In a recent sermon at Windsor Chapel, Pastor Andy Straubel referred to the common phrase, “It’s who you know.” The phrase is a close cousin to, “Friends in high places.” Both idioms reflect the pride, satisfaction, and even power and privilege that often comes with knowing someone who is important in the world. And in our current status-focused culture, who you know may matter more than a little. But only for a wink of time.
It can be easy to get caught up in our celebrity-fixated culture. Shoppers spend hard-earned money purchasing tabloid newspapers in order to be more “in the know” about their favorite celebrities. Fans of musical groups wait in endless lines not just to see a performance but with the hope of catching an up close and personal glimpse of one of the its star performers. In a recent Yankee game, a fan caught the first home run ball of a new player. In negotiating the ball’s return for this player, the fan got an opportunity to meet some of the Yankees in the clubhouse after the game.
In the end, though, there is only one relationship that can give us what we truly want and need: a foundational relationship with Jesus Christ. Christ is indeed a friend in the highest of high places! He is our Creator and Redeemer. Because of His death on the cross on our behalf, we are justified in the eyes of the Almighty and are assured of a place in the company of the Triune God for all eternity.
Knowing Christ is about more than stamping our ticket for heaven, or for getting that selfie and sharing it on social media. Knowing Christ is about the ongoing pursuit of a dynamic, intimate relationship with the Lord of the universe. He abides in us, and we abide in Him. We experience the healing power of being fully known and loved anyway. As bond-servants of Christ, we serve a Master who delights in us and who will never leave us or forsake us. We find our identity as we partake in the very nature of Christ and the joy of exercising the gifts He has given us in fulfilling the eternally significant purposes for which we were created. We come to know the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, so that by faith we can move mountains. And we enjoy the privilege of being son and daughters of the Most High God.
This brings us back to where we began. We can be name-droppers! We know the Creator and Lord of the universe. That puts us in a unique position to declare not only His name but His goodness to others. As we proclaim Christ in what we say and do, we invite others to trade their worldly focus on fame and fortune for the eternal glory of Christ and His kingdom.
“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowingChristJesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ….”
The Bible is full of rich metaphors, word-parables so to speak. One of my favorites is Christ depicted as the Lion of Judah. We get our first hint of the connection at the end of Genesis when Jacob-now-Israel blesses his twelve sons before he dies. These sons represent the twelve tribes of Israel, and none is more significant than the tribe of Judah. In Genesis 49:9-10 we read:
Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
The scepter shall not depart form Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Numbers 24:9 records the prophet Balaam repeating part of Jacob’s prophecy, and it is generally recognized as an early proclamation of the coming Messiah, Christ. The expanded and fulfilled prophecy is proclaimed in Revelation 5:5:
…and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the
book and its seven seals.”
But Christ is not always depicted as a lion, as a fierce ruler. The prophet Isaiah describes the Messiah as a lamb that is led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). This imagery is potent and powerful. When the Lord used Moses to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt, He gave instructions for each household (or group of households) to sacrifice a lamb—the Passover Lamb—and paint their door lintels with its blood in order to escape the imminent judgment that was coming upon Egypt. The sacrifice of lambs for sin was an integral part of the Old Testament Law.
When John the Baptist proclaimed to two of his disciples that Jesus was the Lamb of God, there were a few dots to connect. Many and probably most Jews anticipating the coming of the Messiah were looking for a king, for the Lion of Judah. And here was a lamb, blameless to be sure, but not even particularly attractive. The concept of the Christ suffering and dying was abhorrent to the Apostle Peter (Matthew 16: 21-23), and we can be sure Peter was not alone in his perspective.
And so we come to the point of Easter. Jesus was not sometimes the lion and sometimes the lamb. He was not merely both the lion and the lamb. He is the Lion who became the Lamb. He died for us that we might rule with Him. Again, the fifth chapter of Revelation gives us a glimpse of what this will look like:
And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood menfrom every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them tobea kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
Evangelical Christians often claim Christ as their Lord and Savior. It is the Lion-Lamb who we celebrate at Easter. May we appreciate both elements of His character and celebrate with joy and gratitude.
Last month, churches across the United States in a 10-day fast for spiritual renewal. The Christian Union generated this initiative to encourage believers across the country to seek the Lord and place the church in a position to experience the Lord’s power in ministering to a culture that is in desperate need of God’s truth and grace.
While the Christian Union emphasized a focus on refraining from eating food, many pastors broadened the fasting concept to include any activity that might interfere with a focus on the Lord. I very much appreciate this concept, and as I’ve considered how the Lord would call me to participate, it has occurred to me that many of my indulgent non-edible habits that would be good candidates for fasting are in fact not good for me. Ever.
There are good reasons to fast from food. Our Lord did so before He started His public ministry. It is a good way to be reminded that we do not live on bread alone but by the power, Spirit, and Word of God. It is also a way to “reset” our priorities and affections to reflect our faith. And fasting from food encourages us to confront any ways that we express our sin nature by abusing food. But God made us to need food and He created food to sustain us. We cannot refrain from food indefinitely. Food is a good blessing from our heavenly Father.
God gives us other blessings, non-food blessings, that we also distort and pervert to please our sin nature. Whenever we use some thing or some activity to feel good about ourselves apart from God, whenever we depend on this thing or activity to earn or prove our value, that thing or activity becomes an idol. It separates us from God and limits what He can do in us and through us. A fast that encompasses such things and activities is appropriate. Some of these things and activities are like food: they are necessary and good. For example, we need to shop in order to acquire what we need. But shopping can also be perverted: we can develop a habit of shopping that is more about feeling good than it is about satisfying genuine needs. Exercising can fall into this category, as can ministry that becomes more and more about us and less and less about our Lord. The possibilities are, tragically, limitless. Other things and activities—also limitless—are in a different category: neither necessary nor good. Gambling and gossiping leap to mind as good examples.
A call to prayer and fasting is a powerful invitation to come before the Lord to be known and sanctified, to become equipped and empowered to serve the Lord and advance His kingdom’s purposes. We can join King David and come before the Lord, to ask Him to search us and know us, and to reveal our lifestyle patterns that reflect our sin nature rather than our faith relationship with Him. Prayer is a crucial component: our hearts are deceitful, and we are not capable of identifying our “pet” sins. But as our sin is revealed, we must confess and repent. Fasting from ingrained sin patterns may be a good start toward spiritual growth and maturity. Some of our favorite sin patterns may in fact be food-centered, but others may involve behaviors other than eating. A fast from those things and activities that the Lord reveals as problematic is an excellent Biblical prescription for spiritual renewal.
In a typical fast, we eliminate meals or all food for a short period of time. But we appropriately return to eating when the fast ends. However, as prayer and fasting reveal unnecessary things and activities that pull us away from the Lord, we have an opportunity to extend the benefits of a fast, to pursue an extended—indefinite—fast from those activities in order to put aside every encumbrance to a life of faith. We would do well to consider carefully what a time of prayer and fasting reveals to us. It may be that when our time of prayer and fasting has been concluded, extending a fast from idols and sinful habits will enable us to experience a richer relationship with the Lord and exercise a more powerful witness in the world.
Two years ago this month marks the two-year anniversary of our granddaughter’s emergency surgery when she was just nine days old. Although she appeared healthy at birth, our granddaughter was born with a congenital condition known as malrotation. Her intestines did not develop properly, leaving them predisposed to twisting. Such twisting makes it impossible to digest food and cuts the blood supply to the intestines.
No one in our family had ever heard of malrotation that morning two years ago. My husband and I were on a plane en route to northern Iowa to meet the newest addition to the family. When our plane landed, we learned that our new granddaughter had been vomiting “highlighter yellow” fluid and had been sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, by their local doctor.
By the time we arrived at Mayo, testing was completed. We had a brief opportunity to meet our new granddaughter before the pediatric surgeon rushed her into surgery. Not more than an hour later he returned, joking about the bad coffee and reassuring us that she was just fine. He also commented that the surgery had been just in time to save her intestines. Our granddaughter recovered quickly and without complications. It is fair to say that her parents and grandparents took longer to recover from the event.
Several months later, this same granddaughter experienced another bout of vomiting. Again, “highlighter yellow” fluid. Her parents quickly returned with her to Mayo, where testing reassured them that she was “just” vomiting. During their follow-up visit with the doctor a couple of weeks later, he reassured them that once he “fixed” the malrotation problem, it remained fixed.
There are a few aspects to this part of our family’s history that make the history quite relevant to the spiritual considerations that often accompany a new year. Although I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, a new year is a good time to deal anew with our sin problem in the context of our faith.
Often, our sins are hidden from us, much the same as our newborn granddaughter’s medical condition. We seem like nice people. We don’t lie, cheat, or steal. Nevertheless, we are fallen people in a fallen world. We are sinners. We need to come before the Lord and ask Him to reveal what we cannot see, the subtle and not so subtle ways we have failed to love. This is not something we can do ourselves. We need professional help, so to speak, to save us from our sin before it kills us. King David certainly appreciated the Lord’s revelatory work in his life: “You have searched me and known me.”
And just as our granddaughter’s condition needed immediate treatment, corrective measures must be taken once our sin has been revealed. Confession and repentance: a change in heart, thought life, lifestyle. Sometimes the corrective measures are dramatic, and spiritual surgery is necessary to remove the root of sin: “If your righteyemakes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Sin is serious and life-threatening and must be treated as such.
Finally, we must depend on the Lord’s forgiveness and His sanctifying work in us. Lingering guilt is one of the most potent weapons of our enemy, the accuser. But just as the pediatric surgeon fixed our granddaughter’s problem, our Redeemer has provided an ongoing and permanent fix to our sin problem: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We need not and must not rehearse our forgiven sins: when we do so, we presumptuously play God and focus on ourselves rather than on Him. Although we will undoubtedly continue to sin, we can continue to confess and repent and depend on the Lord’s forgiveness and redemptive work.
Living in a sinful world is tough, and our own sin makes it even tougher. But praise the Lord! He has not left us to die in our sins. Jesus died to cover our sins so that we can enjoy a restored relationship with Him. He has given us His Word and His indwelling Spirit to reveal our sins and lead us to confession and repentance. So while we do need to seek His professional spiritual help to correct what threatens our spiritual well-being, we no longer need to live in guilt and fear. Instead, we have the incredible privilege of living in faith before our Lord who became God Incarnate to die for our sins, who guides and guards us and is preparing us for our place in His kingdom.