Out of Breath

In the span of two days I received an onrush of bad news that swept me up and took my breath away.

A friend’s brother died in his bed yesterday. A colleague’s brother was discovered dead in a field. My son’s mentor was rushed to the ER for colon surgery. My neighbor is battling lung cancer.

This leaves me bewildered and numb.

What do we make of trials? If you’re like me, I’m never prepared for them. They always surprise me and yet they shouldn’t because Jesus warned us we would have them in this life. fullsizerender-21

I was looking at quotes from John Newton and found this one:

“Trials remedy fictional escapism. Trials are the onrush of stinging realism crashing the idealized party we call ‘life.’ When these serious trials interrupt our lives, we ‘run simply and immediately to our all-sufficient Friend, feel our dependence, and cry in good earnest for help.’ But when all is well, when life seems peaceful and prosperous, and when the difficulties in life are small, then ‘we are too apt secretly to lean to our own wisdom and strength, as if in such slight matters we could make shift without him.’ We lose out on communion with Christ when we gorge on entertainment.”

What a commentary! Life as fictional escape, a movie of our own making filled with a diet of entertainment. With technology at our fingertips, this indicts everybody.

I’m guilty. I’ve either reading a book, watching TV, or living in my own head. And I think this is life. No wonder I need shaking up and waking up. I need to remember I’m a clay jar with a lot of cracks in it.  And I need to live close to the potter, otherwise I’ll dry up and smash to pieces.

What about you?

Talk to me.

 

 

 

The Horror of Idolatry

I’ve been reading Iain Duguid’s commentary on the book of Ezekiel. As you know, Ezekiel was an Old Testament prophet who was given the unenviable task of indicting the nation of Israel for its sins of idolatry. They preferred every carved image to the God who loved and saved them. And God was furious at them and he wanted them to know that.

“Idolatry is adultery because it makes me unfaithful to God and his truth. It flows from the inordinate desire for a person, plan, or sensation, a desire stronger than my love for God and my desire to obey him,” Duguid says.

That pretty much slays me.

Duguid goes on to say, “Idolatry is the desire for something other than God at the center of my life acting like my guiding star, the source of meaning in my life.”

How often I live my life, as a Christian, desiring things that God has not given me and believing if I had them I’d be a happier person. The advertising industry thrives on that lie. So does the devil with his poisonous thoughts that suggest that God is stingy, or has overlooked me, or marginalized me in his kingdom.

We are not immune from the siren calls of the world and it’s temptations. If that doesn’t get us, then it’s our flesh that clamors for more attention, and if we can be the center of the universe, all the better. But even if we can withstand the flesh, there’s the devil lurking in the background waiting to bait us with his venom.

Is it any wonder we are messes?  IMG_4730

But there’s hope for messes. Jesus died for messes. He nailed us to his cross so we could be given a clean slate in his new life.

We are the only people on earth who have died and been resurrected! Do you realize that?

It happened at the cross. When Jesus died there, we died with him. When he was buried, we were in the tomb with him. And when he was resurrected on the third day, he took us with him! What a glorious trip!

Do you believe that? You should. See Romans 6.

These truths all flow out of our union with Christ.

And how did we get there?

God put us there. See 1 Corinthians 1:30-31.

So what does that do to our idolatry? First, it’s pretty horrible to be in Christ and still crave lesser gods. Second, we have forgotten our position and privilege as children of God. Third, the only way to deal with idolatry is to run to God and repent. “It’s the ultimate idol-smasher,” Duguid says.

“Lord, forgive me for the sin of lesser loves, and remind me I am not my own but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

Sprinkle the Conffetti

Christians are not good people while unconverted sinners are bad people.

The only difference between the two groups is that Christians have their sins forgiven.

Jesus did not come to save respectable sinners.  He came for the despicable, the marginalized, the unlovely.

You and me.

There are no good people in this world.

We’re all bad people in need of rescuing.

No matter how polished and well put together on the outside, our sinful DNA is showing.

In Matthew 9 we are introduced to Matthew, the tax collector. A hated and despised man because his presence reminded the Jews they were living in occupied territory. He worked for the Roman government. He also worked for himself – extorting, bullying, and wheedling. He lined his own pockets with the taxes from his own people. He was the kind of sinner Jesus came for. And when Jesus called him, Matthew threw a party in response. IMG_4788

Why did Jesus go and enjoy the party? He could have walked on and met other people who needed him.

It was because Jesus’s coming to earth changed the times they were in.

The Old Testament was a time of waiting for Messiah.

The New Testament was a time of celebration, joy and freedom because Messiah had arrived as promised and he was going to set them free from their sins.

Like Matthew, Jesus changes our glumness to joy.

Matthew was happy. He was a new man. And he volunteered to repay all monies he had taken from his own people.

Jesus wants us to live in rapture that he took our sins on the cross and then we were raised in his resurrection.

Jesus’s preaching had an emphasis of celebration.

Think about the many parties Jesus went to in his lifetime.

Then reflect on the lavish party we’re going to have in heaven at the end our lives.

Are you savoring the party to come?

Is your life a celebration of sins forgiven, and a restored relationship with your heavenly Father?

Are you setting tonight’s dinner table with celebration?

Talk to me.

 

 

How to Be Happy

Why are so many people unhappy?

Why do so many people say they hate their jobs?

Why do others break off relationships, some of which have lasted a lifetime?

And why do others become slaves to alcohol and drugs?

At the bottom of their reasons is a desire to be happy.

Everybody wants to be happy. No matter who you are, where you are, or what you do.

I believe God wired us for happiness. This is not something we have invented. It’s part of our DNA as God’s image bearers.

But, as we all know, sin has marred everything, including this longing for happiness. Now we look for it in all the wrong places, especially in other people, only to be disappointed in the long run.  IMG_7161

Real happiness comes from knowing and enjoying Christ. Everything else is Hollywood. You have a choice – it’s a question of lavish feasting with him or settling for scraps the world offers.

We are born craving approval, acceptance and love and resisting the one Person who can give it to us. What fools we are. It can be ours in Christ. We don’t have to earn it, grovel for it, or hope for it. It’s ours the moment we believe.

We are wired for intimacy and we have it in Christ, as a gift. God has placed us in Christ’s kingdom and we have been drawn into the fellowship not only our Savior, but God the Father and the Holy Spirit. What can be more amazing than that? As C. S. Lewis said, it’s time to drop those mud pies in the gutter and take that holiday by the sea.

What are you doing about being happy today? Looking at your career, your marriage, your retirement, your shattered dreams, your own heart? Don’t waste your time. Look to Christ and you’ll find it there.

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re-Write Your Story

Once upon a time stories were for children. Now they seem to be usurped by almost everybody – big business, airlines, pharmaceutical companies, the automobile industry, everything is fair game even down to the toothpaste yuo use.

The truth is we’re wired for story. Our brains respond to them. And for some of you, you are a slave to your story. It’s the one you play in your head everyday. It can be a traumatic event, an emotional decision, a deep hurt, an unfairness, whatever it was that left a wound in your soul.

Instead of replaying it over and over again, replace it with a better story.

Sounds crazy?

It’s not.

What better story, you ask?  IMG_1415

The one that has you in Christ’s story. It’s the one that starts like this:

Once upon a time God created a perfect world and handed it over to his children, Adam and Eve to take care of it, but then they disobeyed him and plunged themselves and everybody after them into sin. When God saw the mess they had made, he realized only he could fix it. So he sent his perfect Son to earth in the form of a perfect man to live and do what Adam and Eve and the rest of us failed to do. Jesus lived to please God and then died on the cross to pay the price for your sins. His perfect life and record is now yours as a gift from God to you. All you need is faith in Christ to get it. The moment you receive that gift you step into Christ’s story.

What is true of you now?

You have a new Father who loves you. He is unlike any earthly father you’ve ever known.

You have a Savior who fixed your biggest problem – your sin that kept you from God.

You have a new identity – you are a child of God with all its privileges, including an inheritance.

You have a new family – your brothers and sisters in Christ.

You have a new future – living in the new heavens and the new earth for an eternity.

You have new support – the church.

You have a calling – the Holy Spirit has given you spiritual gifts to serve God with.

So what are you waiting for?

Dump the old story today and start telling yourself the new one!

Talk to me.

The Gospel is for the Heart

Psychologists and motivational speakers claim that a person has six basic needs in life. If these aren’t being met, then the person is living a life of misery.

Here are the six:

Security – financial and emotional
SignificanceIMG_4606
Connection/Love
Variety
Growth
Contribution

Let’s see how the gospel speaks to these:

Security – you can’t find any in this fallen world because security is subject to change and decay – remember the dot.com and real estate bust – real security comes from belonging to Christ.

Significance – all of us want to be noticed and recognized and applauded – however, there’s been only One Significant Man worth our attention – Jesus Christ – and if you belong to him then you share in his significance. You can’t get any more significant than that.

Connection/Love – fallen creatures can’t offer the life you crave, they can’t fill you up with love and joy and intimacy, they can only offer self and that fluctuates every minute – only God’s love in Christ for you is the true connection you long for that stays steady forever.

Variety – fallen man seeks entertainment to be stimulated whereas following Christ everyday and doing his will is never boring.

Growth – growing in a skill or talent is temporary, whereas growing in the love that Christ has for you brings you increased joy and happiness.

Contribution – the best man can do is social work for the less fortunate – i.e. Tom’s Shoes – whereas your highest contribution is having faith in God and loving your neighbor out of a grateful heart for what God has done for you.

If all your basic needs are met in Christ, then how should you then live?

1. Stop looking to sinners and the world to fill you up – you are filled already in Christ.

2. Learn to be content with what you have and where you are right now – be thankful to God.

3. Serve others out of a grateful heart for God’s gift of his Son for you.

There’s one more thing. I believe there’s a seventh basic need that trumps all six, and it’s this:

How do you escape the wrath of God? How do your sins get wiped away?

Isn’t it interesting that nobody asks that anymore?

Talk to me.

Getting Down on Yourself

The essential mark of a Christian is love. Love for Christ, church members, neighbors, family, authorities and people who don’t know the Lord yet.

But let’s be honest. We don’t do this very well.

I don’t. You don’t.

Why do  I say this with such confidence?

Because we are lovers of ourselves first. I prefer myself over you, and I suspect the same is true of you.

Unfortunately we deceive ourselves into thinking we love better than we do, and our friends will do everything they can to convince us we’re doing okay.

Try this experiment next time you’re in a group: Say something that lowers yourself in your own eyes, like, “I wasn’t very patient with my mother the other day.” Then wait for people’s responses. Several will try to rescue you from your low-self esteem. Why? Because if they didn’t attempt the rescue operation they would have to face their own lack of love for others.

We settle for half-hearted attempts. Listening with half an ear; putting off calling that pesky friend who talks too much; holding on to revenge because the person who hurt you still hasn’t admitted it. IMG_6921

Our hearts are deceitful and compromised by the world, the flesh and the devil. If one doesn’t cause us to trip, the other will. Maybe all three at the same time.

And the biggest trap we fall into is looking inside our hearts to find those evidences of love, good feelings and caring.

Except that’s the wrong direction.

Nothing good resides there.

Love must come from the outside. Not as a sensational feeling that sweeps us off our feet, but in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are members of his body and united to him. Love flows down from him to us and then out to our neighbor.

That’s why the apostle Paul exhorts us to put on Christ. Not once or twice but everyday.

What does that look like?

It’s realizing his love is 100% perfect and it’s ours as a gift.

It’s being grateful that he loved perfectly when he was here on earth and his perfect record God has been put into our account.

From God’s perspective, we love perfectly because it’s Christ’s love he sees there.

From our perspective, we live a life of transparency before the Lord, where no secrets are tolerated. We no longer give ourselves permission to sin. We throw out old grudges and hatred and forgive the other person, a hundred times if we have to.

Sounds impossible?

It is!

It reveals how much we need Christ, which is exactly where we need to be. It’s confessing our sins and admitting our inadequacy. “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

And what does God think of this display of lowliness?

Take a look.

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
‘I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite'”. – Isaiah 57:15 ESV

Talk to me.