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

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Heavenly Storehouses

I woke up this morning to a lot of snow.  At 8:00 a.m. I had 8 inches at my house and now it's up to about a foot of snow and it's still falling.  The snow seemed to come out of nowhere even though it was forecasted.  We had walked around our neighborhood without coats just a couple of days ago and now we have a Winter wonderland.

As I look out the window at the mounting snow and see the huge evergreen's branches bending under the heavy, wet snow and I see my patio table buried in snow a line from the book of Job comes to mind.

"Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
or seen the storehouses of the hail?" Job 38:22

The poetry of Job chapters 38-41 contains some of my favorite lines of poetry in all of Scripture.  Chris Tomlin taps into this poetry in his song "Indescribable": "Who has told every lightening bolt where it should go?  Or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow?"

Well, the heavenly storehouses were emptied a bit on us on this fine "Spring" day.

I love the image of heavenly storehouses.  But I'll be honest, snow was not what I was looking for today.  I need grace.

Pastor John Piper has written about and talked about Future Grace.  Future grace is the idea that in order for God to keep all of His promises to us we need Him to have grace available for us to live day-by-day and moment-by-moment.

Imagine, if you will, the poetic picture of a storehouse in Heaven full of the grace you need.  Ignore the fact that grace isn't tangible and that this isn't how it really works and just imagine with me.  Imagine shelves marked with the grace you need to endure every trial in your life and to do every good work from now until you die.  Do you see the big box marked "Patience with Co-Workers"?  Did you find the chest marked "Enduring and Thriving in the First Year of Teaching"?  Have you gotten to the bin labeled "Unforeseen Expenses"?  Did you smile when you knew there was a box with "Raising Foster Children" scribbled on the side?  Continue to peruse the rows and rows of shelves and you'll see containers of grace for everything your future will hold.

God will get us through whatever He calls us to.

"May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.  Amen." Hebrews 12:20-21

"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.  Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." 2 Peter 1:3-4

Getting through what we're called to is not a promise of ease.  No, life will be hard.  Following Jesus leads many through the valley of the shadow of death.  Many of the great Christians of history were martyred.  But that does not negate God's many great promises.

This idea of a storehouse filled with all the grace we will ever need in the future should make us bold.  We will never have to do anything for the Lord with our own power.  God provides ALL the grace we need and He does it by giving it to us when we need it.  Many of us have watched another Christian graciously get through a tough situation and thought "I could never do that."  Well, you could.  The reason we think we couldn't do it is because we haven't been supplied with the grace necessary to do it yet because our Heavenly Father hasn't yet handed us that grace, but He will.  He has storehouses of grace ready for whatever our future holds.

Thank God for His grace.  Know that God will get you through whatever He calls you to.  And let the knowledge of God's infinite grace that is ready to be given to you, His child, make you a bold Christian today.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Deep Truth in Little Songs

Songs and poems have a way of getting lodged in our minds.  I love listening to ministers like my Dad or Alistair Begg who quote poetry and song lyrics in their sermons.  I love worship leaders who pick songs with deep truths in them.  I love how when I'm searching for answers a melody or rhyme comes to my mind.

Don't discredit the songs we sing and the poems we memorize.  These latch onto our minds like barnacles.  Don't underestimate the lyrics of a song to teach even if the song is for children.  Too often we think that we move beyond the lyrics of our Sunday School room and on to the songs of "adult" worship never to look back.  But friends, take time to look back at the theology of our little songs.

Just over two years ago on a Palm Sunday I spent time with my wife's Grandpa John on his deathbed.  At one point he starting faintly singing "Jesus Loves Me" and I'll never forget it.  John was wise enough to know that he didn't graduate from the words of "Jesus Loves Me", rather he held on to those lyrics tightly in his last hours.

"Jesus Loves Me" is just one of the wonderful songs we teach our children.  Take time to think about the great truth being song in just the one verse most of us have memorized forever.

"Jesus loves me!"  

"The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing." Zephaniah 3:17

"But God demonstrates His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

"But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions... it is by grace you have been saved." Ephesians 2:4-5

This is one of the greatest facts in the universe.  Jesus loves us!  The God of all the universe, the God of galaxies and sub-atomic particles, the God of the tangible and the intangible, loves us.  What a great truth to sing.

"This I know, for the Bible tells me so."

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness," 2 Timothy 3:16

This song teaching us that the inerrant Bible is our source of knowable Truth.  We know Jesus loves us because the Bible tells us so.  We can trust the Bible.

"Little ones to Him belong."

"Know that the LORD is God.
It is He who made us, and we are His;
we are His people, the sheep of His pasture." Psalm 100:3

"I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.  They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.... Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am and to see my glory, the glory you have give me because you loved me before the creation of the wold" John 17:6, 24

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

Sing that you belong to God and no one can snatch you out of His hand.  He prizes us as His chosen possession.

"They are weak but He is strong."

"But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."  2 Corinthians 12:9-11

Little children aren't the only ones who need to sing reminders that they are weak.  A thirty year old is no closer to God's strength than a three year old.  We all need to learn to rejoice in the strength of our God and not our own supposed power.

"Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so."

I love how kids sing this chorus.  They shout it, they scream it, they wail it as loudly as they can.  And they should.  What greater truth is there?  What is more worth yelling than, YES, JESUS LOVES ME!

Next time you hear the little people at your church singing this, I suggest you sing along.  The next time your kiddos sing this in the car, join them.  There is great truth in many of our songs.  Bury that truth in your heart and let it rise to the top in those moments you need it.

Remember, Jesus loves you today.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Australia, Early Edition and the Future

My sister lives in the future... kind of. 

Right now as I type this it is 7:51 p.m. on Thursday here in Iowa, but in Adelaide, Australia it is 11:22 a.m. on Friday.  So, my sister lives in the future. 

When the Cubs were in the world series I'd video-chat with her and ask if they won or not so I could know whether or not it was worth staying up to watch the game.  Now, of course even though she was in the next day she didn't actually know what happened in the Cubs game yet.  That's not how time works and it's a bummer because I could make a good living playing the lottery if it was.

Do you remember the show "Early Edition"?  Kyle Chandler the guy from the show "Friday Night Lights" would get tomorrow's newspaper today and would fix a little of the world with that knowledge.  You know, stuff like getting people out of harms way.  The show ran four seasons and was decently well received and that's partly because we all would love to have the ability to see a day into the future.

Wanting to know what life has in store for tomorrow is not a new concept.  Knowing the future is something all of us, with in reason, have the desire to know.

Well, I do have one part of the newspaper, if newspapers still exist, I'm nearly 100% guaranteed to show up in one day: The obituaries.  I have an appointment with death (Hebrews 9:27).

"Show me, O LORD, my life's end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting is my life.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Each man's life is but a breath.
Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro:
He bustles about, but only in vain;
he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it."  Psalm 39:4-6

It's been said that death and taxes are life's two guarantees.  We are all going to die and our lives are much shorter than we think.  As a kid the years seemed to drag on but every year older we get we realize how short life is.

"The thief comes only to steal and to kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10

Jesus tells us that the thief, a.k.a. Satan, wants to steal and kill and destroy, but that He came to give us life to the full.  Life is short.  Which route of life do you want to follow: the route of the thief or that of the Good Shepherd?  The thief presents his route as one of fun and enjoyment and that of the Lord as one of dull repetition.  But that couldn't be further from the truth.  Jesus' path is life to the full and Satan's is a killjoy.  It's just for some reason Satan's path seems to be better marketed.

Not only does Jesus give us a better life here and now but He gives us eternal life.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

I've seen the future; I die and so do you.  I've seen the length of our days; they are short.  You and I are given a choice, a fork in the road as it were.  Which future do you choose?  One of destruction and killjoys or one of abundant living during this life and eternal life to follow?  As for me, the choice is clear. 

Choose wisely today.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Scourging of Jesus

"He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.

Surely He took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered Him stricken by God,
smitten by Him, and afflicted.
But He was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him,
and by His wounds we are healed." Isaiah 53:3-5

Tonight I spoke to the high schoolers a bit about the agonies that Jesus experienced on the cross and during His scourging.  It is so hard to imagine the physical, much less the emotional, pain that Jesus experienced for us. 

I encourage you to take five minutes and watch this piece from a History documentary about scourging.  This will give you a little better understanding of some of the suffering that Jesus went through for you and I. 

Watch this short video today.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Courageous Characters

Often when we read the Bible we forget that those living in the pages didn't know the end of the story.  We read the stories as if they had some sort of assurance of success.  This is many times not the case.  The men and women in our Bibles were men and women just like us. 

Over the last several months this has been one of my favorite lines in the entire Bible:

"Elijah was a man just like us.  He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.  Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops." James 5:17-18 (emphasis added)

"Elijah was a man just like us."

I love that line because too often I read Bible stories like I'm reading Marvel or D.C. comics.  I read about the Hulkish faith of Elijah or the Wonder Woman-like faith of Esther or the Human Torch-like faith of Daniel's friends.  But these men and women, even those of whom we don't get a portrait that includes their flaws, were men and women like us.  Other than Samson's extra-human strength there are no supermen in the Bible.

Yet there are courageous characters like Esther and Daniel's friends.  Let me show you.

"Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me.  Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.  I and my maids will fast as you do.  When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law.  And if I perish, I perish."   Esther 4:15-16 (emphasis added)

"Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, 'O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."  Daniel 3:16-18 (emphasis added)

"And if I perish, I perish."
"But even if He does not..."

The people in these stories were never given a promise of success or rescue from God.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego weren't given a revelation from God that they wouldn't be burned to a crisp in the fiery furnace.  Esther had no promise from God that her moody, egotistical husband wouldn't have her killed; in fact, God isn't ever mentioned in the book of Esther.  Yet these men and this young woman had courageous faith.

The common line that I heard again this Sunday is that faith is spelled R-I-S-K.  What is God calling you to faith in?  Where are you being asked to take a risk for your faith?  Do you ever take a risk in faith?  The men and women of the Bible were women and men just like you and I.  These people were not members of the Marvel Universe but they were members of the weak, flawed human race.  If they can have courageous faith you can, too.

Examine your life and ask God where He is asking you to live out a courageous faith today.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Following Jesus' Teachings to Hell

Could someone follow the teachings of Jesus and go to Hell?

I've heard many times of those who "follow the teachings of Jesus."  Now, I try my best to follow the teachings of Jesus, but when these folks I'm referring to say this they mean they simply follow His teachings.  I do not simply follow His teachings.  I cannot simply follow His teachings.

If the Jesus movement was only about following His teachings then the Jesus movement sends us to Hell.  Those who put their minds to or hope in only following the Law are in no worse a place than those who practice this form of Christianish religion.  This may sound strange to you, but following the teachings of Jesus is not enough. 

Now, Christians, this is not to say that we don't follow the teachings of Jesus, because we do.  This is not to say that Jesus' teaching is in anyway void of the power to save.  Rather, I'm saying that those who say their religion or actions are guided by the teachings of Jesus are wise, but those that put their hopes simply in the teachings of Jesus are liable to miss Heaven.

Here's the crux of the issue: I love the teachings of Jesus and strive to follow them, but I NEED the actions of Jesus. 

I dedicate my life to listening to Christ's voice in the Scriptures, but my life is saved by Christ crucified, not by my following His teachings.  I need the Gospel.  Gospel is the Greek word translated "Good New" not "Good Counsel".

What is the Gospel?

"Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.  Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time..." 1 Corinthians 15:1-6a

Some of you may be confused by what I'm talking about.  I don't want you to be ignorant of movements like Cultural Christianity or Christian Atheism led in the past by men like Thomas Jefferson or in the present like Richard Dawkins.  This movement is present in "churches", too.  It is estimated that 42% of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (that is a denomination name) do not believe in God or the divinity of Jesus and that non-belief does not keep them from being clergy as 1 in 6 clergy hold the belief.  This belief in "Jesus' teachings" only is an actual thing and it is an eternally deadly thing.

The sad part is to believe in "Jesus' teachings" but to not believe that He is God is to not believe in His teachings at all.  In response to this movement in his lifetime C. S. Lewis famously made the "Liar, lunatic or Lord" argument in Mere Christianity which basically claims to hold this belief is to call Jesus one of the three because Jesus called Himself God.  Jesus taught about so much more than morality.

We as Christians are to follow Jesus's teachings, but we are to follow them because we've been reborn and a new heart has been put in us.  And we can only be reborn if we have been crucified with Jesus and raised with Him to walk in newness of life.  We need the actions of Jesus.  We need the life, death and resurrection of the historical Jesus.  We need God made flesh not just a wise teacher.

Some of my words might seem harsh but our theology is important.  We mustn't accept deadly theology simply because the name of the one we love is mentioned in it. Reject bad theology like this when you see it.  Hold fast to the true Gospel today.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

My Dad Comes Through Always

Today at church we spent time in Discipleship Class discussing our adoption as sons of God and in service we talked about how to spiritually mature.

During musical worship my mind was drawn to think of the reality that God is my Father.  That I can call Him Dad.  The first song we sang (and this wasn't planned to be connected to what was taught in Discipleship Class) was "Good, Good Father" by Chris Tomlin.  That song was a God-send, but the song I want to share today is not that song.

I want to share the song "Always" as by Kristian Stanfill and Tricia Brock.  The song is very rich, but on occasion in songs I like to substitute various names of God.  Today my soul was warmed by this.  I switched out the word "God" and in the word "Dad".  I did this to think of my mighty Dad, not my earthly dad.

"Oh, my Dad, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always.
I will not fear, His promise is true
My Dad will come through always.

I was there holding my son and thinking about how imperfectly I love my son and yet would always do my best to come through for him.  While thinking that thought I thought a higher thought of how my Dad, my Heavenly Father, is so much more loving and more capable than my earthy dad is for me or I am for Joshua.

Listen to this song and substitute the word Dad today.