We Are Not Alone

 John 1:1-5; 1 John 1:1-4

The attached photo and story are from December of 2007:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The latest act of senseless violence caught on tape is cosmic in scope: A black hole in a “death star galaxy” blasting a neighboring galaxy with a deadly jet of radiation and energy.

A fleet of space and ground telescopes have captured images of this cosmic violence, which people have never witnessed before, according to a new study released Monday by NASA.  “It’s like a bully, a black-hole bully punching the nose of a passing galaxy,” said astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, who wasn’t involved in the research.

But ultimately, this could be a deadly punch.  The telescope images show the bully galaxy shooting a stream of deadly radiation particles into the lower section of the other galaxy, which is about one-tenth its size. Both are about 8.2 billion trillion miles from here, orbiting around each other.  The larger galaxy has a multi-digit name but has been nicknamed the “death star galaxy.”

If Earth were in its way, its protective ozone layer would be stripped away and our planet would be effectively sterilized.  Tyson said there are two main lessons to be learned from what the telescopes have found:  “This is a reminder that you are not alone in the universe.       You are not isolated. You are not an island.”  And “avoid black holes when you can.”

Not bad advice – Know that you are not alone in the universe and avoid black holes.

In John 1:1-5  we read:  “In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God. [3] He created everything there is. Nothing exists that he didn’t make. [4] Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. [5] The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

Sounds kind of metaphysical… until you combine it with 1 John 1:1-4.  The light John was talking about was ALIVE!  That is the wonder of the incarnation… we know that God didn’t just shower us with theological information…  but chose to embrace us with his awesome presence.   In his first epistle John wrote:  We looked at Jesus… we physically touched him… our ears heard his wisdom!  God became for John more than an abstract philosophical concept … a grand idea that wasn’t worth risking one’s life to defend.   In Jesus was life… and THAT life (this word become flesh reality) was light to John.  It dispelled his darkness… it provided warmth and direction to him.   And Jesus does the same for us.

John longs to tell his readers about it.  Why?  So they might enjoy the sweet relationship he experienced with the Father and the Son.   We are never alone in the cosmos.  Whatever crisis:  snowfall, market crash, terrorist threat, etc. that might occur… we have fellowship with the God become flesh.  Our joy is complete.


Question Marks

Job 38:1-11; 42:1-6

Author John Kramp writes about a young friend of his named Matt:  “When Matt was five, he spent the weekend at our house while his parents were away.  If a count had begun on Friday night and ended on Sunday afternoon, Matt’s questions would have easily hit four digits.  I am not talking about easy-to-answer questions.  Oh no, Matt specialized in the unanswerable:

What if a space ship lands on the hood of the car while we’re driving?

What if Superman is driving that eighteen wheeler over there?

What if pirates attack our car?

What if a tree falls on the house while we’re gone?

On Saturday afternoon, while waiting for a movie to start, I tried to distract Matt temporarily.  Catching him mid-breath, I said, ‘Matt, how did you get to be so smart?’  Without missing a beat, he gave me a self-assured look and said, ‘I ask a lot of questions.’”  (Out of Their Faces and Into Their Shoes, pp.25, 26.)

At the end of Job’s epic story, God reveals himself out of a storm (38:1).  And the answer He gives Job is… more questions.  That would seem to frustrate most, but not Job.  His response?  ”

Then Job replied to the LORD:2 “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.  3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Question marks are some of the most difficult thing for us to deal with as humans.  We want all mysteries solved.  We want all gossip chased down and confirmed.  We want the “why” of our existence revealed to us in explicit detail.  I remember speaking at the funeral of a teenager in Cloverdale, CA.  In front of a crowd composed of most of the small town I said:  “It is hard when we face a tragedy like this to not ask questions of God.  We want answers.  But I imagine that if by some divine miracle we were given the answer today… we would not hurt less.  What we need today is not answers from God… but the knowledge that God is here.”

Author John Fisher once wrote: “This morning I counted 288 question marks in the book of Job.  Many were from the mouth of Job; others were spoken by his counselors who turned out to be much like the side-show con artists of the day.  “Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?”  God said of them.  But surprisingly, when God finally speaks in the closing chapters- 78 of them, to be exact.  Of the 288 question marks in the book of Job, 78 of them belong to God; they are His answer to Job.

Sometimes God answers us with questions- questions that leave us humbled, awed, speechless, weak, and believing- believing not because we’ve found the answer, but because we’ve seen God.  It doesn’t matter that we have more questions than when we started.  It matters that we see God, for in the seeing, we discover that the truest answer to all our questions is to worship Him.  (Real Christians Dance, p. 14)

Losing the Big One

This devotional is courtesy of Steve May’s excellent blog:  “Monday Morning Memo.”  It was so encouraging I wanted to share it with all of you.  It may be particularly encouraging to any Jets or Bears fans this morning.  : )

THE SEASON TO COME
MICAH 7:9

In football, if you’re good, chances are better than 90% that you’ll finish the season with a loss.

Each year in the NFL, 12 teams make the playoffs, but only one wins the championship.

Champions spend the offseason reveling in glory and reliving the victory. The other 11 teams often spend the offseason rehashing the mistakes and reliving the disappointment. Or, at least, trying not to.

It’s actually different for the not-so-good teams. They had time to come to grips with their mediocrity. Midway through the season, most of them knew this wouldn’t be their year.

But the teams that make it to the post season keep their hopes alive until that final loss. And it’s often a last-minute, heart-breaking loss.

THE COST OF  BEING GOOD

That’s the price you pay for being good. Great teams and/or great players can’t win every championship. But they often get close, and those are the losses that really hurt. That’s why those those who reach for greatness suffer losses that the run-of-the-mill can’t fathom.

It’s the same with you.

If you seek to be among the best, you will also suffer setbacks bigger than the rest.

Which do you think hurts more: losing the contract you worked so hard to win … not getting the promotion you worked so hard to earn …  failing to reach the out-of-reach goal you set for yourself … or … watching your favorite contestant get voted off the island? Which hurts more? Which one do you aspire to be?

You’ve heard all your life that only those who dare to dream big can achieve big. That’s true. The flip side is that those who dare to dream big also get hurt big. You face bigger setbacks and feel bigger disappointments. It’s all part of the quest to accomplish something worthwhile with your life.

WHEN THE SEASON ENDS TOO SOON.

If you feel like your season has ended a little earlier than it should have, remember the words of Micah…

Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. (Micah 7:8)

In the verses that follow, Micah talks about bearing the brunt of our mistakes, receiving forgiveness, and experiencing restoration. And he says once again about the God we serve: “He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness.”

Maybe once or twice you’ve had a season end too soon. We all have. The good news is that there’s always a season to come. God is bringing it your way.

 

Is Your Body Ready for a New Trade In?

Job 19:23-29

Katherine Hepburn once shared this analogy with an interviewer:  ‘I think we’re finally to a point where we’ve learned to see death with a sense of humor.  I have to.  When you’re my age, it’s as if you’re a car.  First a tire blows, and you go and get that fixed.  And a headlight goes out, and you go and get that fixed.  And then one day, you drive into the shop, and the man frowns and says, ‘Sorry, Miss, they don’t have this make anymore.”  (Charles Swindoll, The Darkness and the Dawn, p. 314)

I just found out yesterday that a dear sweet woman , Charlene Wardrow, passed away from a bout with pneumonia.  She had rheumatory arthritis and breathing problems that complicated matters as well.  She had suffered so much for so long, but always with a smile and a warm disposition.  She will be missed.

Today in our passage in Job we find him facing what he feels will be his final illness:  a skin disease that has created boils all over his body.  “After my skin has been destroyed…” he states.  He believes this is it…  he is not long for this world.   But he has a hope:  “… in my flesh I will see God.” (v.26)  Not in his spirit, but in his flesh.   God has promised in the final resurrection for us to reclaim these worn out bodies of ours.  They will be remade in the splendor they were intended to have.  (1 Cor. 16:35-44)

I still remember the definition given by Joni Erickson Tada for the term, glory:  “Glory for me will be when I am on my feet dancing.”

Whether you are struggling with an illness or just the effects of aging… take heart.  Your Redeemer lives!  One day your mortal eyes will see Him!  That will be glory.

God’s Target

Job 16:12-17       Psalm 34

Many of you will remember Murphy Brown, the hard hitting, overbearing, driven, lovable reporter for the Washington D.C.-based TV magazine “FYI.”  One of the running gags for the show was a dart board that Murphy kept on the back of her office door.  It always had on its target some sign or object of her displeasure.  Some of the more memorable:

“Wait Here for Next Teller”
“Have a Nice Day”
“We Welcome Your Suggestions”
“Severe Tire Damage, Do Not Back Up”
“This Dressing Room Under Surveillance”
“Geraldo Book Signing 2:00 PM”
“Limit Two Trips to the Dessert Bar”
“Please Pay Before Pumping Gas”
“ATM – Out of Order”
“Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Perot”
“Santa Will Be Back in One Hour”

      Perhaps more than once or twice we have had something we have targeted for our wrath.  In today’s passage, Job claims that God has singled him out as a target.  “Have I sinned?” he cries, “What have I done to You, O watcher of men?  Why have You set me as Your target, so that I am a burden to myself?”  (Job 7:20)  Later in the book he says of God, “I was at ease, but He shattered me, and He has grasped me by the neck and shaken me to pieces; He has also set me up as His target.  His arrows surround me…”  (Job 16:12, 13)  The image is of some cosmic board with the darts of affliction sticking out from the midst of it.  The board is in the shape of a heart.
     Does God delight in seeing us squirm?  To teach us spiritual lessons does he cause:  illness, job loss, the death of a loved one… etc.  When one faces financial reversals, failing health, car problems, in-law battles and the like, he or she is tempted to feel as though God has their picture on His private bull’s-eye. 
     As hard as it is to accept, sometimes there is no answer as to why some events occur in our lives.  God can very easily use a bad experience to teach us a valuable lesson and help us grow, but that doesn’t mean he caused that event.  And often times we discover that God was there when tragedy occurs not to punish us but to comfort us.
     I once counselled a young woman that had been horribly abused as a child.  During our conversation she asked me forthrightly:  “Why do you think God allowed my father to do what he did to me?”  and again:  “Why is it that God has singled me out for trouble?”
     I cleared my throat and took a deep breath and then proceeded to give her the standard answer I learned in seminary.  “Man has free will, and God allows man to choose evil as well as to obey Him.  When we come in contact with another’s immoral choice, we get hurt.  God does not prevent that because in doing so it would eliminate the whole concept of free will, and then man would not be able to willfully choose to love Him.  Man’s freedom of choice was so valuable to God that He would run the risk of their choosing evil in order to provide it.”
     I stopped for a minute and contemplated my stale  answer; then, in fairness, I introduced a snag into my own theory.  I added, “The only problem with all of this is that we have recorded in the Bible events in which God entered history and intervened on behalf of individuals.  If he chose to intervene then, he made a choice not to intervene for you while you suffered at the hands of your father.”
     She was quiet for a moment, taking it all in.  Then tears began to cascade down her cheeks as she softly said:  “But He did.”  She paused for a moment to regain her failing voice, and then recounted a memory of a day in her childhood when she felt that for some reason she should not go directly home after school.  She went instead to the home of a friend.  Later she received a call from her sister urging her NOT to come home.  Her father was waiting by the frontdoor with a shotgun threatening to shoot her as she walked through the door.  After recalling this story she went on to remember story after story where she felt a divine presence had stepped in and shielded her from additional pain.
     It may appear to you as though God has abandoned you to the hands of fate, or an abuser, or to the devil, or whatever,… but the Bible will not support such a notion.  Psalm 34:18 tells us:  “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  He may not choose to take away the free will from the person causing you the pain, but He also hasn’t marked you for affliction.  If you are God’s target at all, you are the target of His affection.
    
    

Turning Point

Job 13:15

When our daughter Lindsey was only 2 months old, she had brain surgery to correct a condition called hydrocephalus.  At the time, Janine and I knew very little about this disease.  We were worried and scared.  I had just lost my job and we weren’t sure how we were going to pay for her operation.  Quite coincidentally I was reading through the Bible and was in Job 13.  I came across his “turning point” in 13:15.

Many people point to Job 13:15 as the turning point in the midst of Job’s misery.  Though Job did not have all the answers he was seeking and though God was not acting toward him as Job felt He should, he still makes a remarkable statement of trust:  “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”  He says to God, in a sense, “I don’t understand You.  I wish You would show Yourself.  You aren’t operating as my friend, but as my enemy.  But still… I trust You.”  Despite all of the hardship, Job would entrust his soul to the living God.  Job staked his entire existence on the Divine companion Who had walked this far with him in life.  “He can even kill me!,” Job could shout with confidence, “And yet I will seek hope in no other.”

Contemplating my daughter’s upcoming surgery, I read Job’s words and hoped to pray at his level of devotion.  The best prayer I could muster from Scripture was:  “I believe, help thou my unbelief.” 

On the day of the surgery our church’s three ministers on staff came to be with us.  I remember jokingly calling them Job’s three comforters.  (They, however, did a much better job than their ancient counterparts. )  They sat across from me for the better part of an hour and listened as I fired angry questions at them.  The younger of the three seemed to be most interested in how all the suffering was affecting me.  “What is this doing to your faith?” he asked me.  From my lips came an unrehearsed and surprising reply:  “Though He slay me, I will yet hope in Him.”  I felt my pastor was more relieved to hear me say it than even myself, yet… somehow… from that moment… though more sorrow was to come… I felt as though I had made a critical turning point.

I had been skidding down hill for some time and somehow when I made my mind up that I was hanging in with God, for better or worse, it enabled me to stop myself mid slide, to plant a stake, and hold on.  I would not turn from my faith.  There was no where else I could go to receive the hope I desperately needed. 

There comes a point in everyone’s personal tragedy in which they chose to either  move forward to healing or backward into bitterness.  It is not something that occurs when one is in the early stages of grief (marked by bewilderment, anger and disbelief).  But after one accesses the damage and mourns what is lost… a decision has to be made.  It is a decision that can’t be rushed and it must be decided with the utmost care and at the appropriate time.  But the turning point must come.  Otherwise the sufferer misses out on what God will do next…  and that would be the real tragedy.