Thursday, July 26, 2012


When I was a kid, whenever my brother or I would hear my mom in the kitchen in the late afternoon, we would yell out, “Mom, what’s for supper?”  Her answer was always the same, not rudely, but matter-of-fact, she would say, “You’ll see in a minute.”  I never understood why she wouldn’t just tell us what we were having.  Then I had kids of my own.  I like to cook.  It’s safe to say that my tastes in food are different from those of my wife and children.  They prefer the old reliable standards: spaghetti, meatloaf, mac and cheese.  I prefer more exotic fare.  Once when I was on a trip by myself, I had an egg white omelet with goat cheese and asparagus for breakfast.  It was one of the most amazing things I had ever tasted.  So when I got home, I found a recipe for that sort of omelet online.  I went to the store to buy all the ingredients, most of which we don’t typically stock in our house.  And one morning, I got up early and made one for my wife (I wasn’t going to waste such special cuisine on my heathen children).  Carrie was very nice, but while her mouth said “Thank you,” the rest of her face was saying, “How much more of this do I have to choke down before you go away and I can feed the rest to the dog?”  So now, when my wife and kids hear me in the kitchen, they often say, “What’s for supper?”  And I hate to tell them, because if it’s not something boring like roast beef or pork chops, I’ll hear that uncomfortable silence that’s really them thinking, “I wonder how successfully I can fake a stomach virus?” 
            I think, if we’re honest, that’s how many of us feel when we think of Heaven.  Someone asked an old English Vicar once what happens when we die.  He replied, "I suppose we shall enjoy eternal bliss.  But I wish you wouldn't bring up such depressing subjects."  I have a friend who was raised in church, but now in his mid-twenties, he's struggling with what he believes about God and eternity.  He told me recently, "I don't even want to believe in Heaven.  The thought of just dying and being dead is much more comforting to me than the thought of eternity in a place I know nothing about."  We know that God has something planned for us, and we know HE thinks it’s going to be great—because, after all, He loves us—but we’re afraid, like my kids are when I cook, that it will be something He enjoys a LOT more than the rest of us.  But the fact is that God is perfectly willing to tell us what He is cooking up for our future.  And the truth is far greater than we can imagine.  This Sunday, we'll take a look at Isaiah 65:17-25, one of many passages of Scripture in both Testaments that show us enough of a glimpse of Heaven to whet our appetites...and to fill us with a hope that changes our earthly lives. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Trust in God

As the old story goes, a couple of tourists were watching a man traverse Niagra Falls on a tightrope.  He walked across, then he came back across on a bicycle.  The third time, he grabbed a wheelbarrow, and was getting ready to cross again.  One tourist said to the other, "Do you think he's going to make it?"  The second man said, "I know he'll make it.  This guy is the best in the world.  There is no way he'll fall." The first man then said, "Then get in the wheelbarrow."  And that is the difference between belief and faith.  Belief can be purely intellectual, but faith comes when we trust in someone or something enough to bet our lives on it. 

Everyone has beliefs, opinions, convictions about a variety of subjects.  But none of those matter nearly as much as what we put our faith in.  Faith matters.  Faith can make or break your life, literally.  We live in an age of tolerance.  We are told that no one should ever judge someone else’s beliefs.  That may be the highest value of our culture.  In an age like ours, it is more important than ever that we as Christians are very humble in the way we engage opposing viewpoints.  If we walk around attacking the moral or spiritual beliefs of others, ridiculing them, people will be so outraged, they won’t hear what we have to say about the Good News.  So, in that sense, yes, we should be tolerant.  But in spite of what our society says, all viewpoints are NOT equally valid.  No matter how sincere our beliefs might be, if our faith is misplaced, we're doomed.   

I will put it another way: We’re in an election year, and this time around, there are questions about the faith of both candidates.  Many people say those questions aren’t relevant; that a candidate’s faith shouldn’t matter.  I won’t weigh in on politics, but I assert that when it comes to our lives, our faith matters more than anything else.  Our faith determines the course of our lives, more so than our talents, our goals, or our resources.  In other words, you have the right to believe whatever you want to believe about God, right and wrong, what happens after his life and what you need to do in order to get ready for it.  But wouldn’t you like to know now if your faith is true?  This Sunday, we're going to look at the story of one of the kings of Judah (from 2 Kings 18-19), and how a serious crisis in his life revealed the truth about his faith.  Along the way, we’ll talk about true faith--the kind that will save your life--and faith that is only a mirage of the real thing.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Amazing Love of God

Think about the greatest love stories you’ve ever heard.  What do they have in common?  There is always an obstacle to overcome.  If two flawlessly attractive people meet on the street and say, “Hey, we’d make good-looking babies…let’s get hitched” there is nothing beautiful or compelling about that.  There has to be a seemingly impossible obstacle for it to be a good story.  You can sum up all love stories in two categories: There’s the tragic love story, a la Romeo and Juliet, Casablanca, Titanic, or Legends of the Fall, where the obstacle ultimately keeps the two lovers apart forever, and our hearts ache with unrequited longing.  Then there’s the happy love story.  So for instance in Pride and Prejudice or My Fair Lady, the handsome and desirable man sees past the girl’s lowly station and the prejudices of society.  In the old fairy tales, the hero has to overcome a fierce dragon or a witch’s spell in order to win the heart of the fair maiden.  You take any love story ever written or performed on stage or screen, and you can recognize those basic elements in them.  A man and woman will meet and will seem destined to be together forever, except that circumstances get in the way.  The only question is, will it be a tragic or a happy love story?  Will the two lovers overcome the obstacle?  So if love stories are so predictable, why do we keep going back to them over and over again?  I think it speaks to a yearning in our hearts.  We were created to love and be loved by God.    

This Sunday, we'll talk about the greatest love story ever told.  It is pictured by a story that will probably never be made as a major motion picture starring Brad Pitt and Natalie Portman, but it's a powerful story nonetheless: The story of Hosea and his wife Gomer, from Hosea chapters 1-3.  We'll talk about the obstacle you and I face as we seek the love of our lives. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

He Came to Break the Rod

Recently, the World Health Organization researched suicide rates for teenagers.  They found that the global suicide rate is 7.4 per 100,000 adolescents.  They also examined individual nations.  I was surprised—and disturbed—to read that our teenage suicide rate is slightly higher than the world’s: 8 per 100,000.  When you isolate it to American male teenagers, the rate is even higher—13 per 100,000.  Think about that for a moment.  In many parts of our world, teenage boys woke up this morning having not eaten for days.  In other places, they are enslaved.  Other boys live like rats in the street, having to scavenge, beg or steal just to survive.  Still others are forced into guerilla armies to kill or be killed for someone else’s war.  American teenaged boys, on the other hand, wake up every day with adequate food, clothing and shelter, free public education, in a society that encourages every kind of freedom, pleasure and self-advancement.  Yet the suicide rate of our teenaged boys is almost twice the world average for adolescents.  By the way, it’s not just teenaged boys.  We live in the land of opportunity, the home of the free.  Never before has a culture been as prosperous as ours.  Yet by and large, we aren’t happy.  We live under the constant crushing pressure of despair.

            Just about every day, I meet people who are barely hanging on.  Life has beaten them down, and they are nearly at the breaking point.  The pressure, the disappointment, the despair have them ready to crack.  Perhaps that describes you.  If so, I have good news for you today.  But first, I need to say something that will be hard for you to accept.  If you are like most people, whatever you are putting your faith in, whatever you are hoping will make you happy, make life worth living, isn’t going to work.  If you are aiming for certain financial goals, even if you are one of the fortunate few who reach your dreams, it won’t be enough.  If you are single and are looking for Mr. or Ms. Perfect For You, he or she does not exist.  Even if that person did and you were able to find him or her, it wouldn’t be enough.  Perhaps you think, “if only I could improve my appearance,” “if only I could get a better job,” “if only I could move to a better place.”  All of those things might bring you a certain sense of pleasure and satisfaction, but none of them will be enough to make life worth living. 

In Isaiah 9:1-7--traditionally read as a Christmas passage-- Isaiah’s good news is this: “God has not forgotten you.  He sees, He knows, and He cares.  Best of all, He is coming—in person—to deliver you from all of these things.”  We know the fulfillment of these verses.  We know that “the child” of v. 6 is Jesus.  We know that when v. 1 talks about “on the other side of the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles,” it is talking about the region of Israel where Jesus began and spent most of His ministry.  God’s answer to our despair is Jesus.  Now you may wonder why that helps.  You may have Jesus pegged as a guy who lived a long time ago and made up a bunch of rules that make life less fun.  Or maybe you see Him as a ceramic figure on a cross in a church.  But the real Jesus was the god-man, the ultimate warrior, the One who came to defeat our enemies and deliver us from bondage.  In the words of v. 4, He came to break the yoke of our burden and the staff on our shoulders and the rod of our oppressor.  Back in the 8th century BC, those terms resonated with people.  What do they mean to us today?  This Sunday, we'll talk about what Jesus can do in your life today if you will let Him.