not know if they will have a lapse in that character or give you all of their skill in whatever you expect them to do for you.  Balaam, who I wrote about earlier in the week, is a great example of this.  God chose him to be a prophet and yet he used that gift against his own people.  One area of of own lives where this becomes an issue is in relationships.  We oftentimes trust the wrong person with our heart and end up having that trust betrayed.  He or she may have seemed great.  They may have said and done all the right things to give every indication that they were about as perfect as they come.  However, there comes a point in time, where either their motives were wrong from the start or their feelings changed along the way and they end up hurting you. 

In the end, the one Person we can trust with everything is the Lord.  Only He will never let you down.  Only He is of perfect character, skill, and intent.  His skill (if you can even call it that) is perfect.  There is nothing God can not perfectly do and there is nothing that can stand in the way of His work unless He allows it.  God will never fail in what He intends to do for you.  As for character, it almost seems trite to refer to it as character.  He is holy and righteous.  He is just with perfect justice.  Unrighteousness does not exist in any part of Him.  As for intent, His intent (or His will) is perfect.  God is not plotting and planning against you, but working His plan to complete the good work that He began in you.  If anyone doubts God's intentions for you, I remind you to look upon Jesus, His only begotten Son, who was sent to the cross the pay for your sins. 

If you put all your trust in God you will never be disappointed.  I do not think anyone of us has perfect trust in God, but the more you trust the less you will disappointed.  The more you trust in God, the less you will trust in man.  Man's skill will not matter because your trust is in God to make it work anyway.  Man's character will not matter because your life will no longer revolve around whether or not man comes through for you as you trust that the Lord always will.  And, finally, man's intentions will not matter to you because you know of God's promise to work all things together for good.  Nonbelievers are slaves to sin and believers still have their moments of not walking with the Lord.  Through our lives, we will be betrayed, hurt, failed, wronged, and robbed, and much of that will be from people we count as family and friends.  The Bible says that the heart is deceitful and that truth is played out in our lives time and again.  This is why we can not trust in man, but only in the Lord.  I say that because despite all of what I said, there is one truth of God that wipes all of it today.  I will close with that promise.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to [His] purpose.  Romans 8:28 NKJV