God Is Greater


Corruption exists in any number of societal institutions here in the US.

When I was in high school and college, I learned about Big Business and its evils which required new laws to curb monopolies and to protect labor movements. Except, the results contributed to Big Government and Big Labor.

Now we also have Big Entertainment and Big Banking and Big Media and Big Education.

Honestly, it’s easy to feel squeezed, to feel defeated. Who can fight city hall? Or cable TV? Or union dues? Or bank foreclosures? Or the department of education?

Worse still is that the operating principle in each of these Big Systems is primarily greed—get mine and make it as big as possible. The idea of cooperation, the idea of working for the greater good—those are archaic notions, nostalgically remembered but no longer practiced apart from a few mom and pop stores and a smattering of charities.

Even medicine is trending toward Big and Profitable. The prescription drug industry is right there as well.

How odd that in a country build on rights and freedoms, there seems to be less and less within the individual’s control.

In many respects, our institutions operate much like mountain runoff. It starts as a pleasant and pure stream high above timberline where it waters meadows and wildflowers, but ends up funneled into a muddy and polluted river.

Rivers can be incredibly powerful. They can overflow their banks, sweep through an area, and wipe out homes and fields. They can carve canyons from stone and generate enough force to run electric plants.

But greater than any river is God who made them all.

Too often when we see news about shootings and clashes with the police and racial tension and young girls kidnapped and thousands of people trapped on top of a mountain and public beheadings, it’s easy to forget how great God is.

Things feel out of control.

Evil seems to be winning.

It’s easy to forget that God is greater. The truth is, He rules the universe, so it’s not much of a leap to realize He’s also in control of all our societal machinations. Psalm 37 says

Do not fret because of evil doers;
Be not envious toward wrong doers
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb. (vv 1-2)

If we think of God as higher and over all the multiverse—and we should, because Isaiah 40 says He knows the stars by name, that because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing—then surely God is over the climate change on earth and the clash between nations and terrorist plots and political intrigue and all the other problems we so often focus on or hide from.

God is in control.

Psalm 37 again.

The wicked plots against the righteous
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees his day is coming.
The wicked have drawn the sword and bent their bow
To cast down the afflicted and the needy,
To slay those who are upright in conduct.
Their sword will enter their own heart
And their bows will be broken. (vv 12-15)

On the other hand, if we think of God as Ruler of the heart yielded to Him, what can’t He overcome? Greed? Not a problem. Pride? He abases the proud look and humbles man’s loftiness.

A few song lyrics are floating through my head as I think about God’s power over our sin. One is “Marvelous Grace Of Our Loving Lord,” which has this chorus:

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

The other is “The Wonderful Grace Of Jesus” with this first verse:

Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin;
How shall my tongue describe it, where shall its praise begin?
Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free,
For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me!

Yes, God is greater than any of the big institutions that crowd in on top of us and threaten to distract us from what has eternal significance. And God’s grace is greater than any of the sin that weighs us down and holds us captive.

God provides hope and help—release from sin; advocacy in our need. Once more from Psalm 37

For the Lord loves justice
And does not forsake His godly ones. (v. 28a)

Great is His faithfulness. Greater is He than . . . well, anything.

This article originally appeared here in August, 2014.

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Published in: on January 30, 2019 at 5:11 pm  Comments (3)  
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The First Week Of Advent — Hope


I don’t know much about Advent. Here’s what the always-helpful Wikipedia says about it:

Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”.

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.

I like that!

I didn’t grow up in a church that treated Christmas as a season, much less as one with an organized, scripted approach to the Big Day. My present church hasn’t done much either. But I’m becoming a little more familiar with it. During the first week of Advent, believers are called to think about the prophecies pertaining to the Hope of Israel, the Messiah whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. The virtue attached to this first week is hope.

The truth is, a lot of Christmas is about disappointment.

Maybe that’s because a lot of life is about disappointment. When you’re young, of course, you don’t realize the permanent nature of disappointment. Yes, permanent. You didn’t win the high school football championship, so you say, We’ll get it next year.

But eventually there is no “next year” for high school football, and that disappointment about missing that block or dropping that pass or fumbling that punt return will just be there.

This is true about pretty much everything. Husbands and wives, who love each other dearly, nevertheless discover that their spouse is not perfect. That she doesn’t bake cakes like Mom did, is disappointing. That she has gained a few pounds or wants to stay home instead of pursuing her career and bringing in a second income, is disappointing.

He, on the other hand, doesn’t take care of the yard the way Dad did, and he doesn’t like to go out or have friends over for dinner. Instead, he seems glued to the TV every weekend. It’s disappointing.

But kids, well, there’s nothing disappointing about our children, is there? I mean, they are so cute and cuddly and innocent and sweet. So precious. Until they begin to cry. At 2:00 AM. Until they poop in the diaper you just changed. Until they take longer to learn to walk than you thought they should. Until they tell you no. Until it’s hard to potty train them. Until they don’t like to read, and you’re a bookaholic. Until . . .

You get the picture.

What in life isn’t disappointing? Sure, there are successes—like winning that high school football championship. But that was high school. What are you doing now? And how will you top it tomorrow?

There’s always a new goal, something else that we need, someone else we wish were here. It’s a great time, but if only . . . then it would be perfect.

Along comes the Bible announcing a hope that does not disappoint. There’s a specific reason why this hope is different from all others:

and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom. 5:5-6)

The passage goes on to explain how Christ’s death for sinners accomplished something we need: reconciliation with God. So here are the twin foundations of the hope that does not disappoint: God’s love (which is as eternal as He is), and the relationship Jesus made possible for us to have with God.

The one Person who loves perfectly has lavishly poured out His love and He did so, not because of anything worthy in us. Just the opposite. He gifted us when we had nothing of value to give Him.

All we bring is our imperfect selves. What He brings is a robe of righteousness—the clothes fit for a king, bought and paid for by Jesus with His broken body and shed blood—which He gives to us who believe.

And those are things—God’s love, Christ’s sacrifice—that don’t change and won’t dissipate or fade away or need to be replaced. They are forever gifts—the foundation of hope that does not disappoint.

This article is a revised and updated version of one that appeared here first in December, 2014.

Published in: on December 7, 2018 at 5:47 pm  Comments Off on The First Week Of Advent — Hope  
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Hope For What We Do Not See



Photo by Wu Jianxiong on Unsplash

In all likelihood atheists would call hoping for what we do not see, blind faith. Consequently I’ve been accused more than once of having the equivalent of blind faith because I believe in and hope for heaven.

The apostle Paul took a very different view of hoping for what we do not see when he wrote this to the church in Rome: “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Romans 8:24-25).

When I was a little kid, I hoped for all kinds of things without actually seeing them until the minute they arrived. I hoped for, longed for, anticipated my birthday and Christmas and outings to the mountains and visiting our old malt shop where we could buy real malts and recess and summer. I could legitimately hope for those things because someone I trusted told me they were on the horizon.

I pretty much believed the authorities in my life. So when my dad held my hand when we crossed the street, I didn’t feel the need to research whether or not it was safer to walk in tandem or to run across on my own. When my parents said to look both ways before crossing when I was a little older, I didn’t feel the need to take a count of the number of cars on that street coming from the left and the number from the right. When I was really young and my mom said, “Don’t put that in your mouth,” I didn’t stop to take an analysis of the germs that might be on whatever I was planning to sample.

The fact is, I trusted my parents’ determination of the situation. They were older, wiser, understood the world and the way it works far better than I did. Certainly I hoped that holding my dad’s hand would bring me safely across the street, that looking both ways would keep me from being hit by a car, that by putting down the dirty whatever, something I could put in my mouth would eventually appear.

In the same way, we all accept certain authorities and we listen to them, believe them, trust them, hope for what they say will happen.

The hope of heaven, the hope of salvation, the hope of mercy and forgiveness is no different. We Christians have the most credible source for what we believe—the revelation given us by Omniscience. God who knows all things has given us a peek at Himself and at His plans, and asks us to trust Him for the rest.

The secret as Paul explained, is perseverance. So many Old Testament believers hoped for the coming of the Messiah. But they died before He arrived. Was their hope in vain? Not at all. Because the hope of salvation is a present and a future event. We who put our faith in God have peace with God and we will have peace on earth with our Messiah King on the throne.

So because Christ came, because He paid the price for sin, we who believe in Him have forgiveness of sins, but we also long for and look forward to the day when He will begin His eternal reign.

We hope for what we do not see. We have a credible source for our hope, but if we give up and stop hoping, the question arises—did we actually ever believe? If we had believed, wouldn’t we still believe?

It’s kind of like a marriage. When a bride and groom exchange vows, they undoubtedly believe each other. So when they say something like, “for rich or for poor, in sickness or in health” they hope that, come what may, their spouse will be by their side. They don’t see the reality ahead of time. But the husband or the wife believes the other to be credible.

But what if one spouse turns and runs as soon as something hard happens? Isn’t the first question about the truthfulness of her commitment? Or his? Did he ever really love me?

That’s pretty much where we are with God. We hope for what we do not see, and we keep on hoping, not because we see heaven growing closer, but because our love for God grows. We trusted Him when we came to Him in repentance, and the longer we walk with Him, the more we trust Him. Why? Perseverance on our part. But more importantly, God’s faithfulness. He gives us reason to persevere, just as He gives us reason to hope in the first place.

Published in: on January 3, 2018 at 5:53 pm  Comments (9)  
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Hope And The Here And Now – Reprise


westcoast sunsetWhile I acknowledge that this world is filled with disappointment, I also recognize the beauty of God’s handiwork. Yes, there is sadness, but there are also joys. People get married, and babies come into the world. People get promotions and book deals and raises. People go on vacation and spend an evening with friends.

There are so many joys, I can’t help but be hopeful about today.

There are friends, too, bringing laughter and acceptance and companionship. How about family and loved ones—people who don’t care what our hair looks like in the morning and aren’t afraid to tell us if something is hanging from our nose. They love us in such everyday ways we sometimes overlook them, but when we list what we’re thankful for, they come to mind first.

snow_road-winter-xsYes, the joys and the people are part of God’s handiwork, but of course the natural world can’t be left out. Which of the beautiful things tops the list—the white-capped Rockies, the sunset over the Pacific, the snow-dressed forest, the green and golden fields, the woods clothed in autumn finery, the dew-kissed rose, the yellow-breasted song bird . . . the list is endless.

Joy, people, creation. God’s fingerprints are everywhere, and each one brings hope. If things are this good today, can’t tomorrow be just as good? Or better?

The greatest present hope is God Himself. The amazing truth is that God IS, though all else fails. God is the greatest treasure, so I may be poor in this world’s estimation, but if I have Jesus, I am rich. I may mourn, but joy comes in the morning. I may feel defeated, but Christ is the victor. I may be grieving, but not without hope.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places. (Hab. 3:17-19a)

God, in His great mercy, gives us memorials so that we don’t lose sight of hope. He gives us sun after the rain, spring after winter. He gives us comfort in the midst of sorrow, kindness from unexpected places.

He tells us to remember Him in the broken bread and shared cup at Communion. He established His Church as the “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” He gave us the Lord’s Day and reminded us to continue gathering together then.

He gave us His word that is sharper than any two-edged sword—the perfect weapon against the false teaching our adversary throws at us. He taught us to pray and gives His Holy Spirit to interpret when we don’t know what we ought to say.

This is the same Holy Spirit that lives in us—which is why we can truthfully say we are never alone. He is the One Jesus sent when He left earth, promising that it was to our advantage that He go.

God’s presence in the form of His Spirit, His communication with me through prayer, His word, His fingerprints all over the world—these are things I have now that fill me with hope.

Though our society is far from God, why not revival, I think. God changed my heart. He can change anyone’s heart, even atheists putting up anti-church billboards—Nebuchadnezzar was just such a man, and God brought him to his senses. Even people killing others in some mistaken view that they’re doing God’s work—the Apostle Paul was just such a man, and God opened his blind eyes.

With God, there are no limits.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power. (Isaiah 40:28-29)

To him who lacks hope, I daresay, He gives that, too.

This article originally appeared here December 2014.

Published in: on November 3, 2017 at 4:39 pm  Comments (8)  
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Thoughts About The New Year


happy_new_year_2138227696

I have to admit, when I was a teacher, I rarely saw January 1 as a new beginning. For me, the start of the school year marked the start of another year. Consequently, January 1 was more of an anti-climactic holiday, a Christmas after-thought, noted mostly for the last breather before heading into the long stretch before Easter.

Now that I’m no longer tied to the school calendar, I find myself freed up to think about New Year’s Day in a new way. Frankly, I’m more mystified than anything. In past years I’ve watched on the late news the celebrations summary which recapped the festivities around the world, and I couldn’t help but think, What’s the big deal?

Seriously.

What exactly changes between December 31 and January 1? And why would we think this is something to celebrate?

I know some have said 2017 has to be better than 2016, so there seems to be a note of hope. Of course others are dreading what might come when President-elect Trump takes office and they may despair.

Of course we’d all like to see our personal circumstances move in a positive direction. If we’re healthy, we’d like to stay that way. If we’ve had ailments or illness, we’d like to see better physical well-being. Same with finances or relationships. Wherever we are along the “hope continuum,” we need a Biblical perspective.

Scripture points to One Hope, and only one—the long awaited arrival of the once Suffering Servant, now as the Eternal King. That’s something to hope for, look forward to, be eagerly expectant about.

The New Year? Not so much. In this world I can confidently predict that 2017 will hold political corruption, corporate greed, personal crime. Individuals will steal from friends and from strangers. Gangs will war against each other. Terrorists will plot against people who have no evil intent against them. Addicts will seek another fix and another. Drunk drivers will cause accidents. Husbands will break their vows. Wives will nag their husbands. Children will disobey their parents. And God will be dishonored in any number of ways by any number of people.

So why would we put hope in the passing of one day and the coming of another which we’ve tagged with a different numeral since nothing else has changed? I can only surmise that this idea of hope in a new year, a new President, a new collection of governmental advisers and division heads comes from those who don’t have a sense of what constitutes true Hope. The eternal kind that provides a permanent answer to the human condition.

To be honest, I’m sad for those who look ahead with excitement for the wrong reasons. They have disillusionment waiting for them, and eventually, despair. Would that those of us who know what Hope really is, use 2017 to widely disseminate the truth.

Selfishly I want to say, Maranatha—come quickly, Lord Jesus. Might He return this year? Yet, doesn’t He delay for the very purpose of bringing all those into His family who belong there? I can’t want His return to come a moment earlier than what He has planned. I can want revival in His Church, though, with accompanying testimony to God’s greatness and goodness.

May 2017 be a year in which many come to Christ and in which God’s name is glorified throughout the world, in times of suffering as well as in times of blessing.

This post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in January 2009.

Published in: on December 30, 2016 at 7:05 pm  Comments Off on Thoughts About The New Year  
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Hope Isn’t Wishful Thinking


AdventWreathLitLast Sunday night I hoped the Denver Broncos would defeat the New England Patriots in a National Football League game. (They did! 😉 ) I had no certainty that they would. Yes, the game was played in Denver (home field is always a big advantage in the NFL) and yes, New England (as the announcers interminably reminded the watching audience) had a number of offensive players hurt. And yes, the Patriots were playing at altitude on a short week of rest. But those factors did not guarantee Denver a win. I still hoped, not knowing how it would all turn out.

In many respects, you could say my position was one of wishful thinking. Not that my wishing could have any bearing on the outcome, but I had no certain knowledge and merely wished that the result I wanted would be the one that prevailed.

Happily it did!

But my hoping for a Denver victory on Sunday night is about as far from the hope a Christian has as possible, given the similarity in the dictionary definitions. The Bible links hope and faith in Hebrews 11:1 and both have nothing to do with “hoping against hope” or wishful thinking.

Rather, the writer specifies that faith is tied to assurance and hope to conviction.

Assurance. Conviction.

There’s a certainty about both those words. They remind me of Elisha’s position when his city was surrounded by an enemy army and he told his servant not to be afraid.

Uh, seriously, Elisha? I think there’s good cause to be afraid.

Except, Elisha saw what his servant didn’t—the host of heaven amassed against the enemy. So Elisha wasn’t making a foolish statement, and he wasn’t hoping against hope that things would turn out all right. He wasn’t exercising wishful thinking in the face of insurmountable odds. He was, in fact, exercising faith. He had the assurance that God’s army outnumbered the enemy. He had the hope built on conviction that God would not forsake him.

Even though outwardly nothing had changed. From where his servant sat, their situation couldn’t have been worse. They didn’t have the arms or the men to fight against the enemy and they didn’t have the resources to withstand a siege. All seemed lost.

It’s that “seemed” word that makes all the difference, because how things seem apart from God aren’t actually how they are.

Things undoubtedly seemed bleak to very-pregnant Mary when she had to follow Joseph to Bethlehem, then to Egypt, running for their lives with her little son. How could she know that for centuries people all across the globe would read about those frightening, uncomfortable, dangerous trips and give God glory because of His protection and care, because of fulfilled prophecy, because of the evidence of the humility of God’s Son, born in a manger, on the run before He could even walk.

Did Mary have hope? Did she envision herself raising her infant to become a man? To become the Savior of the World? That night I imagine she had hope despite the pain of childbirth. After all, the angel had told her she would bear a son. He wouldn’t lie. So she had assurance that this birth, even in a stable, would bring little Jesus into the world. And yet, she still had to bear the pain. She still had to run for her life when the angel told them to flee to Egypt. And she still had to witness her son die on a cross.

Hope is not wishful thinking. And it is not assurance that all will be without trouble or pain. But hope, when placed in God and His Son Jesus, gives what we all need: assurance that our sins have been washed away by the blood of the Lamb, that God has adopted us into His family, that we are no longer under condemnation, that God has given us His mercy and grace, and that we have a future to look forward to.

There’s a verse in Jeremiah that all too often is misused. Jeremiah is assuring the people of Judah who have been exiled to Babylon that God has not forgotten them, that they have a future and a hope despite the fact that they’ve been captured. This is not a promise of perfect health and untold wealth as some assume. But Christians can claim this promise for what it is: God’s declaration that our destiny is in His hands.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

We may face “captivity” in the here and now, but we have the hope of heaven—the assurance of things not yet seen, the conviction that He who promised is able to bring it to pass.

Published in: on December 4, 2015 at 7:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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Sin And Hope


Advent_candle_1Another mass shooting. This one also here in Southern California. More people died senselessly. More hospitalized. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

The thing is, sin is pervasive. Sin infects our world, our culture, our society, and yes, our lives.

And the facts are in: no one is perfect. No one! We can cluck our tongues and feel great sympathy for the poor people who are now grieving, who have been traumatized, who will no longer feel safe even when they go to work. But the truth is, the problem isn’t out there. It isn’t because of terrorists or guns or anger or mental illness.

It’s because of sin. We are a sinful people and no amount of education or tolerance or empathy can heal our broken souls. There’s only one hope we have and His name is Jesus.

Published in: on December 2, 2015 at 7:00 pm  Comments (7)  
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Advent, Week 1 – Hope


Salem_United_Methodist_Church_and_cemeteryA good friend of mine attended a funeral today. The woman who passed away was a member of her church, a member of the group of ladies who go to Sunday lunch together after the service. And as it happens, this was the sixth member of that small congregation to die this year. My friend is not alone. Others have lost loved ones this year, too.

On a national scale, we have protests in Chicago and a(nother) shooting in Colorado. We have Presidential candidates saying divisive things (not just Donald Trump; Hilliary Clinton merrily declared Republicans to be her enemies in the first Democratic Presidential debate.) Then there is the tightened security around . . . well, wherever people gather together. Here in SoCal there was a Festival of Lights in Riverside that had beefed up security because of the crowd the event would draw. I mean, Riverside? Do most people even know there is a Riverside, let alone where it is? Apparently, no matter where we live, we’re facing this terrorist threat in one way or another.

Internationally there’s the scramble to contain/destabilize/degrade/destroy (pick your verb) ISIS, aka ISIL, aka Daesh. (Am I the only one concerned that our government continues to call the terrorist organization one thing when the rest of us call it something else and the people fighting them use a third name? I mean, we can’t even agree on their name?)

But this is the beginning of Advent. Christians are turning our focus on hope.

Despite personal, national, or international concerns, it’s right that we cling to hope first and foremost during the Christmas season, and beyond. But how do we get there?

I remember facing Christmas for the first time after my dad died. The holiday just didn’t seem right without him. Would Christmas ever be merry again, I wondered.

The thing is, too often the merry-making associated with Christmas is of a superficial nature. We’re merry because we have a party to look forward to or presents to buy and wrap and another whole set to get. We have once-a-year music that brings back fond memories. We have food to prepare and stockings to stuff, trees to decorate, lights to string.

There’s lots to do, places to go, people to see. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but a merry whirlwind that comes only once a year, so we love it and embrace it and enjoy Christmas because it’s so special.

And it is.

But if that’s all it is, then it’s easy for the loss of a loved one, or fear, or worry to shatter the fictive Christmas dream. This special holiday will never again be perfect because this dear person or that, is no longer here, or because this event happened or could happen again.

Of course, the reality is that the “perfect Christmas” is an ideal few of us ever live. But a greater reality is, there’s a more perfect Christmas waiting for us.

The reality is that Christmas is abundantly more than presents and decorations and food and family. Yes, it’s about Jesus coming in the flesh, stooping to take the form of Man, but it’s even more than that.

If Jesus only came and then went away, what would we have? An example to follow, perhaps, though who can live a sinless life the way God in the flesh did? In truth, Jesus came to earth as a baby in order that He might come to each one of us as Savior.

The whole Christmas story includes God descending in order that He might ascend again and take us with Him.

The loss of a loved one runs deep, there’s no doubt. And it’s right and appropriate to mourn. Christmas trappings may lose their glitter in the process, but the significance of Christmas can actually grow. What other holiday is more hopeful than Christmas? Only Easter, and the two really are different sides of the same celebration.

Christmas celebrates God sending His Son. Easter celebrates God receiving His Son. What Jesus accomplished in the between space makes all the difference.

Now we have the hope of heaven to go along with the hope for a Merry Christmas. We can hope to get along with our family on December 25, but we can also hope to spend eternity with them. We can enjoy the Christmas parties and feasts, but we can look forward to the banquet supper of the Lamb. We can bask in the music of the season, but we can anticipate the forever praises of God’s people as they worship at His throne.

In other words, what we have at Christmas is a foretaste of what we will enjoy in Heaven, without limit. The beauty, the love, the laughter, the peace, the safety, the generosity, the creativity, the activity—none of the elements of Christmas we love so much can hold a candle to what awaits us when we join Christ.

Paul himself said it in Philippians: to be with Christ is gain. It’s not an abandonment of what we love here; it’s what we love and more.

One piece of that “more” is an end to the losses, to the goodbyes. And an end to the worries and fears. That is great good news in its own right and definitely a cause for hope. Yes, some may mourn at Christmastime and some may worry or fear, but for those who embrace Christ as more than a baby born in a manger, for those who cling to Him as Savior and Lord, our mourning is turned to gladness at the promise of Christmas, our worry and fear to joy and peace.

We of all people have hope beyond the temporary merryness of the season because we look to an eternity of God’s peace and good will.

Published in: on December 1, 2015 at 7:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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Grieving, With Hope


charleston_service0741434744851One of the things that sets Christians apart from people of other religions or of no religion is the hope we have of life after this life. Because of God’s grace extended through the work of Jesus Christ at the cross, those who believe in Him have life. Though we die, yet shall we live.

Of course there are people who believe in an afterlife besides Christians. Some think we will be reincarnated, but they don’t know for sure in what form they will be re-born, and of course they have no assurance that they’ll remember anything of their past life. So, in essence, they will be lost, swallowed up by a new life, one that may be better or may be worse. They simply do not know.

Religious Jews and Muslims both believe that there is life after this life, but they can’t be sure how they’ll be received. Both believe their rewards and punishments depend on what they did or did not do in this life. They have no assurance that the good they did outweighs the bad.

Only Christians can answer with any assurance about our destination when we leave this life. To be absent from the body means to be present with the Lord:

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:6-8, emphasis mine)

Elsewhere Paul calls death “gain” because it means departing and being with Christ (see Phil. 1:21-23).

Furthermore Psalm 116 tells us

Precious in the sight of the LORD
Is the death of His godly ones. (v 15)

I immediately think of the Good Shepherd off hunting for the lost sheep, or the father watching for his prodigal son to return, then running to him, embracing him, and preparing a feast for him.

Death for the Christian is bitter-sweet. It means leaving what we know, saying goodbye, however temporarily, to those we love, but beginning an adventure with God—in His presence, with the veil pulled back so that we will know even as He now knows us.

It’s a sadness and a celebration.

Consequently, I honestly don’t know how to react to the shooting deaths of those believers gathered together for a weekday prayer service. Maybe because Elisabeth Elliot so recently died, I can’t help but compare the nine Christian martyrs in South Carolina to the five men who died all those years ago in Ecuador at the hand of men who feared and hated.

The deaths seem so senseless, the violence so heinous, the grief so palpable. These were loved mothers and fathers serving God, as those missionaries were husbands and fathers serving God. The only difference I see is that one group chose to go to another part of the world and the other group chose to stay as witnesses to their own community.

The loved ones of both groups grieve. Children did or will grow up without a parent. They lost much, and yet because they have the hope of heaven and the love of Christ, like Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint who went to the Ecuadorian tribe and told them about Jesus, family members of the nine South Carolina martyrs extended forgiveness to the man who killed their loved ones.

In an emotional courtroom encounter here, a mother and daughter, a sister and grandson, among others, spoke directly to Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old charged Friday with nine counts of murder. He appeared for the bond hearing from jail through closed-circuit television.

. . . some said they forgave him, and, recalling the spirit of the venue where he staged his attack, pledged to pray for his soul. (“From victims’ families, forgiveness,” Washington Post

Only because Christians know our future is sure, that this life’s tragedies are not the end, that death has been defeated, can this kind of forgiveness take place. I am so proud of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I am so sad for their loss. They must now play the hard part, but their loved ones will not have died in vain because of their testimony of God’s grace and forgiveness.

I can’t get over the fact that the hateful young man who wanted to start a race war went to a church. Not to a gang hang out. Not to the inner city streets. To a church, where people gathered to pray. How ignorant of him, to think that Christians everywhere who believe as Paul wrote, that there aren’t distinctions between Greek and Jew, religious law abiders and those who ignore the religious Jewish law, between people from one part of the world and another, between people of one economic class and another, would not rally behind our brothers and sisters. Because Christ is all and in all. You prick one, we all bleed.

So now, we grieve, but with hope. May the impact of the nine South Carolina martyrs have the same impact on this generation as did the deaths of the five missionaries in Ecuador on earlier generations.

Published in: on June 22, 2015 at 6:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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Cinderella – Not A Review


Cinderella posterI don’t see the point in reviewing a movie that has been out since March, but I do think the newest iteration of the Cinderella story is worth talking about.

Thanks to a local two-dollar theater, I was able to see Cinderella the movie today. It’s interesting to watch a story that you’ve known since childhood. At first I was curious to see how this non-animated movie version would compare with the fairytale I grew up with. I soon realized I was watching the same story, revised only to add a sense of realism.

For instance, this movie gave character motivation that answered questions like why did Cinderella’s step-mother hate her so and why didn’t Cinderella simply leave? It also added more interaction between Cinderella and the prince to make their attraction to one another a little more believable.

Inevitably I compared this version of the fairytale with one of my favorite movies, Ever After, also a Cinderella re-telling. What Cinderella did that the Drew Barrymore movie didn’t attempt, was to preserve the magic. I suppose being a fantasy person, I appreciated the fact that that which we do not understand, always believe, and can’t control played a significant role in the story.

Ever After, with its “I don’t need the prince to rescue me” heroine, carried more of an “I AM WOMAN” message, flavored with a touch of “I can do for myself.” It was entertaining because it treated the story as historical and this telling, the real account which sorted fact from myth.

Cinderella, on the other hand, accepted the myth and the magic and made both come alive. In that context it developed a strong and clear theme: live life with courage and kindness. Though repeated often enough not to be forgotten, the principle arose from the events of the story—Cinderella’s dying mother instructing her pre-teen daughter to live life with those qualities. Cinderella, in turn, committed to living out her mother’s wisdom even in relationship to her step-mother and her step-sisters.

Not surprisingly she passed on the core principles to the prince in her first encounter with him, and it was this—her inner beauty—which first drew him to her.

Courage and kindness. Not principles many could call into question. They have universal appeal. But those weren’t the only things this movie encouraged. Surprisingly, given our current cultural trends, the movie is quite pro-marriage. The movie called Cinderella’s biological family perfect or ideal. The idea was, she and her parents had such a great love for each other, it couldn’t have been better.

Later, Cinderella and the prince have the same kind of connection, and the king acquiesces and gives his son his blessing, saying that he should marry for love, not political gain. In contrast, the step-mother is trying to pawn off her daughters to whatever rich lord might accept them (and of course, the prince would be the greatest catch of all if she can finagle it). The juxtaposition of the two approaches makes a very pro-relationship statement. People—spouses—shouldn’t be used to gain power or wealth. They are to be loved and cherished.

There’s a great deal of hope in this movie: hope that courage and kindness will take you through grief and mistreatment, hope that love is better than manipulation, hope that the small can survive without compromising what’s right.

Yes, there was magic, and I know this might trouble some Christians. Where magic cropped up, wouldn’t it be better, more true, if God replaced the fairy godmother?

But God doesn’t wave magic wands, and unfortunately, there are Christian stories out there that make it seem as if He does. Instead of a fairy godmother showing up to turn a pumpkin into a coach, mice into horses, and so on, a Christian story might have Cinderella pray and then miraculous things or coincidental things happen. Which isn’t far from saying, God waves His magic wand and fixes things.

Except, we all know of situations we’ve prayed for that God didn’t fix. So the stories are misleading. Yes, sometimes God does bring a miraculous end to suffering, but a lot of times, believers simply grow stronger in their faith as they endure the suffering. (Agent Karen Ball wrote an awesome blog post on this subject today).

So I’m fine with the pretend fairy godmother who could create a temporary coach, horses, coachman, and footmen, but a permanent glass slipper that only fits the foot of its rightful owner. It’s awesome to make believe. And it’s awesome to wish for what is not. It puts a longing in our hearts that C. S. Lewis identified as a longing for the world put right. We want good to win. We want the young woman who suffered greatly and responded with courage and kindness to have the happy ending, not the woman who suffered and responded with self-protection and bitterness.

In the end, Cinderella forgives her step-mother. I don’t remember that in any of my fairytale versions. But it’s another positive this movie slips in under the radar: winners don’t have to gloat or exact revenge. They can forgive.

Would that we had more fiction flooding the movie and book industries like Cinderella. These are the kinds of stories that can prepare the soil of the human heart to hear the true message of lasting Hope.

Published in: on June 10, 2015 at 6:08 pm  Comments (3)  
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