Monday, December 30, 2013

No Wasted Pain - Through the Flood and the Fire: Part 2

“No wasted pain, no wasted pain.” I heard my wife whisper that many times when the pain was nearly unbearable. I found myself calmed by her courage, and came to believe the truth of Isaiah 43:1-3 because I saw her living it out, even when her health was at its worst.

We Christians are not spared suffering and heartache, but we have God’s word to interpret our pain and His presence to sustain us through it. That’s what Isaiah 43 has meant to Dionne and me.

Here’s the passage again, with my own highlights: But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (Isaiah 43:1-3a).

Last time I spoke of three simple lessons my wife and I learned (and are still learning) from this ancient prophecy. The first is that we belong to Him. When the flood waters rise or the fires threaten, courage comes from knowing that we are His, and that He is in control.

Here’s the second truth: The flood and the fire are inevitable. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Please notice: it says when you pass through these hard times, not if.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Through the Flood and the Fire: Three Triumphant Truths - Part 1

Sometimes Bible passages become more than good advice or practical principles. In times of heartache and trouble, God’s word can be a foundation on which to stand when everything else starts crumbling. So let me begin by telling you why Isaiah 43 means so much to me.

In 1998 a tornado nearly destroyed our home. We were trying to sell our house, but in one afternoon the storm did so much damage that we thought no one would ever want it. Both our house and garage were smashed up and our acre property was strewn with the destroyed remains of a dozen trees that had been snapped off in the wind.

In the middle of the night God led my wife to Isaiah 43:1-3. It was incredibly comforting to us both. And the next day, despite the devastation, we sold our house.

God used the same passage in our lives in 2006. Dionne’s “simple out-patient procedure” became a health catastrophe that nearly took her life. In the middle of great pain, she asked me to quote Isaiah 43:1-3. The Lord used His promises to enable to hang on. 

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (Isaiah 43:1-3a; my highlights).

The Lord taught us three very simple, but quite wonderful, lessons from this passage. They gave us strength to walk through “the flood and the fire.” In the next few posts, I’d like to share them with you.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Four Prophetic Themes That Point Unmistakably to Jesus' Birth

Someone has said that prophecy is history written in advance. This is particularly intriguing when it comes to the birth of Jesus. There are hundreds of prophecies that relate to the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and return of our Savior.

This post is longer than I prefer, but the subject is too important to abridge. Here are four prophetic themes that point unmistakably to Jesus’ birth.

First, God’s overall plan for a Savior. Genesis 3:15, set in the Garden of Eden, is a curse God pronounced over Satan. But in the process He gave strong hints about the birth of Jesus. "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

The Lord speaks of two distinct lines of people – the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of the woman. Spiritually, there are only two kinds of people in the world. The enemies of God, whom Jesus described in John 8:44 as “of your father the devil,” and the spiritual descendants of the Messiah, who was born of a woman.

The prediction is that, in conflict with the serpent, the woman’s “seed” would mortally wound the devil – a wound to the head. But the Messiah, though grievously injured, would recover. All of this – Christ’s virgin conception, atoning sacrifice, resurrection, and victory over Satan, is expressed in only 16 Hebrew words, penned 1400 years before Jesus’ birth!

Second, a series of prophecies about the lineage of the Savior. God promised Abraham that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18). Though both Abraham and Sarah were elderly (and Sarah unable to conceive), a miracle child was born. ..."you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him." Genesis 17:19

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Best Christmas Present Ever

I've had some memorable Christmas presents. But the best one of all was given to me many years ago by my girlfriend.

We had been dating for over a year. We were both 19 years old, full-time students, and too young and too poor to consider marriage except for the distant future. I had at least five more years of college and graduate school before I would have anything close to a career. In the meantime I worked part-time in a warehouse and she did house-cleaning. We both lived in the dorms.

So I never planned to ask her to marry me. If I had planned it, I would have tried for romantic. I would have parachuted down in front of her on a Maui beach at sunset, wearing a tuxedo and holding her ring in a white glove. Or drawn her portrait in sky-writing, with the plane pulling a huge banner that said, "Marry me?"

Instead, I asked her over the phone. About as romantic as a telemarketer, I suppose.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Maybe you saw the report last week of a truck hijacking in Mexico. It would have been a pretty routine story, I suppose, except for the fact that the thieves ended up with a capsule of cobalt-60, a radioactive isotope that will kill you if you open it up to look in. The lead-lined protective container was found abandoned in a field.

The latest report I saw claims the cobalt-60 has been secured by government officials, who now say there was no threat to the residents. (Riiiiiiiight!) 

It probably sounds strange, but that ominous story made me think of Christmas.

Remember how afraid people were on Mt. Sinai when the Lord came down to deliver the Ten Commandments? (My emphasis added in the following...)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

How to Get What You Want from God

The only way you can get what you want from God is to want what He wants instead of what you want.

That’s it. That’s the whole deal.

Submit your will to His. Seek His kingdom first, desire His glory first, and let the rest of it go. And you’ll get what you seek and desire. Guaranteed.

He is committed to exalting His Son. So that’s what’s going to happen. Jesus will be lifted up. You and I better be in the “lifting up Jesus” business. Because any other business is going to crash and burn.

I hope you don’t think I’m playing word games with you. But the truth is, you and I, puny human beings, will not manipulate the Almighty God of the universe. There is no secret formula of faith and optimism that will make the Lord of glory do anything. Everyone and everything will bow to Him.

The secret of answered prayer is to figure out what God wants, and then pray for that. Not to bamboozle Him into giving you whatever your outrageous little heart desires. That’s not going to happen.

He’s God, Creator, King, Sovereign, Lord, Absolute Ruler, the Beginning and the End. Not a genie in a bottle.

Our selfish hearts will always think that God should do what we want. That’s called magic. It’s called paganism. That’s part of what’s wrong with us, and anybody who tries to layer it with spirituality is a false teacher. Our pride is ugly to God. It’s another way of saying, God, you should worship me. And who does that sound like? It’s what got our adversary kicked out of heaven, and it will do us no good.

Jesus promised, If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

Exactly. If we live our lives in Him, if His words take root in us to shape our minds and transform our hearts and conquer our wills, then whatever we ask will flow out of our adoration of Christ and our desire to see Him lifted up. You better believe God will always answer prayers like that.

Don’t waste your time on people who purport to tell you how to get what you want from God. Concentrate on submitting to Him, lifting up His Son, and all will be well with your soul.

And now, a few verses of Scripture...

  • For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.  (Psalms 18:27)
  • He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.  (Psalms 25:9)
  • The LORD lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground.  (Psalms 147:6)
  • For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.  (Psalms 149:4)
  • Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.  (Proverbs 3:34)
  • When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.  (Proverbs 11:2)
  • All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)
  • But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  (James 4:6, 7) 
  • Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,  (1 Peter 5:5b, 6)
  • And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5:14, 15)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Christ's Triumph, Part 3

The Sweet Smell of Victory

At the end of your life, how will you measure success? What would you call a "victorious life?"

The Scripture defines success and even guarantees it. But it is a particular kind of victory.

When Paul promised that Christ would "lead us in triumph," he used the imagery of the “Roman Triumph,” a victory parade honoring a conquering general. It was a celebration everyone could see, hear, and smell.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 2:1-17, NASB; my emphasis)

The general led his army through the streets of Rome, heading for the arena. For his soldiers, this was a day of highest honor and joyful celebration. Toward the rear of the parade were the vanquished enemy soldiers. Defeated and downcast, they trudged along in chains, knowing they would be killed when they reached the Coliseum.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Christ's Triumph, Part Two

The Hero of the Story

One of the most colorful figures in American politics was our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt. He was an adventurer, hunter, cowboy, and author, as well as a politician.

Like many people in public life, he loved the spotlight. His daughter said of her famous father, "He wants to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral, and the baby at every christening."

What might be charming in a politician is a tragic flaw for the rest of us. We all want to be the hero in our own story. But Scripture's promise of victory is Christ's triumph. We are victorious in Him. But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. ( 2 Corinthians 2:14, my emphasis)

When Paul wrote those words in the original Greek, he referred to a “Roman Triumph,” a first century "ticker tape parade" for a victorious Roman general. The "triumph" wound through the streets of Rome, with the general afforded the place of highest honor, while his troops followed him, celebrating his victory.

Only a general of extraordinary accomplishment was awarded a "triumph." First, he must have actually led his troops in combat. Directing the battle safely from the sidelines was not enough. Second, he had to have completely conquered the enemy. And third, he must have advanced the boundaries of the Roman Empire. Simply defending Rome did not qualify.

We are confident in Christ because He far exceeds the exploits of any human conqueror. How we love our Savior, and honor Him, for the greatness of His triumph!

Our Lord Jesus placed Himself in the middle of the battlefield. The eternal Second Person of the Trinity took upon Himself human flesh, entered history, and has been tempted just as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Like the Roman general (but of course much more!) Christ has conquered all. For God has put all things in subjection under his feet (1 Corinthians 15:27). In His death and resurrection, Christ our Lord extended the rule of the Kingdom of God to the darkest corners of humanity.

God always leads us in triumph, but that doesn't mean the establishment of all our goals or the realization of our agendas. It's about Christ. He is the hero of the story, and we get to be part it.

For next time: The Sweet Smell of Victory

Monday, December 2, 2013

Christ's Triumph, Part One

The Promise

When I was still in college, God began to call me to church planting. A few years later in seminary, I tried to get prepared with a research project in which I surveyed all the church planters in our denomination. I asked them various questions about methods they used. The last question was open-ended. What advice would they give me, a future church planter?

One veteran church planter’s only advice was to claim the promise of 2 Corinthians 2:14. But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. (NASB)

At the time I wasn’t familiar with the passage, but I began to study it. Now, all these years later, the truth of this wonderful passage has been an encouragement to me for over 35 years. I'm hoping you might be encouraged, too, through a short series of posts.

Here’s the background: Paul, traveling from Ephesus, came to the port city of Troas, a place he sensed was ripe for the gospel. But his plans had included meeting his colleague and protégé Titus, who was returning from a trip to Corinth.

Titus failed to appear and Paul was filled with concern, both for his young disciple and for the Corinthian church, which had been dealing with many problems.

Life is like that. Your best plans may be interrupted. People may disappoint or worry you. Challenges you never anticipated change everything.

All these things were heavy upon the Apostle Paul. But that’s when he burst forth in confidence: But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ!

This is both Paul's testimony as well as a promise for you and me. Despite sin, setbacks, stalls, and even spiritual warfare, God leads us in triumph. But the most important thing to know about this promise is that it's Christ’s triumph, not ours.

For next time: The Hero of the Story