Friday, March 30, 2012

Go and See

Christ could do a whole lot better without us, right? I mean, He put you and me in charge of evangelism, encouraging others, teaching His word, raising kids, showing mercy. Sometimes I wish He would just tell me to slide over so He can drive.

Apparently He gets us involved and actually works through us, to train us and stretch our faith.

Remember when Christ multiplied the loaves and fishes for the 5000 (and that’s just counting the men, of course)? He said to the disciples, How many loaves do you have? Go and see  (Mark 6:38b). Like you tell a little kid.

Of course He knew how many loaves they had, and how many fish, and how many hungry people were milling around. But the process of looking for resources, finding almost nothing--laughably little compared to the need--was all part of the training.

Having the disciples get the crowd seated in groups was part of it. Blessing and breaking the bread and the fish--that was part of it, too. Then actually feeding all those thousands, followed by the collection of leftovers.

Jesus could have provided manna for the crowd. He did it before, for a vastly superior number and for a much longer period of time. But He chose this way to humble and train His men to trust and depend on Him.

I really admire the Savior for taking the time. I would have given up on me long ago. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Give Her Something to Eat

Do you ever wonder if God knows what you’re going through? He’s God and you’re not, right? So how could your little life capture the interest and attention of the Almighty?

That’s why we have a Savior. He’s one of us. He knows how we feel.

The story of Jairus and his little girl in Mark 5 reveals the Savior’s compassion and His power. He raised the child from the dead, after all. Little girl, I say to you, arise (v.  41). And that’s exactly what she did.

But there’s something else in the story that makes me love Jesus even more. After bringing her back to life, Christ told those parents to give their daughter something to eat (v. 43).

That day Christ had dealt with huge crowds, a distraught father, a chronically ill woman, ritual mourners who mocked Him, and a dead girl. He treated them all with grace, patience, and infinite power. And still He was concerned that the child would be hungry after her ordeal.

Don’t you admire Jesus! Healer of hurts, Comforter of sorrows, Lord of life, and Champion of hungry, worn-out children everywhere.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Antidote for Fear

Some people, I guess, must not be afraid. But I am. I have many fears. Some of them make sense, and a lot of them don’t. But all fears cut away at our insides, and make us more miserable than if they all came true.

The only way I’ve ever been able to deal with any of my fears is to trust that Jesus is on my side, that He is in control, and that He will take care of me. (All these things about Him turn out to be true, thank God.)

Remember Jairus, the desperate father we met in Mark 5? His little girl was dying, and he persuaded Jesus to come and help her. And Jesus dropped everything and came with him.

But on the way, Jairus’ greatest fear came true. Messengers arrived with the news that his daughter was already dead. It was too late. No need to trouble the Teacher any further.

Jesus overheard what they were telling the poor man, and He said, Do not fear; only believe (Mark 5:36b). And He kept right on walking toward the man’s house.

Jairus’ fear was well-founded. He had every reason to expect that the report of his daughter’s death was accurate. But he trusted that Jesus was on his side, that He was in control, and that He would get him through somehow.

When Jesus is present, no fear can win in the end. Not even death.

Was it somehow easier for Jairus to trust Christ than it is for you and me to trust Him? After all, he actually saw, touched, heard the Lord, and we don’t.

Actually I think we may have the advantage over Jairus. We have God’s precious word, including this record of our Lord’s power and love. And we have the Holy Spirit who will help us trust.

I want to shut out fear with faith in my wonderful Jesus. But honestly, even that is beyond me. I must trust Him for greater trust. Like another desperate father whose boy was demonized (Mark 9:24), I say, “Lord, help my unbelief.” And He does.

Monday, March 26, 2012

When You're Desperate

A few years ago I saw a woman have an emotional melt-down at the airport. She and her little boy were waiting to board a plane.

Suddenly she began running around the boarding area, calling her son’s name. Evidently she had just discovered her toddler was gone. “Billy! Billy!” Within a few seconds she hit full panic-mode. She began to scream: “My little boy is gone! He’s two years old with blond hair!  BILLY! BILLY!”

Some people stood up and began looking for the boy. The mother continued to run randomly around the room, crying out for her son. Within a few minutes a police officer appeared, and shortly thereafter the boy was found. He had wandered around the corner and was engrossed in playing with a toy. His mom sobbed as she hugged him to her chest.

I bet she didn’t care that she looked out of control. Getting him back, safe and sound, was all she cared about.

When you’re desperate, propriety and convention go out the window. Who cares if you look like a raving lunatic, if you get the help you need?

Every time I think of that woman, it reminds me of the story of Jairus in Mark 5. He was the desperate father who came to Jesus because his little girl was near death.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Consolation Prize

“Even though you did not win the $25,000, we have some lovely parting gifts for you. You’ve won a month’s supply of designer plastic ware, and a case of triple-ply bath tissue!”

I guess that’s why they call it a “consolation prize.” You need to be consoled that you didn’t win something really good.

But actually consolation is a serious business. Some things in life cannot be fixed with plastic ware and bath tissue.

I think that’s why Jesus is called the Consolation of Israel. That’s how Luke describes Him (Luke 2:25). Christ is the one who consoles His people.

Some wounds are just too deep, some losses too grave, some betrayals too painful. No human comfort can heal them. True consolation must come from the Savior.

  • When you feel ashamed and can’t bear to tell anybody else, whisper it to Christ.
  • When your dreams die, run to Jesus.
  • When regret and sorrow are strangling you, come to the Man of Sorrows.
  • When your failure is your own fault and no one else will give you the time of day, go to Jesus.
  • When you’ve been betrayed, turn to Someone who knows exactly how that feels.
  • When you’re so weary of life that you think you can’t take another step, call out to Christ.
  • When your circumstances seem hopeless, set your mind on Him.
You can count on Him. He promised: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Jesus is the Consolation of His people. He’s the grand prize.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tim Tebow: Who's Number One?

As a Denver Bronco fan, this has been quite a week. The arrival of Peyton Manning and the departure of Tim Tebow for the New York Jets has given me plenty of heartburn.

Manning is one of the all-time greats to play the game. Any Bronco fan could be enthusiastic about seeing this Pro Bowl quarterback running Denver’s offense. On the other hand, Tim Tebow is one of the most exciting athletes I’ve ever watched, and he led a dud team into the playoffs last year. His outspoken Christian faith makes me want to see him succeed even more.

But it’s just sports, right? In the end, it doesn’t really matter. (This is what I tell myself while I’m yelling at the T.V. during football season.)

It’s Tebow’s faith, his witness, that means more to me. And one of the curious things the media has done is label him “polarizing.” For example, let me quote three stories that popped up when I was googling his trade to the Jets:
The polarizing quarterback was traded from the DenverBroncos to the Jets for a fourth- and sixth-round pick in this year's upcoming NFL draft.
Or here’s a headline from Tim Tebow to Jets: Denver Broncos Part Ways with and Trade Polarizing QB

So let me get this straight: you have professional athletes who are indicted for rape and selling drugs, who go to prison for dog fighting, who are publicly intoxicated, use foul language, father multiple children out of wedlock, and then you have one squeaky-clean kid who is outspoken about loving Jesus, and he is polarizing? (Excuse me for raising my voice again.)

Well, on the other hand, it’s true. Jesus is polarizing. You can’t be lukewarm about Him. He insists on being number one. He’s not a genie in a bottle or a security blanket. He demands and deserves to be number one. Like Paul said, …that in everything he might be preeminent (Colossians 1:18).

Jesus said it about Himself:
"Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.  For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.  They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." Luke 12:51-23, ESV
 The issue for everyone is not who’s playing quarterback, but who is Lord of your life.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Was Mom Proud?

My mom had her heart set on my having a dual career as an attorney and an accountant. She had endured the privations of the Great Depression, and it forever changed the way she looked at life. She wanted to make sure that I had a job that guaranteed financial security.

You can imagine how hard it was for her when I came home from college and began talking about going into the ministry. Mom was so determined to thwart this foolishness that she telephoned one of the professors at the seminary I planned to attend. She made an appointment to see him, flew from Western Colorado to Denver, and confronted him on the foolhardiness of her son's becoming a pastor.

A gracious man, the professor admitted that most people in ministry don’t find financial success to be their main career benefit. In time Mom resigned herself to my calling. But it was never a comfortable fit for her.

It’s tough when your family doesn't really believe in you. Most of us want to hear, “I’m proud of you,” from our parents, but many of us never do.

I admire Jesus’ perseverance in the hard road He had to walk, even when His family thought He was crazy. Early on, when the crowds began to gather around Him, here’s how His mother and brothers reacted:  And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:21).

You can say it didn’t bother Jesus. He was God, after all. But in His true humanity, I have no doubt it was another heartache. Even a perfect Son wants His family’s approval.

And of course the infinitely greater rejection was coming, that moment when His Heavenly Father turned away from Him.

How grateful we are to a Savior who endured all this, the loneliness, rejection, and misunderstanding, to complete a mission for sinners like you and me.

Monday, March 19, 2012

No Ram in the Thicket

Would you want to know when and how your death will come? If you could look into the future and watch a video of the details, would you take a look?

Most of would be all too happy to pass.

But when I think about Jesus, I remember that He knew the details, looked at the video, and not just once. It was right there in front of Him for all eternity.

For example, remember the story of Abraham and Isaac, in Genesis 22? It’s a beautiful image of sacrifice and substitution. I’ve been moved many times by Abraham’s willingness to put everything on the altar – literally.

And his son Isaac’s conduct is so admirable. Remember how he carried the wood for his own sacrifice up the mountain, and asked his father so innocently, “Where is the lamb?” (v. 7).

But there’s more to this story, a lot more.

You remember that, as Abraham raised the knife to kill his beloved son, a voice from heaven stopped him, reassured him, and pointed him to a substitute, a ram caught in the thicket (vv. 11-12).

The one who stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac was the angel of the Lord (v. 11). Often in the Old Testament "the angel of the Lord" means the Lord Jesus Christ in preincarnate form. I believe it was He who stayed the hand of Abraham and provided the ram. All the while realizing the day was coming—already was in eternity’s timelessness—when He Himself would be nailed to the altar.

How must Jesus have felt, knowing this scene would be played out 2000 years later, but without a substitute in the thicket? He Himself is the Substitute.

Jesus knew. He saw Himself carrying the wood up the hill. This time the Son would be condemned and forsaken, and the Father's hand of wrath would fall. Even 20 centuries away, He must have felt the weight and smelled the stench of the sin He would bear.

All glory to the Lamb, slain before the foundation of the world.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Into the Ditch

Recently I faced a situation outside my control. Big joke. Everything is outside my control. But I continue to imagine that I can manipulate people and events for an outcome of my choosing.

And here’s what I have learned. That I can trust my Lord Jesus. I've learned that trust often feels scary and difficult because I give up my sense of being in control, and especially I yield my sense of what the proper result should be. Jesus gets to decide, not me.

There’s another thing I’ve learned. That putting my trust in myself or my closest friends or even my beloved family is fraught with disappointment.

All of us, and I definitely include myself and even the ones I love and respect the most, all of us will revert to some self-protective behavior, some skewed way of thinking, some destructive pattern, and betray ourselves and the people around us.

My wife reminded me the other day that all of us are like cars with tires out of alignment. You know the feeling—you’re driving down the freeway, but you have to keep muscling the steering wheel or the car will head across lanes for the ditch. Without constant correction, we too will invariably veer off course.

Jesus will not fail. He will accomplish His purposes—for His glory and our good. He has no lesser nature, no carnal pattern, to which to revert. His way is always full of light, true to His kindness and wisdom, steady and on course. You may not have a map, but you can be sure He will never drive you into the ditch. And in the end He'll get you home.

By the way, my wife has written an excellent book on Trust Training: A Field Manual for Confident Trust in God Before, During and After Life's Battles. You can read a sample, or order it, by clicking on the title.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Talk to Yourself

“Have you realized,” preacher David Martyn Lloyd-Jones once observed, "That most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?” (The quote is from C. J. Mahaney's The Cross Centered Life, p. 45).

What Dr. Lloyd-Jones means is that we end up listening to our feelings about our circumstances, instead of talking to ourselves about the truth of who God is and what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. A lot of people call this, "Preaching the gospel to yourself."

For years I journaled every day. I filled up multiple spiral notebooks. But one day I realized most of my reflections were about how I felt. Often how I felt was lousy. I learned about me, me, me, but I didn’t get any closer to Jesus.

Admiring Christ is an attempt to look outward, instead—at Jesus. Admiring Christ means seeing Him in the Scriptures, meditating on His character and finished work, and reminding myself  of what's really true, especially when I feel otherwise. I need to stop listening to myself, and start talking to myself--about Him!

John Piper has a great reflection (below) from the Psalms on “talking to yourself.”

PROGRAM NOTE: If you're signed up to receive posts by email, the spacing between words is scrunched and video doesn't show up. Sorry. You can access the Piper video at the blog site.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Blowhard Syndrome

A few years ago I was talking to another pastor, a man I knew only casually. I mentioned that I had just been overseas, on a short-term missions trip to India.

To which he replied, “Oh, yeah? I used to live in India, and I rode to work every day on an elephant! Not only that, but I’m flying back tomorrow to star in a Bollywood movie. And the movie is about me!”

Okay, I’m exaggerating. But it did seem like for anything I said, he had a topper. “My son just graduated from college.” “Oh, yeah? My son was the commencement speaker at his college graduation, and now they’ve named the school after him!”

Anyhow, we probably all know somebody whose job it is to trump whatever your life experience is with a bigger, better, deeper, and wider experience from their own life. Blowhards are irritating at best, and insufferable at worst.

That’s what makes it so amazing when you encounter Jesus’ authority in the Bible. He manages to act and speak without pretense, but with the calm assurance of absolute sovereignty.

As I was reading the Sermon on the Mount, I kept noticing these words of Christ:  “you have heard it said…but I say to you…” (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44). Jesus calmly places His own word over Jewish tradition and established interpretation of Scripture.

When Jesus tells us , “Your tradition says one thing. But I’ll tell you the real truth,” He is more than credible. He is compelling. We believe Him.

Maybe we're all blowhards sometimes. But when Jesus starts talking, we need to start listening.

By the way, one of the funniest stand-up bits I ever heard on the "blowhard syndrome" is from Brian Regan.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Power of One Word

Words can be powerful, no doubt about it. But it all depends on who’s saying them.

You probably know people who never stop talking. The more words they say, the less any of them seem to mean.

One time I was on the phone with a lady who called wanting my help. At least that’s what she said. But the words just kept coming, and there was never a place for me to insert a question or a response, let alone any counsel. I actually put down the phone and went into the other room to get a glass of water. When I came back she was still going.

But when somebody really has something to say, you listen.

I was reading Matthew’s account of two demonized men. My Bible has the words of Jesus in red, and in the whole paragraph there was only one red word. Jesus told the demons, Go (Matthew 8:32).

So much happened because Jesus said, “Go.”
  • He catalyzed the roiling unrest of the demons;
  • He freed the demoniacs;
  • The herd of swine was hurled into the sea;
  • The herdsmen fled and told the tale;
  • Everyone in the city begged the Lord to leave them alone.
All set in motion by the power of one word. Just like when He said, "Lazarus, come out." Or, "Let there be light."

We should always pay attention when Jesus speaks.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Out of Control

My wife and I just spent a week with our older son and his family. I had fun being Grandpa and playing with my grandchildren. 

We went to the park and spun on the merry-go-round. My job was to propel the merry-go-round "faster, faster," until my almost-five-year-old granddaughter was horizontal to the ground, hanging onto the railing for dear life. If she had let go, she would have been flung out like a little blond missile.

Of course my other job was to immediately stop the merry-go-round if she became afraid or was in real danger of losing her grip. 

Have you ever felt like your life is spinning so fast you're in danger of losing your grip? It's easy to forget that there is Someone who actually controls the merry-go-round.

Paul said it this way: …in him all things hold together (Col. 1:17b, ESV).

“All things” means the molecules of my body. They are held together by Christ. “All things” means the solar system, subatomic particles, and my sanity. Held together by Jesus.

Jesus holds me together. Just because something is out of my control doesn't mean it's out of His. My progress in holiness and faith, my path to heaven, are only certain because my Lord holds them together. Why doesn’t the moon come crashing down and destroy our planet? And why is my life never really out of control, even though it may feel like it? Because Jesus holds all things together. 

His strong hand is always on the merry-go-round. And on the planet. And on my heart.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

I Had a Dream: The Lord's Closed Fist

I want to tell you about a dream I had a few years ago. I didn't make this up to illustrate a point, or as some sort of parable. It was a waking dream, and it came to me while I was praying.

Another thing: I'm not much of a believer in "dreams and visions" the way some people on Christian television seem to be. But I do believe in the reality of angels and demons, and the absolute supremacy of Jesus over all things.

So I'm telling my dream for two reasons. First, I'm convinced it's real--that God showed me something about my early life, just a glimpse. And second, it reveals once again why I admire Christ.

In my dream I saw myself when I was a small boy. My parents and I were back on the farm in Western Colorado. I saw the top floor of our old farm house. It was nighttime, and we had gone to bed. It was a small upstairs, almost a loft, two bedrooms connected by a narrow hall with no door separating them.

My parents slept in the first room, at the top of steep, narrow wooden stairs. My bedroom was at the other end. I still remember as a little boy taking a nap with the window open and a summer breeze carrying the perfume of the huge lilac that grew in purple splendor below.

But in my dream it was dark, late at night. I could see the sleeping forms of my parents in one room and my own small shape in the other.

Suddenly a black form flitted across the room. Like an oily stain, the shadow slid rather than floated. I knew it was a malevolent spirit, a spirit of death, and it moved between the rooms, from mine toward my parents’, as large as a vulture, or a huge bat. As the creature approached, my dad and mom began to breath erratically, almost to choke. 

Then I looked again.

Near my parents’ bed I saw the glowing shape of a shining, beautiful Person. He stood strong, protectively, assuredly, clearly in control of the room and everything in it.

The black shadow began to move erratically, like a moth after you take a swat at it, and it seemed much smaller somehow, maybe the size of a small, ugly bird.

I looked once more.

The black spirit was now the size of a fly. It seemed irritating instead of menacing. As it buzzed about the room, the Beautiful One shot out His hand and snatched it out of the air, effortlessly capturing it in His fist.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


What is “invisible” anyway? If an object doesn’t reflect light into our eyes in the “visible spectrum,” we don’t see it. Some creatures can see what we can’t. For example, bees can “see” into the infrared spectrum. Or think of the interstellar hunters in the Predator movies. They saw in a different spectrum than their prey.

Our sight is pretty limited, isn’t it? Think of all the important things that we know are there, but which we do not see with physical sight. Love, hope, patriotism. Russia, dust mites, satellites. Deep sea creatures, the internet, hydrogen gas.

From the New Testament’s perspective, the spiritual realm is more real and lasting than the realm of physical sight. But people only see into that realm when God allows it.

Right now you and I could be in the presence of angels and demons and be unaware of them. We could be in the presence of Almighty God, and not give Him another thought. Because we cannot see Him.

Which brings me to one of the reasons I admire Jesus so much.
  • He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15a, ESV).
  • No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:18, ESV). 
  •  He is the radiance of the glory of God, and the exact imprint of his nature… (Hebrews 1:3a, ESV).
God has had mercy upon our blindness, and shown us Jesus. When we see Him in the pages of Scripture, when our spiritual blindness is healed to see Him at work in our lives, we are seeing God. The One who used to be invisible to us.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones can break your bones, of course. But names hurt worse and do more damage in the long run. Just ask anyone who grew up being called “fatso” or “stupid.”

The truth is that nicknames reveal far more about the people using them that the ones who get labeled. What you call other people reveals your heart.

My dad called me “boy.” I liked it. When he said it, it was always wrapped in affection and humor and good will. It was the last thing he ever said to me, actually. At the end, when his cancer was far gone, and he was mostly in a deep sleep, I walked into the bedroom. He roused himself, turned his head toward the door, and without opening his eyes, said, “Hi, Boy.”

I was a boy, of course, only fourteen. Had he lived longer, I don’t know if he would have called me that into my 20’s or 30’s. But I wouldn’t have minded if he had. He was always my dad, and I was always his boy.

I admire how Jesus addressed people. Remember when the four men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus? A crowd blocked the doorway, so they tore up the roof and lowered the man down. Jesus looked up at this poor fellow, so helpless, dangling there in front of everyone. He said, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).

Our Savior is so wonderful. Not only did He forgive the man's sins, but He called him “my son.” Literally, “child.” We don’t know how old the man was. Jesus, in His human nature, was a young man. So the paralytic may well have been older than Christ. But I bet he loved hearing Jesus call him “child.”

Later in the same chapter another desperate and hopeless person met Christ. A woman with a chronic issue of blood touched His robe and was instantly healed. Undoubtedly her affliction, which had burdened her for a dozen years, was humiliating to her. But in touching Christ’s robe, she made a spectacle of herself and actually rendered Jesus ceremonially unclean. She must have felt terribly exposed as she caught the attention of the crowd.

Remember how Jesus addressed her? "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well" (Matthew 9:22).

There’s no one like our Savior.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Death of Two Warriors: Andrew Breitbart and Lowell Oldenburg

Andrew Breitbart
This week two warriors died, both passionate advocates for causes greater than themselves. Many people know about Andrew Breitbart, who was a fearless activist for conservative political causes. He was a commentator for the Washington Times, an author, and ran, along with five other conservative websites.

Breitbart died in Los Angeles early Thursday, March 1. He was only 43. You can read more about him here.

Lowell Oldenburg
Three days earlier, on February 27, Lowell Oldenburg died in Turlock, California. He was a Christian missionary to college students for 35 years. He loved the Bible, and memorized huge sections of it. A gifted evangelist, he had a gentle and engaging style that made him a friend to people of all ages. He was 71. You can read about him here.

I admired them both. In many ways they were cut from the same cloth. Neither man cared much about how the world perceived them. They were both sold out to the greater mission they served.

Even as a relatively young man, Andrew Breitbart made an impact on the political climate of our country. Lowell Oldenburg lived a longer life, and left this world with much less fanfare. But without any doubt his legacy is eternal.  

God’s measurement of greatness is very different than ours. While I don’t know anything about Mr. Breitbart’s spiritual life, Lowell's was the most obvious thing about him. “Lowell helped me fall in love with Jesus through the Bible and I will forever be grateful to him,” said one of the online tributes to him.

None of us knows how much time we have left this side of the veil. While I look up to both men, Lowell makes me want to live for Jesus. Christ said, For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? (Mark 8:35-37).

What will they be saying about you at your funeral?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Swing for the Fences

I admire Christ for so many things. One of them is that He challenges men and women to strive for a prize they would never have attempted apart from Him. We swing for the fences because Jesus is so worthy. 

He shows us the truth about our selves, enough to make us despair. But when we give up on ourselves, He shows us Himself. He accepts us and then He transforms us. The Lord makes us want to be better than we ever would have been without Him.

We know that our performance won’t disqualify us, that if we blow it and fail, Jesus will still love us. It’s His performance that puts us right with God, not ours.

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of my better self, and I can see His fingerprints on my life.

I don’t know what kind of man I would have been if I had never met Him. But I am absolutely certain I would not have been someone I could have been proud of. Very occasionally now I am, and it is always to His glory alone.

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14.