Thursday, July 30, 2009

Afraid of Death?

1 Peter 3:14: “Do not fear what they fear, do not be frightened.”

What do most people fear? This week I’ve done an informal survey and one answer was very clear—death. The second most common answer could be summarized as fear of the future or the fear of failure.

Peter, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, encourages us not to be afraid. As we go through life, young to old, we experience different fears. We may be afraid of storms, afraid of the dark, afraid of dogs or any other collection of “temporary” fears. Hopefully, we overcome them or at least have an uneasy truce with them.

Death and fear of the future clearly stood out in my survey. For Christians, death is something we should not fear but I must admit that part of me considers it a bit mysterious.

In the health care debate, one question which lingers in the background is this: How long will we take extensive and expensive measures to preserve our life? (How much is enough?)

Last weekend I got a call from a cousin in Iowa. She is 72 and fighting cancer. She told me the story of her mother Grace who had very good health until she was 82 and then found out she had cancer. Grace called the family together, told them she had a great run; she was not going to do anything to fight the cancer. Grace lived for two more years. Her daughter said, “They were very special years.” Grace was a woman of devout faith and her trust in the Lord was the driving force in her decision.

Concerns loom about limiting health care options for elderly people. Have we discussed our personal desires with our families if are were faced with a situation similar to Grace’s? You may say her case was pretty much cut and dried. Yes, I admit it seems that way but possibly some in the family felt she should have mounted a fight.

When should we give up the fight? In many ways it is not our choice; the Lord can take us at any moment. Every breath we take is a gift from a merciful God. May we treasure every moment of our God given life.

But for many, hard decisions must be made; don’t put the burden of these decisions on your family alone. If we are Christians and we believe Christ rose victorious over death and sin, we shouldn't be afraid to die. Teach this to our families, communicate our wishes, verbally and in written form. In 1 Peter 4:19 it says: “So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” Do this until the day we die.

May we, with peace, “entrust our souls to the Lord.” May the Holy Spirit help us die graciously. May we “entrust” or "commit" and not be “afraid.” Yes, the Lord holds the future and the day of our death will be the day that “we will be with Jesus”. Good news for us who believe. Don’t be afraid. Do not fear what the world fears.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The loss of a teacher

When I was young I asked someone why there had to be pain. The answer was that pain is a teacher; it tells us that something is wrong, it is meant to teach us something.

Before the advent of pain killers, pain was endured. It was respected, feared and rightfully dreaded.

The story is told that in modern day hospital emergency rooms the first request is “give me something for the pain”. Secondly, we want to find out what is wrong. We are a nation that wants the pain killers first.

About two weeks ago a man told me that the problem with America is that we cannot tolerate pain and secondly, we do not believe in the reality of evil. He gave me something to think about.

Pain does not teach us much when our first and only response is to take a pain killer. It is similar to having a fire which triggers our alarm system and all we do is turn off the alarm and think everything is ok. The current economic conditions in our country (high unemployment, business failure troubles and more) are supposedly being relieved with mindless government spending (buying ourselves an economic pain killer). This dulling of the pain results in “head in the sand talk” that everything is ok. It isn’t ok.

Yesterday I met with a business owner in his 60’s, who does business on an international scale. His business is owed over two million dollars from clients all over the world. These same clients have been his faithful customers for over 25 years. They are in trouble so he is in trouble. His line of credit has dried up. He has assets but he cannot borrow against them since he has no income. A life-long dream is crumbling before him. He sat with his shoulders hunched, nursing a back injury. His once steady voice was wistful, hushed, and interrupted with long periods of silence as he told us about his situation. I saw pain yesterday. The formerly politically active businessman has serious doubts about the honesty of our political system. He no longer contacts his representatives; I saw pain that Senator’s Franken and Klobachar will never see.

We take pain killers to lessen the physical pain but what about the psychological pain? I believe we mostly self medicate with drugs, booze, food, sex or whatever offers a temporary escape. We isolate ourselves from others; we distance ourselves from our family; we become bitter and touchy. We possess an attitude that we are “owed something” especially when our unrealistic expectations are not met. In short, we become controlling as we experience the last gasp of our fleeting power and prestige.

This is not unique to our generation or time; it is the visible demonstration of the reality of sin and evil. How sad. This is how the world reacts. How are we as Christians to react to pain and trials?

Our example is found in 1 Peter 3:8-18. Peter is writing under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
8"Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. 11He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. 12For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." 13Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." 15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,”

We as Christians are to react differently than the world. We may even be asked to suffer for doing good (verse 14). The world is watching us. They are watching how we will respond to trials, pain, loss, loneliness, humiliation, whatever, and if our response is the same as the world. They will laugh and chortle at our example. They will view our faith as worthless

Why has our Christian witness been blunted in America? Because we, the Christians, have reacted just as the world reacts. When we do this we have no witness. Christians in these days need to set themselves apart from the example of the world. Our response must be Christ like, even willing to suffer for doing good. Do not be afraid; do not fear what the world fears (verse 14). Let’s live 1 Peter 3 to God’s glory.

Oh Lord, be with us these days. May we respond to the events of our times, not as the world responds but may we respond as Your Son Jesus did—willing to suffer for doing good. Oh Lord, may we not fear what the world fears. Give us strength and courage for this day. May all praise, honor and glory be Yours. Come Lord Jesus. Amen

Thursday, July 16, 2009

“Laid low in the dust”

Psalm 119:25 I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word.”

These days I am finding more and more “dust suckers” as it were. More and more people are losing their jobs or businesses and our expectations are not being met. We have lived through a time of “unrealistic expectations.” What happened in the past was that most of our “unrealistic expectations” were being met but for many the “expectations” of life are not being met today. Many of us today have lived as if God owes us something; He owes us nothing except His wrath. God in His mercy provided the sacrifice—Jesus, and God’s entire wrath destined for us (and fully deserved) fell on Jesus and not us. Therefore, we are “laid low in the dust” as it is.

If we are “laid low in the dust,” the Psalmist asks this “preserve my life according to your word.” God’s word preserves and God’s promises are kept. Look at some verses from Psalm 119; these could serve as a prayer outline for us in the days ahead.

v. 28 – "Strengthen us according to your word
v. 36 – “Turn my heart towards your statutes
v. 37 – “Turn my eyes away from worthless things
v. 50 – God’s promises preserve our life
v. 65 – Ask God to “do us good” – Notice the word servant
v. 67 – “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.”
v. 71 -- Affliction brings obedience
v. 74 -- Be an example. Put our hope in God’s word
v. 78 – “May the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause; but I will meditate on your precepts.”
v. 83 – A wineskin in smoke shrinks and becomes wrinkly. Even though we grow old and wrinkly, may we not forget God’s decrees.
v. 92 – Delight in God’s Word; it preserves us.
v. 107 – Acknowledge suffering; ask God to preserve us according to His word.
v. 114 – God is our refuge and shield. Put hope in God’s word and His promises not the fleeting things of this world.
v. 116 – “Sustain me according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed.”
v. 143 – Trouble and distress has come upon us but delight in God’s word.
v. 147 – “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word.” PRAY.
v. 153 – Ask God to deliver us; do not forget God’s promises.
v. 154 – May God defend our cause. ASK.
v. 165 – “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.”

In your current trials, remember this example of Jesus: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:23-25


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Putting old men out to pasture and a five gallon bucket of peas

My phone rang; the voice was familiar, I only hear it about once a year. It was my old Air Force buddy, Johnny. He called, light-hearted and upbeat as usual. “I lost my job” he said. He worked at a manufacturing plant about 30 miles away from his Dakota home.

He said, “I was always told that when you get to be around 60 years old, they will get rid of you. I didn’t believe it but it happened. I guess that’s how it works today when you get old—they turn you out to pasture like an old horse, headed for the glue factory.”

He lost pension benefits and health insurance. We visited; his concern is not having any health insurance. As veterans, when we went into the service, we were promised health care--another broken promise. We have none. We served 18 months in Southeast Asia but we have assets so we have no health care. For the first time, I sensed some cynicism in his voice. “What did we really expect, Beef?”

Have Johnny and I had unrealistic expectations of promises made to us as young men? You say, “Get real, Beef, we live in a different time.” Oh yes we do—or do we?

In 1 Samuel 8 we read about God’s Prophet Samuel. It says Samuel “grew old.” In verse four is says, “So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, ‘you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

“You are old” they said to the prophet. For ages, old men have been put out to pasture like an old glue horse; Johnny and I shouldn’t be surprised. No unrealistic expectations for us if we are honest.

Johnny had a job at a nursery the day after he was let go from the job he had worked at for almost 35 years. And then he was laid off from the nursery on Wednesday of this week; but they want him back next year. On Thursday, he had a new job at a store in a nearby town.

Johnny may be “old” but he is not worthless. He lost his father at two, grew up poor, the youngest of six children—yes, he was poor. I always felt Johnny never had high expectations of life, that way the disappointments of life’s reality would not hurt as much. I guess it is a form of self preservation; he sometimes buries in a bottle of Scotch.

It is easy to point our finger and judge. I love him, he is my dear friend. He used to say, “God made me poor; at least He could have made me good looking.” Johnny is not good looking but he has a heart of gold. He would do anything for other people. I am pleased to have such a friend.

I said, “Johnny, you know what I ate for supper tonight; fresh peas and fresh garden potatoes with cream sauce.”

Johnny said, “Damn that’s good. That’s what we had also. As a matter of fact, I picked a 5 gallon pail of peas. I gave most of them away.” He wasn’t bragging, just stating a fact.

Johnny added, “Beef, we may be poor, put out to pasture old horses, but we eat better than kings. Yes, we eat better than kings.”

Johnny reminded me that God has been good to us. He may not have health insurance or much money but he has five gallons of peas of which he gave most of them away.

Thank you Johnny, for the lesson on being thankful to God.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

When a nation wants a king – The high price of freedom

In 1 Samuel 8:4-5 the people ask Samuel, the prophet for a king; for what reason? So they could be like other nations. It’s the mentality that “because you have an iPod, I need an iPod. They want to be hip and “with it”. Oh, the power of the desire to conform to a worldly standard.

Why did they want a king? 1 Samuel 8:20 says: “Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles." They wanted a king to fight their battles. Yes, the wanted to be taken care of. Please O King, protect me in all ways—fight all my battles.

Samuel prays to the Lord in 1 Samuel 8:7“And the Lord told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” Yes, we would rather have an earthly king than a heavenly king.

Samuel then warns them of the consequences of having an earthly king. Some are:
1. The king will take your sons and daughters. 1 Samuel 8:11,13 - He said, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.” Compulsory military service.
2. Some will farm specifically for the king – 1 Samuel 8:12-14 – “Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and GIVE them to his attendants.”
3. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards. 1 Samuel 8:15 – “He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.”

See the pattern--He will take.

Do you hear any clamor today for a king? Not really, but many people want the government to take care of them from cradle to grave. We want a king rather than we ourselves being responsible for certain areas of our own life.

The earthly king who takes care of us, takes from us. There is no free lunch—it costs something.

The ONE who takes care of us is the Heavenly King not an earthly king. He is an eternal king, not an earthly king who rattles his saber and pounds his chest. Some of them end up eaten by worms.

The Eternal King and His Son Jesus rule and love us in spirit and truth. Remember this idea of an earthly king may be tantalizing but the earthly king takes and we pay a high price for such silliness.

This July 4th remember to be free costs us something, usually a high price. Don’t settle for anything less than freedom. Bow your knee only to The Father and His Son Jesus. Philippians 2 :9-11 says, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” If there is a high price to pay, a ransom as it were, what’s the high price concerning our Heavenly Father? It cost HIM His Son. No, not us, it cost Him, God himself, His Son, and what does God require of us? Micah 6:6-8 – “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”