A Bridge To God…

Why hasn’t someone built a bridge across the Grand Canyon? Most people would say that it is technically-impossible, and yet, since time began and mankind began roaming the Earth, mankind has attempted to build a bridge to God. That, my friends, is what religion is about. Religion is trying to get to God on our own terms. That is why I will never say that I am religious.

There are several problems standing in the way of building a bridge to God, and mankind has solved those problem in a variety of ways.

Challenges…
1) Who or what is god?
It is impossible to build a bridge to god if we don’t even know who or what he/she/it is. As man observed the cosmos, he imagined that there must be gods of and for many things. Because the sun rises every morning and sets every evening, there must be a god for the sun. The moon also got its own diety. There is immense power in the waters, rivers, seas and oceans, so there had to be a god of the waters. Each time they fabricated these deities, there were lots of things they had to figure out about them.

2) Where is god?
The next challenge was to figure out where this god or gods lives or hangs out. Without some clear idea of where you are going, mapping a course or designing a bridge doesn’t get very far. Imagine trying to build that bridge across the Grand Canyon if the designers can’t even agree on the end-points. The ancient Greeks believed that their pantheon of gods, the Twelve Olympians, lived on top of Mount Olympus. Hades, the god of the dead, dwelled in the Underworld.

3) What does god look like?
Have you ever heard “God created man in His own image, and man has returned the favor“? Mankind has been hugely-creative in imagining what god looks like and creating images to match their ideas. Man has had to “flesh-out” those kinds of details to come up with some idea of what god looks like. The Greek gods and goddesses looked just like human-beings…

4) What does god want from us?
I suppose the most logical starting point in figuring our what god wants from us is to figure out what WE would want if WE were god. It might be cumbersome, but what if everyone put their ideas forward, and the ten most popular ideas become Law. Or, what if we appoint a class of priests and let them make those decisions? Does this sound familiar?

5) What makes god happy?
All we have to do to figure out what makes god happy is to figure out what we are doing when that god seems to be smiling on us. We can ask what we were going the year that we got a bumper-crop harvest, and keep on doing that…as long as it works.

6) What makes god mad?
Depending on which god we are talking about, all we have to do is look at what we were doing when everything went wrong, and that will give us a pretty good idea of what makes that god mad. What did we do, or fail to do, the year we had record-drought?

These are only a few of the things we have to keep in mind if we are going to build a bridge to god, because when we get there, we don’t want to find out that we did it all wrong. We need to figure out the rules.

Does this sound familiar? Even among Christians, there is a LOT of rule-making surrounding these last three questions. The Pharisees specialized in making up rules to regulate every part of their daily lives so that they could do everything they thought God wanted from them, keep Him happy, and not make Him mad. The problem was that they were “doing” rather than “being“.

A better way…
Believe it or not, God has told us everything we need to know about Himself and about how to be in a right relationship with Him. We really DON’T have to guess or make things up.

Who is God?
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (Exodus 3:13-15)

God gave us His personal name, I AM, and we really need no other description of Him.

Where is He?
Thus says the Lord,
“Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool.
Where then is a house you could build for Me?
And where is a place that I may rest?
For My hand made all these things,
Thus all these things came into being,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 66:1-2)

What does God want from us?
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you,
But to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Jesus Christ, in His commentary on the Law in Luke 10:26-28 “And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?”  And he answered, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”  And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.”…”

God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24)

The Bridge…
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Final thoughts…
Can we forget about trying to get to and please God our-way and simply accept that His way is best? That would seem to be the most practical and logical way, but we can’t seem to get ME out of the equation. We are still trying to do it OUR way so that WE can get some of the credit, rather than giving God the glory and credit He is due. I have my bridge to God. Are you still trying to build yours? I’ll leave you with one parting thought…

He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you,
But to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

In Christ,
Steve

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Little Is Much…

Little is much” is counter-intuitive in American society. We have succumbed to the “Tower of Babel” mentality and a lust for more…MORE…MORE. We want to “make a name for ourselves“. We want more success, more wealth, more influence, more prestige, more power, more control…bigger cars, bigger homes, a more prestigious address, more stuff, more, MORE, MORE. We have succumbed to Satan’s first lie “You shall be as gods“, and we are willing to sacrifice everything on the altar of our success. This, however, is meager fare in God’s economy.

You may not think that you have much to offer to God in the way of resources or talents, but God has a way of using the most unlikely people to do great things in His kingdom. Twelve men, who would never have been awarded “Most likely to succeed“, were chosen by our Lord as His first disciples. Four of them were fishermen, and none of those even had a high-school education, and yet we have the New Testament Scriptures because of those men. Peter, the impetuous, self-reliant and sometimes mouthy disciple who denied even knowing Jesus, became the spokesman for the Apostles after Pentecost. On the cross, Jesus passed over his own half-brothers when fulfilling his first-born obligation to care for His mother and passed that mantle to John.

Human assessment might have dubbed them the “Least likely to succeed“, but God had great plans for them, and gave them the power to carry out those plans.

They were ordinary men, but they were empowered by the Holy Spirit to spread the Good News of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have the New Testament because of their writings.

Matthew was a tax-collector.

Mark fled the scene of Jesus’ arrest naked.

Luke was described by Paul as the “Beloved Physician”. He penned Luke and Acts.

John was a fisherman, and the disciple whom Jesus loved. He penned the Gospel of John, 1st, 2nd and 3rd John and the book of the Revelation.

Peter denied his Lord, and then became one of the pillars of the church. He penned 1st and 2nd Peter.

Paul persecuted the church until the Lord got hold of him. He became a missionary to the Gentiles, and penned most of the rest of the New Testament.

James was the half-brother of Jesus, and until after the resurrection, a scoffer and unbeliever. He gave us the book of James.

John Newton, a slave trader who had come to faith in Jesus Christ, penned the marvelous hymn “Amazing Grace” as his personal testimony. It is one of the most loved hymns in all of Christendom.

Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, fed up with the rampant abuses he saw in the Catholic Church, nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Chapel, and in doing so, he fired “the shot heard around the world” and sparked the Protestant Reformation.

A small group of Believers in Crystal River, Florida, had a vision of building a Christian School. They believed that a church would grow along with the school. They committed their way to the Lord and built a school building. Within a few short years, they were bursting the seams of the school building and the multi-purpose room where they held services, so they started planning for and raising funds for a new sanctuary. I was privileged to be part of both the ground-breaking and the dedication of their new thousand-seat sanctuary. Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church has grown beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. Little became much!

Little is much…
Penned in 1924 by Kittie L. Suffield, this beautiful hymn describes God’s kingdom-economy.

Little is much when God is in it!

In the harvest field now ripened
There’s a work for all to do;
Hark! the voice of God is calling
To the harvest calling you.

Little is much when God is in it!
Labor not for wealth or fame.
There’s a crown—and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ Name.

In the mad rush of the broad way,
In the hurry and the strife,
Tell of Jesus’ love and mercy,
Give to them the Word of Life.

Little is much when God is in it!
Labor not for wealth or fame.
There’s a crown—and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ Name.

Does the place you’re called to labor
Seem too small and little known?
It is great if God is in it,
And He’ll not forget His own.

Little is much when God is in it!
Labor not for wealth or fame.
There’s a crown—and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ Name.

Are you laid aside from service,
Body worn from toil and care?
You can still be in the battle,
In the sacred place of prayer.

Little is much when God is in it!
Labor not for wealth or fame.
There’s a crown—and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ Name.

When the conflict here is ended
And our race on earth is run,
He will say, if we are faithful,
“Welcome home, My child—well done!”

Little is much when God is in it!
Labor not for wealth or fame.
There’s a crown—and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ Name.

Even if you think that you don’t have much to offer to God, all He wants is your willingness. He can and will supply the rest, because His resources are limitless.

In Christ,
Steve

What Next?

Have you even had something completely planned-out, only to have your plans changed and your course redirected? I certainly have, many times, and if that is your experience also, you are in good company. There are two meanings to “What next?“, and we will explore both meanings.

Saul had it made. He had graduated with honors from the most prestigious law-school in Jerusalem, he was well-respected by all in the religious community, and he had a mission. He was even a Roman citizen. He had it made, but God had other plans for him.

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”

Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:1-9)

We see the first “What next?” in this section: So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?

When Saul had an encounter with the risen Lord, he asked “What next?“, because Jesus confronted him with the error of his ways. If this wasn’t a dramatic turn of events, I don’t know what else is.

Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.”

And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”

So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”

Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.

So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. (Acts 9:10-19)

Ananias was justifiably-concerned when God told him to go to where Saul was staying and lay his hands on him to restore his sight, but God had plans for Saul, which bring us to our next “What next?“.

“Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” 

Not only had God chosen Saul to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, he would endure a lot of suffering along the way. Saul was going from being an emissary of the Chief Priest to being an Apostle for Christ Jesus, from persecutor of the church to being a church-planter.

The first “What next?” resulted in a drastic change of plans, but the second “What next?” is one of those “When is the next shoe going to drop?” kind of events. His life was going to rapidly go from “good” to “bad“, and “bad” to “worse“, WAY-WORSE, as he underwent increasing persecution as his ministry grew. The only thing that saved him at one point was his Roman citizenship.

Saul, whose name was changed to Paul, wrote a significant part of the New Testament, and several of his letters were written from prison. Paul’s “What next?” has become our encouragement, encouragement to keep the faith and persist through and in spite of our own “What next?” situations.

What next?
God doesn’t need our permission to change our plans, sometimes leading us to say “What next?. He also very rarely shows us the big-picture or the whole map, preferring instead to give us turn-by-turn directions. That makes us uncomfortable because we are planners by nature. We don’t plan a trip without knowing our destination, but following God’s directions requires trust. Do we trust that God knows what He is doing and will lead us in the right direction?

I have written several times about how God has changed my plans, sometimes on a moment’s notice with a phone call or text-message. I have gradually become more comfortable with this state of affairs, and it has forced me to become less of a “planner“. Even though I still say “What next?“, it has becoming more of an expectation that God has another “assignment” for me, not that He is going to shake my tree again. He knows what He is doing, even if it isn’t obvious to me.

Are you ready to have your plans changed? God doesn’t need your permission…

In Christ,
Steve

Communion…

Shortly after I published “Unity…”, I realized that I had omitted what is probably the most divisive “issue” facing the 21st-century church, and that is Communion. Communion, which is also know as the Lord’s Supper, the Table of the Lord and the Eucharist, is that special meal which our Lord instituted on the night before His crucifixion. I am not going to get into how various denominations view this meal, because that is not what is particularly divisive.

Ownership…
Who “owns” the Lord’s Supper? The answer should be self-evident, but one would never know it by the way some churches and denomination treat it. If the Lord’s Supper truly belongs to Jesus Christ who instituted it, Christians should be able to walk into any church in the world and partake, no questions asked…

The way it is…
Quite a few years ago, when my oldest daughter was in elementary school, we were invited to go to a “First-Communion” celebration for one of her classmates. Her family was Roman Catholic, and we were Protestant, and we were told in no uncertain terms that we couldn’t partake of Communion, because we weren’t Catholic.

I had a similar experience a few years ago when I participated in a funeral at a Catholic church.

Several years ago, my parents were excluded from partaking in Communion at an Orthodox Presbyterian church, because they weren’t members of THAT church. The real irony is that my dad was a pastor, ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian denomination. What was up with that?

I have been in churches where the Elders won’t serve anyone they don’t know. What about people visiting for the first time or on vacation?

A brass-ensemble has performed as part of our service a couple of times at my church, but when communion was served, they were passed-over, even though one of the members of the ensemble is also a member of my church. Was that arranged ahead of time, or did it just “happen“?

Children…
When are children “ready” to start partaking of communion? Only God knows for sure, but their parents should be the best judges of their “readiness“, lacking some formal “procedure” for communing-member status. When my own children were young, their mother and I determined when they were “ready“. My own experience probably more parallels that in the Catholic Church, even though we weren’t Catholic. When I was in fifth-grade, a group of us went through Catechism classes which were taught by our pastor. At the end of those classes, if the pastor was satisfied with our profession-of-faith, we were accepted into the church as communing-members, entitled to take communion. That was my “first-communion“.

My own participation…
There have been times in my life when I didn’t feel comfortable partaking of communion because of what was going on in my life. Because my marriage was in shambles, I didn’t partake of communion for several months a couple of years ago. One of the Elders, who noticed that I wasn’t partaking, asked me about it. After I explained it to him, he reminded me that my marriage being in shambles wasn’t my “fault“, and that I should partake in good-conscious, because I had done everything in my power to mend the marriage. Communion isn’t about my “goodness“, rather it is about what Christ did on my behalf.

Table of restoration…
I love the way Pastor David Hatton served communion during our service at the end of the Christian Naturist Festival. He read the words of institution and set the elements out, and then each of us was free to go to the Table when we were ready, leave our burdens behind, and take the elements as symbols of our restoration in Christ. That speaks to the depth of the meaning of the Lord’s Table. In Christ, we leave what we were behind and are given His righteousness in return.

The institution…
22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:22-26)

Final thoughts…
No one is “worthy” to approach the Table of the Lord in our own merits, and that is what Communion symbolizes. We bring our sinfulness and brokenness to the Table and we receive His grace and mercy in return. Jesus Christ’s disciples were broken men, but He didn’t tell them to “get their act together” before they could partake. Jesus served them, brokenness and all, because what He was going to do for them, and what He did for us, mended their brokenness as it does ours.

I pray that each time you approach the Table of the Lord, that you do so in humble and total reliance on His grace and mercy. If you do, you will be blessed in partaking of Communion.

In Christ,
Steve

Death, Be Not Proud…

Death, be not proud,
For yours is not the final say,
You may claim our best, our dearest friends,
And even though we may lay them to rest today,
You, O Death, will be laid to rest some day.

On that grand and glorious day,
You, O Death, shall have no say,
Because you yourself shall have been put away,
And those we love shall be ours to stay,
On that grand and glorious day.

Death, be not proud.

I’m not a poet, and well I know it, but this is a wee tribute to a high-school classmate and to all of my friends and loved-ones who have gone before.

Steve