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

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Peace With God

We've heard it said that sin is its own punishment, and there is a whole lot of truth to that statement.  Sin keeps us from living the best life we could live, it keeps us from enjoying the blessings that could be gained from a wise life.  Though like the psalmist in Psalm 73 we see sin sometimes seemingly working out for others but we trust that in the end righteousness works out best.

When Jesus died on the cross He died to set us free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:18).  We are no longer bound to a life of sin.  Sin is a punishment in and of itself and we are no longer subject to it.

But sin is not solely its own punishment.

Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God.  Before Christ's intervention we were by nature objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).  We were enemies of God.  God's wrath was directed at us as cosmic insurrectionists who always attempt to force God to abdicate His rightful place of authority in our lives and in all of the universe.

"But God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life"  John 3:16

We were objects of wrath and enemies with Almighty God and God Himself extended the olive branch to offer us peace before we asked for it.  Christ died to free us from the bondage of sin and to save us from the wrath of God and make peace with God for us.  Christ absorbed the full wrath of God... "He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." Romans 3:26

See how Paul explains it in Romans:

"He (Jesus) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand." Romans 4:25-5:2

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him!  For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!  Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." Romans 5:6-11 (emphasis added)

See, sin is missing the mark, but it's more than just that.  As R. C. Sproul has said: "Sin is cosmic treason.  Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign."  It is treason that puts us at odds with God.  "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31b)  Well, if God is against us, what chance do we have?  But thanks be to God that God Himself, while we were still His enemies, made the terms of peace and made all the efforts necessary to secure that peace for us.

You can have peace with God and having that peace is necessary, it is the first problem we need fixed.  God is extending the olive branch of peace, a branch that cost His Son's life, to you.  Will you accept peace with God today?

Monday, July 24, 2017


My wife and I have never had a big fight.  We've never had a big blow out.  We've had our disagreements and we've raised our voices at moments but we've never had a big conflict.  I will tell you our secret.

We've not been married very long.

We are not so disillusioned to think that we will have a marriage completely full of happiness and free of conflict.  Our marriage is and I pray will overall be happy and hopefully be more peace filled than conflict ridden, but we are not naive enough to think we'll have a super long marriage that is all roses.

Christine and I are young and we go to a lot of weddings.  From friends and classmates, to former youth group kids and siblings we've been to a lot of weddings.

At weddings we notice the flowers, the DJ, the dresses and suits, the location, the colors, the groom's face as she walks down the aisle, the toasts, the first dances and all the things we thought about when we planned our wedding.

But the thing that matters most at a wedding and the thing I pay close attention to is the vows.

Vows are the solemn promises we make to each other and to God and before God and the congregation of witnesses.  These words we speak must be greater than a Hallmark card.

I've too often heard vows, especially self-written vows, that make promises that are unkeepable.  Promises to always make the other person happy, promises to keep a certain sense of adventure and wanderlust, promises to always be inspired to love by the other person; and while these promises seem lovely they are not doable.

I've not been married long, but I think there are only a few things we can really promise one another in our vows.  It seems being there and trying with God's help are the only two things we can really promise.

At our wedding Christine walked down the aisle to a song I recorded called "I Will Be Here" by Steven Curtis Chapman.  I will be here is one of the greatest promises we can make to our spouse.  I will be here: for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer till death parts us.  This is a very difficult promise and one that only by the grace of God can we keep, but one I believe we can make and if you ask someone who has been married for 60 years it's a very romantic and loving promise.

Trying.  This is the other promises I think we can make on our wedding day.  While trying is nearly unnecessary on our wedding day and trying sounds pretty darn unromantic on day one, trying is a very necessary and loving promise.  So many marriages ultimately fail because the will to try has been lost.  In fact, divorce is impossible unless one or both people give up the will to try.  I don't know this experientially yet but there will be times in every marriage where the ability to keep trying needs to come from outside of ourselves.  There is a point when your spouse will not inspire you to try, no matter how good looking they are and how warm and fuzzy you felt on your wedding day.  At this point we must get our ability to even try from God.

If you're engaged or thinking about marriage someday I encourage you to, when the time comes, think soberly about the vows you will make.  On your wedding day your heart will be stirred to make many grand and lovely promises, but I implore you to make promises that you can actually keep.  I encourage you to promise to be there and to try.

And if you've made vows I encourage you, and myself for that matter, to stay true to the vows you made to your spouse and God today.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Joshua Needs a Better Father

Joshua is two months old tomorrow and is getting bigger and bigger and getting more and more personality by the day.

Before Joshua was born I was terrified about being a father.  I had very little confidence in what I could do in that realm.  I'll be honest, babies are nice but I'd never volunteered to change a diaper and, in fact, I managed to avoid all but one in my life before Joshua came.  I like babies but I'm not one for drool, pacifiers, general messiness or much babies do other than smile and sleep.  But when Joshua came I found fatherhood to be much more natural to me in many aspects than I feared.

Having been a father to a baby outside of a woman's body for two months now I know a few things for sure.  I know I love him so much and I know he needs a better father.

I'm much more confident in being a father now than I was two months ago and I'm much more keenly aware of how short I fall in providing what my son needs most.  My son needs God to be his father.

"He will not let your foot slip,
He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, He who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep." Psalm 121:3-4

Me.  I sleep.  I need to sleep.  I can't function without sleep.  In fact, I have not written on this blog in seventeen days, when I've written at least weekly for about seven years, because I've chosen sleep over writing.  Meanwhile, while Joshua sleeps God works.  While I sleep God works.  He never sleeps nor slumbers nor does He grow weary.

"Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and His understanding no one can fathom." Isaiah 40:28

"The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love." Psalm 103:8

I'm not always compassionate or patient... especially when I'm tired.  While I am so lacking in the traits above, God is perfectly all of them.

One day Joshua will think I'm the strongest man in the world... and he'll be very wrong.  I'll rarely be the strongest guy in a room, let alone the world.  Now, while my strength is very limited God's is unlimited.

"Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm.  Nothing is too hard for you." Jeremiah 32:17

All that I am on my best days as a father God has me beat.  My efforts and skills may grow but God's infinite nature will always outdo my best and for that I'm thankful.

I'm thankful that God has entrusted me to care for my little boy.  I'm glad that I get to father this precious boy, but I pray every day that Joshua gets a better father than me.  He needs God to be his father.  Not that that excludes me, but I pray daily that Joshua has God as his father.

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!" 1 John 3:1a

If Christ is your savior then God is your father, so celebrate that.  And if you have children, cherish them and pray that God be their father today.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Divorce Isn't a Finish Line

My wife and I recently watched Grumpy Old Men because she had never seen it.  The movie is funny but one thing disturbed me in it and it's not Burgess Meredith's many one-liners.  The movie makes you cheer for a divorce.  You find yourself rooting for Melanie and Mike who have a child to split up so Melanie and Jacob can get together.  Now, Grumpy Old Men isn't anywhere near the only movie that does this nor is this the main point of the movie, but as a child of divorce and a Christian I find myself feeling a bit icky that I cheer for a divorce even in a movie.

In Hollywood divorce is pictured as some sort of a finish line.  I'm not here to condemn Hollywood for this.  However, I'm sad that many people in real life view divorce as the end of something that it just isn't.

If you have children and divorce your divorce isn't the end at all.

My parents divorced when I was in middle school.  My parents did, in a bad situation, the best they could following the divorce.  They did shared care, they treated each other with respect, they married people that are fantastic step-parents... they did their best following the divorce.

But divorce isn't the end and it wasn't the end for my parents' relationship.  If you have children your relationship with your spouse continues until the day you, them or your children die.

If you have children and are considering a divorce let me show you just a few of the ways that divorce isn't the end of the pain and struggle.  I'm not trying to guilt you.  I don't know the pains and struggles of your marriage.  I simply want to share some of the reality of post-divorced life.

You only get up to 18 Christmases and Thanksgivings with your kids at home.  Now you get half of what's left.  You will spend some of those without your children and they will spend all of theirs without one of their parents on holidays.  Then when your children get married the half becomes a fourth when they rotate with their spouse and try to cram you into it; or it is a half with a speedily done celebration.

You thought it was difficult planning around your work and Junior's little league season before?  This becomes doubly hard when your spouse is trying to do the same thing.  Having your children another state or country away is never easy.

You and your ex will both be there at the wedding.  You and him/her will go back to talking about the fun subject of money as you try to get on the same page for what you're paying for.  If talking money was fun and exciting married wait until you talk it divorced.

Will you throw two celebrations or will you let your graduate have the pleasure of having just one shindig with both of their parents there?  Once again, be ready to figure out how to communicate ideas and preferences and budget on this one.

Birthday Parties
Every year the tension of the two above comes together on this one.  Who gets to see your son/daughter first thing in the morning on their birthday?  Who gets to kiss them goodnight as an 8 year old for the first time?  Divorce will make you miss precious, unrecreatable moments.

All the factors that steal time away from you being with your child will steal your time from your future grandchildren.

Sleepovers on Your Days
Remember that your kids are still kids.  They won't care as much as you do that it's been five days since you've seen them when they ask to stay the night at Jimmy's on your night.  My parents did a great job with shared care and I love them but there were many nights spent at friends' houses instead of theirs.

Parenting Together Apart
Divorce may end a marriage but it doesn't end the co-parent relationship.  What movies are okay to watch?  How late can they stay out?  How much junk food will they eat?  What words are off limits to say?  You will need near constant communication with your ex to parent well together apart.  You will need to restrain each other from parenting becoming a competition of whose house is the most fun.

Divorce is a Generational Sin
Divorce is 50% more likely for people whose parents were divorced.  Divorce is 91% more likely for people whose parents got divorced and then remarried (source).  If you get divorced there is a good chance that you'll pass on this generational sin and the mess that accompanies it.

If you have children and are considering divorce I implore you to think rightly.  I beg you to not believe the clichés of "at least we'll be done" and "the kids seem to be better off when we're not together."  No, divorce is not a finished line.  If you have kids it's simply a new kind of relationship you and your spouse will have.  No, the kids aren't better off.  Even if they get great step-parents out of the mess your children will likely be left trying to tiptoe around your mess for the rest of your life.

For those of you divorced already please know that God still loves you.  But for those of you that have not committed the sin of divorce yet I encourage you to keep fighting for your marriage.  You and your spouse reconciling is best for you, for your kids and most importantly for the glory of God.  Divorce is not the finished line, it is a messy detour.  Don't abandon the race you're running now because it's gotten hard.  Rather endure and when you feel you've reached your end, keep enduring.

Count the cost and fight with all you have and all that God will give you to make your marriage work today.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Remember Me

I just finished the book of Nehemiah.  For those who have never read the book I'd highly encourage you to read it.  It is, of many things, a great blueprint for Godly leadership and like all of the Bible it will magnify your view of God.

As I finished the book a line stuck out to me.

"Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services." Nehemiah 13:14

Often when I think about God's perfect memory I am filled with fear.  It is a fearsome thing to think that God knows and remembers everything I've done or ever will do.  I picture myself standing for the judgment giving an account for all I've done and left undone and it terrifies me at times because I know all the ways I've fallen short.

Yet, Nehemiah asks God to remember.  He asks God not to remember one of His promises, though I'm sure Nehemiah was glad that God remembers His promises.  No, Nehemiah asked God to remember something that Nehemiah had done.

Here is a truth we can take from this: God will remember what we've faithfully done in service of Him.

God will remember what I've faithfully done in His service.  God will remember and He won't blot out the record of it.  This is incredible.  God's memory is infinitely long and He will remember what I've done in His service.

How many of us remember something that our great-great-great-grandfather did?  I'll be honest, I don't even know any of their names, let alone their accomplishments.  King Solomon said it well when he said:

"For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
in the days to come both will be forgotten." Ecclesiastes 2:16a

Very few people in history are still remembered by mankind for the good that they've done.  Yet God has not and will not forget it.  God remembers it all.  The good we do will be remembered forever in God's glorious telling of history.  Our faithful service will live on.

Some of you may say, "But I've not accomplished anything of worth."  I know how you feel.  I often look at others and envy what God has done through them.  I recently read something that greatly encouraged me in this, Pastor Greg Laurie said, "In the end, God isn't going to say, 'Well done good and successful servant,' but 'well done good and faithful servant."

"Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:58

Our faithful service of the Lord is not in vain, it is accomplishing something great.  God will remember our faithful service and it will not be blotted out of His grand history book.  So, if you want to be remembered, then aim to be remembered by God.  Be faithful, not necessarily flashy but be faithful to the work God has planned in advance for you to do and God will remember your efforts forever.

I love Nehemiah's prayer and I will tweak it just a bit as we pray it to close.  "Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for your Kingdom."  And as Nehemiah ended his book, "Remember me with favor, O my God" today.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Somebody's Prayin'

When Christine and I got married my Dad sang the Ricky Skaggs song, "Somebody's Prayin'"and then implored the witnesses of our wedding to pray for us.  I'm so appreciative of the prayers that many have lifted up for me over the years and this very day.

I'm buoyed by the knowledge that somebody's praying for me.  It lifts my soul and gives me endurance to know that people are asking the God of the universe to be good to me and my family.  There are few better things you can do than pray for one another.

But there's someone I'm more thankful to have praying for me than you, and that's no slight to you.


Often I'm strengthened and encouraged when a friend sends a text to let me know that they're praying for me, but I often take for granted that Jesus daily prays for me.

"...Christ Jesus, who died, more than that, who was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." Romans 9:34b

"Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them." Hebrews 7:25

Jesus, the Son of God, is at the right hand of the Father praying for all believers personally and collectively.  This is fantastic news!

This good news doesn't mean that I should be nonchalant about the saints that pray for me; no, I should be thankful for the prayers of others but the prayers of Christ should thrill my soul the most.

My pastor has recently and often said to me and others that we Christians act as if more people praying for us gives us a better chance of giving us what we want.  This, he says, is a paganesque belief not rooted in reality.  It's not as if God says, "There's 50 people praying!  Well, I better change things and give them what they want.  I could say no to 49, but not 50!"  No, God sits in Heaven and does what He pleases and every thing He pleases to do is the best.

But our prayers do matter in some mysterious way.  As my pastor, Jim, said on Sunday, "our prayers our a means that God works but not a cause."  Our prayers don't cause things to happen as if He needs us to inform Him or convince Him to do His perfect, sovereign will but rather God wills our prayers to be a means through which He works.  In prayer we get to participate in the work of God.

So, pray for one another and know that God is working in your prayer to do His perfect will.  Appreciate the prayers of others because they are appealing to the One who can answer any request.  But above all reflect and rejoice in the fact that Jesus Himself prays for you and I.

"... The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." James 5:16b

Who is more righteous than the Righteous One?  Rejoice!  This Righteous One with the most effect prayers is praying for you today.

                       (Ricky makes the point of this blog at the end of his song)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Love That Requires Effort

I love my son so much.

Loving my son came naturally and instantly to my wife and I.  The moment he was born I looked at him and then I looked at my wife as she repeatedly with tears in her eyes shouted with joy, "My baby, my baby!"  I watched her eyes as she instantly fell madly in love with Joshua.

I fell for him almost as fast.

There is a love I have for my son that is deep and even though he's only three weeks old I know it's a lasting love.  I can't imagine ever not being in love with him.

Joshua does absolutely nothing to deserve this love.  All he does now is need.  He gives us nothing other than soft skin to kiss and big eyes to look into now.  He needs food every few hours and he shouts for it.  He needs to be held and shouts for it.  He needs God only knows what and he shouts for it.  He poops and pees and needs to be cleaned.  He wakes us up.  He keeps us up.  He worries us.  He changes our routine.  He does absolutely nothing to deserve the love we have for him.

Yet we love him immensely and couldn't stop even if we wanted.

Some of you may be thinking this post is an analogy for how God loves us and it very well could be, but it's not.

Love for my son comes to me so easily and that's a good thing, but it's made me realize that I need to put more effort into loving my wife.

I love Christine deeply and I've covenanted to love her up to the day I die and I intend to keep that promise; but I'll be honest and if you're honest you'll likely agree... love for my wife doesn't come as easily as love for my son.

Sadly, unlike my love for Joshua that comes with no strings attached and no requirements, I often have unpronounced requirements for my love for Christine.  I too often love Christine for what she does to deserve it and not just because she is my wife.

Christine and I have a good, healthy and happy marriage.  Being married to her is one of the greatest blessings and joys of my life.  But since the birth of Joshua I've been struck by the fact that unconditional love for my wife takes more effort to cultivate than love for my son.  Love for her will require effort because it doesn't come naturally despite what we feel on our great days.

My love for my son may remind you of God's love for us.  It does for me in a small way, too.  And that reminds me of this:

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her..." Ephesians 5:25

Holding Joshua has shown me that my heart is capable of more unconditional love that I knew was possible.  My wife deserves that depth of love from me and I will need to work to give it to her, not because she deserves it but simply because she is my wife.

I challenge myself and you when I say, men, let's think of ways we can do the work required to love our wives with more stability, more longevity and more depth today.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Advice for Graduates

Congratulations graduates!  Here's some advice I have for high school graduates who will head to college in the Fall from a post written in 2014.

Practical Advice for Graduates

Graduation is here for many high school and college students.  Several students I've had to privilege to know and love are leaving for college in the Fall.  So, here's some practical advice for high school graduates.  This list isn't exhaustive, but in my experience it is very helpful.

1) Don't go home every weekend and especially not the first weekend.

Your parents might not like this advice, but it is good advice.  So much of what you learn at college will not be learned in a classroom.  You will learn from the experience of being around new people.  Weekends are so important for meeting people, especially the first weekend.  Some of those people you meet your first weekend will possibly be life-long friends.

2) Leave your door open.

When you're in your room just hanging out leave your door open.  This will give you an opportunity to bond with those students living on your floor.  Most, if not all, of those students are also scared freshmen and that common experience is a great catalyst for friendship.  People who close their doors all the time often miss this companionship in a shared living space.

3) Don't overlook the weird kids, they're often the nicest.

High school may have been about cliques but college doesn't have to be like that.  Those "weird kids" are often the most friendly people on campus.  If you want college to be cliquey like high school it will be; but if you befriend people of all walks of life you'll learn so much more and have deeper friendships that aren't based solely on your social strata.

4) Don't believe everything your professors say, but think about everything they say.

Newsflash: many professors have an agenda.  A great number of these men and women want to teach you the subject matter and share their opinions with you as if they were facts.  These professors range from the atheist to the extreme liberal to the libertarian to the feminist that will make you sorry if you were born male.  Not everything presented in your class will be strictly factual.  However, don't use that as an excuse to stop thinking.  Some of my best professors were the curmudgeon former Christians and passionate near communists because they forced me to think sharply enough to defend my own opinion.

5) Plug into a church.

This is my most useful and impactful piece of advice for a few reasons.  In college you will be surrounded by 18-22 year-olds who think they know it all; your church will give you a chance to learn from your elders and give you an opportunity to mentor those younger than you.  Your church will keep you rooted in your faith.  For so long you've probably gone to church because your parents did, college will be a chance for you to go to church because you want to.  Don't underestimate the power of this.

9 years ago I plugged myself into a church in my college town, Waverly.  I was a nervous freshman at Wartburg College and I can't say enough how awesome the decision to go to Grace Baptist was for me.  Grace gave me a chance to be my own adult in the congregation.  No longer was I Jack and Kathie's son, I was just Matt.  My faith became even more my own and being plugged into Grace helped that immensely.  I'm still a member of Grace and I can only begin to say what a difference my church has made in my life.

Seniors, congratulations on your graduation.  I'd advise you to consider all the advice I gave above but I implore you to plug into a local church above all the rest of the advice that was given.  You'll be glad you did.  Again, congratulations and consider this advice today.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Law and Love

Sometimes we juxtapose the law and love.  We often wonder whether we should be loving in a given situation or whether we should be obedient to a command.  We see love as something that exists best in freedom from regulation of any kind, something that can only be done with raw, unhinged emotion.  And we see obedience to the law and commands as devoid of the emotion of love, we see it as legalism.

The Bible makes no such juxtaposition.  Love and law are sisters not opposites.

"This is love for God: to obey His commands." 1 John 5:3a

John says that in order to love God we must obey His commands.  In fact, Jesus is recorded as saying a very similar thing in the book of John.  Obedience is love for God.  Obedience is not dry, empty servitude; no, obedience is an act of love and trust.

And obedience isn't only the benchmark for loving God, it also is the benchmark for loving people.

"One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating.  Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, 'Of all the commandments, which is the most important?'

The most important one,' answered Jesus, 'is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'  The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  There is no commandment greater than these." Mark 12:28-31

When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment He expertly condensed the whole of the law (613 laws by some historians' count by Jesus' day) into two laws: love God, love people.  The teachers of the law ranked commands so they could know what to do when two principles seemingly conflicted.  In ranking these two commands as greatest Jesus said that love for God and for others is the filter through which the whole of the law is to be run.

Pastor Tim Keller summarizes it well when he said: "Jesus shows us that love actually defines the lawful life, and He shows that us that the law actually defines the loving life."

To be obedient to God is to love and to love God and others is to be obedient to God.  The law is not dry and passionless, rather it is soaked in love.  Love is not wild and without direction, rather it is guided by the law.

Love and law are sisters that help us glorify God and benefit our neighbors. Next time you see a command of Scripture view it as a way to love God and others.  When you seek to love God and/or others well look for Biblical commands and principles to guide your love today.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

God Is Good

As I write this my exhausted wife and newborn son are sleeping.  It is so good to be able to type that sentence for several reasons.  One being that neither did that last night on our first night together at home and secondly because Christine and I have prayed for that little guy for a long time.

In August I wrote a post called "The Glory of Infertility" that was picked up by Relevant Magazine's website, a magazine in Singapore called Trinitarian Magazine and was interviewed about it on a New Zealand radio program called The Forum.  Needless to say I was surprised by the response, but not overly surprised that of all the things I've written about that the topic of infertility struck a cord.

Infertility is something 1 in 8 couples deal with and it is heart-wrenching. So, as I sit in the room with my sleeping wife and little Joshua I am filled with joy.

God is good.

God is good, but He's not good because Christine and I now have a son.  No, God is good because that is what and who He is.  Father, Son and Spirit are just simply good.  They are good all the time.  God is the very definition of good.

The circumstance we were in while waiting for Joshua was hard and the gorgeous circumstance that I'm sitting in today is much more preferable to me, but God is no more good today nor was He any less good then.

God is good.

God's goodness does not hinge on circumstances.  He is immutable and eternal.  His goodness never changes and it will never end.  Often we view the immutable nature of God in the light of His goodness and love never decreasing, but His immutable attribute of goodness means that His goodness and love can never increase.  He is the acme of goodness at all times and always will be.

So, when people come up to us and say, "God is good" in response to seeing Joshua I will agree wholeheartedly.  God is good all the time!  When I hold my son I experience His goodness more tangibly, but His goodness was there when Joshua wasn't.  It was planning Joshua from before the foundations of the earth, it was giving my wife and I strength to wait and trust, it was helping us see the glory in our infertility and it was holding our very fibers together.

In the post I wrote about our infertility I said this:

There must be glory in infertility.

I don't know how but I trust that when I look back on this it will be like flipping a cross stitch over from back to front.  I trust that God not only knows what He's doing but that what He's doing will be glorious.

I trust that if and when Christine gets pregnant it will be with OUR child planned for us from before creation.  I trust that when we adopt we will adopt OUR child planned for us from eternity before eternity. 

Now, I see it, at least in part.  I see the egg and the sperm that God joined together in His perfect timing.  I see the financial stability that He got us to before Joshua came.  And most importantly I see the sanctification of my own faith the He brought about in our waiting on Him.

God is good all the time.  Your experience may be one of great joy or crippling pain and I know there are days when believing in God's goodness is easier than others so I pray you have the faith to trust that God is good, no matter what, today.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Love Initiates

In 1984 Foreigner sang, "I Want to Know What Love Is."  Lou Gramm sang the line, "I want to know what love is, I want you to show me."  Love is a feeling, a concept, an action that poets, songwriters, philosophers and Hallmark card writers have struggled to define for centuries.

In 1 John the Apostle writes, "God is love."  Notice he didn't say, "love is God" but rather "God is love."  This means, in part, that not every feeling or notion that we might label as love is love or is who God is.  What it does mean is that who God is is the very definition of love.  A. W. Tozer explains in The Knowledge of the Holy in the chapter on God's faithfulness that God is perfectly every one of His attributes all the time.  This means that God is love in everything He does, even in judgement.

So, God is love.  This, in part, means in order to love accurately I must discover who He is and what He says love is.  Let's look at part of 1 John chapter 4, a chapter that John could have gotten some high quality tweets out of, to see something that the Scripture says love is.

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us." 1 John 4:7-12

Let's look at one thing love is from this passage.

"This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." 1 John 4:10

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

Love initiates.

The Apostles John and Paul define love as what God did we He sent Jesus to die for us and Paul says that love is demonstrated in Christ dying for us while we were still sinners.  God didn't wait for us to be receptive to His message in order to love us.  He didn't wait to love until He saw we were ready to love Him.  No, Jesus showed us the greatest love, the love that lays down His life for His friends, while we were God's enemies (Romans 5:10).  God initiated love to those who never would have made the first move.

God is love and love is so much more than an initiator, but this one aspect of love stood out to me this week.

"Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." 1 John 4:11

God loves us so we love God, right?  Well, yes; but all over the New Testament we see that God loves and serves us so we love and serve others.

So, what does this mean for us today?

I think it means that we must be initiators of sacrificial love.  God lives in us and His love is made complete in us when we love, so our love must look a lot like His love.  Who in your life are you waiting to make the first move?  With whom do you need to reconcile?  Who do you see that is in need?  Don't wait for them to make the first move, because love initiates and if Christ lives in you then you are able to love first as He loved first.

How many relationships sour because we wait for them to make the first move?  How many hurting people continue to hurt because we wait for them to ask for help?

Love initiates.

Think of those you can and should initiate love toward today.  Perhaps it's a coworker, neighbor, former friend, or spouse.  Whoever it is, we are called to love because God is love.  Sometimes difficult people are put in our life to give us assurance of faith or to give us an unmistakable warning.

"We love because He first loved us.  If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not seen.  And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother." 1 John 4:19-21

Love initiates.  Make the first move in demonstrating true love today.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

But We're Engaged

"But we're engaged."

The Bible defines sexual immorality as any sexual acts outside of the covenant of marriage.  But what about those that are engaged?  What difference does it make if you're engaged and already committed?

First, I'm going to assume some things.  I am going to assume that you agree that sex outside of marriage is sin.  I'm going to assume that, so if you want to read something that argues that point you won't find it here.  Second, I'm going to assume that you and your future spouse are Christians.  If those assumptions don't fit you then you can continue reading, but this post may not speak directly to you.

"But we're engaged."

Before my wife and I were married we were committed to saving sex for marriage.  We both were tempted during dating in some fashion in this, but the temptation reached new heights while we were engaged.  While engaged the thought, "but we're engaged" came into our minds often.  What difference did a ring and a ceremony make?  Weren't we already committed to one another?

We didn't have sex before we got married.  We weren't perfect and we wish we could have a few do overs in some compromises we made on boundaries we set, but we didn't have sex before our wedding night.  We know this is difficult.

Engagement is the absolute hardest period for keeping this specific command of God.  If I had to do it again our engagement period would be much shorter.  But here's three thoughts that kept us from this particular sin.

1) "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." Hebrews 13:4

Do I want to honor my marriage?

Marriage is an institution and a covenant that is to be honored and the marriage bed is to be kept pure.  Saving sex for marriage honors my own marriage and the institute of marriage.  As Christians our marriage is to be a pointer to the relationship between Christ and the Church.  This is a sacred metaphor that we get to enact.  How can I honor my marriage if I'm dishonoring it before it begins?  Also, "God will judge the... sexually immoral."  Why would I want to face God's judgement?  If sexual immorality is any sexual acts outside of marriage then pre-marital, even while engaged, sex is subject to judgement.

Also, sexual intercourse is a very important and symbolism filled act that marks the covenant of marriage.  The two literally become one flesh as Genesis and Jesus both quote when talking about the seriousness of the marriage covenant.  Often (possible TMI moment for some) there is blood involved when two virgins, or at least a female virgin, consummate a marriage and that blood is an ancient and Biblical sign of a permanent covenant being made.  These symbols lose their power if done frivolously.

2) "Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6

Do I trust God?

Sometimes I just don't get what God's doing.  The "but we're engaged" thought is a time when many of us don't know what God's up to with His commands about sex and marriage.  This is not so much a time to try and figure out what God really means by what He says, though there's nothing wrong with searching for answers.  This is a time to trust in God with all your heart rather than leaning on your own understanding.  This is a time to say with your actions that you believe that God does things for His glory and your good.  Sex is one more way in which we can acknowledge Him and let Him make our paths straight, let Him take care of us through His good commands.

3) "If you love me, you will obey what I command." John 14:15

Do I love Christ?

The greatest command in the Bible is "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:5, Luke 10:27, Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30)  Jesus said that if you love Him you will obey what He commands and we are to love God with all that we are.  How can we see a command of God and choose to ignore it and still say that we love Him with all that we are?  This should be the greatest motivation to save sex for marriage while engaged.  Yes, you burn with passion for the man or woman that you love, but how is your love for Christ?  This period of engagement is a poignant one when Jesus seemingly often asks us, "Do you love me more than these?" (John 21:15)

Not making love with your fiancé is difficult, very difficult.  You know that you will be with them forever, you've made some promises, you're almost there, but you're not there yet.  I thought that having a definite finish line would make waiting easier.  It didn't. Engagement is hard.  Your passion for your fiancé burns strong, and it should.  It's a period of my life that I don't want to relive, but I want you to know that it can be done.

"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." 1 Corinthians 10:13

Engagement is not an inescapable trap for those wanting to save sex for marriage.  We're all tempted and God will not tempt us beyond what we can bear.  But when we are tempted we must look for the way of escape.  Sometimes the closer that marriage gets the more searching for the way of escape is necessary, but honoring your marriage, trusting God and loving Christ is worth it.

Engaged friends, stay strong.  With God's help you can do it.  I pray that God blesses your future marriage and that He does it in part by giving you the ability to wait for marriage today.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Ashamed of Holiness

"Don't be ashamed of being smart." -Dr. Walther

My advisor and history professor Dr. Walther said that more than a few times.  He said it because he saw that students had a pattern of dumbing down their vocabulary to avoid the shame of being smart.  He saw the intrinsic desire to want to appear "normal".

Christians, don't be ashamed of holiness.

In some Christian circles there is the strong desire to be authentic, relevant and relatable.  We find these words on many church websites in their description of themselves and I applaud the desire to be authentic, relevant and relatable.

Christians should be authentic, relevant and relatable.  However, has our pursuit of authenticity been made in inauthentic ways?

There seems to be an unspoken balance of messiness and holiness that is accepted as authentic in these Christian circles.  There is a holiness that is too much to be "real".  There is a purity and a pursuit of it that is deemed irrelevant and non-relatable and most certainly inauthentic.

In our effort to be approachable and authentic and liked have we created a culture where we're only allowed to share our faults?  Testimonies of minor depravity have been deemed glorious and useful in our small groups and prayer time; while testimonies of faithfulness and fleeing from immorality have been rejected as unhelpful and unwanted.

Don't hear me wrong: self-righteousness is wrong, but righteousness is desirable.  Yes, we must "confess our sins one to another" (James 5:16), but do we do this instead of living a life of visible purity or in addition to it?

In our good intentions to rid our churches of self-righteousness and Pharisaicalness have we also weeded out the glory of obedience and faithfulness and holiness?

"Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from the sinful desires, which war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they might see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us." 1 Peter 2:11-12

"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." 1 Timothy 4:12

Why is it today that we are encouraged to have invisible holiness and visible flaws?  Would Peter and Paul be called puritanical, self-righteous, inauthentic church leaders today when they called for visible holiness?

Authenticity is a good thing, but inauthentic authenticity is deplorable.  The idol of authenticity that pulls us toward the "norm" and not toward sanctification is an idol that must be smashed.

We are called to holiness.  We are called away from self-righteousness.  We can do both.

The key seems to be found in who we want to please.  Is our authenticity aimed at pleasing God or men?  If it is aimed at pleasing men it will gravitate to the norm of society.  If it is aimed at pleasing God it will produce an honestly transparent Christ empowered pursuit of holiness.

Be authentic, but don't be ashamed of holiness today.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day and Baby Teeth

Our eschatology, understanding of the end times, affects our daily lives more than we realize.  When I was younger I believed that the earth was going to be burned up and a new earth would then be created.  The Bible most certainly teaches that there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth, but my understanding was dreadfully incomplete and it affected my daily life.

I thought if there was going to be a New Earth then environmental issues really don't matter.  I thought that humans were of utmost importance, and humans do have greater worth than the animals or plants, so whatever helped humans most was the best.  I had a short sighted view.  I didn't see how my interaction with the earth had anything to do with eternity.

Imagine if you will a young boy named Timmy.  Timmy has just been told that his teeth will one day fall out and be replaced by new adult teeth.  Timmy's baby teeth will be gone and new teeth will replace them.  So, Timmy guzzles as much pop as he can, he refuses to floss or brush, he uses his teeth to open glass bottles rather than using a bottle opener, and about anything that he feels like doing with his teeth.  The hope of new teeth gave Timmy license to disregard his current teeth.

After years of ignoring his dental health Timmy's baby teeth fell out early leaving strange spaces for his new teeth to grow in mismatched directions.  The bacteria that he let fester near and on his baby teeth ate away at his unseen adult teeth.  Timmy's understanding about baby teeth was incomplete and he suffered because of it.  Rather than having beautiful new teeth, he had braces and implants.

What we do with baby teeth and what we do with the current earth matters.

We can't screw up God's redemption of the earth like we can screw up permanent teeth.  However, it is true that what we do with the earth matters greatly.  Earth is and will be our home.  God will make His dwelling with man on the New Earth.  It matters how we take care of this planet. 

"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 2:28

Part of the first set of commands that God gave humanity was to have dominion over the earth.  He gave us dominion over His creation.  To use and abuse it?  No, to be a good steward of it.  If someone gave you something that was theirs would you use and abuse it?  No, you would treat it well.  You would try to leave it in excellent shape before, during and after your use of it.  Why would our stewardship of the earth be any different?

If your eschatology makes you believe environmentalism is for liberals and tree huggers (there is most definitely unbiblical viewpoints from some that wear the label "environmentalist" but I'm not addressing that here) then I invite you to further investigate your understanding of Scripture.  I know my daily life has been changed by deepening my understanding.  

So, on this Earth Day ask yourself if you're using God's creation the way you should be.  Ask if there's a way you could be a better steward of any of the creation that He's given you dominion over.  And after seeking and find the answers to your questions act accordingly today. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

To Those Who Kill Us

Lent is done and therefore I'm done blogging daily.  Thank you to those who joined me for the last month and a half whether it was each day or just once.  I'm done blogging daily and will move to about once a week (though it often takes me a while to slow my pace again).  I normally wouldn't be writing the day after Easter but I badly wanted to post this.

On Palm Sunday Christians in Egypt were bombed.  Two churches were bombed killing 45 and injuring about 126 while they worshipped.

I was saddened by this attack like most of you were.  I sent an e-mail to a friend in Egypt letting him know that I was praying for him and our brothers and sisters in Egypt.  He told me thank you and said that amazing testimonies were resulting from the attack.  He sent back a link to a video that blew me away.  In the video Father Boules George delivers a message that is so loving and so wise and so beautiful.  It is a must watch.  Watching the video convicted me and inspired me to my core.  This man is a man who believes with all certainty in the promise of Heaven, this is a man who loves his enemies and prays for those who persecute him, this is a man who is clearly empowered by the Holy Spirit to obey the radical words of Jesus.

I could write more about it but I can't say it better than Father Boules George did.  Be sure to click the "CC" button on the bottom right of the video so you can see the English translation.  It will be the best nine minutes of your day today.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Three Enter, One Leaves Alive

"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?" 1 Corinthians 15:55

In the Easter story sin, death and Jesus entered the tomb and only one came out alive.

Jesus defeated sin and death on the cross.  The victory was final at the cross as Jesus cried "It is finished!"  But the story reads as if Jesus, sin and death went into the tomb for one final battle royale and only Jesus came out alive.

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

On Easter we celebrate His victory over sin and death.  We celebrate that the grave could not hold Him.  That He is a defeater, not defeated.  This morning we sang songs that celebrated this.  We sang songs like: "Christ is Risen", "Resurrection Hymn", "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" and "Forever."  We sang and announced His victory with lyrics like these:

"Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling over death by death."- Christ is Risen

"Oh, death!  Where is your sting?
Oh, hell!  Where is your victory?
Oh, Church!  Come stand in the light!
The glory of God has defeated the night!"- Christ is Risen

"Death is dead,
Love has won,
Christ has conquered!"- Resurrection Hymn

"Lives again our glorious King!  Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting?  Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save!  Alleluia!
Where, thy victory, O grave?  Alleluia!"- Christ the Lord is Risen Today

The Son of God in darkness laid,
A battle in the grave,
The war on death was waged,
The power of Hell forever broken.

The ground began to shake,
the stone was rolled away,
His perfect love could not be overcome.
Now death, where is your sting?
Our resurrected King,
has rendered you defeated!"- Forever

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  And sin and death have been defeated.  Three entered the grave and one came out alive.  Praise God for the resurrection today.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Between the Cross and Empty Tomb

The Bible doesn't tell us everything that happened in the life of Jesus.  It tells us everything we need to know but not everything.

"Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." John 21:25

"Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name." John 20:30-31

The Bible tells us everything we need to know to have a saving faith in Jesus.  But have you ever imagined what might have happened in the spaces we don't know about?  Have you wondered what Jesus was like as a child?  How on earth did Mary and Joseph raise Him and how did His brothers and sisters react to living with a perfect brother?  Did Jesus ever play a goof with the other disciples on Peter or Thomas?  What did His laugh sound like?  How did Mary, Martha and Lazarus get to know Jesus?

There's so many things about the earthly life of Jesus that I want to know.  John said there isn't enough room in books to write them all, I mean every moment of His life was holy, but eternity has enough room to hear them all.  I do so look forward to asking James if there was a time Jesus laughed so hard He cried or if Jesus gave Bartholomew a perfectly timed hug.

But today is Holy Saturday and today I wonder what Saturday felt like for the disciples.  Between the cross and the empty tomb what was the mood like?  What were the conversations like?  Did Peter's failure feel final?  Was John boastful that he was the only disciple at the crucifixion?  Were the women disappointed thinking that they'd misunderstood Jesus' message?  Did they hide for their lives?  Were they filled with sadness or anger?

On that first Holy Saturday I bet they all felt stuck, defeated, confused, upset, bamboozled and afraid.  Jesus had made so many promises, He was supposed to be the eternal King in the line of David; what happened?

We all have the benefit of knowing that Holy Saturday is followed by Resurrection Sunday.  We all know that Good Friday is in fact good, that it wasn't defeat but victory.  We all know that the tomb couldn't keep Christ.  We all know that sin, death and Jesus entered the tomb and only one came out alive.  We know that Jesus won the fight.

But we all know the feelings of Saturday.  We know the feeling of being stuck between the announcement of victory and the experience of victory.  We feel the tension of the "here but not yet" Gospel.  We exist between the first coming of Jesus and the second coming of Jesus and we eagerly await the consummation of the Gospel.

Below is a post I wrote in 2012 about Holy Saturday.  I know this post is getting long, but I encourage you to read it because I know, even though I wrote it, that I am encouraged by it today.


Yesterday was Good Friday and tomorrow is Easter.  Today is Saturday.  "Duh, Matt."  But let's think about that a bit today.

On my Good Friday post I wrote about Jesus' victory cry of "It is finished!"  Tomorrow we will celebrate Easter which is the experience that the victory cry is truth.  Saturday we are left unsure.  If Jesus just dies for us He is just one of the most loving people in history, but He is not Savior.  Good Friday is great but it is only a neat story without Easter.  But what about Saturday?

Sometimes I feel like I'm living in Saturday.  What I mean is I know the victory is mine to claim with Christ, but I haven't seen its completion.

"Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6  I know that He will completely perfect me, but it hasn't been completed yet.  I'm stuck in Saturday.

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or morning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:4  I know this is true but I see cancer and heartache every day.  I'm stuck in Saturday.

"The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." Romans 16:20  I know I will crush Satan's head but right now he's tormenting me.  I'm stuck in Saturday.

We live much of our life in Saturday.  The victory has been declared but we can't realize or see it fully yet.  That is why we must hold on to the promise of victory in faith.  Easter will come into its fulness in everything that was promised.  Until then believe the truth of Good Friday, "It is finished!"  Saturday will pass and the sun will come up tomorrow.  The Son will return and we will see that "It is finished!"

Hold fast to the promises of Christ because they will come to pass.  Look forward to tomorrow and in doing so endure today.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Beautiful Death

Today is Good Friday and on this day we remember the death of Jesus on the cross.  There shouldn't be a day that goes by without us reflecting in some way on Christ's death on the cross, but today we focus specially on it.

Crucifixion was a terrible thing.  The death Jesus died was a terribly ugly death.  He was flogged before being crucified.  This flogging was brutal.  The whip would rip one's skin to shreds and sometimes the whip would get stuck on the skin and the torturer would yank it out taking loads of flesh and even ribs with it.  The type of flogging that Jesus received would have left Him near death.  Then Jesus carried a crossbar on that nearly skinless back through the streets to be paraded and jeered.  Jesus was so weak from the beating that He couldn't finish carrying it.  He then had His raw back laid on rough wood and had nails driven into His hands and feet.  Then the cross was raised with His naked body hanging from it and Jesus was asphyxiated as He dangled by His hands with His arms stretched out.  Every breath He had to take required Him to pull up with His arms and push up with His feet causing the nails to rip more of his body.  All the while mothers would pass by and warn their little boys not to do whatever it was that Jesus did, people openly mocked Him as the enjoyed the spectacle of His execution, soldiers stole His clothes right in front of Him.

Crucifixion was terrible and the above paragraph doesn't begin to do it justice.

Crucifixion, however, was not that uncommon.  It was reserved for the worst of the worst and Roman citizens couldn't be shamed and tortured in this manor, but it wasn't uncommon.

So, what made Jesus' crucifixion notable?

First, Jesus was an innocent man.  He did not deserve to die.  In fact, Jesus never sinned, He was perfect.  His death was the first death of a perfect man.

Secondly, Jesus died for others.  Jesus died in the place of others, He suffered in order to be a substitute for others.  Not just others, but sinners and rebels.  Jesus died not for good men and women but for sinful men and women.

Thirdly, Jesus chose His death on the cross.  Jesus' life was not taken (John 10:18), it was given up for us.

But what I want to focus on now is the way Jesus suffered.  There was something about the way Jesus died that was different from all other deaths.  Consider the thieves on the cross.  Matthew tells us that both heaped insults on Jesus as He was crucified.  Both did.  But then in Luke we see this:

"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: 'Aren't you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!'

But the other criminal rebuked him.  'Don't you fear God,' he said, 'since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.'

Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'

Jesus answered him, 'I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:39-43

Matthew and Luke's accounts don't contradict one another.  Both criminals mocked Jesus on the cross, but then the one repented and found faith in Jesus on the brink of death.  I believe there must have been something in the way that Jesus suffered that changed his mind.  Jesus must have suffered in a way that allowed this man to see a king in the form of a bloody, beaten man who was suffocating under his own weight.

And the centurion, too.  This man must have seen a number of crucifixions because they were at least somewhat common and apparently part of his job.  Yet there was something different about Jesus' death.  Now, the centurion had the benefit of seeing darkness cover the land at noon and perhaps the temple curtain tearing in two, but there was something different about Jesus' suffering that seperated it from the suffering of all the other thieves and insurrectionists that the centurion had been charged with killing.

"And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard His cry and saw how He died, he said, 'Surely this man was the Son of God!" Mark 15:39

The flogging and crucifixion of Jesus was a dreadfully ugly act.  It was extremely brutal.  Jesus was scarred beyond recognition.  Yet, there was a beauty in His death.  He even suffered and died in a way that displayed His eternal beauty.  A criminal and a torturous supervisor looked at Jesus and saw undeniable beauty and glory.

On this Good Friday I urge you to gaze at the beautiful, gruesome death of Jesus today.

(Dramatic reading of the crucifixion)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday

Tonight my wife and I went to Maundy Thursday service at the Lutheran church nearest our house.  Growing up I didn't celebrate all the days of Holy Week, but now I'm finding a deep richness in further focusing on the events leading up to Easter.

On Maundy Thursday we remember the Last Supper and Jesus washing His disciples feet.  Maundy is from the Latin for command.  On this day we remember Christ's command to the His disciples.

"A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another."  John 13:34-35

"As I have loved you..."  What a strong aim for love!  Because this is so similar to what I wrote yesterday about need to be marked by love I won't expound on that today.

Below is a post I wrote last year on Maundy Thursday.  I hope it encourages you to follow Christ's maundy for us today.

Maundy Thursday

Today in Holy Week is called Maundy Thursday.  This day we remember Jesus' Last Supper with His disciples before the crucifixion and His washing of their feet.  Maundy is a word derived from Middle English and Latin meaning mandate or command.  On this day we remember a command Jesus gave.  Let's look at that command found in the book of John.

"It was just before the Passover Feast.  Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love.

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist.  After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?'

Jesus replied, 'You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.'

'No,' said Peter, 'you shall never wash my feet.'

Jesus answered, 'Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.'

'Then Lord,' Simon Peter replied, 'not just my feet but my hands and head as well!'

Jesus answered, 'A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.  And you are clean, though not every one of you.'  For He knew who was going to betray Him, and that was why He said not every one was clean.

When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place.  'Do you understand what I have done for you?'  He asked them.  'You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than His master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."  John 13:1-17

So, what is the command or Maundy in this passage?

We must first examine what Jesus did.  Jesus, the greatest in the room by far, assumed the role of the least and washed the feet of the disciples.  In that culture the servant that washed the feet of people had a crummy job, the guest of honor would never do this job nor would the least honored guest if there was a servant around.  Jesus assumed the role of servant even though He was aware of His actual place amongst the other men in the room.

Jesus also washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, who He knew would betray Him that same night.  Jesus assumed the role of servant even for His enemy.

So, what is the command?  The Maundy of Maundy Thursday is to do as Jesus did.  Christians must be the servant of all, both high and low.  There is no one too low for the Christian to serve.  If the Almighty can wash the feet of some lowly men from Israel, then you can and must serve anyone.

Christians must also not only tolerate our enemies but also serve them.  If Jesus can wash the feet of the man who would betray Him in a matter of hours then so we must follow suit.  You might not use the word 'enemy' but is there someone you'd be shocked to have to serve?  Is there someone you'd rather avoid than serve?  Maybe it's the Syrian man or woman needing refuge.  You may be scared because of what had happened recently, but Jesus commands us to serve them.  Maybe it's the person who votes differently than you.  Maybe it's the one whose sexuality differs from yours.  We aren't commanded to bend the truth in any way, He's not asking you to call right what is wrong; He's telling you to serve them anyway.

Here's what Jesus is not commanding:  "I served you, so you serve me."  This would be easy.  There are a billion reasons to serve Jesus.  Jesus said, "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet."  Jesus commands us to serve one another, even when the one anothers in our life don't deserve it.  Remember in Matthew 25 Jesus said "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sister of mine, you did for me."  We serve Jesus by serving others, especially those that society deems are below us or our enemies.

Remember Jesus' Maundy or mandate for us.  Be a servant like your Master Jesus today.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Marked by Love

"This is the message you heard from the beginning.  We should love one another." 1 John 3:11

The defining mark of a Christian must be love.  Jesus said that we will be known to be His disciples if we love one another.  Are you marked by love?

Have you ever walked into a body of believers and felt the love?  Have you been around people that so clearly care for one another?  There is a notable, palpable difference.  We as Christians must be marked by love for one another?

As the Haddaway famously sang, "What is love?"  If we are to be marked by love we must know what love is.  We use the word often, but what is love?

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?"  1 John 3:16-17

d.c. Talk sang, "Love is a verb" and it's true.  We can feel love but love is in its truest form a verb.  True love is an active, sacrificial act toward those who may or may not deserve it.  There cannot be true love without at least an ounce of sacrifice.

If your love is never accompanied by action then I will wonder if you actually have love.

My friend is a big Cowboys fan.  How do I know?  He talks about them, reads about them, purchases Cowboys merchandise, he buys hotels rooms and tickets to go to games, he spends time watching them on TV.  My friend is a Cowboys fan and I know because he has actively sacrificed money, time, energy and more to do Cowboy fan things.

How do people notice your love for your Christian brothers and sisters?  How does anyone recognize your love for your neighbor?  Love requires action and sacrifice.  If we have the means to help and don't when our sister is in need then we don't have the kind of love Jesus gives His followers.  Love is a verb.

"This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another."

This Holy Week remember the love of Christ and actively imitate it today.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Rolled Stone is a Cornerstone

Today I heard about a poll that I had to check out for myself..  According to a recent poll you can read about here or see in detail here, one in four British Christians don't believe in the resurrection of Jesus and 31% of British Christians don't believe in life after death.

I was shocked by this poll.  I don't won't to be judgmental, but I'm not going out a limb by saying that you can't be a true Christian if you don't believe that Jesus was crucified, buried and then resurrected.  This is THE fundamental point of Christianity.

Apparently belief in the Easter story, even within the walls of the church and the homes of self-professed Christians, is not something we should take for granted.

"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 the Twelve."  1 Corinthians 15:1-4

The death and resurrection of Christ is the cornerstone of our faith.  Without these events actually happening we are fools to believe.

"And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead." 1 Corinthians 15:14-15a

"And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." 1 Corinthians 15:17-19

If you're one of these "christians" who don't believe in the resurrection then Paul pities you.  If Christ didn't really rise from the dead then we are wasting our time.  If Christ wasn't raised from the dead then eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.  Why waste your time if Christ didn't rise?

"But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  1 Corinthians 15:20-22

This Holy Week we declare that Christ did suffer, die and rise from the dead.  This Holy Week we declare that we believe this, not because we feel that it might be true, but because we know it is true.  The resurrection is not a tertiary truth for Christianity; no, it is a foundation of our faith.  The rolled stone is a cornerstone of Christianity.

Thank God that Christ not only died for our sins, but (literally) rose from the dead, today.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Satan's a Rotten Pimp

I went to see the production my church does each year for Easter last night.  It's a mime but don't let the name fool you, it's much better than I can explain.  The theme for this year's mime (that my wife wrote #proudhusband) is "Beloved".  Most years the mime has a scene depicting the prodigal son, but this year the story of Hosea was used because it fits the theme perfectly.

Hosea is one of my favorite Old Testament stories.  The story of Hosea is mostly found in chapter one and three.  What happens is God tells the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute in order to live out a parable of God and Israel and ultimately Christ and us.

"Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD." Hosea 1:2b

Hosea then marries this woman Gomer who is selling her body to other men.  Hosea and Gomer have children and they're given really strange names with meanings like "not loved" and "not my people".  These names are not in the top ten for my wife and I nor any person ever.

At some point in the marriage, or perhaps the entire time, Gomer is with other men.

"Then the LORD said to me, 'Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress.  Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes." Hosea 3:1

Hosea then went and found his cheating wife.  Can you imagine that?  Hosea had to go and beg his wife to come home and to stop sleeping with other men.  He had to go to his wife and ask her to come home to him and the kids.

But there's more.  Look at what Hosea did.

"So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.  Then I told her, 'You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you." Hosea 3:2-3

Hosea had to go and buy back his own wife from some pimp!  He was obedient to God and he loved his wife, who wasn't the pick of the litter from the beginning and definitely not at this point of the story, so much that he paid for what was already his.

Throughout the Old Testament the prophets referring to chasing after other gods as whoring.  The people whored themselves after all sorts of gods and so do we.  We sell our bodies to the pursuit of many things that have nothing to do with being faithful to God.  We are unfaithful to God from the start, we were never the pick of the litter.

Satan tries to pimp us out.  He tries to have us be a slave to sin.

"Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness..." Romans 6:19b

But praise be to Jesus who is the greater Hosea!  He loving pursued us so much that He not only gave us a chance to choose Him, but better than that, He purchased us.  He purchased us from the bondage of sin.

"... you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth." Revelation 5:9b-10

This Holy Week don't forget that you were a slave to sin, that you were like Gomer who prostituted herself out, we all whored ourselves to sin whose wages bring only death (Romans 6:23).  We were being pimped out to be perpetually unloved and we had no hope of getting out, but then Christ came to us out of great love and obedience to the Father, just like Hosea, and purchased what was already supposed to be His.  The creator died to win back the creation.  He paid a hefty fee to make the Church His bride.

"Then I saw a New Heaven and a New Earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them.  They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.  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 21:1-4

If you believe in Him, Christ has freed you from Satan's bondage.  He came down and kicked sin and death and Satan's butt like Liam Neeson in "Taken" and like Hosea He has purchased us to be His own.  Remember this costly grace.  Think this week about the blood that bought you and live faithfully and fully to Christ today.