Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Hope Imperishable

There are times when I wish the bad news would just go away. Everywhere I turn it seems like there's more. And I'm not talking about the news that is coming out of TV speaking of some distant event, but the news coming from your relative, friend, or fellow church member. The kind of news that is close to home. That's the kind of news that I'm talking about.

A few weeks ago I preached a sermon about the reality of the kingdom of darkness. We're walking through the book of Acts right now as a church, and the book of Acts is full of great stories of the Kingdom of God breaking in. But in the midst of the stories of the Kingdom of God there are stories of another kingdom. A kingdom that is adamantly opposed to the Kingdom of God. A kingdom that revolts every time the Kingdom of God advances. And as much as we celebrate and rejoice the fact that the Kingdom of God is breaking in, you can't avoid noticing that there are times when the kingdom of darkness appears to be winning. One of those moments is in the first few verses of Acts 12, when James is beheaded and Peter is imprisoned. Our tendency is to just keep reading and quickly get to the part where Peter is miraculously freed, and continue with the celebration. But what about James? James was one of Jesus' closest friends. He was one of the first disciples of Jesus yet with simply a few jots of the quill Luke records that "[Herod] killed James the brother of John with the sword." (Acts 12:2)

What do you do with verses like Acts 12:2? What do you do when you are living in the reality of Acts 12:2? 

The name of our church is Living Hope Fellowship, so the word hope is on my lips quite often. Hope is a funny thing though, because often times when we think of hope, we think of something that we do. We think of it as a verb. But in reality, the verb hope isn't nearly as important as the noun. What I mean by that is what's important about your hope isn't how much of it you have, but where it is directed. What is most important about your hope is where it lies. You can have a lot of hope in something that is weak, and it won't do you any good. But even a little hope in something that is strong will prove to be of great value. So my question is, what is the object of your hope?

In 1 Peter chapter 1, Peter tells us about the strength of the object of the Christians hope. In verses 3-6 he gives a lot of descriptions of our hope, but there is one, that in the moments of Acts 12:2, I cling to. And that is that we have a hope that is "imperishable". The word imperishable means that it is something that cannot be corrupted or ruined. And the way that the Greek word that Peter uses was used in the secular world was to an area that was left untouched by an invading army. When an army came in and ravaged the land, the part that was left intact, the part that was not ravaged, was known as the imperishable area. Christian, the enemy can do a lot of damage to us while we are on his turf (that's what this world is according to Ephesians 2), but there is one thing that he cannot touch, one area that he cannot ravage, and that is the hope that has been secured for you through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He cannot touch that. You might feel like your feelings of hope are weak, but your feelings aren't your hope, the inheritance secured for you by Christ Jesus is your hope. And that is imperishable. 

Lift Your Glad Voices by Henry Ware Jr.

Lift your glad voices in triumph on high,
For Jesus hath risen, and man cannot die;
Vain were the terrors that gathered around Him,
And short the dominion of death and the grave;
He burst from the fetters of darkness that bound Him,
Resplendent in glory to live and to save!
Loud was the chorus of angels on high,
The Savior hath risen, and man shall not die.

Glory to God, in full anthems of joy;
The being He gave us death cannot destroy:
Sad were the life we must part with tomorrow,
If tears were our birthright, and death were our end;
But Jesus hath cheered the dark valley of sorrow,
And bade us, immortal, to Heaven ascend:
Lift then your voices in triumph on high,
For Jesus hath risen, and man shall not die.

Friday, January 10, 2014

I Need Sabbath

“To be or not to be, that is the question” Shakespeare once famously wrote in his play “Hamlet.” For me the question I’m asking myself as 2014 is this: “to be or to do.” Will I spend all my time doing: working, completing tasks, accomplishing goals, etc. Or will I take time to be: Time to be a Dad to my kids, time to be a husband to my wife, time to be a child of God. Time to rest and refresh.

Obviously it’s not one or the other, but one thing that I’ve discovered is that if you don’t take the time to be, you will find that you are more limited in your ability to do.
As 2013 drew to a close, I took some time to evaluate the year, and one thing I noticed was that as the year went on my attitude went significantly downhill. So did my self-discipline. I wasn’t accomplishing as much. I found it easier to be lazy in the 2nd half of the year. I procrastinated more. One of the causes of that, I believe, was my physical health. At the beginning of the year I was exercising and eating healthier because I was attempting to lose weight. And not only did that help me reach my goal of losing weight, but it also made me much more positive and more disciplined. But in addition, I found that at the beginning of the year I was much more guarded and intentional about my Sabbath at the beginning of the year then I was at the end.

We can go wrong in 2 different ways with our view of the Sabbath. We can become legalistic and fail to realize that the Sabbath was fulfilled in Christ and that we are no longer bound by the laws and regulations that we were required of God’s people, Israel. And we can view keeping Sabbath as a way of earning our salvation or earning a “level up” with God. That’s trap #1. Trap #2 is that we ignore the fact that Sabbath was given to us as a gift and that we need a Sabbath.

Our bodies need rest – physically, spiritually and emotionally, we need rest. We need time to simply be, rather than focusing on doing. That means that we don’t do anything. On my Sabbath I do a lot: I do a lot of snuggling while we watch Sesame Street, or Cars with my kids. It means I spend time rolling on the floor with my kids. I spend a lot of time playing peekaboo with Noah or hide-and-go-seek with George and Kelsey. It means that I let my wife sleep in while I get up with the kids. It means I take a nap. I read a book. I read a little more in my Bible or take more time to think about what I’m reading. It means pancake breakfasts, cheese sandwich lunches. Sometimes it means going to the cow place (Vanderwins) or DQ for ice cream. It means spending time listening to my wife. It means getting to eat meals I normally wouldn’t eat with her – breakfast and lunch. All of these are things that often times we few as “wasting time” or “being lazy.” And to be honest, I’ve had to consciously reject those thoughts. They’re not usually things that we put on our “to-do” list, and my “to-do” lists are always very full so it’s a whole day of “getting behind”.

But what I’ve found is that when I take time to be, that the doing comes a lot easier and is a lot more stressful. As a pastor, Sunday is a work day, so that means I have to use a different day as Sabbath. So I choose Friday. There’s often times I wake up on Friday and think, I can’t afford not to spend today on my sermon. If I don’t do it today, I might not get it done on Saturday. I won’t be prepared. But I’ve found just the opposite to be true. When I try to study on Friday, after 6 days of working non-stop, I can’t make any headway with my sermon prep. I end up spending all day Friday and Saturday working on it. But when I take Friday off, Saturdays are generally a lot easier. I’ve found that not only can I afford to take a Sabbath, but I can’t afford not to.

Some weeks there are things that I have to do on my days off. Like today I have to take our car to the shop and run a few errands. I’m not legalistic about it. But I do intentionally not do things, and most importantly I don’t feel bad for not doing things. Sabbath is not only about rest I’ve found, but it’s about trust. Trusting God that when you obey and take a day of rest that He will supply the time and energy to accomplish the things that you really need to do in the remaining 6 days. One of the reasons that we think we can’t take a day off is because we do more than we’re supposed to do, we’ve taken on too much. The solution isn’t to skip Sabbath, it’s to say no.

And lastly, I’ve discovered that Sabbath means different things for different stages of life. When I was a bachelor Sabbath meant sleeping til 10, watching a movie or sporting event, reading a really long portion of Scripture – I’d try to read an entire book in one setting each Sabbath – and spending time with friends. Now, with a wife and 3 kids I can’t do that. But I still need to find ways to take Sabbath, even if it’s just a portion of a day.

My encouragement is to give Sabbath a chance. Don’t make a bunch of rules about it, but just take a day to unplug and be. Be a dad or mom, be a husband or wife, be friend, be a son or daughter. Just take a day to be, and let the doing be put to the side. I think you’ll find like I did, that it’s more than worth it.