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Keeping It in Perspective 12/30/2014

Just read a powerfully written post by a young woman listening to her husband call hospice for her.  We end this year in various life situations and if we are not careful we begin to think that ours is the greatest or most difficult.  These little posts are to keep everything in perspective.  Here is a bit of what she wrote:

So, there it is. My little body has grown tired of battle and treatment is no longer helping. But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live. I get to draw my people close, kiss them and tenderly speak love over their lives. I get to pray into eternity my hopes and fears for the moments of my loves. I get to laugh and cry and wonder over heaven. I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus- and He will provide it. He has given me so much to be grateful for, and that gratitude, that wondering over His love will cover us all. And it will carry us- carry us in ways we cannot comprehend. It will be a new living and trusting for many in my community. Loving with a great big open hand to my story being the good story- even when it feels so broken.

Read the rest here . . . .

Quick Thoughts on Injustice

In the last few weeks I flew over 10,000 miles, taught a seminary class on the Pentateuch and the Law and sent my wife off to be with her mother as she died.  The hardest of these was to send off my wife and to get her text telling me that her mother died.  The details are not any of your business nor shall I bore you with them.  But strangely they brought to mind a short bit ago a conversation I had in the parking lot of my church after a wedding.

There was a man, a family member of the bride, who was looking a bit vexed.  I saw him through the windows and thought I might speak to him for encouragement.  Instead I got a tirade of bitterness from his heart.  His wife left him, his greater family had failed to remind her that she should not leave him, and he was alone.  All of those in his greater family professed faith in Jesus and he despised them for failing him in his time of need.  So what did I ask him?

A simple question, “Where do you worship?”  He told me he had no church, they were filled with the likes of his family and he had no time for that sort of folly.  He would listen to sermons as he wished and worship God.  So, in this short little encounter on such a happy event, what did I say?

I told him that his problem was not his family who failed him, his wife who abandoned him, nor the Church.  His problem was that he was a man who was not yet a man who believed in Christ.   He was a pagan dressed in vaguely Christian clothes.  To my un-surprise he was less than thankful.  He blustered and threatened all sorts of things.  I laughed a bit at him and said his problem was not with me but with God.

I told him that his problem was that he thought God was unjust and therefore the things that happened in his life was God’s fault.  I told him, in so many terms, that God had not treated poor Job like He had treated him.  Nope.  Job only lost all his children, his wealth and his health.  He was stuck with a bitter woman who thought his faith was a folly and that he should just die (at least this guy’s wife left him!).

Then I told him that God was just in His dealings, He doesn’t answer to us nor to any other creature than He created and that if his life was miserable that was just tough.  But don’t try to make God unjust because your life doesn’t fit how you think it should.  He is the Creator and we are His creatures.  And when you give that a thought for a few YEARS you begin to grasp the glory of the cross, where the Creator comes to take on the sins of the creature so that the creature might enjoy the life of the Creator.

I add this, none of this has anything to do with the death of my mother-in-law.  I grieve for my dear wife who grieves for the woman who gave birth to her 52 years ago.  I give thanks at the same time to my Creator who cause a man and a woman, who would reject Him, to give birth to the one woman who gives me such joy for these last 27 years of marriage.

There is no injustice with God.  But through the Cross, there is much mercy and grace.

Miscellaneous Monday

When bears need to get away and think.

I know what I will do during the nights of 2013.

So some guy sits down to eat a snack during one of the Occupy protests (will not miss when these go away) and chooses to eat caviar.  Check the look from Mr. Guitar-dude on the right. (I found out it was a photo series of a company modeling their suits trying for the shock effect.)

Ever hear of Pyroceram?  I have and because I am nice I will let you know what it is too.  That is unless you became irritated while reading this and just googled it.  Very interesting article but it is a bit long so bookmark it if you don’t have time.

Very cool photo set.  The leopard one was amazing.

Another photo set all of refractions.  Serious skill is displayed here.

This one is kind of weird but fascinating.  The guy splices together photos of family members to explore genetic similarities.

This one is from one of my favorite blogs.  Since Wisconsin has now passed a conceal carry law the men of my church should read this very carefully.  There is never a time to be unstylish. H/T to J. P.

This is a great video that you should listen to all the way to the end just for the good music.  But if you have no time, then skip to 0.40

And finally, the worst death scene ever.  Pick your favorite part, mine was how he eyed the bed post for his final fall to make sure he didn’t hit it.  But there are many others to choose from.

Aurora Shootings—My Lack of A Take

The shooting is over, the dead are dead, the wounded are recovering and the nation is busy tweeting about things they really don’t understand.  I am sure that there will be news coverage of the first few funerals and maybe when the last body is laid to rest.  Then everyone will go back to the next pretty, or shocking, object that will pass before their eyes.  Breathless posts, cries of denouncement, blustery replies of support and the ever present call for more legislation.  So what?

Twelve people were killed in Aurora, but meanwhile in Chicago, just a short drive from where I live, twenty-seven humans were murdered in July and in July of 2011 fifty-five were murdered.  How they were killed matters little.  Some shot, some stabbed, some….whatever.  The point is that they are dead, just as dead as those in Aurora.  In fact all of them are as dead as the guy who died in the oncology ward of St. Luke’s last night.

Pretty harsh of me, right?  Yep.  Because death is harsh and real and happening in front of all of our lives every day.  I keep waiting for that call that one of my parents has died.  It hasn’t come yet, but that doesn’t change the harsh reality that it will, and when it comes it will be nasty punch to my gut.

We can wax on about whether this shooter was a criminal before he got the guns, or if the availability of guns made him a criminal.  But who really cares.  Our country sees the right to carry a gun as a basic right.  We can mumble under our breath what we would have done if we were there, but that is only because we are sipping on our McCafe coffee checking for any new, unimportant updates on Facebook or pinning something to Pinterest or checking the latest baseball stats and not in a dark theater where people are dying.

My point is really basic.  So basic that it can come across as unfeeling.  But feeling one thing or another doesn’t change a dead body.  It doesn’t make a person alive again.  I think of Jesus weeping when Mary is so grieved about the death of her brother.  But His feeling was not what she needed, not in the ultimate sense, she needed the One who alone possesses life and can conquer death.  She needed the One who could casually command Lazarus to come forth from the grave.  Fortunately, that is who stood with her weeping.

Listen, for I shall tell you all a dirty, little secret.  You are going to die.  You will die by a bullet, a heart attack, a nasty virus, a car wreck or perhaps because you had some young punks decide to play a “game” and punch you a bit until you fall and strike your head.  Does it really matter?  Really?  For me, I try to keep the “after death” thought before me more than the “I hope I die in my sleep” thought.

If there is nothing beyond the now, then death of any type has no meaning, it is just part of our sad, pitiful existence in a machine that does not think and does not care.  So we gnash our teeth at nothing and then descend into the grave to become dirt.  All those swirling about above us with candles and crosses and notes of “I will never forget you” mean nothing, because you and they are nothing.

But, if this is not all, if you are truly an image bearer of the one true God.  If you are truly an eternal being as the Bible says you are, then there is much more.  And what matters after that bullet enters your brain is infinitely more important than anything else.  We all shall die, and we all shall stand before our Creator.  Without the One who conquered sin and death there is something far worse than merely a bullet or a virus.  Instead you will have the eternal wrath of God upon you.

Luke 13:1-5 Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

This event in Aurora will be like countless other ones that happen every day throughout this world.  Will the brevity of life cause you to stop, consider eternal things, and seek after God?  Shall you put away your vain efforts to prove yourself worthy of God’s favor and instead turn to the only one who conquered sin and death, Jesus Christ?  Or, have you already begun to descend back into that fuzzy existence of the mundane?  Let me recommend a simple book to read and real carefully.

 

When An Ordinary Pastor Dies

I finished reading Memoirs of An Ordinary Pastor a week ago and decided to give one more post to it.  In our celebrity pastor-crazed church society this is the kind of little book that comes as a wonderful glass of cold water on a hot, summer’s day. Well, Tom Carson went the way of every man, he died and he did it alone, sort of.  Here is how Dr. Carson relates his final thoughts on his father’s passing:

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation.  In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside.  There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side all the trumpets sounded.  Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man–he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor–but because he was a forgiven man.  And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “We done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.”

There is the ever present threat to think more highly of myself than I ought, those two paragraphs help ground me yet again in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ alone.

Good Friday and Satan

I have written two articles on the workings of Satan.  One focuses on the value of his attacks for the Christian, the second directs our attention to the methods he employs against the a person.  Today, since it is Good Friday, I want to show a critical connection between Satan and Jesus’ death.

In Romans 16 there is a little sentence that is easily passed by with the eyes.  It is verse 20, part of which reads, “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”  Here is one of those passages that should bring our minds hurtling backward to Genesis 3 where God tells fallen Adam and Eve that the Seed would one day crush the head of Satan.  It is not uncommon to hear that Satan was defeated at the Cross, but this is not quite proper.  Notice how Paul is looking to the future in Romans 16 regarding the crushing of Satan, not backwards to the Cross.  So, when does it happen?  When is Satan finally crushed beneath the feet of our Lord?  Like many things in the bible the answer  is that it occurs over time through various events.

The first step is that it began in the Garden—Genesis 3:14-15. There are several players in this curse by God.  There would be an enmity put between the serpent and the woman. The enmity is to be beyond merely Satan and Eve.  It is to involve generations of people. There will be a war that will be ongoing between the devil’s offspring and her offspring . And then the ultimate battle, the offspring of the woman would do battle with Satan, not his offspring, and crush him.

The second step is the first advent of Jesus.  Passages such as Luke 10:17-18, John 12:31; 16:11 are examples on how Jesus exerted His authority over Satan.  Over and over we read that the demons were subject to Him.

The third step is at the Cross–John 3:8.  It is at the Cross where Jesus becomes that perfect sacrifice for the very sin that Satan exploits as the god of this age.  It is at the Cross where the justice and love of God kiss and the power of sin is broken.

The fourth step is at the resurrection of Jesus. It is in the resurrection that we see that the death of Jesus was an acceptable sacrifice. We see in the resurrection that the power of death is broken.  It is the resurrection of Jesus that becomes the first fruit (1 Corinthians 15:20) of all other resurrections to come.  Without  Jesus’ resurrection everything else simply doesn’t matter.

The fifth and final step is at the end of this age (Revelation 20:1-6).  There Jesus utterly destroys Satan, casting him into the lake of fire never to be a factor again.  As we enter into eternity and the glory of the new heavens and earth, there we will exult when death, sin, and Satan are banished.  Gone forevermore, swallowed up in the victory of our Lord and Savior.

Pastoral Prayer from Psalm 5

Our Father, it is with hearts that have great need that we come to you today.

Hearts that have sadness.
Hearts that have discouragement.
Hearts that have bitterness or envy.
Hearts that are under great temptation.

So we come today to you as our King and our God.

Oh Father, rise up and strengthen our hearts to trust you fully.
Let us dwell upon your great works and your mercy that is everlasting.
Let us learn to pray with a mind that is expectant, looking for your answer and knowing of your great love for your children.

My Lord and Maker, the words of this Psalm both encourages me and causes me to fear. It is a true statement that

you hate all who sin;
you abhor the murderer and the liar;
you shall destroy all who are not holy and righteous.

And with this in mind, I can only come to you because I have been cleansed by the blood of your own precious Son.

It is through His death and resurrection that any of us can come and let
our needs,
our joys,
our burdens,
and our desires be known to you.

And with that I am eternally grateful.

I give thanks for a salvation that is so complete and so full.
I give thanks that you loved me with an everlasting love that was before I was even created.
I give thanks that you perfectly draw people to yourself through your Son.
I give thanks that none who are saved by Jesus Christ shall be lost.
I give thanks that you have given us the Holy Spirit to guide us, to strengthen us, to teach us, to open our minds to your beauty and your greatness.

Father, we are all guilty sinners here today.

Let those who have trusted in your Son rejoices that they are forgiven and made anew.
And dear Father, will you I ask that you be pleased to bring those here today who are not saved to your Son.
That they would believe in Him and be saved.
That they would finally rest from their own efforts to save themselves and simply find rest and salvation at the Cross of Christ.

Our Untidy, But Quite Serious, God

We need to embrace the simple, yet profound fact that God is fuzzy to us.  People tend to like a God who is nice and sharply defined.  A tidy God, preferable tidy in the areas in which they think a god ought to be tidy.  Things like, “God is pro-life” or “God is love.”  They want to have a god who is manageable and definable.  One that they can put their mental arms around and give a good hug.  But the God of the Scriptures is not so tidy and certainly not so huggable.

My mind takes in the story in Exodus 11 and 12 of the killing of all the first-born in Egypt.  The Lord did not allow it to happen, He flat out did it Himself!  This passage makes it clear that the Lord (i.e. Yahweh) went into the midst of Egypt and a whole lot of dying took place that night.  That is not tidy and that is not comfortable for us to think about.  In my own mind I can see God doing this to Pharaoh, but why “the first-born of the slave girl who is behind the mill stone” (11:5)?  But then, the bible is not asking me to approve of the actions of God, the bible is telling me to fear and worship Him.  My opinion, my feelings, and my comfort level is not on the table for discussion.

 

Moses tells Pharaoh that there is a purpose behind all of this killing that is going to happen.  He points out that God will not touch Israel in any way during this time.  And the reason?  “. . . that you may understand how the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (11:7).  Now, that is simply untidy in our “fair-minded” world.  A whole lot of people are about to die and be relegated to hell simply so that God can show that He cares for His covenant people more than he cares for the Egyptians.  Let us read and fear our Lord.  God then tells Moses in verse 9 that there was even a great purpose behind this killing of the first-born, one that again is guaranteed to send the modern American evangelical into a screaming tizzy.  God is going to keep Pharaoh from listening to Moses so that God can multiply His wonders in Egypt.  God is pleased to kill these people and all these animals simply to show that He is the One True God.

All who attend the church I pastor should know I despise Veggie Tales, but some find it merely to be one of those little quirks of their pastor; therefore, they smile and then put it out of their mind.  But Veggie Tales are hated in my mind simply because they make God cute and manageable.  Now I would be more understanding if they would make the show about the fall of Jericho to include the killing of all living beings in that city.  But this would not be a marketable product.  How do you sell videos to mommies and daddies that could possibly cause their children to be troubled in their spirit as they watch little baby carrots and broccoli people get hacked to pieces by those Israelites.  I would be especially impressed if it was clearly and unashamedly stated that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob wanted those little babies in Jericho killed.

So what is my point?  Simply that we must break down the false gods that we have created in our minds, homes and churches.  We must call people to bow down to the God who not only gives life, but also takes life.  We must realize that God offends our pagan, arrogant sense of fairness.  We must see that the Cross truly is an offensive thing to this dead world.  The god of veggie tales is not a thing to fear.  The christ of Veggie Tales is not the risen Lord of heaven and earth, who holds all of the atoms of our bodies together by the exertion of His will and pleasure.

Now, for those who are reading this and believe my point is a diatribe against Veggie Tales, let me be more clear.  These dear little vegetables are merely a mirror into the shallow and sick soul of the church today.  If their purpose is to bring a happy smile to people’s faces, then fine, they achieve that.  But at what expense?  The reality is that they are using God’s Word to humor children (and make a truckload of money).  This is not a proper use of the Word.  They reflect the intolerance that the church has developed for the God of the Scriptures.  It is no wonder to me why we have little hope to offer the person who has been paralyzed in an accident or the parent who is gazing at the body of his young teen who had been killed by a drunk driver.  Our god could not have done these things because that would be just wrong.  Just don’t tell that to Job, the blind man of John 9, or the slaughtered thousands of Jericho.

Unless A Grain of Wheat Falls into The Earth and Dies…

“. . . unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies. . .”

I have done much thinking on the issue of suffering and discipline over these last few weeks and even months.  I have watched many in our church go through one or both of these events and have endured some myself.  This was seen very clearly when I preached through Psalm 30 where David’s sin resulted in the turning away of the face of the Lord.  Life hurts and I am more convinced that life hurts the most when it is clung to.  We are sheep being led to the slaughter.  We lay down our life to gain our life.  We are aliens and strangers.  We are in this world but not of this world.

We are called to live for our Lord.  It is as simple as that and we are called to suffer in His name.  We are expected to fill up that which is lacking in Christ’s sufferings (Col. 1:24) and we to have a fellowship in His sufferings if we are to expect to be heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17).  On top of that we have the reality of a Father in heaven who diligently disciplines all His children, as Hebrews 12:5ff makes abundantly clear.  And all of these texts we have looked at and studied in detail in several of my sermons.

Yet, in spite of this, there is a tremendous reluctance to enter into suffering that we naturally have.  Pain and suffering is not the delight of humans.  It runs contrary to our nature.  But the avoidance of suffering is simply sin.  It is making comfort and pleasure gods to worship, and some people frankly pant after those gods.  The slightest hardship, the smallest call to endure, the tiniest expectation to show diligence in the midst of adversity and they fall.

Add to that the fact that the typical American Christian’s sense of what is to be the lot for Christians.  We have so psychologized the Christian faith that God has become the great Caregiver rather than Creator and Lord.  We present the faith as a faith that is to fix your ills and struggles and to make you feel whole again.  Over and over people reject biblical instruction that is designed to make them wise and faithful servants because it threatens that comfort zone that they have established.  Repeatedly the commands of our Lord, which the church is commanded to teach all who profess Christ to obey (cf. Matt. 28:18-19), are simply ignored, or compared to worldly standards and found to be too harsh.

All of this is written to direct you to a link to read a fascinating account of a man who is preparing to be killed for his faith.  Allow me to introduce you to a man who shamed me in the span of the 3 minutes it took to read his letter to the Roman church.  His name is Ignatius and he was the bishop of Syria and lived from 30 AD to 107 AD.  Here is a quote from the link:

His final letter from Smyrna, Ignatius writes to the church of Rome. Unlike his other letters, this one is not concerned with questions of heresy and Church unity. Rather is it an intensely personal document. In it he reveals most clearly the spirit of the Oriental martyr; and in a double way it is a letter to prepare his martyrdom. It is, on the one hand, a plea to the Romans not to interfere with the fate in store for him; and on the other hand it is, as it were, a letter to himself to brace him for the coming ordeal. It betrays an excess of zeal which is strange to most of us, and even repugnant to some. It must, however, be read in the light of the fact that Ignatius was tormented by the brutality of his Roman guards (his “ten leopards” as he calls them, ch. 5:1), and reacted with the intemperance of a man who had already given his life away. Some will find in the letter a perverted masochism; others will discern in it all the splendor of the martyr spirit. No one, however, will miss its burning sincerity or the courageous zeal of a disciple to suffer with his Lord.

Here is a man who has been truly brought to the end of himself.  He sees himself as already dead and is eager to see that come to pass!  He has embraced his suffering and even in the midst of grossly unrighteous treatment by his captors, seeks to give them a blessing rather than an act of resistance.  We need more in the American church to be like this man.

God’s Bloody Place

I read a short post from Desiring God’s blog that caught my eye.  It is part of a series of observational posts by a missionary in an Asian Muslim country.  I have thoroughly enjoyed them all, but, as I said, this one caught my eye.  I will post it fully here since it is short:

I was studying Psalm 43 with a friend in Urdu the other day. We came to where it says in English, “I will go to the altar of God.”

As I read along in Urdu, I did not know the word for “altar,” so I asked my friend what it was. He didn’t know how to translate the word into English, but he gave the following English description: “It is God’s bloody place, where the throats of the animals are slit for sacrifice.”

Of course. It’s an altar.

Sometimes I think of an altar as the carpeted stairs and dais at the front of the church meetinghouse. But it’s not. It is a bloody place—a place of sacrifice and death.

 I need to remember that.

We need to remember that as well.  The cross is God’s ultimate bloody place.  It is where the Father exhausted His wrath against those Christ cam to redeem by pouring it upon His Son.  It is a bloody place where we come for the forgiveness of sin, for the declaration of justification, for the adoption as sons, for the hope of eternal life, for the entrance into the joy of our Master, and most certainly for the delight is seeing our Lord!  Not pretty and yet beautiful beyond all measure.

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