Judgment is one of those topics that Christ-followers tend to avoid, because we’ve garnered such a reputation – not wholly founded – for judgmentalism. The reality is that Scripture indicates there will be a judgment, so we should know what it takes to be ready for it. Based on Matthew 25.31-46 and Revelation 20.11-15, you can listen to “Prepare For Judgment” below. Feel free to chime in – was the approach too hard? Too soft? What about eternal fire versus annihilation? Have a listen and share your thoughts.
Month: March 2014
See the glass half full!
“What goes into a mind comes out in a life,” wrote A.W. Tozer, the great Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor from the 20th century. He was right. And we see this reality all around us.
Media of all sorts provide us with many entertainment and information options, and we are left with choices. If we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t always choose wisely, do we? Even if what we pick seems benign in its morality or its message, it’s easy to fill our minds with cognitive junk food. Even non-violent video games, some of which aid our hand-eye coordination, so well exercise one part of our brains that the other part feels edged out.
Much of what passes for news is not very encouraging, and even some bits that are intended to take our minds off the discouraging news are not altogether edifying. (I mean, really, who cares that Kanye West is inviting royalty to witness his marriage to Kim Kardashian? Really?) All this, coupled with what feels like a much-delayed onset of spring, can leave the mind feeling pretty flabby.
The apostle Paul, writing to the church at Philippi from prison, encouraged the believers in this way: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4.8, NLT). In a sense, what Paul wrote was not just good advice, but a helpful spiritual discipline. When we are tempted to think or speak or act negatively, we can fix our thoughts on what is true, honourable, right, pure, lovely, admirable. We can choose to see the glass half-full.
It doesn’t have to turn us into religious pollyannas; we can still be realistic. But amid our realism, it is good for us to think positively, to attempt to see others as God sees them, and to live in such a manner that others see Jesus Christ living in us. May people see us, and long to follow Jesus!
Taking the risk
It’s hard to believe that a large commercial jetliner could just vanish. The loved ones of those who were flying on Malaysian Airlines flight 370 certainly can’t believe it, and neither can those who are searching for some sign of it.
There are so many variables that, unless and until the famed ‘black box’ is recovered, we may never know the whole story behind what happened to the flight, which carried nearly 300 passengers and crew, heading for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.
This much we do know: the passengers placed faith in the crew to get them to their destination safely, and the crew trusted the process, which they had undergone countless times previously, to the same end.
When I fly, which is, admittedly, not that frequently, I know I am taking a risk. Statistically speaking, it’s a safer risk to fly to Winnipeg than to drive. The difference is over who’s in charge.
Upon purchasing a plane ticket and boarding the aircraft, I relinquish control of my journey. I trust the flight crew to operate the jet safely and get me to my destination in a safe and timely fashion. I have no control over my circumstances at that point, except over which movie to watch and what snack to purchase. I can’t walk into the cockpit and tell the captain I’ve decided to get off in Thunder Bay instead of Winnipeg, and would he please land there, thank-you-very-much.
(Well, I could try, but all it would get me would be an icy stare from the chief flight attendant. And maybe a warm welcome from the RCMP when I deplaned in Winnipeg!)
Were I to drive, on the other hand, I could stop when and wherever I wished. But the trade-off is that it would take ten times as long to get to there, not to mention the wear-and-tear on my vehicle and the iffy highway conditions I’d have to traverse at this time of year. Given the choice, will I opt to fly? You bet. But it’s a risk.
In the Christian life, surrendering control to God is a risk. When we pledge to follow Jesus Christ as Lord, we submit to his will for our lives, not our own. That can mean forsaking some (seemingly) outstanding opportunities in favour of prayerfully doing what the Lord calls us to do.
The great thing, though, is that we can always rest confident that the risk of giving control over to God always is the better choice. Why? Because God knows what is best for us. When we can be content with whatever place and station in which God places us, the risk of stepping out in faith and trust is no risk at all.
Have you stepped out in faith and trust? Our Captain, Jesus, is ready to welcome you.
“I have learned to be content with whatever I have”, wrote the apostle Paul to the Philippians (4.11)…from prison…for Jesus’ sake.
Whiter than snow
Talking about the weather is something that’s about as Canadian as it gets. And there’s been plenty to talk about this year. Earlier this week, we had a remarkably balmy day, followed by a dreadful snowstorm. I remarked on Facebook that the only redeeming quality of the storm was that the fresh snow made the dirty snow look much cleaner. A friend remarked that there was a sermon illustration in there somewhere.
Since I’m not using it on Sunday, I thought I might as well use it today. And there are at least two ways to look at it.
One way to look at fresh snow covering dirty snow is that it’s a pretty covering over something not very pleasant that’s still there, even when covered over. Unfortunately, we humans are inclined to treat sin that way at times. Rather than confess it, repent of it, and walk away from it, we cover it up somehow. As the late Dallas Willard was known to say, this is a form of sin management; we play with it without actually getting rid of it. That’s not God’s way of having us deal with sin, though. We are called to confess our sin – to name it before the Lord – and to repent of it. When we repent of a sin, we tell God we’re sorry, but we go a step further by walking away from that sin in a more holy direction. This is a more spiritually healthy way to face sin in our lives.
The other way to look at fresh snow covering dirty snow is that it makes the landscape seem new again. Where the analogy breaks down is that the time will come when the snow will melt (please!) and we’ll see the dirty “brown sugar snow” (as my wife calls it) once again – but it, too, will melt in due time. In the meantime, we enjoy the new covering that has come. Forgetting the breakdown of the analogy, though, this is what Jesus does for us: he covers our sin with his blood. When Jesus died on the cross, he paid the price for our sins, and in a sense cloaked us with his righteousness so that when God looks on us, he sees not the sinful beings that we are, but he sees the righteousness of Jesus that covers us, just like freshly-fallen snow.
In this season of Lent, we do well to examine ourselves and be honest with ourselves so that we can get rid of sin in our lives. Most Christians don’t believe that we can ever fully be rid of sin in this life, but we can work toward that goal! Let’s not merely manage our sin; let’s invite Jesus to cover it with his righteousness, letting his blood wash it away.
Each morning is new, each day filled with grace. God is for us. The snow will melt, and new life will grow. But that may be an illustration that has to wait a few weeks more.
“Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool” (Isaiah 1.18b, NLT).
The Narrow Way
Last week, my wife and I went on a short driving trip in search of spring. The result of our search is that spring is coming, but I think it’s going to bypass us to the south – at least, for us who live in Ontario. This seems to have been an interminably long winter. “Always winter, never Christmas,” as C.S. Lewis put it in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
We set out on Monday and pointed the car southward. The driving conditions were not particularly great until we got into central Virginia, and even there snowflakes were still falling. We made it to Myrtle Beach, our intended goal, where it was (at best) jacket weather. Since the weather was supposed to turn ugly again to the north, we stayed just one night and reluctantly pointed the car northward again on Thursday morning. To some, this would have been a pointless holiday, but for us, it was the kind of trip we used to take when we were younger, so it was fun just to see some new countryside.
On our second day, still heading south, we turned east to avoid some particularly frightful road conditions, and found ourselves on an interstate
highway that was, I’m sure quite lovely in the fall. In the winter, it was hard to tell, because my eyes were focused on the snow-laden vehicles around me. But as we traversed Maryland’s little “panhandle”, having gone up and down more hills than we could count, we entered quite a deep valley, known in the Appalachians as the Cumberland Narrows. Despite being nearly as rich in snow accumulation as home, we found this to be quite a pretty spot compared with what we had driven through to get there.
This got me thinking: usually, we see “narrow” in a negative light. When we find ourselves in a heated disagreement with someone, we are apt to cast that person as being “narrow-minded” (irrespective of whether or not it’s true). When we’re trying to navigate ice-laden sidewalks – an Olympic sport these days where I live – we’re dealing with “narrow” paths.
But, as the picturesque setting of Cumberland, Maryland illustrated for me, “narrow” can be good. Jesus understood this better than we all do when he said, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” (Matthew 7.13-14, NLT). Maybe the narrow way isn’t so bad after all; Jesus is telling us that the broad way, the popular, heavily-trodden route, isn’t going to lead us to him. So why take that path?
Many do, because it’s easier. It’s more popular. It comes with less pain, less struggle, less trouble. But it doesn’t lead to where we want to go. What we fail to understand, until we have taken the narrow way, is that the pain and struggle and trouble bring growth, blessings and a richness that we would not otherwise experience.
Don’t be afraid of the narrow way. Some will wonder why you take it, but Jesus will know why. Isn’t that what matters?