You’ve got to hit the red button

red button

Our worship service at The Chapel 1ended.

You can exit the sanctuary down the crowded main aisle. Or go out the side exit – that’s a nice shortcut.

On a recent Sunday, quite a few people, eying the shortcut, headed over to the side door.  But the door was locked.

A crowd began to build up and mill around. Some people got discouraged, gave up, and headed over towards the main exit. But — then — someone reached up to the left of the locked door and punched a red button. The door swung open! Those folks who waited now began to stream out.

When we are faced with temptation, we have a choice, just like the people by the door. Do we trust that there’s a way out — or do we give up?

It’s likely that this verse is familiar to you:

 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13).

But less familiar is the following verse:

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14).

Note, an idol does not have to be an actual figure that we bow down to. Rather, it is anything we are tempted to make more important than Jesus. If we give in to temptation, we are worshiping an idol instead of Jesus. But we have a choice: we can flee from our tempting idol to something else.

I hereby confess one of my own idols: vastly overestimating what good politics can accomplish.

To worship my idol, I was spending way too much time watching MSNBC and Fox News. The former was enraged that our president was ruining our country. The latter was enraged that our wonderful president was being destroyed by his enemies. Both sides were making an idol out of how the correct politics would cure so much of what is wrong with our country.  I was getting sucked up into their anger; all their futile arguing was giving me agita; I gave in to the temptation to enter their vitriol instead of doing something worthwhile.

So, during Lent, I started a fast from those two networks. Lent ended several months ago but…my fast has not ended yet.  Sometimes I do miss the fights, and I am tempted to hear how the two sides are reacting to the latest Presidential tweet; but don’t think I am missing something of lasting value by not tuning in.

Now, if politics is the idol I am fleeing from, I need to flee to something else.

So, I have fled from politics to…. more of Jesus. This sounds spiritual, but it’s not only spiritual: On a visit for a routine checkup the nurse took my blood pressure—and, not knowing about my FOX/MSNBC fast, she said, “Your blood pressure is way down; have you started taking a drug for it?” Nope — it wasn’t a drug; it was what I stopped taking — exposure to angry arguments!

I encourage you to reflect on what your own idol might be. Yours might be politics, too; but it could be sex, money; or something else. When our idol tempts us — we know that God not only gives us a way out but also provides something to flee to.

When we hit our own red button, we’re turning from our idol to the satisfaction that only Jesus can provide.

  1. https://www.thechapel.org/

I’ll never Fall!

trip fall

 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

I went running in the woods in Tourne Park in Mountain Lakes recently.  The trail is narrow and rocky at many points, so I was extra careful with my footing in those places. When I reached a part that was a little wider and clearer I thought: “Good, I don’t need to be as careful here; I can let my mind wander. No problem.”

Suddenly I stumbled and fell forward and ended up flat on my face! I was tripped up by a hidden root.

My lips, hands, and knees hurt.

Inspecting my body, the only blood was from some scrapes on my knees. I was glad that falling on a trail is softer than falling in a road!

Only briefly deterred, I resumed my running.

Later, after my wife helped me clean my wounds, I reflected on vigilance.  Often, we are good at being vigilant when we know we should be watchful—say during a time of worry, stress and temptation.  But it’s easy to feel complacent when everything is going great; and to be less prayerful and alert.  That is the dangerous time when temptation trips us like a hidden root and we stumble!

How can we keep from stumbling?

We may think that standing firm depends primarily on keeping our guard up to the best of our ability. It depends on us. But the book of Jude says we need to rely on Jesus, who “is able to keep you from stumbling” (Jude 1:24)

We receive the power and ability to stand firm from the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Then, and only then, we get to enter Jesus’ glorious presence without fault and with great joy (Jude 1:25a and 1:24)

We would not dare to say this out loud: “I’m so mature and experienced—I’d never fall into sin like _____did — that could never happen to me.” But isn’t it easy for that smugly complacent and superior attitude to secretly sneak in — and then we start to act proudly with an overconfident attitude?

So, my fall in the woods leads to today’s warning: It’s precisely when I feel my most confident in life, that I most need to call on the name of the One who will keep me from falling on my face!

 

 

Unexpected Medal

silver medal shrunk

I ran a 5K race one morning near St. Clare’s Hospital in Denville last month. I like the age group competition in these races.  My days of being at the front of the pack are long in the past, so it’s fun to have rivalries with those who are my own (advanced) age.

After the race, I was disappointed.  I ran 2 ½ minutes slower than last year; last year I got no medal; so, I knew I had no chance to get a medal this year. I left before the winners were announced.

That afternoon, I looked up the results online. To my shock, I got the silver medal in my age group! (A friend who did stay for the awards later gave me my medal which you see in the picture.)

What an ironic outcome: my training was much weaker this year; yet I got a medal despite all that. So, the medal was quite a surprise and an unexpected gift.

Doesn’t that sound like grace? We get an unexpected free gift, as opposed to something we work so hard for and think we can earn!

Romans 6:23 ESV describes the best free gift.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And another of my favorite grace verses is:                                                                                                                       For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

At the race, I certainly could not boast about how hard and well trained my effort was. Or how I kicked the butt of some tough competitors in my age group. (Nope, a couple of them did not even enter the race that day.) So, the medal was an unexpected gift.

I can’t take credit for anything good I have ever done that could possibly get me into a favorable place with Jesus. Salvation through Jesus is a far better unexpected gift!

 

Wise Idiots

How do you like meeting someone who likes to let you know how wise they are? They are so far above the follies of ordinary folks; they never screw up. When they talk, do you want to roll your eyes because they sound so unreal, or do you start to take them seriously and feel inferior because you aren’t totally together like they are?

To answer this let’s explore what true wisdom is…

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you. (Proverbs 4:6)

In today’s Proverbs verse wisdom is personified as a woman. Note, though, how much the description parallels Jesus. In the revised verse below, see what happens when you swap He for she, and Jesus for wisdom:

 Do not forsake Jesus, and he will protect you;
    love him, and he will watch over you.

Solomon, who wrote most of the book of Proverbs, started with a precocious grasp of how valuable wisdom is—he asked for it above all other requests as he began his reign as king. But he went backwards — spending years doing foolish things—-being into polygamy big time, accumulating riches, etc. So as an old man, as Solomon reflected and wrote Proverbs, he would know ways that he had been an idiot (or a fool as the Bible puts it) …Now, in view of his past follies, he could give an authentic warning against falling into his same trap.

True wisdom means I am learning to see that the Lord is wise — and to see how easy it is for me to be an idiot! (And how wonderful it is that when I do mess up and act like an idiot, our Lord mercifully forgives me of my idiocy when I repent).

Look at this verse—is it a threat or a promise?

 For your ways are in full view of the Lord,
    and he examines all your paths. (Proverbs 5:21)

If  I am seriously following Jesus, then the verse is a wonderful promise that
he will lovingly watch over me. On any given day: which of my choices were crappy and wasteful? Which were sound? It’s the kindness of Jesus that shows this to me.

Jesus woos me, as opposed to saying, “You better obey or be crushed.” His attitude is not harsh, even though his discipline can temporarily sting. By nature, I don’t enjoy being contradicted, yet I am learning to be more welcoming of Christ’s correction.

Because when Jesus gives me a course correction: This cretin has less crud and more of Christ!

christ is wisdom personified

Did you take the right fork?

  Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. (Psalm 25:4)

paths-2

What a wonderful path in that pastoral scene! It’s a delightful walk, and it would be obvious if we started to wonder off the path into the brambles.

Not so obvious was when my wife and I were hiking with another couple through the woods in Harriman Park in New York State and got seriously off course. We had no idea that we were taking the wrong path when we came to the fork. By the time we came to a clearing which overlooked the New York Thruway, we realized we were miles from where we were supposed to be.  Eventually, though, we got back —- without a searching party having to be sent out.

Today we’ll talk about a trap for our Christian walk that is similar — where you think you are on the right path—you are not deliberately disobeying —- but you have made a wrong turn.

Today’s menace is called moralism.  It’s the idea that the Bible is mainly a list of moral principles and rules that it depends on our own best efforts to follow. When these efforts appear to be going well, we start to think that this shows how wise and good we are being, instead of how amazingly sustaining and empowering the Lord is!

We subtly give ourselves the credit for how well we are doing—we are such experts at doing the right thing!  And a feeling starts to sneak in that we are just a little special, being a little superior to those who are not doing quite as well as we are.

Moralism also has the opposite danger: when we realize we are not so good at following the principles and rules after all; and we know darn well that we are falling far short — then, instead of feeling superior, we start to feel like a piece of filth.

True wisdom, empowered by the Lord, enables us to keep clear of the twin pitfalls of moralism. This wisdom knows to focus on the Lord and who the Lord is before we try to follow his paths.

Our Lord:  Awesome, majestic, holy, just, loving, powerful. Totally worthy of our worship! If we have an encounter with almighty God — and with his son Jesus— and with his Spirit which he has sent to live in us—then we know that we are empowered to live wisely before him.

What loving compassion our almighty Lord has, who knows how often we mess up by wandering off his path. He offers us repentance — we can turn away from being too arrogant or from being too beat up.

Any time I wander into in the brambles, I just need reminding of this truth:

 I can’t even begin to live out the principles in the Bible, without first having a persistent prayerful personal encounter with the Lord that calls on his power.


Does God Do Amazing Things Today?

 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” (Joshua 3:5)

Joshua and the battle of Jericho is a famous Bible story, where finally Jericho’s “walls came tumblin’ down”. Today’s verse is just before that battle. It raises two questions: What does it mean to consecrate ourselves? And what amazing things should we expect from God today?

The word “consecrate” means to be set apart, dedicated to God. Joshua’s fighters were not to charge into battle spiritually unprepared. Before they entered battle, they were told to consecrate themselves to God as per their Law.

We are called to be consecrated too.  Since we do not live under the Old Testament regulations, we need to ask ourselves: What does consecration mean in the 21st century? Does it mean that we should totally separate ourselves from our society–perhaps by going to live in an underground Christian bunker in Montana or a Christian commune in the wilderness of Vermont?

No, consecration for us means something else.   It does mean to be set apart, but, surprisingly, the setting apart can somehow occur even living in the middle of our crazed 21st century culture. Somehow, we are living in this 21st century world but we’re not of it.

Once we determine to be set apart for God where we are living, just what are the amazing things God will do among us?  In the case of Joshua and Jericho, God acted in a spectacular and miraculous way — but let me suggest that amazing things happen when God works in us in an ordinary way. It’s everyday daily living — going to work, running errands, studying, playing — but filled with a special empowerment from our King Jesus to live for his purposes and to grow to be more like him.

Now, what happens when this kind of consecrated living starts to spread throughout the church? As we each grow in consecration— we become part of a wider move of God — which leads to revival. Here is J.I. Packer’s definition of revival:

“God’s quickening visitation of his people, touching their hearts and deepening his work of grace in their lives.”

And Matthew Henry tells us,
“When God intends great mercy for His people, the first thing He does is to set them a praying.”

As we hunger to see God’s grace expand and spread, let’s join in with Henry’s suggestion and pray “Lord have mercy, grant us revival.”

God is Love…. Is God only Love?

In love a throne will be established;
    in faithfulness a man will sit on it—
    one from the house of David—
one who in judging seeks justice
    and speeds the cause of righteousness (Isaiah 16:5)

Today’s Old Testament passage is a prophetic preview by Isaiah of what Jesus is really like.   First and foremost, and very thankfully for us, his throne is established in love. That is huge, because of how we often mess up—-it’s Christ’s love that overlooks our many foul-ups. I’m thankful for that – I know how often I mess up.

But Jesus is not only love. Because, at the same time, Jesus is also righteous and just—qualities that are almost as important as God’s love. As I encounter the enthroned Jesus, he wants me to be not only loving but empowered to live a righteous and just life. If God were only love, we could do what was right in our own eyes and God would say “No problem …. whatever”.

Scripture says that God does not overlook what is unjust and unrighteous. But, really, aren’t we the same?  When we see something that is not just, don’t we want it set right?  Even a child knows when to say, “No fair!”

A bamboozling big bank bigshot is too big to jail, but a dishonest underling is sent to prison for a long time. A whistleblower gets fired for exposing how their company is ripping off people. What injustices! If God were only love, these types of rip-offs would never be set right.

But we have a God who does want to set things right! And as we follow the Lord, then in our own areas of influence, we keep pursuing righteousness and justice empowered by love. Living that way, we can overcome evil significantly, but not yet totally.

Scripture teaches that the day will come when God will say “No more.” A world where righteousness and justice fully prevail will arrive.  Imagine that day — no more rip-offs, no more deception, no more favoritism. God will get rid of the garbage.  We look in hope to that promised day when all evil will be wiped out forever.