Friday, June 28, 2013

Jesus and the Emergency Room

Like many of you, I have spent a fair amount of time sitting in hospital emergency rooms. Usually E.R. visits are filled with trauma, pain, and fear.

Our latest E.R. experience was a ten-hour visit that started last night about 10 o’clock, in what was supposed to be a vacation day.
Rather suddenly my wife began experiencing terrible pains in her side, at times accompanied by nausea and vomiting. By last night our only recourse seemed to be the E.R. After a long and sleepless night, we were grateful and relieved to have a diagnosis – a kidney stone is causing the problem.

Not knowing makes everything so much worse. A mysterious pain accompanied by long spells of waiting in uncomfortable surroundings, with no end point on the horizon, grinds you down physically, emotionally, and spiritually. For me to see my beloved wife once again in so much pain pushes all sorts of buttons. I don’t think my faith is particularly strong in these moments.

When they ask, as they must, “on a scale of 1 – 10, what level is your pain?,” you want to shout, unbearable or even unfair. Mostly you just want somebody to make it better.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

An Exercise in Praise: The Fruit of the Spirit

I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get to worship and pray. Sometimes I'm not sure what to say next. Honestly, there are times when I feel like I've run out of words. 

So for what it’s worth, I’m sharing with you a praise time I had recently. Several times a week I try to jog around a 5K track across the street from my office. I’ve been at it for five or six years. I wasn’t fast when I started running, and I’m even slower now. But still I labor on, and the best thing about it is the 30 minutes or so it gives me to pray. The other day I had a particularly joyous time with the Lord.

Here’s a little context. The fruit of the Spirit, as you may know, is a description of nine virtues, character qualities, that are listed in Galatians 5:22-23. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These nine “fruit” are the evidence and outgrowth of Christ’s life within us. Just as the lemons on my lemon tree confirm that the tree is alive and healthy, so these nine qualities reveal something of the progress of Christ’s life in us.

Okay. So it hit me that any evidence of these qualities in my life is only because of Jesus. And I decided as part of my prayer time to declare this to the Lord for each one of the nine. For example...
  • Jesus, I know that without You, I would have no love, none at all. 
  • Christ, joy comes from You. And there is no joy, not really, apart from You.
  • Lord, only You have brought peace to my life. Without You I would not know peace.
So I made that declaration for all nine, a simple confession of the barrenness of my life apart from Jesus. That took a few minutes, I suppose.

But then I decided to go back to each of the nine, and try to think about the first time I ever experienced Christ’s love, or joy, or peace. And then I would try to praise Him for the experience and gift of these virtues in my life.

Let me give you just three examples of what I mean.
  •  Thank You, Jesus, for showing Your love to me. I think the first time I ever really understood it at all was the summer I heard the gospel for the first time, and realized You had loved me enough to die for me. Thank You so much.
  •  And Jesus, I remember experiencing Your peace when I was just a teenager. It was the time I came home from school to discover that my mom had been hospitalized. Dad had recently died, and now Mom was gone. How alone I felt, but then You gave me such an overwhelming feeling of calm, and somehow I knew everything would be okay. Thank You for Your peace that I have experienced so many times since then.
  • Dear Lord, I am aware of Your patience toward me nearly every day. I’m disappointed in myself so often, and the fact that I still trip up and don’t honor You as I should bums me out. But You never condemn me. You’ve put up with me all these years, and I don’t ever get the feeling that you're upset. Thank You for Your patience.
You get the idea. I thought and prayed and praised through each of the nine “fruit” in turn. It was such a blessing to spend the time reflecting on the character of my Savior, and to worship Him.

Maybe you'd like to give it a try. He is so worthy of all praise.

Monday, June 17, 2013

How God Can Call Us Christians "Righteous"

The Bible says that God "justifies" those who believe in Christ. (cf. Romans 3:22-26). Meaning that He declares us "righteous" - absolutely perfect before His own law.

And that doesn't seem to make sense. Because we are not righteous. On our best days, we're not perfect, and on our worst days we are sad sinners who don't even come close to perfection.

So is God just pretending?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Such Were Some of You

As a pastor I sometimes despair at the depths and variety of human misery. Over the years I have heard a terrible array of confessions by those who have committed unspeakable sins. And for every such confession, there are another ten lives which are warped and wounded as a result.

 But people also suffer because of their own choices. The world is a messed up place, and maybe it doesn’t do any good to try to figure out who to blame. You just know people are badly damaged and the reasons why are complicated.

So what do we have to give people who are so broken? A story about a Man who lived and died 20 centuries ago. And sometimes, when I tell that story, I am not at my best, and it comes out half-hearted and tentative, without the conviction and enthusiasm I would wish.

The temptation is to think that the Story is not enough. That people’s troubles are too serious and too complex, and that telling them about Jesus is not really the answer.

But then I discover what the Bible has been saying all these centuries: that the gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who believe.

People’s problems are really serious and our sin is very dark. I believe in counseling and mentoring and medication and all sorts of helps. But I know that the story of Jesus is transforming at a level that far exceeds the skill of its communicators and far surpasses the best help available from any other source.

Paul said it this way: But such were some of you. Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 2 Corinthians 6:9-11 (my emphasis).

The church has always had within its ranks people who were rejected and abandoned by others as too messed up, too evil, to hardened, too stupid, too far gone. But it turns out that nothing and no one is unreachable by the grace of Jesus.

What a Story we have to tell.

P.S. For a good summary of the Story, click here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

How to Confess Your Sins

When it comes to confession, your heart is more important than your words, of course. But I was touched by this prayer, written in private devotions over 400 years ago.

By Thy sweat bloody and clotted! Thy soul in agony,
Thy head crowned with thorns, bruised with staves,
Thine eyes a fountain of tears,
Thine ears full of insults,
Thy mouth moistened with vinegar and gall,
Thy face stained with spitting,
Thy neck bowed down with the burden of the Cross,
Thy back ploughed with the wheals and wounds of the scourge,
Thy pierced hands and feet,
Thy strong cry, Eli, Eli,
Thy heart pierced with the spear,
The water and blood thence flowing,
Thy body broken, Thy blood poured out —
Lord forgive the iniquity of Thy servant
And cover all his sin.

The author, the English Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (yes, that’s how you spell it), has a tender heart toward the extraordinary suffering of our Savior. God’s love and justice come together in the cross of Christ. It's always good, when we confess our sins, to remember the price Jesus paid to atone for them.

By the way, Bishop Andrewes oversaw the Bible translation we now call the King James Bible.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

What the Mountain Says

The single most beautiful sight I have ever seen in the natural world was a view of the Himalayas as I flew out of Kathmandu a little over ten years ago.

I have always loved mountains and the capital city of Nepal lies in a valley bordered on the north by the greatest mountain range on the planet. The Himalayas include over a hundred peaks exceeding 23,600 feet in height. 

I came to Kathmandu to help train Nepali pastors in church planting. It was thrilling and humbling to have a small part in equipping these godly leaders. The mountain vista came at the very end, an unexpected treasure, as we flew out of the city en route to India.

We left the city in the middle of the morning, and because our flight was almost empty, I had perfect views from either side of the aircraft. I soon found myself awestruck as the plane rose above the city.

Kathmandu lies in a valley of about 4600 feet in elevation. As the aircraft slowly climbed, I could see terraced farmland beyond the city, and then rolling hills, rising higher and higher, crisscrossed with narrow footpaths. Those high green steppes alone, so serene and inviting, would have stayed in my memory. But there was more.

The hills, high enough to be called mountains in many parts of the world, kept pointing further upward. And suddenly, appearing in the thinning air with almost symphonic crescendo, the Himalayas shouldered themselves above the clouds. Towering twice as high as my beloved Rockies, they were jagged and blue, ribbed with permanent snow, majestic and beautiful and terrible. I could not tear my eyes away.

Many people, plenty who are not Christians, are stirred by the mountains. They seem indomitable, timeless, unyielding, even holy. And at the same time mountains offer shelter and protection. Run to the mountains.

But let's be clear: there is no generic Higher Power at work, no unknown God of the mountains. It's Jesus Christ. He's the Mountain Maker, and it's His glory we feel. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities —all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:16-17

The same One who nursed at Mary's breast, who wept at Lazarus' tomb, sculpted the Himalayas. And one day when they are ground to dust and remade in a new earth, Jesus will do that, too.

As I've been trying to write about Him, the Mountain Maker, I kept hearing in my head part of the Hillsong chorus: Savior, He can move the mountains, My God is mighty to save, He is mighty to save.

He is indomitable, timeless, unyielding, and holy. And He is our only shelter and protection. Run to Him.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Secret of a Happy Marriage

Today my wife Dionne and I celebrate 41 years together. I have no doubt that we are in our happiest season of all the many seasons of our marriage. My love for her is deeper than ever before, which is saying a great deal.

But I don’t think I know “the secret of a happy marriage,” if there is one. (Sorry.)

The best I can do is this little diagram.

At the top of the triangle is Jesus. On the left apex is Jim, on the right is Dionne. The closer we get to Jesus, the closer we get to one another.

As simple, maybe even hokey as that might seem, it is absolutely true.

So, as kind of a reverse anniversary gift to all of you who read this: pursue Christ. He is the secret and the key and the source and the blessing, the beginning and the end, of all things.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Road Trip

The summer after I graduated from high school, my friends Randy and James, and I, decided to do a road trip. We would drive down to the Four Corners, where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona all come together. You can stand in all four states at the same time. For some reason this seemed like a great goal for us.

None of us had any money, but we figured we’d just camp along the way. We raided our families’ refrigerators and loaded up a cooler with steaks and hamburgers. And we threw our sleeping bags in the back of Randy’s old Hudson Hornet.

Naturally we had no plan where we would spend our first night. We set out from our Western Colorado home late in the day, and just headed south. 140 miles later, after midnight, we cruised into Durango. With no money for a motel, a campground seemed like our best option. We drove through town, randomly took a side road, which led to another dirt road and finally to a large flat area overlooking the city. By this time we were all so tired we could hardly see straight.