From Death to Life…then Death to Life Again

Standard

This week I received a text I had been waiting on. The timing didn’t surprise me, but the content made me pause.

A friend and former co-worker was losing her husband to cancer. The sentence that struck me was this:

“Please pray that he will die NOW.”

And I thought…where are you when the answer to your prayer is that someone you love would die?

Where are you spiritually, emotionally?

Cancer fights hard and dirty; it takes a physical toll. The emotional road is long and arduous, too, and for more than just the patient. I haven’t walked that road. I’ve watched from a distance on several occasions.

But what struck me in all of this was the faith necessary to pray for death. Yes, there is a point where someone’s suffering has gone on long enough, and so there is a merciful component to this. But there must also be something else: a belief, or better yet, a confidence that something better is at hand.

My friend’s hope and confidence was rooted in the reality that her husband and best friend, her life-long companion, was about to meet Jesus Christ. The forward to the novel of his life was coming to an end, and he was about to begin the rest of this epic story called eternal life. He was about to become fully alive.

Yes, God raises dead people to life.

There’s the story of Lazarus in John 11. There’s the resurrection of Jesus in John 20-21.

But my friend’s husband wasn’t getting back out of that bed. His body was done; his groaning was over.

The Apostle Paul said our bodies are like leaky tents (2 Corinthians 5). And while we’re in these tents we groan, waiting to be with the Lord Jesus.

This was right after he said this:

We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. 2 Corinthians 4:16-8

My friend’s husband already had one death to life experience years ago. It happened when he first put his trust in Jesus. I’ve been reading about it in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14

This is the beautiful reality for those of us who have placed our trust in Jesus Christ. We have new life. Life that is not constrained by our leaky tent bodies! Life we begin to experience NOW.

Life that gives us comfort when days and weeks are hard.
Life that gives us courage when the world around us promotes fear.
Life that gives us joy and laughter, purpose and meaning that all rise above our circumstances.

Life that gives us confidence, even through tears, to say, pray that he would die now

So he can truly live.

Advertisements

No Use Hiding

Standard

Even heard the phrase “hiding in plain sight?”

Maybe you’ve seen a child run and hide behind an object too small to conceal them.

I once tried to hide behind a tree with a diameter much like a light pole! We were rolling (with toilet paper) someone’s yard, and a car pulled in and shined their lights on us! My hiding only added comic relief to the situation. I was fully exposed!

I’ve been thinking about this idea of hiding in plain sight. I think I do this a lot.

I ‘hide’ (airquotes) my weaknesses. I ‘hide’ my critical attitude. I ‘hide’ my insecurity.

But I’m not sure I’m really all that hidden. I mean, I’m starting to realize that people can see me whether I try to hide or not. So my hiding is not only futile, it’s exhausting and frustrating, too.

Am I the only one? Or do you hide, too?

A friend recently gave me a little book entitled, A Gospel Primer, by Milton Vincent. The basic premise is this: the good news about Jesus isn’t just for people who don’t know Jesus.

In order for those of us who call ourselves “Christians” to really experience the gospel, we need to preach it to ourselves every day.

Here’s an excerpt that I’ve been chewing on these past few days of Holy Week:

The cross also exposes me before the eyes of other people, informing them of the depth of my depravity. If I wanted others to think highly of me, I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect Son of God was required that I might be saved. But when I stand at the foot of the Cross and am seen by others under the light of that Cross, I am left uncomfortably exposed before their eyes. Indeed, the most humiliating gossip that could ever be whispered about me is blared from Golgotha’s hill; and my self-righteous reputation is left in ruins in the wake of its revelations. With the worst facts about me thus exposed to the view of others, I find myself feeling that I truly have nothing left to hide.

Thankfully, the more exposed I see that I am by the Cross, the more I find myself opening up to others about ongoing issues of sin in my life…And the more open I am in confessing my sins to fellow Christians, the more I enjoy the healing of the Lord in response to their grace-filled counsel and prayers. (Vincent, 34)

Honestly, I have never really considered that the crucifixion of Jesus really exposes my depravity to everyone. Maybe it’s because I don’t reflect on the ugliness of my sin. And maybe it’s because there is a culture within Christianity – I’ll call it being religious – which promotes the need to hide your brokenness and weakness.

So I’ll just say it:  Jesus had to endure a gruesome, humiliating death because my sinful brokenness is that bad. Yep, I’m a mess. And I’m a pastor.

But this reality has not buried me in shame. Instead it’s giving me a deeper affection for God. Every good thing that has occurred in me and through me has been a result of the grace and goodness of God.

I’m thankful for this because it is stirring something inside me. And I think it’s going to unlock a new freedom I have longed to know.

This is my story. But it’s true of you, too.

So let’s not hide anymore.

It’s not like you can’t see me, anyway!

Filled with Fullness: Does God get better at stuff?

Standard

My oldest daughter comes to life right before bedtime!

Seriously, for some reason she becomes chatty Cathy as I’m trying to finish the routine and make my exit downstairs to play on my phone.

But I’m starting to see this as an opportunity – a gracious gift to engage the heart and mind of my 10 year old daughter.

Last night she asked me if God gets better every day, like an athlete gets better at a sport, or an artist gets better at his craft. She asked this question because I quoted James 1:17 as I prayed for her…

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

God doesn’t change. He’s the same yesterday, today and tomorrow (that’s from Hebrews 13:8).

I was ready to collapse on the couch and watch the Broncos-Patriots game,  so I tried to answer as efficiently as possible: God doesn’t get better because he’s always the best.

He’s the best at patience.
He’s the best at forgiveness.
He’s the best at creativity.
He’s the best at joy.
He’s the best at giving gifts.

This satisfied her curiosity, and I kissed her goodnight.

And then, God – as he often does to us parents –  used this brief distraction, um…I mean, interaction, to invite me to consider this truth for my own soul.

I woke up this morning and found myself in the Gospel of John, chapter 1:

(14)And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (16) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Jesus came into this world full of grace and truth, and from that fullness I have received…

There is no greater measure than full. To put it back in my conversation with Annie, Jesus is the best at grace and truth.

And he doesn’t keep it for himself. He gives it to us.

In Ephesians 3:14-19, the Apostle Paul prayed a powerful prayer for his readers:

…that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

This is my prayer for the Christmas season. I’m praying this for myself, my family, and for Two Rivers Church Chattanooga. I’m so tempted to be filled with rich food and drink, with new gadgets and clothes, with busyness and success.

But will I have the best food? The best deals? The best performance? The best instagram pic? Will I really be filled? Maybe, for a little while.

What you and I are offered is the best. The best of grace, the best of truth, the best of peace; the best that comes out of the fullness of God’s riches.

That’s what I want for Christmas. But in fact, it’s what I’ve already been given. I just don’t use it every day. Today I’m tapping in.

I want to access the fullness of peace I’ve been given, because I’m worried about all that I have to get done.
I want to share the fullness of love I have received, because there are some incredible people in my life.
I want to laugh with fullness of joy because there are heavy things all around and laughter is so good.
I want to care with the fullness of grace and kindness, because there are people around me who are in the middle of crisis.

I hope you’ll tap in as well.

And may your Christmas season be full.

When You Feel Like You’re Being Pulled Apart…You Probably Are

Standard

This post was written for the Two Rivers Church Chattanooga blog series on First Peter, which can be found HERE

Why is that when things get hard the first question we ask is, “Did I miss it? Did I not hear God correctly?”

Or is that just me?

Two years ago my wife, Katie, and I agonized over the biggest decision of the eleven years we had been married.

Option 1
Accept a promotion in an incredible church (that provided well for our family) in a town where we had spent a decade developing deep-rooted relationships.

Or…

Option 2
Leave all the financial and relational stability to start a new church in a new town.

When I say that we agonized over the decision, I mean I had to see an oral surgeon because I was grinding my teeth at night. I had a jaw-clenching, white-knuckle grip on being in control.

And I was afraid. 

Afraid of failing, afraid of losing prosperity, afraid of the unknown.

One morning after a restless night, I found myself on my knees in the corner of my office. I needed God to speak. I needed a clear answer. And I got it.

God didn’t say, Go plant a church.

Instead, he invited me to trust him.

That was the sense I had. I wept at how hard I was trying to stay safe. And when the tears stopped, I had total peace.

Fast forward…

Planting a church is as hard as everyone says it is. It didn’t take long for major appliances to start breaking. Meeting neighbors was hard. Relational tension was starting to boil over.

That’s when I started to wonder: Maybe I missed it. Maybe this wasn’t where God was leading us. 

Implicit in that line of thinking is this idea that if it’s God’s will, it won’t be hard.

“In this [the security of your salvation] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”  1 Peter 1:6-7.

Trials are necessary. God allows them, and even uses them, to refine and strengthen our faith in him.

Jesus tried to give us a head’s up in John 16:33:

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Tribulation isn’t a word we often use, unless we’re at book club talking about the Left Behind series.

tribulum3We get our word tribulation from a Latin word tribulum. A tribulum was an ancient farming tool used to separate wheat from the husk. Pieces of wood were lashed together to form a crude sled. Then sharp stones and jagged pieces of iron were attached to the underbelly of the sled. As the tribulum was pulled across the wheat, the stones and iron helped separate the husks from the valuable kernels of grain.

Sometimes trials feel like that.

Like you’re being raked over and cut up.

Why would God allow that? Why would God do that?

Look how one scholar puts this in perspective:

No ancient farmer ever operated his tribulum for the purpose of tearing up his sheaves. The thresher’s intentions were far more elevated than that. The farmer only wanted to cull out the precious grain. And as it is with the ancient farmer, so it is with God. – David R. Helm

Your faith is being tested. It’s being strengthened. What is precious and useful to God remains, and the waste blows away in the wind.

Now, when things get hard, I try not to ask the question, “Is this God’s will?”

Instead I look for how he is shaping me, and I ask him how I can learn from the process.

And I’ll be honest: I also ask him to make the hard go away.

How to Pray for Chattanooga

Standard

An act of domestic terrorism in Chattanooga. I’ve spent half of my life in this city, and I never thought I would write those words. No one saw this coming. But now we are left with a question: How will we respond?

I’ve seen a lot of posts on social media in reaction to the shooting of members of our military and law enforcement. Everything from outrage to sympathy. But many people have posted about prayer.

Tragedies like this have a way of turning our eyes toward God. When things feel out of control, we need to know that Someone is in control. When we feel hopeless, we need a Source of hope that is bigger than us. So we turn to God.

There’s this incredible scene in the Old Testament – a king who is facing imminent attack. His name is Jehoshaphat, and his story is found in 2 Chronicles 20.

As armies are amassing not far from the city, Judah’s king prays:

O our God…we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

Meanwhile the people of the kingdom stood before the Lord and prayed. They fasted and they prayed.

This is a great place to start. When we don’t know what to do, we turn our eyes to the One who can lead us and deliver us.

So how do we Pray for Chattanooga? Here are three prayers:

1. Pray for those who are grieving. Psalm 34:18 says, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.” 

God of all comfort, please be near. As families grieve, be close and be real. As they ask hard questions like, “WHY?”, Lord please bring peace – the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Please stand guard around their hearts and minds and bring them peace.

2. Pray for an awakening in Chattanooga. Right now there is an heightened awareness of our need for justice and our need for help. Now is a time for Christians to pray for an awakening to the life-changing power of Jesus Christ.

God of our salvation, we know that you waste nothing. You can use all things for the good of those who are called according to your purposes (Romans 8:28). So we ask that you use this tragedy for your glory. Awaken our city to your presence. Awaken our hearts to your love and grace. Awaken those who do not know you. Open our eyes to see you as the one who satisfies the longings of our souls.

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” Psalm 90:14

3. Pray for our leaders. It’s easy to pick them apart, but God’s word calls on us to pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-6). It’s been a whirlwind summer – terrorism in our own city, court rulings re-defining marriage, and news about organizations profiting from aborted babies. Just writing those words is surreal. So we pray for those who have been elected to lead.

Sovereign God, our leaders need your guidance. Our nation, our state, our city – we need you. Forgive us for vilifying those who do not align with our values. Give us a heart to pray. You have the power to change our nation. You have allowed our authorities to be elected and positioned in their roles. Move in their hearts. And raise up leaders who follow you and seek to do your will.

Imagine if everyone who said they were praying were really praying! A city turning to God. An awakening to the life-changing power of Jesus!

What’s Crazier – 9 Lives or Eternal Life? A Conversation with a Kindergartener

Standard
Do Cats Have 9 Lives-

This morning on the way to school my 6-year-old daughter asked me if cats had 9 lives.

How do you explain this to a Kindergartener?

Me: No, Hope, cats only have one life. People say cats have 9 lives because unfortunately cats have a way of escaping dangerous situations.

Hope: What about dogs? Do they only have one life?

Me: Yes, every living thing has one life. Dogs, cats…even humans. The Bible says that we have one life to live. We are born, and then one day we will die (at this point I’m starting to realize how morbid this is for the short drive to school). But the Bible also says that if we know Jesus, when we die we will have eternal life in Heaven with Him.

“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:27-28 NIV).

At this point in the conversation with Hope, my mind trailed off to thinking…what I just said sounds crazy.

Eternal life…life that never, ever ends. In a place called Heaven – a place we’ve never seen and cannot describe. With a person we have only read about named Jesus.

Maybe that does sound crazy.

But a story that explains how a God,
who is loving and gracious and unchanging,
created you and me and everything else,
and then endured the rebellion of those whom He created in His very image…
then made a way for us to know Him and find life in Him
by sacrificing His own Son in order to endure the punishment due each one of us
and then raising Him from the dead to prove He is who He says He is…
so that we could live on earth becoming more like the people we were created to be
and then live eternally with our God who loves us…

I’m taking that story, no matter how crazy it seems.

In the depth of my soul I feel the gnawing need for this truth. I’ve bought in. Because if it’s NOT true…I’ve lived a life pursuing integrity, honor, and compassion for others; I’ve experienced the love of a virtuous woman; I’ve been spared some of the devastating consequences of sin (living like there is no God); I’ve seen life-changing miracles and I’ve offered comfort in the midst of pain and grief. What have I lost?

And if it IS true (and I believe it is, for the record), then I get all of that AND an eternal life that no longer includes all the baggage of this broken life.

Me and you and cats have one thing in common: We have one life to live here on earth. But you and I have the living hope (1 Peter 1:3) of eternal life in Jesus!

(And yes, that means cats don’t go to heaven. Amen.)

And all of that was on the way to school. Whew.

Why You Need to Share Meals Together – Or, “The story about the flaming outhouse.”

Standard

This week a friend invited me and another couple to her home for lunch. I was excited for several reasons:

1. Normally I have lunch meetings in crowded restaurants; this was going to be a relaxed, homemade lunch in a friend’s home.

2. I had never been to my friend’s home, so this was an honor and a treat.

3. I was going to hang out with some great people.

I recently read an article about our culture moving farther and farther away from the table. No, this wasn’t about how we’re pushing away from the table because we want to eat less (that’s a whole different subject).

This article was about how we are losing the communal experience of sharing meals around the table. And I fear the author is correct.

I’m feeling it as a dad of three daughters. From ballet to cheerleading to church stuff…dinner at the table is becoming difficult, but it’s a battle we’re going to fight!

Because the table is where I ask how my kids’ days were. It’s where we laugh and sometimes, hopefully, food comes out of our noses. It’s where we talk about manners and kindness. And it’s also where we fight and then learn how to apologize.

And this extends from our families to our friends. I love to sit around the table with good food, good friends and occasionally even some good wine.

Why is that we don’t invite people into our homes for meals anymore? Are we afraid of how the house might look? Are we worried that our kids might cry and misbehave? Are we too busy running around? Are we more interested in binge-watching Breaking Bad on Netflix?

I’m so thankful my friend invited me to her table this week. When we finished our meal, we sat down in the living room to drink coffee. That’s when I heard one of the most incredible stories I’ve ever heard – how my friend burned down an outhouse in the middle of a village, in front of all the villagers, in a country very far from here!! And It was the only outhouse in the village.

I’ll never forget that lunch, because I’ll never forget the story of the flaming outhouse – you could say it’s burned into my mind.

So gather your family and some friends this week. Get around the table and share life. Who cares if the house is a wreck and the kids are screaming!

Who is popping into your mind right now? Make the call.