Beautiful And Appropriate

        “He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV).
The first eight verses of Ecclesiastes 3 were made famous in 1966 by the rock band, The Byrds with their hit, Turn, Turn, Turn.  They took these verses and made a smash hit.  The words are catchy, but easy to miss what is being communicated.

Jewish scholars interpreted “There is a time for everything” with the words, “every activity under heaven is right on schedule.”  It’s hard theology, but God is involved in all the seasons or episodes of life.  He may not send the seasons, but He’s there in the middle of them.  Jewish scholars also assert that each season must be embraced, that fighting God is fighting the divine timing of our life calendars.

Verse 11 helps us interpret the first eight verses.  The word “beautiful” is better translated “appropriate.”  If we can accept life as it comes – every season, then the tough seasons will become more bearable!

God gives us a gift to help us through the difficult seasons.  “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.”  Eternity is a part of our spiritual DNA.  There are storms that beat down on us so hard that we feel so out of place here.  God puts eternity in our hearts to help us look beyond the moment.

The last phrase, however, is the most important to be embraced: “yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”  God’s purposes are outside our ability to grasp.  We just don’t have the software to run this program.  Bewilderment and wonder are part of the journey!

It’s beautiful and appropriate.  Embrace.

Beware Of The Church, Not The Culture!

        “And now compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.  I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:22-24, NIV).

Paul was meeting the Ephesians elders in Miletus to say “good-bye.”  From this point on, his life would consist of traveling from court to court until he would be martyred.  Paul has credibility with me because he didn’t get to retire to a nice condo where he could finish out his life writing, speaking, and receiving honors.  Hardship was yet to come for him, but he stayed focused.

Impressive, but the real message of Acts 20 is Paul’s warning for the church.  Verses 29-31 speak about believers distorting the truth, and Paul called them “savage wolves”!  Think about this:  Paul lived in some of the most politically corrupt times ever.  Morally, things could not be more vexing.  What does he tell the church leaders their biggest challenge would be?  Not the culture, but the church!

We need to equip members to engage the culture’s ills, but we must also equip believers to recognize wolves – religious predators!  Paul says a wolf is anyone who distorts the gospel of God’s grace – those who cover-up sin, or elevate “comfort zones” over people, or condemn one sin while being held captive by another.

Sometimes we fight for people and the next moment we fight with people.   Paul knew the difference because he lived an uncomplicated life – focused on “the gospel of God’s grace.”

Beware of wolves!

The Blessing Of Brokenness

        “They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples.  Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said” (Acts 14:21-22, NIV).

The best things in life are often the result of being wounded.  Wheat must be crushed before becoming bread.  Incense must be burned by fire before its fragrance is set free.  The earth must be broken with a sharp plow before being ready to receive the seed.  And it is a broken heart that pleases God (Psalm 51:17).

It troubles me, but the sweetest joys of life are the fruits of sorrow.  Human nature seems to need suffering to make it fit to be a blessing to the world.

The early church blessed the world with compassion and sympathy, but not without first attending classes in the school of suffering.  Graduation from these classes not only served the world, it gave the believer power to do daily life without falling victim to a lifestyle of sin.

See you in class!

How God Enhances Our Story

        “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (I Corinthians 3:6,7, NIV).

David Brainerd was an orphan who became a Christian at the age of twenty-one in 1739. He enrolled at Yale University, which then was a Christian school, but was expelled for criticizing the worldliness of some of the faculty members.  He tried to get back into school, but was rejected.

He had a burden in his heart for Native Americans.  He took the gospel to them in a time when no one was reaching out to them.  There were some in Christendom who even thought that these “savages” had no souls.  All along the east coast he preached and ministered to them.  He would travel thousands of miles on horseback in all kinds of weather to pursue the mission of his life.

He fell in love with Jerusha Edwards, the daughter of Jonathan Edwards in 1747.  As the wedding day was approaching, Brainerd contracted tuberculosis and died.  He was only twenty-nine.  Story over, right?  No, for David Brainerd only did the planting.  God was preparing the water and the growth.

The father of his fiancée, Jonathan Edwards, was so inspired by Brainerd’s devotion to Christ, that it changed him and charged him spiritually.  Edwards would become one of America’s great evangelists, a man who would led America to the “Great Awakening” which turned our country from infidelity and secularism to Christ.

And the story doesn’t end there.  Edwards published Brainerd’s diary, a journal that chronicled David’s many struggles to serve in Christ’s Kingdom.  A man named William Carey in England read it and dedicated himself to mission work in India.  The same was true of Henry Martyn and Robert Murray McCheyne and Robert Moffat and David Livingstone.  All would do significant mission work around the world for the Lord Jesus!  Words are indeed powerful!

Years would pass, and in the twentieth century, Jim Elliot would read this same diary, and he, too was compelled to do mission work among the Auca Indians of Equator.

David Brainerd, died young, but God took what he planted and used his efforts to fan the passions of many others.

By the way, today at Yale University, there is a wing of the divinity school named for David Brainerd.  It is the only building on the Yale campus named for a student who was expelled!

Our lives, even cut short, have an impact on others. Plant some kindness and love for Jesus today.  Our Father is not far behind with His watering can.

Boring, But Keep Going

        “Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well.  It was about the sixth hour” (John 4:6, NIV).

Television and movies portray everyone as funny, exciting, or attractive.  Characters  always have electrifying lines and experience fantastic adventures.  According to Hollywood, life is always thrilling, humorous, and always interesting.

Then, there’s John 4:6.  It’s mundane.  Jesus spent the day walking in the heat, and He stopped to rest and to get a drink of water.  It wasn’t dramatic or humorous, and yet we can relate because most of our days are routine and boring. We work, we get tired, and hopefully we find time to rest.  We understand weariness.

What are we to do?  Do what Jesus did.  Be faithful, be consistent, put one foot in front of the other, and keep moving forward.  Do what you’re supposed to do and be where you’re supposed to be.  You won’t receive any attention or affirmation from the world, but you will have the full attention from the One who matters most!

Take a drink.  Keep moving.

Our Personal Coach

        “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.  I will counsel you and watch over you.  Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you” (Psalm 32:8,9, NIV).

Our Father speaks.  Because He is a living God, He doesn’t just speak to the prophets of old.  He speaks to His children today.

The above promise is for living and walking in God’s ways.  He doesn’t stop with the counsel; He watches our progress as a father does with his children.  He keeps an eye on us in good times and bad.  He doesn’t turn away when we disappoint.  He can’t because He loves!

We all need this instruction because left to ourselves we are sinful, disobedient, and even self-destructive.  In all of our lives, every road we take, every move we plan, there is the instruction of our Father at hand to help direct us.  David did not always heed this counsel, and he suffered plenty.  He had been the mule of verse 9, and it was a distressing.

The way we avail ourselves to this instruction and counsel is clear:  Trust God for a favorable outcome by listening.  Remove things that are an affront to God.  Hear God’s Word, believe God’s Word, act on God’s Word.  Then, take comfort in His personal attention to your steps.

Because it is personal, it is powerful.

Stay For The Whole Message

        “He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him…All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips…All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.  They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.  But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4:15,22,28-30, NIV).

What happened?  Jesus shows up and is obviously saying what the folks like to hear, and it is nothing but praises.  “We ought to hire this guy!  He’s good.”  But wait.  His message isn’t over and by the time He finishes, people are offended and ready to toss Him over the cliff.  Not just ask Him to leave – kill Him!  No Christmas bonus, no severance package, no farewell party.

This day in Nazareth is a lot like our walk with Jesus.  At first everything is sweet.  “This Jesus thing is enhancing my life on every level.”  Then, over time, Jesus’ message changes because the expectations of discipleship change as we mature.  Some words of Jesus are hard.  They hit us in extremely sensitive areas that we rather not discuss.  Hey, we’re doing so well in so many areas.  Let’s just focus on these and let the love feast continue.

Jesus’ message doesn’t always provide us with immediate answers.  What He does give us is Himself.  He didn’t promise that all of our problems will vanish, but He does promise that He would never bail on us (Hebrews 13:5).

Summary of Jesus’ message:  Don’t leave early; stay for the whole message.  Invite Me to travel with you.  If we stay on His course we will always have the perspective, power, and the promises to navigate whatever is on the road before us.

Enjoy your walk.

When We Need A Portion

        “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26, NIV).

Asaph is the author of this psalm.  He served as David’s chief musician or the minister of music (I Chronicles 15:16-17).  He authored some twelve psalms.  As a worship leader, he would have been a very close attendant to the king.  He would use David’s psalms as songs of worship that would be a huge part of Israel’s worship heritage.

Whether Asaph’s words here are personal to him or what he witnessed in David’s struggles we are not sure.  His words describe a prayer that could be our plea before God.  There are times when our closest friend or relative cannot calm the spirit.  Those times cry out for God’s discernment of heart.  Sometimes only our Father can provide this stabilizing strength.

Interesting word in this passage – “portion.”  It comes from the Hebrew, “kalak”which literally means territory or separation.  The idea of territory makes sense, but what about the word separation?  The ancients understood Asaph clearly.  Psalm 73 is about discernment in hard times.  When Asaph says God is his portion, his territory, his separation, the Jews got it.  Discernment is the ability to separate truth from what is not true.  God becomes our portion when we are given the ability to separate what it true from what is not true.  Critical instrument in trying times.

May God be our “portion forever.” 

Measuring Success

        “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord you are serving” (Colossians 3:17, 23-24, NIV).

In the marketplace, there are technical measures for evaluating success.  In the Kingdom measuring success is often difficult.  I Corinthians 3:6 says it this way: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”  What we do in our everyday lives has value, but is not always visible.  I used to worry if I witnessed enough to others, and then this verse reminded me that I am only a part of the team or process, not the essence of it.  God uses His children in different phases to bring about a harvest.

Paul says “whatever you do” – referring to our daily grind, think of it as working for the Lord.  When we are helpful to others, we are doing the Lord’s work even if we don’t sneak in a word about the Gospel.  Loving people, especially difficult people, is heavy duty Kingdom activity.

In the marketplace, we look at the numbers; in the Kingdom, we love people and let God do His work in human hearts.  Right now, ministers and church leaders are studying and planning to help equip the church, and yet their work is not one bit more spiritual or significant than the person sitting in a cubicle serving his employer and meeting deadlines.  Both groups have a high calling to have Jesus in mind while in task mode.

Paul speaks of receiving an inheritance, and part of that reward is the backflow of love from valuing others while we work.

Every Day

      “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19, NIV).

Mr. Rogers of the long-last PBS children’s show was a man of routine.  Each day he would rise at 5:30 AM and begin his day with reading his Bible, studying, writing, and prayer.  He would swim every day and take a late afternoon nap.  Bedtime was always 9:30 PM.  As a man of discipline, he kept his weight at 143 pounds his entire life.  His life and his ministry touched children and adults for decades.  Families found comfort in knowing he was there with his calm spirit.

We’re impressed.

What about our Father who likewise has a routine: He “daily bear our burdens.”  Every day without fail, He takes note of what is weighing us down.  The most disciplined of us will fail at times.  We get sick or sidetracked.  Not our Lord.  He has the strength and the love to lift our burdens.  His routine never changes.

I am reminded of the words of Elisha Albright Hoffman, writer of over 2,000 hymns, wrote these words in 1893:

I must tell Jesus all of my trials;
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
In my distress He kindly will help me;
He ever loves and care for His own.

                I must tell Jesus!  I must tell Jesus!
I cannot bear these burdens alone;
I must tell Jesus!  I must tell Jesus!
Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.