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AUGUST 2005

 

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Amos 4:12 Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.

 

Recently my wife and I flew to Houston and back. Because we changed planes in Chicago, we were on four different planes flying from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Houston, Texas and back home again. On all four planes we heard the captain tell the cabin crew, “Prepare the cabin for take off.” Then we were checked to make sure our luggage was properly stowed and that our seat belts were fastened. We were also given instructions as to what to do if the plane crashed. Just before landing, on all four planes, we heard the captain tell the cabin crew, “Prepare the cabin for landing.” Again, the cabin was checked for baggage and seat belt violations.

Life is somewhat like a plane ride. On a plane, every precaution is taken to prepare for a crash that will likely never occur. Some safety experts tell passengers to plan for survival the moment they get on the plane. In other words, a person isn‘t prepared to fly until they have prepared for a possible crash. If preparation for a possible crash is so important, how much more important is preparation for the end of the journey of life which is a statistical certainty? Nearly one hundred percent of all people born into this world die. Enoch in Genesis 5:22 and Elijah in 2 Kings 2:11 did not die and some will be spared death at the Lord’s return for the church as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Everyone else either has died or will die. Obviously, we are not really ready to live until we are prepared to die.

In the book of Amos, the children of Israel had rebelled and they were being told that they needed to prepare to meet God. Likely, in the context, they were going to meet Him in battle. But we who are alive today don’t need to meet God as an adversary. When the planes were about to land, they prepared the cabins for landing. Each landing was smooth and safe. I think the end of the journey of life can be like that. We can prepare in an orderly way for the landing if we have earlier prepared for the flight. The only proper preparation for the flight of life is complete trust in the work, worth and word of the Lord Jesus Christ who “died for us (Romans 5:8).”

That we were designed and created is the only reasonable explanation of our existence as far as I am concerned. Obviously, if we were designed and created we need to listen to our maker and He warns us to prepare to meet Him. I made preparation on November 24, 1963. That day I found out that while I was waiting for God to do something to save me, Christ had already died to do just that nearly two thousand years ago. I rested on the fact that Christ had died for my sins (1 Corinthians 15:3). Since my seat belt has never been unfastened since that day in 1963, all I need to do is tidy of up the area around my seats in the cabin when the Lord decides that it is time for my plane to land. I have every confidence that the landing will be smooth and safe.

 

Week of August 7, 2005

 

Lamentations 3:32-3

But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.

 

Last week, my wife and I were present during the tragic illness and death of a family’s five-year-old child. We saw doctors and nurses crushed as they realized that the best technology available could not save the child. We saw parents praying and crying out to God that the child might be spared. We saw sorrow and I began to think about the value of sorrow.

Sorrow helps us understand the value that God places on us. Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 1:12, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.” While Jeremiah was likely thinking of those who were passing by the destruction of Jerusalem and its sorrow and while he might have been thinking of his own sorrow, most of us who read the passage are reminded of the Man of Sorrows Who was acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3)--our Lord. We are reminded that reproach broke His heart (Psalm 69:20) and that He bore our sins in His own body on the cross (1 Pete 2:24). The sorrow of the cross helps us appreciate the depth of the love of God in sending His Son to die for us.

Sorrow helps us to learn to trust God for time as well as for eternity. Jeremiah says in this passage that he had seen affliction. He says that God had shut out his prayer (verse 8). He seems to think that God had marked him for destruction and yet he begins to think of the miracle of waking up every morning and realizes that he would not wake up if it were not for the compassions of God that “fail not and are new every morning (verses 22 and 23).” Jeremiah had been unfairly treated by his own people because he was preaching a message from God that they did not want to hear. He told them not to fight the army that God had sent against them but to surrender. Of course that was treason as far as the natives of Jerusalem were concerned and since they didn’t like the message, they didn’t like the messenger. So Jeremiah suffered and it seemed that God had forsaken him when in fact He had not. In stead He was trusting him to be faithful and now Jeremiah was being reassured that God was faithful as well.

Sometimes in the middle of great sorrow we fail to realize that God is reminding those around us of a very unpopular message. The message that we have sinned and that God judges sin is considered harsh and cruel today. However, it is not cruel to help people avoid heart disease, cancer and stroke and it is not cruel to remind people of the eternal consequences of sin so they can be saved. God does not willingly afflict us but sometimes that is how He gets our attention. Sometimes those who are afflicted are doing the speaking but they are not the ones to whom God is speaking. God used Jeremiah and God used Christ to speak to people who had rebelled because it is not His will that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).

God has a way of turning sorrow into joy (John 16:20) and when He does, the sorrow makes the joy so much more enjoyable. He does that for a woman with birth pains when a healthy baby is delivered (John 16:21). He did that for His disciples when they saw the Lord after He was raised from the dead (John 20:20). He does that for us when we realize that the sorrows and trials of life are being used to save those who are perishing. Our friends greatest joy would be to see the death of their five-year-old son be the means that God uses to bring the assurance of salvation to their unsaved friends and relatives.

Week of August 14, 2005

Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

 

Sometimes we have really bad days. We think that no one cares and that no one understands and that we are all alone. That may be true where friends and relatives are concerned, but there is One who understands. He is touched by the feelings of our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15). That means that when we hurt, He hurts. He is the One who wept and groaned at the tomb of His friend Lazarus (John 11:33, 35, 38). He is the One who was forsaken by His God and knows what it means to have a really bad day. He knows what it means to be alone.

Why do you suppose the Lord cried out using the words of Psalm 22:1? Was it because He did not know the answer? Or was it because He wanted us to know about his aloneness? He had been forsaken by His friends, Peter had denied that He knew Him and Judas had been willing to sell Him for 30 pieces of silver. And now His own Father had turned His back upon Him. Darkness had reigned from high noon until 3 in the afternoon and during that time He experienced an aloneness that we cannot comprehend. We who are sinners by nature have been separated from God by sin but we enjoy His sustaining graces every day. He provides our breath and our beating hearts and the earth provides for us through the energy of the sun and the refreshing rain that is sent on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). Total aloneness is something that Christ suffered and those who die without Christ will experience for eternity.

Some have said that it was dark because God who is holy cannot look upon sin and Christ was being made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). But we also hear people say that God can see a black ant on a black night on a black rock. I tend to think that God who is all powerful can see in the dark. I think He could see Christ and everything that was happening to Him. I think it was dark because God did not want us to see what was taking place during the horror of the darkness caused by separation from God.

So we who believe in the Lord think we have it bad? Sometimes we do but the Lord who was forsaken by God says that He will never leave us or forsake His people (Hebrews 13:5). Likely this is promising us the necessities of life but I have no problem applying it to all practical as well as spiritual needs. The Lord tells us to cast all our care upon Him for He careth (1 Peter 5:7). He does not leave us without a comforter (or helper or one who comes along side, John 16:7). And He dwells in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:17). Some invite the Lord into their hearts. I never did that and never intend to. When I trusted Him, He sealed me (Ephesians 1:13) and came to dwell in my heart by faith--it would have been impossible to keep Him out. He invited me to come to Him (Matthew 11:28) and I needed to accept His invitation rather than extending a new one to Him.

We may be having it bad but if we are trusting in the Lord, we really have it good. We have a Savior who was forsaken for three hours so we would not have to be forsaken eternally. He saves us, He cares for us, and He has sealed us never to leave us. This is the One who makes life worth living and who takes the “sting“ out of dying (1 Corinthians 15:56). Those who know Him will never be alone.

 

Week of August 21, 2005

Ephesians 3:20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,

Ephesians 3:21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

 

God is able to exceed our expectations. Paul may be referring to things that the Lord wants to do in us and through us, but he may also be talking about things that the Lord can do for us with the same power that works in us. The point is that sometimes when the Lord says no to a prayer request, He may be doing something that we do not expect that will accomplish something better than we expected.

When the children of Israel complained and sinned against God in Numbers 21, the Lord sent poisonous snakes to bite them. The people prayed to have the snakes removed. The Lord had a better plan. He told them to put a brazen serpent on a pole and those who looked to the brazen serpent would live. Of course, the brazen serpent speaks of Satan and of sin being judged by the death of Christ according to the Lord in John 3:14 and 15. The look speaks of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If the prayer of the people had been answered, all those who had been bitten would have died. The Lord’s solution, which did not make sense naturally, saved those who had been bitten, those who were being bitten and those who would be bitten. The Lord’s plan was better. The Lord was able to exceed their expectations.

When Lazarus, the Lord’s friend, got sick in John 11, the Lord waited to go to him until after Lazarus died. He certainly didn’t seem to be acting like a friend by waiting when Lazarus needed Him. Martha, Mary and the Jews all had confidence that the Lord could have kept Lazarus from dying. None of them expected Him to do something better by raising Lazarus from the dead. The Lord certainly exceeded their expectations.

The disciples of the Lord, all expected the Lord to set up His kingdom and of course they were going to be important people in His administration. They weren’t too happy when He was crucified. They were left sorrowing and confused. They didn’t expect His resurrection even though He had told them that it would happen (John 2:19-22). The disciples were expecting to be blessed by being loyal to a living King. However, the Lord became the sacrifice for sin by dying and then rising from the dead. The Lord was able to accomplish much more by dying and then living that He ever would have by living without dying. He has been able to exceed all of our expectations.

So if things do not seem to be working out, maybe things aren‘t as they seem. We need to learn to trust God when we ask Him for something that it appears He is not doing. The Lord is able to give us answers that exceed our expectations.

 

Week of August 28, 2005