Archive for the 'The Indestructible Life' Category

What Does Salvation Look Like?

Because we love the brothers 1 John 3:14

Hate is all around us. How do you feel or act toward: republicans, democrats, other races or nationalities, bosses, someone who has hurt you, the well-to-do, the poor, northerners, the opposite gender, the other football team? From the other side of hate, do you care if you don’t love them? Jesus, the ultimate lover, told us to “[even] love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

We aren’t perfect and the apostle John knows it. I suggest that you read 1 John three times: one time for the assurances, one time for the tests of/the practices of true saving faith, one time for the joy and perspective of what salvation in Christ brings. John acknowledges we will struggle with sin and gives us relief when we do (1:8-10). He does speak plainly and strongly without apology. Do you justify your sinful behavior or habits? John fires a rifle shot to your heart: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (3:9). Yikes!

I’ve heard it said there are three kinds of people: professors (in terms of faith in Christ), non-professors, and would-be professors. Throughout the epistle, John links real differences between professors and would-be professors through a series of tests. Listen in to the one in 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.” This only sounds easy considering Jesus instructed us to love our enemies, too. Though it is not true universally, it’s sad to hear some churches are known for what or who they hate and for their heated business meetings. I am grateful my church is not that way.

1 John 3:14 begs two questions. One, do I know I have “passed out of death into life”? And two, do I love my fellow believers? Question one (3:14a) brings great joy. John uses the same phrase in John 5:24 to take us behind the scenes of our eternal life already begun. Death is no longer the end but a transition into the life we already have. Isn’t that just remarkable, astonishing, astounding, and marvelous?! Add your favorite word.

Question two (3:14b) shows one of the evidences/assurances we have salvation: We love other believers. Indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we relate to others—especially followers of Christ—in sacrificial not self-serving or loathing ways. Aren’t you glad for the Spirit’s help to become like Christ in this way?

Drink deeply of our motivation in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.”

Love isn’t the only test but it’s a big one. How I wish our national—and yes, sometimes “Christian”—fires of hate groups and words would be smothered by the rushing waters of the love of God’s people toward their enemies and each other.

Salvation looks like love.

Thanks Bill

Who then is a faithful and wise steward? Luke 12:42

Procrastination is a fierce enemy of Christlikeness. I struggle with it, too.

This week’s column is dedicated to my friend Bill. I hope you have a Bill in your life. He models Jesus in all-consuming ways. And, he sends me a text every Sunday morning that almost always hits me right between the eyes. He is a messenger, encourager, and teacher from God. Here is what he said last Sunday:

   In the Bible a steward is someone who has been selected to manage wealth. 
   In Luke 12:42 the LORD asks “who then is a faithful and wise steward?” 
   Wealth tends to corrupt in our hands and takes our mind off God. Each one
   of us should realize that we are only stewards of that which God has given us.
   Our prayer then ought to be one that seeks wisdom from God in spending the
   wealth He has given us, to the glory of God! Be blessed!

Bill is a man of modest means, so I am wondering if he has received a huge inheritance and not told me yet…Expand “wealth” to include stuff, health, relationships, responsibilities, opportunities, time, spiritual gifts, Christian life/sanctification/holiness, and godliness. After all, a steward is a manager of the Master’s household—of life.

Dig into the words of Jesus in Luke 12:35-48. Luke has just told his hearers it is the “Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (12:32). The kingdom of God—the rule and reign of Christ—has begun within us (17:21) and is actually coming (12:40). We are a waiting people, and while we wait for Jesus to return He asks us to be watching and tending to the life He has already given us. Such a person is “dressed for action” (12:35) and will be “blessed.”

The character of the life of a wise steward-manager is they are “faithful and wise.” Procrastination is our fierce enemy, tempting us to be unfaithful and unwise. One commentator writes, “The faithful manager pictures the genuine believer, who manages well the spiritual riches God has put in his care for the benefit of others…such spiritual stewardship will result in honor and reward.”

The most attention-grabbing words to me in Luke 12 are what it says about the Owner of the household-kingdom at His return. First, He is preparing a banquet for us (Cf. Revelation 19:6-10). And then these astounding words: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (12:37). I can’t wait!

So, I am making changes to better manage and enjoy the life He has given me. Accumulation, chaos, sloth, and busy-ness are out. More dedicated time for Christ and my important, God-given world are definitely in.

The service will be superb. Don’t you wonder what the menu will be for our heavenly banquet?

The Rhea Herald-News, June 28, 2017

 

A Too Small Thing

A Too Small Thing

He has brought you near him. Numbers 16:10

We can be so like the people of God in the book of Numbers. Do you remember how God provided manna from heaven for food, a cloud to lead them by day, and a pillar of fire by night? With all these miracles and the recent miraculous exodus from Egypt we’d expect the campfire chatter to be excited praise. Nah, they grumbled.

1 Corinthians 10 reminds us God was not pleased with them. His patience ran out and He killed thousands of them in the wilderness. Why? He called their behavior idolatry. Ouch.

Not surprisingly, thankfulness pops up at many and odd times in Scripture as the cure for grumbling, a centerpiece in our worship, a primary component in relationships, and the protective, ordinary way to live in light of God’s many gifts and works.

A helpful question in Numbers 16:9-11 startled me recently: “Is it too small a thing?” Listen in:

And Moses said to Korah, “Hear now…is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service…to minister…that he has brought you near him…?

Though given an extraordinary purpose in tabernacle ministry Korah balked at the call of God. He desired more—to be a priest, and not be a helper in the daily activity of the tabernacle. It was too small a thing. The Message paraphrase called their life in the “inner circle.” Just think, we long to be “in the know”—in the inner circle—and, if not careful, shun the call of God already before us. As God’s child, aren’t we already in His inner circle wherever He has us?

Thinking again about 1 Corinthians 10 and idolatry, could the thing we want but don’t have be a new idol to us?

The implications of Numbers 16 touch many areas of our life. Have we made the ordinary provisions, gifts, and calling of God right now “too small a thing”? Where is the line between “God-given, inspirational dissatisfaction” and untimely, self-driven pursuits for more—a better position, bigger and better things, etc.? Where do idolatry and ungratefulness end and contentment begin?

I am most struck by the purpose of God in His provision and the circumstances surrounding His direct involvement in our life: to bring Korah–us–near to God. Oh, the joy of Father and Son who long for us.

One of my dearest Sisters-in-Christ is going through a time of blessing and challenge. She has a tremendous heart for ministry and was a director of women’s ministries at her church for years. In a conversation last weekend we talked about the end of ministries we both have loved. In an amazing God moment, we both realized and said together: “Now, all we have is Jesus.”

He is enough.

The Rhea Herald-News, June 21, 2017

 

A Gift For This Season

“God is at work in you to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13

This column is dedicated to Jerry Bridges and Dave Hobbs. I have never actually met Jerry, but he touched a nerve and it made a difference. Dave arranged a meeting with Jerry I won’t soon forget.

Dave led the Men’s Group at my church last Friday night, where we observed an interview with Jerry Bridges by John Piper. It was on one of those big screens and I felt like we were right there. Eighty-three years old at the interview, his book The Pursuit of Holiness is a classic and he was recently welcomed into the presence of the Lord. It is a gift for this season of my life to hear from Godly men and women toward the end of their lives as they tell what matters most.

The interview centered on the influencing beliefs he had discovered along the way—biblical beliefs that figure heavily in the joy Jesus brings and how he lives for Jesus. What would be your favorites? Here is Bridges’ list: The application of Scripture to daily life; union with Christ; the doctrine of our salvation; our dependent responsibility; our union with Christ; living by the Gospel daily; I am consciously dependent on the Holy Spirit. Chew slowly.

Though many don’t like the term, we are all theologians. We have and are developing a system of guiding, controlling beliefs that influence how we live our daily lives and what encourages us in the losses and crosses of life. May I share a few of mine?

One, God is working in us, around us, and for us all the time (see Philippians 2:13 above). This very column is an example of something God has brought to my life recently in thought or circumstance. Nothing happens by accident; every minute and person matters.

Two, Scripture is God-breathed. What a thrill to have, read, study, and pray God’s living love letter to me.

Three, prayer is hard work and joy. This continuing conversation with God that He started is a holy privilege and delight, but it takes intentionality and persistence.

Four, God’s steadfast love (lovingkindness) has captured my heart. I underline it in red in my Bible(s). Lovingkindness is the composite of God’s mercy, grace, faithfulness, love, and goodness all rolled into one word. Knowing the guy in the mirror every morning, I am especially touched by mercy—God’s unmerited favor to those who deserve just the opposite.

Next, worship. Can you believe our Maker-God let’s us—wants us—urges us—to meet, adore, and know Him both personally? Maybe, this would be first if I prioritized my list. Number six is worship’s companion: The church Christ died for. We were made for it and are incomplete without it.

Last, our future. The New Heavens and Earth fascinate me and motivate me to get ready. No mere escape (usually), I can’t wait to see Christ face to face.

What do you really—really—believe?

Scrooge The Distracted Traveler

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ ” Matthew 25:23

Living each day with a view to our future’s fullest joy is spiritually healthy and wise. Ebenezer Scrooge tasted it before it was too late and his discovery can be ours, too.

Three “spirits” visited Ebenezer Scrooge in the classic Christmas tale, “A Christmas Carol.” In one version I watched this season with Cheryl (the Queen of classic Christmas movie watchers), the spirit/ghost of his past brought regret as Scrooge looked back to see the decisions that ambushed joy. The spirit/ghost of his present life revealed the emptiness of distracted daily living without simple delights and important relationships. Scrooge, you remember, replaced joy with the unfulfilling tedious pursuit of wealth and security. This is already too convicting, isn’t it?

The grim reaper, spirit/ghost of the future was frightening; showing him what eternity would be like without a change of heart. When Scrooge came to his senses about the future he was moved to heartily confess and commit to reversing course—to “repent” as the movie told—and take on the way of a radical, new, present joy. Scrooge learned the value of a future look—and his view changed everything. Randy Alcorn said, “I keep pondering how heaven will overflow with happiness because God himself overflows with happiness. It is not a fairy tale that we will live happily ever after. Our Creator and Redeemer’s happiness guarantees a happy ending to the story that will never end.”

Revelation 21 has captured my heart lately. Join me there and imagine our future home. It is: wonderfully new (v.1, 5), unimaginably beautiful (v.2, 9-24), overwhelmed by the actual presence of Father and Son (v.3, 6), and personally enriched by our inheritance as God’s heirs (v.7). Randy Alcorn, again, has said, “I have found myself daily frontloading into the present the promises of eternal joy, and letting that color my view of daily events. It’s been a truly Christ-centered and happy-making experience.” There is no grim reaper now or later for those God has prepared a home!

I actually viewed two performances of “A Christmas Carol” in December. The other one was a community theater musical production in Perry, Georgia. It included my son-in-law, two oldest grandchildren, and a cousin. Fabulous! It strikes me that many of the actors and the audience had no idea of the implications of the storyline(s) for eternity or earth-life right now. It is, frankly, more clear and stirring to me now than ever before. Jonathan Edwards observed we can be like a distracted traveler, staying in a hotel on the way to a destination but never moving on to the place we are headed.

Should you have losses and crosses as 2016 begins, I invite you, with me, to look ahead and become a reborn Scrooge—and “enter into the joy of your Master”—now.

Dakota Howard

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Someone has said, “God never wastes our sorrows.”

Just outside our town, on a winding Highway 30, Dakota Howard tragically died when the road collapsed. He was only twenty-two. Many others across America have recently died because of flooding rains. But this Dakota is from our community. Around here, the grief is real and deep.

I didn’t know Dakota personally, but I attended his funeral. I marveled at the community support, and I can’t forget the bewildered faces of hundreds of stunned mourners—many silent and others fumbling for words. The funeral was at his church and several pastors gave good testimonies of Dakota’s faith in Christ. Yet there are still questions.

Elizabeth Groves suggests: “We worship a big God…We are in his hands, and nothing happens to us by chance. That’s good news. But in grief, if that is all we remember about God, it might actually make the pain worse…” 2 Corinthians 1(above) can point us in a helpful direction. They are not easy words, but they can move our emotions forward with God’s perspective and comfort.

First, the subject in our grief is God, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” To “bless God in all our afflictions” is to offer honor and recognition—to give a good word (“benediction”) about and to our Creator-Savior-comforting God. The Psalms help us pray this way.

In 2 Corinthians 1, the Spirit of God chooses God’s mercy and care/comfort. We wonder: How is there mercy and care by God in tragedy and grief? In part, God has been there—here—and understands. Isaiah 63:9, my favorite verse of last year, says about God, “In all their affliction he was afflicted.” And, Jesus is Immanuel—God with us. Also consider: the Psalmist reminds us “God is good and does good.” Finally, though tragedies are mysterious, our grief as followers of Christ is not without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We know, for instance, the Holy Spirit has been sent as “another comforter” (literally, He has come alongside us). We have God! It may not come quickly, but the way of hope and comfort begins with a right focus on God.

Second, God never wastes our sorrows. There is purposeful new direction in tragedy and God’s comfort, “So that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Now, family and friends of Dakota can minister to others who need comfort from God—because, like God and with God, they have been there.

Grief compels us to God and others in need, and therein comes comfort.

Rhea Herald-News, January 4, 2016

Scrooge The Distracted Traveler

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ ” Matthew 25:23

Living each day with a view to our future’s fullest joy is spiritually healthy and wise. Ebenezer Scrooge tasted it before it was too late and his discovery can be ours, too.

Three “spirits” visited Ebenezer Scrooge in the classic Christmas tale, “A Christmas Carol.” In one version I watched this season with Cheryl (the Queen of classic Christmas movie watchers), the spirit/ghost of his past brought regret as Scrooge looked back to see the decisions that ambushed joy. The spirit/ghost of his present life revealed the emptiness of distracted daily living without simple delights and important relationships. Scrooge, you remember, replaced joy with the unfulfilling tedious pursuit of wealth and security. This is already too convicting, isn’t it?

The grim reaper, spirit/ghost of the future was frightening; showing him what eternity would be like without a change of heart. When Scrooge came to his senses about the future he was moved to heartily confess and commit to reversing course—to “repent” as the movie told—and take on the way of a radical, new, present joy. Scrooge learned the value of a future look—and his view changed everything. Randy Alcorn said, “I keep pondering how heaven will overflow with happiness because God himself overflows with happiness. It is not a fairy tale that we will live happily ever after. Our Creator and Redeemer’s happiness guarantees a happy ending to the story that will never end.”

Revelation 21 has captured my heart lately. Join me there and imagine our future home. It is: wonderfully new (v.1, 5), unimaginably beautiful (v.2, 9-24), overwhelmed by the actual presence of Father and Son (v.3, 6), and personally enriched by our inheritance as God’s heirs (v.7). Randy Alcorn, again, has said, “I have found myself daily frontloading into the present the promises of eternal joy, and letting that color my view of daily events. It’s been a truly Christ-centered and happy-making experience.” There is no grim reaper now or later for those God has prepared a home!

I actually viewed two performances of “A Christmas Carol” in December. The other one was a community theater musical production in Perry, Georgia. It included my son-in-law, two oldest grandchildren, and a cousin. Fabulous! It strikes me that many of the actors and the audience had no idea of the implications of the storyline(s) for eternity or earth-life right now. It is, frankly, more clear and stirring to me now than ever before. Jonathan Edwards observed we can be like a distracted traveler, staying in a hotel on the way to a destination but never moving on to the place we are headed.

Should you have losses and crosses as 2016 begins, I invite you, with me, to look ahead and become a reborn Scrooge—and “enter into the joy of your Master”—now.

Another Merry Christmas

Christmas Mercy

“The tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-79

I have some questions for Gabriel about the first Christmas season in Luke 1. For instance, what was the look on Mary’s face when God sent him to recruit her? I wonder: Was he startled when God took away Zechariah’s voice when fear replaced his faith? Gabriel witnessed so many supernatural things that first Christmas.

Written over the season was “miracle.” Consider: In God’s timing, He aligned the solar system to provide the Christmas star; Kings worshipped a baby; travelers brought gifts to a feeding trough they didn’t know existed; Elizabeth, barren and beyond child-bearing years, became pregnant and became directly involved in God’s Christmas plan; and poor Zechariah, a whole lot like us, miraculously lost his voice when he didn’t believe angel Gabriel—and then had his voice revived by God when he saw baby Jesus. Father, don’t let these miracles be commonplace.

Of course, the ultimate miracle of Christmas was salvation’s offer: God became a man to offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our every sin. Those who trust only Jesus Christ His Son to rescue them are thus removed from God’s wrath, and transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Have I heard this so many times it seems ordinary and the power of the gospel is not changing me this Christmas (Romans 1:16; 2:4)?

One other unnatural thing happened that particularly strikes me this Christmas: The socially awkward situation then of a miraculously pregnant teenager and her fiancé is incredibly used by God to bring salvation’s greatest gift. Note how Elizabeth took great interest in Mary; some even believe Joseph was adopted by Dr. Luke. God takes in some needy people, doesn’t He? He makes them not just guests. He adopts them—us—as His family. Adoption has again invaded our family.

Last week, I wrote about our firstborn daughter who was born on Christmas day. This season, our family has another fresh Christmas miracle story to tell. Her name is Haley Jane. As you read this, my oldest daughter and her family are in Florida taking custody of her for the purpose of adoption. She bears the same name of our third-in-line grandchild and—hold your breath—is also six years old and in first grade. Family gatherings are about to be very confusing…

For Haley, her perceived greatest need is for a permanent family. Having lost so much and so many she longs for a home instead of, so to speak, another manger. In the “tender mercy of God” He is adopting her into our family. How breathless we are to praise God for His sweet, life-shaping, affectionate salvation displayed when adopted us into His family, too.

This Christmas, I am astounded by the adopting, tender mercy of God.

Rhea Herald-News, December 23, 2015

P.S. The legal work is completed and Haley is in Georgia tonight with her new family. Aren’t you so glad we are part of the family of God!

 

Rain Again

New Day, December 1, 2015

“He made a decree for the rain” Job 28:26

Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

This is the third day of rain. Like awkward middle schoolers, we are tempted to respond to constant gray and rain as if we’re holding our square dance partner’s hand for the first time in front of a room full of giggling others. Go ahead and blush as you remember those fateful days.

Rain gets a lot of bad press. But what if our starting point on a rainy day—or yet another wet day—was this: God has not made a mistake. From all the menu items He could have ordered for this new day He directed nourishing, contemplative, cleansing rain to be our main meal.

In context, Job’s word, “he made a decree for the rain,” illustrates wisdom. “Where shall wisdom be found?” he asks. He answers his own question: “God understands the way to it, and he knows its place.”

Rain, then, gives us wisdom to live. It can mock despair and wonderfully remind us of our Creator-God who is at work to display His glory and for our good.

Father, help me to not just look and complain but to see You.

Christmasy?

“But Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.’” Matthew 22:29

This column is dedicated to Nancy, my thoughtful relative who sent me a copy of the following letter to an editor. A lot about it bothered her and troubles me, too. How about you, Reader?

Editor:

I am thinking about converting from agnosticism to Christianity, but I have a question: Am I to    understand that as a Christian I can deny basic humanitarian assistance to penniless, homeless refugees from the Middle East, the part of the world that Jesus called home, as long as I demonstrate proper outrage because Starbucks’ seasonal coffee cup isn’t Christmasy enough?

   Jim K., West Reading

Ouch. The letter is a window into how we are perceived by non-Christians.  It stings and makes us mad all at once. Our inconsistencies are showing and it is unpleasant—like underwear peeking out when we bend to pick up a penny. Yuk. I am remembering the famous carton by Poco: We have met the enemy and he is us.

Is Jim K. really interested in devoting his life to Christ or if he just wants to pick on Christians? He expects something of Christians no one on earth can possibly fulfill—perfection without any inconsistencies or hint of hypocrisy. Has he found an excuse to not turn from himself as self-appointed savior and then to follow Jesus? The Bible calls that repentance.  Is he authentic but uninformed or distracted by a social and political issue (refugees) and the silly behavior of Christians over coffee cups? Is there another possibility?

Jim K. errs because he doesn’t know or refuses to accept the good news—the “gospel”—which alone is “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). This is Christmas: God’s good news, when received, forgives our sin and invades our life with its exclusive power to transform us. Christ becomes primary, investment in others occupies the important second place, and we deny ourselves and take up a cross-reflecting life. Jim K. observes how we often change the order.

An angel helped a troubled Joseph understand the whole point of Christmas and Christ: “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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21)

Two people especially need prayer this Christmas. Will you pray for Jim K., that he will turn from himself to Jesus Christ to forgive his sins? And then, pray for the rest of us, that we will avoid being “Christmasy” in such a way that the good news of Christ is unreal, unattractive, forgotten, or, worst of all…rejected.



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