Monday, January 28, 2013

The Alabaster Jar

When I heard that He was in town for a dinner party, I knew I had to get there. They let the common people sit on the sidelines at these events, and sometimes the poor can pick up a few scraps from the table to feed their families.

Me? I’m not poor, but I don’t want to think about how I used to make my money. That’s in my past now, since I met Him.

It happened only a few weeks ago. I was waiting on the street, hoping to snag a client or two. Suddenly He appeared, looking at me like no man has ever looked at me. His eyes were so kind and so pure that I shrunk back, ashamed of my whole life. But then He spoke, and I fell at His feet. He blessed me, and before I could look up, He was gone. I knew I would never be the same.

I thought I’d never see Him again. So when I heard about the dinner, I had to go.

I slipped in with a few others, hoping not to be recognized. I kept my eyes down. Many of the men knew me, and I didn’t want to attract attention. Sounds funny now, after what happened next.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

He Was There All Along

My wife and I enjoy the paintings of western artist Bev Doolittle. Her watercolors are striking and beautiful, but if you look more closely, you find hidden treasures.

For example, in the picture I've included here, there's the old trapper riding across a mountain stream, leading his packhorse behind him. But there's more.

Look again at the rocks in the stream. And at the evergreen branches above the trapper's horse. Do you see the Native American faces? (Click here for a larger size.)

Her paintings often make a connection between the natural world and the spirit world. Though her art isn't focused on Christ (you'd probably call it animistic), it still reminds me of something I've learned about Jesus.

When I look back at the rocky, painful times in my life, I've begun to see Christ there. When I revisit the scenes where I felt most alone, or most defeated, or most rejected, I now believe He was quietly present. Then He seemed a million miles away.

Then I didn't understand why He did not prevent me from stumbling or remove me from the trial or stop the pain. Now I see that, in His wisdom and compassion, nothing came into my life that He did not first measure and screen and regulate. He allowed only that which would serve His glory and ultimately my good.

The truth is, through no merit of my own, I've always been His and He's always been with me. Long before I knew Him, He was there. My own memories are not always pleasant. I bear the scars of my own failures and sins, plus the wounding that comes from the failures and sins of others. But when I look carefully, into those dark times when I thought morning would never come, He's there. His face is lit with kindness and love, and I remember that He carries scars, too.

Monday, January 21, 2013

When We Doubt

What does Jesus think of us when we are full of doubt? I’ve written about doubt before (Do Your Doubts Make You a Loser?), but I had another insight from the life of John the Baptist.

John was an unusual man. More than anyone of his day, he knew the identity and mission of Jesus first-hand. He heard the Father’s endorsement at Jesus’ baptism (This is My Beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased) and saw the Spirit’s descent like a dove upon the Savior.

John’s purpose in life was to point to the Messiah. God had laid this call upon his life before he was born, with the visit of an angel to his aged father. John grew up knowing his mission was to call people to repent and to prepare themselves for the one true King.

He fulfilled his mission. He preaching and baptizing mission drew thousands of people from all over Palestine. Jesus’ first disciples had originally followed John, and it was John who introduced them: Behold, the Lamb of God… (John 1:29)

But for John, there was no storybook ending. Because he publicly condemned the adultery of Herod Antipas, he was thrown in prison and eventually beheaded. And in this last chapter of his life, he began to doubt. I don’t blame him. After proclaiming the rule of Messiah, he must have expected that Jesus would have wrested political power from the corrupt Herod dynasty and restored Palestine to the Jews. Instead John found himself in the dungeon, and things seemed worse, not better.

So he did what we should all do when doubt assails us. He brought his doubts to Christ. He sent two of his followers to Jesus, and they interrupted Jesus’ ministry to the crowds to ask this one question on behalf of John: Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else? (Luke 7:20b)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Grumpy Old Man

I just had a birthday, and I emailed a good friend to say that like fine wine, I’m slowly going sour.

I was trying to be funny. I don’t know anything about wine, fine or otherwise, but I do know about going sour. And I don’t want to go that way.

As people age, some seem to get increasingly grumpy and angry and bitter, and decreasingly kind and patient and loving. Some older folks even seem to think their sourness is an entitlement. They’ve put in all those years of being nice, and now they can tell the world to jump off a cliff.

But I’ve also known my share of older folks who seem to get sweeter as they age. They have more patience and kindness, less desire to sweat the small stuff, and more joy in the Savior. They’re a pleasure to be around. That’s the kind of person I want to become.

How do you get there? Because each birthday gives you plenty of reasons to groan and complain. More wrinkles, less hair. More aches and pains, less energy. So what keeps you from getting sour, and instead makes you sweeter?

Forgive me for being simplistic, but I think the only answer is Jesus. As in all things, everything begins and ends with Him. If you and I want to age with grace, we need to keep pursuing the God of all grace. And like Paul said, we better forget the past and keep pressing toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus (see Philippians 3:13-14).

I never want to be one of those people whose spiritual life peaked twenty years ago, and who never have any fresh insights from God’s word or new experiences of joy from the Savior. I don’t want to have any laurels to rest on, but I want to keep resting in Christ.

For the rest of my life I want to major in Bible, worship and prayer, witness and service, and not take any more classes in What's Owed to Me, or Why Life's Not Fair. And whenever God calls me home, I want to feel like a kid who gets let out of school early, so he can run all the way home to be with his Dad. 

God, make me sweet like Jesus, my sweetest, dearest,  and loveliest Lord.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Woman's Choice?

I woke up the the other day with this story in my head. It's not the kind of thing I usually post. But the Lord Jesus is Lord of life, and sadly our nation has embraced a culture of death. And where will it end? God's word says, Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him. (Psalm 127:3, NLT)

“Beth, you’ve got to help me.” Ally was hunched over on the couch, hands clenched around a wad of Kleenex already damp from her tears. “Please. I know we don’t know one another very well, but I don’t know who else to talk to.”
            Beth scooted her chair a little closer. “Well, sure, I’ll help you. What’s going on?”
            Ally closed her eyes, shook her head, and more tears began to track down her cheeks. Beth sat silently, praying a little, and finally whispered, “Whatever it is, I know we can get through this together.”
            After more tears, Ally took a deep breath and in a strangely emotionless voice said, “I don’t want to be a mother.” She glanced quickly at Beth’s face, and then cut her eyes away, looking down. “It’s probably not right, but I’m just not ready. I just can't do it.”
            “Honey, I understand. I have three, and they are a handful.” She paused, and gently took Ally’s hands in hers. “So what does Bill say?”
            “He doesn’t know I’m struggling. The idea of being a dad is great for him, but he doesn’t have to deal with anything. I’m here all day, and he leaves for work, and it all falls on me.” She started sobbing again.
            “Well, okay. I understand perfectly, and men are men, right? They never do any of the heavy lifting. We women have to stick together and make the hard decisions, don’t we?” Beth smiled, and for the first time Ally looked up and smiled too.
            “So when is the little one due to arrive?”
            “He gets home from preschool at 11:30. I’ve made up my mind. I think it's best for everybody. If you can help me, I was hoping we could do it today, before he has to have a nap.”
“Okay, you just sit tight. I’ll call and set it up. And I’ll be with you the whole way.”
*                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *
“Hi, I’m calling about  a – I think they call it a PPA. Post-partum abortion. You do that, right? Okay, sure…no, for a friend of mine…It’s a little boy, I think he’s three...No, it’s just not working out…Of course, she’ll sign whatever you want…Two o’clock this afternoon? Okay, that’ll be fine. So we just drop him off, and you handle the rest? How long does it take?... It doesn’t, you know, hurt does it? Oh, great. See you at 2.        
*                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *
The front door banged open. “Hi, Mommy, I’m home.”

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Beloved Son

The love of a father for his son is a special thing. I have two sons, and I have a special love for each of them.

I delight in my sons. I admire them and enjoy them and think of them always. I pray for them and would do anything in my power to encourage and help them.

Those who love my sons are loved by me. If someone were to treat one of my sons poorly, I would take it personally.

One of the keys to understanding our Lord Jesus is His Father's love for Him. The Father delights in Christ. He admires Him and enjoys Him and would do anything to glorify Him.

Just consider. First the voice of the Father Himself:
“and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:17; compare Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22)
He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5; cf. Mark 9:7)
 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1)
 Jesus was always conscious of His Father's love and spoke of it often.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

You Have to Read the Last Chapter

I grew up reading James A. Michener’s sprawling, historical novels - like The Source, Hawaii, and Chesapeake. I became so engrossed in the novel Centennial that I kept it in the car while I was driving. At every stop light I would read a few sentences until the light changed.

I was deep into the characters of Levi Zendt and his bride Elly, young newlyweds from Pennsylvania, making their way west by covered wagon. Although their story takes place in the early 1800’s, somehow I identified with them and wanted to see them do well. My heart went out to the young couple, with all their hopes and dreams, as they faced adversity together.

So while driving around town, I stopped at a red light and opened the book again. Levi and Elly had reached the Rocky Mountains, and had just discovered they were going to have a baby. Then, in the space of about two sentences, a rattlesnake struck Elly in the throat and she died.

Noooooooo! You can't do that! I yelled. I hurled the book into the backseat just as the light turned green. I can't believe it! Why would anyone write a story this way!

It probably sounds a little nuts, but I was angry at James A. Michener. Why would he bring so much suffering into the lives of characters I had come to love? I vowed never to pick up the book again.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Wretched Man

Recently I was rude to a telemarketer who called the church office. The church secretary was out and I made the mistake of answering the phone. The poor man who called was just trying to make a living. I was unnecessarily abrupt, downright discourteous. I've asked the Lord for forgiveness and would apologize to the telemarketer if I could speak to him again.

One of the disappointing things about getting older, for me at least, is my limited progress in spiritual growth. Twenty or thirty years ago, when I thought of being the age I am now, I assumed I would reach a point of unbroken holiness, steady faith, and unflappable joy in the Lord. I imagined I would be winsomely Christlike in character, always displaying the fruit of the Spirit.

Now the years have passed and here I am. I suppose I have made progress, but there are plenty of days when I don’t resemble that guy I hoped to be.  

This is a humbling truth that even the Apostle Paul learned the hard way. Right in the middle of writing Romans, Scripture's most exalted explanation of God’s redemptive plan, Paul spoke of his own spiritual life. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24)

But this blog is not called “Disparaging Myself” but “Admiring Christ.” And here are two truths I've learned, both of which cause me to admire and exalt my Savior.