Archive for June, 2009
WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT COUNTRY?
One of my friends sent me an online geography test the other day. The countries of the world were outlined and you clicked on the name of the country to place it in the proper place. It took me a long time to get it right. I travel overseas frequently and thought this would be easy. I had never heard of some of the countries listed. I was looking for names that were no longer used. I knew I had been out of school for some time, but I thought I kept up with world events. There were countries that divided into smaller countries, and countries that changed names. Boundaries were different than they used to be. My world had changed more than I knew.
Of course, if you find a map just a few hundred years old, the country where I live will not be listed. The state where I live used to be a country. Before that, it was part of a different country. For a short time, it was part of a country that seceded from the country it is now part of again. How can you keep up? What will the world map look like when my grandchildren’s grandchildren study it?
Then there are those parts of the world that have clearly defined boundaries, but the tribes and cultures cross those lines. So they have practical boundaries that differ from the formal ones. There are people who have citizenship in one country but live in yet another. Every time the Olympics are held, there are athletes who change allegiances in order to compete for different countries. Some athletes have competed for different counties in successive Olympics.
So how do you claim allegiance to a country that no longer exists? Can you have national pride in a country that is no longer a country? Some nations were quite powerful at one time. Some were empires that ruled much of the world. And now they are gone. Countries just do not last. They never have… and evidently they never will.
So what I really want is to be part of a country – a kingdom – that would last. It would be a kingdom more powerful than any country or empire. It would never be defeated. It would never be conquered. It would not be constrained by any geographic boundaries. It would be a kingdom that my children, my grandchildren, and my descendants through the ages could be part of. It would be a kingdom that would never end. It would be a kingdom that anyone could join. That is the kingdom to which I could give total allegiance.
And I am a citizen of a kingdom just like that. You can be too.
It is the kingdom of God.
My computer has a folder of Temporary Items. It’s full of data that was once needed, but isn’t currently necessary. I don’t intentionally create those files; they seem to appear out of thin air, occupying space on my computer. Those who know about computers say that these files need to be deleted now and again, or they will slow down my computer’s operating system. One rule of thumb says that if the date on those files isn’t today’s date, they can be safely erased.
I’ve got a similar folder inside my head. Unfortunately, the contents of this folder aren’t as harmless as what’s inside the Temporary Items on my computer. This folder contains a complete archive of bad things that have happened in the past, both things that I’ve done and things that have been done to me. I’ve got video, audio, and text, a whole multimedia display of negativity. When I least want them too, these things worm their way out of my past into my present.
I remember the times I embarrassed myself. I remember the times that I hurt other people. I remember my failures. I remember my sin.
I remember the times I was mistreated. I remember the ways that people hurt me, the things they said, the things they did. I remember those times that other people let me down.
None of that does me any good. Those things from the past only serve to slow things down, to spoil today with yesterday’s hurts. Like those temporary files on my computer, what I really need to do is get rid of them.
The apostle Paul wrote: “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” ([i]Philippians 3:13-14[/i]) We have to put our past in the past and set our eyes on what lies ahead. We have a God who is willing to forgive anything and everything that we’ve done, if we’ll only let him. And he’ll teach us to do the same with other people.
If your mind is cluttered with yesterday’s hurts, let God help you clean it out. Let him teach you to look forward, not backward. Let him show you the prize that’s waiting and help you to focus on it.
Grace and peace,
The town where I live is about to put cameras at all traffic lights to catch those who run red lights. It got me thinking about how many people I see who take the yellow light as a signal to go faster. I also do not understand those people who do not pay attention and thus sit still after the light turns green. But that is not dangerous like the people that do not notice the light is red. I really wonder about the purpose of traffic lights some days.
Yet… the alternative is even more frightening. Imagine letting people make their own decisions at crowded intersections. Do the biggest cars get to go first? Who decides who is next to go? So I guess I do like the idea of a system to govern our traffic, and I do my best to follow the traffic signals: when to go, when to be cautious, and when to stop..
It helps me realize that God has done much the same for me in terms of how to live my life in this world. He has given so many green lights for my life: live in community, listen to Him, talk to Him, help others, live with joy and purpose. He has even given me some red lights so that I do not wreck my life: do not covet, watch my temper, control my lust. He even has some yellow caution lights: watch how much I drink, watch my ego, be smart with the company I keep.
And every one of these is so my life will be better.
Dr. Arthur John Gossip was a minister who had preached many sermons, but none like this one. The day before, his wife had collapsed and died suddenly. Now he stood in the pulpit of the Beechgrove Church in Aberdeen, Scotland, speaking on the subject “But When Life Tumbles In, What Then?” In the midst of his pain, he spoke words of hope to his congregation.
In reflecting on his loss Gossip said, “I do not understand this life of ours. But still less can I comprehend how people in trouble and loss and bereavement can fling away peevishly from the Christian faith. In God’s name, fling to what? Have we not lost enough without losing that too?” Later he explained, “You people,” says Gossip, “in the sunshine may believe the faith, but we in the shadow must believe it. We have nothing else.”
It’s never easy for one who stands in the sunshine, as Gossip put it, to speak to those in the shadow. Any words that are spoken ring hollow and empty. If you are walking in the shadow of loss or illness or financial strain, you may find it hard to listen to those who would speak to you of hope. You need to hear from those who know life’s dark side. One place to do that is here on HopeforLife.org. On this website, you will find the stories of people like Arthur John Gossip who found themselves in the shadow but now walk in the sunshine. People who faced life’s most extreme moments and came out with faith in God.
Gossip ended his sermon with these words:
“I don’t think you need to be afraid of life. Our hearts are very frail, and there are places where the road is very steep and very lonely, but we have a wonderful God. And, as Paul puts it, ‘What can separate us from his love? Not death,’ he writes immediately. No, not death, for standing in the roaring of the Jordan, cold with its dreadful chill and very conscious of it terror, of its rushing, I, too, like Hopeful in Pilgrim’s Progress, can call back to you who one day in your turn will have to cross it, ‘Be of good cheer, my brother, for I feel the bottom and it is sound.’”
Explore HopeForLife.org and hear the voices of others who echo Gossip’s words: “I feel the bottom and it is sound.”
Maybe it’s a symptom of age. Maybe the experiences of accumulated years have magnified sensitivity. Maybe as the forces of nature rub and buffet, erosion of will and determination has taken its toll.
Regardless of how or why, I find myself much more aware of what it means. I understand the incredible super-human effort it must have taken to stay there. I contemplate the morbidity of enduring until death for the cause. What I cannot understand is why was it done for me? Why, before the world was created, did God Almighty formulate a plan where His Son would die and by doing so, make me worthy to live with the Father forever?
I don’t comprehend, but I thankfully accept and it’s personal:
[quote]“For God so loved Bill Brant that He gave His only begotten Son,
so that Bill would believe on Him and have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 personalized)[/quote]
With that too, comes realization. It ambushes me at unsuspected moments like when at my fellowship the lyrics from a song float through the auditorium:
[quote]Behold the man upon the cross
My guilt upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
I can’t explain the tears. I’m old school and old schoolers don’t cry. But it’s personal now.
People talk theology. Jesus lived His life and then gave it up to each of us. He didn’t talk. He did. He died so you could be with Him and God forever. It’s personal for Him and for you.
What is holding you back from accepting this gift? Do you think you’ve done too many bad things that you can’t be forgiven of? Too much, too often, in too deep? Talk with me: