Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Complaining People

There's an interesting passage back in the Old Testament book of Numbers. What is sometimes missed is that it works as a commentary on human beings. It describes well the propensity we have for quick dissatisfaction and complaint. It seems that many (most?) of us just can't be happy for very long. Here's the passage:
33 Thus they set out from the mount of the Lord three days’ journey, with the ark of the covenant of the Lord journeying in front of them for the three days, to seek out a resting place for them.34 The cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp.35 Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, “Rise up, O Lord! And let Your enemies be scattered, And let those who hate You flee before You.”36 When it came to rest, he said, “Return, O Lord, To the myriad thousands of Israel.”1 Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.2 The people therefore cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire died out.3 So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them.4 The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat?5 “We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic,6 but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.”Numbers 10:33–11:6 (NASB95)

Those people were three days into their journey. Three days. They complained. They were greedy. They got all caught up in "how things used to be." Now let's be fair. Was everything great? No. But they refused, or were unable to see the greater picture. God was leading them to the promised land. He was on their side, leading them, providing for them. He was their God and they were his people. But mundane things of life overwhelmed them, and their own little petty desires clouded their ability to see. Memories of the past morphed from hardship of slavery to a feast-table of fine foods.

A great many Christians are just like this. Christians, including leaders like preachers, elders, and educators, seem trapped into a viscious cycle of dissatisfaction with just about everything. The generations are at each other's throats with accusations that whatever generations one is not part of is to blame for all the failings and bad things happening to the church. Preachers lambast church members because they aren't living like they're supposed to live, doing what they're supposed to be doing, giving like they're supposed to be giving, but instead of acting like a shepherd-leader, gently instructing and guiding, they get fed up and quit. Or move. Church members throw tantrums because those in charge don't cater to their every whim (or whimper!). Leaders are accused of being stuck in the past, not caring for the flock, or just being irrelevant.

It is surely true that some of those complaints exactly right. But it  equally true that many of them are just people acting out the very human trait of dissatisfaction and grumpiness. I've known lots of Christian leaders. Not one of them was perfect, or knew how to sasisfy every complaining member. I've known lots of church members. Few of them were progressing in their spiritual growth that was exceptional. Most everyone drags their spiritual feet.

But we've entered a time when the game is played for high stakes. We're told by every expert around that the church is failing, it must change, it must do things this way or that way, it must change it's doctrinal stance on this issue or that, else nobody will ever pay attention again.  I have no doubt but that it wouldn't hurt us a bit to do some new thinking on lots of things. But I doubt that will be the answer to our problems. For just about the time we satisfy one bunch, another will rise up with new complaints. And nobody seems bold enough to ask, "Might the problem be with the complainers?" No, you do that and you get a fresh load of criticism and blame tossed your way.

If you've bothered to read this far, you're probably expecting me to offer an answer to the problem. Sorry. I have no answer, except to point us back to things that God has always taught us when things go wrong. I will leave it to the reader to discover where I found these things, but I promise every one of them is in your Bible. Here's how to make progress when things aren't great:
  • Stop complaining. You read that right. Just stop.
  • Quit thinking so highly of yourself. It's the first step toward trouble.
  • Love others. That means you do the loving of the others.
  • Learn tolerance. I don't mean the socio-political meaningless word popular today.
  • Be patient. Things seldom happen in a hurry.
  • Be more concerned about the health of your own faith than about that of others.
  • Encourage and build up people, and never shoot the wounded.
  • Live and practice what you expect of everyone else.
  • Treat others like you want them to treat you.
  • Don't try to outpuke buzzards (this one might be hard to find).
  • Make more peace than ruckus.
  • Never yell about what somebody else is or is not doing; you do it (or not) first.
  • If you can't see God's big picture, keep quite until you do.
  • Never confuse popular ideas or opinions with the Bible.
  • When things don't turn out like you think they should, return to the top of this list.

I believe two things about complainers. First, some people have legitimate things to complain about. If you don't believe this one, go read the Psalms. You'll find lots of complaints there. When finished, read Job. If that's not enough, write me, I'll suggest more.  Second, most complainers get on God's nerves. Everybody should think about that one before they start.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

I Remember Mama

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise) Eph 6:1–2 (NASB95)

When our daughter, Kathy, was participating in a parenting class at her church, she explained to her 6-year-old daughter, Kayla, that she was taking a course to help make her a better mommy. The next Sunday, after church, Kayla became upset and had a tantrum because she was not getting her way. Both parents tried to calm her. But with tears streaming down her face and in a loud voice, Kayla announced to her mother, "You told me you were taking a course to make you a better mommy. Well, it's not working!" – Shirley Ratcliff, "Kids of the Kingdom," Christian Reader (July/August 2003)

I had a great mother! One of the stark realizations of growing up is finding out that’s not true for everybody. I grew up in a neighborhood of good mothers. There were three houses in a row on our street with kids my age. All the mom participated in parenting all of us. It was a great place to be a kid. But for some reason, even though we had the worst yard to play in (smaller, dirt instead of grass, big oak tree with huge roots, etc.) we probably spent more time in our house/yard than the others.

It could have been because my mother was a good cook. But I really think there was more to it. My mother loved people. Oh, she could get aggravated and yell with the best of them. And don’t think it was because she let us get away with things. Nope. I think it was because she was a good mom.

Not only do I remember plenty of people sharing our table, but there was almost always somebody at our house visiting just to drink coffee and talk. That meant there was plenty of laughing and good times. She knew how to make you feel good, feel loved, feel appreciated, feel wanted. The world needs more that!

Don’t misunderstand. My mother was not always the best example. Get her riled and she might let a word slip that the rest of us would get whacked for saying. Her life was not without difficulty and mistakes. My mom and dad divorced when I was twelve. For years she didn’t go to church. She sent me with my aunt who lived down the street, but she didn’t go. She went back when I was a teenager. But I don’t think she ever left her faith. And don’t let anybody mess with her kids. She could be a lion.

Mothers Day is great for a lot of people. Like me, they had great moms. But that’s not true for everyone. Sometimes, moms just fail. It’s sad when that happens because it can affect a person’s whole life. If you know somebody like that, don’t press the issue. Just give them a special hug and let them know that today, right now, you love and appreciate them. If you had a great mom, be thankful. Tell her, if she’s still around. A few words of love and thanks go a very long way.

Faithful Until Death

3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near. – Revelation 1:3 (NASB95)

It is the desire for God which is the most fundamental appetite of all, and it is an appetite we can never eliminate. We may seek to disown it, but it will not go away. If we deny that it is there, we shall in fact only divert it to some other object or range of objects. And that will mean that we invest some creature or creatures with the full burden of our need for God, a burden which no creature can carry. — Simon Tugwell, The Beatitudes

We usually think of beatitudes as that collection of verses in Matthew chapter five. Each one begins, “Blessed is. . . .” But there are a lot more beatitudes. Basically, it’s a statement of blessing, based on a particular reason. That’s my definition, but I think it will hold up. That makes the verse from Revelation 1:3 a beatitude.

There is a promised blessing that comes to those who will spend the time and put forth the effort with the book we know as the book of Revelation. That’s makes it doubly sad when people avoid that book because it’s controversial, or difficult to understand, or filled with confusing symbolism, or deemed unimportant. That last one is a conclusion reached because of all the other reasons. If it were important, it wouldn’t be all that other stuff. Surely!

Evidently John didn’t think that way. We may avoid it, ignore it, and refuse to study it, but the book itself still claims a blessing for those willing to dig in.

We need to address an important mistake, however. Sometimes, people will acknowledge there is a blessing, but it’s said to be for those who read it. Please read the verse again. There are two items that make up the basis for the blessing, and they are in the words, “read” and “heed” (in the New American Standard). Both work together. One must read, and then obey what he reads. The book of Revelation is to be obeyed, not just studied.

Perhaps this is another reason Revelation is an avoided book. Many have read enough to know that it says things like, “Be faithful until death. . . .” Somehow, we sense that this is a book that doesn’t gloss over the realities of life. It asks us to be honest with them, and to realize that Christians must sometimes endure great suffering because they are Christians. Revelation asks us to be faithful regardless what happens.

That’s not what we want to hear. We want to know everything will be alright. Stay with the book! It has that message too. We endure all that the world throws at us because in the end, everything is just like it ought to be. God has already won the victory for us.

It's Never, "Goodbye!"

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7 “Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” – Matthew 28:5–7 (NASB95)

When they had finished eating, they stood outside of the pub, talked for a few more minutes, and just before parting ways, Lewis said to Vanauken, "I shan't say goodbye. We'll meet again." The great apologist then plunged into the traffic to cross the street while Vanuaken watched his friend walk away. When Lewis got to the other side of the street, he turned around, anticipating that his friend would still be standing there. With a grin on his face, Lewis shouted over the great roar of cars, "Besides—Christians never say goodbye." – Greg Ogden, in the sermon "Christians Never Say Good-Bye,"

Saying, “Good-Bye”, is seldom a happy thing. Sure, we are sometimes just going on a short trip with plans to return soon. But a lot of good-byes are more permanent, or at least they’re of an unknown length. The worst good-byes are at gravesides. Death has a way of separating us from loved ones in a way that no other parting can do.

Have you ever thought about the good-byes that were said by Jesus’ friends, family and disciples as he hung on the cross? Those who took down his body from the cross, wrapped it in burial cloths and placed it in the borrowed tomb, likely said some sort of good-bye. They did not expect to see him again. Yes, we know he had already told them he would rise from the dead, but it seems they didn’t believe him, or at least they didn’t understand he meant it in such a tangible way.

The women who went to the tomb early on the first day of the week, were going to say “good-bye.” They were going to perform the duty of preparing the body for burial since the earlier effort may well have been hastily done. They wanted to make sure things were right. What better way to say good-bye to someone you love?

Instead of what they expected to see and do, when they arrived at the tomb everything had changed. Guards were terrified and fled. The stone sealing the tomb was rolled away. And the tomb! It was empty. There was no body laying still as death. Jesus was gone.

This is why Christians never say good-bye. When Jesus rose from death, he gave to us the hope of eternal life. We will rise too. We will live again. It’s never, “Good-Bye.”

The Power List

9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth – Philippians 2:9–10 (NASB95)

Forbes magazine compiled their new list for 2013 of the world's most powerful people. This year's list includes 17 heads of state who run nations with a combined GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of some $48 trillion. The 27 CEOs and chairs on the list control over $3 trillion in annual revenues. And the group of 28 billionaires on the list are worth over $564 billion. Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Barack Obama, and Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping took the top three spots in the power rankings. At #5, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, is the most powerful woman in the world. – via

Yes, there are some powerful people in the world. That power includes the ability to make or break you financially. They can control you forcibly by creating laws (to do it “legally”) or by influencing politics, police, courts, and more (illegally). They can control the media and control your thinking, or what information you get access to in order to choose or make decisions. Powerful people can control your daily lives in countless ways. We don’t like to believe this, but the power to control others is a prime motivation for obtaining wealth, political position, or other authoritative position.

It even happens in the church. There’s a fairly well-known fellow named Diotrephes in the Bible (even though we don’t know much about him). He evidently loved to be first in things so that he even countered what apostles said! That kind of thing still happens in today’s church.

Paul’s statement to the Philippians is one that doesn’t get enough press. Jesus is the one to whom every knee will bow. His name is above every name (sorry Diotrephes). That list of the world’s most powerful people above is a list of folks who aren’t the most powerful after all.

People find that hard to believe. The world doesn’t believe Jesus is worth bowing down to, but I fear that even Christians don’t easily accept this either. We still operate out of fear of folks on that “power” list. Even they will eventually bow to Jesus.