Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tent of Refuge

I remember the trip like it was yesterday. Our family packed up the tent in the station wagon, along with the Coleman lantern and stove, and headed out for Red River, New Mexico. I don’t know how my dad convinced my mom to travel 800 miles with four boys to spend a week in a tent by the river, but he always was a good salesman. We set up camp at the June Bug campground, and I will never forget jumping into the freezing cold river with my brothers, hiking to the top of the mountain that overlooked our campsite, and watching my dad set the kerosene lantern on fire! But more than anything, I remember the tent!

It was huge! It took two to carry, four to set it up and could sleep up to 12 adults. There must have been a thousand aluminum poles and dozens of flaps, zippers, awnings and ropes. Once it was finally erected it served as our home away from home for a few nights in August of 1974. Our tent was a place of refuge from the mountain creatures that foraged through campsites at night and a shelter from the cold rain and mountain sleet that pelted us in the afternoon. Our tent was a place of comfort and safety for the family as we slept in our warm sleeping bags. I love to reflect on the good times we had at June Bug campground, but today I find myself thinking more about another tent. A tent of refuge - not from the rain and sleet, but from the trials of this present age.

Throughout the Old Testament we read of travelers crossing the deserts on wagons and atop camel’s backs. Each night tent cities would be set up to shelter the travelers from the desert sand blown by the wind. The tents were not only shelter for sleeping, but a place of worship. In the book of Exodus we read that “…Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting.” (Exodus 33:7)

Whether for shelter or spiritual worship the tents in the desert were a place of refuge for the Old Testament travelers, but an amazing thing happened when we turn from the pages of the Old Testament to the New Testament. Travelers still made their home in tents, but the tent that Moses and the Levitical priests set up as spiritual tabernacles were replaced by a new and better tent.

With the advent of Jesus Christ came a new place of refuge to escape the storms of life. A new tent that offered safety and comfort from the winds of despair, depravity and destruction that blows through our lives. A tent filled not with man’s riches, worldly sacrifices or earthly priests but with the power and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Mankind destroyed the earthly tents of meeting, but no power on earth can destroy the ultimate tent of refuge for a world in need of a Savior. The new tent was not made with human hands, but was God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

Like the refugees that run to the tent cities of Haiti to find shelter, we must look to the tent city of Jesus Christ to find shelter from our sin and sorrow. The Word of God says that “…we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us and we have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf….” (Hebrews 7:19-20)

Are you in the midst of the storms of life? Have you been running to shelters that do not bring hope and true comfort to your heart and soul? Jesus Christ is the shelter that never fails as a place of refuge. He is the anchor of the soul for all who enter into His holy, eternal tent of refuge. Entrance is granted to all those who, by faith, repent of their sins and place their whole trust in Christ alone, for He is the only hope for this life and the life to come.

When I was a boy my dad taught me how to set up a tent to protect from the rain, wind and sleet that was sure to come in the mountains of New Mexico. Fortunately, he and my mom also taught me to run to the shelter of Jesus Christ who is my protector, deliverer and tent of hope for this life and life eternal. I invite you to run to the tent of Jesus Christ today and find your shelter and comfort in Him.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Making Room for Athiesm - by Dr. John Piper

(from the pen of John Piper)

Our church (Bethlehem Baptist Church) exists "to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ." That is our mission. "All things" means business, industry, education, media, sports, arts, leisure, government, and all the details of our lives. Ideally this means God should be recognized and trusted as supreme by every person he has made. But the Bible teaches plainly that there will never be a time before Jesus comes back when all people will honor him as supreme (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

So how do we express a passion for God's supremacy in a pluralistic world where most people do not recognize God as an important part of their lives, let alone an important part of government or education or business or industry or art or recreation or entertainment?

Answer: We express a passion for the supremacy of God...

1) by maintaining a conviction at all times that God is ever-present and gives all things their most important meaning. He is the Creator, Sustainer, and Governor of all things. We must keep in our minds the truth that all things exist to reveal something of God's infinite perfections. The full meaning of everything, from shoestrings to space shuttles, is the way they relate to God.

2) by trusting God in every circumstance to use his creative, sustaining, governing wisdom and power to work all things together for the good of all who love him. This is faith in the future grace of all that God promises to be for us in Jesus.

3) by making life choices that reveal the supreme worth of God above what the world values supremely. "The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life" (Psalm 63:3). So we will choose to die rather than lose sweet fellowship with God. This will show his supremacy over all that life offers.

4) by speaking to people of God's supreme worth in creative and persuasive ways, and by telling people how they can be reconciled to God through Christ, so that they can enjoy God's supremacy as protection and help, rather than fear it as judgment.

5) by making clear that God himself is the foundation for our commitment to a pluralistic democratic order-not because pluralism is his ultimate ideal, but because in a fallen world, legal coercion will not produce the kingdom of God. Christians agree to make room for non-Christian faiths (including naturalistic, materialistic faiths), not because commitment to God's supremacy is unimportant, but because it must be voluntary, or it is worthless. We have a God-centered ground for making room for atheism. "If my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight" (John 18:36). The fact that God establishes his kingdom through the supernatural miracle of faith, not firearms, means that Christians in this age will not endorse coercive governments-Christian or secular.

This is why we resist the coercive secularization implied in some laws that repress Christian activity in public places. It is not that we want to establish Christianity as the law of the land. That is intrinsically impossible, because of the spiritual nature of the kingdom. It is rather because repression of free exercise of religion and persuasion is as wrong against Christians as it is against secularists. We believe this tolerance is rooted in the very nature of the gospel of Christ. In one sense, tolerance is pragmatic: freedom and democracy seem to be the best political order humans have conceived. But for Christians it is not purely pragmatic: the spiritual, relational nature of God's kingdom is the ground of our endorsement of pluralism, until Christ comes with rights and authority that we do not have.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Waiting on the Lord

True confession: I'd rather walk out of HEB without my groceries than wait in line at the register. Especially when I'm behind coupon users and check writers. Or worse, those shoppers that divide up their groceries and pay some with cash and the rest with check. Ugh. (Do people ever think about writing out the words HEB, the date, and their signature before they find out the total?) We should be able to buy our groceries by weight. Just set it all on a scale, calculate the cost, swipe our debit card and get outta there! That's why I love that Frozen Yogurt place on LaSalle (Fro Yo). Dump yogurt in a cup, cover it with chocolate chips and strawberries, weigh it, pay it... and enjoy that tasty goodness. No waiting.

Yesterday I was at the 10 item express check out and there was a "check writer". No fault of his but his check jammed up the machine and I kid you not.... The check out lady proceeded to bang on the top and side of the machine. Didn't work. The wait was agonizing as the line of "10 items or less shoppers" piled up behind me. I just wanted to leave. I really don't like to wait.

However... there is a kind of waiting that I'm getting better at.

Isaiah said in chapter 40:28-31 tells us that to "those who wait on the Lord" He will "renew their strength". Now that gets me thinking. If I'm lousy at waiting in lines at HEB when I'm buying milk and bread, what makes me think I'll do any better waiting around for the Lord. When you wait at HEB you can see the progress of the line, but with the Lord you literally have to wait in faith. We don't know the mind of God or His timing. Waiting on the Lord to renew our strength may mean that we will have to be weak for a while. It might mean we will not see immdeiate results of our waiting. Consider the people of Israel as they wandered through the dessert, or Noah's family as they waited for that bird to fly back, or the disciples who labored to start the early churches, or the missionaries in Ecuador who waited over 30 years before violent villagers repented and turned to Jesus. What do I know about waiting?? And yet, I can think of many times I have set quietly before the Lord and he instantly offers me peace, answers to problems and even supernatural results. And other times I've had to wait, and wait, and wait. Only to find that the results weren't what I had planned. The promise to waiting is not that we always get what we want. The promise is that He will give us the strength that we need.

For example, sometimes we wait for healing and it comes quickly. Sometimes the healing, like that of Sierra, is greeted us as we cross over into eternal life and receive our great reward in heaven. My friends the Fedelem's are a testimony to waiting. For 3 years they waited with grace and perseverance that is seldom seen today, but God chose to bring their precious Sierra home. They will take comfort in Isaiah's words when he says; "those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up on wings of eagles, they shall want and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." I'm convinced that this promise is to Jason and Rosetta in this life, and for Seirra in the life she now lives. Their strength will be renewed and they will run this race and not grow weary as they look to Him. Sierra was taken up to her eternal home on the wings of angels where she walks and runs, sings and shouts, and looks upon the One who saved her... and in heaven she will never grow weary. We have all been blessed by this family and their godly waiting.

Are you ready to wait on the Lord my friends. Wait on Him to heal you, tend to your daily needs, restore your marriage, raise your children, comfort your grief, and guide your every step. I believe waiting is a discipline that we must nurture and strive for. We must diligently wait on the Lord to renew our strength... in His timing. Let the words of the Psalmist bring your comfort and encouragement today as you rise up and seek His face and wait on Him. (Psalm 130:5-6)

5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Friday, October 8, 2010

90 Days of Prayer: Day 8: Intercession - One body, many members

90 Days of Prayer: Day 8: Intercession - One body, many members: "Romans 12:4-6 - For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one bo..."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Humility in the right place

There is a great need for greater confidence in the truth of Gods revealed Word and greater humility in our human abilities.  A strange reversal has occurred over the years. Once it was of great virtue and a sign of humility to speak with confidence regarding the great doctrines found in Gods Word. And, to be humble and even less confident in our abilities.

Today, people boast in what they are good at.... They speak of their giftings, talent and unique abilities with great confidence. All the while they speak of Gods Word as a mystery and are unwilling to take a stand on core doctrines of scripture. They see it as a sign of humility to say..."we can't know", or "It's not important", or "It doesn't matter". But truth is to be known, it is important, and it does matter. To stand for truth and fight for what is right in Gods Word is not arrogance or pride, but a sign of humility in the face of His truth.
Let us not worry so much about our strengths, unique abilities and talents, but about the strength of Gods perfect Word - That is worthy of our confidence.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Comfort and Counselor

Over the last year I have been preaching through the book of John.  Our journey has led us through the many parables and teachings of Christ, and we now find ourselves in the final days of his life.   As he warned his disciples of the hatred that would come to them and spoke about his departure, I can only wonder about the full extent of their emotions and heartache.  They must have grieved knowing they would never see their Rabbi again... although unable to imagine what would eventually take place on that dreadful day.... persecution, torture and death. 

I have often thought of what life would be like without those I love dearly, and while our mind can only imagine the pain of loss, when the reality of their absence occurs we feel the true loneliness and despair.  Last year I felt that loneliness for the first time in my life after the death of my brother.  The sorrow of saying goodbye to a dear friend, mentor and brother is more than I could bear... or so I thought.   In the gospels the disciples experienced a "goodbye" with a dear friend, mentor and brother that was accompanied by a promise from Jesus that no doubt brought them peace, and is extended to us as well.  Here the comforting words of Jesus when He says...

"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning." (Jn 15:26-27)  

I love the first five words... "but when the helper comes".   Our Helper. Our Comforter. The Holy Spirit.  You will face many trials and troubles in this present age.  You will know sorrow and grief.  You will suffer for your faith.  BUT... the Helper comes.  

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ then the helper has come to you.  He has been with you since your conversion... not later, as some would suggest, but the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a present reality for all Christians, throughout all time.   He offers you comfort in weakness and counsel as He bears witness to you about the truth of Christ and testimony of His word. 

While most everyone agrees with what I share today, far too many quench the power and presence of the Holy spirit in their life.  They go through their sorrows alone and feel hopeless in the face of fears and troubling circumstances.  Is that you? Do you "phone a friend" before turning to comforter?  Do you seek human wisdom instead of seeking supernatural counsel through prayer?   Receive the promise that was given to the disciples 2000 years ago and tap into the gift of the Holy Spirit.  And remember... for those in Christ the Holy Spirit is our "Edge".   It offers us a source of strength and wisdom that no one else has dwelling within.   Rejoice... the helper has come!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Marriage is more than comfort

"St. Augustine (AD 354-430) suggested that there are three benefits of marriage: offspring (procreation), faith (fidelity), and sacrament" (from Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas).

The word "sacrament" points to the great mystery of how God reconciles Christ to His church. Sacraments are a means of God's grace to the church. (ie: baptism, Lord's Supper) Augustine considered marriage to be a sacrament, in that it reflects the relationship between Jesus Christ and those whom he died, and is a way he extends His grace. Whether or not we continue to view marriage as a sacrament, (Protestants don't) I think we should agree that our marriages are meant to be a picture of the gospel... a picture of reconciliation. The very fact that someone is married, regardless of the quality of the relationship, signifies a spiritual union that is not meant to be seperated because it was ordained by God. It is sacred.

This ought to be a motivator for preserving our marriage and making it thrive in the midst of this fallen world. It ought to make us ask not what "we" can get out of the marriage (what makes us happy) but how our marriage can actually bring glory (happiness) to a Holy God... who instituted marriage in the garden!

Augustine's threefold view of marriage was altered by the Anglican Reformers when the phrase "mutual comfort" appeared in prayer books along with "procreation" and "fidelity". I think Augustine would say today that his view of marriage as a sacrament (a display of the gospel and a means of grace) has been muted by this change. Granted, many of us still hold our marriages to be sacred and a picture of the marriage between Christ and His church (the gospel). However, I believe the shift toward "mutual comfort" greatly effected the view of marriage.

Gary Thomas speaks about the 2 views this way...."In a man-centered view of marriage (mutual comfort), we will maintain our marriage as long as our earthly comforts, desires, and expectations are met. In a God-centered view (sacrament), we preserve our marriage because it brings glory to God and points a sinful world to a reconciling Christ."

Marriage is great when our comfort is great. The test of a marriage is when our comfort has been removed either by our own rebellion or by the rebellion of the one we married. (adultery) It is then that we realize that procreation and comfort are not enough to make up for the loss due to infidelity, which leaves us without hope. I believe Augustine would tell us that our only hope can be found in reconciliation through Christ. We must hope in the fact that our marriage is a sacred bond that represents the reality of the gospel, and although it has been violated God is able to once again reconcile and redeem what has been destroyed. (I can testify to countless couples who have experienced this reconciliation)

However, in light of the magnitude of adultery, God allows for divorce. It is not because He cannot restore, it is perhaps because He knew that the depth of pain that adultery causes is so great that mere mortals may not be able to endure.... till death do us part.

Most of us have no plans to commit such a heinous violation against our spouse and few ever set out to commit infidelity when they got married. Our charge is to live out our marriage in such a way that we care not so much for the "mutual comforts" that marriage brings (and it does!), but that our driving motivation for love is the happiness and glorification of God. It is then that we will see the passion and intent of Augustine's claim that marriage is not only for procreation and fidelity, but more importantly for the display of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and fallen world.

Peace out...

Radical Religion

Christianity is radical. It stands in opposition to the world and to every other religion. It calls us to sacrifice our own desires at the throne of a Holy, trancsendent God and take on His ways and His thoughts. To submit to him in alll things and serve His will.

The promise of Christianity is the greatest promise of all time... Eternal immortality. We never die... Forever. Its like Buzz Lightyear says; "To infinity and beyond!"

Eternal life is the gift that has been sought by every culture and desired by every religion since time began. To live beyond this brief, mortal life has driven mankind to believe in the most outrageous promises. Promises of returning as another creature, of living with dozens of virgins, owning our own planet and more! And none of these promises have paid off.

The hope people have placed in idols, false prohets and imaginery gods has proved futile for millions. While our society boasts of many paths to etenal life and is willing to recognize mutiple truths... even though the truths contradict each other...there is one great truth that will not fail, will not perish, and will not be corrupted by the lies of the world.

Christianity stands as the only great hope and promise of mankind. It is not a religion of works, but a religion of surrender. In opposition to other relgions Christianity calls mankind to surrender our own will to the will of the One, Holy God and to trust in the sacrifice of His Son. In doing so, our sacrifice is the sacrifice of pride and the sacrifice of our desires. We die to our lusts, dreams, and goals and through submission and obedience take on the goals of our heavenly Father.

Some have referred to Christianity as the "Great Exchange". We exchange our sinful lives for the rigthteousness of Jesus Christ. Think about this. Like the Prodigal Son who returned to His father covered in filth and dirt we come to Jesus with our filthy lives of sin. And Like the father in the parable, God places on us a new robe to cover our sin. The boys robe represented his fathers love and established his identity as a child of his father. Our robe is not made of silk or cotton, but it is the robe of the righteousness of Christ. With this spiritual robe or sins are covered and we inherit a new identity.

We become a child of God, a royal priest, a servant of the King, an inheritor of eternal life, a saint in His Kingdom, a sheep to be cared for, and a partaker of the abundant life He promises.

Christianity is radical. Its radical love for people who don't deserve it. It's a radical sacrifice of an innocent man. It's a radical promise of eternal life. And it calls us to live with radical committment and love for a Holy God.

Live for Him today and then live with Him forever... and beyond!     Peace, Jay

Because I said so!

I wonder if Jesus ever had to say that to the disciples?  Spending three years with those rough, and sometimes unruly, disciples must have made Jesus want to say what every mother in the world has said... "do it because I said so"  In John 14 and 15 Jesus did say quite clearly that there is a new commandment and it was to love each other the way He loved us.  No doubt there were many occasions before and after the resurrection that Jesus would have been able to say... "Do it Peter.  Do it John.  Just love one another"   (Okay, maybe not John, but certainly Peter).

Is he saying that to you today?  If he polled your church body, your famiy, or your co-workers would your "Friends" be able to say you were loving them like Jesus loved His disciples?  Ouch. 

In God's economy, love is the litmus test of obedience to Him.  Faith is good.  Hope is good.  But that greatest of these is love.  The outgrowth of genuine, Christ-based love is three fold.

#1.  You demonstrate obedience to Jesus and therefore glorify God.  (We really only need this to motivate us, but there's more)

#2.  You produce godly fruit in the life of the relationship.  John 15:16 tells us that when we love each other we bear fruit and the fruit abides.   That means you literally transform yourself and others and produce "good" works/fruit.  Not just for the moment, but fruit that lasts - meaning it has eternal, everlasting qualities to it.  The fruit of the Spirit is nine wonderful fruits that result from truly loving each other in the body of Christ.  They are... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Are you seeing that kind of fruit burst forth in your life and in the life of those around you.   If you are truly loving others... you will.

#3.  You joy becomes full!   John 15:11 is a promise from Jesus that when we obey His commands (like loving others) our joy will be full.  Think about that.   How full is your joy right now?  Is it kinda full?  Is it overflowing full?  I want a FULL JOY!  I want to experience the greatest, most everlasting joy possible and I can...you can.  It starts with loving the Lord God with all your heart, sould and mind.   And it reaches it's full potential when our love for God overflows in love to one another... they way He loved us! 

Love this week with patience, humility, charity, forgiveness, kind words, gentle words, and a tongue that is self-controlled.  Peace out... Jay