Saturday, December 5, 2015

Christmas: God's Show

I speak and write often about what I call the Garden Game.  The Garden Game is an easily-remembered moniker that helps me to be mindful of the terrible precedent that was set in the Garden of Eden and how often my sin nature pulls me in the same direction.

When Eve was confronted in the garden by the serpent, she encountered temptation and choice.  She could believe God or she could believe the serpent.  She could consult her husband (who was, according to the account, standing right by her) and perhaps God or she could deal with the serpent herself.  She could refrain from eating the forbidden fruit or she could take and eat it.

Eve made the wrong choice, every time.  It shows for us the power of pride.  Eve wanted to “do it herself,” to be independent of God and her husband.  This is most clearly represented in the way the serpent framed the temptation: the fruit would make her wise like God.  If she became wise like God, she would be able to continue on her independent path.  She would not need a husband or a God.

Eve’s spiritual DNA is evident all through history.  The Pharisees were so focused on doing religion themselves that they were unable to recognize God Incarnate when He was standing before them.  Believers since the days of the early church have struggled with the appeal of the Garden Game.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul has some very strong words to those Gentile believers who were choosing to be circumcised in an attempt to “add” to what Christ had done on their behalf.  We, too, have Eve’s spiritual DNA.  We tend to use rules to feel good about ourselves apart from the gospel.  Although as believers we acknowledge our need of God, our view of salvation is often sharply limited: “Thanks for saving me, Lord.  I can take it from here.” And onward we go. 

Submission to God and obedience to His Word and will are essential components of the Christian life.  Very often, though, we feel the pull of the Garden Game and begin to subconsciously take pride in our obedience, to regard it as a means by which we earn God’s grace and favor.  

Christmas gives us a wonderful opportunity to confront the pull of the Garden Game, to choose to walk away from our pride and independence and toward dependence on God.  Christmas is God’s personal invitation to leave ourselves and join His party.  As for me and my household, we will celebrate Christmas!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Lesson From The Pilgrims

November.  A time to give thanks.  I appreciate the reminder, and I really love that giving thanks, a Christian principle, becomes a nationwide focus.  But there is a part of our Thanksgiving holiday that we Christians perhaps do not think enough about.  The first thanksgiving was the response of the Pilgrims to their first successful harvest in the New World.  This first harvest was no small thing.  It represented, quite literally, the difference between life and death.  Without food safely put away, there would be very little to eat during the long, cold winter.  Truly, the giving of thanks was most appropriate.

In 21st Century America, some of us have difficulty in gathering enough funds to purchase our food, but most of us are not personally concerned with bringing in an annual agricultural harvest.  But all believers have a spiritual harvest to which we must attend.  In his gospel account, Matthew records for us Jesus’s words: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”  When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we become part of that harvest.  And though we may not think about it often, we are also the ones who are working to bring in the Lord’s harvest.  It is our privilege to proclaim Christ and invite others to join us as part of God’s family.  This is God’s harvest, and it is essential to the life of the church and the eternal lives of those to whom we minister.

In Ephesians 4, Paul teaches us that our Lord has given some as evangelists.  I am most definitely not one of those evangelists.  God has gifted and called me to a different ministry.  But all believers are ambassadors of Christ, called by Him to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19).  It is not that we must tell others about Christ; rather, we have the incredible privilege of participating in our Lord’s work of redeeming this world, helping to bring in the spiritual harvest that will culminate in the end times.

So as we appropriately give thanks to God for all of His provision and blessing, let us also attend to His spiritual harvest and give thanks that we have been included in it.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Thought for the Day

"Only a lifegiver can give life."

                      Dr. Andrew Straubel, Pastor, Windsor Chapel


Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Power of God

When I was a beginning Greek student, I was strongly cautioned against a common error in translating and interpreting God’s Word:  When encountering a Greek word that has become part of the English language, it is critically important to not practice reverse translation, i.e. to use our understanding of an English word to assign meaning/connotation to its Greek forerunner.  For sure, this is excellent advice.  But there is, I believe, merit to considering how we have taken Greek words and incorporated them into our vocabulary culture.  A good candidate for this is the Greek word dunamis.  It is the word upon which our word dynamite is based.

We all know what dynamite is.  It is a concentrated source of incredible power.  Dynamite can provide power for human use and for human purposes.  Dynamite is explosive and dangerous.

Dunamis appears well over 100 times in the New Testament.  Aside from its obvious translation, “power,” it is translated, “wonderful works,” “mighty works,” “ability,” “miracle,” and “strength.”  Dunamis is the power that enabled a virgin to give birth to God Incarnate.  It is the power that fueled the ministry of John the Baptist.  Dunamis enabled Jesus and His disciples to heal, and it is associated with the authority of Christ as He faced the hostility of Jewish leaders.  Most importantly, dunamis is the power of the resurrection of Christ in history and the power of our resurrection in Him as we walk into our eternal future as heirs of the kingdom of God.

Now, if we compare God’s dunamis to our dynamite, dynamite doesn’t seem so impressive.  Dynamite is power, to be sure, but it is limited, impersonal, and imprecise.  Dunamis, on the other hand, is unlimited and eternal, personal, and often tender.  Dynamite is dangerous, and when wielded by sinful human beings, all the more so.  Dunamis, however, is that which enables our good, wise, loving, and sovereign God to show His love to us, to bring us to Him, to enable us to do the works for which He created us, and to complete the work He has begun in us.  Dynamite might be necessary to build a road through a mountain, but dunamis is the fuel for all holy construction projects.

If we return to the advice I was given as a beginning Greek student, it is apparent that the words of caution were right on target.  If we took our understanding of dynamite and superimposed it upon our understanding of the power of God, we would be limited by a seriously impoverished view of our God.  Fortunately, the dunamis of God is not so limited.  We can place our hearts, lives, and eternal futures into His hands, trusting that the Lord’s dunamis is sufficient to guide and guard us through the challenges of this life and to transform us into creatures fit for an eternal heavenly home. 

For Thine is the kingdom and the dunamis

and the glory forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Thought For The Day

"A comprehended God is no God at all."

                                   Gerhard Tersteegen

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Amazing Grace: From John Newton To Us

Not too long ago, Windsor Chapel’s Worship Team introduced us to a new song as an offertory.  “Broken Vessels” is a beautiful contemporary version of  “Amazing Grace.”  Indeed, it even includes the Christian classic’s first line: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”  It stands with other contemporary versions of “Amazing Grace” and joins countless versions and arrangements that have appeared since the hymn was first published in 1779.  But why has just one of over 200 hymns of a relatively obscure believer in 18th Century England generated such a legacy?  I think there are two very significant pieces to the story of “Amazing Grace.”

First, its message.  I believe that the old hymn has endured because its message is a succinct and memorable proclamation of the Gospel:  I am a wretch, helpless and hopeless in my sin.  But by the grace of God, I have been rescued from my sin: Christ as paid the penalty for it, and He invites me to live a new life in Him.

This is an old message but no less relevant than when Newton or Christ or the Apostles proclaimed it.  In today’s culture, it is often regarded with disdain and distaste.  Since human beings are regarded as intrinsically good, we need merely develop and share that goodness.  But it isn’t true.  We aren’t good.  We don’t need remediation; we need salvation. 

The salvation offered by Christ is a multi-faceted gift of redemption.  His death on the cross on our behalf covers our sins, “buys us back,” so to speak.  We can enjoy a right place before God and confidence before His throne.  But it reaches far beyond that as God takes even the ugliest and most painful parts of our history and remakes them into blessings. 

The redemptive work of God is what “Amazing Grace” is all about.  It is a story within a story: not only is it a powerful proclamation of the Gospel, it is the story of its author. Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with John Newton.  He is best known as a slave trader who received Christ and became a force for great good in his world.  Less known are the difficulties he faced as a boy losing his mother and as an impetuous young man who endured mistreatment and even slavery himself.  The amazing grace he experienced as God saved him and worked his past for his good became the story of his life. 

This is where the story of John Newton intersects with the story of our lives.  We, like Newton, have been rescued from our sin through the grace of God.  And now we get to experience God’s redemption as he weaves all the threads of our past—all the sin, all the hardship—into a tapestry of life that manifests His good purposes for us and reveals His glory.  And you never know.  God may use us in a way that echoes for generations to come.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Destination Driven

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were doing a series of errands.  After one stop, we returned to our car, and Ken started the engine.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that we were driving in circles.  When I commented, Ken explained that he didn’t know where we were going next, but what he said was this: “When you don’t know where you’re going, your direction doesn’t matter.”  Although I quickly corrected Ken’s confusion so that we could complete our errands, the powerful truth he expressed has stayed with me.

The fact of the matter is that direction and destination are linked.  If you neither know nor care where you’re going, then any direction will do.  But if you have a particular destination in mind, your direction matters a great deal. 

And so it is in our spiritual lives.  We, as believers, have a destination: heaven, where we will enjoy eternal relationship with the God of the universe and other saints.  In order to arrive at that destination, we need to be aware of the direction we are going.

Please do not misunderstand me.  Our place in heaven has been secured by the work of Christ on our behalf.  We need not—cannot—earn it.  But we do have responsibility as we live in a covenant relationship with our Lord.  In the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he exhorts his readers to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, noting that it is God who is at work in them, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12). 

Although I have always found this passage to be puzzling, it highlights an essential mystery of the Christian faith.  The Holy Spirit works in us and through us as we abide in Christ.  Once we commit to Christ by faith and through His grace receive the Holy Spirit, we begin our part—to partake of the nature of Christ (Heb. 3:14) and participate in His kingdom’s work. 

As we walk on this side of the kingdom toward our eternal destination, it matters what direction we travel.  The Bible makes this abundantly clear.  The Apostle Paul exhorts his Ephesian readers to put aside all anger, bitterness, and malice and to extend kindness and forgiveness to one another.  The Apostle John is well known for his “love one another” exhortations.  The Apostle Peter makes an even stronger case, urging his readers to fervently love one another and to offer hospitality and service to one another (I Pet. 4:8).  The author of Hebrews instructs his readers to encourage one another (Heb. 10:24).  James has much to say in his epistle about relationships among those who are on their way to heaven.

Please notice with me that the way we partake in the nature of Christ and participate in His work is not necessarily by becoming a professional missionary, singing in the choir, or serving on a church committee.  It is rather by learning to appreciate, love, encourage, and serve one another that we experience and reflect glimpses of heaven. 

C.S. Lewis emphasized in his writing that it is not so much what we do as who we are and who we are becoming that is of spiritual significance.  As we turn our faces toward our heavenly destination, may we remain mindful of the direction of our hearts and love our Lord and others with all that we are and all that we have.

“If you board the wrong train, it’s no use running along the corridor in the other direction.”     Dietrich Bonhoeffer