Pain is a Gift

According to John Newton, legalism is weariness. Justification is joy. We are forgiven and accepted through the work of Another. It’s done. Our job is to rejoice in that truth and serve God out of gratitude.

I think he was onto something. Paul expressed the same sentiments.

Even though we may know this, we don’t live this way. Instead we live in the mirage of self-sufficiency. It’s our default position. We really do believe there’s something we can do without God’s help. A lot of things. Broken

It starts in childhood. Babies learning to walk shove their parents away and tumble. Toddlers running into furniture when they think they have a clear path for wandering. High-schoolers who think they have the future mapped out only to make huge course corrections when they get to college.

Never mind the daunting tasks of choosing a spouse, the right job, buying a home.

Do we consult God?

No, we’ve been told it’s up to us to hit these milestones.

Some people succeed but many don’t. How many people do you know who are doing everything they want in life? Who are the happy ones in their work, with their children, and their body image?

Maybe you’re one of the unhappy ones. Have you settled in a job because of the security it gives you more than anything else, but now it’s strangling the life out of you? Are you in a loveless marriage with no way out? Or maybe you’re struggling with your health? As a friend told me recently, “I want my old life back.”

Life rarely turns out the way we envisioned it.

Thank God for that.

It’s God’s gift to us. If life turned out just as we wanted it to, we wouldn’t turn to him for anything. It’s a mercy that we struggle and suffer. It’s God’s language reminding us we were made to turn everything over to him because he cares for us. It’s his way of saying that what we long for is not here, but in the new heavens and the new earth, when Jesus comes back.

In the meantime, even as forgiven sinners, we suffer with our fellow human beings, knowing that Jesus himself also suffered for us so we could share in his glory one day.

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

 

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Not Here

I have two friends who are suffering physically and mentally. One suffers excruciating pain down her right leg as the result of a stroke. The other is bipolar and refuses to take any medication for it. Both insist that God heal them directly. So far he hasn’t even though they pray fervently for it.

Both suffer from believing a lie. That type of mental anguish is worse than the physical ailment. This lie is dispensed every Sunday in church like the drinks at the coffee bar. It’s called having your best life now. It’s a theology of glory. God is supposed to keep us healthy, wealthy, and satisfied Christians.  Broken

But God has promised no such thing this side of heaven. What we long for – perfect health, perfect harmony in our relationships, perfect families and perfect joy – will be a reality when we’re living in the new heavens and the new earth, but not here.

While the longings of our hearts are right, our timing is off. This is the wilderness we’re trudging through, just like the Israelites did. Canaan was their destination, not some plot of sand with a well and a palm tree. Like them, we are headed to where all our longings will be fulfilled, but at the moment we keep our sandals on and keep walking.

The only one who had his best life was Jesus because he lived in heaven. But he willingly left that behind to live his worst life for 33 years. There’s reason why Isaiah describes him as a Man of Sorrows. We never read of Jesus laughing or telling a joke. He lived with suffering every day. The worst kind in the rejection of his own people he came to save. Day in and day out he suffered with people’s unbelief and hatred.

He owned nothing except the clothes on his back. He went hungry. He wept. And yet with this example we’re taught to expect God to give us everything he never gave his Son.

We hate living ordinary lives. We crave notoriety, we demand to live our potential, we love unearthing the divine spark within. Except there’s nothing biblical in any of it. It’s worldliness disguised as philosophical fast food.

The only Person who lived up to his potential was Jesus. We can’t because sin holds us back.

The only One whose life was not ordinary was Jesus’s. Ours are routine and unexceptional every day.

The One who lived by God’s every law was Jesus thereby meriting heaven. We live to break every law and merit hell.

Knowing this, we still demand our best life now. It’s insanity. No wonder we’re depressed and despairing.

The only course correction is to read the bible with fresh eyes and ask God for new understanding of life under heaven. Who is with me?

Talk to me.

 

Life in an Upside Down World

I’ve been writing about the upside-down kingdom of God. Losers will be winners, the last will be first, and the marginalized will fit in.

The biggest loser in the history of this world is Jesus Christ. He was poor, rejected, beaten, buried in a borrowed tomb, but now he is seated on the throne in heaven directing the affairs of this world and waiting for us to come home.

In the meantime, what are we to do?

For starters, we shouldn’t look down on people. We don’t have a full picture of their lives and kindness goes a long way to lifting them up a bit.

Everyone lives on God’s grace, sinner and saint alike. God’s blessings fall on both the righteous and the evil doer. We’re all takers. The only thing we’ve earned  is the wages of sin.

Be grateful. We once were alienated from God, but now we have been drawn near by sheer grace. God set his love on us, not because we were great human beings and deserving to be in the family, but because he chose us, pure and simple. We’re just as nasty as the next guy.

Tell others about this wonderful God we love and serve. That’s our reason for living. To glorify God and enjoy him forever. There’s nothing that gives more joy than witnessing for Christ. Even if we do it badly, it’s worth it, and God takes the mistakes and turns them around for good. So forget about feeling like a failure. There are no failures if you’re telling someone about Jesus.

Talk to me.

 

How Not to Climb the Corporate Ladder

You know the bible is real when you read verses 35-37 in Mark 10.

Jesus has just finished telling his disciples the horrible death that awaits him in Jerusalem, but instead of sympathy or concern, James and John ask for a promotion. They want the power seats in heaven. When the others find out what they’re up to, they become indignant because they didn’t think of it first most likely. Bible4

The focus is ripped away from Jesus’ death and lands on human ambition. It affords Jesus an opportunity to teach his disciples what it takes to live in his kingdom.

To be a bully, to seek your own status, and to be only interested in your own agenda is the world’s way.

As a disciple you seek to be nothing, a servant ready to help others. Just like Jesus. Why was he on his way to Jerusalem? So he could die in our place on the cross for our sins. The sins of James and John. The sins of all his people.

I’m amazed at Jesus’ patience with his own.

Thank God because I’m just like James and John.

I’m committed to me. My goals. My honor.

Every once in a while I catch myself serving others.

I wish it was the reverse.

That’s why I need a Savior.

And that’s why he’s given me his perfect record.

Because I need it!

Talk to me.

 

 

Safely Home

Was the Exodus a splashy demonstration of God’s power?

Absolutely.

Who else could have mobilized millions of people with their animals and belongings across a body of water like that?

Not even Disney World.

But why did God do that?

Because God had set his love on these people and they were being abused by Pharaoh.

“Time to get up and leave!” God said to them one night.

But was that all there was to it – to usher out a body of people into a new location?

Hardly.

God wanted to free Israel from slavery so they could serve him and sing his praises.

That’s what Israel was made to do, and that’s our purpose, too.

God is worthy of our praise and we need to give it to him.

We express our highest purpose when we celebrate his glory, and honor, and power.

The God who parted the Red Sea is not old and feeble. He’s still in the exodus business.

Every time a person comes to faith in Christ, he experiences his own exodus from sin and hell.

In the Exodus Israel was as guilty as Egypt. Israel deserved death as much as the Egyptians. They were all sinners.

But the waters parted for Israel while it drowned the Egyptians.

What was the difference?  Red Sea

God’s people obeyed by putting the blood of the lamb on the doorposts. A picture of Christ’s blood for the remission of sins.

It wasn’t because the Israelites were a better race of people. They weren’t. It was because they had the blood of the lamb on their houses which protected them from death.

And that’s exactly what Jesus has done for you. If you believe in him by faith alone, then you have experienced your own exodus in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.

You are now free to serve God and sing his praises.

Are you doing that?

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

 

Shout Out!

Rev. William Willimon said in reference to the resurrection, “A dead body got loose.”

I love it.

Not only did a dead body get loose, but the only body to walk out of the grave.

Have you spent time thinking about the resurrection lately? I have. Maybe because it’s springtime and all the blossoms and tender green shoots are shouting at me. It’s God social media to a dying world.

I was on a hike last week surrounded by brilliant blue skies, a gurgling creek, and trees bursting with new life.

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I found myself looking around at the breathtaking scenery, taking in the magnificence of God’s handiwork. Who but God could have designed green and blue and yellow and put them together.

I stumbled across a baby rattle snake with skin that rivaled anything in today’s fashion styles.

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And yet most of my fellow hikers were plugged into their headsets with their eyes on the ground.

The outdoors is speaking God’s message for all to hear.

There’s life to be embraced in the one who got away from death.

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As C. S. Lewis put it, “Christianity is a world that is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumor going around the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.”

Look up and think about that today.

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

A Lesson from a Priest

December is the month when we hear a lot about Mary, the mother of Jesus.

She was an unwed mother who gave birth to the Savior of the world.

Those two things don’t belong together, do they? You’d think God would have chosen a woman from the ruling class in a palace with a jeweled cradle.

In fact, he chose the opposite. IMG_7835

Mary was ordinary.

Mary was poor.

Mary was humble.

And she was chosen.

God chose her. Of all the women in that day, he chose her. Why? For the same reason he chooses us. Because he wanted to. Out of love. To show forth his glory.

And what made Mary stand out was her faith. She believed the angel Gabriel’s outlandish message that she, a virgin, would conceive and bear a son and he would be “great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

I wish I could be more like Mary and say everyday, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

But I’m more like Zechariah, the priest when the angel told him he was going to have a son. (Luke 1)

If only Zechariah had noticed the parallels of his angel’s visitation and announcement with the one Abraham had back in Genesis 15 when God promised him an heir. And buoyed up by Abraham’s faith Zechariah should had followed suit. After all he was a Jew. He was clergy. It says he and his wife, Elizabeth were both righteous before God, but they had no child because Elizabeth was barren and now they were well advanced in old age.

The story begins when Zechariah’s shift came up and he was in the temple serving God. His assignment was to burn incense while the multitudes outside the temple were praying. How much more spiritual can you get? (Incense is mixed with the prayers of God’s people. See Revelation 8:3-4) That’s when Gabriel showed up, Zechariah was paralyzed with fear, and Gabriel told him to relax. Perhaps Zechariah thought he wasn’t adhering to the rules of burning incense quite right. Or maybe he was scared Gabriel would find him unworthy for the duty he was performing. Instead, Gabriel reassured him that he had come to deliver a pretty cool message. That God had heard his prayer. What prayer? The man was old. He must have prayed a zillion prayers in his lifetime not only for himself and his wife but for the nation of Israel. No, it was one specific prayer that was in view here – that of having a son. Now, I’m sure at both his and Elizabeth’s old age, they had given up praying for a son. When you’re old and grey and your bones creak, you don’t keep praying for things that are way past your prime. And yet here we hear Gabriel telling Zechariah that he and his wife would conceive and bear a son. (As an aside, God doesn’t forget any one of your prayers! However, don’t expect his timing to necessarily fit your calendar.) So does Zechariah jump up and do a dance? No. He questions Gabriel and wants to know the details. Just like me. Instead of clinging to the promises of God by faith, no matter how many examples I have in Scripture of others having done so, I question God. So Gabriel mutes Zechariah for his unbelief and during his wife’s last trimester he’s forced to communicate in hand motions and a tablet. I should be living life flailing my arms and writing text messages, too.

But God loves me. He chose me like he did Mary to be filled with a new life in Christ. Mary gave birth to the Son of God so that the Son of God could give birth to me. And you. And then give us his perfect record. And die for our sins. And clothe us in his righteousness. And adopt us. And love us. Forever!

Go out and tell somebody and dance with them!

Talk to me.

messychristians@gmail.com