Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Adversity

Adversity confronts us at every turn in life—trials, injustice, temptations, and disappointments—from above, below and all around. In the midst of God’s abundant blessings come the heartaches of adversities that expose, reveal and prove a man’s faith: the loss of property, health, or dignity—the slander, deceit, or evil actions of an enemy—the betrayal, cowardice or abandonment of a friend—and worst of all, the disappointment, disgust, and shame of our own failures. If we are not prepared, all these can bring us to the point of utter despair.

It turns out that sin is indeed much worse than we first thought it was, whether it is our own or someone else’s. A fallen world is at best a bittersweet place even for a redeemed sinner. Only in the sin-free zone of heaven will there be “no more sorrow,” and “no more tears.” Since adversity is a given in this life, the only question left is, how will we respond to it when we encounter it? What shall we make of it? Shall it ring us out like a rag and leave us dry and empty, or shall it be the means of our refining so that a purer faith remains? Will the adversarial sand rub us raw or will the abrasion polish and make us shine? Will the root of bitterness spring up, destroying us and defiling many, or will we “greatly rejoice” over the fact that God is working to conform us to the image of His Son? Job poses the question this way: “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (2:10); the answer to this question will comprise the last line of the story of our lives.

In one sense, adversity introduces a man to himself—it is here alone that he gets a genuine glimpse of who he really is—here alone his faith and character are tested, proven and exposed. All men are sailors when the sea is calm, but at some point the wind-shift comes, the storm waves rise, and we find out what he is made of. The Bible calls on us to act in heroic proportions at the very point where we want run and take cover—loving our enemies, not returning evil for evil, blessing those who curse us, turning the other cheek, humbling ourselves before the mighty hand of God by genuine confession and repentance—these valiant responses are what turn adversity into our ally.

Participating in the Plan of God

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Eccl. 3:11).These words, at first, might steal our confidence. Do you mean we are not in control of the events of tomorrow?

As mere men—as creatures—we have no power. If we could, we would predestine every event of the coming year to suit ourselves. Yet, such providence is not within our grasp—we are powerless to control the future. Such thoughts might lead us to hopeless despair. Considered alone, we are but sand in the cogs of time.

However, for the one who trusts in God, these words become our complete comfort. The all-wise, all-knowing God, who loves us with an everlasting love, is in complete control of all events. His timing is perfect. His plan is perfect. We are part of that perfect plan. No event of our life is without purpose. And He is working all those events together for our good! God’s plan is personal: “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand” (John 10:28-29).

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Bitter-Free New Year

Bitterness is one of the most insidious sins; it’s a sneaky little devil. It can defile individuals, families, churches and cultures little-by-little. Unlike momentary sins, bitterness is a sin that like to hang around; it likes to simmer until done. It is relentless in is corroding work. If not decisively dealt with, it grows over time. It likes to be nursed. Bitterness is a form of anger that often consumes those in its path. It does even more damage to the container that holds this corrosive than it does to the objects upon which it is poured.

I have seen bitterness up close and personal. This is a sin most of us wrestle with. I have seen what it does to bitter individuals over time. I have seen what a bitter person can do to others over time. I have observed what it does in the broader Church. As a person grows older the bitterness shows in the face and voice; it becomes the undertone of all that the bitter person does. No one wants to be around a leaking drum of toxic waste.

To conquer the sin of bitterness is to ensure, not only your happiness and peace, but also to spare many others misery as well. Bitterness is something that tempts us to be distracted, and this keeps us from looking where God’s Word requires us to look. And because bitterness has deceived many, it is our responsibility to pray that the God of heaven would teach us to be wise about this great evil. And so, let’s do inventory and rid the house of all the bitter herbs that have found a place in our pantry. Let’s start the New Year filled with joy, hope, and fresh expectations.



Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled. (Heb. 12:14-15).

NOTE: I would highly recommend that you read (or re-read) Pastor Jim Wilson's essay on “How to Be Free from Bitterness.” You can download it
HERE.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Three More Feast Days

Tomorrow is The Feast of Stephen (Deacon and Martyr).
Saturday is The Feast of St. John (Apostle and Evangelist).
Sunday is The Feast of the Holy Innocents (sermon on Sunday).

Cheers!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Christmas Circle

For children, Christmas time is Wonder Land. It’s all bigger than life; full of excitement, anticipation, joy, and fantasy—toys and candy, laughter and love. For the Christian child, he is smothered with affection. All is calm, all is bright! The story of the baby Jesus is lovely and assuring; new life and new hope.

As we grow older, our childhood vision shifts to new horizons; new dreams and expectations. At some point our affections are cast in a new direction to that special person with whom we desire to spend our Christmases snuggled together by the family hearth. We imagine our lives intertwined and see a future of many happy Christmases together. We are full of dreams and plans, of grand accomplishments and successes, many of which never come to pass. Instead, unexpected accomplishments and successes filled their place alongside the disappointments.

As time marches on, Christmas becomes a time of remembrance, a milestone of life where we pause to reflect and mark time by the birthday of Christ. We are tempted to have regrets over things that never were, or that have now come and gone. They seem to be a part of some ancient dream which we now see more dimly. What has it meant and has it been worth all the toil and tears; that journey from Wonderland to what we call reality?


Upon reflection, we discover that even the failures and unachieved goals of our youth turn out to be the hand of God that taught us lessons we could not have otherwise learned. And thus, we should be more thankful for the kind providences of God, especially as we consider all those who gather with us for Christmas; our parents and children and siblings and spouses who now sit with us on Christmas and form the circle of our lives.

We can still aspire and dream, for we still live, and shall, moreover, continue in our children; our hopes for the future are seen in them. Those bright and honest eyes remind us; their childish delight helps us recall the simple pleasures, and for a moment we cannot hear the march of time. Their joy and contentment confirms our long labors. New hopes are born in them and they too will bring forth new homes and children who have not yet appeared, but are already known by God.

Today, we also remember those who have preceded us: grandparents, parents, and friends. They live in the City of God in the presence of the One whose birth we celebrate; Who is also present with us. He has promised to reunite us forever. And so, we recall the good gift they were to us while here, and look for the ultimate Christmas when we shall all gather and none are absent. We hold them in our hearts, as their immortality rest in the immortality of Christ the Lord!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Look Them in the Eyes

Children are human beings. No, really, they are. Little versions of you; little images of God. It’s easy for grown-ups to dwell in the upper regions and forget to visit those who tread closer to the earth. It’s not all that far down there, so be sure to pay regular visits to their world and look them in the eyes. They can only come up to where you are very slowly—it’s a long journey—it takes years. But you can drop in on them any time and they’re usually glad to see you. Moreover, they see and hear things that we‘ve forgotten.

We have a lot to learn from these little ones; they’re God’s gifts to us. If we take the time for extended visits with them now, perhaps they won’t be strangers later. Like the rest of us, Jesus started out down there Himself; He knows, He remembers, He still loves the little children, and so should we.

Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them. —Mark 10:13-16

Christmas is coming!

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Metaphor for Community

Now this is what a community sounds like:

Ugly Arrogance

Arrogant pride is the feeling a man gets when he makes a comparison between himself and some other person he considers to be his inferior. It seeks to display and gratify this feeling by showing its superiority to others and by making others painfully feel their inferiority. It takes a low view of others and a high view of self. He is like rooster who thinks the sun has risen just to hear him crow.

An arrogant man (or woman) is repulsive; he loves his own opinions and the rest of the world can be damned. He thinks he is surrounded by idiots and that he is the center of the universe. He cannot learn because he already knows. As people are more and more repulsed by his high estimation of himself, he becomes increasingly isolated. He cannot become part of a community because he is waiting for the community to conform to him; his views are the standard. Rather than consider where he might be wrong, he assumes the rest of the world simple doesn’t understand him. While arrogance is not uncommon in a young person, it is especially ugly as it ages. Arrogance has no friends; it will only abide students. It often tries to hide behind a thinly disguised but false humility, but in the end, it must have its way or it will not play.

Humility is the opposite of arrogance and results when a man views others as more important than himself; a high view of others and a low view of self. A humble man is attractive—attractive to both God and men. As it turns out, the way down is up, and the way up is down. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time…” (1 Peter 5:6). There can be no wisdom without humility; it is the mark of wisdom. “When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom” (Pr. 11:2). “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Pr. 16:18). Wise men are humble men—humble men are godly men. “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

Genuine modesty adorns humility. The proud man is always looking down—the humble man is always looking up. The humble man flourishes in community because he knows how to love and give and learn. Being around others is not an irritation but an opportunity to grow. “Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion” (Rom. 12:16). We have something to learn from everyone.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

We're Broke

As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So, I suppose that if it is broke we should fix it. Brothers and sisters, we are broke and we need fixin. Jesus told His disciples to go out and round up “the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.” Well, here we are, all gathered into a community called the church. We brought all our baggage, packed with our filthy clothes—refugees from another world—weak and weary. We have “backgrounds,” some worse than others, but none without major regrets and sorrows. Broken families, bad decisions, momentary lapses in judgment, youthful indiscretions, blunders, rebellion, immoralities, foolishness…the list goes on and on.

Thankfully, these are the kind of people Jesus loves to save; to rescue. Yes, they’re a mess, but He loves to clean them up and give them a fresh start. In fact, He gives them many fresh starts, since His mercy in new each morning. Grace is plentiful; greater than all our sins. He puts us in His hospital (the church), along with the other sick and wounded patients. He even gives us one of those little bracelets (baptism), so that everyone knows we belong there.

Are you still struggling with some old sins or some new ones? Of course you are. We all need a clean up on aisle 4 from time-to-time. We need another beginning. Jesus knew about ALL your sins before He called you and saved you. He still loves you. So tell Him where it hurts; He is the Great Physician. Make use of the hospital; you’re not alone. “…And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

If it wasn't for the people...

Don’t people just irritate you? Especially the ones that are close to you? The better we know them the worse they are. And to make things even worse, many of them are reproducing. If I could simply pick the people or families that are just like me and my family, then community life would be a breeze. But then they too would probably start to get on my nerves.

Soon the gripping, complaining, criticizing, gossiping, impatience, avoidance, and isolation set in and church becomes a place where we simply “do our duty,” but we’re not so happy about it. A thousand petty things are stored away against this or that person or their kids. We justify ourselves because they don’t act right. And while we’re waiting on them to straighten up we busy ourselves with our own concerns and drift further and further away from our friends—the very people God saved and put in His Church.

Now, since we’re all tempted to these things from time-to-time, allow me to shepherd you back to the fold. Stop it! Straighten up! Fervently love the brethren and pursue peace. You’re not so great yourself. People have to put up with you all the time; and aren’t you glad they do? It is a lot of trouble, but we need each other; God said we do. Allow me to zero in on this Holy Spirit-inspired admonition from the Apostle Paul:


I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. --Ephesians 4:1-3

Now then, say something nice about them; pray for them, encourage them, love them, and serve them—right now.

Yes, I did write this for you…but don’t you feel better already?

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Big, Long Story

The Bible is a big book and a long story. Sometimes this can be daunting and confusing. It has led many to try and reduce the Bible to a few books, or chapters or even a few verses e.g., “The Roman Road,” or “The Four Spiritual Laws.” The big picture is about promise and fulfillment—Advent and Christmas.

The Bible is both simple and complex. This simplicity has often been misunderstood. Some have thought that we must find a lowest-common-denominator and that this is the Gospel. But the apostle Peter warns us concerning some of Paul’s writing: “… according to the wisdom given to him, … as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). So, when we speak of the “simplicity of the Bible,” we don’t mean that it is without difficulty, we mean it is simple in its unity. The Bible is complex in its details; the details of history (people, places, events, etc.); the details of its doctrine and theology. Yet it is simple unity that enables us to make sense of its complex details. In other words, it is only in the context of the big picture that each person, place, and event can be properly understood. It is its unity that makes its doctrine clear.


The Bible is one story; the story of God, man, sin and redemption. It is a comprehensive story. It traverses all of human history; from creation to the last day. It also concerns itself with matters before and after human history; with time and eternity. It embraces every aspect of life: individual, familial, and corporate. It includes all things visible and invisible: heaven and earth, men and angels, material and spiritual. This one story includes both the natural and the supernatural—ordinary events and extraordinary events—the mundane and the miraculous.

At the center of the story is Jesus Christ. All things were not only created by Him, but also for Him: “From Him, through Him and into Him are all things…”; “In Him all things consist.” He comprehends all of eternity: “The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world”; “He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power.” He is the Alpha and the Omega; the first and the last. Jesus is the Mediator of the covenant between God and man, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Ruler of the kings of the earth, the Savior of His people, the light of the world, and the bread of life. All power and authority have been given to Him. It is unto Him that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, in heaven and on earth, that He is Lord. No man comes to the Father but by Him. He even has accomplished victory over the last enemy—death. The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever, and ever, and ever. AMEN!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Promise and Fulfillment

God’s timing is often not our timing. We often think we are ready when we’re not. We sometimes think it’s too late when it’s not. Elizabeth, who thought she was way past her time to have children, was not past God’s time. As she realizes she is expecting, she declares: “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” On the other side of things, Mary thought it was before her time, but it was not before God’s. After learning that she was expecting a child she said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” After hearing the angel’s explanation, she replied: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

God keeps His promises and delivers His people. We don’t always go the way we were expecting to go, and we don’t always arrive when we were expecting to arrive. God sometimes take us on the long scenic route and sometimes He takes the shortcut. But if He promised, we can count on it, and we should never be surprised. Heaven and earth may pass away, but His word will never pass away.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Out of Control

One of the ways people seek to control is by defining the terms. We think that if we can make the rules for the game, we can always win (and others will never succeed). God, as our Creator and in His absolute goodness, has the right to make the rules for His creatures. Adam and Eve challenged this in the Garden, and men and women have been doing it ever since. We want to become experts in something (or several things), and then set out to impose our expertise on everyone around us. We are in control. We have it figured out. We are right; they are wrong. We have worked out all the details; they are ignorant, corrupted, or evil. As experts, we can sit on our throne and pass judgment on the masses while congratulating ourselves on a job well-done. The sad irony is that when we try to manipulate the rules in order to win, we always lose. We never get the results we wanted because we are cheating.

Such “expertise” is often built upon the abuse of the truth. Robert Capon observes that heresy “…uses the enthusiasm it gathers from its one truth to make war on all the rest.” Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for this kind of expertise when He said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matt. 23:23-24).

The expert becomes more-and-more isolated because his expertise must be maintained at all costs. The community is a threat because they won’t cooperate and follow the rules. And so, the expert’s circle shrinks to a manageable size. Patience, long-suffering, and kindness are simply forms of compromise with the truth. Experts are always stressed, fretful, and sad because there are always people who are not doing it right or who are judging them for being right.

Those abiding in the word of God can rest. Jesus already kept all the rules for us. Being patient and kind toward others is just fine, because God said so; those are part of His rules. We don’t have to be anxious anymore, because we are thankful instead. Our sadness has been turned to joy in Christ. We are out of control; God is in control.

Promise and Passion

The idea that “being in love” is the only reason for remaining married leaves no room for the idea that marriage is a covenant promise. If “Being in love” is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing and should not be made. Yet those who are truly in love freely bind themselves by promise. Love songs frequently are full of vows of eternal commitment.

The Christian law is not forcing upon the passions of love something that is foreign to its own nature. It is demanding that lovers should take seriously the very thing their passions naturally incline them to do. The promise made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, is the promise to be true even if I cease to have all the same feelings. No one can promise to go on feeling a certain way (e.g., severe and prolonged illness of a spouse). We can promise to do certain things—“…in sickness or in health”.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Asking the Wrong Questions

As a young man or woman prepares for adult life, and as their parents guide them in the process, big decisions must be made and the consequences of those decisions are profound. Transitions are always critical to the future. The world has taught us a partial truth when it tells us that education and career are important; indeed, they are, but they are not all-important. Even those issues must be evaluated in a distinctively Christian context. Who is going to teach us, and what they teach us, are the more important issues. Location, costs, championships, respectability, etc. are issues much further down the list. A genuinely good education always costs something. The questions are, how much, and in what currency must it be paid?

Who you marry will have far more impact on what you become than any other factor. Where you go to church is also critical to your spiritual and moral development. Both of these will have much more impact on you and your children, and your children’s children (for a thousand generations), than any degree from any college or university. If that is the case, then why wouldn’t a young person have these issues at the very top of his list as he makes decisions about his future? Whether it’s school, or career, or preparation to be a wife and mother, we must place ourselves in the way of wisdom, preparing ourselves for the best possible opportunities.

Since these are the most important questions in life, then why do so few people seek the godly counsel of others, especially their pastors and elders? It’s a sign of immaturity and insecurity to “do it myself.” (This is counter-intelligence.) The community of the Body of Christ exists to increase our wisdom and to teach us to depend on others. Just how much have you learned in the last 10 years? Do you think you will learn that much more in the next 10 years? If you’re 20, would you trust the wisdom of a 10-year–old to make wise decisions? Then why do you trust a 20-year-old when there are much wiser people all around you? “In a multitude of counselors, there is safety” (Pr. 24:6).