Our nation is in desperate need of change. We are anything but united. Large portions of our country long for things to be different. The recent election resulted in a new occupant of the White House which pleased some and angered others. There has been a long, loud and increasingly angry cry from a segment of society for justice. Prayerfully, someday the forces behind the voices on all sides of the spectrum will realize that Washington cannot solve the root of all of the world’s problems. They are simply putting band aids on symptoms.
The real issue plaguing our nation is embedded in a much deeper place. We see violence. Our eyes can detect that, and we can identify the anger that is expressed verbally in words and visually in actions. It is obvious, but the “why” behind it all is not. Fingers are pointed, the shouts get louder and nothing is solved. Feelings are stirred, but everything remains the same. Legislation might control behavior but cannot touch what truly ails us.
America has a spiritual problem. God has been shoved to the side. Children have been taught for generations that they are nothing more than a highly developed animal. There is no place for the concept of being specially created on purpose. There is a reason that each of us is here. We are not simply the product of random coincidences that resulted in humans. We have had our true identity stolen from us and are seeing the consequences. Life is futile and pointless.
There is no concept of the eternal. Everything is for the moment. Eat, drink and be merry is the feel-good philosophy of our time. Let nothing or no one get in the way. Even the ultimately innocent unborn is at risk. A view of life in which there is nothing beyond this world is hopeless. The future extends only to a graveyard. Everyone is scratching and clawing for their little bit of heaven on earth, because there is nothing beyond.
The cure for our national illness is the Lord. It makes our mission of being light-bearers urgent. Darkness has descended on our nation; and no courtroom, laws or politician can touch the human heart which is the genuine problem. Deep within each individual is an itch which only God can scratch. People have tried sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. They failed. There is no temporary fix for an eternal need.
The word of God probes the heart (Hebrews 4:12-13). It touches internal nerves and opens up our private intentions for inspection. The Lord sees far beneath the surface and that is where His interest lies. Do we dare look? Words and deeds originate there. That is where it all begins (Proverbs 4:23). Our lives are governed by our hearts. No, the world is not fair. It never has been since people snatched their hearts away from God.
Nothing turns our life around quite like faith. It takes our minds to an eternal dimension. Living in a purely physical world presents challenges to our commitment to an unseen God who resides in an invisible realm. Our impulse is to gravitate to that which we can see and touch. Satan is very convincing, and lures us into the tyranny of the temporary.
It is the here-and-now that clashes with the eternal. The parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-8) makes clear that the productivity of the harvest depends on the soil not the seed. It is an easily understood story that shines a light on a spiritual reality that Jesus explains later in the chapter (Verses 11 through 15). The response to the word of God is determined by the condition of the heart of the one who hears. The Lord’s message finds persistent interference from the devil and his worldly tools of pain and pleasure, both of which are momentary.
There is constant competition for our loyalties. Satan will give us a long list of reasons not to spend time in Bible study. There is no other way to cultivate genuine soul-saving faith, and he will seek to block us at every turn. Pressures from our daily obligations will consume our time. The Lord will be pushed to the edge of our schedule, then totally off. Both good times and hard times stifle us. It requires dedication and the intent to fortify our faith to survive such a maze of obstacles. It will not happen by accident.
Faith is a step into the unseen. All is not always clear to us as we make this journey. Our steps are often hesitant and unsteady. Trust is essential. Believing in the goodness of our Father, and that He is 100% trustworthy sees us through those puzzling days of our pilgrimage. Like the recently liberated Israelites fresh from Egyptian slavery, we sometimes long to go back to the secure provisions of the old ways. Many will stumble along the way. Old habits are hard to break, and there is no magic pill for it. The Lord awaits us at the finish line. We are on the way to be with the One who loves us infinitely. Faith eliminates anything that hinders us from getting to Him.
The evil one manipulates the ways of the world to fit his agenda (1 John 5:19), and he makes them deceptively attractive. He draws people into his trap, and they become his unsuspecting slaves (2 Timothy 2:26). Of course, very few of us would willingly serve him but he has been the master of disguise from the very beginning. Faith breaks those chains of guilt and the tyranny of the temporary. Faith sees beyond the horizon of time to focus on the Lord of eternity, knowing that He is a God who rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
Peter, James and John never expected what awaited them on top of the mountain that day (Matthew 17:1-8). Jesus led them up, and they witnessed the most remarkable sight imaginable. Moses and Elijah stood before them along with their Lord. In his excitement, Peter had a notion to build something to commemorate the moment, and that is when heaven spoke brief but unforgettable words which included a single command, “Listen to Him.”
We are in the embryonic stage of a new year which is the perfect time for cultivating the habit of listening before we do anything else. It will lead us in the right direction as we couple that with our forty days of prayer. We hear His voice through Scripture and speak to Him in prayer, both seeking and asking for His guidance. It all begins with the Lord, “Listen to Him.”
Peter would have engaged in a building project that God never intended if he would have carried out his plan. It raises the question of how many human schemes have been concocted, financed and carried out that the Lord never wanted simply because people did not investigate the word of God to find out if that is what He desired. They did not take the time to “Listen to Him.”
Adam and Eve paid a steep price for turning a deaf ear to the Lord (Genesis 3). Two voices competed for their attention, and they listened to the wrong ones. She listened to the serpent, he listened to her and both forfeited paradise. The whole world suffered as a result. Consequences of not listening have always reverberated in wide circles.
The list of those who have ignored divine directions is long including even the faithful. King David allowed his wandering eyes to overrule his listening ears and he wandered into adultery and a murder conspiracy. Religious leaders through the ages have succumbed to the temptations of the devil. He has a deep bag of deceitful tricks to deafen our ears, divert our eyes and lead us off into destruction. Underestimating him is a tragic mistake.
David’s son Solomon was a man of great God-given wisdom, but he had a terrible blind spot or deaf spot might be more accurate (1 Kings 11). God had prohibited relationships with foreign women, because they would invariably affect their hearts. He ignored the warning and suffered exactly as he had been told. His heart was turned away from God, he fell into idolatry and the Lord was furious. It was quite a tumble that he never saw coming. He should have. He had been warned.
Life is a long and winding road. Scripture warns of pitfalls and speed bumps that are over the hill and around the curve. God sees what we cannot and knows our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. “Listen to Him.” Words to the wise from the Father of our Savior.
We began 2020 with our customary forty days of prayer and an emphasis on vision. The goal was to begin the year with a deeper look at God and ourselves. Such reflection should lead us to a greater appreciation of our Creator, the Savior and our dependence on Him. What we did not anticipate is what the next twelve months would hold. It provided a dramatic backdrop to bring everything more sharply into focus.
The headline of the year might be shared with the pandemic and the racial unrest that spread across our country. Both opened our eyes in different ways. We saw the need for a foundation that is not shaken by the events that are beyond our control. None of us could have stopped either. We have helplessly watched as covid-19 marched relentlessly around the world. Anger swept through the streets of Minneapolis and subsequent events spread the fury. We watched and could not stop it. They reminded us of just how powerless we are in the grand scheme of things.
We stayed home and wore masks when we finally did cautiously venture out. Worship stopped temporarily as we pondered how to handle that which we could not see, control or understand. Zoom offered a temporary solution, followed by outdoor services and finally the move back inside with limitations. The fellowship that we had always taken for granted was no longer worry-free. It was certainly an eye-opening time.
Tensions rose with several tragic events involving police. The air was racially charged. Cynical eyes studied those of the other race, whoever they were. Skin color came front and center as the entire country seemed to explode. Marches degenerated into riots and cities burned. People created in the image of God battled other people created in the image of God, and our eyes were forced open a little wider.
Twenty centuries ago, Jesus told His disciples that this world was a troublesome place (John 16:33). Yet, we are surprised when we see the evidence of just how true that is. He came on a mission of mercy and met with rejection, hostility and ultimately crucifixion. He offered the greatest possible gift, and people killed the giver. It is little wonder that we have the mess that we do.
2020 is almost over, and it is doubtful that anyone is sorry to see it go. It has been a unique year, but has it opened our eyes? Improved vision sees life for the gift that it is, one that is not to be squandered but embraced. Illness and death can take it suddenly. Relationships are based on the character of individuals not on their race or occupation. Jesus summed it up rather simply: Love God and love your neighbor. Those are principles that are not dependent on how others behave but on who we are. That is where we need to look first.
Ho! Ho! Ho! And fa la la la…It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Strings of lights and trees are up. Inflatable penguins, snowmen, reindeer and Santas dot the neighborhoods. Grumps are smiling (Well, a few of them! Scrooge is still Scrooge.), atheists are in a rage and parents are in a tizzy with last minute preparations. Amid all of the fuss are those occasional thoughts of a baby in a manger. Although the holiday is all a human concoction, it is a good occasion to reflect on the incarnation of the Son of God.
He was there long before the world. He was God (John 1:1). It is beyond our comprehension to think of being in such a lofty position and choosing to become totally dependent. He was born into a normal human family who was responsible for taking care of the Lord of the universe as an infant. He required feeding, bathing and diaper changing; quite a humbling experience for the one who had always existed in equality with God and created His caretakers.
Most of His early life was spent in obscurity. His “dad” was a carpenter, and we are provided very little information about him. Mom didn’t exactly grab the headlines, either. She was…well…a virgin when she gave birth. That is pretty noteworthy. Her baby was obviously a cut above the norm, so special that His arrival warranted an angelic announcement accompanied by shining glory and a heavenly chorus. The Savior had arrived, and that is amazingly good news, right? Well, not exactly.
He came to His own people and was greeted with rejection (John 1:11). We marvel that so many today turn their backs on the salvation that the Lord offers. We shouldn’t be surprised. His own kin didn’t welcome Him. In fact, they were among the most hostile at the notion of who He was. He behaved contrary to their interpretation of the Law. He healed on the Sabbath. He confronted the leadership with their hypocrisy. Light is seldom welcomed by the darkness. He was no exception.
It didn’t take very long for the civil authorities to join in the opposition. The king could hardly stand the challenge of another “king.” He was hardly willing to share the throne, so he did what authoritarians do. He mandated a wholesale slaughter of every toddler two years old and younger (Matthew 2). It was a grim beginning on His march to the cross. He was born to give His life, but it would happen on His terms and in His time. The world was universally hostile to the Prince of Peace. From the throne of heaven to the “most wanted” category hardly seems like the path to success. That, of course, depends on our definition of “success.” If accomplishing God’s plan to save sinners is in mind, it was perfect. Mission accomplished. Thank you, Lord. Merry Christmas.