Good Friday is good but is it still good enough for today?

Well, it is once again the Passion or Holy Week during which many will celebrate “Good Friday”. You know, the Easter equivalent of Christmas Eve. Though to the casual observer “good” may seem a bit odd when describing the brutal execution of the person worshipped by Christians throughout the globe, I believe most acknowledge why we dare refer to it as “good”. It is on this day that Jesus accomplished for us the forgiveness of sin, the removal of our guilt, and secured a place for us in the Father’s presence in heaven. That truth alone makes this day eternally and unmistakably “good”. It is a simple truth, but we must never allow the simplicity of it to be quickly brushed aside or allow ourselves to grow callous to the enormity of this day through familiarity.

The “good” of Good Friday is so much more than simply “going to heaven”. The significance of this day may be reduced down to “going to heaven” but a panoramic view of the death of Jesus on the cross takes in so much more. The event which transpired on this day has spiritual and social ramifications both eternal and temporal. The “good” in Good Friday is the good we as a race have always needed since Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, but no more so than we need that good today. To understand the fullness of the “good” we much look back upon the life and ministry Jesus while He was alive.

Jesus was without question, a good man whose life was filled with goodness. His goodness was loving, gracious, merciful, and kind. People came from all over to experience and be touched by His goodness. The story of His life is well-described in Mark 10:45 where it is said that He “came not to be served, but to serve”. It is critical, though, that we do not label Jesus as just a humanitarian who came to illustrate for wayward humanity what love looked like. The actions of Jesus were not “random acts of kindness” done out of pity for those less fortunate or to empower the powerless. The miraculous and loving actions of Jesus were powerfully symbolic images of the work Jesus would accomplish on the cross.

The gospel writers reveal in dramatic fashion the spiritual significance of what Jesus would accomplish as they record the miracles wrought by Jesus. During His life He…

*healed a leper (Mark 1:40-45)

*restored a paralytic (Mark 2:1-11)

*freed the demoniac from his bondage (Mark 5:1-13)

*healed the woman with continuous flow of blood (Mark 5:25-34)

*brought a dead girl back to life (Mark 5:35-42)

*gave sight to a blind man (Mark 10:46-52)

In each instance, Jesus was addressing the foundational spiritual issues of fallen humanity, that is, our separation from our Creator. He cleansed the unclean, He gave life to the dead, He gave sight to the blind, He freed the captive, and gave strength to the impotent. All of these maladies and conditions are graphic pictures of what sin brought to mankind. The miracles of Jesus highlight our utterly depraved condition as well as our inability to do anything about it.

It is also imperative for us to observe that Jesus didn’t heal everyone, restore everyone, or touch everyone who would benefit from His miracles and power. In fact, on a global scale, He touched very few. His miracles were to reveal who He was, His intimate love for sinners, and the purpose of His mission to address the separation sin has caused between the Creator and His creation.

Beyond the miraculous, the mission of Jesus is poignantly pictured in His interactions with the myriad of people He mingled with. During His life He lovingly and mercifully engaged a…

*Jewish Tax Collector (Mark 2:14)

*Synagogue official (Mark 5:21-43)

*Gentile woman (Mark 7:24-30)

*Children (Mark 10:13-16)

*Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13)

Jesus gave significance to the socially insignificant. He crossed the social lines of gender and race. He touched the socially untouchable and loved the socially unlovable. While a Jew by birth, heritage, and covenant faithfulness, Jesus was not constrained nor compelled by nationalism. He called the Jewish traitor to be a disciple and humbly served the needs of a Roman Centurion. The hatred the Jews had for the Romans cannot be overestimated. Racism, nationalism, and imperialistic arrogance were alive and thriving well before North America was settled by immigrants from Europe.

Historically, the fall broke the relationship with our Creator and broke our relationship with ourselves (Genesis 3). Jesus came to restore that which was broken (Romans 8 and 12) between both God and His creation as well as what separates and divides us as people. It is here that we begin to see the full spectrum of what makes Good Friday, “good”.

The future hope we have from the work of Jesus on the cross is this: God is creating a new people and a new kingdom comprised of all tribes, nations, and people (Revelation 1, 5, and 22) created through the work of Jesus, the Savior (Revelation 1:4-8); free from all forms of oppression and racism, free from everything and everyone which enslaves and holds us in bondage. It is to be a kingdom in which righteousness dwells (2nd Peter 3:13). While we will never fully experience this in the here and now, this is the secure hope of the future. The full realization of all we hope for, all we crave in this life is found exclusively in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is this hope and this hope alone which enables us to endure difficult and seemingly overwhelming times and events. It is the knowledge and conviction of this certainty that compels us to be diligent in regard to these very things in this life. Following Jesus calls us and empowers us to pursue His purposes now in the faith and hope of what Good Friday brings.

Come to Jesus and hold fast to Him. His promise is sure.

Valentine’s Day…What’s Love Got to do with It?

Valentine’s Day is upon us and whether you cherish the day, despise any such holidays, or are simply apathetic to the whole thing, February 14th is the date when we as a nation are told to celebrate love. It is the day to celebrate by telling the special people in our lives of our fond and enduring affection for them. On this day, many will get engaged to be married and with odds any gambler would be ecstatic to take in Las Vegas, many more will most likely not, inevitably leading to disappointment and heart-ache. Untold dollars will be spent on candy of questionable quality, cheesy cards, and stuffed animals. School children will stress over which current set of characters will grace the valentines they will take to school to distribute to all in their respective classes. Husbands will stress over what to do for their wives; especially those who have waited until early the morning of February 14th! Many will spend the day in sadness over seemingly being forgotten or disregarded.

 More than celebrating love (which SHOULD be celebrated, of course), we need to live it. Our lives need to be defined by it. The lack of genuine, intentional love drives the darkness we all face. There is nothing more basic than love. Yet, there is nothing so complicated, misunderstood, misappropriated, and, well, messy than love. In the Bible, it is the simplest command, yet the most challenging to heed. Even still, with all that as the context during this time of year, let’s look at love, the essential elements. It is there, in the foundational essence of love where we will find our way forward.

Love God

It is here we must begin. The Bible teaches us that “…love is from God…for God is love” (1st John 4:7-8). Two verses later the writer, the Apostle John, gives us the defining image of love, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [the satisfaction of God’s holy justice] for our sins” (1st John 4:10).

Approximately 60 years prior to John so eloquently penning the inspired words on love, Jesus was publicly questioned on what the foremost command of God was. The response of Jesus, while making complete sense in the context of the history of Israel, becomes even clearer upon reading the words of John. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND” (Matthew 22:36).

The greatest commandment in the Bible, given centuries earlier, immediately proceeding the Jews exodus from Egypt, was to love the One who loves us to the full. The call to love God is the call to an adoring, trusting, and faithful devotion to Him who is our Creator and would one day be our Savior.

Jesus didn’t leave it there, though. To love God, is to love what He loves and to love WHO He loves. Thus, we are also to…

Love our neighbor

“The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’” (Matthew 22:39).

Jesus’ simple response of “love God” is quickly joined together with “love your neighbor”. In giving His answer Jesus wants all to understand that loving God is inseparable from loving your neighbor. It is to this truth to which John continued to write on the topic of love.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1st John 4:11).

Two principles here shine forth like the proverbial lighthouse on a dark night. The first is that the love God has for us individually must compel us to unquestionably love all others. God loved us in all our ugly awfulness which leaves us not only without excuse for not loving others but also should motivate us to be loving towards all others. Secondly, it gives us two salient qualifiers for HOW to love others. John states with crystal clarity that we are to love the way God loved us; that is, with grace, humility, mercy, kindness, and self-sacrifice without any foundational worthiness of deserving such love. Jesus in His answer to the question of the greatest commandment, instructs us to love as we love ourselves. Interesting that God AND us as individuals (in a sense) set the standard for what love is to look like. To understand how we fit into this almost contradictory sounding statement made by Jesus we need to look a little deeper.

Let’s say I love bacon (which I do!). On the surface, “loving my neighbor as myself” could look something like this: I love bacon for breakfast with my eggs, bacon for lunch on my Black Forest ham sandwich, and then bacon cheeseburgers for dinner. For dessert, I might as well finish the day with bacon dipped in a rich dark chocolate. Wow, that does sound good! So, in keeping with loving my neighbor as myself, that is what I make for them to show them how much I love them. Which would be so loving of me.

Unless my neighbors were devout, orthodox Jews, of course. Then my efforts wouldn’t really be all that loving. They would actually be offensive to them. It would be one thing to do that in ignorance, another thing completely if I had full knowledge of their convictions and beliefs. It is in “knowledge” where loving others as we love ourselves comes into play.

We love ourselves by doing, seeking, working, and providing what we believe is best for us, what is most enjoyable to us, and what provides for our needs. To love as we love ourselves is to be fully committed to the needs, desires, and burdens of others. Peter captures the idea well in 1st Peter 3:7 when he instructs husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way, that is, literally, to live according to knowledge; knowledge of who their wife is, what SHE loves, what SHE needs, what HER triggers and stressors are, etc.

The two basic principles of love have nothing to do with loving myself. They are exclusively outward in focus and are inseparably connected; love God and love who He loves.

So, what’s a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year as well as make it a celebration of a lifestyle?

Devote yourself to learning how to love

Not too many years before his death, the Apostle Paul wrote, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1st Timothy 1:4).

The Apostle Paul wrote more volumes in the New Testament than any other writer. His writings entail some of the deepest theology imaginable. The depths he explores regarding the nature and work of God is beyond compare outside of the Psalms. Yet, in spite of that, he reduces the goals of all his weighty thinking and teaching to one thing: Love. The great apostle had one goal to all of his teaching, that those who learned from him would love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

A pure heart relates to the purity resulting from having our sins cleansed by the Savior. A good conscience is mind free from guilt and shame because of a live lived in righteousness. A sincere faith relates to the outworking of a life lived in submission and trusting devotion to God. If our hearts have been purified by Christ, if we live obedient lives, and we live in full conviction of trust in God, we will be the most loving people the world has ever seen. To be a follower of Jesus is to be a learner of Jesus. To be a learner of Jesus is to learn His ways and purposes. Want to obey the most important commandment? Devote yourself to being a learner of Jesus.

By extension, be a learner of others as well. We can’t truly love them as we love ourselves if we don’t know who they are, what their story is, what it means to be “them”. That is how to honor what Valentine’s Day is supposed to stand for. Love God and love your neighbor.

In 1983 Tina Turner asked, “What’s love got to do with it?” The answer is very simple. Everything.

2020: The reality show

More than a few people have made online references saying this election season is the Season Finale of the show “2020”. If that is indeed the case, as Christians, lets end the show with a real plot twist and the ultimate surprise ending. Here’s the script…

[Scene 1] Do not engage in fruitless arguments.

Seriously. Don’t, just don’t. The temptation is going to be incredibly strong to voice discontent, frustration, and anger online about your feelings in regard to this presidential election, especially the voting process. No matter how justified you might feel, such activity will not change anything nor will it positively influence anyone directly involved or even passively watching or listening. The reality is this: no matter what the optics are, we truly don’t KNOW everything that has transpired which means emotions are being generated by speculation. Speculation, while probably containing varying elements of truth, almost always leads to a conclusion which provokes powerful and generally unhealthy emotions which ultimately foster resentment and bitterness.

Am I saying we shouldn’t engage in conversations about these issues? Not in any way, shape, or form! Before we do though, please consider the following scriptural instructions:

2nd Timothy 2:16“…avoid worldly and empty chatter for it will lead to further ungodliness.”

As much as I enjoy good memes like the rest of us, can we please admit that while they can be entertaining and can illustrate principle, they are mostly worthless for anything truly edifying. In my mind there is nothing in our world that defines “empty chatter” like the meme shots we take. But hey, they ARE fantastic at eliciting a defensive and antagonistic response.

2nd Timothy 2:22-24 – flee youthful lust…pursue righteousness…refuse to be quarrelsome

“Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged…”

One of, if not the most, powerful of youthful lusts is the lust to win an argument, prove ourselves to be “right”, and vindicate ourselves. In fact, within the context of 2nd Timothy 2:14-26 that is most likely the “lusts” Paul is referring to. Don’t strive to win an argument. Don’t strive to shut your “opponent” up or beat them down. Paul reminds us in verse 24 that we are the Lord’s bondservant; not the servant of our party affiliation, not the servant of our ideology. As the Lord’s bondservant make it your goal to pursue righteousness, that is, being right with God. If our goal is merely a societal morality that aligns with what we believe the Bible says we are falling far short. We must ask ourselves, how are we in our discussion of politics and political processes pointing people to the Savior by reflecting the Savior?

Instead of venting your frustration online, submit your emotions to the Lord. Cry out to the Lord. He DOES know everything that has transpired, both right and wrong. Read the Psalms. Find the heart of David as he asks God for justice and vindication and rests in the faith that God is above the nations.

Ephesians 4:26-27 and James 1:19-20 – Deal with your anger and don’t let it dominate you

Ephesians 4:26-27 BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.

James 1:19-20 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

Are you angry over what has transpired? Fine. Anger is a God-given emotion. Spend your time seeking ways to be angry without being sinful. The effects of unrestrained anger have been plainly seen in our society. Just because you aren’t smashing windows at the local Best Buy and stealing a flat screen or lighting a police car on fire doesn’t mean your anger is squeaky clean and your indignation is righteous indignation. Your anger may not manifest itself thusly but that does not mean your anger is not equally destructive.

[Scene 2] Remember your calling – 1st Peter 3:8-12

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For,

“THE ONE WHO DESIRES LIFE, TO LOVE AND SEE GOOD DAYS,

MUST KEEP HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING DECEIT.

“HE MUST TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD;

HE MUST SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT.

“FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE TOWARD THE RIGHTEOUS,

AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER,

BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL.”

If you are a follower of Jesus, a believer, the people of God, remember that you have been called to inherit a blessing; a blessing which will come in God’s time and in God’s way. Notice in this text the fullness of what Peter connects with our inheritance of God’s blessing.

*Be harmonious

*Be sympathetic

*Be kindhearted

*Be humble

*Not returning insult for insult (see also 1st Peter 2:21-24)

*Be a blessing

*Keep your mouth from evil

*Seek and pursue peace

This is where we exhibit the reality of our faith or the genuine lack of it. Do you believe God is sovereign? Do you believe nothing gets past Him? Do you believe He will deal with wickedness? Genuine faith finds rest while the world around us rages.

Lastly…

[Scene 3] Play our trump card – 1st Peter 2:13-17

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

Did you see what I did there? How clever of me. Seriously though, if ever there were a time to play our favorite political card, now is it.

We love this truth when the person we voted for wins and is in office. Now we get to live it. Now is when the world will see what faith looks like. Now is the time for faith to shine. Though the votes aren’t all in, Joe Biden has been declared the President of the United States. He is my president. Did I vote for him? Nope. Do I passionately disagree with much of what he and the Democratic Party stand for? Yep. As a citizen of heaven who finds my earthly citizenship in the United States, he is my president. If Peter can call his readers to honor Nero (who had no honor), we can give honor to the president elect of our nation, who by the way, we would most likely welcome if suddenly we found Nero as our king.

Trust the Lord, He is probably doing something you wouldn’t believe if He told you (Habakkuk 1:5). Our citizenship is in heaven; our King is not elected and will never be de-throned. Live like it and rest in it.

Let’s flip the script.

Pestilence, Disaster, and God’s People

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The uncertainty and question marks of the days in which we live span  the expanse from “How much of society will get shut down?” to “Anyone have any toilet paper?” to “How many will die from this?” It doesn’t take much imagination at all to conjure up endless possibilities of where this virus could take us. One of the most significant consequences of the state of the current state of our world is the panic which has so quickly set in. I’m not going to deny that uncertainty breeds fear and fear does breed panic. It IS fairly normal. While we don’t have many answers on the medical or scientific level, it is critical for us to keep our eyes looking above the seemingly barren landscape of no toilet paper, no sports, and significant health issues. 

As we face the panorama of uncertainty, here are four truths for us to hold onto.  

1) God can and will sustain His people amid great grief and turmoil. 

The Bible is filled with a seemingly endless array of dramatic and sorrowful scenarios involving individuals as well as entire nations; none though would probably be greater than what is found in the first chapter of Lamentations. In graphic terms Jeremiah describes the pain and misery as Judah is led away into captivity by the conquering Babylonians. The life and glory of their nation had been stripped away and all that seemed to remain was sorrow and turmoil. Many were to be led away to live in a foreign land, their homes destroyed, their lives stripped away. Those left behind were to live in the broken down ruins of a once great nation. 

The promise of Jeremiah 27 and 29 though, was anything but hopeless. God was bigger than the Babylonians. God was better than their turmoil. While their eyes could only see uncertainty, there was no uncertainty in the hands and mind of their covenant Lord. In the worst of times, in the seemingly most desperate of situations, God was able to sustain and bless His people. It is in God we must find our stability. 

Now, let’s be clear, God allowed Judah to be conquered, captured, and deported because of her sin and unfaithfulness. I am NOT saying the current state of our world is God’s judgment for sin. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. In one sense, it really doesn’t matter. What DOES matter, above all, is that we keep our eyes and hope fixed on God. He can and will sustain us amid painful days. Our lives may become exceedingly inconvenient and painful, but God is faithful and will bear us up during whatever may come. 

2) The misery and trials of God’s people drives them to seek Him. 

The book of James is without question a hallmark for properly responding to suffering. Chapter 1, following the call to “consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials”, implores those so suffering to do two specific things: Seek the Lord for wisdom and receive the Word.  

Our lives are filled with trials of all sizes and magnitudes. No matter how insignificant or how life-altering they are the answer is still the same. We are called seek the Lord through prayer and reading His word with a heart of expectant faith and humble submission.  

God is never flippant nor whimsical with the trials He allows (or in some cases sends) upon His people. God allowed Job suffering beyond what I can possibly imagine to both vindicate him as well as to reveal Himself at a greater level to him. Jesus fell asleep in a boat knowing a storm was brewing; a storm so powerful it was able to terrify a group of seasoned boatmen. He did so to force them to cry out to Him and for Him to demonstrate His ability to provide for them when situations were bigger than their ability to cope. 

Without speculating what the coming days will look like, let us be faithful to not only trust the Lord, but to seek Him. 

3) Trials, inconveniences, and suffering are opportunities to reflect the Savior. 

One of the greatest lessons Jesus taught His followers was that of being humble servants. In Mark 10:45 He told them, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many.” 

Paul, essentially continued this line of instruction when taught the Philippians what it meant to follow Jesus when he wrote, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:3-5).  

Let us look to mirror the heart of our Savior as we walk whatever this road turns out to be and wherever this road leads. No matter how inconvenienced we may be, no matter how we may have to suffer, may people see Jesus in us and experience His grace and kindness through us. A self-centered life is never of God but especially now.

4) Trials, inconveniences, and suffering are opportunities for the gospel. 

Without question, people will be experiencing hopelessness and despair at any number of levels. Questions about the future can rattle even the strongest and most secure. Let us be ready to point them to a faithful Creator and a merciful Savior. Let us be ready to lift the heads of the weary and frightened by pointing them to what is above and beyond this earth. 

Let us not forget the image of Paul and Silas sitting in prison singing praises to the Lord (Acts 16) and while chained as a prisoner the gospel was never chained (2nd Timothy 2:9). Let us seize this opportunity given by God to arm ourselves with the gospel and bring hope to a needy world. 

What shall we do about Kanye?

1) Check your heart for self righteous arrogance.

It’s a bit of a challenge to believe someone like Kanye could get saved isn’t it? The notion that this could be nothing more than a publicity stunt wouldn’t be too far-fetched. He has been so arrogant and so blasphemous in the past he must be “too far gone” to ever come to faith in Christ.

If that is how we are feeling we need to think about what that says about our own self-righteousness. He is too much of a sinner to be saved but we were not? If you or I think we were “good enough” to be saved but Kanye isn’t, it is imperative that we stop right now, confess our sin, and repent of our self-righteous heart.

What holds true for my salvation holds true for Kanye’s. I need, you need, as much mercy, grace, and love from God in Christ as Kanye does.

Titus 3:4-7 (NASB)

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

2) Check your heart (part 2). Pray for his discipleship.

While it is true that his needs as a believer are the same as the rest of us, the public and private pressure on him is (and will continue to be) enormous because of who he is. Rather than take a sit, wait, and watch approach to his faith we need to pray for him. He needs discipleship by someone older and mature in the faith. He needs to be taught the scriptures. He will need perseverance and steadfastness because of arrogant, self-righteous “Christians” who can’t handle someone “like him” coming to faith in Christ. I imagine the temptation to prove himself to the naysayers must be enormous and that distraction alone could be enough to take his focus off of Jesus.

Acts 9:26-27 (NASB)

When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.

Philippians 1:9-11 (NASB)

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

3) Check your theology. God saves sinners.

This is an extension of #1 above. God saves sinners. Period. He saved the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43). He saved the murderous Saul (Acts 9:1-31). He brought Nebuchadnezzar low to lift him up (Daniel 4:28-37). Kanye’s salvation can’t really be out of the realm of possibility can it?

Maybe one reason our churches are so ineffective at the work of evangelism is that in the deepest recesses of our hearts we ultimately reject the belief that God is able to save sinners. Can it be we don’t believe Jesus is sufficient for any and all sinners who turn to Him?

1 Timothy 1:15 (NASB)

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.

4) Check your theology (part 2). Celebrate a sinner’s salvation not a celebrity’s addition to the lineup.

I’ve heard (maybe you have, too) Kanye’s salvation is a win for the Kingdom because he will reach people we can’t and his celebrity status will give him a hearing we will never have. Ok, I’m not going to lie. That IS pretty exciting and encouraging. He will be (and has been) used to reach people for Jesus. Absolutely.

Again, lets check our theology though. God doesn’t NEED him, just like he doesn’t NEED us. God wasn’t desperate for someone to reach Noah to build the arc. God wasn’t waiting for someone to call Abraham to faith. The reason Paul didn’t come to faith earlier wasn’t because nobody told him the gospel. God reached them ON HIS OWN. It is by God’s grace we are called into His service and are used by Him to accomplish His redemptive purposes. He really is in good shape on His own. He is supremely self-sufficient and self-sustaining.

It is imperative we follow the angels example in celebrating the only truth worth cheering about: A sinner came to faith in Jesus and was redeemed by the grace of God.

Luke 10:20 (NASB)

“Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”

Luke 15:10 (NASB)

“In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

5) Check your expectations. Don’t expect a child to be an adult.

Yes, Kanye will do and say dumb things. He will act inappropriately at times. He is a new believer. He may be chronologically older, but spiritually he is a baby. We would never demean our two year old for not being able to tie their shoes, properly load the dishwasher (few adults are capable of THIS), or make dinner for the family. In a spiritual sense, don’t demean Kanye for being a spiritual infant. Sure, he did an event at Joel Osteen’s church. Good for him! Joel needs to hear about Jesus and it was probably the first time Jesus has been proclaimed there.

Ephesians 4:14-16 (NASB)

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

6) Check your expectations. Don’t expect him to be a polished theologian.

See #5 above. He doesn’t know the Bible nor will he be fully versed in a year. He will make statements about the faith that will undoubtedly make us cringe. Learning takes a lifetime. Some of us might need to look in the mirror on this one. We all see the “spiritual truths” you post online…that you learned from your pet…in the clouds…from the whisper of the wind in the trees…

Acts 18:24-26 (NASB)

Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

Jesus, I pray Kanye’s faith is genuine. Please sustain him and keep him rooted in you, focused on you. Please surround him with people who know you, love you, and are mature saints in their faith. May he be teachable and moldable. Please compel us to be kind, loving, and gracious toward him. Please convict him of sin and grow him in obedience to you. In your name and in your power alone Jesus, amen.

My hope is built on…the World Series?

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Well, not really, but seriously, it really is, or was.  That is, until the Dodgers game 5 defeat (collapse, disaster, whatever you want to call it) at the hands of the Washington Nationals in the opening round of this year’s playoffs. All year we have been planning a trip to visit Troy and Cassie down in Idaho and the dates for our visit were specifically chosen to coincide with the World Series. The hope was for me and Troy to be able to watch, and celebrate, the Dodgers in the World Series. The trip will still happen and we will enjoy our time together as a family but our hope of cheering the Dodgers to victory together is gone and nothing can bring it back. How sad that a year of planning could be dashed by the events of 3 days which actually totaled (at most) 12 hours. Crazy, isnt’ it? I mean, crazy to base the events of a vacation around something which has more likelihood of not happening as happening.

But, is it really THAT crazy though? Don’t we do that all the time? Do we not in fact base our hope on things which are guaranteed (at some level) to let us down and not produce everything we had hoped? Even if all the bad that can happen doesn’t happen, isn’t everything we base hope, stability, fulfillment, and/or success on nothing more than a gamble with no promise of any positive fruition? The reality is this: There is nothing in this world which is absolutely, unequivocally safe to set our hope on. Our health, our finances, our relationships, our families, our mental well-being (among many other things) all leave us vulnerable in the extreme.

That is, except for one glaring exception: those whose hope is set on Jesus Christ.

The foundational promise is this,

“For this is contained in Scripture:‘BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone,AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.’” (1st Peter 2:6)

He who believes will not be disappointed. Now THAT is a promise! The promise of faith in Jesus is that no matter what happens, no matter how life feels or seems RIGHT NOW, when I get to the end of my life and stand in eternity, I will NOT say, “Wow…I didn’t see THAT coming. Now what am I going to do?!” It is the promise that every pain and sacrifice will be redeemed, every wrong made right, and every sin forgiven.

We have this assurance made clear by the words of Jesus in John 14,

“‘Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.’” (John 14:1-3)

Jesus was telling His followers they were safe. They, and ALL who confess Jesus as Lord, are safe by the promises made in the short phrase “… I go to prepare a place for you…”

“I go” — where Jesus was going was NOT heaven, but the cross. Although at that moment they were terrified by the revelation that He was to be betrayed and killed, that was the path to their safety.

“To prepare a place” — again, not heaven. Specifically mansions or rooms in heaven. The text specifically states the dwelling places in the Father’s house are already in existence. Jesus did not have to, nor is He currently, building us a mansion. The “place” Jesus speaks of is not a location but an eternal residency in the Father’s house. Our rightful place in the Father’s house was paid for by the shed blood of Jesus on the cross which bought our forgiveness and removed our guilt.  We have a hope made sure that any ministry service, any sacrifice, any suffering for what is right, any gift in Jesus name, any obedience, and any act of faith will not have been wasted. They are all safe in the Father’s hands.

“For you” — You who believe (1st Peter 2:6). Only those whose faith is placed squarely upon the grace given by God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross have this assurance.

We can be at peace knowing that our toil is not in vain. We are free from the fear that in the last innings there will be no chance of heroic home runs from the opposition leaving us in shock wondering, “What just happened?!”

The precious words of Edward Mote in his famous hymn will always ring true…

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

 

When darkness veils His lovely face,

I rest on His unchanging grace;

In every high and stormy gale

My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

 

His oath, His covenant, and blood

Support me in the whelming flood;

When every earthly prop gives way,

He then is all my Hope and Stay.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

 

When He shall come with trumpet sound,

Oh, may I then in Him be found,

Clothed in His righteousness alone,

Faultless to stand before the throne!

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

Are you as tired as I am?

Over the last decade or so, I have learned three truths which become more evident with every passing year.

The first my dad taught me as his life was slowly ebbing away. I’ll never forget hearing him say, “Dying is not for the weak.”

The second is closely related. I’ve heard it from many and am experiencing it more with every passing year; sometimes with every passing month. That is, growing old is not for the faint of heart.

The third, I’ve come to see upon personal reflection and conversations with people of all ages and walks of life. Before dying and getting old, life is not for the weak.

It matters not where or who you are, life is exhausting, every part of it. Sometimes it seems like we are doing nothing more than trying to climb an unassailable mountain. 23481287704_9a29272c56_z

Our world, our social and professional venues, our relationships (both social and familial) challenge us and test us. Most of all, we have ourselves. We struggle, fail, and face our own limitations daily. It has been rightly said, the most difficult and challenging leadership role is that of leading ourselves.

A life of faith following Jesus is no different. Living by faith is exhausting. Living obediently is a constant battle. Striving to live like Jesus is overwhelming. The world around me and my flesh within me work tirelessly to undermine my faith and strive to to tempt me away from my Savior.

Serving, leading, and caring for others is often met with minimal effect. My own personal self-centeredness, pride, and arrogance meet me at every turn. Sometimes I just get tired and the Enemy tries to get me to say “What’s the use, what does it matter anyway?”

There is a promise though. The promise of rest. The promise of a harvest. The promise of glory which can’t compare. It calls me to persevere through the daily grind of serving, of endlessly having to confess my sin, and my unending need to rely upon Jesus. Daily I’m reminded that life is only a vapor (Psalm 90) but eternity is, well, forever. The promise of life in Jesus calls me to see now with a view to eternity; past the toil, struggle, and pain of this life.

Hebrews chapter 4 teaches us there is coming a day of rest; rest from the toil and burden of the evil around me and the sin within me. One day, those who through faith have had their sin forgiven and have been re-born by the work of Jesus on the cross, will have their tears wiped away for eternity when they finally stand in the presence of the Lord (Revelation 21:1-4).

Paul called his Galatian readers to “…not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Galatians 6:9). I was recently asked, in essence, what will we reap, what good will come? The thought was expressed out of frustration that God hadn’t answered their prayers the way they had wanted. All I could say was, “I don’t know!” He just says we will reap for doing good. In God’s economy “good” will bring “good”. Most often Scripture does NOT tell us exactly what we will receive, just its quality (cf. 1st Peter 1:3-5); a quality so good according to Romans 8:18 that it won’t even be in the same universe as the pain and suffering we experience in this life.

I am reminded of my routine of planting flowers each Spring. Every May I buy several bulk packages of what is simply labeled as “wildflowers”. From year to year I have no idea what kind of flowers will grow but grow they do! Each year is different and each year’s flowers are beautiful. I really don’t need to know what I will “reap” for not growing weary, I just know I will and it will be good because God is good beyond my ability to even comprehend.

Yes, every bit of life is exhausting, but don’t lose heart. Don’t give in to the weariness.

When the World Seems to Win

50330754_2080232692023605_1616641349665161216_nOn January 22, 2018 a significant battle was lost in the war to proctect the lives of unborn children when New York legalized abortion up to the moment of birth.  All, no matter which side of the line one is on, recognize this is not merely one battle in a chronology of many. This was a momentum changer. This was the type of battle which could determine the outcome of an entire war. Inevitably, this will be the first of many such events in our nation in the days, weeks, and months to come.

So what do we as Christians do? How do we, how SHOULD we respond when the world seems to be winning, and that in a landslide?

Trust

A number of months ago I made such a statement in regards to the political climate we were living in and received a fair amount of criticism. I was accused of being trite and a acting like simpleton. There is nothing trite nor simplistic about exercising trust and faith in His Lordship, sovereignty, goodness, and omnipotence. Faith is foundational to our relationship with God. The writer of Hebrews states, “…without faith it is impossible to please Him…” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith and trust are active. It is the ignorant and simplistic who themselves believe a call to trust is a call to inactivity. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Genuine faith moves the faithful to action and sustains their faithful actions even when times seem hopeless. Genuine trust looks beyond what is visible to the eyes and emotions, not allowing passion to turn to panic. Psalm 37 calls men and women of God to persevere in wicked times without sinking into the depths of fret and worry.

A couple thousand years ago a truly innocent, righteous, and holy man was executed by an angry mob, liberal and vain religious leaders, and evil politicians. Wicked injustice was celebrated with cheers of victory and His followers retreated into hopeless defeat.

Then, when all seemed lost and the darkness of despair seemed to be swallowing them whole, Jesus was raised from the dead in an unmistakable display of victorious glory. In a few short weeks those who had called for His death and cheered His demise were calling out in terror, “What shall we do?!” (Acts 2:37). THAT was the game changer as 3000 were turned to Christ in one overwhelming work of the Spirit upon the hearts of sinners.

Yes, let us trust and faithfully “…hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful…” (Hebrews 10:23).

Teach

While in the midst of challenging times it is critical to keep reminding ourselves of what our purpose is. Our calling is simple. We have been called to make disciples. Discipleship contains many elements but teaching is central. A disciple is a learner.

The victory being celebrated is based on the passing of a legal matter into law. Law though, has limited ability to bring about good in society. Laws will indeed restrain some and laws will give freedom to others regarding morality. The truth is though, law has almost zero ability to transform individuals and society.

Let’s not be ignorant. Law reflects a society’s moral world-view and the application of law will have significant impact on the lives of those living under its rule. Those truths are certain. What will bring about transformation though is not changing the laws of society, it is changing the MIND of society. To change society we must change individuals. To change individuals, we have to change their mind.

Do we want change the way people view abortion? We must return to our biblical roots. We must teach God is Creator. We must call people into submission to His sovereign lordship. We must teach our eternal accountability to our Creator. We must personally be devoted to those truths and live those truths. We must demonstrate the value of life by the way we love and care for all people, born and unborn alike. We must confess our hypocrisy of caring for the unborn child while having wicked hatred in our hearts for those pass laws allowing for their death. Let’s not forget there is a difference between hating the immorality and evil of those who celebrate the death of children and hating THEM. Remember, they were once an unborn child we fought to protect. Just because their thinking has become repugnant, they are still a “life” Christ died to save.

Yes, let continue to fight for laws which are right, good, and moral. Let us even more submit ourselves to the Lordship of Christ and be ready to make a defense of our hope (1st Peter 3:15).

Talk

Yes, talk. Talk to God. Talk to Him passionately, emotionally, consistently, and in humility. We need to cry out to God on behalf of those whose hearts are hardened and for those whose lives are most vulnerable. 

The prophet Habakkuk cried out to God. He cried out for the Lord to help. He was surrounded by violence, iniquity, wickedness, injustice, and the resulting destruction those elements will always produce (Habakkuk 1:1-4). God answered the prophet’s despairing cry. God responded with the assurance that He was about to do something “…you would not believe if you were told…” (Habakkuk 1:5). 

We are called to teach and proclaim God’s word and to be a light to the world. We are called to care for those God places into our lives. We are called to live driven by conviction and purpose. We are called to be diligent, faithful, and hard-working in serving the purposes of God. Ultimately though, we are called to believe (and trust!) that only God can change the human condition as well bring about justice.

The prophet loved his people. He was despairing at what he saw and experienced. The intercession he raised to the Lord on behalf of the nation did not rescind his responibility as prophet but revealed the source of change if change was to happen.

Our greatest efforts will come to naught without the intervention of the Lord. Likewise, any success cannot be attributed to our own good efforts but to the power of God working through us; many times in spite of us.

Yes, let us trust and not despair. Let us keep working, teaching, and pleading with those whose hearts are hard. Let us keep bringing our efforts and those we seek to minister to before the Lord, the only author and perfector of faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Happy New Year or Happy for a New Year?

So, how was your year? Was it everything you hoped for and wanted it to be or was your year such that you are one of those who can’t wait for 2018 to end? I have spoken to more than a few whose thoughts are that 2019 better not be worse than 2018 as it was a year they would rather forget. Here’s hoping to a better 2019, right?

I understand the point. Nobody wants, pain, disappointment, hurt, and/or grief. We all know those experiences are normative in life but having a break from them for a year isn’t too much to ask is it? This mindset becomes a problem though when we begin to live with the view that a pain-free existence is what is owed me by God and thus what I deserve.

The hard truth of the Bible is this: Christians have been called to suffer. No, not in some masochistic, “woe is me”, martyrdom, with an Eyore complex but with the purposeful work of the Lord in our lives and following the example of Christ Himself.

Peter wrote in his first epistle,

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness… (1st Peter 2:21-24)

If we are to understand the role of suffering in our lives and embrace the will of God in the midst of it all there are a couple of points we need to consider.

1) Our suffering as Christians is tied directly to our salvation and our life in Christ.

We must first realize our suffering is purposeful. Suffering in our lives is never whimsical or meaningless. God doesn’t allow or even bring suffering into our lives simply for the sake of suffering. As it is part of the purpose of our salvation we must trust that our suffering is likewise part of God’s plan for us; both in us and through us.

This comes into focus with crystal clarity when we look past our suffering to the suffering of Jesus. He didn’t just suffer on our behalf, He suffered both as an example for us to follow as well as a path in which we are to walk.

2) Suffering is intrinsic to God’s redemptive purposes.

Jesus suffered ultimately so save us from our sin. Peter states that Jesus “bore our sins in His body on the cross”. The holy and sinless Messiah took our sin upon Himself on the cross. In taking our sin and paying our price for sin He took our guilt and God’s wrath which we alone deserved.

LIkewise, the purpose of our suffering is to be seen as redemptive; not redemptive in saving ourselves or others from their sin but yet working with Christ’s redemptive work on the cross to accomplish God’s purposes in us and through us.

If we are to follow Christ’s example in suffering, we must learn to look outside of ourselves and beyond ourselves. In 3:15 Peter encourages his readers to always be ready to make a defense to any who would ask of the hope within them. What would compel someone to ask us about our hope? How we live while suffering! As we follow the example of Christ two realities will flow out of us as we suffer.

First, we will exhibit faith. Peter reminds us in 2:23 that while suffering He “kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” Jesus was able to go the cross, take our sin and guilt, and suffer the Father’s wrath for sin because He had complete trust in God to judge Him rightly. In other words, He trusted God that His suffering would ultimately end well for Him.

Secondly, we will demonstrate a level of unexplainable joy. The writer of Hebrews in 12:2 wrote, “…who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” Similarly, James instructs believers to “consider it all joy” when we encounter all manner of trials (James 1:2). Joy is different than happiness. God doesn’t expect us to be happy when we suffer, rather, He calls us to be joyful. What’s the difference? Happiness is solely focused on circumstances. Happiness is the absence of pain while experiencing personal pleasure. Joy, on the other hand, is the settled contentment and satisfaction of resulting good, regardless of pain or the lack thereof.

In this way, our suffering works as a platform for the gospel to be proclaimed through us to those who need to experience the saving work of Christ. There is no more powerful a witness than to trust in the midst of incredible crisis and to have a joy amid grievous circumstances because of our settled trust in God’s goodness to us no matter what we may see or feel.

Suffering is also personally redemptive. Suffering puts in the place of continually learning to trust God more and more. As Jesus “entrusted Himself to Him who judges righteously” it teaches us to trust as Jesus Himself had to trust. It also compels us to draw close to the Lord. James continued addressing trials when we wrote, “…if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God…” What wisdom is needed during trials? In context it would be two specific things. We need to seek the wisdom to know how to be joyful in our trials and how to have perseverance in our trials. Joy and perseverance, two critical areas of growth we all need. Trials and suffering work to get us there, to a place of God-glorifying maturity and wisdom.

I have come face to face with a simple fact: God loves me too much to keep me comfortably free from suffering. Suffering puts me in position to be and do what He calls me to do and promises to bless me for. By suffering rightly, I am a witness for Him. By suffering rightly, I grow closer to Him. Aren’t those two actions what we all desire as Christians?

No, I don’t want pain, nor do I wish pain upon anyone. I do know though, God will use and redeem the pain He brings or allows for both my good and His glory. I pray that is good enough for all of us.

Here’s to a Joyful 2019.

A Matter of Perspective

Perspective is a funny thing. While watching the Dodgers in the postseason I noticed my opinion changed depending which side of the ball the Dodgers were on. If a Dodger whiffed on a pitch it was because they were a buffoon. If the Braves/Brewers/Red Sox whiffed it was obviously due to the amazing skill of the Dodger pitcher. The Dodgers received either all the credit or all the blame. That’s my perspective and I’m sticking to it.

The problem with that is my perspective is flawed. It is emotional, often irrational (usually), and most assuredly self-focused (always). My perspective is based on my wants, my desires, and my pleasures. If someone or some situation does not contribute in some way to the fulfillment of those things it is universally viewed as “bad” and must be “wrong”. In baseball that is mostly acceptable and appropriate. I’m a fan and a fairly passionate as well as opinionated one at that (shocking, I know)! That is how being a fan works. Viewing the events of my life through that same lens though is anything but healthy and overtly contrary to Scripture and the life of faith.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NASB)

He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.

Isaiah 46:9-10 (NASB)

“Remember the former things long past,

For I am God, and there is no other;

I am God, and there is no one like Me,

Declaring the end from the beginning,

And from ancient times things which have not been done,

Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,

And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;

Romans 8:28 (NASB)

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

1 Peter 5:6-7 (NASB)

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

I have been created to understand and know the significance and value of the events and workings of my life but that sacred knowledge comes only through faith in and knowledge of God. It is rooted in His proven and unassailable character which He has demonstrated through the ages. God knows me and knows what is best for me. Every move He makes in my life is based on His perfect knowledge, His perfect love, and His perfect purposes. My life simply needs to be lived in a settled and abiding trust He will make good on His promises and purposes in my life and in the world.

My focused pursuit of personal happiness will only lead me away from what is good and will always be in opposition to what is of God. Only via a resilient reliance upon Him will I realize meaning and satisfaction to the seemingly tumultuous events and circumstances of my life.

Now, if I could just get the same from the Dodgers…