Wednesday, December 20, 2006
I know that's not going to win me any points this year, especially with my kids. But really, I'm serious. I've had it with the whole thing.
What does keeping America's economy going, with all-night sales, endless promotions, stupid commercials and - need I say more - malls... what does all that have to do with the most awesome thing that's ever happened in human history - the incarnation of God Almighty in the form of a human? And not just any human, but one born into economic, social and relational poverty? Could the disparity in concepts be more profound?
When did this all become about us... how we want to do things, what we want, what we need, blah-blah-blah.?
How has it all come to this? Namby pamby seasonal programs, with dripping sentimentality, saying meaningless tripe like "the real meaning of christmas is family, togetherness, peace to all men" - what?? And not just on the Lifetime channel - how about this gem from a church in Naperville, Illinois?
Really... anybody have a gift idea for a gift exchange within the Godhead? Glad to see that the Creator of all things is willing to trade healing for a Playstation 3. The incredible thing is that this is viewed by the leadership of a very large "evengelical" church as funny... and important enough to show in their church services as part of the celebration of the season!
(By the way, here's your bonus video thought: Any pastors out there might consider this evangelism tool for the same Naperville multi-venue church):
Here's my suggestion: We can't really chuck the whole thing, and I'm not really against things like family (or even presents). But what if we picked another day to do something totally different from "christmas" today... that is, celebrate Jesus' birth?
For me, and maybe even my family, I'm going to try to do this on December 26 this year. I'll let you know how it goes. But somewhere in the midst of the frantic pace of the season, I'm hoping to spend some quality time with the one who's supposed to be the focus in the first place.
You may have guessed this, but I have a thought as to why we - this generation - is headed further down the spiritual marginalization path even than our parents generation. I'll start that series tomorrow, but here's your homework assignment: Read Psalm 138:2.
Now down to some housekeeping:
1. I agree with Shiloh Guy... I am totally negligent in my blogging responsibilities.
2. I think I should know who Scotland Yard is, but I probably need more of a hint then the obvious reference to past theological/recreational activities. A clue anyone?
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Check out his blog at http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/anderson.cooper.360/blog/2006/12/what-is-christian.html
I shouldn't be surprised, but I always am at the answers one draws to this question. From Christians. Even in the Midwest holy land.
I'd be interested in any comment on the response posted at 1:40pm Eastern, drafted by my wife's husband.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Beyond the Lord Himself, where would I start? I could tell you about my impossibly great, beautiful, best-friend, love-of-my-life wife. I could tell you about each of my kids – each one so different, and such an incredible joy. I could tell you about my family members (who all mean so much to me), friends (who I don’t deserve), neighbors and community. I could tell you about people who, from public ministry of the Word through preaching or writing have been a tremendous encouragement to me.
I don’t know. Each one deserves my full attention, and words are definitely inadequate to say how grateful I am. I wish I could tell you about each one of these people. But let me tell you now about just one.
She was raised in difficult circumstances, a child of the depression and daughter of an immigrant. Even though she moved around when she was young, she made big impressions on people… like the world-class author/theologian in her neighborhood. He’s trendy now, but when she was little, he was just her pastor and she wormed her way into his introverted heart, treated almost like his own family. Like many in her day, she was also thrust early in life into responsibility, a character trait that has followed her all of her life. After an early and painful disappointment in a relationship, she met the love of her life as a young woman. Running hard against popular convention, the two of them set off together on a life filled with highs and lows, happiness and pain, successes and – well, ok, some failures too.
Nothing ever seemed to come easy… one step forward, two steps back sometimes. I wasn’t the most discerning observer for much of the time I’ve known her, but while I knew life was hard, I never really “felt” it from her. Her husband was a “faith” guy – I think if there’s a spiritual gift of faith, a Holy Spirit given ability to believe God to an unusual degree, he had that. But she lived it! “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Sometimes I thought he even saw the good ahead, the pending calm in the current storm, but she followed out of faith. Even through tears… Not by denying the problem, but living life in spite of the problem.
I watched, I saw. And I learned.
OK, I sound maudlin now! It wasn’t all difficulty. There was happiness, great times, trips, laughter… how much I love hearing her laugh! Even as a very young boy, I remember how much fun it was to wash windows with her on a bright, sunny fall day – it felt to me like the world was right, and good.
She’s got quick wit, the life of the party… that’s her to a tee. She’s an “entertainer” in the fullest and best sense of the word. Hospitality had a face for me… her face. Gracious, welcoming, warm, inviting, and those have been great traits to see in a world that generally has little time for such things. Even today, she thinks of ways to befriend and welcome her neighbors, looking for ways to brighten other people’s lives.
She’s also passionate about life, and principled in her positions on things… appropriately self-confident and strong. Willing to say the tough things, but an example of grace and truth. In our little sub-culture, many are more than a little uncomfortable with the “truth” part of that, but I love the gleam in her eye when she points out the obvious thing that everybody’s thinking, but nobody has the guts to say.
But more than all that, she’s compassionate and generous – almost to a fault. She has always given… words like involved, concerned, charitable, generous… that’s her. She’d literally give away anything she had to meet a need. She’s kind, thoughtful and interested in people personally without being intrusive… always quick to say that she’s praying for you. Your spouse. Your kids. Your job. Your concerns. (You get the picture!) But she actually does pray, just like she says. This isn’t the posting for a rant on the current state of the evangelical movement, but just to say it, we could stand more of that.
Today, her life is slower than it used to be. Lonelier than it used to be… her husband is gone, her kids are busy, busy, busy. Life has thrown some very hard knocks her way. But in my eyes, she’s still very much the young girl in her 20’s with a life full of promise. The best really is yet to come… and I still see the hope in her eyes as she follows our Lord – as she always has.
Difficulty, extra responsibility, challenge… they’ve always been a part of her life. But for people like me, she’s modeled success and victory. She’s shown me what Paul meant when he said “… we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)
No wonder a life like that shows “the surpassing power that belongs to God and not to us” (vs. 7).
So today, like everyday, I’m thankful. I’m thankful for a woman who has been such a godly model to me, such an encouragement to me, such an example to me. Hopefully when I grow up, I’ll model her best traits as well.
I’m thankful for my Mom.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
After all, how many events so completely shook the world?
489 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his small objections to the religious system of the day - a challenge to debate - on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. How could he have known that but within the week, copies of his theses would be discussed throughout the surrounding regions; and within a decade, Europe itself would be shaken by his simple act. The start of the revolution that would become the protestant reformation, and the end of the tyranny of oppression from a corrupt Roman church which had lost its authenticity.
But what started Martin Luther?
As is widely know, Luther - disheartened, depressed and confused, made his way one day to the Scala Sancta in Rome, the sacred stairs upon which Jesus had been judged by Pilate. They were brought from Jerusalem by the mother of Constantine the Great. Today, as in LutherÂs day, you can see the pilgrims going up those stairs on their knees. Luther was diligently doing that when there began to be heard in his mind the words he had read in Romans 1: "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed . . . For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (vv. 17-18 KJV). Luther trembled when he read that. But now the rest of that verse began to be heard in his heart and mind. "The just (righteous) shall live by faith."
As this truth dawned on him - it gripped him - echoing louder and louder until it rang out the old and in the truth of the doctrine of Grace through Faith alone - and he sprang to his feet and left that place. A reformation began in his heart, which spread to the known world, and for which we remain the happy beneficiaries.
It's this truth that gives me great comfort these days... and there are three reasons why.
First, this thought - first from the Old Testament (Habakkuk 2:4) is quoted 3 times in the New Testament, and each time with an emphasis on a different part of this 3-part phrase:
1. In Romans 1:16, the emphasis is on "the just (righteous)":
"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'"
2. In Galatians 3:10-12, the emphasis is on "shall live":
"All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.' Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, 'The righteous will live by faith.' The law is not based
on faith; on the contrary, 'The man who does these things will live by them.'"
3. In Hebrews 10:36-39, the emphasis is on "by faith":
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, 'He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.' But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
No wonder this truth was transforming to Luther! How powerfully simple, yet true - devastating to the entire way that the world tells us to live our lives! Here's what I mean (and what I'm trying to learn):
This verse tells me that if I want to be in the right place in life - with God - I must live by faith. Romans 1 is clear about the fact that I'm not, God is and He's willing to change me to the right way of living - by faith! I don't have to get better, the good news is that God Himself transforms me into what I should be, what I was created to be, when I believe! Not when I try harder, not when I work my fingers to the bone, but when I believe! No wonder they call it good news!
The Bible is very clear about this. "...And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe (a) that he exists and (b) that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." (Hebrews 11:6, emphasis added) So through faith - believing God (as my Dad used to say, not just believing in God, but believing Him) - we are actually treated as if we are righteous!
I lay awake at night knowing my shortcomings, my failure... but through a living by faith, all of that is washed away, and I'm made right before God. Wow!
Equally powerful is that thought that faith is the lifeblood of a righteous man. I've been reading about the reformers - think about Martin Luther: He didn't know what he was getting into. If it hadn't been for the fairly recent invention of the printing press, his challenge to debate might have been quickly forgotten. He certainly wasn't out to change Western Civilization! But quickly he found himself in a position where, unless he renounced his views, he was subject to civil, economic, political, vocational - hey, even eternal - punishment from the view of his world system. He found himself in conflict with the mon0lithic power of that day, and refused to change, saying "...Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me." How??
Faith gives life to righteous men. This is what John meant when he said in 1 John:
"...for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith."
If I want to do more than exist... if I want to overcome - to really live, faith is the path I follow. It's not by my effort, but my stamina, by my courage, by my will... it's by turning myself over to the One who "exists and who rewards those who earnestly seek Him". Is that all? Yes, that's all! It's enough to move any mountain... even the ones I spend my life trying to move in my own strength. But righteous ones - the ones walking with God - don't feel that stress... they live by faith. And real faith, by the way isn't what you say, or even what you believe... it's what you live.
The testimony of Scripture is plain and clear. People who did this "overcame" life - even when in outward appearances they seemed like failures. They were the ones, like Joeseph, who looks at a lifetime of hardship and injustice, and talking to the very ones who inflicted the pain said "...you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good (!)..." Can something so... insignificant - intangible - as faith make a difference? Yes! It makes all the difference... it's life! The words of the old hymn are true:
"Faith is the victory, faith is the victory. Oh, glorious victory that overcomes the world."
"... By Faith" - One last thought:
The book of Hebrews (ok, the Bible!) announces a dire warning for those who turn back - who fail to keep going... what would it mean to "shrink back and be destroyed"?
All I know is that God says "He has no pleasure" in such people. Just men live by faith. They believe, and that belief has logical consequences. If I said that "I believed that my home was on fire, but stayed inside and played video games, I would either be lying about my belief or insane! If you believe something, you act on it! Crazy, religiousity-churchism today will say that you can believe, but not live like it... that's - well, stupid. No, you can't. If you believe something, you act on it. If you don't act in a manner consistent with what you say, you don't believe what you're saying. It's just that simple.
We live in a society where almost everyone "believes in God". So what?? The demons believe, and they tremble. But righteous people, they live "by faith" - they don't just accept the historical facts about Jesus, they hear His words and believe them! And they act on them because they believe!
Jesus was very clear about this too. You can't say that you're a Christian if you do not obey the teachings of Jesus. If you think otherwise, you disagree with the clear teaching of the Bible:
Jesus said "... the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." (John 10:3) or John's blunt words in 1 John 2:4-6:
"Whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. "
I'm not saying that you have to be perfect, but I am saying that belief has logical consequences. And righteous people live by what they believe - by faith in Jesus - by believing what He said was really, honestly true.
Well, that's a mouthful for today. I'm seeking to be that kind of person... a righteous person - who lives, really lives - by faith.
Want to join me? :) "The just ... shall live ... by faith."
Saturday, October 21, 2006
It's great to know that reality isn't just what we see and experience... there's far more going on, and at stake, than we can see with our physical senses. There's so much truth in this book to discuss, but this afternoon - especially in light of what I've been writing about - this small phrase is a huge encouragement to me:
"...for He Himself is our peace..." (Eph. 2:14)
No matter what anybody tells you, no matter how far or wide you look, no matter how hard you try, there's only one place to find peace - it's in Jesus alone. In His person, experienced in relationship with Him. How easy it is to get distracted, to look elsewhere... and miss the benefit we're supposed to be living in.
When it's all stripped away, it's just Him. What a miracle that He does this for us!
Friday, October 20, 2006
Let me be more specific: This last month has been awful. (Just be thankful you can skip over it here, and not hear me whine about it!) Anyway, especially this last week, we've been on a roller-coaster of emotion... I'd like to say that "I'm experiencing blissful happiness and tranquility" in the midst of life's difficulty, but I'm not. I've gone to bed at night feeling like I'm not going to wake up. My wife and kids are tired of hearing me say that I'm having chest pains... each day has felt like a different, more painful hit than the day before.
And I know I've said this before (somewhere), but the problem for me is that I want to be in control - and the difficulties I wrestle with are all totally beyond that. Sometimes I wish I could trade difficulties with someone who's having them directly (like a personal illness, business failure or other pressure), because I'd be able to do something about that! But God seems to know precisely where I need breaking, and off to the land of "beyond-my-control" I find myself.
We're thrilled with the news today about our son, and I don't want to take anything away from that. The same person who called me today with good news called my wife last week with very confusing and disturbing news. So it's hard to feel like "its over" - you just never really know. (It's always that way, isn't it? The calm of "ordinary" life can be disturbed - no, shattered - by a thousand things we can't -or won't - begin to comprehend.)
Back to the Bible, though. That "overly-honest" stuff? One example that caught me this evening was the book of Lamentations. I really feel like posting all of it. Here's a guy who most churches would send off for therapy (or at least to a men's accountability group) quickly, just to get him to shut up! But he captures the feelings I have had, sometimes expressed wandering the house in the middle of the night, when he says this (in Lamentations 3)
"I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long..." (v1-3) "He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked..." (v.7-9) "my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, 'My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD'. Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me." (v.17-20)
Ok, that's not too "celebratory." And in our hearts, we all know that place - and that it's a lonely place to be. Even though we've all been there, evangelicals "aren't supposed" to feel that way. We're supposed to be up, happy and smiley. "Doesn't Jesus want you happy, healthy and fulfilled?"
Actually, I don't think so. At least not the way that it's generally described to me.
It's possible to feel down, depressed, even crushed... and still be walking in God's plan and purpose. Maybe that's what the writer of Lamentations (Jeremiah?) was confident of when - even in the midst of that level of discouragement and pain, he could follow immediately with this thought:
"But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (v.21-23).
In the ups and downs of life, I love the FACT that regardless of my circumstances - regardless of anything, even the crushing weight of life's darkest days or problems, God's love and mercy are both immeasurable and unending. He sustains even when you're dying inside. What a mystery... but what a promise and a truth.
Many people have seen difficulty beyond anything I've known, so I'm not the expert. But no matter, I've got to decide daily whether I'm trusting in God's faithfulness or in my circumstances. And like the author of Lamentations, those two things sometimes seem very much at odds in my life.
A.W. Tozer wrote about seasons of life like this in his book "That Incredible Christian"... he said this:
"To do His supreme work of grace within you He will take from your heart everything you love most. Everything you trust in will go from you. Piles of ashes will lie where your most precious treasures used to be.
This is not to teach the sanctifying power of poverty. If to be poor made man holy every tramp on a park bench would be a saint. But God knows the secret of removing things from our hearts while they still remain to us... now under the careful treatment of the Holy Spirit your life may become dry, tasteless and to some degree a burden to you...
While you life in this state you will exist by a kind of blind will to live; you will find none of the inward sweetness you had enjoyed before. The smile of God will be for the time withdrawn, or at least hidden from your eyes. Then you will learn what faith is; you will find out the hard way, but the only way open to you, that true faith lies in the will... And you will learn, probably to your astonishment, that it is possible to live in all good conscience before men and God and still feel nothing of the "peace and joy" you hear talked about so much by immature Christians...
Slowly you will discover God's love in your suffering. Your heart will begin to approve the whole thing. You will learn from yourself what all the schools in the world could not teach you - the healing action of faith without supporting pleasure. You will feel and understand the ministry of the night; its power to purify, to detach, to humble, to destroy the fear of death and, what is more important to you at the moment, the fear of life." (emphasis added)
Tozer goes on to warn his generation - soaked in the promise of wealth and prosperity - about the timeless truth of this thought. It is honest, real and - in my life, sustaining... through ups and downs. It's also a message sorely needed to be proclaimed in a world full of "Joel Olsteen-type" religious blather.
For us, today's crisis has passed. While we're grateful (even celebrating!), the next one may be waiting in hours, or delayed indefinitely. But for me, whatever comes, I'll choose to seek to echo the author of Lamentations when he said - in an act of "willful" faith during a period of crushing defeat:
"'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him." The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD." (3:25-26)
It is. So I will.
"...The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:4-7Ok, I'm working on my part... but Jesus seems to keep showing up to do His. More later tonight...
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
I've been writing about discipline, and how I'm trusting God's purpose and plan in all of the circumstances of my life - even the bad ones. But it's so normal to ask "why?" For example, why does my young son suffer? How can a father even begin to comprehend suffering of that nature - so far out of my control - how can anything good be found there?
C.S. Lewis' book A Grief Observed is a treasure of honesty in the midst of suffering; so personal that Lewis published it anonomously. Towards the end of the record of his wrestling with God following the death of his wife Joy, he made a statement which resonates with me tonight - when I'm thinking about today's "why" questions:
"When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of 'no answer.' It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, 'Peace, child; you don't understand.'
Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask - half our great theological and metaphysical questions are like that."
I'm not sure about the percentage he mentions, but I think Lewis was on to something important. I thank God that His ways are higher than mine... that He has a greater plan and purpose than my mind can comprehend.
I don't want to stop asking questions. And life cries out sometimes with them... But I don't have to be overwhelmed by them. We do really "see through a glass darkly" now.
So while many of my questions are unanswered, I still find comfort in the character of our God... I believe that He's worth loving, following - and even trusting - regardless of my understanding of the path along which He's leading me.
Monday, October 16, 2006
'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.'
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
I'm continuing to wrestle with this passage. I'm finding that it is incredibly comforting to know that God has a plan for my life that even contemplates painful circumstances. And a number of circumstances in our lives lately have been painful:
- The loss of my wife's mother
- Extended family difficulties
- Painful church experiences
And now, we've discovered that there is the specter of uncertaintly over our youngest son, a cancer survivor 12 years ago, now diagnosed with melanoma. Is it ok? Is it not? A roller coaster of emotions as we sort through encouraging and confusing information. Oh yeah, and the waiting... that's fun too. Surgery tomorrow, learning about things like "wide local excisions" and "sentinel node biopsies" - chest x-rays, a call from the surgeon to "go get a CT scan, we're not worried, but the radiologists see some things not normal for a 12 year old" - call to the oncologist, etc., etc.... blah blah blah. Ecch.
So, I've been thinking: Is it the Lord's discipline that I'm feeling? Is it sin (personal or corporate)? Is it merely the random difficulties of life common to all in a fallen world? And whatever it is, how am I supposed to react?
My answer? I don't know. I can't figure it out. My perspective is so temporal... so parochial. Maybe more to the point, I don't even think I'm supposed to know. The Bible says that I'm supposed to "trust in the LORD with all [my] heart, and do not lean on [my] own understanding." (Prov. 3:5) So I'm trusting, and have decided that no matter what, I'll learn what I can during this season of life.
That's why the commandment in this passage is gripping me: "Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord."
The Greek compound word here (I'm told) means "to have little esteem for something, to think lightly or make lightly..." (BDAG). I'm coming to understand that this is my natural bent, my first reaction to difficulty - I have "little esteem" for it. I mean that I don't see any redeemable good in the problem and I want to make it go away. My mindset is that life will be ok again when this bad thing is removed - it never should have happened. I'm regarding it lightly... refusing to see that a good and loving Father may be allowing - or even causing - the circumstance for my good.
Discipline takes many forms in my house. It's corrective (when one of my kids have broken the rules), but sometimes its just training... building them up, preparing them for greater work ahead. If you go through life never having to do a chore, how do you get prepared to hold down a job? (By the way, I'm not accepting comments from my kids on that comment).
I'm coming to see the issues in life as God's discipline - whether corrective or proscriptive, my perspective is to see that - no matter what - it can be good. Even when it hurts like crazy at the moment.
Two weeks ago, our basement took on a little water for the first time in 12 years. While I was writing this, the service people we called finally showed up, and told me that I've got a huge mess (lots of contorted faces, hand-wringing and big dollars under discussion). I've got to say that while I'm not totally convinced I need the bio-hazard services into my home in the next 24 hours, I am increasingly convinced that God means it when He said through Paul:
What if He actually means it? :) Thinking about it all, I'm deciding this: I'm going to see God's good hand in all that life throws at me - even the bad things. "Though he slay me, I will hope in him..." (Job 13:15). I've decided that I'll trust the loving character of my Father in heaven, and not "regard lightly" the discipline of the Lord.
"...And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.'
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
“God's blessed me with a wonderful wife and four kids...”
“God's blessed me with a great job...”
“God's blessed me with a new car...”
“God's blessed me with good health...”“
God is so good... look at what He's given to us”!
It's enough to make you stand up and sing "and now I am happy all the day!" Ugg.
You see, I grew up in a church culture that equated peace and comfort with God's blessing. It was home of the “Gospel of the Big Offer”: Jesus wants you happy, Jesus wants you fulfilled. Don’t you want the good life? Come to Jesus, and everything will be all right!
How unsettling, then, are the words of the Holy Spirit through the writer of the letter to the Hebrews!
For me at least, life isn’t what my little sub-culture promised. Frankly, it’s a lot harder than I ever thought, and for some people I love, it’s even harder for them. In my family’s life, the last month has been especially hard, with more difficulty than we ever anticipated around us… the kind of time where you don’t want to tell anyone just exactly how bad it really is, because no one really wants to know anyway. Anyway, in light of all that, I've been thinking a lot about Hebrews 12:5-11:
“... And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
This passage has really hit me, and there are so many things that are helpful to me here. I thought I’d post on them one at a time, but here's the first thought that was really refreshing to me:
The Lord disciplines.
I know that's not too profound, but it hit me. The Lord? The God of the Universe? HE actually disciplines?? Well, I guess He does!
It’s this whole topic of discipline that I’m wrestling with. Now I have some understanding of discipline – I have kids (hey, I even was a kid once!) Thayer’s and Smith define the word, in part, to mean:
“…the whole training and education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof and punishment)… and whatever in adults also cultivates the soul, esp. by correcting mistakes and curbing passions…instruction which aims at increasing virtue and chastisement, chastening, (of the evils with which God visits men for their amendment)” (emphasis added)
I’m ok with instruction, and even commands and admonitions. But reproof? Punishment? Chastisement? Chastening? Evils – “which God visits [on] men”?
With my kids, I understand that discipline may take the form of be correcting mistakes (punishment, consequences, etc.), and it may be building on strengths (chores, additional responsibilities, teaching, etc.). The kids may or may not like it or even get it at the time. But the goal is to train them up to maturity. And the methods God uses in my life may also be something I understand or beyond anything I like or want at the moment.
I don't know what you think, but this isn't exactly good news at first blush. I wasn't too fond of discipline as a child, and my taste for pain hasn't exactly grown. But the more that I think about it, the more powerful - the more life-changing this thought seems to me - and also, by the way, the more completely foreign to my thinking and practice. You see, even as an evangelical Christian, I've spent most of my life trying to avoid the Lord's discipline and, when I've thought about it at all, I've generally thought wrongly about it… for example, I’ll say:
- “Is God in control?”
- “What’s gone wrong in my life?”
- “Why is this happening to me?
Like a lot of other truth, of course I know this. But when difficulty comes, I've got to admit that my first emotional reaction is that the trouble is outside of God's plan - maybe even outside of His control. "Where are you God? Can you help me now?" My heart reaction is that something is desperately wrong - that the trouble experienced is outside of God's plan and purpose.
But what if it isn't?
What if the difficulty I or my loved ones are experiencing is exactly what our loving, gracious, consistent, beneficial, all-knowing heavenly Father actually intended to happen?
I know that “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” I'm not saying that God is the author of evil, and I’m not up for the argument about the origin of evil, pain and suffering. I’m confident in the nature of God and His character to not be wrestling with that – I know that He’s good, loving, kind and compassionate to His children. But it seems clear that none of the circumstances in the life of a believer escape the notice - and control - of the Lord. What else could a beleaguered Paul mean, for example, when in the midst of talking about "the sufferings of this present time" he says that "...all things work together for good" for those who are love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 12)?
So when bad things happen to me or to those around me, is it possible in 21st century America to think that God may be using, or even causing the circumstance for my good – as discipline?
James MacDonald said once that “God’s discipline is painful circumstance brought or allowed into the life of a believer by God to change their character and their conduct.” As I get my mind around this, I’m beginning to feel more of the purpose – and the goodness of God - in life’s difficulties.
So, in the midst of a tough time of life, when I don’t know what I’m supposed to learn or the precise cause of all of the difficulty, I’m looking for the Lord’s hand and His purpose. I’m actually beginning to feel that it’s ok that The Lord Disciplines. Life isn’t out of control, and the pain I experience has not escaped His notice. Far from that, it’s all from Him, part of His plan for me, and even for my benefit. So the very things that humanly should bring me a heavy heart are becoming the things I rejoice over, because they are useful – helpful… yeah, even good, because I know that God’s discipline is an indication of my son-ship, and a tangible evidence of God’s mercy and perfecting love in my life.
So if it’s God I’m dealing with, who am I to regard lightly anything coming from Him – even discipline?
Monday, September 25, 2006
Anyway, a week ago yesterday our family gathered to celebrate the brief life of one of our niece's son, Benjamin Allen Peays, who was born prematurely while his parents were on the mission field and passed away after just a few days of life. His parents, John and Courtney, were passing through town on their way to Denver, and we had an open house for friends and family to meet and comfort them.
On that Sunday, Beth's mom went to church, took John and Courtney to lunch, and then came to our home with her usual bunch of baked goods for the gathering. She wasn't here long before Beth realized that she wasn't doing too well. Mom has been suffering from overian cancer for some time, and was in her second round of chemo... it has been a hard summer for her. But you generally never knew that there was an issue with her - she rarely complained about anything.
Beth took Mom upstairs to rest while the event continued. By mid-evening, all had gone and Beth drove Mom home. As we sat together in Mom's condo, Beth said that she would wait with her mom, who "wasn't doing well".
To make a long story short, we had no idea how bad it was for Mom at the time. Into the hospital that evening, surgery the next day (followed quickly by the news that nothing could be done), the wondering if she would even regain consciousness, the shock of imminent loss and the reality of the finality of death came much too quickly.
God greatly blessed us over the next two days with Mom's recovery of consciousness and removal from life support. All of her kids made it in to town to talk with he (along with most of her grand children!) and Beth had opportunity for some final conversation, hugs, tears, thanks and goodbyes before Mom slipped away peacefully on Wednesday morning. "Precious" - in fact - "in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." (Ps. 116:15)
I still wrestle with getting my mind around the enormity of the problem of death. The violent, unnatural rending of body and soul - the heartbreak of final separation... the finality of it from a human perspective. It is ironic that the more successful one's life in what really counts, the harder the loss is to bear.
I saw how Mom lived her life for over 22 years. I can honestly say that she was more "like Jesus" than almost anyone I have ever known. Her loss is magnified in our home by the extraordinarily close relationship she had with Beth - she was close to all of the kids, but through proximity, gender and a unique care-giving role, Beth had crossed the line from "daughter" to "friend". June left many of them behind, and while she's present with the Lord, the vacancy she left is a hard to imagine. Beth spoke about this so eloquently at the memorial service on Saturday.
But June left behind a legacy to follow, like so many have done before her. I'll never forget a sermon I heard - probably 25 years ago - about the "gallery of faith" from Hebrews 11... how all around, those listed and those faithful - like June - who have gone before us stand and watch, calling to us to press on and keep going... they ran the race, they finished the course, the kept the faith.
In a world that focuses too much sometimes on good beginnings, the Bible calls us to good endings... to finishing well. There may not be books written about Elizabeth June Victoria Curtin Allen but, along with those who knew her, I can only hope that in some way my life will reflect the same type of faithfulness that her's demonstrated... through good and bad, gain and loss, sorrow and joy, and walking though the valley of the shadow of death. It is true that
"only one life, 'twill soon be passed... only what's done for Christ lasts."
Almost no one may read this... but Mom, we're proud of you. We love you. We'll miss you. And as your son Dave said on Saturday, we'll do our best to follow your example. Beth said it for all of us when she said
"... Thank you, Lord, for such a great lady - such a great Mom. You have blessed us abundantly for giving her to us. What a gift - what a treasure - what a mom!"
Sunday, September 10, 2006
In Jesus' last meal with His disciples, Jesus made the astonishing, politically incorrect, too blunt, non-positive (dare I say... negative?) statement that one of His chosen ones would actually sell Him out, turn Him in to the authorities - they'd betray Him! He had been blunt with them before about the consequence of His trip to Jerusalem (for example, Luke 10:32-34), and Peter had even argued with Jesus about it (Matt. 16:21-23). But here, in the moment, Jesus states again that one of those closest to Him would turn their back on Him.
I can only imagine what Jesus was feeling then... Seeing clearly the awful condition of mankind (and feeling it in the lives of the ones who walked with Him)... knowing the hideous price that had to be paid, and maybe - just maybe - a little ticked that one in whom He had invested so much would turn aside.
This isn't really what's been haunting me about this story, though. It's those three words spoken by disciples startled by the severity of the statement. "Is it I?"
Maybe I'm like the disciples - caught up in the moment with things other than the Lord's immediate concern in mind, and the possibility (or probability) of me betraying Jesus slaps me in the face as well. Maybe the going will get hard. Maybe we'll have a setback. Maybe Jesus will be under attack, and I won't have the guts to stand up for Him. Mark 8:38 isn't in most people's Jesus Person's Pocket Promise Book.
Here's what hit me: I need to ask this question of myself a lot more. I am really sad about the "state of the church" these days... some deep disappointments in local church. I've said often that no institution promises so much, and provides experientially so little as the local church. I can't be one of those guys who feels like we're doing "great things for God" just because we've sponsored a World Vision family from a distance, or had a golf outing, or we've "studied" yet another John Ortberg book. (Don't get me started - that's another post!). And even worse, if somebody asks me what I think, I tell them! I guess I didn't get the memo telling me to just shut up and pretend that everything's ok. ("...and now, I am happy all the day" - what is that??)
I think it's good - even healthy - to have your eyes open and think critically (in the discerning sense of the word). But sometimes, for me, that's a trap. The "church" betrays Jesus every single day... and the words of these poor fishermen hit me when I read them. Matthew and Mark record that "they were very sorrowful": Ah, DUH! It's easy for me to see their need, but this is the question I've asked myself each night before I've gone out for business dinners these past few weeks; people betray Jesus each day - by omission and by commission. The most pressing question for me is this: "Is it I?"
May God increasingly give me eyes to see - not just the dross for refining "out there", but the sad truth that I'm just as likely as Judas on any given day to betray my Savior. Lord, let me see the problem clearly - especially the ones in me.
So that's what I'm asking myself after midnight in Tokyo. "Is it I, Lord?"
By His grace, not today, and I'm trusting for tomorrow, too.
I took my oldest son to college in Indiana on August 25-26, left home for Denver on business on the 28th, came home for a few hours and then was off on this trip to Asia. I've got to say, I've got emotional vertigo!
I know I'm not the first dad who pulled off the side of a road after leaving his son - the pride of his life - at college and felt the mixture of pride and happiness about the new life beginning, and the deep profound sadness of another way of life ending. Work, and all of its problems seem so very, very little in the light that life slipping away. I don't know about you, but I didn't wish that I had spent more time at the office. :)
Here in the Asia, and in ex-pat financial community (at least the little I've seen), everyone seems to have young kids... age 3 or 5, maybe 7. They work long hours here, with a lot of travel away, and when we're out to eat, they seemed surprised that I want to talk about family - almost as if it's the last thing on their mind. All I can think about is that I wish they had that time of life back!
What a waste jobs - no, careers - can be. You know, if you take the relocation to Hong Kong or Singapore, you can get tax breaks, housing allowances, nannies, all sorts of creature comforts, but the cost is that you uproot your family and breach any type of community you had. Your life literally becomes your work. What a hollow life...
Living - working, eating dinner - with these guys here has made me realize again how precious time is... how radically expensive it is to spend, because you can't recover it no matter how hard you work, or how much you want to pay.
Well, my son's on his way, and I'm still going too. But I'm not wasting any more time with the other three still at home. While it's still today, I want to make life count for our Lord, and my wife and my kids. They're the best gift humanly speaking I have - that I could ever imagine.
So, maybe it's the room in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Maybe it's too many dinners out with people with no life. Or maybe its a gift - a reminder to count the days, and redeem the time... Anyway, if the kids are getting on your nerves, or you're going to bed mad at your wife, or if you're knotted up about the job, do youself a favor:
Take a mental trip with me to Asia, and remember the gifts God's given you right there at home... take the time while you still have it.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Sunday, April 02, 2006
You know what I'm talking about... the lame, all-loving, all-caring, never judging, always tolerant god of 21st century imagination. The god who is more interested in our happiness than our holiness... the one who is just patiently waiting for you, no matter what you do, no matter where you go... the "big-squishy-lovable-but-slightly-senile-grandfatherly-'man upstairs'-who's-always-there-to-give-you-whatever-you-want" kind of god.. the one who just might - if you get out of line - maybe give you a nuggy. He's so loving, and kind, and gentle and patient. The "whenever you get around to it in your honest seeking He'll be waiting for you" kind of god.
I know there's a thread of truth in that, but the God of the Bible is "... the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy..." (Isaiah 57:15). He's the one who gave "commandments, not suggestions". He's the God who's infinite love is understood through the His infinite Holiness... and He is the God who does not change (Mal. 3:6). He's the One who demands obedience. He loves us - and He wants to conform us to the image of His Son.
That's not the God I hear too much about these days... and I attend a "conservative, bible-believing evangelical"church! Every day, I'm surprised and discouraged more and more as I see the failure to hold to - wait, even recognize - propositional truth. For many people, doctrine is irrelevant, theology is irrelevant, and whatever you think is fine! More and more, I read books with "2 views of this" and "5 views of that"... as a functional matter, fewer and fewer people I know:
- Believe the Bible is the actual, literal final authority for faith and practice
- Believe that the Bible is knowable and understandable - enough to actually be applied to daily life
- Believe that the Bible is God's Word to us... and that our life's mission and passion ought to be to know the God of the Bible through the book that He wrote for us!
So, I'll write a little. I know I'm not the only one out there.... Hey, when's the last time you changed your mind and your behavior because of something you read in the Bible (Romans 12:1)?