If the River Dries Up, What Can We Depend On ?

low danube     resized begg

This past August we went on a cruise on the Danube river, led by Pastor Alistair Begg.

We saw many wonderful sights in Germany, Austria, and Hungary but were faced with a major issue: due to drought in central Europe, the river was too shallow. Because of this, our Viking cruise ship was in danger of running aground.

At two different locations, one in Germany and one in Austria, the water was so shallow that we had to leave the boat, take a bus bypass around the shallow area,  and then embark on a different, almost identical ship downstream. It was a Bizarro world experience — we got the same stateroom number and room type, but tiny details might be different—for example, the bathroom sink might be black instead of white, or the electrical sockets might be different.

We did finally get to where we were supposed to go —Budapest —  but definitely not by the route that had been planned.

Doesn’t something similar happen in our Christian lives ? We embark on our plans and get detoured. Sometimes our lives seem like a bizarre, inexplicable variant of what we originally expected.

When such detours occur, do things “just happen” to go the wrong way ? Are the bypasses in our life some kind of chance or accident ? No, God is sovereign over each of those twists and turns.

But, does God’s lordship mean we are responsible for nothing ? Not at all. When a detour happens that seems out of our control, at least we are responsible for our attitude. When the spit hits the fan,  we can choose whether to dwell in contentment  or to whine. On our river trip, we had an example of that choice : did all the extra packing and unpacking lead to grumbling ?

Anyone who depends on the Danube’s water level faces conditions which are always fluctuating. But Jesus never changes.

 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

What Jesus supplies does not waver or vary and is totally dependable.

Yes, we can rely on him. What a wonderful lifesaving truth to cling to during the unexpected  detours  in our lives!

 

He Sustains Us

Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.
(Psalm 55:17)

Living in our time, isn’t there something distressing every day ?

Sometimes we cry out because we have a chronic affliction like depression or battling persistent  headaches from Lyme disease or suffering from recurrent autoimmune attacks. But even if we don’t suffer from a lingering ailment, simply living in the 21st century provides plenty that makes us groan.

As we face distress, we cry out in prayer to our Lord who hears our voice :

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.
(Psalm 55:22)

If I were in charge (which I’m not !) then once I cast my care in prayer, I would be mercifully freed from that care and not have to worry about it anymore. However, today’s Scripture  does not say that the Lord will quickly remove all our cares. No, the promise is that the Lord will sustain us even while we have them.

I face a new care in my own life : I have developed a heart rhythm  issue, so I  can’t run competitively any more. My plans had been to keep running competitively  year after year, limited only by the gradual decline based on aging. So it was a shocker to have such a sudden exit from being able to enjoy something I have done for decades. (But please do note: I am very thankful that at least I can still jog for a few miles !)

No, God never guaranteed I’d be able to compete against the top runners in my age group year after year.  Yet in the face of all that, God does provide a different and better guarantee! It’s a guarantee that  I will not be shaken.  My faith and security in Jesus will remain and won’t be shaken even if  I can’t ever compete again in this lifetime.

But what if I face another new challenging issue ?

Cast it on him.

I don’t know exactly what your stresses are. But my counsel from the Lord is

Cast it on him.

Guaranteed : As we pray, we see that no matter what happens, God loves us, cares for us, and sustains us. He will  not let our unity with Jesus be shaken.

Sheep Without a Shepherd

shep 3

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)

When I, then an agnostic, heard the good news and believed the gospel, it was a life-changing event. Indeed, God instantly took away a kind of alienated rage that I often felt. But the Lord had much, much more work to do in me yet.

I had plenty to learn about what it meant to follow my shepherd and to hear his voice. And some of this learning took a long time. As just one example, it took eight years to be cured of my smoking addiction. And my training is still going on today.  Why do I still need that ? Because even after all these years part of me is still addicted to wanting  my own way.

Here’s how the Apostle  Paul presents the sequence of first believing the gospel and then  making every effort to live it out:

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.  For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children,  encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.  (1 Thessalonians 2: 8b,11-12)

Today we often think of the Christian life in overly individualistic terms. Once we’ve believed and come to faith, we try to  live a private Christian life. But Paul challenges this solitary mindset, with a compelling comparison of how being Christians  is like being part of a family.

Two thousand years after Paul,  we are asked to live Christian life in community, sharing our lives as well.  What does this kind of community look like for 21st century people ? How can a more experienced  believer share life in Christ with new believers , encouraging them and comforting them ?

It’s through this family sort of community, called koinonia in the Bible,  that we  progressively  grow out of being harassed and helpless. I think we’ll be growing together in seeing  in how to live this out.

It’s my prayer that koinonia grows in all our churches.

Senator Blumenthal and Me

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47)

Watching the Justice Kavanaugh hearings, I disagreed with what some of the Senators said, but one Senator in particular took me beyond disagreement into angry resentment : Senator Blumenthal.

Senator Blumenthal said that if Kavanaugh told even one lie about his personal history, then he should be totally disqualified for consideration for the Supreme Court.  But there was a huge problem : this Senator was known for misleading  statements about his own personal history.

Since many of the other Senators had their own annoying traits,  I wondered why it was only Blumenthal who got me so riled up ?

Well, after watching the hearing, I went to a physical therapy session for my tender left shoulder.  I heard a fellow patient ranting bitterly  against Blumenthal, but I kept quiet. Later, though, I considered the  gap between  my polite outer exterior and my own secret agreement with that gentleman’s angry rant! Yes,  I like to project a certain  image…an even-keeled man who doesn’t express nasty, ranting  thoughts. But wait a minute —isn’t that a gap between how I present myself and what I am really like …. just like Blumenthal ?!

The Lord used my reactions to Blumenthal to switch me to dealing with my own deceit instead of ranting at his !

I am glad we have a Lord who is so patient with our inconsistencies! And he loves us so much that he engineers circumstances to expose them, so they can be corrected.

I can’t yet say I am just like Jesus’ disciple Nathaniel in whom there is no deceit. But by God’s grace I can say I’m willing to admit it when I’m being deceitful. Then I can pray for help in putting off two-faced deceit and putting on single-minded transparency and honesty.

I could never live up to that!

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 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matthew 25:35-36)

As Christians we’re called to do good, loving deeds.

I often hear of people who are constantly doing tons of loving things for Jesus. Then, an accusing voice tells me, “You could be visiting more sick people than you do…. And how can you even call yourself a Christian if you are not involved in a prison ministry?” It’s easy to start feeling insecure.

Where does that insecurity come from ?

Here’s the problem : If  my focus is on comparing myself to others I will always either  feel bad because I come up short compared to them or feel superior because  I think I am doing better than they are. If my measure basically revolves around me, I am trapped…….I need a remedy !

Thankfully, Paul points the way towards a solution :

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)

I think Paul’s advice helps us both to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought and also not to think more lowly of ourselves than we ought.  For at the heart of this verse is getting rid of  comparing ourselves to others.

So, in faith, our small group looked for ways to serve in our town. A couple of activities we tried weren’t quite a right fit. But some people in our group had gone each  Christmas to sing carols and give out cookies at a local adult residential care home. So we began to wonder — how could we reach out to the residents during the rest of the year?

We started a monthly Bingo Night for them.  Now, for years, they always look forward to our visits and enjoy the games and prizes. And I love joining them, not grudgingly or under compulsion, but  propelled by faith and love.

Secret Decoder Ring?

secret decoder ring

There are loads of passages in the Bible about the future. Lots of them are obscure or hard to understand, perhaps the most difficult being those in the book of Revelation. Since people have argued about the timing and meaning of Revelation’s details  for centuries, I am skeptical when someone says they have discovered exactly what these mysterious passages all mean. It sounds  like they have discovered  a secret decoder ring that decrypts the prophetic passages in the  Bible.

Today I will argue that Revelation gives us great encouragement in living our Christian lives, even if we can’t decode lots of the prophetic details.

Today let’s look at one passage with lots of mystery, the tale of  the two witnesses. These guys appear in Revelation 11:3-12. I’ll give more Scripture than I usually do in my posts:

 And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”  They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.” If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.  They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.

 Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them.  Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified.  For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.

But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them.  Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on. (Revelation 11:3-12)

You can find many attempts to decode just who the two witnesses are. Are they  Moses and Elijah? Are they someone else ? And what in the world is the significance of 1,260 ?

So many theories ! But let’s look at what’s more important. We know that all scripture has something of use for us to live more fully for God today. So — How do the two witnesses affect how I live now?

Let me suggest three ways.

  • The two witnesses speak the truth in spite of opposition—- and God wants us to boldly, confidently speak the truth even when we face opposition.
  • The scorn of wicked people for the two witnesses ends. God sets it right. And here’s a promise : Later, God will set all wrongs right. We don’t know the timing, but God promises that evil will end.
  • The two murdered witnesses come alive. And, Jesus brings us back to life. First, we were dead in our sin and Jesus brought us back to spiritual life. And Jesus promises that sometime after we die, he will return and give us new, live resurrection bodies.

See, we don’t need a secret decoder ring for Revelation to be helpful.  Even though the details of the timing and sequencing of future events remain hidden, Revelation encourages us to live more fully for Christ today, and strengthens our hope that our Lord is fully in control of our future.

Help ! I’m Stuck

truck stuck rt 202

On Route 202, down the road from our house, there’s  an underpass under the New Jersey Transit tracks. (It’s a few miles south from the underpass you see in the picture.) Recently a truck got stuck right in the middle of rush hour. The unfortunate driver did not first compare the height of his vehicle versus the number on the overpass sign. The mortified driver caused a traffic tie-up until the police let some air out of his tires to free him.

This leads us to today’s quote from Jesus.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,  saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ (Luke 14:28-30)

Now, sometimes you hear people say that Jesus guarantees a life of health and prosperity.  But coming to Christ  is not costless. It’s false to say that believing in Jesus guarantees us our best life now.

The writer of Amazing Grace has it perfectly :

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

Contemplating the stanza, we see how Jesus’ cost is well worth paying. Yes, on life’s way we face dangers, toils, and snares. But Jesus safely sustains and guides us, giving us a final home with him.

Even though we have determined to do our best for Christ, we are not immune to bad choices and misjudgments. Too often we get stuck in our own life underpasses.

But each time that happens, our patient Lord loves us too much to leave us there. As we repent,  he lets the air out of our overinflated opinion of ourselves. Once more forgiven, we are able to roll on forward with Jesus again !