Bucket List (re-post)

A couple of weeks ago I had a special request from a fellow to reprint an article I wrote a year and a half back about bucket lists. So with your indulgence, here it is:
I got to swim with sharks!
We went to visit our son and daughter (in-law) who were serving at a church in Hope Town, Bahamas. While Andrew and I were snorkeling we came across four black tip sharks, the biggest of which was about 5 feet long. I suppose saying swim “with” isn’t exactly accurate. They were swimming away from us and we were trying to keep up to them. We did manage to follow them around for a few of minutes and get a few pictures, but what a thrill. If I believed in bucket lists this definitely would have been on it.
I can hear some of you say “what do you mean if you believed in bucket lists? Isn’t a bucket list a positive thing?” There is certainly nothing sinful about having a bucket list and actually there are many, many things that someday I would like to do. However I don’t expect and neither is it important to me that I do all or even any of them before I “kick the bucket”. (Hence the name “bucket list” for those who didn’t know.)
You see, I know that in heaven I’ll be able to actually swim with sharks and all those other things that would be on my list if I had one. Many of us have bought into a flawed picture of heaven that has us playing harps and sitting in robes for all eternity. But as much as the Garden of Eden was a place of activity and exploration, so too will the renewed Eden be. So I’ll have more than all the time in the world to complete my list and even to keep coming up with new items.
But there’s another reason I don’t have a list that is even more important; my life isn’t my own for me to determine what I do with it. I am a servant of Jesus Christ and as such my whole life is at his disposal. Because he died for me and I, by faith, have accepted his death in place of the one I deserved, he now lives his life through me. That means he makes the list.
But in case you think this is a huge sacrifice, don’t worry, his list is far more exciting and fulfilling than anything I would come up with, and living out his list for me results in praise and glory to God. That is the greatest thing I can do.
So go ahead and have a list, but if you let Jesus make it for you it won’t be over when you kick the bucket.

My Christmas Non-Sermon

I didn’t preach a Christmas sermon this year.  Instead I tried to read the full story of Christmas, including return of Jesus, without using any readings from the traditional accounts in the gospels. So I have compiled a series of passages from both the First and Second Testaments to tell the story.

Someone asked I could share this reading, so here it is. I hope you enjoy it:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.  (Hebrews 1:1-2)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.  (John 1:1-5)

Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:20-21)

So God said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” and made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. . . For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  (Isa 9:2, 6-7)

(So) when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray ,each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.  He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.  After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.  Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.  (Isa 53)

This Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

 David said about him:  “I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.   Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope,  because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.   You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”

Brothers and Sisters, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.  But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.  Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.  God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.  Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. (Acts 2:22-33)

You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.  Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.  (1 Peter 1:18-21)

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.  (Hebrews 1:3)  The secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.  And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. (2 Thess 2:7-8)

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  (1 Thess 4:13-17)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. . . It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.  He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”  (Rev 21:1-7)

“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.  Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.   I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Rev 22:12-16)

And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”   Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.   In a loud voice they sang:  “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,  to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength  and honor and glory and praise!”   Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”   The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Rev 5:9-14)

(All scripture taken from NIV)

Beyond Behavior Modification

The last time I got kicked by a horse was when I was working at Rafter Six Guest Ranch.  I was leading one horse through the covered area where we tacked up in the mornings past a loose horse that happened to be there.  The loose horse must have thought the one I was leading was encroaching on his personal space and intended to teach some respect with a quick kick as we passed by.  Unfortunately he nailed me instead hard enough that the next day I had a defined outline of a horseshoe in the bruise on my butt.

I subscribe to the philosophy that if a horse kicks or bites you that you need try to kill it. .  .so long as you aren’t holding an instrument that can actually accomplish the feat.  The idea is that you must get into his mind that if he lashes out in aggression he will die, and if you can achieve that without actually touching the horse all the better.

So I grabbed the lead shank off the horse I’d been leading and holding the snap end proceeded to flail the rope around and around, slapping it on the ground right beside him and yelling my head off at him.  I pushed him into a corner and repeatedly cut off any escape for him till I could see he feared for his life.  Then I dropped my arms and gently called him to me.  The horse turned and walked right up to me with his head lowered while I rubbed him around the neck and ears.

When I put the rope around his neck to lead him out I turned to see my two young wranglers with their jaws in the dirt.  They had never seen me apparently snap before and were stunned.  I explained to them that my actions were completely controlled and not simply punitive punishment or venting my anger on the horse.  The goal of the exchange was not primarily to modify the horse’s behavior, but to actually have him want to be near me in a healthy relationship, which was exactly what happened.

While undoubtedly limited, this is a useful illustration of God’s wrath, something we see particularly in the Old Testament and that many people have trouble with.  For example in Amos the prophet speaks extensively about judgement and punishment for the nation of Israel.  Many understand that this is primarily punishment to stop the horrific things the people are doing; even infant sacrifice to pagan idols.  But in the middle of it God repeats 3 times.  Seek Me.  Seek Me.  Seek Me.

Behavior modification will be an outcome, but it’s not his goal.  His goal is healthy relationship with you.  That’s what Jesus died for.

Enslaved To My Freedom

“FREEEEDOOOM” Many of you can hear Mel Gibson’s cry at the end of “Braveheart” just in reading that word. Freedom is something that we all long for. Cowboys long for the freedom of the open range, bikers the open road, sailors the open sea. But I don’t think many of us truly understand what it means to be free. I would suggest that the only real freedom we have is to the freedom to choose that to which we will be bound. Once we have made that choice we are enslaved to the restrictions and boundaries inherent in that choice.

To use my three examples the cowboy is enslaved by the limitations of his horse. He can only go where and as far as the horse can take him. He is enslaved to the feeding and watering of his horse. The biker is enslaved to the road and the availability and resources to purchase gas. He is enslaved to the physics of riding on two wheels. The sailor is restricted to the water and is a slave to the power of the wind and the waves.

At best freedom is the ability to choose what I will be enslaved to.

Galatians 5 makes this very point. “It is for freedom that you have been made free.” Sounds like a riddle but what he’s talking about is the fact that through faith in what Jesus has done for us we are no longer slaves to following the laws of the Old Testament. Jesus did it all for us. But he goes on to say in verse 13 that we shouldn’t use that freedom to serve ourselves. Why not? Because then I become a slave to my own passions and drives and lusts. We have all known self-centered people, and ultimately they will destroy themselves and others.

Instead, verse 13 goes on, serve one another in love. It’s almost counter intuitive. When I choose to use my freedom to become the servant of others is when I truly find what I always imagined freedom would be. That’s the way God designed us to function. Because it’s the way he functions.

“(Jesus) had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death — and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion. Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth — even those long ago dead and buried — will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11 MSG)

You’ll Head Where You Look

Most of us have something that just keeps tripping us up.  Maybe it’s your temper, or lying, or pornography, or gossip, or any number of other sin.  We confess it to God and determine we’re never going to do that again and then we do anyway.  Maybe your problem is that you’re focusing on not sinning instead of where your focus should be.

In Galatians 2:19 Paul says that he died to the law so that he could live for God. Eugene Petersen puts it this way: “I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man.” (MSG) But how does not focusing on “the rules” help me to keep them?

The first thing to understand what Paul goes on to say in verse 20 that by faith he died with Christ and that now Jesus lives his life through Paul.  So the focus isn’t on the rules, it’s on knowing Jesus.  Let me illustrate to help understand how that works.

It’s rather embarrassing to admit, but last week I wiped out on my motorcycle.  It’s embarrassing because it was a stupid rookie mistake.  I was in the Okanagan riding on a beautiful little narrow winding road with gorgeous scenery and some fun tight corners.

There was a car behind me that I allowed to push me a little faster than I should have been going.  My first rookie mistake.  Then I came upon a sudden sharp right hand curve with two motorcycles coming the other way.  Knowing I was going faster than I should have been I was concerned about drifting into their lane and that’s when I made my critical mistake.

The adage in biking is look towards where you want to go not at what you want to avoid.  This is because you will go where you look.  Well I choked and looked at the bikes I wanted to avoid and that’s exactly where I went.  When I tried to compensate I leaned too far in and my foot peg caught and down I went.  By the grace of God I slid right between the two and into the small ditch.

Neither I nor the bike were too much the worse for wear, some mostly cosmetic damage to both of us, but that same principle is true in the spiritual realm.  Where you focus is where you’ll head.  If you focus on keeping the rules it’ll be your effort and you will crash.  If you focus on knowing and desiring Jesus he will live his life through you often without you even realizing.

Agreeably Disagreeing

How well do you disagree?  There are many styles that people use to deal with disagreements.  Here’s a few unhealthy styles that I’ve observed.  The Talker.  This person just keeps spewing words and arguing his or her point until those who disagree are too tired to bother anymore.  The Volcano.  This person is doesn’t have the courage to face a disagreement and just buries everything until the pressure is too much and he just explodes.  The Bully.  This person is very aggressive both in making their point and in criticizing the opinions or arguments of others, making their opponents feel intimidated to express a differing opinion.  The Saboteur. This person will not confront their opponent unless backed into a corner choosing instead to criticize and defame or discredit his or her opponent and/or their position.

When unhealthy styles of confrontation are used relationships are damaged and even destroyed. Everybody has to figure out how to best approach disagreements, even, or maybe especially in the church.  In fact Jesus said that the people will know we are his followers by how well we disagree.  Sadly many of us aren’t very good representatives.

The Bible speaks in many places about how to disagree, but in Ephesians 4:2 I find four characteristics that will help us to develop a healthy way to disagree.

First is humility.  That implies respecting and honoring others even when they oppose you.  Be willing admit that their opinion is valid and worth considering.

The second is gentleness.  Even if your perspective is proven right but you’ve destroyed a relationship to win an argument you still lose.

The third is patience.  One of my struggles in arguments is to remember that it’s not my responsibility to change the other person.  Paul, in Philippians 3:15 demonstrates this principle when he says that even if you disagree with him, that’s ok because God will eventually reveal what is true.

The fourth is forgiveness.  Sometimes even if you are employing the first three characteristics your opponent may not be.  If you extend forgiveness in your heart, even before it’s asked for, the relationship can still be saved and a healthy resolution to the disagreement is possible.

Nowhere in scripture does it suggest that we ought to agree on everything.  But if we are living in submission to God’s direction and control in our lives, he will produce in us these characteristics that enable us to agreeably disagree.

What I Feel About Thinking (or vise versa)

There seems to be a tendency currently in our society to avoid thinking.  How often have you heard someone begin a sentence with “I feel” when they should have been using “I think.”  For example when asked what the weather would be like one has responded “I feel like it will be a nice sunny day since there are no clouds in the sky.”  Or when asked for what a person’s plans for the day are, “I feel like I should go get groceries because we need milk.”  I have teasingly asked exactly how does something like that feel.

I know that for most people it’s just a habit that they have unwittingly fallen into and they really do mean that they are thinking.  But as the shift in meaning has slipped into our language I think it indicates a move in our culture that emphasizes feelings over thinking and that is a dangerous thing.

I saw an interview of a number of students on the University of Washington campus where the interviewer asked how the student would respond if the white, 5’ 8”, male interviewer stated that he were a woman.  Most of the students began their response with “I feel . . .” and all of them went on to accept that what the interviewer felt about himself was indeed fact.

He then posed to them that he was actually a Chinese woman. This forced the students to work through their “feelings” a little more but they all were able to come to accept it as fact.  He finally told them he was also 6’ 5”.  This was finally too much for all but one of the students to believe.

When we order our lives by how we feel instead of by thinking through what is true the inevitable, and, dare I say, logical outcome is that we will believe even that which is obviously false.

Philippians 4:8 says, amongst other things, that whatever is true think about such things.  According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon that word translated as think means to consider, take account, weigh, meditate. In other words it is a rational exercise of the mind.

I may feel a certain way about something, but as I think, that is as I consider, take account, weigh, and meditate about what is true my feelings will follow and come in line also with what is true.

Isaiah spoke of a time when “truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter.  Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.” (59:14-15) I think we are seeing that time.

How can you know what is true and what to think on? You need to search for it. I would suggest you start your search in the Bible.  John 1:17 says that truth came through Jesus Christ.  And Jesus himself declared that God’s word is truth. (John 17:17)

And that’s what I think.