Thursday, December 24, 2020

A Christmas Eve Meditation

 One of my favorite Christmas books (and subsequent film) is Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  In this timeless classic, the Grinch, who has a heart that is two sizes too small, decides to prevent Christmas from coming in the village of Who-ville by cleverly stealing all the food, decorations, and gifts as the Whos down in Who-ville slept on Christmas Eve.


After his hard night’s work, the Grinch was eagerly anticipating the disappointment in Who-ville when its residents discovered that Christmas had been stolen.  Much to his amazement, Christmas came anyway!  

                        Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,

                        Was singing!  Without any presents at all!

                        He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!

                        It CAME!

                        Somehow or other, it came just the same!


And so it was on that Christmas morning that the Grinch learned that Christmas means more than decorations, more than feasts, more than gifts.  And with that knowledge, the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day, and he was able to join the Whos in their celebration.


And in 2020, it may seem like the pandemic is trying to steal Christmas.  May we remember that Christmas will indeed come, just the same!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

An Advent Meditation

 Ready. Or. Not.  Christmas is coming…soon!  To be sure, the holidays are different this year.  Many of us are enduring grief, hardship, and stress.  Celebrations require a large measure of sensitivity, caring, compromise, and sacrifice.  We may not have much in the way of holiday spirit.  But that is exactly why Jesus came.


Jesus did not come because we—the human race—had our act together.  He came because we are—individually and collectively—a mess.  We are so in need of the Messiah.  And His coming is not so unlike the ages-old children’s game of Hide and Seek.  The hiders hide.  The seeker waits, and then shouts, “Ready or not, here I come!”  And then the seeker comes looking….


We may not be ready; or alternatively, we may be hiding in what we think is a very secure place or in a very good disguise.  But regardless of our location or circumstances, regardless of how ready we are or how we are doing, we can be absolutely certain that the Seeker is coming for us.


Of course, Hide and Seek is a game, and the coming of the Messiah is anything and everything but a game.  The advent of the Messiah is about eternal life and death.  But we can learn something important from the game: The glee in which the seeker in the game finds the hiders is a mere shadow of the joy that the eternal Seeker experiences when He seeks and finds the lost or seeks and comforts those who are already His own but are suffering and struggling.



Come, Lord Jesus…!

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Quote Of The Day

 "One thing this vaccine will not solve or cure is selfishness."

                                                        Tennessee Governor Bill Lee

Sunday, December 13, 2020

An Advent Meditation

 ‘Tis the season for decorations, special music, (virtual) gatherings, gifts, parties, and…nativity scenes.  Representations of the circumstances of Christ’s birth appear as ornaments, in church plays, and on lawns.  Although we don’t know the details of this momentous event:  We don’t know if Jesus was born in a stable, a cave, or even in the stone tower known as Migdal Eder.  But we often find it helpful to imagine them so that our minds have something of substance to ponder.


Of course nativity scenes feature the baby Jesus with His mother Mary and human father Joseph.  Usually included is a donkey that may have accompanied Mary and Joseph from Nazareth and often a cow and a lamb.  It is a warm, rural scene that emphasizes the contrast between the glories of heaven and the humble circumstances of Christ’s birth and earthly life.  


There is one animal that is consistently and remarkably absent from our nativity scenes.  We never see a snake.  Modern-day Israel is home to over forty species of snakes, and ancient Israel no doubt had a robust population.  It is not in the least unreasonable to speculate that a snake was present at the birth of Christ.


But it is not a generic snake that is in question here.  It is the serpent of old, Satan in the Garden of Eden, whose presence deserves our consideration.  After Satan, in the form of a serpent/snake, tempted Eve and provoked her to disobey God and initiate the fall, God pronounced judgment upon all involved.  His judgment upon Satan included a promise of redemption for Adam and Eve and their descendants—the Seed of Eve would crush the serpent’s head even as he would bruise this Seed’s heel.


And so even though we do not know if there was an actual snake at the birth of Christ, the serpent of old plays a prominent role in this drama.  His presence—literally or metaphorically—reminds us that the wondrous birth of Christ is a scene set in the battlefield of Good versus evil, of sacrifice and suffering to defeat the serpent, to purchase redemption, and to reclaim eternity for those who believe.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

An Advent Meditation

 In.  The.  Beginning.  Powerful words that begin the books of Genesis and the Gospel of John.  And while these phrases were originally written in different languages, they share the same meaning and are translated with the same words.  This has been recognized since the Old Testament was first translated into Greek by the scholars gathered together for that purpose.  En arche God created the heavens and the earth.  En arche was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.


As we walk through this Advent season and prepare to celebrate Christmas, the connection that the Apostle John makes with the book of Genesis is powerfully relevant.  The God who was and is the beginning of all things is the very same God who was and is the Word who came to live among us, to be our Immanuel, God with us, to reveal Himself in flesh and to save us as the Lamb of God.  


Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem, in time and space, was not a random event.  It is firmly anchored in the beginning of time; it is promised by God after the fall; it is prophesied by the prophets.  The I AM by Whom, through Whom, and for Whom all things have been created (Colossians 1:16) has emptied Himelf, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7).  


As we prepare to celebrate our Lord’s first coming and consider the reality of His second coming, may we remember and appreciate with awe and reverence the wonder of Immanuel, God with us. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

An Advent Meditation

 Today marks the first Sunday of Advent.  Many Christians all over the globe mark Advent as an important season to prepare for our celebration of the birth of Christ: Christmas.  Preparing our hearts and minds to celebrate the first coming of Christ and to welcome His second coming is of primary importance.  John the Baptist declared the arrival of kingdom come, and Jesus exhorted His disciples to remain alert and prepared for His return.  


Even the most spiritual of believers can become distracted by the peripheral preparations for Christmas: gift lists and purchasing, party planning, baking and meal preparation.  And in this COVID-saturated holiday season, we face stress and anxiety, frustration and fatigue, grief and loss.  It seems to me, though, that we can take comfort and encouragement from Matthew’s account of Joseph as the time Jesus was born:


Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.  When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.  Matthew 1:18-25.


Joseph is a humble carpenter, looking forward to marriage and a predictable life in his Jewish community.  And then he finds his world turned upside down!  Joseph’s wife-to-be is expecting a child despite the fact that they are not yet married and have not been intimate.  Matthew’s account is sparse, but it is easy to imagine the shock, grief, anger, and confusion filling Joseph’s heart and mind.  But even as he decides to separate from Mary in the most gracious way possible, an angel interrupts his grief and upends this plan.  Not only does a heavenly messenger appear to Joseph, but the angel addresses him as “Son of David,” reminding Joseph that he is descended from Israel’s greatest king.  The very real struggles of Joseph’s personal life are suddenly eclipsed by the angel’s revelation of God’s greater purposes.  Again, Matthew gives us few details.  We are left to ponder Joseph’s departure from his “micro” personal life and his entry into a life that is intertwined with the fulfillment of God’s eternal purposes and promises.  Matthew tells us that Joseph is a just man, a good Jew.  Without doubt, he knows God’s Word and is waiting with all faithful Jews for the Messiah.  As the angel reminds Joseph that he is a descendant of David, the Law and the Prophets converge, centuries of Jewish history come into sharp focus, and Joseph is confronted with the enormous reality that the LORD is using him to fulfill the LORD’s glorious and eternal purposes.


And so here we are.  In some ways, at least, we are not unlike Joseph.  We do our best to live by faith in our day-to-day lives.  We are beset by the trials and troubles of life as fallen people in a fallen world.  And we are sometimes blind-sided by unexpected interruptions in our plans if not by outright tragedy.  Without minimizing in the least the significance of our trials, we can take Joseph’s story as an encouraging reminder that we are, in fact, part of the Lord’s larger, glorious, eternal plan.  Even as we find ourselves reeling from life on this side of the kingdom, even as we continue to adjust to life in a pandemic, we can be comforted that the Messiah has come, and we can be confident that He is returning—to redeem us for all eternity.  The season of Advent is an invitation to remember not only that Jesus came because He cares about our trials and troubles but also to remember that those trials and troubles are only a part of our story.  Advent is our opportunity to prepare for redemption and to proclaim it.  The kingdom of God is at hand!

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

The Doing and Being of Thanksgiving

 ‘Tis the season…to give thanks.  Thanksgiving is the time when we are reminded to give thanks, though giving thanks is best practiced as a daily exercise in our lives year round.


Why do we give thanks?  In The Book of Common Prayer, used by the Episcopal Church, congregants are exhorted to give thanks unto the Lord because it is meet and right so to do.  King David exhorts his readers throughout his writings to acknowledge the greatness and goodness of the Lord and offer Him praise and thanks.  The Apostle Paul instructs his Thessalonian readers to rejoice always and in everything give thanks.


So is giving thanks a duty that we do as a perfunctory matter of obedience?  Certainly, there are challenges to gratitude in our world and lives today; we may not feel grateful, may not feel like giving thanks.  We are living in a pandemic, with its associated anxiety, grief, and relational and economic pressures.  But just as certainly, there were challenges to gratitude last year, before COVID-19 was a thing.  King David faced his share of challenges to gratitude as he places complaints and cries of distress right alongside his offerings of praise and thanksgiving.  And the Apostle Paul reminds his Corinthian readers that he had been beaten with rods, stoned, and shipwrecked three times.  Neither man of God minimizes or denies his hardship and pain.  And yet, there is not the slightest hint of obligation in the expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving offered by David and Paul.  It very much seems that thanksgiving need not be particularly dependent on or reflective of our circumstances.


James encourages his readers to Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  James reminds his readers—and us—that even trials can be cause for thanksgiving when we remember that our faithful and redemptive Lord will use all things for our great good.


And yet, it seems to me that giving thanks must also reach beyond our circumstances.  When we cultivate a grateful heart and persistently exercise our thanksgiving muscles, we are changed, transformed.  We become grateful people who reflect the goodness of the living God abiding in us in the presence of the Holy Spirit.


In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis observes that “We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.”  As we consider this season of Thanksgiving and holiday celebrations in the midst of pandemic struggles, we may begin to give thanks out of a desire to obey or a sense of duty.  But let us not stop there!  May we follow the model set by King David and the Apostle Paul and become genuinely and deeply grateful people before the Lord.


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Thought For The Day: Faith, Hope, and Love

 "Faith goes up the stairs that love has built and looks out the window which hope has opened."

                                                                                                               Charles Spurgeon

Saturday, October 3, 2020

In Our Back Pocket

 As we negotiate the transition to a new season of weather, activities, and commitments in the context of a continuing pandemic, we face multiple, often overlapping challenges.  And although we can’t change our challenges, the way we respond to these challenges has a tremendous potential to change us.  Indeed, the way we respond to our challenges will determine the way we experience our days. 


I am an enthusiastic advocate for a redemption mindset, one that depends upon Paul’s reassurance in Romans 8 that our Lord will work all things in our lives for our good.  I will add a Biblical postscript to this verse and remind us that the Lord’s redemptive purposes work not only for our good but for His glory.  


There are limitless ways the Lord can do His redemptive thing as we walk through our days.  I would like to focus on one of them that applies to all of us: the way we interact with others.  Social distancing and COVID restrictions do not eliminate many of our interactions, but they do generally make them more challenging.  And this is exactly where Christ wants to do His work in us and through us.  As we allow Christ to do His sanctifying work in us through His Holy Spirit, we partake in the nature of Christ and become His ministers in a needy world.


In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul has this to say: Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.  (Colossians 4:6).  And in his letter to Titus, Paul instructs Titus to remind his congregation to be ready for every good deed (Titus 3:1).


So how do we do this in the emotional and stressed interactions that are becoming more and more common?  There is the certainty of the abiding Holy Spirit.  Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would give them the words to speak in the midst of persecution, and while we may not be in exactly that position, we have every reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is continually at work in us.  Beyond that, as we take responsibility to be ready for every good deed and to speak with grace, I think the concept of “pocket phrases” can be extremely helpful. 


Solomon, in Proverbs 15:1 exhorts us with this truth: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  A pocket phrase is a thoughtfully-prepared, gentle response that we can pull out of our pocket, so to speak, when we are taken by surprise or in the emotional heat of a moment.  This does not mean that we follow a script or a flow chart.  Nor does it mean that we suspend boundaries and enable destructive behavior.  But if we have a small collection of gracious phrases at our immediate disposal, we will be able to meet the demand of the moment while allowing our mind to manage the emotion and give the Holy Spirit a chance.


Here are a few pocket phrases that I have used and recommend to others:


·      I’m sorry; I did not mean to offend you.

·      I am sorry you feel that way.

·      Please let me think about it.

·      Is there a way for us to work this out?

·      I am afraid you may have misunderstood me.

·      Do you mind if…?

·      Is there something I can do to help?


Multiple Gospel accounts remind us that not everyone responded well to Jesus’s words, and it would be unrealistic to think that our experience will be different.  We need not belabor unconstructive conversations.  Sometimes, we need to simply wish the other person well and walk away, allowing the Judge to rule according to His character.  When we do have a negative encounter despite our best attempts to manifest Christ, we can take consolation that we are experiencing what our Master did and be encouraged by the truth that the way someone treats us (or the way someone speaks to us) says everything about him/her and nothing about us.  Our identity and value remain firmly grounded in Christ.  Regardless of the outcome of our efforts, we can praise the Lord that He is doing His work in us and giving us the incredible privilege of communicating His truth and grace.  


Saturday, September 19, 2020

Therapists and Counselors

 “Therapists aren’t people who you ‘pay to pretend to care about you,’ therapists are people you pay to teach you how to care for yourself.”

                                                                              Author Unknown

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

An Issue of Vision

 I needed eye surgery recently.  The surgery was an unanticipated event to correct a problem that I had never heard of.  I learned that the sudden distortion that was affecting my ability to read represented what is known as a macular pucker.  

 I have learned that a macular pucker is the result of damage to the retina.  As we age, the vitreous, which is a jelly-like substance that fills the inside of our eyes, often pulls away from the retina.  This detachment can damage the retina.  In my case, I noticed a sudden onset of multiple “floaters.”  And even though I did not experience a retinal tear or detachment, there was enough damage to marshal my body’s healing forces.  Over the course of a few years, scar tissue built up and began to pull on the vitreous that remained intact, causing the macula—the central part of the retina that is responsible for close vision—to wrinkle.  And so whenever I focused on small print, I found that the word was distorted.  It was quite alarming to realize that I was unable to read confidently.


Fortunately, a macular pucker can be treated.  A delicate, sophisticated surgical procedure removes the offending vitreous and scar tissue, reducing the stress on the macula and offering some level of improved vision.  And although the improvement can take as long as three months to be realized, I am most grateful to report that my ability to read fine print was largely restored a week after the surgery.


It has occurred to me that the phenomenon known as a macular pucker in the physiological realm has something to teach us about the spiritual realm.  As sinners in a sinful world, we sustain a good bit of internal damage to our hearts and spirits.  Some of this damage is of our own doing; a good bit of it is inflicted upon us by other sinners.  On this side of God’s kingdom, it is unavoidable.  


Sometimes, the damage we sustain is so painful that we avoid dealing with it, denying or minimizing the pain.  We “let it go” and move on without genuinely resolving the issue.  Over time, emotional and spiritual scar tissue can develop.  And then, our spiritual vision—our perspective—can become distorted.  We practice Christianity more to meet expectations than to express a vibrant, living relationship with Almighty God.  We react negatively to people and events that remind us of past pain as we misinterpret current events according to the past.  Our distorted “sight” handicaps us, and we struggle to give and receive love.


But the Gospel is Good News indeed!  Jesus came to redeem us—to take our sin and our pain and use those very negative issues to draw us to Him.  He takes that sin and pain upon Himself and offers us freedom and healing.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, He removes our spiritual and emotional scar tissue.  But our redemption—and the restoration of our spiritual sight--requires our participation: we must practice confession, repentance, and forgiveness.  And then our spiritual vision can be restored!  We are able to approach others with open hearts and know peace and joy as we minister in the name of Christ.


To be sure, God’s work in us can be intimidating, not unlike my eye surgery.  Often, we are blind to our distorted perspective, and we need the help of a faithful brother or sister to expose it.  And once we recognize that the scars of this life have twisted us away from God and away from others, we are required to acknowledge a need that we cannot meet on our own.  It is our Lord who covers our sin and redeems our pain even as we confess, repent, and forgive.  And just as I needed prayer support to manage the stress of my surgery, we need the patience, encouragement, and unconditional love of our brothers and sisters to support us as we allow the Great Physician to do His work in us.




Monday, September 7, 2020

Nice Is Overrated

“You’re so nice!”  I cringe inside when I hear these words.  While I understand—and appreciate—the affirmation and compliment, “nice” is not my target.  From a Biblical perspective, nice is not a virtue we are encouraged to pursue.  In my New American Standard Bible, “nice” appears once, at the end of Jeremiah 12:6: “Do not believe them, although they may say nice things to you.”  In this passage, Jeremiah is warning the people of Israel to beware of manipulative flattery.  And manipulation and flattery are often packaged in niceness.  But even without negative intent or connotation, nice is superficial.  Nice is often used as a substitute for depth and caring in the context of relationship.  And in our rushed, performance-oriented culture, it is easy to settle for nice—on both the giving and receiving ends. 


I believe that there is a good reason that Scripture does not promote “nice.”  God does not manipulate.  He proved this when He shared His free will with us in creation.  And God is most definitely not interested in superficiality.  Please consider Jesus’s interaction with the woman who sought healing from a hemorrhage that had plagued her for 12 years, as recorded in Luke 8:43-48.  We read that this woman risked public rejection by appearing in her unclean state; she manages to get close enough to Jesus to touch His robe.  She is healed!  But that is not the end of the story.  Even though Jesus is trying to walk forward amid a large and pressing crowd, He recognizes that healing power has left him; He stops and insists on identifying her and having a conversation with her.  Although Jesus is undoubtedly happy to “nicely” heal her, He doesn’t stop there.  He wants real relationship with this woman.   There is also a deep kindness associated with Jesus’s insistence on bringing the woman forth.  As embarrassing as it must have been for her, Jesus’s declaration of her healing would have put her well on the way to re-acceptance in her community.


As we negotiate life as fallen people in a fallen world, it is easy to compromise on many fronts: integrity, self-care, time management, relationships.  It is absolutely vital to remember that we serve a Triune God, a God of internal relationship who created us to participate in that intimacy with Him and to develop it with one another.  Our Lord calls us to be loving, kind, gracious, merciful, forbearing, and encouraging in our relationships.  Learning to do so helps us to partake in the nature of Christ, to become who He has created us to be and to become fit for heaven.  May we remember that the pleasure of nice is fleeting and not settle for anything less than the deep connection that our Lord desires for us.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Words From and For the Wise

 "Be careful how you use words and time.  You can't get either of them back."

                                                                                                Bil and Jeff Keane

                                                                                                The Family Circus


Friday, August 28, 2020

Image-Bearers of God!

 In the beginning, God created mankind—man and woman—in His image, with a significant purpose.  This, in God’s own words, was very good.  A foundational truth of humanity is we humans are created for eternal glory and eternally glorious purposes.  But all too soon the glory is masked in sin.  We read in Genesis that Satan, in the form of a serpent, initiates a conversation with the woman.  The end result is that Eve is pulled into what I call The Garden Game.  She makes a choice to do life herself, grasping the fruit that would make her like God and independent of Him. 


As the man joins the woman, Adam and Eve experience fear and shame instead of the power and freedom they undoubtedly expect.  And so it becomes more and more difficult to feel significant, created for glory.  What follows in the stories of Genesis is what I call the Compare and Compete Game: Since it can be pretty difficult to feel good about ourselves as our sinful selves, we settle for comparing ourselves favorably to others.  It begins when Adam blames Eve—and God Himself, who gave her to him—for his fatal choice in the Garden of Eden.  The Compare and Compete Game continues with the stories of Cain and Able, Sarah and Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, Joseph and his brothers, and so on….And God’s glory continues to fade.


A few weeks ago, Andy Straubel, Windsor Chapel’s pastor, preached a sermon from James and highlighted the conflicts that arise when believers compare and compete with one another.  We grumble and complain, quarrel and covet as we pursue significance apart from God.  And the phenomenon of feeling good about ourselves by comparing ourselves to others is front and center as our world deals with inequality and injustice at the hands of racial, gender, and socio-economic differences.


It is becoming more and more evident to me that I am highly skilled at playing the Compare and Compete game in particularly quiet and subtle ways.  While I may not often quarrel and covet, I am very sorry to admit that it is all too easy for me to look at others from a critical perspective.  This is not my intention or desire!  I am committed to honoring and encouraging others as image-bearers of our Creator.  But if I am not vigilant, it can be terrifyingly easy for my sin nature to poke and prod me, to twist and tweak my perspective so that the first thing I notice about someone is something that is on the negative side of the ledger.  


As I have brought this before the Lord in confession and repentance, I have been met with an invitation to take responsibility for the way I view and subsequently interact with others.  I am consciously and actively directing my eyes and heart toward the God qualities manifested in each person I encounter.  I am learning, by persistent practice, to be quicker to notice good qualities and less quick to notice the not-so-good qualities.  This is not to deny sin, and it does not preclude the setting of appropriate boundaries on my part.  But it is an exercise in honoring my Creator as I honor His creatures.  It also honors the Lord’s desire for me, to find my identity, value, and significance in Him and not in my relative place among my peers, my reputation, or what others think of me.  


Our Christian faith is founded on the truth that Jesus Christ died for our sins, to save us from the penalty and power of sin.  And yet we continue to struggle with our sin nature as we wait for Christ’s coming and initiation of His eternal kingdom.  As the body of Christ, we can learn from Christ as we study the Gospels.  The Gospels are replete with accounts of Jesus looking beyond sin and the accoutrements of sin in order to touch hearts and lives with His truth and grace.  It is not that sin did not and does not matter.  To be sure, sin matters enough that Jesus died on the cross to earn our salvation from the its penalty and power.  But Jesus has demonstrated for us in the Gospel accounts that the most effective way to confront sin is by relationship, and relationship is rarely built on a foundation of comparison or nurtured by a spirit of condemnation.  As we affirm others as image-bearers of the God of the universe, we bring God into the sin picture as well, and this in turn brings confession and repentance out of the realm of our performance and into the realm of His truth and grace.  He invites us to join Him in this exercise.  It blesses others as we become more able to genuinely bless and encourage.  And it blesses us as we partake in the nature of Christ, become more like Him, and are better able to participate in His kingdom’s work.  




Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Thought For Many Days....

 Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.

                                                                                          C.S. Lewis

Saturday, July 25, 2020

A Language Beyond Hearing and Sight

"Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see."

                                                                                         Mark Twain

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Beginning and the End

In the beginning, God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—created the heavens and the earth, land and sea, sun and moon, vegetation of all kinds, and a multiplicity of creatures.  It was good.  Then, He made man—male and female—in His image.  And it was very good.  It was very good until man chose to use his God-given free will to defy God and try to become his own master.  God’s glorious creation fell.  At the time, God promised redemption, but it would be a long time coming.  God and man, Part One.

In the fullness of time, God the Father sent His only begotten Son Jesus to earth, in human flesh: God incarnate.  Jesus spent three years proclaiming that He—the Son of Man mentioned by the prophet Daniel—had come to initiate the redemption of the fallen world.  At the end of those three years of public ministry, Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sin of Adam and Eve and their descendants.  The Apostle Paul describes it this way: “But the free gift is not like the transgression.  For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.”  (Romans 5:15).

The incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of God’s promise of redemption after Adam and Eve fell.  But just as the story of creation and the fall involved both God and man, so does the story of redemption.  Our redemption has been purchased by the blood of Christ.  But.  Man—each man, each woman—has a role to play in the redemption story.  We can access the redemption paid for and offered by Christ only by faith.  We must make the choice to make Christ our Lord and Savior, to recognize that His way is better than ours.  This is, in essence, an invitation to return to the Garden of Eden and make our choice: to abide in Christ or to pursue our own way…. God and man, Part Two.

Jesus Christ is indeed the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  He is our beginning: He created each of us, forming our inner parts in our mothers’ wombs.  He is also our end: He will be our Savior, or our Judge.  

The moment we choose to become bond-servants of Christ, to be saved by faith in His grace, we begin our path toward heaven.  We can rest in that salvation, depending on Christ’s faithfulness even as we struggle with our sin nature.  Again, the Apostle Paul assures us that He will perfect the work He has begun in us (Philippians 1:6).  Paul also exhorts us to partner with His Holy Spirit: “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”  (Philippians 2:12-13).  This is one of the New Testament’s great mysteries.  At the very least, it is an invitation to pursue Christ as our Omega, our eternal end, choosing moment by moment to make Him our Lord and Savior.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Struggle in a Life of Faith

"We can't do away with a sense of struggle in the Christian life.  Struggle is biblical, and authentic desire is often rooted in struggle....Struggle, in fact, is prerequisite to surrender because it necessarily signals that a battle has raged before the raising of a white flag."

                                                                            Jen Pollock Michel
                                                                            Teach Us to Want

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Masked Man and the Masked Woman

We are living in an entirely unexpected time.  Masks have become a required component of our public wardrobe.  I don’t know anyone who likes, or wants, to wear a mask.  But the whole mask thing gives us a good bit to ponder.

The invasion of the Covid virus has generated a good bit of controversy as to how seriously we need to take it.  Some see it as no more than a bad flu, though the mainstream view is to take it far more seriously.  Along with the diverse opinions about the virus itself and how to best respond to its presence, there are diverse opinions about masks.  On the one hand, some people regard mask wearing as personal protection and then extend that perspective to regard mask wearing as a symbol of fear, and optional.  On the other hand, others view masks as a necessary and appropriate means of participating in community health.  Regardless of your perspective on the matter, wearing a mask carries with it a good bit of Biblical support.

Medical professionals have made it quite clear that the purpose of the wearing a mask is not to protect ourselves nearly as much as it is to protect others from our own virus particles should we be housing any.  And from that viewpoint, Christians have a vested interest in mask wearing.  It is now what love looks like.  In his letter to the Philippian church, the Apostle Paul tells his readers to regard others as more important than themselves.  We believers now have a unique opportunity to choose to wear an uncomfortable and stifling mask as a way of caring for others; more particularly, our mask wearing honors our Lord’s regard for the weak and vulnerable.  And if we apply Romans 14 to this situation, we would use our freedom in Christ to regard the weak from a position of humility rather than superiority.  

There is yet another Christian aspect to mask-wearing.  Since the point of wearing a mask is to help us keep our germs to ourselves, a mask can be a symbol of our taking responsibility for our “stuff” and not inflicting it on others.  In a world of blame and shame, of the good offense as the best defense philosophy, taking responsibility for our germs—literal and metaphorical—is also a most appropriate and powerful way to love others.

But even though wearing a mask can be a contemporary way to demonstrate love, there is still a part of mask wearing that bothers me.  God is the God of truth, and when Christ walked on earth as God Incarnate, He strongly denounced any form of hypocrisy, pretense, and self-righteousness.  The Gospels are full of accounts involving the redemption of ragged sinners, misfits, and outcasts.  The woman wishing to be healed by merely touching Christ’s robe encountered a Lord who rejected her desire to be anonymous, wishing instead to initiate a genuine, personal, real relationship with her.  Wearing a mask carries a historical connotation of hiding something, of pretense, of not being completely honest and transparent: everything that Christianity is not.

So, what can we do about the inherent tension in wearing a mask?  There is no one perfect, universal answer.  I would suggest that a good part of practicing Christianity as we wear a mask involves our thought-life as much as anything else.  If you are like me, I fumble to get my mask secured well enough behind my ears to not slip off, and I become hot and claustrophobic quickly.  It is easy to get cranky!  But if I set my mind to the association between wearing a mask and loving others, I will be in a much better position to treat others with patience and kindness as I wear my mask and deal with those around me.  And if I remain mindful that my mask is for safety purposes and not a screen to hide behind, I can intentionally be genuine and authentic in my words and behaviors.

There is no doubt that this is a time of uncertainty, anxiety, and suffering.  But it is also an opportunity to love others, and in doing so, to invite the Holy Spirit to conform our character to that of Christ in order to love better and more deeply.  May we wear our masks to God’s glory.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Temporal Trials VS. Eternal Truth

In these days of Coronavirus lockdown, time has taken on new dimensions in our household.  Without the rhythms of everyday life out in the world, we are finding it quite easy to lose track of time.  The uniformity of our day-to-day lives that is associated with our virus-imposed seclusion has created a sense of suspended animation that seems quite contrary to linear time.  As the world continues to fight Covid-19 and restrictions remain in place, it is easy to feel that life will never change.  

But the good news is that eternity has nothing to do with Covid-19; the virus has no place there.  The Apostle Paul tells us at the end of I Corinthians 13 that only three things remain: faith, hope, and love.  And while Coronavirus news may dominate our lives at the moment, we would be well served by considering that when all is said and done, it is faith, hope, and love that will define our reality.  At the moment, I would like to take a brief look at faith.

The author of Hebrews describes faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  It is a settled and secure position that rests on a firm foundation.  The world offers many possible alternative faith foundations: government, science, the intrinsic goodness of people, community, and a generalized spirituality are popular examples.  But the Bible tells us that reliance on such worldly powers will certainly and eventually lead to disappointment rather than fulfillment.  

If we want a faith that will in truth provide the unseen things that we hope for, we must choose our foundation carefully.  In the Gospels of Matthew (Chapter 7) and Luke (Chapter 6), Jesus uses the analogy of the foundation of a home to teach his listeners the importance of an unmovable spiritual foundation: Just as it is important to build a home upon a deep, strong foundation, it is vital to build our spiritual foundation on a solid and immovable base.  In the spiritual realm, it is truly a matter of eternal life and death.  What we believe is what we will have to cling to when storms and trials come.  C.S. Lewis has this to say: “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.  It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box.  But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice.  Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”  

While science, government, and the good will of people and community may well be used by God and may help in the midst of this pandemic, they have little to offer in regard to eternity.  If we want to live by eternal values, we must build our faith upon the only truly trustworthy foundation.  We must indeed be sure that our foundation will resist the worst of storms, that our rope will hold us as we dangle from it.  The Apostle Paul makes this observation:

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith is in vain.  Moreover, we are even found to be false witnesses of Go, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in dead in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. 

It is of the utmost importance that we build our faith on a real, unshakable foundation.  How can we be sure?  We return to the words of Paul:

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep….thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

The bedrock truth of Christ crucified and Christ risen becomes the foundation of our faith.  We can bet our eternal kingdom on it!  

And once we have our firm eternal foundation of faith in place, we can live in the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen in the here and now.  Even though we continue to battle an unseen virus among us, there are other unseen realities of an eternal nature that deserve our attention as well.  Here are just a few:

John 14:2—"In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

John 16:33—"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
Philippians 1:6—For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

As we find ourselves living in unprecedented times, we will need to find our hope and confidence, choose the foundation of our faith, every day, moment by moment.  May we choose wisely and encourage others to do so as well!

Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday in a Pandemic

Good Friday.  A day set aside by the Christian church to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ and to remember the sacrifice that He made on the cross in order to redeem us sinners.  For centuries, believers all over the globe have gathered in groups small and large to solemnly celebrate this most significant event.  But now, in the midst of a pandemic, believers are not gathering in groups.  There are very few church services proceeding according to tradition.  But Good Friday is here nonetheless, and this day reminds us that even the darkest of days fall within God's redemptive plan.  But beyond that, Covid-19 bears a striking resemblance to the events of Good Friday in one particular regard.

While many of those struck by the Coronavirus have no or few symptoms, others struggle with it for days if not weeks.  Still others find themselves hospitalized, and some of those require extreme medical intervention: their lungs are so ravaged by the virus that they need a ventilator to do what they cannot do for themselves: Breathe.

Christ died on the cross in order to save a sin-sick world, doing what we cannot do for ourselves: Pay the penalty for our sin.  But while only a small percentage of Coronavirus victims require a ventilator, our sin nature is 100% fatal--for body, soul, and spirit--without the intervention of a Savior.

As we negotiate a "new normal" amidst this pandemic, most sectors of humanity are battling to mitigate suffering and save lives.  We do for people what they cannot do for themselves.  In the end, though, we will all face death in some form or fashion (unless the Lord returns!).  Our sin yields   death to our bodies.  But thanks be to God!  By the death of Christ, He has paid the ransom to rescue us from our sin.  Our souls and spirits will be united with Him for eternity, and we can look forward to receiving new, imperishable bodies.

May Good Friday be good indeed in our hearts and prayers on this holy day.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Encouragement In Anxious Days

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
                                             J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Thought For The Day

"He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only."

                                                                                               C.S. Lewis
                                                                                                The Weight of Glory


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Pandemic Ponderings, #1

These are challenging times, indeed.  The threat or reality of the Coronavirus has changed our lives in real time.  I have read it and heard it many times over the past weeks, but it is worth repeating: God is still here, and He loves us.  As we and those around us struggle and suffer, it is easy to doubt God’s love and even His very existence.  

We are fallen people in a fallen world.  That is our choice, not God’s.  And since He desires most of all a real-deal-of-our-own-free-will relationship with us, He will not suspend the consequences of humankind’s willful independence from Him.  To be sure, our loving and merciful Lord intervenes at times, but the fallen world, and its inhabitants, remain; evil, sin, sickness, and death continue.  And God hates it.  

Since God has chosen to respect our free will in favor of genuine relationship, He manifests His goodness and love by means of redemption.  Christians look forward to our eventual redemption when God accepts Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins, and we are welcomed into heaven.  But redemption is who God is—it is part of His nature and character.  So while we wait for our eventual complete redemption, we can depend on His working His redemptive purposes in us and through us as we go about our lives in the here and now.

Please consider with me the power of the following passages:

Romans 8:28—And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Ephesians 5:3-5—And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;  and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Many folks have observed that these are uncharted times.  That may be true for us, but it is most definitely not true for the Lord.  We can depend on His omniscient, sovereign work of redemption in us, through us, and on our behalf.  He’s got this.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Thought for Today, This Week, and This Month

"In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”


Friday, February 7, 2020

The Not-So-Basics of Body Life

God is a God of relationship.  He is the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in relationship within the Godhead.  We are created in His image, for relationship, with Him and with one another.  The middle chapters of Genesis record God calling Abraham to become the father of many nations and to become the father of His people, the nation of Israel.  The Old Testament Law reflects God’s love for His people and His desire for them to love one another well.  As they fail to do that, we read later in the Old Testament about God scolding His people through His prophets for oppressing the weak and vulnerable.  

The New Testament underscores God as a relational God as the Father sends the Son to live among us, to save us, and to show us what the love of God looks like in the warp and woof of daily life.  Jesus walked in and among sinners, welcoming the weak and needy.  He also trained and empowered His disciples to serve others even as He was serving them.  He sent them out in pairs because ministry is hard, and we need one another as we go about fulfilling the Lord’s purpose for us.

“One another” verses in the New Testament are varied and plentiful, illustrating the importance of nurturing life among members of the body of Christ.  It is only as we practice these one another passages that we grow strong in faith, become who the Lord created us to be, and fulfill His purposes for us, both individually and corporately.  Like it or now, we are so dependent on relationship that we are not able to fulfill God’s purposes for our personal, individual life without practicing and experiencing the one anothers.

There is one “one another” passage I would like to bring to our attention.  In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”  (Galatians 6:2).  And then, in completing his thought, Paul admonishes his readers—just three verses later: “For each one will bear his own load.”  (Galatians 6:5).

The apparent inconsistency in our English translations is resolved when we investigate the actual Greek words that Paul used.  The word for burden in Verse 2 carries the connotation of a particularly heavy and difficult burden, while the word for load in Verse 5 carries the connotation of an expected responsibility.  And so we understand that Paul is exhorting believers to take responsibility for themselves and also help brothers and sisters who are struggling with unusually difficult loads.  This seems quite reasonable, and we tend to nod at this truth and move on.

But even though we can readily understand this passage, I am less sure that we follow Paul’s instructions as well as he would like.  It is simply not that easy to always distinguish reasonable personal responsibility from an unreasonably difficult load.  Indeed, there is a good bit of subjective judgement involved for all concerned.  What is unbearable or overwhelming for one person may be routine for someone else.  And, when we add other factors—perceptions of expectations, personality, life experience—it becomes even more complex.  Do we persevere, or ask for help? Conversely, do we encourage a brother/sister to persevere, or do we offer to help?

There is no formula or flow chart to answer these questions.  I would like to suggest that we consider a “both and” approach rather than an “either or.”  In other words, we can honor Paul’s words even in the uncertainty that attends them. We can encourage a struggling brother and sister to persevere in faith even as we do what we can to help with their load.  And, we can ask for help even as we walk in faith through a challenging time.  

In order to do this, we must develop an essential Godly characteristic: humility.  In our contemporary American culture, it is easy to want to do it ourselves, on our own strength.  Coupled with our prideful sin nature, it can be exceedingly difficult to ask for help.  Our pride fuels self-focus so that we can miss the needs of others.  And when we do see a need, our pride and self-reliance can make it difficult to see someone in need of help without feeling somehow superior.  And when our offers to help fuel our pride and elevate our opinions of ourselves, we move far away from Paul’s intent.  Finally, as we cultivate a spirit of humility, we become more able to be genuine in our need and in needing the needs of others, which brings us back to relationship building.  Although we may never achieve the perfect balance of personal responsibility and burden sharing, humbly and actively exercising both proclaims the love of Christ to the world and blesses His body—us—with ever deepening relationships.