Monday, December 31, 2012

What Will 2013 Bring?

Most year-end reflections list the notable people who have died in the previous twelve months. I won’t attempt such a thing. But New Year’s Eve does give me pause to think about my own frailty and mortality.

Will I be around this time next year? Will you? And what will 2013 bring?

The gospel promises us that our wonderful Christ is with us whatever the future brings. He’s there for soaring flights as well as for hard landings, in sunlight or in shadow, when friends and family come together, or when everyone’s back is turned. Christ is our deepest joy and highest hope, our Friend and Savior, our Provider and Protector. He holds time and eternity, the stars and the planets, and best of all, His sheep in His hands.

As King David said about the Good Shepherd, Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (Psalm 23:4a).

I like the thought that my Shepherd doesn’t just wait for me on the other side, leaving me to walk a dark valley by myself. He promises to be with me, wherever He leads.

When you think about it, knowing Him is the best thing about this year, or any year. May you and I know Him better in 2013. Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Part and His Part

It's always a good idea to give credit where credit is do. So when we think about salvation, everyone knows there's my part (what sinners like me "bring to the table") and then there's His part (what Jesus contributes to my forgiveness).

I started a list, comparing my contribution to His. Credit where credit is due.

My private indulgence, His public humiliation
My twisted pleasure, His undeserved pain

My selfishness, His selflessness

My deep darkness, His highest holiness

My rebellion, His servanthood

My inconsistency, His faithfulness

My yielding to temptation, His unblemished victory over it

My failures, His successes

My pride, His humility
My foolishness, His wisdom

My slavery, His freedom

My hell-bound fall, His heaven-bought ascent

My despair, His hope

My stains, His cleansing
My cowardice, His courage

My sin, His cross

My debts, His payment

My shame, His glory

My estrangement, His reconciliation

My illegitimacy, His adoption

My guilt, His substitution

My spiritual bankruptcy, His imperishable inheritance
My frailty, His omnipotence

My moment-by-moment distractions, His eternally steadfast focus

My lying, His truth

My determined refusals, His irresistible grace

My filth, His purity

My trespasses, His blood
My death, His resurrection

So all the blame is mine, and all the credit is His.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

God's Hard Gifts

"Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15). Of course that gift is the Lord Jesus Christ.

God's grace in Christ is infinitely valuable, an inexpressible gift, because of Christ's suffering. The Father was willing to go to any length, including the sacrifice of His own Son, to bring us to Himself.

I'm beginning to see that God's best gifts involve suffering. They are all born in grace, fashioned in wisdom and delivered in love. But some gifts, the ones that require our own pain, are harder to receive. We may not even recognize them as gifts at first. They feel more like rebukes, trials, or punishments.

For example, think of Joseph’s life: sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused by his master’s wife, forgotten by the prison companion he helped. (See Genesis 37, 39, 40). None of these experiences felt like gifts, but they were.

They forged character and abilities in Joseph that would have come no other way, and made him a savior to his people that otherwise he never would have been. Hard gifts of pain and struggle and disappointment are, in the end, God’s best gifts to us because they move us toward Christ and prepare us for heaven. 

Recently I've been trying to look back at my regrets, heartaches, and failures. I want to see them a new way, as if they might really have been God's gifts to me. Honestly, most of them don't feel that way yet. But I know that my feelings of comfort, satisfaction, or success are not a true measure of God's grace anyway. My hardest times may well have been, from heaven's perspective, the best times.

May God's gift of His Son fill you will joy this Christmas, and may all His gifts, even the hard ones, draw you nearer to the One we love the most.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

To Die Is Gain

So the Mayan calendar was wrong. We're still here. (Maybe they were just messing with us...)

But one day God’s calendar for each of us will reach its end. The exact length of our earthly life is established by Him (Psalm 139:16). That reality was what Paul wrote about from his Roman imprisonment. 

Sensing his departure might be close, he made this amazing statement: to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).  But “to die is gain” doesn’t make any sense unless you remember what he said immediately before it: For me, to live is Christ…, the subject of my last post.

Now obviously death is not gain to everyone. To die without Christ is to lose everything forever. But for us who love Jesus, how is death gain? Death is gain because…

It gives us one last witness. We have the opportunity to bring glory to Christ in our death. That was Paul’s desire: it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death (Phil. 1:20, my emphasis).

It means victory over sin. In heaven we’ll be able to live without that old, nagging struggle with our sin nature. We’ll serve the Lord in holiness and innocence and perfection.

We’ll be reunited with Christian family and friends. The older I get, the more people I know who are already on the other side. God’s word (Paul again) promises that we who know Christ will be together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17b).

We’ll be in Christ’s presence. This is most precious of all, and what Jesus prayed for us: Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory…(John 17:24)
The Christian journey is about learning to live, and to die, in the Lord. "To die is gain" means the best is yet to come. 

I love the old song "I'll Fly Away," and Jars of Clay does one of my favorite versions. Here's the video: 


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

To Live is Christ

One of the greatest statements about the Christian life, and death, was penned by the Apostle Paul when he did not know if he would live or die.

Chained to a Roman soldier and facing possible execution, he wrote, For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

I’ve been trying to understand “to live is Christ,” because I'm pretty sure without that, I won't ever get the "to die is gain" part.

Maybe "to live is Christ" means, If I gained all the things I value, but didn't have Christ, I would have nothing. And if I lost all those things, but still had Him, I would have everything. 

If I can say, "For me to live is Christ," I'm also saying,

1. Christ is the Lord of my life. Not my will but His. He is my King and I am His servant.

2. Christ is the hope of my life. I’m trusting only Him for my eternal destiny. It’s never what I’ve done for Him but always what He’s done for me that counts.

3. Christ is the strength of my life. I am weak without Him and it is His strength that enables me to live with joy in every circumstance. 

4. Christ is the meaning of my life. Knowing, loving, serving and glorifying Him is my highest goal and ambition.

5. Christ is the love of my life. I love Jesus more than anyone, including even my family or myself.

Well, it's a lot easier to say these things than to live them. But pursuing Him and admiring Him and declaring He's everything to us is part of our journey.

Here's a great video of a song we sing at church: "All I Have is Christ." I think it expresses Paul's heart.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Do Dogs Go To Heaven?

I don't think Scripture answers that question. Christ's compassion is so great that it might easily encompass man's best friend. Those of us who have had a beloved pet can entrust the question to our Savior, knowing He will answer it in His good time and with His infinite wisdom and kindness. The following is just something I imagined after we lost our favorite dog.

She lay quietly, listening for him to stir. He had always murmured in his sleep, but this time was different. She was scared.

He was old, as was she. She had almost no memory of anything or anyone except for him. Dim flashes, maybe, of the Lady and the Kids, bursts of smell and sight and sound. Happy flashes. She thumped her tail tentatively, with a remembered joy, and then was quiet again, listening.

His breathing was irregular. It reminded her of the old days when she came back from one of their walks, wheezing and out of breath. But that had been Happy Tired. This seemed Sick Tired. She whimpered once.

Neither of them had taken a walk in a long time. Her daily route was short. From the rug by his bed she limped with him to the front door so she could heed the call of nature in the morning. Then she made a slow circuit of the small yard, smelling roses, the signature of other dogs who had come near the chain-link fence, and occasionally the cooking smells of neighbors.

Then she returned to the door, once-golden muzzle lifted, dark eyes adoring, waiting to be let back in. She followed him to the kitchen for her blue porcelain water dish and the always delicious lamb and rice kibble she had eaten all her life.

He always stroked her back when he set her bowl down. His hand was slow now, old and knotted with arthritis. But she still loved the feel of his kind hand as she began to eat.

His breathing stopped. She lifted her head again, and strained to rise to her feet. Then he gasped and the rattling sound resumed. She whined again, and sank back.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Misguided Substitution

Jesus died in your place. If you had been able to, would you have taken His place? It's a strange question, because no one could be Christ's substitute. But out of love for Him, wouldn't you want to be? I started thinking about this a couple years ago and wrote a little story about it.

 That night was ugly and mean. Some nights, you know, drift around you like a silk scarf and make you think of soft music and a girl’s sweet breath on your neck. But that night put rusty nails in my head. I was jumpy and I kept looking behind me, and into the trees that lined the road.
I had been following him and his friends for a couple days. Truth is, I wanted to walk with them, not behind them. But I felt like a little kid looking through the fence into a playground, so I still kept my distance that night.
As dark as it was, it was lighter around him. You don’t have to believe me, but it was. Like his clothes were made of moonlight. And a couple times he looked back at me. He was beautiful. No, not that way, if that’s what you’re thinking. Beautiful like a sunrise over the ocean. Like a mountain. Strong and good. He made me want to come closer and at the same time drove me away.
Sure, I’d heard all the rumors. It seemed crazy that he wanted to go into the city in the first place. But at night? On a night like this when it felt like the shadows could leave a filthy stain on your skin. He had to know they’d be waiting.
So I just hung back, kept close enough that I could see where they were headed. When the lights appeared, winking against the black, I couldn’t tell whether it was cooking fires or torches. Either way, it didn’t dent the hardness of that night.
I heard them before I saw them. Many men’s voices, pumped with liquor and bloodlust. I guess his friends did, too. Before long they had slipped away into the shadows and he stood alone.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Why We Have Doubts

Do you ever have have doubts about the Christian faith? Doubts concerning what you say you believe about Jesus? Honestly, I think most Christians have moments of doubt.

Doubt can be a refusal to believe, no matter what the evidence. I remember a Christian speaker once describing a long conversation he had with a skeptic. "If I answer all your questions, will you become a Christian?" "No," the doubter replied. "That would mean I would have to change." Doubt like that has hardened into sinful pride.

But I mean the kind of doubt that those of us who love, admire, and try to obey Jesus have from time to time. We’re used to thinking of “Doubting Thomas” (I wrote about him here), but he’s not the only follower of Jesus who doubted. I’ve been studying John the Baptist recently, and Luke records a very public expression of his doubt.

He sent two of his followers to ask Jesus: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? (Luke 2:19). This was after a lifetime of knowing Jesus was the One; after baptizing Jesus and witnessing the Spirit's descent upon Him and the Father's endorsement of Him; after telling his own followers Jesus was the One!

I conclude that if John the Baptist, whom Jesus called the greatest of men (Luke 7:28), struggled with doubt, any of us who love Jesus could, too. But why? What triggers doubt? I thought of four answers.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Lucky Break?

I was just looking at the story in Luke's gospel of the woman at Nain—a poor widow whose only son had just died. Jesus showed up right as the funeral procession was headed outside the town for the burial.

And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.  (Luke 7:13-14 ESV)

Fortunate that the Lord showed up just then, right? What a lucky break for the dead guy and his mom, huh?

Not really. Not luck, but providence. Providence means that God is absolutely in control of everything, and works His will through all things. "God's works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful, preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions" (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.11).  

It wasn’t luck that brought Jesus to the little town of Nain. He walked 20 miles from Capernaum to arrive just in time to heal the heartbreak of a lonely widow by raising her son from the dead.

Christ shows up at just the right time and in just the right place to work His will and touch broken people with His grace.
  • He comes in the heat of the day to a well in Samaria, a place any other Jew would have tried to avoid. The Savior is there, not to draw water, but to draw a sinful woman to salvation. (John 4:1-42)
  • He leads His disciples into a ferocious storm on the Sea of Galilee, and their perilous journey was for the sake of a demonized man on the other shore. (Luke 8:28-39 - I wrote about it in Rescue Mission.) 
  • Only eight days from the cross, Jesus is en route to Jerusalem. But He spends precious hours in the bustling marketplace town of Jericho to intervene in the life of a corrupt little man named Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).
I don’t know where you are in your spiritual journey, or even what prompted you to read this blog. But I do know that what is at work in your life and mine is not luck, but the provident grace of our compassionate  Christ, whose plans for us are exercised with infinite wisdom and limitless power.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Kindest When We Are Weakest

I know, we may say that Christ is kindest in his love when we are at our weakest; and that, if Christ had not been in the fore, in our sad days, the waters had gone over our soul. - Samuel Rutherford

The quote is from the little book I often refer to, The Loveliness of Christ, a collection of excerpts from the letters of the Scottish pastor Samuel Rutherford. These short quotes have been a great blessing to me. (Maybe you’ll want to order a copy for yourself? Click here.)

Do you believe he’s right—that “Christ is kindest when we are weakest?” And what would that mean if it’s true? If you belong to Him, I think it means…
  • When you are most vulnerable to temptation, likely to stumble, rather than watching for you to fail and preparing to be disgusted, Christ looks upon you with compassion and love.
  • When you’re carrying burdens that have already bowed your back and nearly brought you to your knees, our kind Lord is not annoyed that you’ve tried to lift something that too heavy for you, but instead is all the more ready to carry the burden for you.
  • When you’re depressed and sad, His posture is not impatience but tenderness.
  • When you’re overwhelmed with circumstances where disaster seems inevitable, He will lead you through.
  • When someone you love is struggling and you are powerless to help them, Christ is listening to your prayers and is still mighty to save.
  • When you’ve done your best but it seems no good has come of it, Jesus still uses your feeble efforts in ways you’d never expect, with impact that only He could produce.
  • When you’re too weak to cling to Him, He’ll never lose His grip on you.

Rutherford is right. Jesus really is kindest when we are weakest.  Actually the Apostle Paul heard Christ promise this very thing when he was feeling particularly overwhelmed and broken. Paul begged Christ to take away a “thorn in the flesh” but instead, Jesus told him:  My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9a).

Which led Paul to declare, with joy, Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10).

I never get tired of saying this: we have a wonderful Savior.             

Saturday, November 24, 2012

What Jesus Taught About Heaven

The other night I dreamt I heard my father's voice in the next room. As we often do in dreams, I tried to understand how this could be true. Is Dad really just through that door? He's been gone over 45 years.

My dream was a little unsettling. I still miss my dad after all these years. Sometimes the hole in our heart never heals this side of heaven. But since I believe my father was a Christian, the hope of heaven is real. And maybe heaven is, in some sense, just through that door.

So a disturbing dream got me thinking of heaven once again. (I wrote about it earlier: Who Will Be Waiting for You in Heaven). And I decided to look again at what Jesus told His disciples in the Upper Room.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:1-6
Even though I've read these words many, many times over the years, I found fresh encouragement.
1. Jesus wants us to be comforted and not to live in fear about death. Let not your hearts be troubled...
2. Our convictions about heaven are based on our confidence in Christ. Believe in God, believe also in me. 
3. Jesus said heaven is a place. I go to prepare a place...(The Greek word, topos, gives us English words like topography and topographical maps.)
4. This place is my Father's house. For me this is a warm and inviting description.
5. This house is a place for us to live in; it has many rooms.
6. Jesus has prepared this place just for us. I go to prepare a place for you.
7. Christ will personally take His people to this place. I will come again and will take you...
8. He wants us with Him and personally assures us that we will be.  ...take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
9. The only way to get to the Father's house is Jesus. I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
I think it is true that my dad is just through that door. The door is Jesus. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. John 10:9

By the way, if you'd like to know more about how to get to heaven by trusting Christ alone as Lord and Savior, click here. It's a little website called "Two Ways to Live."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Because of Him

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 
1 Corinthians 1:30-31

 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! 
2 Corinthians 9:15


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How Is Christ's Atonement Fair?

At the heart of our faith is the atoning death of Jesus. He said His mission on this planet was to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). For us sinners, the stakes could not be higher. God’s word says unredeemed souls will suffer in hell. Forever.

But have you ever wondered how Christ’s atonement for sins could be fair? How can the death of one man be a just substitute for the sins of a multitude of people throughout time? And how is it that Jesus suffered for only hours on the cross, when without Christ, the sinner is punished endlessly? How can this be fair?

The truth that emerges from these questions reaffirms our love and admiration for our Savior: His life is so worthy, so valuable, that His suffering on the cross was more than enough to pay the penalty for the sins of all God’s people throughout time. He is not just a good man, He is the God-man.

Divine justice is fully satisfied by Christ's sacrifice. The reason is not that the Father is a “pushover,” as if He is willing to accept a symbolic payment--a few hours on the cross by His Son. No, the reason God’s justice is fully satisfied is that the suffering of Jesus is infinitely precious. That's why Jesus could say It is finished (John 19:30) after His hours on the cross. That's the amount of time it took for the substitutionary atonement of the perfect God-man to be complete. 
A single drop of Christ's blood is more precious than the sacrifice of a million martyrs. A single second of His suffering carries with it more righteousness than the religious efforts of all of humanity for a hundred centuries.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) because Jesus completely and finally turned away God’s wrath. We who are “in Him” are granted eternal favor because the impact of His offering can never be undone. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14).

It's no wonder that we think of the Savior as precious beyond words to explain. No wonder that He is described as the pearl of great price, whose overwhelming worth and beauty so captured the one who found it that he sold all he had to obtain it (Matthew 13:46).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"I Must Tell Jesus"

I learned a new song recently. Okay, it’s really an old song, a hymn written in 1893, but somehow I missed it when I was growing up. So it’s new to me.

We did a “hymn sing” in one of our church’s home groups, and a lady in her 80’s requested this song: “I Must Tell Jesus.” The sweetness of this old standard blessed me immediately.
  1. I must tell Jesus all of my trials,
    I cannot bear these burdens alone;
    In my distress He kindly will help me,
    He ever loves and cares for His own.
    • Refrain:
      I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
      I cannot bear my burdens alone;
      I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus!
      Jesus can help me, Jesus alone.
  2. I must tell Jesus all of my troubles,
    He is a kind, compassionate Friend;
    If I but ask Him He will deliver,
    Make of my troubles quickly an end.
  3. Tempted and tried I need a great Savior,
    One who can help my burdens to bear;
    I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus:
    He all my cares and sorrows will share.
  4. What must I do when worldliness calls me?
    What must I do when tempted to sin?
    I must tell Jesus, and He will help me
    Over the world the vict’ry to win.
Look, if you’ve ever had heartache, loneliness, fear, disappointment, suffering, or failure, the most precious thing in all the world is that you can come to Jesus and He will listen and comfort and help. 

I love and admire and depend upon the Savior's kindness. Of course He intends that we be purified from sin. Trials and suffering are part of His plan. But even His discipline is delivered with a compassionate hand.

We don't have to be afraid to come to Him. He's already proven that nothing can stop Him from loving us, redeeming us, and bringing us home. So, when our hearts are heavy or confused, fearful or defeated, we must tell Jesus.

Anyway, whether this is a new song to you or an old favorite, I hope it’s a blessing. You can listen (and sing along) by clicking here: