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

Friday, December 30, 2016

Top Posts of 2016

2016 is almost a wrap.  This for me, and many others, has been a crazy year.  I've seen the low of death and the high of new life.  This year, and the experiences in it, has grown me in ways expected and ways unexpected.  Below is an unscientific and likely incorrect list of the top post from this blog month-by-month.  Thank you for reading and I hope you have a great 2017 and enjoy reading these posts today.

January- Let Them Hate a Piece

February- Are You a Bigot?

March- Jesus Loves John

April- My Near Molestation Story

May- The Universe Doesn't Care About You

June- Beauty Wins the Beast

July- See You Later

August- Pray for Your Pastor's Wife

September- The Glory of Infertility

October- Jesus' Answered Prayer

November- An Empty Chair at the Table

December- God on the Inside

Monday, December 26, 2016

Better Than Forgiveness

If I asked you what the salvation Jesus offers is, how would you answer?

Seems like a critical question if this salvation is what our faith is after.

For many, perhaps not you, the answer is "Jesus' salvation is forgiveness from our sins."  And while it is true that Jesus' perfect life, death and resurrection gives us forgiveness from our sins I don't think that is what Jesus' salvation is.  What if forgiveness is part of the means to getting salvation and not the ends?

As I was reading the Christmas story Christmas morning I paid attention to Zechariah's prophesy in Luke chapter 1.  Zechariah's son John the Baptist had just been born and the proud dad was filled with the Holy Spirit as he spoke these words"

"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because He has come and has redeemed His people.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of His servant David
(as He said through His holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us
to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember His holy covenant,
the oath He swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve Him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him,
to give His people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace." Luke 1:68-79 (bold added for emphasis)

Zechariah makes it so clear in his prophecy that Jesus is coming to forgive sins but that is the incredible means of giving His people more.

Zechariah says first that Jesus came to deliver us from our enemies.  Sin and death are the chief enemies of mankind and Jesus won victory over them for us.  We have been rescued from the hand of our enemies and one day we will see the full consummation of that.

Zechariah next says that Jesus came "to enable us to serve Him (God) without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days."  He then goes on to prophesy that his son John would prepare the way for Jesus to "give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins."

The word "through" in the passage above is very important.  Let's put it like this.  I would not say that I'm giving my wife a trip to Europe through a trip to Europe.  I might however say I'm giving my wife a trip to Europe through a plane ticket.  The ticket and the plane ride are indeed a gift but it is not THE gift (anyone who has ridden a plane for an extended period of time knows this); the trip and experience in Europe is the real gift.

So it is with God's forgiveness.  God's salvation is so much more than forgiveness.  The Bible is ripe with promises about what this gift is, but let's look at what Zechariah says it is.  He says that we are saved FROM our enemies and TO His presence, specifically "to enable us to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days."

Forgiveness is the means for Zechariah; serving God in His direct presence without fear is the grand goal.  To be able to be in God's direct presence without being consumed and without even the fear of being consumed: this is the salvation Zechariah is excited about.  As a priest Zechariah had gone into the Holy of Holies and come out mute, so I'm sure this salvation was particularly thrilling.

The psalmist put it this way:

"Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked." Psalm 84:10

For Zechariah forgiveness was the mean to entering God's direct presence without fear.  And salvation is this and more.  Salvation is also adoption as sons and daughters.  Zechariah looked with eager expectation to the day when he could receive forgiveness from sins in order to serve God in His presence, and we get that.  But we also receive salvation so that God can come face to face with us and be a good doting father to us.

Forgiveness is great, but it is not the summation of salvation.  Thank God!  If all God offered was forgiveness it would still be the best news ever.  If all He gave was peace with Him we would still gladly pursue it.  But thank God that Jesus' salvation begins with forgiveness and doesn't end there.  Thank God for what Jesus did for you beginning at Christmas and continuing to His resurrection, today.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Favorite Ghosts of Christmas Past

Here are a few of my favorite posts (from my own blog... pretty messed up) about Christmas.  I hope you enjoy these and they enrich your experience of the miracle of Christmas.

God on the Inside

Truth That Sings

5 Christmas Miracles

Mary's Treasure and Our Pain

He Dwelt Amongst Us

Merry Christmas.  Don't let the wonder of Christmas escape you this weekend.  Ponder the wonderful thing God has done for us today.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Favorite Quotes from "The Great Gain of Godliness"

Here are some of my favorite quotes from The Great Gain of Godliness by Thomas Watson.  Watson was a Puritan who wrote the book based on Malachi 3:16-18  "Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon His name."

"To profess religion when the times favour it is no great matter... Dead fish swim down the stream, living fish swim against it." p. 6

"Sin is never the better because it is in fashion." p. 7

"One man's zeal is a burning torch for others to light at." p. 8

"If anyone ask what Christ died of, it may be  answered, He died of love." p. 10

"If a lame man laugh at you for walking upright, will you therefore limp?" p. 11

"God is so great that the Christian is afraid of displeasing Him, and so good that he is afraid of losing Him." p. 13

"There is a difference between fearing God, and being afraid of God; the godly fear God as a child does his father, the wicked are afraid of God as the prisoner is of the judge." p. 14

"Lack of the fear of God is the innate cause of all wickedness." p. 19

"Every sin is founded in ignorance,"  p. 20

"All the moral virtues in their highest elevation do not make a saint, but here is his true character, he is one that fears God." p. 25

"... in respect of God's infinite majesty, there will be some of this blessed fear in heaven.  Not a fear that has torment in it, for perfect love will cast out fear, but a holy, sweet, reverential fear.  Though God has so much beauty in Him as shall cause love, and joy, in heaven, yet this beauty is mixed with so much majesty, as shall cause a veneration in glorified saints." p. 29

"Carnal fear is an enemy to religion.  The fear of God frightens it away; it causes courage." p. 32

"... there is more evil in a drop of sin, than in a sea of affliction." p. 37

"The reason men do not fear God is become they entertain slight thoughts of Him."  p. 61

"What men delight in, they will be speaking of." p. 74

"O my soul, shall I admire the drip and not the ocean?  Shall I think of the workmanship, and not of Him that made it?"  p. 79

"The reason our affections are so chilled and cold in religion is that we do not warm them with the thoughts of God." p. 86

"If God is thinking of us day and night, shall not we think of His Name?" p. 89

"Honey is sweet, but the honeycomb is viscous and bitter, and can hardly be eaten; yet such was Christ's love to His spouse, that He ate of her honeycomb, her services mixed with imperfection, and was pleased to take delight in them.  Oh, the love of God, that He should have respect to our offerings that are interlaced with sin!" p. 100

"What an honour will it be to have the names and worthy deeds of the saints mentioned, and God Himself to be the herald to proclaim their praises." p. 110

"He who brought Isaac out of a dead womb, and the Messiah out of a virgin's womb, what can He not do?" p. 118

"God never entered into covenant with the angels when they fell, but He proclaims Himself God in covenant with believers, 'They shall be mine.'" p. 119

"This has made the saints desire death, as the bride her wedding day." p. 124

"'All men', says Chrysostom, 'are ambitious of honour'; but the true honour comes from God."  p. 127

"All the affections of parents come from God.  They are but a drop of His ocean, a spark of His flame.  God's love is a love that 'passeth knowledge.'  The saints cannot love their own souls so entirely as God loves them." p. 142-143

"Three things may cause boldness in prayer; the saints have a Father to pray to, the Spirit to help them pray, and Jesus Christ as their Advocate to present their prayers." p. 145

"Let us imitate God in this one thing: As God spares us, and passes by many failures, so let us be sparing of our censures of others; let us look upon the weaknesses and indiscretions of our brethren with a more tender compassionate eye." p. 148

"When prosperity makes grace rust, God scours us with affliction." p. 157

"Affliction cannot do the mischief that sin does."  p. 161

"The wicked drink a sea of wrath; the godly sip only of the cup of affliction." p. 164

If this selection of quotes has interested you then you can find the entire book here today.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

December Snow and a New Covenant

As I write this I have my Bible open to Hebrews chapter 8 to my left, a mug of coffee to my right and my chair facing out the big windows at Duos looking out at the snow.

Not everyone is Iowa likes snow, but nearly everyone will admit that new snow is beautiful.  Fresh snow is so amazingly pure.  There is a whiteness and smoothness to a fresh December snow that is unparalleled.

Iowans like myself also know that February or March snow is usually quite ugly.  I'm not talking about the newly fallen snow.  I'm talking about the snow that has been sitting there unmelted for a few weeks or months.  It is grimy and grey, not pure and white.  Given enough time the purity of snow turns ugly and dark grey if not even the infamous yellow.

The story of mankind is somewhat like snow.

Adam and Eve started off so pure.  There was no impurity to be found, like fresh snow in the middle of an empty field.  But as we know this purity would not last long.  God gave them one single command and they rather quickly broke it staining themselves like the snow pushed to the side of the road by a plow.

Humanity has a knack for staining itself and the whole universe with it.  If we're honest while we've created many wonderful things using the raw resources of the world around us, we've probably ruined as much if not more.  There are few places on the planet that are more beautiful because people showed up there (although we were ordained to beautify God's creation).

So, when God made a covenant with us we ruined it.  Read through the Old Testament and you'll see time and again how quickly the people blew it.

What we needed was a covenant not contingent upon us.

"The time is coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
                                                                                         declares the Lord.
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel,
after that time declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more." Hebrews 8:8b-12 (and Jeremiah 31:31-34)

We have so much sin based entropy in us that we naturally ruin things.  So, God made a new covenant with us where He gave us new desires.  He writes His laws on our hearts and in our minds.  He gives us the rebirth necessary to follow Him.  He renews us under the new covenant.  The problem with the old covenant was never God, it was always us; so God solves that problem Himself.

This is why Jesus came to the earth.  We needed Him to initiate a new covenant that we couldn't screw up.  We needed Him to create something purer than December snow that we couldn't soil.  Thank God that He sent His Son to intervene for us.  Give thanks that God forgives our wickedness and remembers our sins no more today.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas Letter 2016

The Apostle Paul said, "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" Charles Dickens said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  These two quotes could sum up 2016 for us.  We had some times we could do without and some times we wouldn't trade for the world.

Both of us lost a beloved grandparent to death this year.  Christine's Grandpa John died in March and Matt's Mimi died in July.  Their presence will be missed by our families this Christmas and from now on.  

We began this year like we ended last year, without a child.  2016 brought with it testing and pills and procedures to try to end our infertility.  After 21 months of trying Christine became pregnant.  She is due May 22nd.  We couldn't be happier and the waiting and frustration seems to have fueled our joy.  

Christine, on top of the euphoria of becoming pregnant, has had an exciting year.  The day before she found out she was pregnant she accepted a job in the Waverly Health Center clinic system.  She had been hoping to get a job in Waverly for quite some time.  She enjoyed her time in labor and delivery at Covenant but is very happy to be working in our hometown.

Matt has been employed at KWAY Radio for over 7 and a half years now.  His role is mostly the same but this year has seen him adjust his responsibilities at work.  He is now doing more of a leading role for the morning show and moved, after nine years on the sidelines, to doing play-by-play for Wartburg College football.  Matt was also thrilled this year to finally see his Cubs win a World Series.

This Summer we got to take a nice mini-vacation to a bed and breakfast near Dubuque.  It was a fun, relaxing trip in a beautiful wooded location.

2016 for us and for many of you was a mixed bag, but as we reflect we once again realize how blessed we are.  God is good to us and the biggest way He has been good to us is through the giving of His Son.  As we waited and prayed for a child and now are excited to meet our first child we are drawn to think about the amazing gift God sent the world in the womb of a young Middle Eastern girl over two thousand years ago.  This Christmas join us is celebrating Jesus the One who will turn all of our worst of times into best of times and all of our best of times into even better times.  

Merry Christmas from the Rays.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

God on the Inside

Christmas season is here.  My wife and I have put up the Christmas tree and the lights.  We've played the Gene Autry Christmas record and soon we will send out Christmas cards.  Christmas season is here and at this time of year I'm drawn to think about the incarnation of Christ.

"The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.'
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus." Luke 1:28-31

Mary, a young virgin, got amazing and unbelievable news.  She was going to be a mother even though she was a virgin.  I can begin to understand the feeling Mary must have had.  My wife is 15 weeks pregnant.  I remember how when she told me that she was pregnant I was excited and petrified all at the same time; I rejoiced and shook like a leaf all at once.

So, Mary got the extraordinary news that she was pregnant though still a virgin.  But she also got the incredible news that God was to be inside her.

"'How can this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?'
The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."  Luke 1:34-35

God... the immeasurable, ineffable, immortal, invincible... was going to be inside her.  God the almighty was to be God the embryo!  God was going to live inside her.

Having a pregnant wife I can tell you that when a baby lives inside you you experience changes.  Your body changes, your diet changes, your mood changes, when you are pregnant you experience immense changes.  When a baby takes residence inside of you your life is altered.  When Mary had God the embryo in her she ate differently and acted different and felt differently in so many ways.

A person of the Trinity is no longer an embryo but God does in fact still live in us today.

"I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith."  Ephesians 3:16-17a

"Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?"  1 Corinthians 3:16

God.. the immeasurable, ineffable, immortal, invincible... takes residence inside you.  Like Mary you can't ever be the same when God lives in you.  Like Mary, God will cause us to change.  Our lives will be altered.

When God's on the inside He makes changes.  Don't fight the changes the almighty makes when He makes His abode with you.  Thank God that He does the miracle to live in you today.