Thursday, December 9, 2021

Christmas Mourning, Christmas Hope

Christmas is drawing near.  When we think of Christmas, we may think of presents and trees and decorations and family and friends.  If you are a church-goer, perhaps what may come to mind is a newborn babe and a stable and shepherd-worshippers and angels declaring the glory of God come to man.  But there is another part of the Christmas story—a darker part, a harder part—that may speak to us this Christmas as we are threatened again by the pandemic and continued unrest and division in our country.

In Matthew’s gospel we learn about a horrific episode in the midst of the Nativity story that has traditionally been called the Massacre of the Innocents.

In this historic event 20 centuries ago, King Herod hears from the wise men that one who would be the King of the Jews has been born.  Herod was an evil and deranged man who would allow no competition for his throne.  When the wise men do not come back to him with the identity of this child, he becomes enraged, “and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16, 17).

Why is this stark story here, and what does it have to say to us this Christmas season?  I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but this is what I think:  this story is here to remind us about what kind of world Jesus came to.  We live in a beautiful world that is also a world of hurt and sorrow and brokenness and sin.  The saints of old used to call this world the “vale of tears”—and that it is.  Some of you know this already.  If you don’t, you haven’t lived long enough, or you have isolated yourself from the pain of those around you.

And I’m a part of this broken world.  My own sin hurts others and shows disdain for the One who made me.  This world is often messed up, and so am I;  the Bible calls it Fallen--fallen into sin and sorrow and death.

Into this world God sent His glorious, beloved Son.  Why?  Jesus did not come to make us nice.  He did not come to make us happy about ourselves.  He did not come so we would have success in all our endeavors.  He did not come just to comfort us.  Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, came to this world to rescue and redeem us.  We need a Rescuer.  We desperately need a Rescuer.  I need a Rescuer.

Jesus was born into this world to take upon Himself the sin and sorrow and shame of all those who will look to Him.  He came to break the power of sin and death by being broken Himself upon the cross. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

Several years ago our church had the opportunity to pray for a young family as they watched their precious three-year old daughter slowly overtaken by a terrible illness.  Sometime after her death, at age four, her mother wrote these words:

“The Lord showed me how, those who have lost a child, can begin to understand the pain [God] felt over having lost His children to the darkness of this broken world, the heartache of being separated from them, and the great need He had for a Rescuer to come and restore us into the family of our Father. Jesus met that need, and His victory over death assures that my need to see [my little girl] again will be met one day as well.”

In the midst of what may be Christmas mourning for many this year, may we all find Christmas hope in our great Rescuer.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Theology or Me-ology: May Column in Destin Log

Here’s a little test for this month’s column:  which of these sermons would you be most interested in hearing:  Raising Courageous Kids, God is a Holy God, Finding Your Purpose, Seeing the Glory of God in Jesus Christ, Get the Marriage You’ve Always Wanted or In Control: Our God is a Sovereign God?

Now let me say that each of these are legitimate sermon topics and could be spoken about faithfully from the Scriptures.  However, the topics that most draw our attention may reveal something about our hearts and desires.  Notice, three of the sermons are about “me” (being a good parent, finding my purpose, having a good marriage), and three of the sermons are about God (He is Holy, He is Glorious, He is Sovereign).

Do you see?  Your preference may point to your priority.  Am I more interested in God, or am I more interested in me?  Am I God-centered in my life and thinking, or am I man-centered?  When we are not God-centered, we care less about God and His character and more about “How Can I Live My Best Life Now.”  We may not be interested in theology and doctrinal precision because we are not so interested in God.  We are interested in tips in how to live, because we are primarily interested in ourselves.  Some have called this the eclipsing of Theology with Me-ology.  The shift may seem subtle, but its effects are immense.

God has made us with hearts that can only be satisfied with the splendor of a glorious God and not a focus on self.  We get a taste of this great truth when we stand at the beach and watch a sunset.  There is something that happens when we see the beauty of the dimming sun reflecting on the water—when the clouds seem to flame orange and red.  We “ooh” and we “aah.”  We feel . . . deep joy and even delight, forgetting about ourselves and being overwhelmed with great splendor.

The most glorious sunset, the most stunning mountains, the grandest canyon pale in their beauty compared to the splendor of the God of heaven and earth.  We have been made to stand in breathtaking awe of divine glory.  Only He can satisfy your heart and mine.  

But how can we see this God?  We get glimpses of His glory in the world He has made, but the Bible tells us that God is seen most clearly as we look to His only Son, Jesus Christ.  He “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3).

Don’t get me wrong--tips for daily living are of some benefit.  But we were made for--and we long for--more.  Look to the Jesus of the Scriptures and . . . see.  See glory, see splendor, see an amazing Savior, and see if you do not find what your heart yearns for most.

And here is the—perhaps unexpected--everyday result:  what saturates your heart will be what flows from your life.  The more you are satisfied in the glory and love of Jesus, the more His grace will flow through you into your marriage, into your home, into your habits and goals and a thousand other ways.  Look to Jesus.


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Faith over Fear

Faith over fear is a motto we are hearing a lot during our uncertain times.  It’s memorable, pithy and even has alliteration.  Better than that, it is true—mostly (and we will return to the “mostly”).  Those who love Jesus and rest in His Word know that our lives are to be lived in faith rather than in fear.

I did a quick search and found that some form of the command, “do not fear,” occurs over 130 times in Scripture.  God wonderfully tells us, “For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you’” (Isaiah 41:13).  And Jesus reminds his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

Christians are not to be fearful people, not because we are just naturally courageous.  Nor do we think we are immune from disaster or sickness.  We are not to be fearful because we trust that our lives are upheld and directed by a sovereign and loving Father.  There is nothing that can come upon us as God’s children that has not first passed through his loving hands (Romans 8:28).

As the Psalmist reminds us, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  In God whose word I praise;  in God I trust” (Psalm 56:3, 4).  Faith over fear.  We desperately need this truth.

And yet . . . and yet what concerns me is that some are taking this precious and comforting truth and turning it into a criticism of others—even a condemnation.  Here’s what I mean.  One Christian sees a brother or sister in Christ wearing a protective mask, and they think and maybe even say, “Faith over fear.”  In other words, they must be wearing a mask because they are afraid (unlike me) of getting the coronavirus and not trusting God to care for them.  Right?  Well, maybe not.

Here’s the problem: such thinking does not take into account all of Scripture’s teaching on fear.  The book of Proverbs seems to teach us that there is a type of fear that is not sinful, “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it” (Proverbs 22:3).  That is to say, it is wise if you see potential danger to take precautions.  We teach our children with this kind of healthy fear.  We tell them not to play in a busy street, because it is dangerous.  We tell them to wear a seatbelt when they get in the car in case of an accident.  I don’t know any reasonable Christians who say, “Look at the unbelief and fear of that person wearing a seat-belt.  Look at the sinful fear of that child who won’t play in the street.”  In the face of danger, we trust the Lord, and we take wise precautions as He enables us.  We use means, and we trust God.

All this is to say, be charitable to one another.  Wearing a protective mask or taking other precautions during this pandemic is not necessarily a sign that someone is living in fear and not faith.  And of course, taking no precautions is not necessarily an indication of one’s greater trust in the Lord (they may be trusting in their robust health).  As one writer has recently put it, “Let’s be careful, then, that when we say ‘faith over fear’ we are making God’s promises feel big more than we are making our fellow Christians feel small.”


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Heaven is for Real--Really

Death seems a little closer during this time of Covid-19.  And with the thought of death follows the question of heaven.  Everyone wants to know what comes after this life on earth (or if this life is all there is).  This probably helps explain the booming popularity over the last decade of a genre of books sometimes labelled Heavenly Tourism.  The basic storyline goes like this:  a person dies, they go to heaven, they come back.  Then they write a book to tell us what heaven is like.  I’ve read a few of them--perused some others.  

For what it’s worth, here is my conclusion:  at best, who can know if these things are true?  At worst, some people are pulling in lot of money by making up stories about the dwelling place of God.  Just a few years ago the young man who wrote The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven recanted his whole story saying, “I did not die.  I did not go to heaven.… I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

The Bible is enough.  Amen.  If you want to know heaven is for real then read God’s Word.  And what will you find there?  Interestingly, the Bible does not give us a lot of details about heaven (maybe this is why we want to know more).  The Book of Revelation pulls back the curtain somewhat.  However, there is no doubt that the most glorious and central aspect of heaven is made abundantly clear:  Luke 23:43 (“Today you will be with me in paradise”); John 14:3 “I will take you to be with me, that you may also be where I am”); 2 Corinthians 5:6–8 (“be at home with the Lord”); Philippians 1:21–23 (“depart and be with Christ”); and 1 Thessalonians 4:14 (“God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him”).

What do all these Scriptures say?  In heaven, we will be with Jesus.  Being with Jesus is what makes heaven “heaven.”  And, believe it or not, that is enough.  That’s all we need to know.  Jesus is the greatest longing of every heart—whether we know it or not.  To gaze upon His beauty, to know His love, to find our joy in Him for all eternity, that is the heart of heaven.  If you truly love Jesus now, you will adore heaven then.  Jesus makes heaven “heaven.”  It is not the streets of gold or seeing beloved family members or even having no more pain.  We will be with Jesus—that is heaven.

But Jesus is not only the true destination in heaven.  He is the only way to heaven.  “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” It is not by our good works, but only by trusting in the goodness and work of Jesus that we become members of the Father’s heavenly house.

Do you want to know more about the glory of heaven?  Then look to the glory of Jesus in God’s Word.  He is enough. Do you want to know the way to heaven—how to become your Father’s child?  Then look to the glorious Jesus of God’s Word.  He is enough. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Gospel-Shaped Citizens

Does God’s Word have anything to say to us in the midst of the current upheaval in our country?  What I find amazing is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ--that Jesus by his life, death and resurrection has gained victory for His people over sin, death, and Satan--gives us direction in every circumstance.  This good news does not just affect us in church or in private; its effects are meant to spill over into every area of our lives.

Listen as the apostle Paul tells us how to live as followers of Jesus in our culture today:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,  (2)  to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.  Titus 3:1-2

Christians need this reminder again and again.  This is your calling . . . today.  In verse 1 Paul calls us to be good citizens.  So we don’t withdraw as Christians from politics and government.  We are salt and light for Jesus as Democrats or Republicans or Independents—seeking to do good works for the glory of God.

But now look at verse 2 and, perhaps, let it soak in for a while:  to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

Right now, there are all kinds of opinions and debate--yes even rancor and hostility--in our country, and individual believers and churches are being caught up in it.  Some of it has to do with the proper response to COVID-19; but most of it now has to do with the death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter; it has to do with how much racism is still at work in our country and in our own hearts.  It has to do with the looting and lawlessness that has happened in many major cities.  It has to do with an upcoming election that is dividing our nation once more.

And God’s Word says, “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

But we turn on the news to listen to what is happening, and we listen to commentators on Fox or MSNBC or CNN, or various places online.  I’ll simply state from my own experience, I find that listening extensively to the media on the right or on the left doesn’t help me to live for and love others for Jesus.  What I usually find is the more I listen to these media outlets, the more my heart hardens towards others; the more I start thinking of other people as my opponents; the more I find anger, bitterness, and contempt for those I differ from rising from within me.  When God is saying clearly, “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy to all people.”

My advice:  listen to the news to get the news, but it is dangerous for us as followers of Jesus to let the media (right or left) tell us what we should be feeling and doing.  That is not the place of the media for us as Christians, for we have something better-- Jesus and His Word.  It is good to ask right now, in the midst of this time of turmoil and division in the country, how much am I listening to the media, and how much am I listening to Jesus and His Word? How much is Christ’s Word informing (and forming) my heart and mind compared to how much MSNBC or Fox is?  We need to be reminded again and again.  It is easy to get caught up in the rhetoric and talking points of the culture . . . and forget to abide in Christ and display the faith, hope, and love that He won on the cross for us to receive and share with our broken and hurting world.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Incomparable Jesus

There is simply no one like Jesus.  Maybe you know this already.  I hope you do.  After more than 40 years of reading about Jesus, studying his person, listening to his words in the Scriptures, and hanging out with other Jesus-admirers, I am still astounded—still in awe.  I believe that I will be for all eternity.  I think the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 thought and felt the same way.

Do you know the story?  Jesus is travelling with his disciples and at mid-day they come to a well in the land of Samaria.  The disciples leave Jesus alone as they go to a nearby village to look for food.  As Jesus is waiting, a Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water.  He asks her for a drink of water.  Other Jews considered Samaritans “unclean” compromisers of the Jewish faith.  Worthless people.  Not worth your time.  Not worth your energy.

And she was not only a Samaritan--she was probably an outcast even among Samaritans.  Women did not normally draw water at mid-day.  They usually came in the cool of the morning or evening to get water and talk together about their lives and the latest news.  But this woman stays away from the other women of her village.  Why?  We’ll get to that.  First, simply take a moment to see Jesus, and his intense concern about an unclean outcast of the outcasts.  He wants to know her and, more importantly, he wants her to know him.  Who is like that?  Who has a heart of compassion for “the least of these” like Jesus?

In our day we are told that loving and compassionate people are those who will simply accept others, as they are.  But Jesus is too loving to leave this woman as she is.  In His love, he wants to change her.  He comes speaking the truth to her and to us.  He asks her to go get her husband.  And the woman says that she has no husband.  She is being truthful but evasive.  Jesus answers her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true." (Jn 4:17-18).  By the way, this is probably why the women of the village don’t want to be around her.  She had a bad reputation. We don’t learn the details. But whether she was widowed five times, or divorced five times, or some combination of the two (plus a live-in boyfriend), no woman can go through that many intimate relationships without either beginning with a sense of great emptiness, or ending with a great sense of emptiness.  And this is what Jesus is putting his finger on.

The woman at the well was seeking satisfaction and worth from men—and she ended up empty—drawing water from a muddy cistern, instead of the Spring of Living Water.  In a very real way, that is all of us.  Going through life seeking that one thing or one person who will finally satisfy our longing hearts.  And Jesus tells her and us that He is the One that our hearts long for.  “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."  Who talks like this?  Whose words penetrate our souls like the words of Jesus?  Who can truly satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts?

The woman believed.  Her eyes were opened to the glory of Jesus.  She was so excited, she was set free from her shame and told her whole village to come and see this Jesus who knew everything about her and yet, still loved. They did, and many of them believed in Him as well. 

There is no one like Him.  The Samaritan woman knew and felt this.  Jesus changed her from worthless, to a worshipper, and finally to a witness.  Who else can do this?  Truly, there is no one like Jesus.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter Destin Log Article

At this time when many stores and shops are shuttered and still, when many churches are empty and silent, when choirs will not gather and sing, the proclamation of Easter yet rings forth . . . “He is Risen!”  Perhaps, this Easter, it sounds forth even more loudly in the surrounding stillness, “He is Risen!”

In this time of loss, sorrow, uncertainty, anxiety and pain, God is not silent.  C.S. Lewis spoke truly when he said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Too often we are deaf to the voice of the One who made us, who sustains us, who gives us life and breath and everything else.  Surely it is not wise for the creature to ignore the Creator.  But we do.  We get caught up in life and busyness and smartphones, and we tune out our Sovereign and Gracious Father.  This is foolishness.  For He is the only one who can give us hope—real, lasting hope—when the foundations of life seem to give way.

And what is God shouting to us in this COVID-imbued Easter season?  Just what He has said every Easter, “He is Risen!”  Do you hear it?  Jesus by His cruel death upon the cross and glorious resurrection has broken the bonds of sin, Satan and death itself.

Sin does not have the last word this Easter.  Sin says, “You are condemned.  You have ignored God.  You have trusted in yourself and not the Savior.  If you lose your health or your job then you are getting what you deserve.”  But Easter proclaims, “He is Risen!”  Jesus bore the condemnation of all who trust in Him.  Yes, we all still struggle with sin.  But sickness or affliction are not God’s judgement on His children.  Instead, they are God’s peculiar servants that He sends in love to purify us and help us cling more tightly to Him—our true and everlasting Treasure.

Satan does not have the last word this Easter.  Satan says, “This suffering is meaningless.  God is not in control.”  But Easter proclaims, “He is Risen!”  The greatest calamity that has ever struck the earth was the death of the very Son of God.  But this death was not meaningless, and God was not powerless.  Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), and “he was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25).  Jesus’ Easter resurrection demonstrates God’s purpose and power to save in the midst of this broken world.  Corrie ten Boom, a Holocaust survivor, reassures us, “There is no panic in Heaven! God has no problems, only plans.”

Death does not have the last word this Easter. Death says, “This is the end. This is your end.” But Easter proclaims, “He is Risen!” Jesus by his indestructible life shows us that in Him the cycle of sin and death has been broken. Death no longer must be our final destination. Jesus tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).

The most the coronavirus can do is take your life. For the one who believes in the Jesus of the Scriptures, death is not the end, but a doorway to happiness for eternity in the presence of the glorious, living Christ.

“He is Risen, indeed!”

Monday, January 13, 2020

How Head Truth becomes Heart Truth

Image result for from the head to the heart

This past week was Prayer Week at Safe Harbor.  For the last few years we have distributed a "Prayer Guide" to help with prayer as the week progresses.  Following is Mondays prayer help.  It unfolds the truth that God uses prayer to move His truth from our heads to our hearts . . .

As we begin this week of prayer, it is good to remember two truths:  first, God’s Word feeds our faith in Christ (“Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” Rom. 10:17).  Without regular, personal time in God’s Word our faith in Christ—in His person, in His work, in His promises—begins to wane.  As followers of Christ we need His Word if we are to truly live for Christ and His kingdom. (“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” Matt. 4:4).

God’s Word nourishes our faith, but it is prayer—as John Calvin once said—that is the “chief exercise of faith by which we daily receive God’s benefits.”

Calvin uses the illustration of a field in which God has buried a precious treasure. God points out the treasure in His Word, faith believes what God says, and prayer is the spade with which we dig the treasure up and make it our own.  “We dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the Lord’s Gospel, and which our faith has gazed upon” (Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 20).

How vital this is!  How do the truths and promises of the Gospel become our truths?  How do we move from knowing that we are loved in Jesus to truly experiencing that love?  How do we move from knowing that we need to forgive to forgiving the one who has hurt us?  The answer is. . . prayer.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

A Secret in "A Charlie Brown Christmas"

When I was a kid, I always looked forward to the TV specials that would be on the weeks leading up to Christmas. Some of them you might remember. “The Year without a Santa Claus,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and last but not least “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (It’ll be on TV this week, Dec. 6). Everyone is familiar with the pathetic, little tree Charlie Brown picks out at the end of the program.
But there is something in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” that you may not know or did not notice. Do you remember at one point in the show Charlie Brown cries out for someone to please tell him the meaning of Christmas? It is then that Linus comes forward, and he recites from memory part of the Christmas story found in Luke 2. For those of you not familiar with Charlie Brown mythos ... Linus was never without his blanket. It is his security and safety. And yet, during the telling of the Christmas story, Linus actually drops his blanket (look and see when you watch).
Linus drops his blanket when the angels said “Fear not! I bring you good tidings of great joy!” I don’t believe that this was an accident. Charles Schultz is trying to get across something amazing.
The birth of Jesus sets us free from our fears. Linus doesn’t need the security of his blanket anymore. He found something better. Something greater. Someone stronger.
Fear enslaves every person in this world — fear of loss, including loss of prestige, loss of position, loss of property, loss of power, loss of prosperity, loss of approval, loss of health. Fear of losing people we love. Ultimately — fear of our own death. Does the birth of this baby 2,000 years ago really free us from our fears?
The answer is, it does. How? Notice, “fear not I bring you good news of great joy.” There is news that puts our fears away. To bring an end to our slavery to fear we have to know the news.
What is the news? “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ, the Lord.”
We have fear of losing things because we think that we need them in order to be happy, in order to feel worthwhile, in order to be seen as something in this world, that we really are good. So we fear losing our prosperity, or our health or our position or our power. These things in a sense are our saviors. They rescue us from the pain of feeling worthless or powerless or unacceptable. So we fear losing them. What will I do or be if I no longer have these things?
But there is only one true Savior. In Jesus, we have everything. In Jesus, there is forgiveness of our sins and failings. In Jesus, we are clothed righteousness. In Jesus, we are cherished and delighted in. In Jesus, we are loved and accepted by the One who matters most, our Father in Heaven. In Jesus, there is power to break enslaving sins and habits.
God speaks the same word today that He spoke to the rag-tag shepherds 2,000 years ago, “Fear not. I have good news of great joy. There is a Savior!” Join with Linus this Christmas season and drop the false security of the things of this world and instead cling to Jesus.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

2 Chronicles 7:14

As election time grows near (or the 4th of July) one Biblical promise seems to come to the fore in many prayers and on signs and on bumper stickers.  It is the promise found in 2 Chronicles 7:14 which reads:

"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land."

It is a beautiful promise that God makes to His people, Israel.  But the question is, does this promise apply to us today?  In other words, are we promised that if Christians in America will humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways that God will bring spiritual healing and renewal to our land (America).  The answer, I believe, is clearly "no."

Here is why:  in the original promise "my people" is Israel.  "Their land" is the land of Israel.  If we then equate Israel with the church in this promise then what is the church's land?  The church has no land as God's people did in the Old Testament.

We might also note that when God promises to heal the land in 2 Chronicles, He is not promising that spiritual renewal will take place but that the land will be physically healed from drought and pestilence: 

"When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name . . . " (2 Chronicles 7:13-14a).

As much as we might hope, there is simply not a promise here that a nation will be spiritually healed if the church will repent.

Now that is not to say that there would countless, wonderful results if the church in America (me included!) would humble ourselves and turn from sin and seek the Lord.  I believe there would be;  but the promise of healing our land does not belong to us (or any other country.  Think of the church in Saudi Arabia or Iran or South Sudan.  Are the believers there humbled and seeking the Lord?  Probably much more than us).

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Is Forgiving Yourself Biblical?

You may have heard someone say, “I know that God has forgiven me; I know that others have forgiven me, but I just can’t forgive myself.”

For example:  Chris’s struggle with substance abuse becomes overwhelming, and he is a Christian.  He loses his job. His wife moves out to keep their children safe.  His friends turn away.  He eventually ends up in jail. Finally, God brings him to his senses.  He knows that God has forgiven him. He confesses his sin to his wife and children as well.  They forgive him.  But his family still has many struggles, because of what he did.  He says, “I know that God has forgiven me.  I know my family has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself.”

How can you forgive yourself for something you did which had such awful and maybe even on-going consequences for others?  Someone may then tell us, “Yes, the problem is self-forgiveness and therefore the solution is learning to forgive yourself.”

That’s sounds good, but here’s where things get interesting.  When you look to God’s Word to learn how to forgive yourself, do you know what you find?  The concept of forgiving yourself is just not there.  God’s Word has much to say about knowing that we are forgiven by God—that through Jesus all our sin has been forgiven.  It also says a lot about forgiving or being forgiven by others. But the Scriptures are strangely silent on forgiving ourselves.  It is not there by narrative or illustration or precept.  There is nothing--zip, zero, zilch, nada!

At this point, we can say one of two things:  either Scripture is of no help for this problem.  Or, perhaps, Scripture gives us a different diagnosis for what is really happening.

Self-recrimination is a symptom. Self-condemnation is a symptom.  Anger at yourself may be a symptom.  But what is the underlying cause?  Scripture never points us to lack of self-forgiveness, but it does point us to other possibilities.

1.  If you cannot “forgive yourself”, you may not have truly grasped God’s complete forgiveness of you in Christ. I think this may be the most common problem for those who struggle with self-condemnation.  Romans 8:1 rings out clearly, “There is therefore, now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Some people know those words, but their hearts seem almost immune to this amazing forgiveness.

Let me say this plainly, Jesus by His life, death and resurrection has born the guilt and paid the price for all your sins--big sins, small sins, habitual sins, hidden sins, Technicolor sins, sins of immense shame, sins which seem to have never ending repercussions.

Jesus’ words to Chris or to you this day are, “If you have trusted in me, I have forgiven that sin.  As awful as you think it is, I have paid its price and it is forgiven.  You don’t have to condemn yourself or punish yourself—it is finished.”

For many who struggle with past sin there are reminders that seem to trigger self-condemnation.  Chris sees his family and it constantly reminds him how he hurt them.  But reminders of past sin can become reminders of the amazing love of Christ. As the hymn writer put it, “My sin-O, the bliss of this glorious thought-my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.”

2) If you cannot “forgive yourself”, you may think that to stop feeling guilty over your sin, is saying that your sin is no big deal.  After all, isn’t it a good thing to feel bad for doing bad things?

If you truly love and trust Jesus, then you should feel bad when you do bad things.  That is God’s Holy Spirit doing His work in our hearts.  But the Holy Spirit wants to bring us--not to a place of being crushed and burdened--but to a place of repentance for our sin where we know once more our Father’s forgiveness and love because of the cross of Christ.

Someone who continues to be angry with himself or herself, even after repentance, has a problem.  They may continue to beat themselves up over their sin because they think they should.  They think it is the right thing to do.  The effects of their sin may continue in the lives of those they care about and so they think the self-loathing should also continue.

Remember:  “Neither your human limitations nor your sins hinder the good plans of your sovereign Father.” You don’t have to keep beating yourself up to make everything right.  God will make it right.

The results of your sin are not more powerful than the hand of the Lord.  God will use even the bad consequences of your sin to be a means of grace into your life and the life of others.  God is that great and He is that gracious.  To live under the burden of self-condemnation is to fail to see not just how gracious God is, but how powerful.  Your sin and its consequences will not hinder God’s good purpose for you or anyone else.

Upon the Death of a Mom

My mom, Janet Calderazzo, passed away on January 26, 2019 in Chattanooga, TN.  Several years ago I wrote a tribute to her on Mother’s Day that I would like to share with you this month:
I like my mom—really like her.  She raised my two sisters and me pretty much on her own.  She worked full-time as a teacher so she could have the same schedule as her kids.  She kept house, helped us with our homework;  disciplined my sisters when they got in trouble;  carted us around to ball-games and friends’ houses;  she acted delighted when we showed her our art work;  tended to us when we were sick.  She laughed with us and cried for us;  she celebrated when we succeeded and lifted us when we fell.  She talked to us and listened as well;  she prayed and began to show us about the beauty and love of her Savior.  There are a thousand other things I could say (and probably you could too about your own mother), but I’ll end with this.  Even to this day I love to be with my mom, to talk with her, to sit in her living-room and share what is going on with the church or Susan or Hannah or Rachel or whatever else may come to mind.  And she always cares—even after a lifetime of giving she is always ready to give more.

So if, like me, you have a great mother, what do you do with a verse like this, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes even his own life—he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 13:26)?  These words sound harsh.  Are we really supposed to hate our families?

We know the answer must be “No.”  Elsewhere God commanded to honor our parents (Matthew 15:4);  to love our wives (Ephesians 5:25)  to care for and show compassion to our children (Psalm 103:13).  So what does Jesus mean when he says that we are to hate our mothers and fathers and children if we are to be his disciples?  The Gospel of Matthew gives us some help.  For here in a parallel passage, Jesus makes the same point in a slightly different way:  “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me;  anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).  So Jesus is teaching the same lesson but in a less forceful way.  We are to love Him more than any member of our family;  indeed we must love Him more to be worthy of Him.  But let’s be honest even though this is less harsh than the Lukan verse, it is still harsh.  Why must I love Him more?  Why is God so jealous?

The answer as I see it is this:  as wonderful as my mom is, as delightful as she is to be around, as much as she has done for me—there is Someone Greater.  There is someone more wonderful, more delightful, who has done more than I can ask or imagine—indeed it is the One who made my mom.  Every good gift that she is and has given was given to her first by Him (“For from Him, through Him and to Him are all things” Romans 11:36).  The love and comfort that a parent or spouse or friend brings to your life is but a small taste of the love and comfort that is ours in Christ.

In speaking of Jesus, John Piper writes, “He is wiser, kinder, stronger [more gentle] than anyone you enjoy spending time with.  He is endlessly interesting.  He knows exactly what to say at every moment to make his guests as glad as they can be.  He overflows with love and infinite insight into how to use that love to make his loved ones feel loved.”  So love your mothers, but love them realizing that Christ is even more wonderful.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Are Unbelievers Really Hostile to God?

In Romans 8:7 we read, "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot."  Quite a statement, isn't it?  Here Paul is contrasting the mind that is set on the flesh (controlled by sin, an unbeliever) with the mind that is set on the Spirit (one who is now controlled by God's Holy Spirit because of the sin conquering work of Jesus).  But are unbelievers or people of other religions really hostile to God?  Do they actually hate Him?  At first glance it seems that most people who have not placed their faith in Christ have a certain respect for their Creator (if they believe that He exists).  You do not hear many unbelievers going about declaring, "I hate God!"

Richard Lovelace in his book, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, unfolds Jonathan Edwards explanation of these verses.  Here's what he says:

"Edwards summed up the Reformation's critique of humanity's pretense of goodness in a sermon called "Men Naturally God's Enemies," based on Paul's statement in Romans that the unregenerate mind is hostile to God.  Although most human beings give the appearance at times of being confused seekers of the truth with a naive respect for God, says Edwards, the reality is that unless they are moved by the Spirit they have a natural distaste for the real God, an uncontrollable desire to break his laws and a constant tendency to sit in judgement on him when they notice him at all.  They are at moral enmity with the God revealed in the Bible.  Since his purposes cross theirs at every juncture, they really hate him more than any finite object, and this is clearly displayed in their treatment of his Son.  They are largely unconscious of this enmity.  It is usually repressed through their unbelief, their creation of false portraits of God, their sense of his distance from us, their fear of punishment or their lack of the awareness of the magnitude of their guilt."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Handle with Care: 2 Chronicles 7:14

As election time grows near one Biblical promise seems to come to the fore in many prayers and on signs and on bumper stickers.  It is the promise found in 2 Chronicles 7:14 which reads:

"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land."

It is a beautiful promise that God makes to His people, Israel.  But the question is, does this promise apply to us today?  In other words, are we promised that if Christians in America will humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways that God will bring spiritual healing and renewal to our land (America).  The answer, I believe, is clearly "no."

Here is why:  in the original promise "my people" is Israel.  "Their land" is the land of Israel.  If we then equate Israel with the church in this promise then what is the church's land?  The church has no land as God's people did in the Old Testament.

We might also note that when God promises to heal the land in 2 Chronicles, He is not promising that spiritual renewal will take place but that the land will be physically healed from drought and pestilence: 

"When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name . . . " (2 Chronicles 7:13-14a).

As much as we might hope, there is simply not a promise here that a nation will be spiritually healed if the church will repent.

Now that is not to say that there would countless, wonderful results if the church in America (me included!) would humble ourselves and turn from sin and seek the Lord.  I believe there would be;  but the promise of healing our land does not belong to us (or any other country.  Think of the church in Saudi Arabia or Iran or South Sudan.  Are the believers there humbled and seeking the Lord?  Probably much more than us).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How do we keep the Sabbath today?

Remember the Sabbath Day
A Biblical reflection on the need for a Sabbath Day

There seem to be two extremes when we begin to talk about practices on the Lord’s Day.  On the one hand we may find people who appear to define the Lord’s Day by what we cannot do on that day.  We might call these strict Sabbatarians.  You cannot go shopping;  you cannot watch TV;  you cannot take part in sporting events;  you cannot work for pay;  you cannot hunt;  you cannot do homework.  Of course, they will say that we can go to church, worship, seek the Lord and do acts of mercy.  We are to honor God by setting aside one day of seven where every moment is taken up with spiritual pursuits and not worldly activities.  To many people the “cannots” seem to outweigh the “cans,” and the Lord’s Day appears to be a burden and not a blessing.

For those who reject a strict Sabbath keeping, the alternative is usually an extremely loose keeping of the Sabbath.  Extremely loose being defined as doing whatever seems most convenient on the Lord’s Day.  They might say that the Sabbath is not meant to be a burden but a joy.  So if I need to go to the store it is not big deal.  If I miss church because I am out of town or have family visiting, it is no big deal.  If I want to go to a football game on Sunday, God will understand.  If I have to work, I have to work.  The mall is going to be open, so why not do some shopping?  For the loose Sabbatarian almost anything goes on Sunday as long as you are attending church on a regular basis—and even that may not be necessary.

On a continuum from strict to loose, I think that we would find that in our day most American evangelicals lean toward the loose side of Sabbath observance.

My own thinking is that both of these extremes are mistaken, though both contain elements of truth.  If we desire to bring all things under the Lordship of Christ then this will include our Sabbath day attitudes and activities.

So how would God have us view and keep the Sabbath?  It appears to me that the key is to go back to the beginning in Genesis.  In Genesis 1:1 we have a record of God calling the universe into existence.  This is followed by the main purpose of Genesis 1:1-2:3 “which focuses on the making and the shaping of the earth as a place for humans to live and love God.”  As we will see this main purpose will have an impact on how we view the Sabbath Day.  But consider for the moment that during the six days of creation God was putting everything into the world that mankind would need to live for and love God.  He gave us light and darkness, times and seasons, the skies and the heavens, water and land, animals and vegetation;  and He made us male and female.  All the days of creation the Lord is working to supply what mankind needs in order to live for the glory of God.

If this is true, might it be the case that God gave us the seventh day, a blessed and special day, for the same reason?  Did God not give us the seventh day of rest, not because He needs us to observe it, but because we need it?  We need it not only for the physical rest that it is meant to provide, but especially the blessing of remembering God as our Creator and Redeemer.  Is God not telling us as our Creator that it is important for us to take one day out of seven to find rest in Him?

In Exodus 20:8-11 God bases the keeping of the Sabbath on His work in creation.  He worked for six days and rested on the seventh.  Why did God rest?  Did He rest because He was worn out by all of His hard work?  No.  God does not get weary (see Isaiah 40:28-31).  He rested because He had finished His work of creation and pronounced it very good.  I think of it like this:  when you finish cutting your lawn or planting your garden, what do you usually do?  You take some time to just look and admire and find satisfaction in the work of your hands.  This, I believe, is what God did.  He took a moment and, as it were, stood back to enjoy the work of His hands.  God set the pattern for us.  We are so constituted that we need to take a day of seven to step back from our normal pursuits and enjoy the work that God has done in creation and in redemption (Deuteronomy 5:13-15).

Do you not find it to be the case as you go through the week, that our minds and hearts get distracted by so many things?  There is work and the house and the yard and family and bills, etc., so that we truly begin to forget about what is most important.  We begin to forget about God and His kingdom and His glory and His faithfulness and His daily blessings and grace.  And we begin to fall into following the course of this world and start setting our hearts on things that do not satisfy our deepest longings.  It is true that every day we should seek to find refreshment in God through His Word and personal communion in prayer, but God made us to need something more.  That something more is a full day to delight in God.

God knows us perfectly.  He created us, and He knows that we need a day out of seven to get re-orientated on what is right and best and most valuable.  He knows we need to find real refreshment and rest in Him, and so He has given us a day to meet our needs--our need to be blessed in Him.

Is this not what Jesus is telling us when he says, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27)?  The Sabbath is a gift that God gave to man because our hearts need it so much.  The loose Sabbatarian tends to say, “Thanks for the gift, God, but I don’t really need it.”  The strict Sabbatarian seems to say, “Look at the gift I have for you, God, a whole day devoted to honoring You.”  Both miss the point.  We need the gracious gift of the Sabbath.

To view the Lord’s Day from this perspective, I find, makes a huge difference.  For those who are strict Sabbatarians it can begin to show you the joy and blessing of the day.  It is not meant to be a day of burdensome “do nots” but a day of “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

For those who see nothing special about the Lord’s Day or who wonder if a Sabbath was only part of the Old Testament, we can at least say that man’s need for a day of rest has not changed.  Our nature is the same now as it was then, and we still need a day out of seven to refocus ourselves on God and His glory and take our eyes off the things of the world that hold such a powerful sway.

For the loose Sabbatarian I would say that it does matter what you do on this day.  It matters not so much because God demands certain practices from you, but you need this day.  You are no different from anyone else.  You need this day to seek God and His rich blessings and doing the same things you do on other days of the week would seem to work against this.  It is a day to delight in the Lord and you are the one who misses out when you go your own way and do your own thing:

"If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the LORD honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; 
then you shall take delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
Isaiah 58:13-14