Tuesday, January 21, 2014

TWO PROMISES; MANY TROUBLES


I know that The Garden of Eden probably didn't look like that, but it'll serve the purpose, I guess. That's where I want to start, anyway.

When God created man, and put them in the Garden, it was the most perfect of settings. The earth in its entirety, the most beautiful spot on that earth, and His crowning achievement .... man.

And woman.


I ask myself how long God made that arrangement, to last. A year? A century? Had Adam & Eve not sinned, would that idyllic arrangement have persisted? Maybe as long as it took to multiply and fill the earth?


I think so. But it's irrelevant, except in one important aspect. 


I don't attribute the sin, of man, to God, in any way whatsoever. And if I don't, then I have to think the situation in the Garden could have gone on forever, but for man's sin. So in that sense, I must ask whether man derailed God's plans.



I don't think we can do that.

Fast forward to last week, as I was preparing my Sunday School lesson. I was thinking on the character of God, and I stumbled across the thought that God only promises that there are two things we will definitely have in this life.

  • John 16:33: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
  • Hebrews 9:27: "Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment..."


Troubles, and death. 

Regardless of our faith.

Sure, there are lots of things God promises us, in Jesus, but not everybody will turn to Him, and not all those who do so will elect to love others, experience joy, or peace (which we do have to decide to do....), or all the other myriad of things God promises to His people. But EVERYBODY is going to experience troubles in the world, and EVERYBODY is going to die.


Now, we know that the eventual outcome for the Christian is eternity in a setting far more wonderful than we imagine the Garden of Eden to be. But that's on the other side of death, and it seems that God would prepare us for that, if we're willing to see it.


So ... what's the one thing that will prepare us for death? Reading up on it? 


I doubt knowledge would accomplish that. 

Focusing on the defeats and heartbreaks of life, so death will seem like a relief? 

I doubt God wants that ... it'd be a lousy witness to His sustaining power. 

Anything the world has to offer .. like "Positive Thinking", stuff like that? 

I doubt it.


Maybe there's a clue in the Bible. From Matthew 14:32-33, immediately after Jesus had helped Peter up out of the water, and the two of them got into the boat Peter had just stepped out of:

When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  Then those in the 
boat worshiped Him and said, “Truly You are the Son of God!”

These guys had seen Him do plenty of miracles, including feeding a huge crowd with just a boy's snack, just that afternoon. Water had been turned into the best of wines, blind eyes had seen, dead folks had rejoined the living, and Jesus had just gone for a walk on water! 

If you'll note, when He made wine out of water, they placed their faith in Him. But when He miraculously saved them, they worshiped Him! 

We hear lots & lots of stories about what miracles God does in other places and at other times and to other people, but when Jesus brings you through something in a spectacular fashion, it's up close & personal, and our reaction should be as the guys in the boat's was.

If we keep our focus on Jesus, I figure He will show us how He has saved our bacon many, many times in this life. With its troubles. And maybe the woes of this life are part of His plan to make us so sure of His ability and His intentions, that the specter of death becomes another woe that we're absolutely certain ... way down inside ... He'll bring us through.

And, better for the experience.

And THAT is nowhere more true, than in the last woe we'll face on earth. Which will bring us back to the original premise ... God, living with His people, in the most beautiful, idyllic place imaginable. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

AS TO WHAT'S IMPORTANT......

The building in the picture is the Hyatt Regency Hotel, at the Galleria Mall .. a couple miles North of our home. It was built in 1984-1985, as I recall, and I signed the structural beam that "topped out" the building.

The Galleria is a large enclosed mall, spectacular now and even more so, 30 years ago. At the time, I owned Riverchase Business Brokers,  one of my sales personnel had met the developer, and she got us an invitation to attend the Topping-Out ceremony. I suppose 100 or so people signed the beam, which was hoisted up while we were there, and bolted into place.

That all sounds like a big deal, but it really wasn't. Doubly so, for reasons I shall explain in a moment.

This past Sunday, we surmised, in Sunday School, what it would be like to reflect back on your life, as it draws to a close. And what we would really be happiest that we'd done. To prove a point, I told a lot of things I'd done in my life, and I'll recount them (and some others), to make a point.

Don't think I'm boasting ... most of the things were either dumb luck, or a gift from somebody else. So, in no particular order.....

  • I recall walking the Formula One Race Course in Monte Carlo, with Peg, maybe 20 years ago. We'd won a trip there from an insurance company, and toured all Monaco, went into France and saw Cannes and other Cote d'Azur spots. Toured a perfume factory, went up the Var River Valley for lunch at Valberg .. high in the French Alps. Bought a model Ferrari from the Ferrari Shop on Rue Grimaldi. Attended a dinner party at the Monte Carlo Casino. 
  • Stood atop Victoria Peak in Hong Kong and gazed out, trying to comprehend I was looking at the South China Sea. Also went from there ... via Far East Jetfoil ... to Portuguese Macau, and thence North into Communist China, where we had lunch at the Chung Shan Hot Springs Resort. Took a walking tour of a village, and, by chance, Peg and I stopped at a house which Michael Jackson had visited not long before, and had the lady who lived there proudly show us the picture taken of her with Michael standing in her little home. I'd seen that picture in the media here, in fact. And, just standing at the waterfront by our hotel in Kowloon, gazing across the harbor, was unforgettable itself.
  • Visited the Kehlsteinhaus ... Hitler's "Eagle's Nest", which Martin Bormann built for Hitler's 50th Birthday. Looked out over Berchtesgaden, went through the Documentation Center there, visited Dachau Prison Camp, went through the BMW and AUDI factories. Spent quite a while at 120 mph on the Autobahn. Sang "Amazing Grace" a mile up in a hot air balloon, over the NW face of the Bavarian Alps, with our hostess. At sunset.
  • Saved a multi-million dollar program of my employer, by moving the program to a life insurance company headed by a friend of mine from the olden days .. when we could find no one else to take it.
  • Invented a new type of insurance, inspired by what I'd seen at a Jewelers' meeting in Connecticut. Gave us a significant edge over our competition.
  • One of my biggest insurance clients sent me a new client, who told me Dave had tears in his eyes when he told how I'd gotten him coverage in Lloyds' of London, when no one else would touch it. A record snowfall shortly after had collapsed his entire building.
  • Peg and I have been on vacation in many places .. Costa Rica, St. Martin, Ste. Maarten (countries on one island), St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, Jamaica (about a dozen times), Cancun, Cozumel. Went to Alaska and Hawaii, too. Note: When Peg first incurred Breast Cancer, we decided there was no use saving up so we could travel when we got to 65, as we might not get there. As we were married on March 13th, and her birthday is March 20th, we chose to go away that week for many years.
I've done a lot of other stuff, too. I used to go to London every year to work with Lloyd's, and I've been to unforgettable church services in places I never expected it. I've been in 45 states and 25 foreign countries.


And other stuff I can't remember.

NOW: the conclusion. In class, I posed the question "When I'm lying on my deathbed, which one of all those things do you think I'll be happiest that I did?" The answer? None of them.

The things I will be most grateful I got to do? Things like the time I presented the gospel, in 1969, to the young Sunday School class of convicted juvenile felons at the Plainfield (Indiana) Boy's Prison. The time I shared how to be saved with Kori's family as I sat on a couch in their home. The Bible I bought and took to a little girl in Charleston SC. The time we sang praises to God under a huge picture of Lenin in the Pskov (Russia) Community Center .. .and people stood and shouted.

 Stuff like that.

When you're in heaven, seeing remote places on earth won't have made a bit of difference. I imagine we'll be able to see whatever we want, from there. And the insurance programs I thought of and saved? Long since bankrupt and out of business. The businessman I helped? Died many years ago, his business bankrupt. The "topping-out" beam I signed? A couple weeks later, a tar kettle caught fire on an adjoining roof and thoroughly scorched it. I should have learned something right then & there......

Ahh ... but the young lady who prayed in that home, or the 6 juvenile felons who asked Jesus to save them, or the Word of God I gave to that young girl in Charleston, which God said would not return to Him void? Or the people from the USA's former arch enemy, who stood and cheered and praised God, as we sang for them?

Sure am grateful I did those things. I suspect I always will be.

Eternally.  

Sunday, January 05, 2014

I Don't Think I Get It.......

A couple of things have happened recently that make me scratch my head. At least I hope they do. The alternative conclusion would be really sad

The first thing was the decision by many SBC churches .. and perhaps many others, as well ... to sever any times with the Boy Scouts of America. Those decisions seemed to stem from the BSA's decision to allow "homosexual" boys as members. Now, since that word normally refers to sexual activity beyond just same-sex attraction, and since Boy Scouts are to be celibate (I think most of them are single), I'm wondering if we're now considering temptations to be sin, in themselves.

Man, am I ever in trouble, if that's the case.

See ... I figured that, no church I ever heard of had an overt outreach program of ministry to young boys with same-sex attraction. And I just figured that God might have decided that "Since you won't go to them, how about I send them to you? Severing ties with Boy Scouts would be really hard to explain to God, if that's the case. Oh, I know we'll talk about preserving the "image" and the "name" of the church, but that is a bunch of people deciding that our image and our name is more important than the boys we were ministering to via the Boy Scouts. Boys who now have the opportunity to be open about those problems, and with whom we could openly discuss those issues.

Secondly, I read Thom Rainer's blog, and the Lifeway Report, about how most people still prefer a real live preacher over seeing the sermon on a video feed ... common in multi-site churches. I recall seeing in the report that they'd surveyed 1,001 people by telephone, and I have to wonder how they selected them and who they were.

When that report hit, I discussed it with my Sunday School Class. I mentioned a local church that was started 13 years ago next month, as a Bible Study in the pastor's house, which church now has 10 locations and 20,000 active members! And, of course, video feed of the sermon to each of the other 9 locations. There was some negative thoughts expressed in the class, so I had one of our class members, and long-time teacher, fill in for me this morning, and I took myself to our local campus of that church.

It was a fine service. I enjoyed it, and after 5 seconds, the thought that I was watching a video feed instead of a live preacher never crossed my mind. So I conclude that the mode of delivery of the sermon would have absolutely no effect on me, were I looking for another church.

I mentioned on Thom Rainer's blog comment stream that we live in an age when you can .. and people do ... get Seminary Degrees online, without interaction with a professor standing in the same room. We live in a day when people talk to people on the other side of the world, on Skype and similar programs. When people send others text messages on a phone, when they could call them more easily!

We might say that we are living in a changed world, but it's more accurate, I think, to say that people are changing. Quickly. And we're not adapting to the changes. To take advantage of the changes, to advance the Kingdom work.

And then a church arises, which sees, acknowledges, and capitalizes on those changes! We throw rocks at them, accuse them of presenting "Entertainment" rather than "Worship", or perhaps preaching a "feelgood gospel".

Particularly when something happens like a church going from a pastor's living room Bible study, to the largest church in the state of Alabama.

Conclusion? "The church" is more interested in maintaining its identity, system, image, format, method of operation, etc, than it is in doing what it can, every day, week, every year, to advance the Kingdom work. I know of no other way to explain a new church becoming the largest in Alabama, offering solid Jesus-oriented worship and preaching, while the archetypal SBC church down the street steadily declines in attendance!