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.