Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Hoping In The Resurrection While We Grieve

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:13

     I have lost more in the last few years than at any other time in my life. My wife and I have become empty nesters. Our church has changed significantly, and while some change is good all change is a loss of what was - good or bad. I've lost friends. Some to conflict, some who have left our community, and some who have left this earth. And, when I think about those who have died in the last couple of years (Beck, Jim, Harold, Shirley to name a few), I miss not only them but many more in my life who have died. 
     Jim and Harold weren't just friends. They were mentors, broad shoulders and listening ears. Men I knew might disagree with me, but would never betray me. Shirley was there, present, faithful. That may not seem like much of a compliment, but she consistently loved my children and every other child in our church for generations. And then there's Becky. What can I say about her except, "You ain't right."
    Loss isn't just about here and now. Every time we lose someone we're not only left with the emptiness and grief of that loss, but also with the loss of our imagined future that contained them. We lived each day with the blessing of their presence, and we imagined a future in which we would continue to share life with them.
     We can heal. We can work on our grief, begin to develop new ways of living each day, but to really overcome our grief we also have to deal with the future. It's not just today without them, it's every day without them. 
     Just as God heals our current grief, He also has a remedy for our future-without-them grief. It's called the resurrection. If we believe in Christ, we will grieve because we loved like Christ. But, we do not have to grieve without hope. We do not have to fear the future without them, because "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep" (1 Thess. 4:14). 
     We don't have to imagine a future without them if they believed in Jesus and we believe in Jesus. God has guaranteed that our future contains, not only Jesus, but all those in Him who we so love. We just have to wait a little while to see them. And, while we wait, we are not alone. The One who rose from the grave, who promises to unite us completely and finally with Him, and to reunite us with those we have lost is with us even now. 
     "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel's voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so WE will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words" (1 Thess. 4:16-18 - emphasis mine). 

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Death Of Stephen Hawking, Gloating, and the Gospel

The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9 (CSB)

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking died this week. He lived a remarkably long life with a form of ALS, questioning, perhaps denying the existence of God for virtually all of his 76 years investing his life in the attempt to discern the nature of the universe via human logic and reason. Whether he was an atheist, or an agnostic, he was certainly not a believer in a spiritual afterlife. He is reported to have said, "There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark." As a result of his theology (yes, even atheists are theologians), he was not afraid of death, saying, "I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first."

Those who do believe in God, by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, will respond to the death of an unbeliever in one of three ways:

They may rejoice. "God is just. He made his choice. He mocked God. He has met his maker now."  Hawking certainly preached the god of logic and reason, dismissed the God of Creation, and contributed to a theology that contributes to lostness and unbelief. Should a follower of Jesus Christ rejoice that this preacher of a false god is dead?

They may not care. "Yes, he was an unbeliever, but thousands die every day. I don't have time to spend on worrying about that." Is apathy the attitude of God?

They may mourn. Franklin Graham wrote about Hawking, "I wish Stephen Hawking could have seen the simple truth that God is the Creator of the universe he loved to study and everything in it." Is it more or less like God to grieve when a lost person dies?

Photo used by permission from Wikipedia Commons, author Doug Wheller

Monday, February 26, 2018

Monday Morning Pastor: Getting Prayer Right

Pray for and about everything. That's God's command. It's His desire. So, yes, ask Him to heal Grandma Turner's sciatica. Ask Him to help your son do well on his final in chemistry. Ask Him to give you a job when you're out of work. Ask Him to save your neighbor. Ask Him to send laborers for the harvest. Ask Him for everything you need, but prayer is much more than just getting our needs met, much more than even getting the needs of others met.

John 15:5-8:  Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

The men who first heard this had been with Jesus for three years. For three years their life was the definition of abiding. He is about to leave them, has told them that, and is instructing them in what to do in His physical absence after His death, burial, and resurrection. And, what does He tell them? 11 times in 4 verses, He tells them to do just what they have been doing - abide, remain, dwell, live, converse, camp out, eat with, talk to, listen to, obey, love Him. Now, how are they going to do that?

They will need four things. First, they will need Him to remove the barrier of sin in their hearts, which He did on Calvary and they received by faith. Second, they will need His Holy Spirit, which He sent to indwell every believer in His absence. Third, they will need His Word, which He had given and was in the process of giving them through the apostles. Fourth, they will need to pray, which is the primary practice of abiding in His presence.

If they abide in Him, their lives will be defined by His presence - spiritual fruitfulness, supernatural love, and abundant joy. If they do not abide in Him, their lives will be defined by the absence of His presence - fruitlessness, meaningless activity, tepid love, and joylessness. We are no different than they are. So, ask Him for everything, but do not neglect abiding in Him in prayer. Here's a simple guide to help you do that.

  • Grab a Bible and get somewhere you can spend some time with God
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to help you 
  • Open the Bible, begin to read and pray as God prompts you
  • Praise Him as the Spirit prompts you through the Scripture 
  • Be still, word open, heart alert, and simply abide in Christ
  • Consider, during these times, asking for nothing more than His presence unless He prompts you through the Word to do so