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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The Craving of Dreams

Do you know people who say they can’t believe in God because they hold a list of grudges against him?

The list goes something like this:

God didn’t deliver what he promised.

God didn’t heal my loved-one.

God didn’t give that promotion I asked for.

The list goes on and on.

It’s a list that produces a brittle and bitter heart.

Underneath the reasons for this refusal is anger at God, and then disappointment with God, and finally a willful decision to not believe in God, an attitude of revenge.

But is it justified to have a grudge against God? Do we have any examples in Scripture?

We do. The people who left Egypt and moved into the wilderness give us an example. Never mind that they were slaves and mistreated by the Egyptians. Never mind that they were spared the death of their first-born son while everyone around them was wailing their misfortune. Never mind that God gave them a leader to bring them out unscathed through the Red Sea crossing. Never mind that God protected them by day and by night. That he fed them. He gave them water to drink. He gave them himself in the wilderness and was leading them to the Promised Land.

They did nothing to deserve being rescued.

What was their response? photo(73)

“They spoke against God. ‘Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Can he give bread also? Can he provide meat for his people?’ They tested God in their hearts by asking for the food of their fancy.” (Psalm 78:18-20)

Note the phrase, “the food of their fancy.” That’s  where the problem lies. Just like the people in the wilderness, who had experienced firsthand God’s deliverance from Egypt, they were bristling against the conditions of life in the desert and wanted to return.

Their expectations didn’t match their experience. They didn’t like living in tents, nor trudging through the heat, nor eating manna everyday, and being thirsty. So they complained and demanded the type of food they left behind in Egypt.

Their real problem was not having a correct view of God.

God was giving them a new life, but they wanted the old one. He was giving them an intimate relationship with him, but they preferred the Egyptian idols. They were happy to use God as their butler for their cravings, but were unwilling to submit to the new life he had prepared for them.

Could it be that people with grudges against God are really saying the same thing? That God didn’t deliver on the goods they envisioned for themselves? And since he didn’t deliver, they were leaving and going home?

God does not promise the things we want in this life. He certainly gives us more than we deserve, but not everything. He prefers we get to know him, and love him whether he gives us our dreams or not. Ultimately, we will have everything our hearts desire and more when we’re in the new heavens and the new earth, but in the meantime, our greatest craving should be a deeper knowledge of him.

Therefore, give up your grudges against God. God gave up his grudges against you when he put Jesus on the cross in your place. Let that bathe your heart today. God’s love for you in very great.

Keep God’s love fresh in your faith.

Talk to me.

 

The Pain of More Fruit

Being a pilgrim and a stranger in this world is totally biblical. As Christians we are resident aliens. We are out of step with the world. We will never fit in so we should quit trying. If we feel homeless, that’s okay. We are strangers in a strange land. The world tells us to place our hope here, but we can’t because our hope lies elsewhere. This world is not our home and we will always feel like outsiders. We need to get used to it.

Hope is not a positive disposition towards life. It’s not Disney or Hollywood or your latest music video. If that were the case, very few could say they feel happy. Most people are fighting their demons. A lot of people are struggling and suffering. Even those who look on the outside as having everything. Even they are miserable.

Our hope as Christians is wrapped up in the blood of Christ, which transforms us and makes us new people. Our hope comes from the resurrection of Jesus. It draws us to heaven. There is where our true inheritance lies, never to be stolen or damaged or taken away. God himself guards it. Image result for vineyard

Our daily trials become bearable because we have this hope waiting for us. We will suffer here and may not know the reason why, like Job, but we know this, that no suffering occurs without purpose. There is no senseless suffering for the Christian. It is God ordained. It connects us to Jesus. We might feel God is against us in our suffering, but that’s not true. Our trials expose our faith – is it false or is it genuine? Do we cling to God or walk away? Are we real or a faker?

Suffering produces growth. God is removing everything false and superficial. He’s pruning us like branches in a vineyard. It’s not meant to kill us, although it feels that way. On the contrary, it’s meant to produce more fruit. And when he’s done, we will be amazed. We will live with stronger faith and hope in what awaits us.

Talk to me.

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.

 

Not So Quick

Have you ever asked yourself, like I have, what was lacking in the rich young ruler’s life that turned him away from following Jesus? Something nagged at him to ask Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. He said he kept the commandments and Jesus didn’t fault him in that. What was missing?

He may have been thinking that there was something he needed to add to the rule list. “Just tell me and I’ll be on it.”

Or he may have been thinking that he was doing alright and wanted Jesus to confirm him in his performance.

But that wasn’t it.  FullSizeRender (4)

Just like this blog is fond of repeating that acceptance with God is by Christ alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, this young ruler had everything, including wealth and possessions, but lacked the one thing that could give him eternal life.

Without faith in Jesus he had nothing.

He was a rebel in God’s world. He was spiritually dead. Notice in today’s culture, he would be described as a seeker, someone who was close to God, and whom God was pleased with. But in truth his heart was of stone. His sins were not forgiven. He was under God’s wrath.

So what does Jesus tell him?

To sell his possessions and give his wealth to the poor.

Why would Jesus say that instead of telling him he needed to have faith in him?

No doubt Jesus saw that he trusted in his considerable wealth and put his finger on it to expose it. The young ruler heard that and walked away sorrowful. He was willing to do anything, but part with his riches. He loved them more than God. While being rich he was poor. He failed to realize that eternal life was more wonderful than all the riches in the world.

We see time and time again that those who feel secure in their performance, Jesus refers them to the law, but to those who are a mess, like the woman caught in adultery, he consoles with the gospel.

If you’re keeping the rules without a corresponding love for God inside, you of all people are not keeping any rule. You must be poor and needy inside, a beggar of God’s love and life and then he will grant it to you.

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

faith in Jesus, the one person who could give him what he needed.

And notice how Jesus answered him.

 

 

 

 

You’re in the Army

There are two aspects to the church. One is local like the church in your city, the one you are a member of. The other is universal. It’s the church in heaven made up of Christians who have died and gone to be with the Lord. It’s also the church of the ones who are yet to be born, but will one day be born and come to believe in the Savior.

The church that exists today all over the world is called the militant church. It’s made up of fighting men and women. It means we’re at war with the flesh, the world and the devil.

There’s a war going on inside of us because of remaining sin. Our mind, body and emotions don’t always submit to Christ. We fall into wickedness.  photo39

We’re at war with the world, it’s ways and the way people think, feel and act outside of Christ. The world is upside down. We, as Christians, are running toward salvation while the world is running toward destruction.

And the devil is there to destroy God and his people. He discourages our faith and hope in the gospel. He causes us to sin. He loves to create unbelief in the goodness of God. And he is particularly skilled at having us look inward for our holiness, and when we don’t find it there, he causes us to despair. Anytime he’s able to get our eyes off Christ, he’s thrilled.

How do we respond?

First, don’t expect an easy time in this life. Expect a hard life since you’re a soldier. Be disciplined. Know your bible. Pray. Be thankful.

Second, fight and endure with hope and confidence in the promises of God. He won’t let you down.

Third, remember you’re assured of victory because Christ won it for you.

Talk to me.

 

 

 

The Howling Wilderness of our Lives

In the middle of a grueling week of work, a friend of mine stopped by and asked, “How’s it going?”

“Things could be better,” I said. I hurt all over from hours of standing on my feet. My head throbbed from lack of sleep. And I was fighting a cold.

“Listen,” he said looking at me. “This is as good as it gets. Things don’t get any better.”  

Most people would have thought my friend was way off-base. Negative. Cynical even.

For me, what he said was just what I needed to be reminded of.

Living in the wilderness is just that – journeying through a dry and thirsty land where there is no water, no oasis, and no rest.

Think Abraham.

Think the Israelites in their 40 years of desert wandering.

Even Jesus, when he was here in the flesh, lived his life in the wilderness.

He died in the wilderness, just like Abraham did, just like the first generation of Israelites did, just like you and me.

The wilderness is a pilgrimage, where we are not at rest. In fact, it’s a place of hardship and testing.

Wilderness and rest structures the life of the Church.

The First Coming of Jesus accomplished redemption by his death and resurrection.

His Second Coming brings in the Sabbath rest for all God’s people.

In between those two events, is the wilderness journey, in which we all pass through.

No one is exempt.

Not even Jesus.

He experienced the journey for us. He lived it perfectly for us. And that record is put to our account.

So then how are we to live our lives in the wilderness?

First, by not expecting it to be a life of comfort and rest. Just the opposite.

Second, it’s our time to do good works out of gratitude to God for saving us and giving us a future Sabbath rest that is as certain as God himself.

This is the time we tell others the good news of the gospel, where we love one another as the body of Christ, where preaching and teaching and training in righteousness is a daily and weekly habit.

Our happiness is not here.

It’s in a future rest in heaven with our God.