Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Peace or Conflict?

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 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 16:32-33 (ESV)

Which is Jesus promising here, peace or conflict? In verse 33 he seems to promise peace, but only after making it clear that his disciples will have conflict and will be scattered.

In reality Jesus is promising both conflict and peace.

"In the world you will have tribulation." There will be opposition, persecution and trouble for the believer in this world. Not only will we have the disdain of the unbeliever, but we will often fail to do our best. We will sometimes abandon our Lord and leave him alone. We will, like Peter, taste the bitter tears of knowing that we have denied our Master.

Yet, knowing that our Lord has overcome the world, we can have peace when the world troubles us. Perhaps even more importantly, knowing that the Lord has overcome sin, we can have peace even when we know that we have failed. As he forgave his first twelve followers when they left him in the garden, so he forgives us.

This is, of course, no reason to willfully abandon him. It is, rather, all the more reason to flee to him when we are troubled, whether we are troubled by the world or by our own conscience.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Seeking or Avoiding The Presence

And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. Mark 5:17-18 (ESV)

How do you feel about the presence of Jesus? The people of the Gerasenes did not want to be in the presence of Jesus. They begged him to leave. The man whose demons had just been sent into the swine begged permission to remain with Jesus. Which is your attitude? Do you delight in the presence of Jesus? Or do you seek to avoid that presence as much as possible?

This is the fundamental test of our conversion. The converted person is not perfect. He still sins. Generally he still exhibits most of the flaws he had before conversion. But he longs for, seeks, and delights in the presence of Jesus. That presence often makes him feel inadequate. That presence reminds him that he is a sinner. Yet, as painful as that presence may be, the truly converted seek that presence.

The unconverted avoid the presence of Jesus. They may attend worship enough to remain respectable in the community. They may avoid open and obvious sin. But they do not seek the presence of Jesus in continual prayer, worship, Bible study, or Christian service.

It was not granted to the redeemed demoniac to remain in the physical presence of Jesus. Instead he was given a ministry among his people. He was to tell them how much the Lord had done for him (verse 19).

We are not granted the physical presence of Jesus. But we are assured that, as we carry out the commission given to us - to teach his word to others - his presence is with us (Matt 28:19-20).

Are we seeking the presence of Jesus in worship, prayer, Bible study, and service? That is the best measure of our conversion.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

When Pigeons Come Home To Roost

An article with this title appeared about thirty-five years ago. The author may have been Tom Olbricht. The author told of being sent to the barn to removed nests that the pigeons had built in the eaves. Rather than removing the nests, he merely threw some rocks at the pigeons. The rocks scattered the birds for a time, but of course they returned. Father investigated; and the son was punished for not doing the job right. The application was to spiritual things.

Sometimes it seems easier to teach the truth using easy, but invalid, arguments. Instead of taking the trouble to give sound biblical reasons for what we do, we are tempted to give some quick and easy explanation. The quick and easy answer may not be correct, but it satisfies for the moment.

In the pigeons example, it was a son that used a quick and easy method to the disappointment of his father. In giving invalid reasons for right behavior, it is often the parents who do disservice to their children.

Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting that you try to reason with a two-year-old. At that age, reasoning does not exist. Attempting it frustrates both parent and child. Simple, direct orders are normally in order from birth to age eight (speaking in round numbers). The habit of obedience should be well developed in those early years.

From the age of eight upward, we should be giving our children reasons -- sound, logical, biblical reasons. It takes time and effort. But the effort pays off.

Make no mistake, taking the time to give proper reasons will be an effort. In many cases we will have to search out those valid reasons ourselves (having long since forgotten them, or perhaps, having never been taught them).

We live in a sound-bite world. Millions are make major life decisions on the basis of sound bites. It is tempting to use this approach in teaching Christian truth. But we must not do so. Those persuaded to live the Christian life on the basis of sound bites, or other forms of invalid reasoning, will abandon the faith when the next sound bite comes along. Unless the nests are systematically removed, the pigeons will come home to roost.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dying of Thirst

"Standing Knee Deep in a River (Dying of Thirst)" is a song written by Bob McDill, Dickey Lee and Bucky Jones. It was first recorded by Kathy Mattea. The song expresses the tragedy of those who could have lots of friends, but who fail to maintain relationships and end up lonely.

The idea of standing in a river dying of thirst reminds me of the relationship many have with the church. Through the years I have known dozens of people who complained of loneliness while failing to participate in church programs that would have brought them into contact with others. I have known dozens who let their marriages go to pieces and never contacted any of the church leaders (some of whom had considerable skill in facilitating the healing of a marriage). I have known dozens of families that failed to involve their children in church sponsored activities, and then mourned when those children went astray.

Thousands are standing knee-deep in the wonderful God-ordained resource called the church, yet they die of spiritual thirst. They will not stoop to drink what has been provided. They do not know God's word as they should, yet they will not participate in a Bible class. They run off to worldly resources for counseling, join worldly clubs in search of fellowship, volunteer at worldly organizations, and never consider that they could have done many of these same things at lower cost and more effectively through the church.

One might make full use of the opportunities for service and blessing available through the church and still have trouble. I have known people who were fully engaged with the church who still had marriages or children go astray. Those cases are rare, but they do happen. But at least those people have the comfort of knowing that they did what they could.

To endure loneliness when you could be joining with brothers and sisters in service or study is inexcusable. To allow a marriage to fail when brothers and sisters are available who would be glad to help is inexcusable. To remain seriously defective in Bible knowledge while not taking full advantage of our classes and study opportunities is inexcusable. It is not too late. Don't stand there dying of thirst. Stoop and drink.