Aliens and Strangers

In Genesis 1:26 we have one of the most important verses in the Bible telling us who we are. Listen: “Then God said, ÔLet us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

God does not have a body. Jesus said, “God is a spirit and his worshipers must worship him in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

I remember as a child one of our Sunday school lessons had God depicted as a large man with a book and a pen in his hands. The lesson taught that God was righteous. Every time we sinned, God marked it down in his book. One day we would have to give an account for this sin. The depiction of God in human form was wrong, and yet so often this picture colors my view of God.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

That phrase, afer our likeness, tells us a lot. We have some of the similarities of God.

1. God has a mind Ð we have a mind. We can think. Our minds are very small and very limited. Think about the mysteries of life, and we learn how little we know. However, we do have a mind.

2. God has a will Ð we have a will. What is the will? It is a mental power with the ability to choose. We can even say no to God. Adam and Eve did, and so do we on a regular basis.

3. God is eternal Ð we are eternal. God has told us that we are different from any other part of his creation in that we have a soul which is eternal.

All is well. Humankind was created. They lived in a personal relationship with their Creator until they decided to exercise their will, and one day they said to God, No we are going our own way.

You remember the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. God had told them they could eat from any tree except the Tree of Knowledge, and if they ate of it, they would die. Along comes the tempter and assures our first parents that this was not true. The temptation was so appealing. Why not eat the fruit?

From that time on, all of us have been enslaved to sin. We are born in sin and live in a fallen world with all of its imperfections. Paul writes, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men because all sinned. . . . For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:12, 19). This is spiritual enslavement.

Look around in our world, and you will see what it means to be enslaved to sin. We are captured by our fears.

The human being makes many attempts to escape this slavery. The Israelites in Jesus’ day refuted his teaching that they were slaves: “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we will be set free?”

Doesn’t that sound familiar? We are Americans and are free. Politically we are free, thank God. And yet everyone of us are spiritual slaves.

We can acquire wealth, purchase insurance policies, buy good medical care and all of the real estate and social amenities, but still there is a spiritual enslavement. Paul describes this helpless feeling when he writes, “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).

How can I be set free? This is our question, and Jesus gives us the answer. If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

First, we have to be in a personal relationship with Christ. He has died for our sins, and through receiving him in faith as our Savior and Lord, we are forgiven from our sin. The relationship that was broken in the garden has been restored through a blood-stained cross and an empty tomb.

Second, we hold to His teachings. We read God’s Word faithfully where we receive the answers to being set free from our enslavement and the power to make these teachings living truths in our lives.

How does it all work?

I visited with two woman in our coffee shop one morning. Both women had lost their husbands and were acquainted with all of the complications that accompany widowhood. One was convalescing from major heat surgery. Over the coffee cup I asked, “How do you deal with these difficult times in your life? Do you worry? Do you have fears for the future?”

The woman recovering from heart surgery told me she left it all in God’s hands. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). “Come unto me all you who labor, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

She had been set free from her enslavement of worry. Christ had said he would take care of it. Isn’t that enough? Or shall we walk through life enslaved because we are not adequate to deal with all of our sins?

This does not mean that we can live irresponsibly and expect God to take care of it all. I like what one man said, “If your car has a flat tire and you pray about it, but make no effort to fix it or have it fixed, the tire will be flat in the morning.”

Freedom, what a blessing! To lose your freedom is one of the greatest losses that can come to a person. If you doubt that statement, ask a person who has been in prison. One day, while talking with a person who operates a very successful retirement center, he told me that the secret to the success of the center is to give the guest as much freedom as possible. Limit the rules.

Because it is so easy to fall back into spiritual enslavement, I need this word from our Lord in my spiritual computer: “If you abide in my word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

A Cloudy Day

One of the most popular chapters in the New Testament is I Corinthians. Tucked away in this chapter are these words: “Now I see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall understand fully, even as I have fully understood” (I Cor. 13:12 RSV).

This verse took on greater meaning for me when my wife and I visited Denali Park on our trip to Alaska. This par, about the size of Massachusetts, is home for the tallest mountain in North America Ð Mt. McKinley (20,320 feet). Many tourists never get to see the mountain, because it is shrouded in the clouds. That is the way it was when we entered the park one morning, but the conductor on our train assured us that by noon we would see the mighty mountain. We were some of the lucky travelers.

It was an emotional experience to watch the clouds move away from the mountain. For awhile you could see the mountain dimly through the clouds, which were moving away. Then the sky cleared, and there was Mt. McKinley with its majestic arms reaching out.

It reminded me of the words of St. Paul, “Now I see through a mirror dimly, but one day I will see Christ face to face.” Now I wonder what the heavenly home will be like. I come to Christ with many questions, but not until all of the clouds have been taken away and I see him face to face will I have the answers to all of life’s questions and problems.

We have many questions without answers. How hard it is for us to say, “I don’t know the answer to your question.” We seem compelled to explain all of the mysteries of God, and if we don’t, we will have been poor witnesses. How often our doctors freely say, I don’t know the answer to your physical problem.

We have many questions without answers. How difficult it is for us to say that we don’t know the answers to someone’s questions. We seem compelled to explain all of the mysteries of God feeling that if we don’t explain them, we will have been a poor witness. How often our doctors freely say, I don’t know the answer to your physical problem. Dare we not be just as honest when dealing with spiritual questions?

The Bible encourages us to admit how little we know about the things of God’s Kingdom. Job wrote, “Oh that I knew where I might find him. That I might come even to his seat” (John 23:3). And Jesus told his disciples, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).

The Lord has revealed many things to us through His Word, and that is enough for now. Think of what he has revealed to us:

1. We are created in the image of God. We are different from any other part of creation. We have a mind with which we can think, a will with which we can made a decision, and a soul that is immortal. That is who we are: precious and important in God’s eyes, not because of what we do, but because of who we are.

2. We are sinners who live in a broken world. We are not basically good.

3. We have a Savior, Christ Jesus, who has suffered, died, and been raised from the dead. He will return to judge the living and the dead.

4. We have the assurance of an eternal home in heaven. This is a gift. We are saved through trusting Jesus Christ, who has paid the price for our sins and won the victory for us over sin, death, and the devil.

All of this we know and more too. Hang on to what you know. Don’t be a fool and throw out what you know from living with God in His Word simply because he hasn’t answered all of your questions.

Live with God in his word. He will create and strengthen in you a faith that trusts him. The seed that has been sown has power to produce great faith.

Anticipate knowing that the cloudy day will not last. Tomorrow the sun will shine, and we will have the answers to questions that are mysteries today.

Live with a God who loves you. Why did He take that parent or child away? In faith say, I don’t know. Don’t make up silly answers that seek to quiet the emotions temporarily. How foolish to hear a person trying to comfort a grief-stricken parent who has lost a child they loved by saying God needed that child in His Kingdom more than you need them here. The parent is crushed. We don’t know why it happened. But God will give us the grace to accept the reality of death that comes to all of us.

We live in a cloudy day looking for answers. Why, why why?

Why must we have war? Are we not mature, intelligent people who know by now that peace cannot come through killing people, whether it is with bombs from an airplane, a missile, or a suicide bomber?

This is a fallen world, and people exercise their freedom to live away from God. This sin cannot only make the day cloudy. At times it make the day sem pitch black. But in the midst of the darkness, Jesus tells us, I am the light of the world.”

Put this word in your spiritual computer: “Now I see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in party; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.”

Who’s the Judge?

Who’s the judge?

From the cradle to the grave we live under judgment.

The parent judges the baby. “He was such a contented baby and seldom fussed. He slept through the night when he was just a couple months old. But then his sister was born. She had her days and nights mixed up, and we got little sleep until she was several months.”

The teacher judges the student. She tells the parent at their conference, “Bob’s a good student, but it is evident that he does not have the talent that his older sister has. You can’t expect as much from him.”

Teenagers are often under the judging eye of their peers. “Pete is weird.” “Joe is a great guy. The only trouble is that he knows it.” “Mary walks at a fast pace. My mother doesn’t like her.” “Barbara is a beautiful personality.”

Fortunate is the person who learns early in life how to handle the judgments of others. St. Paul helps us with this lesson, so I chose this verse early in life: “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me” (I Cor. 4:3-4).

In these verses we see judgment coming from three sources: ourselves, others, and God.

In one sense of the word, we need to have some concern about the judgment of others. Our livelihood depends to some degree on how we are judged by our superiors. Employers expect us to be faithful and competent in our work. The Christian’s behavior is important if they are going to be successful in sharing the Gospel of Christ with others. But the judgment of others can get out of hand and tie us up in knots if we place too high a priority on what others think or say about us.

Let me share such an experience. One of the first members of the congregation I met when we came to Nazareth Church in Cedar Falls, Iowa was the academic dean of the University of Northern Iowa. The first haunting thought that came to my mind was, Am I going to preach to such an educated person every Sunday? Wow! I am not up to that.

Each Sunday I would check to see if Dean Nelson was in his seat. If he were not, I was much more relaxed than on those Sundays when he was there.

One evening I sat in the living room of the Nelsons, just the two of us. I told him about my feelings of inadequacy to preach to such a highly intelligent person. After listening to me for a bit, he got up from his chair, walked across the room, put his hand on my shoulder, and said words to this effect, Young man, when I come to church, I come to be fed with God’s Word. Have no fear of me or anyone else. We all need to hear this message.”

He helped me quite a bit in dealing with the judgments of others. It is a small thing that we are judged by humans.

Second, Paul writes, “I don’t even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.”

Some judge themselves too harshly. They live with defeated complexes. They make comparisons between themselves and others. When they feel inferior, they drop out of sight and make little contributions in a world that needs to hear from them. I can’t preach like Billy Graham. Does that mean I should quite preaching? A veteran says, “I came back from the war and did not have the purple heart, but two of my friends received this high award. Does that mean I did not have an important place in the war?

I taught first grade all my life. My friend, who is much more intelligent than I, became a consultant on elementary education. She wrote books and lectured all around the country. But if you were a good first grade teacher and helped the children get a good start in reading, isn’t that a tremendous contribution to the world of education?

One of my friends tells about all the people he led to Christ. I wonder if I have introduced any person to the Savior with the exception of my children. Stop judging yourself. Think of what you have done. Your children point to you and say, “I came to know the Lord Jesus through Christian parents.”

Then Paul gets to the judgment that is all important Ð the judgment of God. This judgment often gets the least consideration of all in the lives of many people.

The Bible says, “He will bring to light what is hidden in the darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts” (I Cor. 4:5). When the Holy Spirit has worked through the Law of God, I join with David and say, “I have sinned against the Lord” (I Samuel 12:13).

It is then that we hear the realistic words of Scripture, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar, and his word has no place in our lives” (I John 1:8 & 10). All of our thoughts, words, and actions are exposed for what they are. There is no hiding from God. Only he knows our hearts. He cannot be fooled. Our excuses for not living according to His Word are not accepted by God.

God will not condone one of our sins, but He will forgive all of them. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (I John 1:7, 9).

That’s the Gospel, which frees us from our sins to live for our Savior. Therefore, it is God’s judgment of our faithfulness to Him that is of most concern to us who trust Jesus as our Savior.

Put this thought into your list of recall truths. It’s a small thing that I am judged by people I don’t even judge myself, but I am very concerned that I be found faithful to the Lord Jesus who has freed me from all of my sins and made me His forever.

Contentment

Most people can point to many happy times in their lives. How we looked forward to Christmas Eve. Family and friends were together; the church service was followed with a big meal that included filet mignons and singing the familiar carols Then, opening the gifts followed. Wow! What a night. This became a tradition.

Wasn’t your wedding day a highlight? It was filled with tension, and the adrenalin was running high, but you can still remember the details of that day on your golden wedding anniversary.

And then came the birth of your children. What a precious bundle to hold in your arms and remember your responsibility in raising them. My wife and I were blessed with three children, and each one has filled our lives with enjoyment. Life has been good and is filled with precious memories.

Happiness depends on happenings, but joy depends on our relationship with a Jesus Christ. In St. Paul’s case, his joy was based on his relationship with Jesus Christ. Joy stands in contrast to happiness. Inner contentment is a part of joy. Look at Paul’s confession: “I have learned in whatever state I am in to be content” (Romans 4:11).

Paul was in jail, or at least in house arrest. His friends in Philippi were concerned about him, and had sent Epaphroditus with a gift for Paul. When Epaphroditus returned home, Paul sent a letter with him to the Philippian congregation thanking them for their thoughtfulness. In the letter Paul said he had learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry; whether living in plenty or in want. “I can do everything through hm who strengthens me.”

Sitting in Rome facing the possibility of martyrdom, Paul could have adopted the poor-me fraternity. Why am I in prison? Why doesn’t God destroy an evil man like Nero, who is holding me a prisoner? I wonder if some of the Christians in Germany entertained temptations like these when they sat in Hitler’s concentration camps? Martyrdom has been the fate of millions of Christians through the years. But, like Paul, many have found comfort in these words: “The Lord is at hand” (4:4).

The apostle had received a lot of joy just having Epaphroditus with him. They had so much to talk about as Paul got an update on how certain people were growing in the faith since he left Philippi. They might have reviewed the happenings of the night when Paul and Silas were in prison, and there was an earthquake: The cell doors flew open. The jailer was going to kill himself knowing he would be severely punished, and the authorities would blame him if any of the prisoners escaped in the storm. But Paul shouted, “Don’t kill yourself. We’re all here!” (Acts 16:28).

Later that night Paul shared the message of Jesus with the jailer and his family. They received Christ as their Savior and were baptized. That had to be one of Paul’s great moments from his visit to Philippi.

Now Epaphroditus was going home, and Paul would be alone. But he would not be alone. There would still be that inner joy, for the Lord would be with him. Happiness depends on happenings, but true joy depends on our relationship with Jesus Christ. And then there would be those Christians in Rome who dropped by to see Paul regularly and share the faith with him. As Christians we need the fellowship of other Christians. Therein is found the blessing of the church.

About four times each year my wife receives a round robin letter, which is a bundle of letters from nine ladies. All of them are in their late 70s or early 80s. They were college classmates and have stayed in contact with each other for these many years. Sometimes I read a few of their letters. They share their aches and pains and brag about their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They include some good humor and make plans for seeing each other at an event on the Dana College campus where they were students in the Ô40s. They do not complain about difficult times, but thank God for his many blessings to them. They ask for prayer and assure others in the group that they were praying for them. It is a mighty group of women who reassure each other that they are in their Father’s hands and all is well. That is where joy comes from, although sometimes there is not much happiness.

Are you looking for happiness or joy? If your wish goes no deeper than happiness, you can attain it. Happiness depends on happenings. Make something happen, and you can experience happiness for a while. This is especially true if you have a lot of money, because money can buy happiness, but it cannot buy lasting joy. Only Christ can give us the lasting joy.

Because of this, I have added this powerful verse to my list of verses to be recalled when unhappy news comes my way. “I have learned in whatever state I am in to be content.” Then I know contentment brings joy, and joy is related to my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

“I have learned in whatever state I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11).