Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Thanking Your Way Out of a Bad Mood

The other day I took my dog Jethro for a walk. I was in a bad mood, for reasons that don’t matter. I can usually find an excuse to be bummed if I'm not careful.

So I thought that I would spend my half-hour walk in prayer, but to tell you the truth, “prayer” probably meant complaining to the Lord. I could imagine myself grousing to God about all the major and minor trials in my life, and then asking Him for deliverance from them, and failing that, for more patience, greater strength, deeper peace, etc., etc.

I kind of knew that I would end up in a worse mood, on top of which I’d feel guilty for a lousy attitude.

So I decided to do something different. I decided to see if I could thank Jesus 50 times in the course of a short walk.

I began with mundane stuff. Thank You, Jesus, that my leg doesn’t hurt like it did yesterday. Thank You, Jesus, that I have a day off today. Sounds pathetic, probably, but you have to start somewhere. Then I started thinking about the bigger picture. I began to thank Christ for people who stood by us and supported us when we were missionaries. Thank You for John and Marlys, Tom & Debbie,

I thanked Him for dear friends in the past and present, naming each one. I gave thanks for the wonderful families in my church, and named them.

I thanked Christ for the gospel, and how I had heard and believed it so many years ago. I thanked Him for the people I’ve had the privilege of seeing come to faith in Him. I started thanking Him for the privilege of teaching the Bible, and then for specific Bible books. Thank You that I got to teach through Romans. I didn’t deserve such an honor. Thank You that I get to study and teach Luke. It means so much to me.

I thanked Jesus for the doctrines of grace, the wonderful truths of my Reformed faith that I came to embrace long after seminary. Thank You for revealing how totally fallen and tainted by sin I really am, and for Your blessed and unconditional election. Thank You, Jesus, for Your effectual atonement, that You actually and not just potentially save people. Thank You for your amazing and irresistible grace! Thank You for preserving and protecting those whom You redeem, and making sure they get safely Home. Thank You for including me.

By this time the dog and I were on the return leg of our walk. I started thanking Jesus for my family. Thank You so much for my precious wife Dionne, for bringing us together and keeping us all these years. Thank You - she means everything to me. I thanked Him for my sons, Andy and Zach, and for the privilege of being their dad. And I thanked Him for Cheryl and April, my daughters-in-law, and for what wonderful wives and mothers they are. Thank You, Jesus, for each of my grandchildren…and I named all six in turn, including the one I’ve started calling “July baby,” since I know her ETA but not her name yet.

By the time Jethro and I got back to the car, my thank-you’s numbered into the 60’s, and my mood, which had been in the pits, was now in a humble and peaceful place.

Being grateful to Jesus for His wonderful grace is not a technique for mental health. It’s a command (see 1 Thes. 5:18), a duty, and a tremendous privilege. The fact that it makes us feel better is just a bonus. Because even if it didn’t, Jesus still deserves it. Thank You, Jesus, for being my Savior and King and Friend, my Teacher and Comforter and Shepherd.Thank You that all the moments of my life are under Your careful and loving hand.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Songs in the Night

Do you ever sing when you’re stressed or nervous or afraid? Jesus did.

Imagine the scene. Christ has just celebrated the Passover Meal with His disciples, and Judas has already slunk into the night. Jesus is only hours from the cross.

The fear and dread and stress must have been beyond the experience of any man before or since. He knew, had always known, the horrific ordeal that awaited Him. Not just the physical torture or emotional devastation, but the spiritual torment He would endure. His Father would see Him covered in the filth of our sins, would recoil from Him and forsake Him.

This “dark night of the soul” began for Jesus when He left the Upper Room, walked down into the Kidron Valley, and then up the slope of the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane. There He would pray in anguish, the stress so severe that He bled through the pores of His skin. And there His own disciple would betray Him with a kiss, leading to His arrest, humiliation, torture, and execution.

So what happened in the moments just before all this began? He sang. And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Matthew 26:30. We even know the song our Savior led His disciples to sing.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Awareness of Being Loved

After my mother’s death we held a small memorial service at our church. My wife and my two sons each shared memories of her.

One of my sons spoke of always being aware that his grandmother delighted in him.

It’s a precious thing, to be aware that somebody loves you. Not everybody experiences that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. How does it happen that you become aware that you are loved?

It might be because someone tells you, straight up, and that’s good. We ought to hear it, and we ought to say it. But just saying it doesn’t make it so. There are people who start their criticism with “You know I love you…” and then they tear you to shreds.

Being aware that you’re loved might come from the way someone has sacrificed for you, and from being sure they would do so again. But it has to mean more than that. Some people sacrifice because they know it’s their duty, but they don’t really cherish the ones they sacrifice for.

Maybe cherish is a good word. My son’s perception that his grandmother delighted in him meant a lot. More than just doing right by someone, it's enjoying them, and wanting to be around them. I wonder if you really love someone if you don’t long to be with them.

And it probably includes not just being with them, but actually knowing them. Trying to understand someone - their unique slant on things, what they enjoy, prefer, or avoid - is truly an act of love. 

One of the greatest joys of being a Christian is the awareness that Christ loves you. When it dawns on you that Jesus loves you, that He chose you, that’s a wonderful moment.

That awareness comes from a lot of things. From His saying so, in His word. From His sacrifice. And also from the truth that He cherishes you, delights in you, wants to be with you and understands you completely,.

You can go through your whole life living in the glow of that wonderful awareness – that you are loved and chosen by the best Person who ever lived.

If you think of how wonderful it feels to be aware that someone loves you, how many people in your life have the blessing of that awareness from you?

And one other question: does Jesus live in the awareness that you love Him ?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Including Us in the Miracle

One of the most admirable and wonderful things about Jesus is that He chooses to use people like you and me, even when He doesn’t need us and could do everything a lot better without us. He includes us in His miracles despite our frequent liabilities and stunted faith.

Consider the Feeding of the 5000 (cf. Mt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14). The Apostles, probably miffed that their prayer retreat had been interrupted by the needy crowd, thought only of sending away thousands of hungry people. Instead Jesus challenged His disciples: You give them something to eat (Luke 9:13). 

Still thinking in self-protective mode, the Twelve protested that they had only a tiny morsel of food--a kid's lunch of dinner rolls and dried fish. To feed this crowd (perhaps as many as 20,000 men, women, and children!) would cost more than 8 months wages!

That’s when Jesus took over. Seating the crowd in groups of 50, Jesus took the boy’s lunch, thanked God for it, and the miracle began.

He first broke the loaves, handed out the pieces, and then did the same with the fish. One minute His hands held food, the next minute they were empty because it didn’t take long to pass out five loaves and two fish. But then His hands were full again. More bread, more fish. Again, He broke bread, handed out pieces, tore the fish into sections, passed them out. He emptied His hands, and then they were full again. Empty, full, empty, full. Jesus created more bread, created new fish.

Which brings me to this point. He could have done this miracle of creation any number of ways. He could have supernaturally produced a loaf of bread and a fish in the hands of every one of the multiple thousands who sat there. Or He might have offered a banquet at each of the groups of 50.

But here’s what He did: he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd (Luke 9:15, my emphasis). "Gave” means “kept giving.” Every piece of food passed from Christ through the hands of the disciples. He included them in the miracle. His divine power enabled them to do the impossible thing He had commanded.

Serving Christ is like that for all of us. We see the vast need, we’re overwhelmed, Christ commands us to do that which we cannot do in our strength, and then He supplies.

He is, after all, the Bread of Life (John 6:35). He, and only He, full satisfies both our emptiness inside and our desire to make things better for other hungry sinners like us.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Son of Peace

Our congregation is hoping to plant a church in a new community about 20 minutes from our town. One of the prayers we’re praying is that God would lead us to a “son of peace.”

The idea is to follow Jesus’ strategy when He sent out the seventy-two. He told them Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. Luke 10:5-6.

The peace of Christ flows through "sons of peace." God has prepared them, and His grace is evident in them. Jesus said to look for people in whom God is at work, people who will become the open door to a neighborhood, village, or region. The gospel will enter where God’s grace has already prepared the way.

Years ago in one of my church plants I had knocked on hundreds of doors and made contacts with many unchurched people who seemed interested. But I didn’t have one solid “person of peace,” and I was discouraged. I’ll never forget the lonely week when I felt like quitting.

I was not a rookie and had been facing church planting challenges for years. But this discouragement seemed more intense. Part of it was that I was sick that week. An infection made my body achy and slightly feverish. I just felt like staying in bed. But somehow I knew that if I didn’t drag myself out of the house, I might give up entirely.

So I drove to a new housing tract not far from our house, and began knocking on doors. About half-way down the block the door opened, and when I began to talk to the woman of the house, I felt immediately that she was the "daughter of peace” I had hoped to meet. She was a warm, hospitable person who opened her home for a neighborhood Bible study.

Finding her was a breakthrough in getting that church started. People in her neighborhood became Christians and began attending the new church. She was a “daughter of peace.”

Christ gave us more than good advice. Finding the “son of peace” is about looking for where He is working and then following Him. It’s not launching out with our plans and asking Got to bless them. It’s planning as much as we can, all the while seeking evidence of the grace of God as they key to our next step.

That’s how Christian ministry must be done. But even more basically, it’s how we live the Christian life. Because when you and I are looking for the opening, the solution, the next step, the right direction, the key to moving forward, we’re really looking for the Son of Peace, Jesus.

We’re looking for His grace to lead us. He is the key to everything. He’s the Door, the Way, the Beginning and the End. All we hope for, the good and the eternal, the longing of our hearts and the healing of our souls, peace with God and peace with man - it all comes from the Son of Peace.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why I Love Being a Christian

I just watched part of Tim Keller’s DVD series, The Reason for God, based on his book. He sat down with six people who have objections to the Christian faith, to dialogue with them. The session was unscripted, insightful and fascinating.

The best moment for me was when one of the skeptics asked Dr. Keller if he was open to the possibility he might be wrong about Christianity. He responded that he has two basic reasons for his faith: rational and existential. He said that though he was confident in the rational arguments, it was possible they might be shaken. But for him the existential reasons– his experiences of the presence and power of God over the years since he has been a Christian – were unassailable.

Our experiences need to be rooted in the truth of Scripture. But Keller is right – obeying the gospel truth leads us into life experiences that are powerful and unassailably wonderful. To tell an unbeliever about these is like trying to describe a sunset to someone born without sight.

Still, Dr. Keller’s video made me want to write down some of the “experiences” that make me love being a Christian. This post is longer than I prefer, even though I tried for just the highlights. There’s so much I love about being a Christian!
  • Experiences of forgiveness and cleansing. I have come to know what the Scriptures say: Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1). Can there be anything more wonderful than knowing your sins – past, present, and future – have been forgiven by Almighty God!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Did You Lack Anything?

I have written before about how the Lord has always provided for me and my family, sometimes in unusual ways, during our journey as missionary church planters. (See Take No Staff for the Journey).

Jesus does that for His people. And it’s not just that He bails us out when we get into trouble. Often He leads us into situations where we’re forced to trust Him, and to experience just how dependable and kind and powerful He really is. 

This was one of the first lessons He taught the twelve apostles. When He sent them out, He said, "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics" (Luke 9:3). By the way, the bag He referred to was often used in those days by “holy men” to beg for money. Jesus was not only telling them to take only the clothes on their backs, but also not to beg.

Was Jesus trying to make it hard for His apostles? Well, yes. He was demonstrating that He would provide for them, that He could be trusted to take care of them even when there was no visible means for doing so. A year and a half later, right before He went to the cross, He asked them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” Luke 22:35.

Not that Christ is against suitcases or pantries or savings accounts. His point is that we can, and must, depend upon Him. Sometimes we may need to relearn that lesson. When we are tempted to put our  trust in our abundance rather than in Him, He just might send us out for a while with no staff, or bag, or bread, or money.

But in those times, watch and pray with expectation. He will provide for His own. And one day your story of His generosity and provision will bring Him glory and point to Him as the only One worth trusting. Not just for a staff or a bag or money, but for your whole life.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Path to Peace and Patience

You know how it is.

  • You rush through the airport, dragging your carry-ons and your kids, only to find your flight has been moved to a different gate.
  • You have your day planned, with enough time to accomplish all the tasks on your list, and a friend calls and needs to talk.
  • Your tire goes flat on the way to work and when you drag out the spare, you discover it’s also flat.
  • You find a note in your child’s backpack, reminding you of a parent-teacher conference tomorrow morning.
  • The freeway slows to a crawl, and your one-hour commute turns into the entire morning.
  • One of your co-workers drops by your office and launches into a story that involves people you don’t know and situations you don’t care about. Twenty minutes goes by and it feels like twenty days.

 How do you handle delays and interruptions and distractions?

I’m not a patient person. It’s a weakness, and any of the above examples could wreck my concentration and my mood. I get stressed and edgy. Even worse, I may become abrupt or unkind.

The contrast with my Savior is very stark. In the gospels Jesus was always being interrupted, obstructed, and delayed. Right in the middle of His sermon, a demon spouts off (Lk. 4:31ff). During a home group meeting, four men lower their paralyzed friend through a hole in the roof as Jesus is teaching (Lk. 5:17-26). A former prostitute crashes a banquet where Jesus is an invited guest, and begins weeping, washing His feet with her tears (Lk. 7:36ff).