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

Monday, October 31, 2016

Verses to Help Us Grieve Death

This has been a rough week in my community.  Death has reared its ugly head taking some young men.  Two young men died in a car crash Thursday and then Sunday morning one of the community's football coaches died in his sleep.

We aren't supposed to die.  It's not supposed to be this way, but with sin comes death to everyone.  Dealing with the aftermath of death is so hard.  

My pastor and I and one of our missionaries put together a list of verses to help us cope with the tragedies.  I will share some of them below.  Take time to read them, pray for others using them and be encouraged today.

"I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore have hope:

Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, 'The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for Him.

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in Him,
to the one who seeks Him."  Lamentations 3:19-26

"For men are not cast off
by the Lord forever.
Though He brings grief, He will show compassion,
so great is His unfailing love.
For He does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to the children of men." Lamentations 3:31-33

"Let him who walks in the dark,
who has not light,
trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on his God." Isaiah 50:10b

"I am still confident of this;
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD." Psalm 27:13-14

"God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble." Psalm 46:1

"I lift up my eyes to the hills
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth." Psalm 121:1

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds." Psalm 147:3

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."  Hebrews 4:14-16

"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep with Him." 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

"Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior." Habakkuk 3:17-18

"The LORD your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17

"But now, this is what the LORD says
He who created you, O Jacob,
He who formed you, O Israel:
'Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze." Isaiah 43:1-2

"He will wipe away 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

"The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18

"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has appointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of His splendor." Isaiah 61:1-3

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." John 14:1-3

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope though the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." 1 Peter 1:3

Monday, October 24, 2016

Jesus' Answered Prayer

"During the days of Jesus' life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission." Hebrews 5:7

"He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.'  An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him.  And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground."  Luke 22:41-44

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death and He was heard because of His reverent submission.  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed until His sweat was like blood.  The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus' prayer was heard, yet Jesus didn't get out of death on the cross.  Jesus had His prayer answered and He was crucified.

Many of us feel that God's answers to prayer get us what we want.

While Christine and I were trying to have a baby we prayed a lot.  We both prayed to the point of tears on multiple occasions.  Christine prayed fervently while recounting great promises of Scripture.  People would hear about our struggle and say things like "no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless" (Psalm 84:11)

Now Christine is pregnant and we are thrilled.  But is Christine pregnant because we prayed and God answered?

In part the answer is 'yes', of course because only God can make life.  It's yes because if infertility teaches us anything it's that you can do everything right and still not get pregnant.  So yes, Christine is pregnant and that is an answer to our prayers.  But what about others who pray and are more blameless than we are?  What about Jesus?  He was completely blameless and prayed so fervently that He began to sweat blood.  Why didn't He get the thing He asked for?  So, in part, the answer is 'no', she isn't pregnant because we asked and prayed really hard.

Prayer is a mystery.  God is sovereign and has the perfect plan.  He doesn't need us to ask nicely to decide to follow the perfect plan.  He doesn't sit on His throne and all the sudden go, "Wow, there's 200 people praying for this, I better do it."  YET, He is pleased when we pray.  YET, He has ordained that our prayers be a part of His perfect execution of His perfect plan.

So, we pray and we pray hard.  But we realize that sometimes our prayers are heard the way Jesus' prayer was heard.  If Jesus can have His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane answered the way it was, then brace yourself for the same thing.

Let's finish what the writer of Hebrews says about Jesus' prayer:

"During the days of Jesus' life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.  Although He was a Son, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him."  Hebrews 5:7-9

Jesus prayed for relief from the cross and didn't get it.  Instead, Jesus got to be the source of all salvation.  If God doesn't answer your prayer the way you think He should, realize that He's got something better in mind to do to and through you.  You may never see it, but know that it's bigger and better than what you had in mind.

Pray fervently with confidence and know that God will do what's absolutely best today.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Work Hard to Rest

The book of Hebrews was written to racially Jewish Christians.  So, you would expect to find a lot of Old Testament references in the book, and you'd be right.  Let me share one from Hebrews chapter 4.

You may remember the story of the Exodus.  Moses was leading the Israelites from slavery to the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of rest from slavery.  Moses and the people approached the Promised Land and so Moses sent spies into the land (Number 13).  The twelve spies went and came back with a report.  They said that the Promised Land was as good as promised, however all but Joshua and Caleb thought that the people in the land were too tough for the Israelites to defeat.  The people rebelled against Moses and wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt.  So, because of their unbelief God made them wander in the desert for forty years until that unbelieving generation died.  That unbelieving generation was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.

The writer of Hebrews reminds the readers of this story to make sure that they don't repeat their own history.  As George Santayana famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

"Therefore, since the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us be careful (*fear) that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.  For we also have had the Gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard it did not combine it with faith."  Hebrews 4:1-2 (*'fear' added because practically only the NIV softens the language to 'be careful')

"Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience."  Hebrews 4:11

The Israelites of that unbelieving generation didn't enter the rest of the Promised Land because of unbelief.  Their inability to believe in God's promise kept them from enjoying God's promise.  The very same people that saw the 10 Plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the pillar of fire and that ate the manna and quail from heaven failed to believe God could complete His promise.  The same God that had already defeated an army of the most powerful nation on earth was by their side, yet they lacked belief.

The Israelites lacked the belief necessary to enter the Promised Land and the writer of Hebrews warns us of the same thing.  Our unbelief can keep us from enjoying God's rest so we work hard to overcome unbelief in our life.

The same God who parted the Red Sea and raised Himself from the dead is by our side, yet we lack belief sometimes.

"...without faith it is impossible to please God..." Hebrews 11:6

We must work hard to maintain our faith.  We must work hard to enter God's rest.

Here's the good news.

First, the rest God offers us is so much more complete than the Promised Land.  The Promised Land was a prototype, if you will, for what is to come.  Our Promised Land is the New Heaven and New Earth.  Our Promised Land is a land of perfection where we can once again walk with God and live in eternal bliss.  This land of rest is more than worth any effort we need to make.

Second, the work of staying faithful is done with God's power not ours.  We must make an effort to stay faithful to Jesus, yes.  Staying faithful to Jesus is a community but it isn't something we do with our own power.  God gives us the mercy and grace to stay faithful to Him.  The saints will persevere but it won't be by sitting on their butts on the sideline.  We will stay believing Jesus like the Israelites could have stayed believing God, by going into battle sure of victory.

And when we find ourselves struggling to believe, and we will, let do as the writer of Hebrews encourages us to do:

"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need."  Hebrews 4:16

Heaven is wonderful.  Entering God's rest is transcendent.  Let us work hard to enter that rest today.

Monday, October 10, 2016


Last year Christine and I bought our first house.

Having gone through the home buying process and now some of the minor home repairs that go along with being a homeowner we have found an interest in HGTV.  We especially enjoy House Hunters because we can relate to what the people on the show are going through.  A few years ago the idea of watching House Hunters seemed ridiculous, but now the only reason we don't watch is if we've seen that episode before.

Now, House Hunters can be annoying because of some of the silly things they say they want in a home, but we see on that show how much people care about a home that will be theirs.  When the home is yours and you are spending lots of money on it you want it to be a certain way.  You look at a wall and say, "We'll need to take this wall out" or you say to the kitchen, "Oh, that will have to be redone."

For that reason HGTV has a lot of remodeling shows.  We love watching people take a rather unremarkable home and renovate it into something beautiful.  This is why we watch shows like Fixer Uppers, Flip or Flop, Property Brothers and Love It or List It.  We enjoy watching the creativity of a designer beautify a space that really needs it.

Now remember this as we look at Hebrew 3:6.

"But Christ is faithful as a Son over God's house.  And we are His house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast."  Hebrews 3:6

The writer of Hebrews calls us God's house in this metaphor.  Earlier in Hebrews he/she said that we were part of God's family otherwise known as His house or household, but in this passage he/she is referring to a house like the building.

Jesus as our creator is the builder of the house and worthy of great honor because of that, but He's also entitled to repair the house.

Jesus is faithful as a Son over God's house.

When I rented a house HGTV didn't appeal to me at all, because as the renter I couldn't do any of those changes to the house that I saw on TV.  However, as Son over God's house and as heir of that house, Jesus has every right to make changes to the house.

Sin has made us dilapidated and we as God's house need to be ready for renovating, cleansing, repairing and beautifying on the inside and out.  Jesus will make His Father's house so much better than the best HGTV result.  And Jesus will do it because we are His family's house.  We are not some house to be flipped and sold to the highest bidder.  No, we were bought with a price and the owner now is going to fix us up so He can take residency in us.

"Jesus, replied, If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him."  John 14:23

If you think the personalities and crews on HGTV are good, wait until you see what the Man on JCTV will do.  The one who made the universe does amazing work in home renovation.

We together are His house so hold on to your courage and the hope of which you boast today.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Jesus Is Our Unashamed Brother

Jesus is fully God and fully man.  I'm reading through the book of Hebrews and if you were to very simply summarize Hebrews chapter one you would say, "Jesus is God."  If you were to simply summarize chapter two you would say, "Jesus is a man."

Jesus being fully God and fully man has many implications but I want to focus on one in particular.

"In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.  Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.  So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers."  Hebrews 2:10-11

God the Father sent Jesus to bring many sons to glory.  This means that we who are Christians are sons and daughters of God Himself!  This is amazing.  If I am a son of God the Father that means that I am in line to receive everything from the Father that a son would expect to receive.  This is incredible.  God did so much more than save me from death.  God did so much more than save me from slavery to sin and what Hebrews calls "slavery by their fear of death."  God didn't just save me, He adopted me.

But wait, there's more.

Jesus is our brother... and He's not ashamed of us.

"Both the one who makes men holy (Jesus) and those who are made holy (us) are of the same family."  *Parenthesis added. 

Jesus and I are in the same family.  This is incredible.  This means that the same love that the Father has for Jesus He has for me.  This means the same thanksgiving feast the Father is preparing for Jesus is for me, too.

"So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers."

Jesus is not only my brother but He's cool with that.  He's not ashamed to have a weak punk like me for a brother.  And He's not ashamed to have you as a brother/sister either.

This begs the question: why am I ashamed of Jesus?

If Jesus isn't ashamed to be my brother, why am I ashamed of Him sometimes?  Jesus has every reason to be ashamed of being my brother; I mean, He had to die to cover for me.  But I have never and will never have a legitimate reason to be ashamed of brother Jesus.  Jesus has never and will never be anything other than awesome, yet I am at times ashamed.  I've worried that others will think less of me because of my love for my brother Jesus and that is shameful.  If Jesus can be unashamed to be my brother then I should be ecstatic to be His brother, especially since He died to enable the Father to adopt me.

The Gospel invites us into a privileged family.  As the old song says, "I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God."  I'm blessed to have God as my Father, Jesus as my big brother and every Christian from every race, tribe and tongue as my brothers and sisters.

Thank God that Jesus is our unashamed brother today.