Groaning


This world is groaning. It’s the weight of sin that causes it, and it’s been going on for … well, since Eve believed Satan over God.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if we as human beings aren’t more aware of the groaning than at any point in history.

Terrorism has people across the globe on heightened alert. War and rebellion are tearing nations apart. Famine is on the increase, and the economy of the rich countries vacillates beyond our control. Add to all this earthquakes in places like Haiti, Chile, and Japan; the tornadoes and flooding in the US; hurricanes on the East coast.

We’re groaning.

Professing Christians are leaving the church. Government—democratic government that was supposed to have the necessary checks and balances–is self-serving if not corrupt. Marriage is being redefined. In other words, civilized institutions are crumbling.

We’re groaning.

The weight of sin is too big. Drug addiction isn’t lessening. Anxiety isn’t disappearing no matter how much we medicate. Neither is depression. Interpersonal conflicts haven’t ceased. In fact divorce is still a growing problem no matter that so many people now practice at marriage before making “lifetime” vows. Abuse continues or perhaps is on the increase. Child slavery and sex trafficking are problems that seem without end.

We’re groaning.

Worst of all, who can we trust? The person we love the most is the person who shatters our hopes and betrays us by their unfaithfulness.

We are indeed groaning.

Should I go on to mention cancer or AIDS or fears of a worldwide pandemic? I suspect it’s not necessary.

At every turn, we’re groaning.

Like any number of crises recorded in the Bible, God is standing with open arms saying, Your way leads to destruction. My way leads to life.

Over and over stiff-necked people ignored Him or shook their fists in His face, denying His right to rule. So it seems, we’re doing today.

We think if we just get the right person in the White House, if we only raise taxes or cut spending, if we only marry the right guy or girl, pass this piece of legislation or that, solve one key problem then another, use this green technology or drill that oil well, then, at last, the world will come round aright.

In that foolish thinking, we are ignoring the One who wants us to fix our eyes on His Son.

“See to it,” Paul said to the Colossians, “that no one takes you captive through philosophy or empty deception according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of this world, rather than according to Christ.”

The philosophy and empty deception of our day says we can solve our own problems, that we don’t need anything outside ourselves. We have the power within us.

And yet, with all this great power within ( 🙄 ), we don’t seem any closer to bringing the groaning to an end. We’re looking in the wrong places.

There isn’t a chemical high or an alcohol-induced haze that will mask the pain long enough, there isn’t a movie or video game or concert or ballgame that will distract us sufficiently, there isn’t a better relationship that will heal our shattered heart.

Except the one God offers through Christ Jesus. He is our Hope, and He is our Salvation.

In Him the groaning will one day come to an end. And even while we wait for that day, we find comfort and peace and joy in the presence of the only One who can see us through. The Psalmist says, “He Himself knows our frame.” And Moses in Deuteronomy says, “The Lord your God is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” God through Isaiah says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”

Paul tells us in Romans that the Spirit groans, too. For us. “The Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

The world groans under the weight of sin, but God through Jesus Christ has conquered sin. Praise His Name.

Easter, which is coming up later this month, is all about commemorating what Jesus Christ did to free us from the slavery to sin. But unless we acknowledge the weight of sin, we won’t appreciate what God accomplished through His Son.

Sometimes I think people have to be blind not to see the effects of sin. But we are so used to the things that break God’s heart and that harm humankind, we take them as “normal.” They aren’t. What God created was good. What we’ll enjoy in the new heaven and the new earth will be free from the “slavery to corruption.” And even now we can enter into the “freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

This post is a revised and expanded version of one that first appeared here in September 2011.

Published in: on April 7, 2017 at 6:49 pm  Comments (22)  
Tags: , ,

Certificates Of Debt


Debt is not a popular topic. The US government continues to bow under the massive debt we’ve accrued in the past few decades.

The state of California is no better. And then there is the debt of individual Americans!

The one good thing about all this insurmountable debt, I guess, is that we can more completely understand the parable Jesus told in Matthew 18 about the servant who owed so much money, his king was going to foreclose. The plan was to sell him, his family, and all of his stuff.

Jesus explained that the guy had no way of repaying his debt, implying that what he owed was far greater than what his king would receive from the sale.

A bad investment, some would conclude. The servant cost more than he was worth. Better to cut the losses and get out. And that’s precisely what the king intended to do.

Except the servant pleaded for more time.

As if!

More time was not going to change things. Five years or fifty years, the servant was not going to make enough money to pay what he owed. His situation was hopeless.

Enter the Christ of Colossians:

When you were dead in your transgressions … He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (2:13-14; emphasis mine)

This passage reminds me of Romans 8:1—“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Those certificates of debt Paul referenced in Colossians, those “decrees against us,” are the things of which I stood condemned.

And yeah, they were hostile to us—they condemned us to death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

But now they’ve been removed—taken out of the way, nailed to Christ’s cross. So it’s easy to see why there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

He didn’t forgive the debt in the same way that the king in the parable did, simply by saying the word and wiping the slate clean. Instead, Jesus Christ paid the debt.

It’s a great picture because it shows God’s justice—the debt needed to be paid—coupled with His mercy that freed us from the debt.

It also shows the impossibility of the debt coming back on us. How do you un-pay something? How do you un-remove it from where it’s been or un-nail it from the cross, the place of death?

Paul explained about the cross in more detail in the first chapter of Colossians:

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard (vv 19-23; emphasis mine).

I love the “in order to” part of that passage. Christ has done the work, paid the debt, in order to present me blameless, beyond reproach—or specifically, beyond Satan’s reach. Simply put, all my certificates of debt are marked PAID.

This post is a a revised edition of one that first appeared here in September 2011.

Published in: on January 24, 2017 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Fooled Or Foolish


In Paul’s Colossians letter, he talks a little about his struggle on behalf of the Church—that believers will gain “a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself.” He goes on to explain why he’s putting such emphasis on Christ: “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” [emphasis here, and in the following verses, is mine.]

A few verses later he adds,

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (Col. 2:8)

As if that’s not enough, he revisits the issue again:

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head (Col. 2:18-19a)

Paul is making a case for Christians to focus on Christ and who He is so they won’t be fooled by the false teaching that had begun to seep into the Church.

It’s such a timely warning for today too. Health-and-wealth Christians or name-it-and-claim-it believers pull helpless, hurting people into their wake, but so do the universalists who promise no hell. Others, with arrogance, teach that Christians don’t sin. Another group wants to re-image Jesus or lose the “angry” God of the Old Testament, and a bunch more want to ignore the entire book of Revelation.

False teaching to the left, false teaching to the right, and so many Christians being fooled.

At the same time, there are Christians holding other Christians up to scorn because their work for Christ isn’t artistic enough or profound enough or nuanced enough or purposeful enough or missional enough. It seems we’ve forgotten what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:

but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, … so that no man may boast before God. (1 Cor. 1:27, 29)

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we should purposefully go out and do a bumbling job of the tasks God gives us so that He has a weak thing with which to work. The fact is, He already has a weak thing with which to work—humans.

Some time ago, I had what was at the time, an epiphany: I am small. I didn’t realize so much that I am a small, unimportant human among the powerful rich, famous, and politically connected. Rather, I realized my smallness in light of God’s bigness, His unfathomable bigness.

Then He makes it clear in His word that His plan is to use His people—all of us small ones. Jesus, the head, wants His body the church to hold fast to Him so that we can grow with a growth which comes from God (Col. 2:19b). With growth comes fruit and the fulfillment of the Christian’s directive to make disciples.

None of it happens because we are clever or eloquent or intelligent or personable or influential. The Church grows with a growth which comes from God.

Jeremiah sums this up nicely:

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 9:23-24)

It seems to me, the foolish, though they may be criticized by fellow Christians for their inadequacies, are the people God can use, and the fooled—those so enamored with the “traditions of men … the elementary principles of the world … inflated without cause by their fleshly mind”—simply aren’t available because they’re distracted or unattached from the head who is Christ. They are not “seeking the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). They haven’t set their “minds on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:2).

The bottom line is that the Apostle Paul was right. Small, weak, and foolish though we be, our focus should be on Christ.

On the other hand, if we bypass Christ for the imaginings of men, we’ve been deluded, deceived, fooled.

This post is a revised, updated version of one that first appeared here in October 2011.

God Come Down


Nativity_Scenes004Some years ago I opened up the USA Weekend magazine that came with my newspaper (I still took one then! 😮 ) and splashed across the front cover was the word GOD. The lead article was “How Americans Imagine God.”

I have a problem right there. God is not formed by our imagination. Consequently, what person A “imagines” about God has no relevance whatsoever as a means of actually knowing Him or anything true about Him.

I could say that I imagine the core of the earth is stuffed with daisies, but that would not make it so.

Oh, but someone may say, scientists know about the core of the earth. They’ve done science to prove that it’s most certainly not filled with daisies. However, no one can know about God, so we have to imagine him.

Actually, we can know about God more certainly than we can about the core of the earth. That’s where Christmas comes in. Yes, this actually is a Christmas post.

The whole point and purpose of the first Christmas was God coming to us, like us, so we can know Him.

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; … And His name will be called … Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6).

Paul explained in Philippians 2 that Jesus, who existed in the form of God, “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men.”

Then in 2 Corinthians 4:4 he said “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (emphasis mine).

Not your typical Christmas verses, I realize (except perhaps Isaiah 9:6). But here’s the point. Jesus—God Himself—came to earth that we might know Him.

He walked the roads that other men and women walked, debated Scripture with scholars, touched and healed beggars and blind men, preached to crowds of thousands and counseled a single woman. He shared Passover with His followers and blessed a number of little children.

In other words, He didn’t live His life incognito. He rubbed shoulders with people of all economic and social strata and was open about Who He was.

So there were eye witnesses who talked with God, face to face, because they talked with Christ. Some of these eye witnesses, then turned around and wrote down what they had experienced, so the rest of us have their eye witness accounts of some of the more memorable words and acts of God Incarnate.

Let me ask you. Of late have you talked to anyone who has visited the core of the earth?

Me either.

Yet we Americans are so sure of what’s at the core of the earth but we can only imagine God. I find that ironic and sad.

In reality, we can know God through Christ. Not all there is to know about Him, certainly. But we can know Him.

Someone who says they imagine God is this, that, or the other, is missing out on a real relationship with a real person. We can’t change Him by what we wish Him to be. He is who He is, and He hasn’t kept His identity a secret.

This post, with some editorial changes, first appeared here in December 2010.

Published in: on December 20, 2016 at 7:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Treating Poison Oak


WaterBalloonWhen I was younger, I loved water balloon fights. Or water fights of any type. My brother and sister and I used to have a pretty good water fight every once in a while. We had these plastic squirt bottles meant for ketchup and mustard which sent out a pretty great stream of water—better than any of the water guns we had (this was in the pre-soaker days).

Fast forward to college and a warm, late November evening, with vacation right around the corner. Someone came up with the idea to ambush a group of guys on their way to their dorm from the library—with water balloons! Oh, yes! I was in my element!

We did a little scouting and found a good place off the trail where we could hide in the bushes, toss our balloons, and make a quick get-away. So we waited. And waited.

After maybe ten minutes, one of the girls in the group said, Yeah, guys? Isn’t this poison oak? She held up a twig from the bushes we were hiding in. Sure enough! It had poison oak’s tell-tale three leaflets with scalloped edges.

Poison_oakYikes! But we thought it was a little too late. I mean, we’d been hunkered down in those bushes the entire time, so would a few more minutes matter?

On came the guys. We let fly our balloons and then scampered away. Except, this group of guys was of a mind to get revenge. They chased us down somewhere near the chapel with the nice little fish pond behind it, and, yep, in we went. With all the water and pond scum we had to deal with, the poison oak was forgotten.

Until the next day when the first sign of rash hit. Left untreated, it got worse. At last I made my way to the on-campus health facility to see the nurse. Lo and behold, one of the guys who had tossed us into the pond was also in the waiting room. And yes, he was covered with rash as well.

At the time I didn’t know how poison oak worked, but it was pretty clear that my exposure to the plant had transferred to him. In fact, he had a worse case of it, and to make matters worse, during the upcoming quarter break, he was scheduled to go on tour with the choir.

I don’t think I felt properly sympathetic at the time. I mean, I was dealing with my own misery, but at least I could do it at home, coated with calamine lotion and lying very still so as not to aggravate the itching.

I’ve since learned that poison oak, when damaged—the kind that occurred when a group of college girls tramped into the patch to hide—releases an oil to which many people are allergic. That oil can stay on clothing (pet hair, too, for those who might be curious). So when the guys with vengeance on their minds grabbed us to throw us into the pond, they picked up the oil off our clothes.

Poison oak is a nasty business. If you’ve never had it, count your blessing. There isn’t any cure. I mean, it’s an allergy. It could have been washed off if we’d acted promptly, but none of us really knew what we were dealing with. And of course, the unsuspecting guys had no clue. They simply contracted poison oak from our clothing.

Because there’s no cure, all you can do is minimize the effect. At the time, calamine lotion was pretty much the only thing the nurse could give us. But that treatment was temporary, smelled, and looked really bad. Though it reduced the itching, it was really only a cover up.

I don’t know what science understood about poison oak back then. Now we know there is a way to bring the rash under control. I mean, it’s an allergy. Allergies respond to antihistamine, but apparently not topical antihistamine. Only internal antihistamine.

But here’s the point of this story. Identifying the fact that we were lying in a bush of poison oak didn’t help us at all. For one thing, we didn’t leave. For another, we didn’t go immediately back to our dorms and wash. We didn’t handle our clothes with care, and we didn’t warn anyone else that we could potentially give them the rash by transferring poison oak oil to them.

So, sure, we knew we were in a patch of poison oak, but that knowledge did us no good since we didn’t take any action because of what we knew.

In the same way, we can understand that nobody’s perfect—that we have a sin problem—but unless we do something about our condition, we will put ourselves and others close to us at risk. Because sin has consequences—far worse ones than the rash poison oak gives.

“Doing something,” of course, doesn’t mean, figuring things out on your own. It doesn’t mean following a twelve-step program, though that might treat the symptoms and even ease the consequences for a time. But as addicts admit, the battle to stay sober or drug free is a lifetime battle.

The real problem, then, is not the poison oak, so hiring someone to try and take out all the bushes, isn’t going to solve the problem long term. The real problem is the allergy—that part of a person’s makeup we’re born with.

Here the analogy between sin and poison oak breaks down because the best we can do for the allergy to poison oak is to administer an internal antihistamine. For sin, though, we can actually have it removed from our lives. Scripture says because of Christ we can be freed from the slavery of sin, that it will no longer have mastery over us.

I’m telling you, that makes me want to shout for joy. Hallelujah! If you’ve ever been tormented by a nagging, persistent, irritating habit that is harmful to you and to the people around you, and you can’t figure out how to stop doing what you don’t want to do, then you understand the slavery of sin.

Jesus Christ sets us free.

Published in: on June 24, 2016 at 6:07 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , ,

Where Are We Going?


I_love_my_trans_child_I have serious concerns for America, for the human race, and even for the Church. Where are we headed?

In the western world we’ve discovered eastern thought, and in the East, Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds. That gives me hope, it really does. But what I see in my own country, not so much.

There’s the political mess we’re in this election cycle. Please God, by His mercy, we might still have a candidate who will not make the mess worse, but if things continue to go as they are, the likelihood is that we’ll have either a fascist, a socialist or a possible felon for President. Happy days.

Of course, what’s dominating our thought—other than music and TV and movies and movie stars and sports, is bathrooms! Behind the issue is the acceptance of the transgender community which is a niche in the whole LGBT coalition.

The really troubling aspect, to me, is not that men will be in women’s bathrooms or women in men’s (though I tend to think not so many women-changed-to men will actually be a problem in the men’s bathrooms since they aren’t going to be shoulder to shoulder with guys at the urinal). Rather it’s the randomness of our rational for these “I feel like a woman, therefore I am a woman” identity issues.

Some of the same people who cry loudly that a person’s gender identity is how they feel inside will also cry loudly that evolution is real science and that supporting creation is “junk science.” They’ll also cry loudly that global warming is a Real Thing, with Scientific Proof! And that God does not exist (because we can’t see him).

The randomness comes from the selective use of physical evidence. Is not a person’s genitalia scientific evidence of gender? Why do some people trust in science when it comes to an unprovable theory like evolution but completely ignore it when it comes to gender identity?

The gender identity issue is not a small thing. It attacks the fundamentals of humanity. Scripture tells us that God created humans, male and female. But we, in our superior, I’m-better-than-god mindset think we can improve on what he made, if we don’t like it. Instead of teaching young people that God “don’t make no junk,” we have been sending out the word that girls have to be skinnier, men more muscular, white people tanner, nobody with gray hair (unless you’re eighty, and then only if you want to stop the hassle and expense of coloring your hair) or bald, and on and on. In other words, accepting who we are as we came out of the womb is pretty much unheard of.

That same kind of thinking has simply expanded. First, we did plastic surgery to fix the features we didn’t like, and now it’s hormone therapy and sex-transformation surgery.

This is not solving a problem. It’s creating a bigger one. Kids don’t know who they are, to the point that they no longer know what bathroom to use. And we give them the answer that we’ll simply let them choose or we’ll make a neutral bathroom for those who don’t feel like they fit in the silly binary bathrooms we have now.

My heart breaks for kids today who don’t know who they are. Their gender identity search is simply a symptom of their larger confusion. They don’t know where they belong or if they belong.

Kids—people—have always needed to belong, needed to feel secure and loved, needed to have purpose. Parents ought to be the first place where children have those needs met, but because parents aren’t perfect, they won’t be met perfectly. Friends meet those needs to a lesser degree, and spouses perhaps more so. But none can do so perfectly, and many a marriage goes through rocky times simply because one spouse or the other had expectations that their needs would be perfectly met, only to wake up to reality.

As a result of all the confusion, kids today seem to be growing up like weeds. Well, honey, what do you want to wear today to preschool? Well, honey, what gender do you want to be when you go to middle school?

Really, parents?

Where are you?

Parents don’t parent any more because they’ve been brainwashed into believing that there are no absolutes. So if Johnny doesn’t want to share his toys, well, they are his and we can’t violate what he wants to do (because apparently one of the few absolutes is that we are to allow everyone to do what they want, unless they’re bent on harming others physically; emotionally has yet to be determined).

So instead of Johnny learning to think of others and not just himself, he has parents who validate his selfishness. He never learns impulse control or empathy for others. He simply buys into the philosophy of bullies everywhere: if I want it, I take it.

We are a confused people because we have lost our moral compass. God said, do this one thing I’m telling you to do, and we can’t even manage that. Why? Because we want to be the boss. We don’t want to be second, even to God. We want what we want when we want it, and God isn’t going to stop us. We’ll simply believe him out of existence.

If things were left up to us, it would be hopeless. But praise God, He has come to rescue us from the dominion of darkness.

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. (Titus 3:4-7, emphasis mine)

So where are we going? God has made the way for us through Jesus Christ our Savior to have eternal life. But to claim the gift of salvation we have to be clear about our identity: we are sinners coming to God, not on the basis of anything we’ve done but completely dependent upon what Christ has done for us. When we get that part of our identity cleared up, the rest will start to fall into place.

He Is Risen Indeed


The_Empty_Tomb020

No doubt about it—Christ the Lord is risen today. Hallelujah!

Published in: on March 27, 2016 at 12:15 pm  Comments Off on He Is Risen Indeed  
Tags: , ,

Don’t Mourn For Christ


No, I don’t think it’s too early to think about Easter.

Some years ago my church, First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, provided us with a pamphlet of devotional thoughts, one for each day this week, centered on the cross. They were good, but a couple things dawned on me as I read the meditation on Colossians 2:13-14.

First, the blood and suffering and death Christ experienced is a past event. It’s hard to work up a lot of grief for a past event. I don’t think I ever expressed sympathy, for example, to my mom for the suffering she went through at my birth. Maybe I should have, but it was past. She wasn’t suffering any more, and the only genuine emotion I felt was gladness and relief (because we both almost died—it’s a good story I should tell some time).

But that brings me to the second thing that dawned on me. The death of Christ was necessary. The Colossians verses give a vivid picture of Christ taking our certificate of debt—the insurmountable bill we owe that demands death—and removing it by nailing it to the cross.

Notice, it is Christ who nailed it to the cross. This is entirely His work, of which I am the beneficiary.

So my reaction is gratitude—extreme gratitude. He did what I could not. He gave what I needed most—His precious blood:

you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:18-19)

Thankfully, Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient. His death was so perfect and complete that it is acceptable in God’s sight to pay for the sins of all who believe in Him. No ritual I do to commemorate His crucifixion will contribute in any way to His finished work. No tears I shed for Him can make me worthy of this incredible gift.

The third thing that came to mind, then, is that celebrating Good Friday as if Christ is again dying, as if I should still grieve for him, is wrong headed. Commemorating it as the day Christ nailed my certificate of debt to the cross is another story. That’s a celebration of what Christ accomplished.

Consequently I don’t mourn for Christ year after year, or even each month when I take communion. But I do mourn for my sin that necessitated His death. Remembering the cross makes me fall on my face and weep at His kindness to die for sinners.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)

Remembering His cross makes me weep at the thought of my rebellious heart and the ways I still kick against His authority. I would be like Christ, but I’m not. Not yet. And that’s cause to grieve.

Until Resurrection Day reminds me that I too will one day walk in newness of life.

    Who Will Call Him King Of Kings

    In cold despair
    They’d laid Him in the tomb
    The body of their Master fair
    Third morning came
    As they returned to pray
    Light was shining everywhere
    But Jesus’ body was not there

    And as they gazed at an empty grave
    The earth around began to shake
    And they were so afraid
    But voices of angels filled the air
    Their shouts proclaimed “He is not here”
    And you could hear them say

    Who will call Him King of kings
    Who will call Him Lord of lords
    Who will call Him Prince of Peace
    Such a wonderful counselor, Mighty God
    Who will call Him King

    Their spirits soared
    As fear was turned to joy
    Standing there before their eyes
    Jesus clothed in radiant white

    And with a voice they’d heard before
    He told me “Go and tell the world that I’m alive”
    They ran as fast as feet could fly
    “The Lord is risen” was their cry
    And you could hear them say

    We will call Him King of kings
    We Will call Him Lord of lords
    We will call Him Prince of Peace
    Such a wonderful counselor, Mighty God

    Just like He said
    He is risen from the dead
    And the people say

    I will call Him King of kings
    I will call Him Lord of lords
    I will call Him Prince of Peace
    Such a wonderful counselor, Mighty God
    I will call Him King
    I will call Him King
    I will call Him King

This post first appeared here in April 2012.

Published in: on March 9, 2016 at 7:04 pm  Comments Off on Don’t Mourn For Christ  
Tags: , , ,

The Peace Of Christ


christmas-tree-ornament-911705-mIn Colossians Paul admonished the Church to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. Apparently, then, the peace of Christ is something different from plain ol’ peace.

When I think of Christ, I’m conscious of God’s forgiveness; the great love He extends to us so that we might be reconciled to Him; the sacrifice He, the Sinless One, paid in order that we might have peace with the Father.

When I think of forgiveness and an end to a broken relationship, some of Jesus’s stories about forgiveness come to mind. One such was about a certain servant who owed an outrageous debt to his master. He begged for more time to pay up, though in reality he could never meet his obligation though he worked his entire life to pay what he owed. His master generously forgave him the entire obligation.

The servant went out and saw another servant who happened to owe him a modest sum. He insisted that he be repaid. The debtor begged for more time, but the forgiven servant refused.

When his master heard about it, he had him punished.

Why? Because he hadn’t apprehended what forgiveness is all about. The reconciliation he experienced with his master should have filled him with such thankfulness, he would want to pay it forward and let others also experience this same kind of bond.

It’s a bond of peace. It’s the end of keeping accounts. No more Peter-ish keeping score: Did I already forgive him seven times? I am not about to forgive one more of his ____. You fill in the blank.

Paul’s entire admonition about peace says this:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.

I’ve thought for some time now that the “and be thankful” part seems sort of out of place. But as I began to think about Jesus’s parable, it seems clear: when we are thankful for the forgiveness we received, we are willing to extend forgiveness to others—which is the means by which we appropriate peace with one another.

If we’re holding grudges, we aren’t at peace.

If we’re plotting how to get even, we aren’t at peace.

If we’re harboring resentments, we aren’t at peace.

If we’re paying back evil for evil, we aren’t at peace

Paul says we—believers in Jesus—have been called to peace. In fact that’s precisely what Jesus did:

A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

Ah, but that’s love, not peace.

Have you ever tried to love someone you were holding a grudge against? Or plotting against, or resenting, or gossiping about or giving the cold shoulder to or the evil eye or whatever behavior you perceived they had given you? Those things are not loving. In truth, love is the gateway to peace in the same way that forgiveness is.

It makes sense. God’s forgiveness of us didn’t happen in a vacuum, separated from His love. Nor did his love and forgiveness fall short as a means to peace with Him. It’s a package deal. We love, we forgive, we live in peace to which we’ve been called.

We are one body, and a body needs to be at peace with itself or there are problems.

Peace is pretty important at Christmas. Relatives who don’t always hang out with each other or even see one another more than once a year, get together, and there can sometimes be tensions. We are tired and busy and many have been traveling and are living out of a suitcase.

We love Christmas, but it can still be stressful.

Enter love and forgiveness, then peace follows.

Published in: on December 11, 2015 at 6:50 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

New Life And Fighting The Same Battles


Hawaii_surf_fwsA Facebook friend posted something today about a spiritual struggle she’s facing. Her conclusion was, instead of flopping around like a wounded fish simply trying to survive, she would “go down deeper.” The image is a good one, I think.

I’m not a strong swimmer, but years ago I used to spend a good amount of time at the beach during the summer. When it got hot sitting on the sand, I’d jump into the water and ride the waves for a while to cool off. I learned that when you were facing a breaker, the only way to survive was to dive down and let the wave roll over you.

One year that bit of knowledge probably saved my life. I was with a group at a beach with really big waves. I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say they were eight to ten feet, maybe more. Remember, I’m not a strong swimmer. I was following a friend out past the break line where I could catch a wave and ride it in, but on the way out, an especially big set of waves came tumbling toward shore. (The waves were big and they came one right after the other with little break.) No problem, I knew to dive down deep.

Over and over I came up for a gulp of air only to see a new wave bearing down on me. Down I dove. You know the water is pretty deep when you open your eyes and everything is black. Light is not making it all the way to the bottom. And the wave was rumbling and tossing me about as it rolled over me. I was beginning to wonder how to get a lifeguard’s attention because I was getting tired and didn’t know how much longer I could dive then struggle up for air. But the set subsided and I was able to ride a normal-sized wave to shore.

I learned a scary lesson—when you’re a weak swimmer, play to who you are, not what you wish you could be. I stayed on the beach for the rest of the day.

Still, I’m glad I learned to dive deeper.

For the Christian just like the body surfer, diving deeper might seem antithetical. You want to get up and over and beyond the break line, so why would you dive into the wave instead? Because it’s not as dangerous to be under the water when the wave breaks. Water reduces the force of the water.

For the Christian that spiritual struggle can be because of suffering or temptation or some set of circumstances that pull at our spiritual underpinnings. Diving deeper is a way of living out Paul’s statement, When I am weak, then I am strong:

Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:10)

Say what?

Paul made this statement in the context of what we might consider unanswered prayer. He’d asked God three times to remove a “thorn in the flesh,” some physical ailment, apparently, that Paul believed hampered his ministry or was simply difficult for him to manage. Some think it may have been poor eyesight, some the illness he mentions in Galatians 4:13-14. At any rate, God told him to live with it. Well, He said a little more than that!

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (v 9a)

And Paul’s response? He went down deeper:

Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (v 9b)

A blogger I follow talked about leaning into Christ, which I think is another way of saying, Go down deeper.

Hawaii_Wave_(3274955069)You see, it is in yielding, in surrendering to the water that a swimmer can survive the breakers. (*Note: this may or may not be true of the giant thirty foot waves off Hawaii. I simply have no knowledge of how anyone survives those!) In the same way, the believer can survive life’s tumult by surrendering—not to the circumstances, but to our God who knows all about these circumstances long before we realize they’re upon us. It is He we lean into. We yield to Him.

Because He is sovereign, because He has promised to use whatever comes into our life as part of the refining process to make us like His Son, we can know that “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” There is no way we can lose.

It’s part of the new life we experience in Christ. We are saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. So while we are forgiven and God puts our sin away—as far as the east is from the west—we now have the mandate to live up to our calling, to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects.

Paul says it this way in his first letter to the Thessalonians:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. (4:1)

So we struggle, and often it seems as if we struggle with the same thing all over again, but each time we lean into Jesus, each time we go a little deeper, we are becoming more like the Son in whom we are to abide.

I so often wish I could say, There, I’ve got that one mastered, now we can move on to the next one. Ah, but no. God will continue to bring me back to whatever it is I need in order that I may once again yield to Him. Because in reality, when I am weak, then I am strong. The only way to handle the struggle is to give in—not to the circumstances or the temptation, but to the Sovereign Lord who is over the circumstances and will provide the way of escape from the temptation.

Published in: on July 6, 2015 at 6:33 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , , ,