TROUBLED?

Christians sometimes are surprised when they face and deal with difficulties, setbacks, and roadblocks. And part of the reason they are surprised is because they think being a follower of Jesus should protect and insulate them from such things.

The Bible, however, does not promise that committing to live the Christian life guarantees constant smooth sailing. Not only does the Bible not make such a claim, it clearly teaches otherwise.

The clearest teaching, and perhaps best known, about this comes from Jesus himself. In what is called Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, in John 16:33 Jesus tells his followers “In this world you will have trouble” (NIV). Another translation (NLB) expands the idea of trouble with “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.”

Having made my initial decision to be a Christian at the age 12 in 1963, I certainly have not lived a trouble-free life with no trials and sorrows. And I’m confident that neither has any other believer who is reading this reflection.

What got me to thinking about this was the encouragement of Psalm 62:8 that a couple of authors cited in a book I recently finished (Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith, p. 102). Here’s Psalm 62:8, “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (NIV).

Note and consider the three points of the verse. First, it calls us to trust God. And then because we trust him, we are to pour out our hearts to him. Finally, the Psalmist tells us why we should trust God and pour out our hearts to him – because he is our refuge.

Taken by this verse, I checked some other renderings and thought The Contemporary English Version expanded on parts 2 and 3: “always tell him each one of your concerns. God is our place of safety.”

I’m drawn to and encouraged by the instruction of Psalm 62:8. I want to trust the Lord and pour out my heart to him telling him all of my concerns; and I want to do that because he is my refuge and a place of safety.

There is much more to prayer than just what Psalm 62:8 teaches us; but because we all will be troubled at times, I don’t think we should ignore or fail to put into practice what this verse teaches us. Do you?

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THE OTHER BEATITUDES

Most people with some knowledge of the Bible are familiar with what are called The Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are the opening statements of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 in which he lists some of the qualities and attitudes he wants his followers to cultivate and exhibit. They are called beatitudes because Jesus affirms that those who have such qualities are “blessed.”

But what does it mean to be “blessed?” In his book about the beatitudes, Max Lucado suggests it means that from heaven God applauds those with these attitudes and actions. I like to think of this usage of “blessed” as God’s favor on and congratulations to such people.

While they are the best known, Jesus’ beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount are not the only promises of being “blessed” in the Bible. What I was reminded of last week, and find especially interesting, is that there are seven beatitudes in the book of Revelation in which people are promised they are “blessed.”

There is a lot in the book of Revelation I don’t understand, and I certainly don’t understand as much as I would like about the beatitudes in the book. But I am challenged, encouraged, and affirmed by them.

You may want to go to your own Bible and read them in context, but here are the verses:

Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it.”

Revelation 14:13, “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on’.”

Revelation 16:15, “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.”

Revelation 19:9. “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God’.”

Revelation 20:6, “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”

Revelation 22:7, “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.”

Revelation 22:14, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.”

Revelation’s beatitudes are not easy to understand, but they are statements of God’s favor on certain people. If you’re like me, you too want to be one of those people. I encourage you to reflect on these verses as well as go back and read and reflect on Jesus’ beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12.

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The End Times, The Book of Revelation, And Jesus’ Second Coming

This week I am wrapping up my Amarillo High School New Testament Bible Class and we have spent the last few days on the Book of Revelation. In order to give a meaningful and helpful overview I had to revisit several of my books and notes on this important and controversial last book of the Bible.

Apart from my favorite commentaries on Revelation, the reading I did that had the greatest impact upon me was a Christianity Today article from February of 1987. That article is more than 32 years old and is still as relevant today as it was then!

It was written by Kenneth S. Kantzer, a biblical scholar and editor of Christianity Today at the time. Three things he wrote in that two page article convicted, challenged, and encouraged me about the subject of the title of this post.

He began the tenth paragraph of his editorial with this observation: “Too often . . . Christians have allowed eschatology to divide them.” Of course, he was right then, and what he wrote then is still true today. Discussions about the end times, the book of Revelation, and Jesus’ second coming divide Christians today.

Too many of us are over confident and rigid about our understanding, interpretation, and position when it comes to the Bible’s teaching about these things. I admit I used to be one of those. I still believe what I teach about eschatology, but after all these years of reading, learning, and teaching I am less arrogant and overbearing when I discuss the end times, the book of Revelation, and Jesus’ second coming.

In going through my file of papers on the book of Revelation it was the title of Kantzer’s article that got my attention and then his closing point that most encouraged and challenged me. The title of the article is quite simple: “Agreement Is Not Required.” I only wish he had added one word and made it “Total Agreement Is Not Required.”

In the final part of the article, entitled “A plea for unity,” Kantzer suggests the greatest strength of all the different millennial views “is their common allegiance to Jesus Christ as the Lord of history.” Then he continues, “God has a goal for this planet as well as for individuals. Human life is neither aimless nor determined by evil powers that can destroy us. God is sovereign. History has meaning. And God is working through it to achieve the goals from which he has never deviated.” I hope all Christians can agree on these powerful affirmations regardless of their specific positions, interpretations, and understandings of Jesus’ Second Coming, the Book of Revelation, and the End Times.

Continue to read about, study, and discuss these important subjects; and do so with commitment, humility, respect, and grace.

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HOW ARE “WE” DOING?

As the title of this post suggests, I want to ask readers and myself a question. And the way I am using the first person plural pronoun is not “the royal we.” The royal we is usage of the plural by royalty (usually the king or queen) to refer to one person. My usage of “we” refers to all of us.

Last night in preparing for my high school Bible class I read through the New Testament letter of I Peter. And as many times as I have read it before, I never noticed that each of the five chapters has a similar instruction and challenge for fellow believers in the church. The more I have thought about these verses, it seems to me they are pertinent not just with fellow believers in the church, but to a variety of groups both in the church and beyond.

Here are the verses:

I Peter 1:22, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.”

I Peter 2:17b, “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers.”

I Peter 3:8, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.”

I Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

I Peter 5:5b, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.”

Those are some powerful notes of challenge and instruction, aren’t they? Not only that, wouldn’t you agree they should not be limited to Christians and church members?

I not only want to treat my fellow church members like this; I also want to treat my extended family, my non-church going friends, the guys with whom I play golf, and lots of other people in my life. I hope as well that they too would treat me likewise.

Here’s why I think these five verses from the five chapters of I Peter raised the question in my mind, “How are we doing?” In general, I don’t think we are doing as well as we should be doing. Too many times I observe what appears to me as a lack of proper respect. Rather than clothing ourselves with humility and being humble, we are arrogant. And I note occasions where love does not cover wrongs, but grudges are held.

The question is “How are we doing?” and we includes me. I can do better, and my sense is so could everyone who reads this. I’m going to use my reading of I Peter last night, and noting the instruction and challenge, to be more intentional about putting it into practice. Perhaps you will join me?

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IMPERFECT CHURCHES

This past Friday’s USA Today’s headline “CONFESSING SOME DOUBT” got my attention and the sub-title State of the Catholic Church prompted me to read the lengthy article. The article was about Catholics’ responses to the sex abuse scandals by church leaders and the cover-ups that followed.

I am a Protestant Christian and not a Roman Catholic, but I am grieved and troubled by all that has been reported. It’s not just Catholic churches that have been in the  news; a number of Protestant churches also have been for the same kinds of misdeeds and more by their leaders. That troubles and grieves me too.

Early in the article the writers suggest “The U.S. Catholic Church is at a crossroads.” I cannot disagree with that, and I also think the same can be said about some Protestant denominations, some individual protestant churches, and quite a few members of both Catholic and Protestant churches.

Reading and considering the many quotations in the article from church goers, I think three words characterize most of them. As a long time Christian and pastor these three words also represent my response.

Clearly the great majority of both Catholic and Protestant church goers are disappointed. Who wouldn’t be? People whom we respected and looked up to let us down. Not only that, the response of some who were in positions to take action did not; and that also is disappointing.

Not only are most church goers disappointed, they are also concerned. And again, who wouldn’t be? There has been a loss of trust in priests and pastors and church leaders in general. One respondent lamented, “I felt so angry and betrayed.”  In terms of Catholics, a recent Gallup poll reported 37% are thinking of leaving the religion.

However, and not to put lipstick on a pig, even with their concern and disappointment, a lot of churchgoers are hopeful. One person who was interviewed noted “I’m not so disassociated that I am ready to walk away.” Another affirmed they “have not lost faith in God or the church.” And offering an important perspective, one church goer affirmed, “The church is not about [or focused on] the humanity of its individual actors, it’s focused on God.”

Perhaps in that last quotation there is a warning for us — while we should look up to and respect our church leaders, we should keep in mind the big picture. While we may wish it were not so, there will always be occasions and situations in which we are disappointed by pastors and church leaders.

Some readers will remember what Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 as he looked to the future: “I will build my church.” Jesus is building his church, and using his followers to do so. In reality it’s not the Catholic Church or the Protestant Church or any of the denominations; the church belongs to Jesus and not her leaders. As a matter of fact, he is the Lord of his church — and we should never forget that. There are no perfect churches, pastors, church leaders, or members; but the owner and builder of the church is perfect.

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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

In both of my part time jobs in retirement I am asked a lot of questions. I am honored to teach a Bible course at our local high school as well as serve as Pastor to Senior Adults at our church. My high school Bible class meets five days a week during the school year and in my church work I usually teach two or three Bible classes that meet once a week. With that much teaching it is no surprise that I am asked a lot of questions.

What surprises many of those in my classes is that my most frequent answer to questions is, “I don’t know.” That answer is not satisfying to many, but it is honest. I do know a lot about the Bible, but not as much as people think I should or as much as I would like. That’s why after all these years I continue to read the Bible as well as many books about the Bible as I can.

The reality is that there is a great deal about the Bible, God, and Christianity that we do not know or completely understand. It is also true that there is a lot about Christianity, God, and the Bible that we do know and understand. I try to keep both points in mind.

Theological schools and seminaries offer a couple of graduate degrees that when I read or hear about always bring a smile to my face. The standard seminary degree for many denominations for pastors is a Master of Divinity. Think about that: a master of Divinity. I like the degree, but I don’t think it is realistic. The other degree is a Master of Theology. Think about that: a master of Theology. Again, I like the degree, but it seems like an overstatement to me.

The last couple of weeks I have been reading a new book by Matthew Barrett entitled NONE GREATER: The Undomesticated Attributes of God. It’s not easy reading, but I am enjoying it. In the preface Barrett says he did not write the book “for scholars” but for “churchgoers, pastors, and beginning students” (xvii). While I am getting a lot out of it, and not surprising to me, there is a lot I don’t fully grasp. In this book about the attributes of God chapter one is about Incomprehensibility (which I understand) and chapter 5 is about Simplicity (which I don’t understand).

My quest to better understand God is not new to me. I just went to my bookshelf and noted four older books that have informed me through the years: Your God is too Small by J.B. Phillips (1952), The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer (1961), Knowing God by J.I. Packer (1973), and small faith: GREAT GOD by N.T. Wright (Second Edition, 2010).

I’m uneasy with anyone who is unwilling to answer a question about God or the Bible with the acknowledgement “I don’t know.” Granted, there is a lot we do know, but also a lot we don’t know. Even when I answer a question I think I know, I want to display humility and never come across as arrogant.

After all the years of going to school and teaching and preaching about God and the Bible I don’t know it all, but I continue to learn and grow. I hope this post serves to challenge and encourage you in your journey.

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WHAT ABOUT SATURDAY?

Isn’t it interesting that the Bible says virtually nothing about Saturday between Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday and his resurrection on Sunday?

The Sunday before is called “Palm Sunday,” Thursday that week is known as “Maundy Thursday,” the day on which Jesus was crucified is designated “Good Friday,” and the day of his resurrection is celebrated as “Easter Sunday.” But what about that Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday?

In all my years of going to church, leading Holy Week services, teaching about the events, and rejoicing on Easter Sunday I have never thought much about the Saturday between Jesus’ Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection. That is, until last night.

This week I have been reading a devotional guide published by Christianity Today entitled “Journey to the Cross.” Last night I couldn’t go to sleep so I moved ahead in my reading to the devotional for Saturday. Written by A.J. Swoboda, its heading is “Waiting at the Tomb.”

Swoboda’s opening sentence grabbed my attention and held my interest through the three pages. He begins the short devotional with the acknowledgment: “I call it awkward Saturday.” I don’t think that description will become as well-known as the others, but I like it.

What were Jesus’ mother, disciples, and friends thinking and doing on that Saturday? Swoboda points out that we “look at Saturday through the lens of Sunday” (the resurrection), but they couldn’t.

Jesus, of course, had told his disciples more than once he would be killed but would rise again. You may want to take a few minutes and read Matthew 16:21, 17:22 and 23, and 20:17-19. In Luke’s report of Jesus’ third time telling them this he adds, “The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about” (Luke 18:31-34). Luke’s words are confirmed by the response of the disciples to the first reports that Jesus had been raised (Luke 24:11).

But what about Saturday? It is somewhat awkward, isn’t it? We can try, but we can’t really experience and feel what Jesus’ followers did on that Saturday. We know what was coming on Sunday, they didn’t. Swoboda suggests it was a day of waiting and ambiguity for them.

We can’t experience and feel what Jesus’ followers did on that Saturday, but we do know something about ambiguity and waiting in our lives. And that waiting and ambiguity tests our faith. During those times of Saturday disappointment, uncertainty, and holding on, don’t forget that after Saturday comes Sunday.

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