He’s an on-time God

God has perfect timing. There’s an old Brooklyn Tabernacle song called, “He’s an On-Time God” and it always used to make me smile when the choir tried to sing it.

Do you know anyone who has perfect timing? I don’t think I do. In our case, when humans have perfect timing, we usually attribute it to coincidence. Or to Providence. But people don’t have perfect timing. We’re either early or late — or we’re punctual.

God is never late. And I guess maybe He’s early sometimes, but even when He’s early, He’s still on time so I don’t think that applies if that makes any sense. God is always on time, and He’s always on schedule.

That’s hard to fathom sometimes because all we really know and understand is our own failures at keeping time. None of us can stay on schedule, so it’s hard for us to understand how anyone can always be right on time. But it’s a God thing. It’s part of being Who He Is. He made time, after all. And He’s not limited by it like we are.

Today’s verse is Galatians 4:4-5.

4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.

I love this. God sent Jesus “when the right time came.” If God had sent Him sooner, the world wouldn’t have been ready. If God had sent Him later, the rest of history would have unfolded differently. God sent Him at just the right time. God sent Him just when He needed to get here, to grow up during the Roman occupation of Israel, a time when the world was connected with all sorts of roads so spreading the Good News was possible.

I get bogged down with life pretty easily. I’m busy. I have a lot going on. And it’s really easy for me to get caught in the trap of thinking that God is late. I mean, I can see all of the avenues that God can work in, and I can see all of the opportunities that I have right in front of me, but I know that I can’t succeed in any of them until God shows up. So I wait — and He doesn’t come. So that means He’s late, right?

It’s easy to think like that. But it’s wrong. God is never late. He’s just extraordinarily patient. He has a plan, and He knows when everything needs to happen to make that plan work out perfectly. And even though we can see multiple opportunities — or if you have an active imagination like I do, you can see all the different ways that God can use you if He’d just do what you tell Him to — they may not necessarily fit into His plan.

God’s plans are specific. They’re personal. And they are individually designed for the people involved, designed to bring us joy and peace, a good future with hope according to Jeremiah 29:11. It’s all part of God giving us the desires of our heart. But the first step toward that is desiring the things that God desires.

First, we have to have a heart like God. Selfless. Full of immoveable, irrational love for people who hurt you. Mercy. Joy. And once you get there, then God can give you the things you desire. Because, face it, if God gave us everything we wanted just because we wanted it, He’d be no better than a lazy parent who appeases a screaming child with candy. And God is a better parent than that.

God is patient. So we have to be patient too. And, boy, God knows I’m tired of being patient. There are so many things in my life that I have been waiting for. The waiting seems interminable. But all I have to do is look backward because I’ve lived long enough to see God’s hand in the circumstances of my life. And I can honestly say that He’s never dropped me. And even through the times where I thought He wasn’t doing anything, now I can look back and see the things He did in me that have shaped me into the person I am today.

So if He worked that way in my life then, that helps me remember that He’s still working in my life now. And if being patient is what He needs me to do, I’ll do it. I won’t be still, though. There’s plenty to do while I wait.

God has perfect timing. And the dreams that He designed me for will eventually become reality, but that needs to happen on His schedule and not mine. Because He can see how it all fits together, and I can’t. And when it comes right down to it, isn’t it better to trust someone with perfect timing rather than someone who just gets lucky on occasion?

How do people produce fruit?

One of the biggest buzzwords in the church is “Fruit.” Christians talk about Fruit all the time, whether they’re talking about the Fruit of the Spirit or the Fruit of someone’s life or whatever. There’s even a verse in Scripture that basically says you can identify a true believer by the Fruit their life produces.

Okay, so if you don’t hang out in churches very much, what on earth does that mean? Obviously it’s not a literal statement because people don’t grow fruit, not like a tree does. Imagine walking around with apples hanging off your arms. . . .

Fruit can be the produce you buy in the store that was grown on a tree or a vine. Yes. But Fruit also means the results or product of someone’s efforts. Anything produced or accrued. A return or a profit.

So the Fruit of good study habits is good grades. The Fruit of careful spending is a larger bank account balance. Fruit is anything that is produced with effort.

So to a Christian, Fruit is going to be people they have led to Christ. Or disciples they have trained. Or ministries under their purview. Or people’s lives they have affected.

But here is the question this morning. How do we produce fruit?

See, fruit trees are designed to produce fruit. That’s what they were created to do, but apple trees have to produce apples. Orange trees have to produce oranges. You’re not going to get plums off an oak tree. Just like you’re not going to get pears off an elm. Only certain kinds of trees produce Fruit.

All people are designed to produce fruit but in a different way.

Fruit trees are fickle. They have to have everything just right or they don’t produce. And, granted, it depends on the type of tree. It depends on your climate. It depends on how old the trees are. There are a lot of contributing factors. And most of the time, if you just leave a fruit tree alone, it isn’t going to give the best harvest every time. Sometimes it may not provide a harvest at all. But if you work at it, if you keep the limbs pruned, and the weather obeys, and you fertilize and you do what you can to keep the birds and the pests away, you’ll get a great harvest.

So how do people produce fruit? Well, people will produce fruit if left alone. It’s what people are designed to do. But the fruit may not be any good.

We had an apricot harvest one year after it had rained too much. And even though there were plenty of apricots, none of them were edible. They had no taste, no flavor, and most of them had split wide open because of too much rain.

People on their own will produce fruit, but none of it will be of any importance. It might be a high paying job or a good career or a bonus or a nice house or a fast car. But what good are any of those things? None of them last. Most of the break. All of them will vanish when the world ends.

If you want to produce lasting fruit, you have to be plugged into the source. Trees can’t produce fruit unless they’re planted in good ground. It’s the same with people.

People aren’t designed to be fruit trees. People are designed to be the branches of a fruit tree.

Today’s verse is John 15:5.

 5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

This is what we need to remember today, Christians. We’re not self-sufficient. And if we want our lives to mean something — if we want to produce fruit that will last into eternity — we need to be connected to Christ. And the beautiful part about being connected to Christ, is as long as you abide in Him, you can’t help but produce fruit.

That’s it. If you live and walk with Christ, your life will bear eternal fruit, and you won’t have done anything. At least, it won’t feel like you’ve done anything. It will just happen.

Now, there will be times when you will work to achieve something for Christ. And it will be hard work. And there will be challenges. And there will be days when it doesn’t feel like you’re accomplishing anything, but in the end, the harvest will be bigger and you’ll be stronger for it.

But even in a harvest where you work your hardest, fruit isn’t going to come just because you worked hard. Lasting fruit only comes through connection with Christ. You’re not going to produce it on your own, no matter how hard you work.

So don’t let your pride get in the way. Remember that real Fruit only comes through living and walking with Christ. Because apart from Christ, we can do nothing. We can scramble around, and we can do our best to make progress, but in the end, it will all be for nothing if Christ isn’t at the center.

The manger as an offensive weapon?

Christmas time is coming. It’s going to get here much sooner than we think, and in some ways I’m glad. It’s been a crazy year, and I’m looking forward to a break.

Christmas is such an interesting season because it’s the time in America when the whole country has an identity crisis. Everybody celebrates just about (except for some “Christians,” strangely enough) but nobody seems to remember what they are celebrating for. Most of the traditions are intact — the gift giving, the tree decorating, the house lights, the generosity, the songs — but nobody really thinks about why.

Probably because the why is offensive.

That all being said, I’m not one of those militant Merry-Christmasers who scorns people who choose to say “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” I do tend to shy away from Season’s Greetings because no holiday is about the solstice, but that’s my personal take on it. (I find it ironic that “Happy Holidays” is acceptable even though the etymology of the word holiday stems from the phrase “holy day” and was used to identify days devoted to God.)

People get offended about everything nowadays. So I don’t really understand why we all have to scramble to avoid it. People who are going to take offense to something and make a big stink about it will do it whether others try not to offend them or not. Some people thrive on being offended.  

And during this really strange time of year, it’s very interesting to me that the main source of offense in our culture is a little baby in a manger. Granted, here in the Wichita area, we don’t see as much trouble with it. Many folks display a nativity scene out of tradition without knowing what it means. And many folks don’t have a problem with it. Wichita is a very “tolerant” city for the most part. And everyone is fine with everyone else believing what they want to believe — until they start forcing their “truth” on everyone else.

Christmas Carols haven’t been outlawed yet, so that’s something. I get the sense that it’s coming, though. How much longer will the general public allow us to sing about worshipping Christ in their faces?

Honestly, though, the manger isn’t that scary anymore. Mainly because Christians themselves don’t really take it seriously. The only threat from a manger is if someone throws it at your head.

And while I don’t believe that Christians should be militant about these things, I do think we need to have some backbone. And I’m as guilty about this as anyone because I tend to be a people pleaser. But let’s get real, folks. Christmas is about Christ. We wouldn’t have Christmas without Christ. Without Christ, there would be the winter solstice and that’s it. And the only thing to celebrate there is that the days start getting longer again on the long trek to the vernal equinox.

And if people take offense to the little baby in the manger, how will they react to Jesus the God-Man? Because He isn’t a baby in a manger anymore. Many of us Christians want to keep Him there because as offensive as He was as an infant, as a Man who was also God, His offensiveness increased exponentially.

The baby in the manger has been reduced to a Precious Moments figurine set. But that baby in the manger grew up to communicate today’s verse in John 14:16.

6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

Jesus — the only way to heaven, the only truth, the only life.

That is truly offensive to people who think they’re good enough already. Or to people who trust in men or men’s religions to get to heaven. Jesus rips the rug out from underneath them.

And while I don’t believe in militantly shoving this down people’s throats, this is the truth. Because the Bible — and history, if you really study it — will demonstrate that Jesus is who He said. Because no one else in history has made the claims that He made, which makes Him a lunatic or a liar otherwise. He was neither of those, so the only explanation is that He’s Lord.

But you can’t make people believe that. I can tell you all day long that my brother is the smartest person you’ve ever met, but until you meet him in person, you won’t really believe me. It’s the same with Christ. And if we really want people to know Jesus, Christians, we have to present Him as someone they want to know. But I’m not convinced that most people who say they believe in Christ really know him. Many Christians keep Him in the manger because as a baby, He’s not a threat.

As the God-Man, Jesus threatens people who say they believe in Him. He forces us outside what we are comfortable believing. He forces us beyond what we can wrap our heads around. He forces us to look Him in the face and really consider how we are living our lives because most of us are so caught up in the world, we don’t know what really matters. But in the end, even though we are forced to face the truth, it’s still our choice to believe it and it’s still our choice to live it.

So this Christmas season, what are you going to do with Jesus? Are you going to leave Him in the manger? Or are you going to accept the truth of what He says and Who He is?

Don’t be a zombie.

Has anyone else noticed the surge of literature and media about zombies? I don’t mind it, although the literary nerd in me balks at the modification of Jane Austen’s classics into zombie apocalypse novels (I actually understand they’re pretty good).

It’s interesting to me because that is the prevailing thought or comprehension of what it is to be brought back to life after you die. You turn into a zombie. Some mindless, groaning, decomposing monster that lumbers around eating people.

Sounds great.

But resurrection in Scripture has a much different look and feel. One of the most famous chapters in Scripture is John 11 where a good friend of Christ’s, Lazarus, dies and Jesus goes to raise him from the dead. Today’s verse is John 11:25.

25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.

People have called it one of the most profound verses in Scripture. And why not? This simple statement is deep. Jesus said this to Martha after her brother Lazarus died … shortly before Jesus would raise him to life again.

And I’ve heard it many many times. You can’t be in any church’s drama team when Easter comes around and not know this verse. I’ve been involved in three passion plays and a passion play divided into four parts, and this verse was in all of them.

It’s one of those famous statements of Jesus’ that is used over and over and over again until everyone has heard it and everyone recognizes it — but no one knows what it means.

What does it mean?

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe it means too much to sum up simply. That’s what makes it so profound.

I mean, first of all, it was heretical at the time. Shoot, it’s heretical now, even in some “Christian” circles to believe something like this: that your sole source of salvation from sin is through Christ alone.

It means that all you need is Christ.

It means that once you accept Christ, death has no power over you anymore. Because even if you die, you’ll still live.

It means you actually have to die before you can live, literally and figuratively. How’s that for blowing your brain cells on an early Wednesday morning?

It means so much. There are so many truths packed into a simple two sentences, it’s unreal. But that is how Jesus speaks. Nothing He says is extraneous.

And even though I’ve read this verse and heard this verse and know this verse, this morning, something stood out to me that I knew but hadn’t really thought about before.

Why do you think Christ makes a distinction between being the resurrection and the life?

He calls Himself the Resurrection. Then, He calls Himself the Life.

Why doesn’t He just call Himself the Life? Why doesn’t He just call Himself the Resurrection? Because a part of me had always thought they were the same. But they’re not if you think about it.

Resurrection is restoration. It’s a return to living, a revitalization of someone who had been dead.

Life is life. Life is the everyday challenges and pursuits we face. Life is what we live. Life is a process.

Resurrection is something extraordinary. Life is mundane. But Christ identifies Himself as both separately.

What does that mean? Because Jesus doesn’t waste words. If He wanted people to know that He was just the Resurrection, that’s all He would have called Himself. Likewise with Life. But He didn’t do that. He’s both. And it was important enough to identify both individually.

And that tells me that He is the only source of our Resurrection — our return to living from our sentence of death. He is also the only source of our Life – the purpose we have for living.

That’s huge. Because not only does He love us enough to grant us new life in resurrection, freeing us from the bondage that sin and corruption and death has in our lives, He loves us enough to give us Life too.

Because it’s one thing to return to life. It’s another thing to live, truly live.

What do you think it was like for Lazarus? Or for the other people Christ brought back to life? It’s my personal opinion that they didn’t remember heaven. Because if they had remembered heaven, they would have had no interest in living in this world. Personally, I feel that’s why Christ cried at Lazarus’s tomb before He raised him from the dead. He didn’t want to have to bring Lazarus back to this cold, broken world, but it was something that had to happen to demonstrate to people who Jesus was and is. But what was life like for Lazarus after he came back? Because he had to live, but how did he live?

I know Christians who have trusted Christ. That’s the resurrection. Accepting Him and His gift of salvation brings us back to life. But many times it stops there. And people who have been raised from the dead keep living for things that are temporary.

But that’s not why Christ offers to bring us back to life. He wants to bring us to life so that we can really live, and that means living for things that will last forever. Loving God. Loving people. Living in a way that impacts eternity.

You can’t really live if you’re focused on things that will fade away once the world ends.

Going back to the zombie illustration: all a zombie is really is someone who’s been brought back to life. And if you call “life” lumbering around mostly decomposed, groaning and eating people … then, zombies really live.

Resurrection isn’t enough to live. Resurrection brings you back to life. But living is up to you. Living is a choice. And who you live for will determine the quality and the purpose of your life.

Dumber than a sheep

Sheep are pretty stupid. They’re one of those animals that people always make into stuffed toys and cute little figurines, and I always wonder why because I’ve been up close and person with too many of them to ever find them adorable.

And then Scripture has to go and compare us to them. I never really understood how much like sheep we are until I started raising and training them (or trying to). Sheep are pretty stupid, yes, but then people are pretty stupid too. But I think, to a certain extent, people outdistance sheep in the stupid factor.

Why?

Well, no matter how stupid a sheep is, it knows the voice of its shepherd. The sheep I raised, when they heard me coming, they would get excited because they knew I was coming to feed them. The sheep my neighbor has, they know the sound of his truck and come running toward it for food. Today’s verse talks about this.

Today’s verse is John 10:14-15.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.

But what do people do? We recognize God and God at work in our lives and in the lives of people around us, but we run away from it. Or we refuse to acknowledge it. Or we just don’t think about it.

Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons why. But I would anticipate that the strongest reason is pride because we don’t want to give over any of our own authority in our lives.

Have you met people like that? People who know that God is the only explanation but who still refuse to acknowledge Him? I have. And it’s really sad.

I don’t know what I would do without God in my life. I don’t know how I could function without knowing that He is working, whether in my life or in someone else’s. I don’t understand the purpose of trying to ignore God’s voice. I don’t understand what benefit that is.

That being said, I’ve done it. I’ve clearly heard God tell me something and I have turned away from it, thinking I know better. Thinking better of my own plans than of His. And following my own plans never works out very well.

So the next time I see a sheep (which will probably be on my morning drive to work), I think I’ll apologize. Because I never thought that anyone could be dumber than a sheep, but I’ve proven myself wrong a couple of times.

Because if a sheep can recognize its shepherd’s name and doesn’t mind running toward him for help, what the heck is wrong with me?

Word

Word is a funny word. I mean, if you look at it, it even looks awkward. And it has so many meanings.

It can be a piece of a language. This blog post is made of up words, generally out of the English language. But pluralize it and Words becomes speech or talk. It can mean a promise. Like you give your word that you’ll do something. Or that someone is as good as his word.

It can also be used to prove someone wrong, as in eating your own words. It can be used to represent a conversation, as in having a word with someone. It can be news, as in someone sent word.

In recent years, it’s even become an interjection. Word! Which loosely translated is an expression of agreement or promise or correctness, according to the Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions (yes, there is such a thing).

But if you dig around deep enough in a dictionary, you’ll find another meaning for the word Word: “The second person of the Trinity; Often called: the Word of God  Scripture, the Bible, or the Gospels as embodying or representing divine revelation.”

The Word is another name for Jesus. Today’s verses are John 1:1-2 and 14, so if you’ve ever had trouble understanding the first chapter of the Book of John, maybe this will clarify it now.

John 1:1-2, 14

1 In the beginning the Word already existed.
      The Word was with God,
      and the Word was God.
 2 He existed in the beginning with God.
14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

So what does it mean that Jesus is called the Word? Some places you look online will tell you that the term The Word (logos in Greek) came about because of Judaistic philosophers, but I don’t see how that’s possible since it came from John the Baptist who wrote the first chapter of the Book of John.

And if it’s in the Bible, that means God is the one who is referring to Christ as The Word. I know this verse is where we get some of our very limited understanding of the Trinity. Because even though Christ didn’t come to earth until much later after the world had been created, according to this verse Jesus always existed. Also in this chapter (you should read the whole chapter), we learn that Jesus was instrumental in creating everything and is yet the one who holds it all together.

There are so many symbolic reasons why Christ is called the Word, but one of the ones that means the most to me stems back to Genesis 3:15.

 15 And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
      and between your offspring and her offspring.
   He will strike your head,
      and you will strike his heel.”

Genesis 3:15 is the first mention in Scripture that God will send someone special to deal with the sin problem. It’s right after God “discovers” that Adam and Eve have sinned. And God doesn’t make this promise to Adam and Eve. He makes this promise to Satan himself.

God promised to send Jesus. God gave His word that He would.

The first mention of Christ is spoken. It’s delivered in a promise.

Beyond the fact that Jesus’s first mention in Scripture was spoken, when He came to earth, He came as a representative of God and He spoke God’s words to the people. Even now, Christ is our intercessor, the one who stands between us and God and mediates.

So what does this mean for today?

Well, to me, it’s a gentle reminder that God always keeps His promises. He promised that Jesus would come, and He did. And Jesus (God) promised to return, so He will.

He promised to never leave us. He promised to always love us. He promised to forgive us. And so far, I’ve never been given evidence that He’s failed any of those promises, and I don’t believe He will. Because God is as good as His Word.

Living holy, godly lives at the end of the world

If you knew that the end of the world would come tomorrow, how would you live today? What would you do that you’d been putting off? What would you tell people around you?

I know I’m a horrible procrastinator. Many times I have things that I need to do, but I don’t do them until I absolutely have to. But the end of the world is going to come so quickly that procrastinators are just going to be out of luck.

Today’s verse is 2 Peter 3:10-11.

10 But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. 11 Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live,

Verse 11 caught my eye today.

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live.

Really?

The human inclination is to say, since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, it doesn’t matter how you live. Or you should live however makes you happy. Or you should live for yourself and forget everyone else.

But that’s not what it says. Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live.

Holy and godly lives. What does that even mean? The Amplified version translates it as “holy behavior and devout and godly qualities.”

We don’t know when the end will come, but we can be sure it’s coming. The Bible says it is. And the state of the world is evidence enough that something big is coming.

But just knowing that the end is coming doesn’t do a whole lot for helping us deal with the world in the interim. What we need to remember is that the world will be destroyed. It must be. There’s no discussion.

So we shouldn’t get too attached to it. And we should live our lives like Jesus did, focused on serving God, focused on helping people, loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should be different than people who don’t believe. We should show Christ in every aspect of our lives, from our work to our home to the stores on Black Friday.

We need to live a holy and godly life because the end is coming, and it’s coming soon. And for the procrastinators, that means today. Not tomorrow. Because you aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. None of us are.

So don’t try to fit everything in at the last moment because you won’t have time. And don’t let yourself believe that you are all that matters or that the world revolves around you. And don’t delude yourself that being happy is the most important thing in life.

The lives we live here are proving grounds for eternity. The bad things that happen in our lives aren’t punishment, they’re tests. This world isn’t our home. It’s just a temporary place we have to be for now, but that doesn’t mean our time here doesn’t matter.

While we’re here for however brief a time that is, we need to keep in mind that the things we see and the life we live now is temporary. It’s not going to last. And it’s all going to end much sooner than we think.