In the Fullness of Time

Several years ago I was invited to speak at a community Thanksgiving service in Bucyrus, Ohio. My pastor friend John Cory asked me to preach at the service, scheduled for the Sunday before Thanksgiving. As a young pastor, I was excited for the opportunity and wanted to make the most of it. Unfortunately……I botched the date. Somehow I thought the event was scheduled for the Sunday after Thanksgiving instead of the Sunday before Thanksgiving…..oops!

I will never forget the night of the actual service. My wife and I were out that evening and when we came home I noticed there was a message on our answering machine. The message (from John) went something like this. “Uh Dan……where are you? The service is supposed to start in 5 minutes! If you can’t make it, please call me so we can figure something else out.” You can just imagine how I was feeling after hearing that message. I was horrified and I desperately wanted to go back and rectify the situation! By now, however, that was not possible as the service was already over. I had the time right, the location right, I knew what I was going to speak on, but here’s the kicker – I was a week late when it came to the date.

Now, in the whole scheme of things, this mistake was not a huge deal. I felt terrible about it at the time, but I was able to get a hold of John that night and I apologized profusely. He was very gracious and said that one of the other pastors in town came up with a message on the fly and everything turned out just fine. The only reason I share this story is to illustrate the fact that sometimes our timing is off. Even people, like me, who pride themselves on being prompt, reliable, and on-time have those moments where we are late and even no-show. In stark contrast to that, our Lord is always on time. In fact, His timing is perfect!

Recall what the apostle Paul writes in Galatians 4:4-5. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” What this verse tells us is that at the perfect moment in history, God sent Jesus into the world. After centuries of waiting for the promised Messiah, God’s set time had arrived. I remember hearing one teacher say concerning this verse (Gal. 4:4), “the moment was pregnant with anticipation.” God’s due date had arrived, the long wait was finally over and now Jesus, the One who would “save His people from their sins,” would be born of the virgin.

You probably remember that last year something extremely rare occurred – a solar eclipse. Around the time of the eclipse, I remember watching footage of a news clip from the last solar eclipse in North America. It dated all the way back to February, 1979 and it happened to mention that the next one would not be until August 21, 2017. I was struck by the precision of it all. God has made this universe to operate in an extremely ordered and regular fashion. The next solar eclipse visible from North America will be April 8, 2024. This goes to show how everything happens exactly according to the plan of God.

This Christmas season as we celebrate the first Advent of Christ, remember that we serve  a God who is never early, never late, but only ever right on time. Scripture also tells us there will be a second Advent when Jesus will return in glory (Acts 1:11). Yet again, this will happen in “the fullness of time,” and according to the sovereign plan of God. May we rejoice and celebrate the wonder of His coming this Christmas season.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

Where is Your Mind Set?

Our sons John (age 6) and Jeremiah (age almost 4) love to play. From the moment they wake up in the morning until the moment we tuck them into bed, they are consumed with play. When they are not actually playing…..they are thinking about play. Of course, this “play” mindset is realized in a number of different ways. They play with their toys, they play with one another, they play outside, they play with other friends, and they even play with their older sisters.

You are probably not surprised by this – they could be classified as typical boys, especially for their age. We might add that this desire for play is healthy and can even stimulate growth and development. Now, I have to qualify this because they are not always able to satisfy their appetite for play (Mom and Dad have something to do with this). But when they have the opportunity to play, it’s always a no-brainer….they play. It’s safe to say that this desire totally dominates their lives.

As I pondered this all-consuming desire in my boys, it got me thinking. What should consume us as Christians? Where should our minds be set? Not surprisingly, Scripture gives us insight into these questions. Consider the following verses:

Colossians 3:1-2:“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

Romans 8:5: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”

Philippians 4:8-9: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

In contrast, Paul says that those who are enemies of the cross have their minds set on earthly things (Philippians 3:18-19). One Biblical example is Demas, who is mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:10. Paul explains that he “loved this present world” and ended up deserting the great apostle.

Just to summarize, there is a Christian way to think. We should have our minds set on heaven, the Lord Jesus, the Spirit, and things that are noble and worthy of praise. To set our minds on “earthly things” will only lead us in the wrong direction, and not in the direction of deeper intimacy with Christ.

Another passage that deals with this subject is Mark 7:21-23 where Jesus says, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” This verse well describes the fruit of the unredeemed soul. These “evil thoughts” eventually lead to the catalogue of sins mentioned here and even more. But for the one who is in right relationship with Christ, slowly but surely, their minds and their hearts begin to reflect the heart of God. This is what we should be striving for.

When was the last time you took inventory of your thought life? If you do this honestly and soberly, it will be a painful experience. The number of thoughts and go through our minds each day is staggering. If all those thoughts were somehow broadcast for everyone else to see, I am sure they would embarrass us. But remember, the goal is for our thoughts to increasingly reflect God’s thoughts. We will not reach sinless perfection this side of heaven (Philippians 3:12), but we can grow and mature in our faith. Clearly, we need God’s grace and power in this endeavor (James 4:6) but there is hope. Change is possible!

My counsel is to look to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), the One who never had a bad thought in his earthly life. His consuming passion was to bring glory to His Heavenly Father and live in obedience to His will. You will fail as you strive to progress in your sanctification, but look to the One who has never failed, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will give you grace in your time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

The Queen, the President, and the Name above all Names

Last month Queen Elizabeth II met with President Trump for the first time. This was the 12th president that she has met with during her remarkably long reign (incidentally, the only president she didn’t meet with was Lyndon Johnson). During her 66 year reign, the Queen has met with countless other Presidents, Prime Ministers, world leaders, and dignitaries, and she will probably meet with many more depending on how much longer she lives.

The name “Queen Elizabeth II” is known and loved all over the world. She will go down in history as a great Queen, but the thing we need to keep in mind is he is just a woman. She is just a human being. It is well known that the Queen has faced family problems down through the years. Those who are closest to the Queen would acknowledge that she has personal struggles, just like you and me. And at the root of it all is the fact that the Queen is a sinner in desperate need of the grace of God.

Down through the ages, there have been men and women like the Queen – not many, but a few. They were great leaders and they had names that were revered and esteemed and praised. But as Christians, we know that there is one name that stands alone. There is One Name that is the name above all names! And that is the name of Jesus. Listen to how the apostle Paul explains in in Philippians 2.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Why do we bow down before Jesus?

We bow down and worship because He is Lord. We bow down and worship because He has the name that is above every name. We bow and down and worship because He is worthy of all our praise, honor, and adoration. We bow down and worship because He is the Savior and Redeemer of all His people.

Jesus, Jesus Jesus, sweetest name I know…….

 

 

Stop saying “I’m fine!”

We have all heard it before. You pass someone you know and ask them, “how’s it going?” or “how ya doing?” Answer: “fine.”  Or….. “I’m fine thanks.” There are other go-to responses to that question, but “I’m fine” tends to be among the most popular. Steph and I had the opportunity to attend a pastors conference this past week and one of the speakers made an offhand remark about the meaning of “fine.” He said that it really stands for:

Fouled up, Insecure, Neurotic, Exhausted

We all laughed, but we also recognized the truth that he was hinting at. Fine really doesn’t mean fine. It often means I could be doing a lot better…… I’m struggling…… I have a lot of problems that seem insurmountable, etc, etc. Now, just to give a little disclaimer, often when someone asks how we are doing, they are not looking for us to unload all of our troubles on them. Nor are we. But you would admit that we have the tendency at times to be dishonest in our assessment of ourselves. It is human nature to want to put on a good front and project a stoic, “got it all together” image of ourselves. But one of the things that should characterize us as Christians is our desire to be real and transparent and genuine.

One of the major themes in the Bible is that of loving and caring for one another. God never designed the Christian life to be an individual, lone-ranger kind of thing. God designed the Christian life to be a community project where we share one another’s burdens and constantly point one another to the power of the Gospel. The Church of Christ is a wonderful gift! Brothers and sisters in Christ are a wonderful gift! But in order for this gift to work, we must be real with one another.

The next time someone asks how you are doing, don’t feel like you have to tell them how fouled us, insecure, neurotic, and exhausted you are. Simply do your best to answer honestly and accurately. Along with that, remember what an amazing gift God has given us in the Body of Christ and seek to attach yourself to that Body. Find people that you can minister to and people that can minister to you.

“And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:4-25)  “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)  “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

 

Why Time Seems to Speed Up As You Get Older

Ever feel like the older you get, the faster the time goes by? If so, you are not alone. I often catch myself saying things like…..I can’t believe it’s April! Or….I can’t believe it’s 2018! Given the broad consensus on this sentiment, there has been a good deal of scientific research done in order to makes sense of this. Feel free to probe deeper on your own, however, I did want to share what my friend Chris Hackman had to say on the matter. Chris told me that the older you get the smaller the percentage of time each successive year makes up of your life. For example, when you turn 4 years old, the upcoming year will represent a quarter of your life! However, when you turn 50, the upcoming year will only make up 2% of your life…..a big difference to be sure. Chris went on to say that this reality (each successive year making up a smaller percentage of your life), contributes to our feeling that time goes by faster and faster. You can agree with Chris or not, but I thought his idea was pretty clever.

 

Ephesians 5:15-16 reads as follows: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Whether you feel like time seems to speed up as you age or not, the one thing we know for sure is that our time here on earth is short and I touched on this in my last blog post. We as Christians must redeem the time knowing that today could be our very last. We can take comfort in knowing that the Creator God has numbered our days (Psalm 39:4-6, 139:16) but we must also remember that our Lord and Savior has work for us that remains to be completed. It is of particular importance that we “spend and be spent” (2 Corinthians 12:15) in service to King Jesus.

 

I recently stumbled across a prayer that I found to be quite edifying and instructive. It’s from a little book called Spurgeon’s Prayers and it reads as follows:

 “O Saviour, let thy kingdom come. Oh! That thou wouldest reign, and thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. We pray thee, use every one of us according as we have ability to be used. Take us, and let no talent lie to canker in the treasure house, but may every pound of thine be put out in trading for thee in the blessed market of soul-winning. Oh! Give us success. Increase the gifts and graces of those that are saved. Bind us in closer unity to one another than ever. Let peace reign; let holiness adorn us.”

 

Friends, let us resolve to make the best use of the time God has graciously given us. Indeed, the days are evil and countless souls need to hear the gospel message. May we run well and run with endurance the race set before us (Hebrews 12:2) knowing that if we are faithful, we will be richly rewarded by our Master (2 Timothy 4:8).

Celebrating the New Birth

 

August is a big month for our family when it comes to birthdays. Our 3 oldest were born in August and it also happens to be Steph’s birthday. The kids are already telling us what they want even though we still have another 6 months before our big birthday month comes around again.

I got to thinking…..why are birthdays such a big deal? Most people and most cultures all over the world tend to recognize and celebrate the day of our birth – but why? I think it is because we recognize that life is special and that each year (even each day) is a gift – something we can be thankful for. As Christians we know that God is the giver of life and that remarkably, He numbers our days (Psalm 139:16).

 

If you are like most people in terms of recognizing and celebrating birthdays, that’s awesome! Keep it up. But I also want to remind you that if you are a Christian, that means you have another birthday that is infinitely more important. The Bible says that believers have been “born again to a living hope!” (1 Peter 1:3). Perhaps you don’t know the exact day of your salvation, but if you are truly in Christ, then you, my friend, have reason to celebrate! I live and minister in Pennsylvania and as most of you are aware the Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl last Sunday night. People here in Pennsylvania got pretty excited about it. People in Philly got really excited about it! To be sure, it was a great game, but in the whole scheme of things, it’s not that important. 50 years from now few people will remember or care that the Eagles won the Super bowl. In contrast to that, the new birth is truly worth celebrating. Consider the following verses:

 

“my soul will rejoice in the Lord, exulting in his salvation.” Psalm 35:9

“This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:9

“I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3:18

“do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20

“Just so, I (Jesus) tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents that over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7

 

Salvation, as you can see, is a big deal. One day these mortal bodies of ours will die and be no more. There will be no more birthday parties, no more birthday cakes, and no more opening birthday gifts. But if you have been “born again” (see John 3:3) that means you have been forgiven of your sins, justified before God, granted eternal life, and been given the indwelling Holy Spirit. More than that, you have fellowship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ – you are a friend of God! If you want a reason to celebrate…..then celebrate the new life you have in Christ. Praise God for sending us a Savior and praise God for the miracle of salvation!

 

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7

 

My Visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame

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Back in March of 2015, I travelled up to Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (near Boston) to complete my thesis defense for my doctoral program. After 3 years of work, I now had to stand before my professors and defend my thesis. That sounds scary, but my professors were really great and it was a fun experience (and I did actually pass). On my drive up to Gordon Conwell, I remembered from earlier trips that the road I was travelling on (I-88) was pretty close to Cooperstown, NY, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I debated in my head whether or not to stop, but in the end, I opted to go and visit the famous town and its museum.

 

Growing up I was a huge fan of baseball. I watched game after game of my beloved Toronto Blue Jays. Over the years I also become familiar with the history of the game. This all combined to make my experience at the Baseball Hall of Fame a memorial one for sure. I will never forget visiting the Babe Ruth exhibit. The amount of newspaper clippings and relics and memorabilia to do with “the Babe” was staggering.

 

But as I think back on my experience of visiting the Hall of Fame, I was struck by just how quiet and low key it was. Cooperstown is a sleepy little town and the day I visited, there weren’t many people there. Things no doubt pick up in the summer, but it was kind of dead that day with barely any visitors. The other thing was, I didn’t actually meet any Hall of Famers. Of course, many of them (like Babe Ruth) are dead and gone, but many are still alive and they don’t visit too often. They have lives of their own and probably only come back on special occasions. I enjoyed myself and I am glad I went, but frankly, the place was kind of dead and lifeless. It is really just a hall filled with memorabilia and plaques and things of that sort.

 

For the past several weeks, I’ve had the great privilege of taking our church through Hebrews 11. This Faith Hall of Fame is in fact much different than any earthly Hall of Fame. The very first person mentioned in Hebrews 11 is a man by the name of Abel. I won’t go into the full story of Cain and Abel, but it does say in Hebrews 11:4, “And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” So even though his brother brutally murdered him and his life ended prematurely, he left a powerful legacy….a legacy of faith. This is a legacy that even murder could not stamp out.

 

As a pastor, people often ask me what heaven will be like. And while Scripture does tell us much, there are a lot of unknown details when it comes to heaven. However, I will say this. Heaven is a world of love and a world of life. It is just the opposite of hell. Hell is a dead and dreary and lifeless place whereas heaven is a world of love and happiness and life. This is exactly what we would expect from our Creator God. The very first verse in the bible tells us, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Over the course of 6 days, God created everything in the universe, including Adam and Eve. In the time since then, God has never stopped creating and forming and as Romans 4:17 puts it, He “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” In fact, God’s greatest work of creating is regeneration. Regeneration is God’s work of salvation through faith whereby He brings life to dead sinners. Peter puts it this way: “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3)

 

All that to say that when the redeemed of the Lord get to heaven, they will find it to be a place filled with life. Unlike the Hall of Fame, they will meet person after person who is alive like never before. Paul writes, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2). The lesson being, don’t get too fixated upon this earthly life. Rather, we should long for our heavenly dwelling. We should fix our eyes upon Jesus and seek the things that are above. Jesus puts it best in Matthew 6:20: “lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.”