Friday, April 16, 2010

A Few Words on the Mesa

I was at Gila Mesa Cemetary yesterday speaking at a service for a community member I didn't know. What do you say about a man who'd never been to church, and about whom the family could tell me almost nothing? Well, maybe something like this...

We are standing here today under a perfect blue sky with a glorious view of the Mogollon Mountains. You guys have put on display here things enjoyed by the departed in his life: a cowboy hat, bolo, and harmonica. Yesterday in his house I saw the cover to sheet music framed in his house: "Bury Me on the Prairie." In a corner was a sketch of John Wayne. In his life as a truck driver (we were going to enjoy Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" on a CD player in a moment) the departed enjoyed seeing the open country, listening to "real country music" (old school country) on his truck radio. Remember him when you're on the open road and hear those old songs.

But let me encourage you in another way. Two years ago I was leaving a cemetary after a funeral, and I heard two family members speaking. One said to the other, "funerals sure do make you re-evaluate you priorities." Friends, that's a good thing. You see, the Bible tells us, "it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). We will each stand before our Creator one day, and that day is not the day to begin thinking about Him.

Think about all the things the departed enjoyed in life, from music to Creation. From where - or Whom - did these things originate? God the Creator made everything around us, and is the Source of all enjoyment we have in this life.

"Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights..." (James 1:17).

Everything we enjoy in life is a tiny mirror of the Source of all Goodness, Love, and Joy, the One Who made all things and alone deserves praise for these things. He doesn't just give us these things so we can enjoy them for themselves. No, all of these things that surround us and warm our hearts and give us reason to smile are all reflections of Himself.

"...since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made..." (Romans 1:20).

So you see, everything that the departed enjoyed in his life, all the things that you enjoy in your lives, all of these things are but reflections of the Creator-God Who is the Fullness and Source of these things. But we each have this sinful nature that makes us think all these things are about us, and we all spend our lives trying to accumulate as many of these tiny mirrors of God's glory for ourselves, for our own pleasures...because we think they exist for us. They do not. All these mirrors of God's glory exist to give us reason to think of Him, to love Him, to honor Him and give Him thanks.

We have a problem. We owe an eternal debt to God for stealing His glory and appropriating it for ourselves. God, in His love, sent His Son, Who "is the radiance of His glory" (Hebrews 1:3), to pay the debt that we could never repay. This is Good News. This Good News is called "the glorious Gospel of the blessed God" (1 Timothy 1:11). "Blessed" means "happy." He is the Source of happiness, and He has given us a Good News that is the gateway for us to enjoy Him directly, fully, and forever in His Son Jesus Christ. This Good News is also called "the Gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4). The Bible says, "God, Who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One Who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). Christ is the key to see the true Light beyond the little mirrors in our lives. We still enjoy these reflections, but we enjoy them more because we see the Origin of the Light in God through Christ.

For those that refuse to honor the God of Happiness in His Creation through Christ, there is a day when the debt of honor, thanks, and obedience comes due, a day when "the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to know who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power..." (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). Did you hear that? "Away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." For those who refuse to obey the Good News of Jesus Christ, giving honor, love, and obedience to God through the Son, the Source of the Light of Happiness, Love, and Enjoyment will go dark - they will be cut off from the Source. This means all the little mirrors will go dark, as well. The enjoyments of this life will be gone, along with the memories of enjoyment. The amazement at holding a new baby, the peace of the open sky, the satisfaction of a good meal, the enjoyment of music, the spark of electricity at holding the hand of a sweetheart, the happiness of a good laugh...all of these things, mirrors of the Goodness of God, will go dark, along with the memory of them. This is the penalty for failing to give God honor, love, and obedience for these things that we thought existed for our pleasure solely. For robbing the God of all Glory of the praise and enjoyment He eternally deserves, there will be a sentence of eternal Lack and Hungering that will never be fulfilled.

For those who obedient to the message of the Good News of the Happy God, though, things are different and will be different. For He will also come in that day "to be glorified in His saints...and to be marveled at among all who have believed" (2 Thessalonians 1:9). What we have enjoyed through the little mirrors in our lives will be enjoyed directly from the all-sufficient, all-satisfying Source of all Happiness. Further, in this life we gain a deeper and more profound enjoyment, peace, and satisfaction, for we now enjoy both the reflections of glory and the Source of their Light.

"...everything created by God is good, nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude, for it is sanctified by means of the Word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:4,5).

So, friends, as we are here this beautiful Spring morning remembering the departed and the things he enjoyed in life, let me urge you to use this moment to re-evaluate your priorities and turn your hearts, minds, and lives to the Source of all things we enjoy, giving Him the honor, love, and obedience He deserves through His Son Jesus Christ.

Anyway, maybe you say something like that to a small group of strangers on a mesa in the high desert.
"On the road again, just can't wait to get on the road again..."
* * * * * * *
I guess it's a little redundant, but...
...we cannot, of ourselves, do this: " eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). Therefore, this is true of us: "...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." (Romans 3:23). Our only hope, therefore, is the glorious Good News of the Happy God.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Skeptical of the Scapegoat's Partner

"Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and sent it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat into the wilderness" (Leviticus 16:21,22).

The man who leads the scapegoat into the wilderness comes back. He doesn't stay with the goat. "The one who released the goat as the scapegoat shall wash his clothes and bathe his body with water; then afterward he shall come into the camp" (16:26). But some seem to want to chaperon the scapegoat. I am skeptical of these, having been one for so long.

This was a living death. Being cut off from the congregation of the people of God was a picture of being consigned to a living death in the wilderness, for the presence of God, the atonement for sin, the Word of God, and the people of His covenant were all in the camp. Leaving this for the wilderness was a picture of Hell we find much later: "These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

Some who claim the title "Christian" shun the camp of the Lord, the congregation of the people of God. They shun the promised Presence of the "two or three gathered" in His name. They shun the teaching and discipline of the Word. They shun the Table remembering the atonement that means life and identity. They play the part of the scapegoat.

"Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He Who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:19-25).

What's grievous is that immediately after this comes this warning: "For if we go one sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries" (10:26,27). The writer mentions "sinning willfully." What is the only sin that has been mentioned in the preceding text? "Forsaking our own assembly together."

Let the scapegoat go and come back to camp, beloved.