Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The End of the World?

Well, the world didn’t end on Saturday. I saw a post from a friend on Facebook that read: “To Harold Camping, don’t beat yourself up, dude. It’s not the END OF THE WORLD!” I had to LOL.

Can someone say, “False prophet”? If the man had actually read the Bible instead of trying to decipher some hidden code, he would have known that it clearly says no one knows when the end will come. The time of Christ’s return and the Day of God’s judgment are things not revealed to man.

Jesus told His followers that there would be certain signs that would point toward His coming, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

And yes, we can look to see that the signs are evident all around us. Read through Matthew 24 for yourself. People who claim to be Christ will come and lead many astray (think David Koresh, the wacko from Waco who claimed to be the Messiah, and who has followers still believing that he’ll return from the dead). Wars and rumors of wars. Nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.

We’re certainly seeing this happen in our day. Don’t you think the escalating tensions in world governments ought to tell us something? Don’t you think the increasing intensity and frequency of floods and tornadoes and earthquakes and famines ought to open our eyes to biblical prophecy?

These, Jesus says, are just the beginning of birth pains. There will be increasing tribulation for God’s people. Christians will be delivered up, put to death and hated by all nations for His name’s sake. Are you reading the reports of persecutions against the church in places like China and Saudi Arabia and Sudan and many others? The United States is hated by many countries because they see us as a Christian nation. Whether we are or not is an article for another day, I suppose.

Jesus also says many so-called believers will fall away during such persecution and betray one another. Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. Lawlessness will increase and the love of many will grow cold. All these things will happen as the Day of the Lord approaches. We ought to recognize these signs and know that the end is near. But to predict a date is utter foolishnessness.

The point Jesus makes in explaining these things is that we must be ready! Since we don’t know when the end of the world will be, we must live our lives at all times being ready for Christ’s return. “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44).

After Jesus rose from the dead, just before He ascended into heaven, His disciples wanted to know if this was the time He would restore the kingdom to Israel. Here’s His response: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). In other words, He tells them not to be worrying or concerning themselves with the hidden things that belong to God alone. Instead, they needed to get on with the work they were given to do while there still was time. That work means living out the gospel of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit for all the world to see.

So perhaps the question is: Are you ready for the return of Christ? If the world ended today, do you know that you would be saved from the wages of sin, which is death and hell? Do you have assurance of your eternal salvation? If Jesus came back today would He find you faithfully carrying out the mission He’s given you?

If not, you need to make things right before it’s too late. You can do that now by receiving God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ the Lord. “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Humble yourself before Him and plead for His mercy. Repent of your sins and receive His forgiveness by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. Believe in His resurrection victory and yield your life to following after Christ as Savior and Lord.

The end of the world as we know it will come soon enough. “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Thinking about VBS

Thinking a little about Vacation Bible School today. Parents, please mark your calendars for the week of July 17-22 and plan to bring your children for a “Big Apple Adventure.” If you already have something going on that week, you’ll need to cancel those arrangements and make sure to attend VBS. We’re also planning a fun Kick-off / Registration event on Thursday, July 14, on the church grounds.

My favorite part of VBS when I was young was the recreation time. Of course, recess was always my favorite part of school, too. If there was a game of kickball going on, any kind of relay races or dodge ball, that’s where I wanted to be.

Last year Ben and Terra Moye were in their rookie season as rec leaders, but did a wonderful job of helping the children have a very enjoyable experience. I knew it would be good the day I saw Ben drive up with a water tank in the back of his truck. I’m already looking forward to what they have planned this year.

Another highlight of VBS is snack time. Karen Cathy, Becky Newton, Gladys Moye, Barb Casey, Claudette Raymer, Kim Kanipe and others go out of their way to make sure the treats are creative, delicious and always served with a smile. All I remember from my childhood days are cookies and Kool-Aid. We’re way out of that league now. Some of our kitchen folks could have their own TV show displaying their abilities. Maybe I’ll contact WSIL and see if we can make that happen.

Then there’s the music. I’ll admit that I miss some of the songs that we used to sing when I was young, but the new songs are pretty catchy. And the lyrics the kids learn always help reinforce the lessons they hear each day. Music is a terrific teacher. Chances are that you recall some of the songs you sang in Vacation Bible School even if you don’t remember a single Bible story.

It’s like when we go out to the nursing home every 4th Sunday to lead a worship service. There’s a great joy to see and hear some of the residents there singing and not missing a word to songs they’ve known all their lives, even though they may not remember much else! Music is a powerful, effective teaching tool! And we have excellent leaders in VBS who help the children sing with understanding. Apologies to parents whose kids drive them crazy singing the VBS songs at home and in the car for the next several weeks.

By the way, our VBS music leader, Jill Rhine, is also stage/set designer extraordinaire. In just the time I’ve been here we’ve seen such sights as airplanes soaring out from the baptistery, waterfalls sparkling over the choir loft, scoreboards lighting up the stage and an entire western ranch operation come alive. This year you’re going to feel like you’re walking among the skyscrapers of downtown New York City.

And who can forget the fun of making things in craft time? I remember the girls very carefully cutting out things and gluing their projects together, while us boys glued our hands and tried to gross out the girls by peeling off the dried glue. I guess with the invention of the glue stick that doesn’t happen much anymore. Probably for the best.

Annette Jones and her helpers always make sure the children create and bring home crafts that serve as visual reminders of the Bible stories and VBS experience. If your children have been in Vacation Bible School, you might still have decorations or pictures hanging on your refrigerator, as we do at our home, or proudly displayed on dressers or doorknobs.

Finally, I’m excited this year about the stories your children will be learning. You can be confident that our teachers teach their students the Word of God. They’ll hear about the compassion of Jesus for the hurting. They’ll learn about His forgiveness and love. They’ll hear about the salvation He offers to whosoever believes in Him. They’ll see His miraculous power to heal, His mercy for the outcast and despised, and His grace toward those who trust Him.

Our team of teachers is among the best you’d find anywhere. I’m grateful to work alongside them and thankful my own boys have the opportunity to learn from them. In a future article I’ll mention them individually.

And I’m grateful for our administrative help. Without the leadership of Sheryl Woods and Theda Miller we’d be in trouble. We’re just two months away. Who’s ready for a Big Apple Adventure?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Loving Like Jesus

“You need to learn to start thinking like a mom!” This was spoken by my wife last Friday, and I’m pretty sure the exclamation point is the correct punctuation to include on the end of that sentence.

Our six-year-old son had just had surgery to remove his tonsils and adenoids that afternoon. While he was still recovering, my wife got sick. Not the best timing there, but we can handle this. At least I thought I could. My thinker, however, doesn’t exactly work like a mom’s. Thus the climactic line mentioned above uttered by my sweet wife out of exasperation over my ineptitude as a caregiver, frustration over her own sickness and compassion for our hurting little boy.

Yeah, that would be the key. If I could somehow learn to start thinking like a mom, maybe things would get better. Wasn’t there an episode in Star Trek once where they transplanted minds or something? Or maybe it was The Twilight Zone. Somewhere I’ve seen it done on TV, so surely it must be possible.

By the way, to those of you who provide care to those who need extra help on an ongoing basis, my hat’s off to you. Whether it’s your disabled child, an elderly parent or grandparent, or a spouse with physical or mental illness, you have my utmost respect and admiration for your compassionate-kindness, your patience and your endurance. God bless you for such love.

Love! Yes, there’s the real key. It’s not so much that I need to start thinking like a mom. I need to start loving! Loving like a Christian. Loving like Jesus loved, and like He told us to love. How did He love? He laid down His life for us! That’s how we know what love is, and that’s how we ought to love each other.

Jesus humbled Himself on our behalf. He left the glory of heaven to come to earth, to live among us, becoming like us in the flesh. He came not to be served but to serve, and He met the needs of the poor, the outcast, the despised, the hurting and the lost (which ought to cover just about all of us). He said it’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. And He Himself is the cure. He gave up His life on the cross so that we might have eternal life. That’s laying down His life for us in demonstration of what love really is.

And if I’m reading the Bible right, we who claim the name of Jesus must and will lay down our lives for one another. If you have the ability to help someone in need and close your heart toward that person, then you’re showing that the love of God does not truly abide in you. You cannot claim to love God and not love your brother. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). That’s biblical.

I read a quote recently from an unknown source that said, “Love will find a way; indifference will find an excuse.” To love like Jesus may not be easy. It might be messy and time-consuming. It probably won’t be convenient. And it may be quite costly. But there’s a world of hurting, broken people out there who need someone to love them. And love will find a way. Indifference could come up with any number of reasons to not help, but Christians love in deed and truth, not with empty words.

Loving like Jesus would be impossible for even the most kind and benevolent of people – except for the fact that He makes it possible. See, it’s really impossible for me to get a mind transplant from my wife. But here’s the thing about Jesus. When we come to Him in repentance and faith, receiving Him as Lord and Savior, He does this spiritual transplant in our lives. He implants His own Spirit into us. He dwells within us and enables and equips us to live and to love like Him.

The needs around us right now seem overwhelming. In our own county people are suffering the loss of homes and property. Things are even worse in the southern U.S. where they’re also dealing with loss of lives from devastating tornadoes. And it’s even worse in Japan and in many other places in the world today.

No one can do it all. But we can all do something. Let’s start by loving like Jesus.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Finding Refuge and Strength in Time of Trouble

My heart goes out to those of you who have been impacted by the recent storms and floods. I’m praying and trusting that the God of peace will be with you. Indeed, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

We’re living in a world filled with trouble. You don’t need me to tell you that. If it’s not trying to save your home from floodwaters or salvage some of your belongings, it’s trying to save your marriage or salvage a relationship with your children. Or maybe you’re battling an addiction you can’t seem to overcome or struggling to pay this month’s bills. Perhaps a health issue has gripped you or you’re crippled with grief and sorrow.

As long as this great big ball keeps spinning we’re going to keep facing hardships and difficulties. And might I say that even while Christians know that God is in control of all things, not only are followers of Jesus not exempt from trouble, but they are sure to experience it in this life. Jesus Himself certainly faced it, and so will we.

Yet we know that God is our refuge and strength! We know that He is our ever-present help in the midst of all the trouble. And we know that in Him we will be ultimately and eternally saved while He brings forth justice on the earth.

Speaking to His disciples right before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus prepared them for the troubles they would soon face. You can read His words of comfort and encouragement, promises and warnings in John 14-16. But here’s how He concluded this discourse: “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The key to peace in troubled times is trusting in Jesus. That’s it. No magic prayer to say. No seven-step formula to follow. No purchase necessary. He is our peace. Real, lasting, supernatural peace. In Him we have it. Without Him we don’t.

Jesus has overcome the world. He has overcome by His resurrection victory over sin and death. He is unstoppable. There is no force, no power, no scheme of man nor design of the devil that can defeat Him. And those who belong to Him share in His victory. He is building His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

Though Satan maintains a measure of power to steal, kill and destroy in this world, his bite is not incurable and his time is running out. He will soon be “thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

The great hymn penned by Martin Luther nearly 500 years ago says it well:

And tho’ this world with devils filled
Should threaten to undo us
We will not fear for God has willed
His truth to triumph through us
The Prince of Darkness grim
We tremble not for him 
His rage we can endure
For, lo, his doom is sure
One little word shall fell him

Friend, I hope you know that our God is a mighty fortress! He is our never-failing defender. He is our banner and our shield. He is our faithful provider. He is our great deliverer. He is our light and our salvation. He is our strong tower. He is our rock of refuge and He reigns as King over all the earth.

Yes, we will face trouble in this life. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). But praise God, this world is not our home! Believers in Christ are strangers and aliens in this world longing for their heavenly home! That eternal home in heaven is promised by Jesus to whosoever will come to Him, repenting of sin and trusting in Him for salvation. It is they who find that no matter how severe the storm or how high the waters rise, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).