Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Eve Thought

On this Christmas Eve, I thought I'd share this story, which first gripped me in 1972:

"Once there lived a king who had power over all nations and people. His courts were of richest-splendor; his tables were heavy with finest food. Music and laughter and gaiety floated from his castle. Peasants - in their valley of violence and hunger - stopped and looked at the castle for a long while, wishing they might know the king. But none were able to reach it.
In the cold of winter, the king's tailor entered the royal chambers with the latest additions to the king's wardrobe. He had selected the finest materials and woven them into the most beautiful garments that eyes had ever seen.

ut the king was not pleased. He ordered his tailor out, vowing to make his own clothes. The door to the throne room was shut and locked. Weeks passed. The royal court waited with anticipation to see what the king would make for himself. They knew they were bound to be blinded by the glory of it. Finally the awaited day arrived. The door opened and the king appeared.

veryone, especially the tailor, gasped in surprise. His Majesty was dressed in the simplest, cheapest, most unkingly garments imaginable. He had the choice of the world's finest materials, but he had chosen to wear the clothes of a begger.

I am going into the valley,' he said quietly." (by Michael Daves)
And He did go into the valley... our valley. Imagine the shock in Heaven when the plan became clear: Emmanual - God is to be with us. It is The Miracle of Christmas... Jesus left perfection to be one of us.

How can we grasp the enormity of this wonderful Truth? What captures the depth of the sacrifice made for our benefit? Let me ask you this... would you:
  • Leave comfort, power and position behind to identify with people in trouble?
  • Give everything away to identify with the poor?
  • Become homeless to reach homeless people?
  • Accept punishment for people who didn't deserve your help, didn't know and didn't care?
Those examples don't begin to capture the sacrifice God Himself made on our behalf. What does it say about the God of the Universe, that He would stoop so low as to become a human being? Jesus, the God-Man, "... though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God as thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:6-7)

And why did Jesus do this? He did it for the Glory of God... and to our eternal benefit.

I can't comprehend it all - what Jesus gave up, and why He did it. But I do know this: Your sin and mine created the problem... separated us from God. And the distance was so great, the problem so severe, the burden on us so impossible that only the initiative of the God of the Universe was enough to bridge the gap and offer us hope. And like the King in the parable above, He became like us - to our eternal benefit.

Amazing, isn't it? Yes, it is. If you don't know Him, seek Him - the One who gave up EVERYTHING for you. That's the real meaning of Christmas. May "the eyes of [all of] our hearts" be enlightened (Ephesians 1:18) to see Him as He is - and the incredible love He has shown towards His chosen ones - this Christmas Eve... and throughout the year.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Heresy from America's "Most Popular Preacher"

If you caught Fox News Sunday today, you got this piece of wisdom from Chris Wallace's guest, Joel Olsteen:

WALLACE: And what about Mitt Romney? And I've got to ask you the question, because it is a question whether it should be or not in this campaign, is a Mormon a true Christian?

OSTEEN: Well, in my mind they are. Mitt Romney has said that he believes in Christ as his savior, and that's what I believe, so, you know, I'm not the one to judge the little details of it. So I believe they are.

And so, you know, Mitt Romney seems like a man of character and integrity to me, and I don't think he would — anything would stop me from voting for him if that's what I felt like.

WALLACE: So, for instance, when people start talking about Joseph Smith, the founder of the church, and the golden tablets in upstate New York, and God assumes the shape of a man, do you not get hung up in those theological issues?

OSTEEN: I probably don't get hung up in them because I haven't really studied them or thought about them. And you know, I just try to let God be the judge of that. I mean, I don't know.

I certainly can't say that I agree with everything that I've heard about it, but from what I've heard from Mitt, when he says that Christ is his savior, to me that's a common bond.
Now THAT's discernment for you. He had lots more GREAT stuff to say, including an explanation of his humanistic, power-of-positive-thinking mumbo-jumbo and a laughable answer to the question of why he doesn't "...go deeply in [his] sermons into scripture." And millions are flocking to listen. It breaks my heart.

Lots of other websites point out this stuff, and I usually stay out of the fray. When I listen to this guy, Galatians 1:8-9 or maybe the book of Jude usually come to mind. But just in case you're listening, Joel, here's my reaction:

I think I speak for all of us when I say: For The Love Of Everything That's Holy, PLEASE SHUT UP!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Here's a Gift Idea!

Everywhere I look I get input - ads, commercials, billboards, fliers, etc. - telling me what people need for Christmas. But what do we really need, anyway?

Consider these thoughts from Oswald Chambers. He points out that Jesus came to Earth with a gift - but not quite what people think of these days. And this particular gift addresses our greatest need. Jesus came with this:

"I came not to send peace, but a sword." Matthew 10:34

Jesus came to make things wrong. He came to cause trouble. He came to create a problem.

Let me say it this way: Christmas is popularly viewed as a time to recognize the basic goodness of all men. Think A Christmas Carol or It's A Wonderful Life... they make us feel good about man's goodness, which sometimes gets hidden in the business of life. But Christmas ought not be that at all! It's a time to remember how desperately bad we are - so much so that we need a Savior, and the only one who would do is the God of the Universe Himself! Jesus didn't come to comfort us, but to stir us out of our comfort - into the painful realization that we have an unbelievable problem in that we are sinful, separated from God and eternally lost!

When we've received that gift - the gift of the truth about ourselves - then (and ONLY then) is the Gospel of Jesus' atoning work and sacrifice really "good news".

Perhaps you're spending time this season with people you love who don't know Jesus... in a season when the whole American culture turns its attention (however briefly) to Jesus, consider asking the Holy Spirit to give this uncomfortable gift to those you really love. Oswald Chambers said it this way:

"...There must be a sense of need before your message is of any use. Thousands of people are happy without God in this world. If I was happy and moral till Jesus came, why did He come? Because that kind of happiness and peace is on a wrong level; Jesus Christ came to send a sword through every peace that is not based on a personal relationship to Himself."
We can participate in giving the greatest gift of all to those we love... the gift of an eternal relationship with the God of the Universe through His Son. But be a faithful messenger in the process - tell people the truth. All of it. Don't give "peace" to those apart from Christ... give the a sword. Make it hurt! Show them the reality of the problem, and the Holy Spirit will make the solution the most wonderful news in the world to them.
"...If God has had His way with you, your message as His servant is merciless insistence on the one line, cut down to the very root, otherwise there will be no healing. Drive home the message until there is no possible refuge from its application. Begin to get at people where they are until you get them to realize what they lack, and then erect the standard of Jesus Christ for their lives - 'We never can be that.' Then drive it home - 'Jesus Christ says you must.' "But how can we be?' "You cannot, unless you have a new Spirit." (Luke 11:13.)
It is the "poor in spirit" - those who realize they are lost and have nothing within themselves to bring to God - those whose eyes have been opened to the truth of their sinful and lost condition - those are the people who are drawn by the Holy Spirit the Son, for the Glory of God.

What do people need for Christmas? Apart from Christ, we all need the business end of a sword. If you need help understanding this truth, see (just for example)Romans 1-3.

The gift of the Truth about ourselves: It's a painful thing... and it's not peace, but a sword. It's what people REALLY need this season, and always. Merry (ouch) Christmas!

Quotes from Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, "WHAT TO CONCENTRATE ON" (December 19)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Sobering Day...

I saw this picture today and it reminds me of an uncomfortable truth: Death is real, and it's out there waiting for each of us. Perhaps in the shadows and away from our immediate attention... but it is still there all the same. And while it may seem silent when it is "waiting," the timing of its appointment with each one of us is still uncertain, and likely coming sooner than we plan.

We got the news yesterday afternoon that the father of one of our son's friends died yesterday morning. He was a wonderful guy, 48 years old, friendly and hospitable, a beautiful family, successful in business, in apparent great health... and suddenly - without warning - gone.

We heard the news, and were stunned - shocked. Throughout the afternoon, we prayed that it wasn't true... that there was some awful mistake. Mrs. Doulos made a number of calls to try and get confirmation without success, and we (not so secretly) hoped that we just had it all wrong.

And then, the confirmation. And the sinking, heart-sick feeling as the awful reality began to sink in.

We ache for his wife and children, and the unimaginable road they have in front of them. And what can we say? It's all beyond comprehension, and mere words can't capture the pain and loss. How can we even describe it? How can we get our minds around what this family must be thinking? Loraine Boettner described this condition well in his book Immortality:
"We set out on the journey of life with high hopes and soaring ambitions. Life seems rosy and death seems far away. Year after year life runs its accoustomed course, smoothly and serenely. We read of thousands dying from starvation in India, and of other thousands that drown in China; but those places are far away and the people are not know to us. A neighbor down the street dies. That causes us to stop and think. We send flowers and feel sorry for the family. But still it does not affect us directly, and we soon continue with our work and play. There develops within us a sense of immunity to tragedy and death.

The suddenly the bottom drops out of our world. Perhaps a mother or father, or some other relative or friend is taken, leaving a aching void. Many of us have already had that experience. We have watched the changing face and have listened helplessly to the shortening breath. We have spoken or looked the last good-bye, and then, in an instant, the departing one has passed out of sight and out of hearing, into the world of the unknown... A short time ago the one we loved was here, going about his work or speaking to us; and now, perhaps in one moment, he is gone - gone so very, very far away. What baffling thoughts rush in upon the mind in those moments pressing for an answer! But there is no answer in either reason or experience..."
All of us have felt the TOTAL INADEQUACY of saying or doing anything really meaningful in these circumstances. And we feel inadequate in the circumstance because we ARE in adequate. Boettner goes on to describe it this way:
"At such time it may be that ... [a person] cries out, 'Why did this have to happen to me?' It is hard to answer such questions to the satisfaction and comfort of those who ask it, for the simple reason that at such a time those who ask it are not normal. It is difficult for the mind that is shocked beyond comprehension to be reasonable. The breaking heart wants none of our logic. It wants comfort and peace. Above all, it wants to turn back the page, to recall the life that has sped - and this cannot be. Death is so permanent. There is no recall. It comes to you and yours as it has come to millions of others - it is inevitable. It may come as a thief in the night, or it may approach slowly after ample warning. It may come early in life, or after years of happiness. But come it must. The only way to escape it is never to be born."
So our hearts break for this family... and the horror of death reminds us once more of what's really important in life.

Someone wise said that death was like a clock ticking... heard only on occasion when someone is young, but then as time passes and the reality of life becomes clearer, its tick is heard more often - and the older we get the more that we hear it. Eventually, it becomes all one hears. Perhaps that's a good picture, and why many public clocks in the past were decorated with mottos such as ultima forsan (roughly, "perhaps the last [hour]"). The clock serves as a reminder of the shortness of life - and the inevitability of its passing.

But the truth of that thought doesn't diminish death's shock and horror, or its pain. Boettner wisely pointed out that "...The Bible alone has an answer for the thoughts that come with such perplexity and insistence." And for those of us who follow Jesus, the Bible we believe and the Lord it reveals calls us beyond just shared grief, empathy and pain in response to death. We have the message of LIFE found in Jesus, and the answer to the problem of death. The only question really is this: Will we share it before it's too late?

If we listen, the "ticking of the clock" reminds us of the REAL need of those around us of the reality of death:
  • The spiritual death that we are all born into
  • The physical death that we all must face
  • The eternal death that still waits for everyone apart from those who are regenerated by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ
It's not pleasant. But it is true. And, in the words of one of my friends, it is our unsaved friend's "most urgent need." And Death calls out to us not just to remember the shortness of our own lives, but to remind us of our URGENT call to tell others the truth while there is still time to do so.

Last week I posted the "sobering thought" widget in the right-hand column of the blog... it humbled and reminded me of the need of those around me to be delivered from spiritual death and adopted into God's family through the work of Jesus. It reminds me that God is able to save and deliver, and that He calls me to participate in the process. And today, while I've been drafting this, the counter has run to over 1,500. Today, for me, one of those numbers has a face on it. And -
I'm grieved that one of those numbers is someone that I knew...
I'm humbled that there are so many others where my heart has not been broken... and
I'm resolved again to fulfill my part in God's plan to pray, and to share the truth to those who are in desperate need around me.
So pray with me, if you will, for this family. And pray also with me that "the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened" anew to feel the need around us enough to be moved to new action - for the sake of the Name of our Lord.

Think of this little reminder, if you will, as a voice from the shadows.