Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Friday, May 18, 2018

A Full Cupboard

My son turned one this week.  He's a good little boy but like most of us he gets a bit cranky when he's hungry.  Hangry, I guess would be the term.  And sometimes when Joshua is hungry and complains we go to the cupboard and get him a graham cracker or fruit bar or some sort of snack.

We make it a priority to have snacks in the cupboard for Joshua.  We sometimes forget to get the things we need, but we always have something for Joshua because we love him and we know that babies are not known for their patience.  I hate when we get in that rare jam where we don't have something he needs.  It would not be pretty if he was hangry and I hadn't purchased his food for him yet.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't give Joshua whatever he asks, whenever he asks.  Snacks are not a spoiling for him, they are a necessity. There are other things in the cupboard he asks for and other times when I know he doesn't need to eat that I deny his request despite his whining.

This all leads me to this question: how do you pray?

Do you pray to the Father of the full cupboard or the possibly empty cupboard?

When Jesus died on the cross He purchased every grace we need.  When Jesus said, "It is finished" (John 19:30), He meant it.  When Christ paid our price He purchased a cupboard full of everything we need.  Christ's cupboard is full, it is bursting at the seams, it is beyond bulging because of the infinite supply of grace it contains.

This does not mean that He will necessarily give all that we want, but He will give us the supply of grace for our every need.

"And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19

So, how do you pray?  Do you pray to the god of the empty cupboard or to the LORD that has purchased everything you'll ever need?  When you pray for patience do you imagine that God has to manufacture patience for you or do you know that He simply takes it out of the cupboard?  When you pray for the grace to endure today do you know that that grace comes from His glorious riches and not from spiritual food stamps?

Pray to the God of the full cupboard.  When Jesus died He died for more than your get out of Hell free card.  When Jesus died He died to start and finish your sanctification.  When Jesus died He purchased a full cupboard of grace to give you for every need.  When Jesus died He died to adopt children into His Father's household that will be well cared; cared for much better than I care for Joshua.

Pray like your Heavenly Father has a full cupboard today.

Friday, May 11, 2018

When Mothers' Day Isn't Happy

Mothers' Day is supposed to be happy but what about when it isn't?

For many, Mothers' Day is somber or perhaps even cruel day.  For some, the Mothers' Day church service is a reminder of what they don't have anymore or never had.  For some each carnation passed out amongst the pews is a dagger to their soul.

Some have lost their mother and this holiday is the reminder of what they lost.  For some their pain is an empty chair at the table that belonged to the child they had to bury.  Others mourn the child that was miscarried.  And others hurt for the mother they can't seem to be able to be even after tests and IUI's and every intervention they've ever tried.

Mothers' Day is a holiday worth celebrating.  Mothers' Day should be celebrated.  But on Mothers' Day let us pray for those who are wounded by the holiday.  For the women, and even men, that lament on Mothers' Day, please know that I hurt with you. 

When I was a boy and I needed comfort, I rarely went to Dad.  My dad is a great fixture in my life, but when I had a physical or emotional wound I went to Mom.  Mom would put me on her lap and kiss away the pain and wipe away my tears.

God is our Heavenly Father, but He also has all the great traits of moms.  The beauty and strength and ability to create life that moms have  are a shinning example of the image of God.  God is like a mother is so many ways. 

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:4

To all of you that hurt on Mothers' Day, I want you to know that it is more than okay to hurt.  Your pain and agony is valid.  But do not mourn as those who have no hope.  Lament with hope.  It hurts now and it stings so much, but Jesus will one day put you on His lap and wipe every tear from your eyes.  He will make all that is wrong (the death, infertility, estrangement, etc) right again.  He will fix it all.

To those who hurt on Mothers' Day know that our God loves you today.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The End of All Things is Near

If you were told the end of the world was near, what would you do?  Would you tell people that you loved them?  Would you go skydiving because, what the heck, you had nothing to lose now?  Would you spend all your savings on fun stuff?  Would you hole up and buy supplies to last the end out?

In reading 1 Peter chapter four today I was told the end of all things is near.

"The end of all things is near." 1 Peter 4:7a

Well, shoot.  The end of the world is near.  It says it in black and white.

Peter announces that the end of all things is near and then gives us instructions on how to live in light of that fact.  Before we look at that I want to address those who think Peter may have been wrong since he wrote that sentence two-thousand years ago.

Peter was not wrong.  He was not like the crazy "numerologist" who claims to have found a code for when the apocalypse would take place.  He isn't the strange guy who's predicted the date of the rapture three times.  Peter is right: the end of all things is near.  From Christ's resurrection to now we have been in the last times.  The Second Coming of Christ could be today and that statement has been true every day from His coming out of the tomb to today.  We are one blink of an eye from the end of the world and we could be another thousand years from the end.  We don't know when the day is but we do know that it is as near as ever.

So, Peter proclaims that the end is near and then gives instructions.  Let's look at the passage:

"The end of all things is near.  Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.  Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.  If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.  Amen." 1 Peter 4:7-11

Let's quickly break down what we must be in response to the news that the end of all things in near:

1) Pray
We must pray.  In fact, we must have a clear mind so that we can pray and be self-controlled so we can pray.  Peter says that our prayers can be dampened by a cluttered mind.  Our prayers are most effective when we clear out the junk and replace it with thoughts about and to God.  Peter also says we must have self-control in order to pray well.  Prayer is a delight but it also is a discipline.  We must have self-control in order to have a healthy prayer life and a thriving prayer life is needed in our doomsday prep kit.

2) Love Each Other Deeply
Peter says we must love each other deeply and that this is the most important thing in light of the end of all things.  Why?  Because love covers a multitude of sins.  If we are going to live with one another we will sin against one another and we need love to cover up those sins.  When is the last time you've been offended and elected to let love cover that up?  Without deep love we won't be prepared to live in the last days.

3) Offer Hospitality Without Grumbling
How many had this down until the "without grumbling" part?  Offering hospitality is one of the themes of the entire Bible.  Look at it yourself and you'll see Abraham being blessed for it, Sodom cursed for a lack of it, Israel blessed and cursed for being on both sides of it, and the Savior's parents needing it on the night of His birth.  Hospitality is a BIG deal to God.  Hospitality is not being Martha Stewart; hospitality is having the posture that all of "my" stuff is actually God's and then acting accordingly.

4) Use Gift to Serve Others
Whatever talents you have (and yes you can call to mind the parable of the talents) are given to you by God.  Even if you think, "I've worked hard to hone this skill", the talent itself and even the desire to craft it comes from above.  Every good gift comes from above (James 1:17).  Therefore all of our gifts are to be used to serve others in the name of Jesus.  God gives grace to others through you.  Are you being a faithful administer of His grace?  Peter says if you can speak (and he doesn't necessarily mean speak well) then do it as if you're speaking for God.  If you are writing then do it as a representative of Jesus.  If you can play baseball or do hair or trim trees or cook or drive a car, do all things for others in the name of Jesus. Why?  "... so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ." 

The end of all things is near.  How's your prayer life?  How deeply are you loving others?  How are you at offering hospitality without grumbling?  How are you using your gifts to serve up God's grace to others? 

The end of all things is near and this is the assignment.  How are you going to prep for the end?  Be obedient to Peter's end times instructions today.

Monday, April 30, 2018

What Fans Your Flame?

Within every Christian there is a battle.

"So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law." Galatians 5:16-18

Within every Christian there is a conflict being waged between our sinful nature and the Spirit.  If we are going to have a say in who wins this fight we must begin by examining the combatants.

The sinful nature, also translated the flesh, is what our fallen humanity is by default before our conversion.  This nature has no interest in glorifying God or obeying Him.  This nature rejects Jesus as Lord and/or Savior.  It will reject Jesus as Lord be disobeying His commands and it will reject Christ through trying to be its own Savior by being, as Paul calls it, under the law.

The Spirit is not the Holy Spirit.  At least not exactly.  The Spirit is the new heart in a Christian as it has been renewed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  I say this because if the sinful nature were waging a war against the Holy Spirit Himself the sinful nature would lose each and every battle decisively, but since we all experience wins and loses by both parties we know that the Spirit refers to something else.  So, the Spirit is the new nature given to us by God that is moving toward its promised completition (Philippians 1:6).

The war between my sinful nature and the Spirit is fought on the battleground of desire.

In verse 16 we see the word "desires" associated with the sinful nature.  This word in Greek is "epithumia" which Pastor Tim Keller in his study on Galatians says is best translated "over-desires" or "inordinate desires".  See, St. Augustine defined sin as disordered desires.  Our sinful nature often desires things that are flat out wrong, but it also overly desires good things and turns them into idols.  It desires things inordinately.  We see this with the good gifts of sex, wine, family, sleep, etc. 

The Spirit has desires, too.  Our new nature has strong desires.  Above all, our new nature desires to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  The Spirit unhindered will stop at nothing in its pursuit of enjoying God.  As Pastor John Piper's cornerstone doctrinal statement says, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him."  The Spirit longs to be satisfied by the pleasures that are at His right hand forevermore.

"You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand." Psalm 16:11

We have these two natures at war: the sinful nature and the Spirit a.k.a. the new nature.  Who wins in your life?  Now, as a Christian who is not yet glorified there will be wins and loses on both sides, but as we are being sanctified the Spirit grows and the sinful nature shrinks.

There are several ways to join in this fight and I've written about this topic in the past from the book of Colossians, but today I want to focus on perhaps the most important way to fight this battle.

What fuels your joy?

I've described the battle between these two forces with the old proverb about the two dogs that fight and the one that wins is the one you feed.  That's a good analogy, but I now think there is a better one:

Which fire do you fan?

Our lives are controlled by our passions.  What we have a deep love for, we will sacrifice for.  What we desire most deeply, we will chase most swiftly.  What we are most passionate about, we will risk the most to get. 

What most spurs you on to love the ways of God?  What disciplines or activities fan the flame of your passion for Christ?  Identify those things and then use them as the billows of your new heart.  Pour them like gasoline on the fire of your joy in Christ.

Let's help each other.  Comment with the things that fan the flame of your love for Jesus today.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Monkey Selfies and Foolish Thinking

The biggest monkey trial since Scopes recently had a decision reached in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  The monkey lost.

In a bizarre case that has been going on for nearly three years, a photographer who was in Indonesia had his camera swiped by a monkey and the monkey took a few photos.  One of those photos became extremely popular.  The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued the photographer claiming that the copyright on the monkey selfie belonged to the monkey and not the human who owned the camera.  This silly case has reached pretty high in our court system... embarrassingly and humorously high.  But the court once again unanimously ruled that non-humans cannot own copyrights.

PETA took up this case to "expand legal rights for non-humans."  In the original settlement of this non-sequitur case the photographer named David John Slater donated a fourth of the revenue from the photo to a monkey charity.  I'm not making this up.  You can read about it here and elsewhere.

This whole story is funny at best and annoying at worst, right?  We all know that monkeys and other animals don't have the same rights as humans.  But why do we know this?  By what standard do we make this statement? 

Evolutionarily we are simply further developed or differently developed animals so what gives us the right to have rights other animals don't have?  Does might make right?  Just because I'm evolutionarily more advanced do I have power and prestige that a monkey doesn't?

Outside of the statements made by most religions including statements made in the Bible I see no objective reason that I can claim copyright privilege over a monkey.  Speciesism anyone? (Speciesism is a very real claim made by some extreme animal rights activist)

The Bible is very clear that humans are different from animals. 

"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'

So God created man in His own image,
in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them.

God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." Genesis 1:26-28

God tells us objectively that there is a different majesty and authority given to humans that is not present in animals.  Animals are amazing and diverse and at times very intelligent but they are not humans.  Only humans were created in His likeness.  Men and women, boys and girls of all shapes, sizes, colors and personalities were created in God's image.  Every person on earth has the imago dei, the image of God, printed on them.

The Bible also speaks of treating animals well.

"The righteous man cares for the needs of his animal,
but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel." Proverbs 12:10

The Bible says the way we treat animals has a lot to say about our character, so we must treat them well.  But treating animals well and caring for them does not include equating them with humans.

What's the problem with equating animals with humans?  Won't animals be helped by this?

Animal rights may be elevated but human rights will be threatened.  Reasoning that goes outside of God's thinking in regards to humans and animals will nearly always tend toward blatant sin.  Equating people with animals hardly is about speciesism but rather racism that results in Japanese-Americans on trains to internment camps, Jews herded to concentration camps, Native Americans moved on trails of tears and Africans chained in sugar plantations.  If we don't recognize the imago dei that exists only in human beings and in all human beings we will error on counting certain colors of people as 3/5 of a person or judging what ability levels we want to treat as superior.

The monkey selfie trial is silly, but let's check our thinking with it.  If there is no objective truth that we use for our reasoning in this silly test we set our selves up for failure.  We must be able to answer the question, "why is it this way?" with an objective answer.  For the Christian the objective answer is, "because the Bible tells me so." 

All people are a unique and treasured creation.  Look for the imago dei in every human being you encounter today.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Not Cut Out to be Alone

I hope you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I hope you have time in your week to spend time alone with Jesus.  I pray that you do know that Jesus died for you personally.

However, too often in our individualistic culture forget that while Jesus died for us individually and personally He did so to bring us together as His Church.

"As you come to Him, the living Stone... rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him... you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 2:4-5

Peter calls Christians living stones that are being built into a spiritual house.  Stones are cut out from rocks and shaped into blocks for the express purpose of being used for building.  A stone, like you and I, must be molded and chiseled and smoothed out by the craftsman before it is of any good.  There is some truth to be gleaned from this imagery.  God will make us into what He needs us to be for His building project.

There is a lot in the metaphor Peter uses but what I want to focus on today is this:

We weren't cut out to be alone.

While we have a personal relationship with Jesus.  While Jesus is my Lord, He is not mine alone.  God sent Jesus to redeem His Church.  God the Father crushed His Son to purchase individuals that come together to collectively be this spiritual house, this body, this bride.  We are not meant to do this alone.  In fact, doing it alone is against the purposes of the Gospel.

So, how do we do this in the age of Youtube sermons from our favorite pastors in our living rooms, radio stations playing the top worship songs in our cars and podcasts of our most favorite teachers on our phones alone in our easy chairs?  In an age of individualism and isolation, an age of ├╝ber-connection yet physical solitude, how do we live as living stones being built into a spiritual house?

I believe we do this best in the local church.  Until the Church universal can be in one place at one time (and I look forward to that day) we best follow the Bible's design for us in the local church.  Yes, we could kind of do this in informal gatherings with other believers, but we do it best in an organized local church.

I say organized local church because stones are meant to be assembled in an organized fashion.  Anyone constructing a building will have plans for how that building will be assembled.  Jesus is no different.  We were left with all sorts of plans for how we living stones are to assemble.  We are given a good hierarchy in the Scriptures that has plenty of wiggle room for various style preferences and cultures.  We are given the offices of elder and deacon.  We are given different giftings of people that will be present in the local church.

See, the organization of the local church: the deacons, elders, pastors, teachers, etc is a good thing.  Men and women assembled together in an organized fashion (i.e. church constitutions and mission statements) better reflect the glory of our God of Order (1 Corinthians 14:33).

Christians, we were not cut out to be alone.  We are chosen by God to be together rubbing shoulders as stones in a spiritual house.  So, join a local church.  Get involved in being part of something larger than yourself.  Live as a living stone being built into a spiritual house by the Master Craftsman today.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

God Overpaid

This past Sunday I got to listen to one of my favorite preachers, my dad.  He preached on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 which is about sexual immorality.  There was much from the sermon that I took home with me but one line from the passage struck me in the gut.

"You are not your own, you were bought at a price." 1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a

What landed on me when that passage was read was that God overpaid for me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling God foolish, because He is the very definition of wisdom.  Many love the song "Reckless Love" and I guess I'm tapping into that sort of hyperbolic idea (though I hadn't ever heard the song until after this Sunday).  From my perspective and from what most of the Bible says it seems that God overpaid for me.

Sin is a serious offense and the wages of sin is death.  Someone had to die to fix the problem of sin.  God had to be just and therefore blood had to be shed to provide forgiveness for my sin.  When I say that God overpaid I'm not saying that remedying the mess of sin didn't require a perfect sacrifice.

God overpaid because there is no way that I'm worth that much.  There is no way on the trading block I'm worth being swapped with Jesus in a trade.  Even if you pair me and all of humanity there is no way all of us in exchange for the Son of God is a fair trade.

God overpaid for me.  I was bought at a price and if I were God I would not pay that price for me and I wouldn't pay it for you.

But God in His infinite love did pay that price!

In 2011 Mikeschair released a song called "Someone Worth Dying For".  I really, really appreciate what the song was trying to accomplish.  It was trying to give people who felt worthless and hopeless a message that said that Jesus loves them and that they have a reason to live.  However, I must disagree with the lyrics' theology.  I must disagree with the title and chorus.

God did not send Jesus to die for us because we were WORTH it.  No, His love for us is so much better than that.  He loves us so much that He overpaid.  He paid the highest price possible for us when we our market value wasn't near that price.  He paid a price that we simply weren't worth.

But don't sell your self short.  You are worth a lot in God's eyes.

Have you ever watched Antiques Roadshow or something like that?  Have you ever wondered why some of those items are worth so much?  Have you ever thought that the price estimated on those items was a joke?  Well, those items are only worth the estimated price because someone is willing to pay that price.  Someone really loves Victorian era tea cups and will pay a handsome price for one.  The worth of those items doesn't come from their usefulness but from the price someone is willing to pay for it.

You are worth a lot.  Your life is worth so much because you were bought at a price.  You were bought at an insanely high price.  Now live your life, in all areas, with the knowledge that you were bought at a high price.  You were bought at an extremely high price therefore honor God with your life today.