Thursday, November 2, 2017

Third Down: What a busted transmission, an accident with a chainsaw, and a two week virus are teaching me about God's grace

October just wasn't my month.

It all started in the middle of a precarious curve in the road. Steam filtered up either side of my truck, and I could go neither forward nor backward. Luckily, my good friend Abe was helping me at work that day, and between the two of us we were able to clear truck, trailer, and everything inside my trailer off the road one step at a time, without getting run over.

The diagnosis was a toasted transmission. That's how October started.

Still, I wasn't particularly depressed. I knew my truck was going to have some big thing like that eventually, and early October wasn't the worst time in the world for it to happen. So I borrowed another truck and got back to work.

My second down came in a moment of shock and disbelief. One second I'm standing over a log I was finishing cutting up for a customer, and the next moment I am staring at my left foot, at a gash my chainsaw left when it suddenly kicked back off the log. My thoughts in the following three seconds went as follows: That didn't just happen. That DID just happen. Shouldn't it hurt more? Maybe it didn't hit flesh. Nope, I see red. OH. NO.

 A handful of stitches later, I was seated back at the house, effectively grounded on the sunniest week of the fall. Things were starting to not be so upbeat.

Then the third down hit me. There's this virus that has been going around in our household. It's been characterized by body aches, chills, fevers and sweats, lots and lots of coughing, and loss of appetite. Oh, and it lasts an average of two weeks. And it found me, like a lineman hitting a rookie quarterback who couldn't find his way out of a collapsing pocket.

I am currently closing out day 10 of the sickness. It has been, in a word, exhausting. Finally, I am at rock bottom here. My truck is still not back, the stitches are still in my foot, and this cough is still racking my body. The start of this month should be a time of anticipation and joy as we quadruplets celebrate our 21 birthdays and look forward to Victoria's wedding on the 11th. Instead, I have barely enough drive to eat a bit of dinner.

The amazing thing is, though, that God is here in this mess. He's more apparent in this tangle of trials then when I was flying high with no problems to mention. He's giving me grace, enough grace to keep on being productive (schoolwork) without loosing hope and wallowing in self pity. No, it's not some ethereal feeling of complete happiness . . . The battle between my darker moods and my confidence in God's plan feels like fierce guerrilla warfare at times. But I am catching glimpses of God's grand design, and oh how good it is!

I was recently challenged to give back my time to God, and here God has knocked me off my feet long enough to reevaluate if I am taking that challenge to heart. To stick with the football analogy, I know God is like the coach who takes a player out of a game in which he keeps getting clobbered. I'm currently a bench-warmer with a chance to recover spiritually and get my head back in the game. And it's been good, so good, here on the bench this week. My personal devotions have been vibrant and real again. I can feel God cleaning out another nasty corner of my heart where I was holding on to my independence from Him.

I can see clearly again the joy of living for Jesus alone, and I can't wait to get back in the game when He sees fit! Until then, my goal will be on spiritual refreshment and strengthening. It's a muddy, messy, maddening field of life out there, but I want to be ready to enter and deliver some hits for God's kingdom when my time on the bench is over with!

Maybe you're like me and are on the bench right now. Maybe you've had a rough set of downs, or maybe you've just not had your head in the game. But the good news is God is right there with you. He's got an arm around you, and he's got a playbook for you to read. Study up and let him coach you back into the game! These trials we're hit with are designed to make us stronger, after all!

God is good, and His grace is amazing. He knows just what I needed, and He gave it to me. And I will have a little scar the rest of my life on earth to remind me of that. I give Him the glory, and I recommit to living EVERY second of the game clock for Him!

You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
2 Timothy 2:1-7

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Eye of the Storm

The devastation of Harvey is almost unprecedented. The rainfall--43 inches in Houston, TX over only five days--completely shattered previously held records. The death toll is now at 70. It is close to, if not is, the most costly storm in our nation's history.

And yet, Harvey may have a challenger to some of those records already.

Hurricane Irma is bearing down on Florida. A category 5 storm, It's already decimated the Caribbeans, leaving at least 22 dead. It is expected to hit landfall late tonight in the USA, possibly still as a category 5 storm. Or, "at best", it will be a category 4 storm. By comparison, Hurricane Sandy was a category 2 storm as it approached New Jersey. By the time it hit the cold Northern air just before landfall, it wasn't even classified as a hurricane.

Hurricane Irma is poised to be very, very fierce. It will be deadly and destructive. It will make history.

As a reporter from ABC news puts it: "Whenever man and mother nature meet, it's a mismatch."

But that's the point, do we want to face this storm alone? We are hopelessly outmatched. We can't stop the storm. All we can do is predict Irma's destruction, flee from it, and come back to clean up the devastation when it's run its course. Without a hope of some higher force than the forces of nature--without hope of the supernatural--we are left to pick up the pieces, despondent and despairing.

But there is hope! Hope in a God who is mightier than any storm, hope in the God who created the universe with nothing but the breath of his mouth. As Psalm 93:4 reassures us:

More than the sounds of many waters, than the mighty breakers of the sea, The Lord on high is mighty.

With God, we can face any trial or storm with confidence, trusting that He has a grander plan than ours, even in the storm. Yes, He could protect us from all storms, but in the end, do you think that would be best for us? We are fickle, wandering people. So often we turn from God in seasons of comfort and pleasure to our own desires and our own gods. Maybe God is orchestrating natural disasters in our nation to catch our attention again. Maybe He loves us enough to give us some hard discipline so that we might fall on our knees, repent of our self-serving, self-sufficient ways, and humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God. Can these trials strengthen our faith? Will our faith not only endure, but grow stronger through these storms?

I'm reminded of our ultimate example, Jesus, and how He stood up to the intense personal storm He faced right before His death. Jesus's last hours were a non-stop hurricane of intense drama and tragedy.An angry mob encircled Him; His disciples betrayed, denied, and abandoned Him; mock courts condemned Him; blindfolded, they beat Him; A spineless leader didn't have the guts to release Him; Romans whipped and degraded Him; crowds taunted Him even as He hung on the cross! And yet, through it all, Jesus remained utterly calm. You see, He trusted the Father's will and had completely submitted Himself to it. Jesus was the calm eye of the storm while the powerful forces of bitter rage and injustice swirled around him--and ultimately destroyed him, for three days at least.

Let me be clear, Jesus could have at any time stopped the storm. In fact, we catch a glimpse of this in John 18 where Jesus merely utters "I AM" and the mob sent to arrest Him are blown back to the ground. Tens of thousands of angels waited for the Lord to but utter the command, and they would have completely obliterated the opposition! But yet Jesus walked through the storm, knowing that the Father had a better plan, and look at what amazing good is in the world because of it!

We may be called to walk through these storms, but there is a way to walk through them with calm confidence. Hurricane Irma is still coming. We can't override God's will and stop it, but what we can do is put our trust in God. Let's humble ourselves, confessing all our anxious thoughts to Him. Let's repent and make Him the Lord of our lives! And please, join me in prayer for everyone in the path of the storm. Let us pray that these storms will turn our nation back to the only God who can save us, so that we can again be a nation who says fullheartedly, "In God We Trust."

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You, and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge. Until destruction passes by. I will cry to God most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me.
Psalm 57:1-2

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Putrid Pride

What is the most disgusting thing you have ever had to deal with? Something that made you gag involuntarily, perhaps. Something you swerved into the other lane on a double yellow to avoid getting on your tires, maybe. Something you walked in on in a bathroom stall, possibly.

For me, it would definitely be when I had to clean the staff bathrooms at my first job at Mayfield Lake Youth Camp. They hadn't been cleaned, or even flushed, all year. And I had only a sponge to work with.

Makes me want to go wash my hands just thinking about it.

While we're on the topic of disgusting things, have any of you stumbled upon Acts 12:21-23 recently?

On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. The people kept crying out, "The voice of a god and not of a man!" And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.

Ewww, yuck. Reminds me of a very similar story in Daniel 4:30-33:

The king reflected and said, "Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?" While the word was in the king's mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, "King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes. Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles' feathers and his nails like birds' claws.

Man, talk about dreadlocks. These two disgusting stories have a very central theme running through them: a man exhibiting an extraordinary amount of pride and receiving an immediate,  immensely-humbling judgement from God as a result. It makes me think, what is the most disgusting thing God has to deal with? Given the severity and nature of His judgement on pride in these two passages, could it be pride?

Indeed, we find pride at the top of the list of things that are an abomination to God in Proverbs 6:16-17A:

There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes . . ."

Even as flawed image-bearers of God, we have a knee-jerk negative reaction to pride. That know-it-all who bends our ear with his apparent wisdom; that self-obsessed jock on the sports field with the bat flip or the chest thumping; the glamourous girl with the upturned nose and squinted eyes. We wish someone would cut them down a notch or two, often because our own pride is offended. Imagine, then, the righteous disgust the perfect God of the Universe, who deserves all the praise and glory, feels when we little blobs of dirt start thinking highly of ourselves.

It is despicable--putrid. Pride is putrid.

It's no wonder then that both James (James 4:6) and Peter (1 Peter 5:5) quote Proverbs 3:34:

God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

If you're like me, at this point it's getting personal. My heart sinks. My stomach twists. I know what a young man of pride I am. It creeps into many of my thoughts. It daily taints my Christian walk. I so wish I could be rid of it!!

I can only trust my amazing Father to keep giving me the strength to change. I know from that same passage in 1 Peter 5:5 that He understands the struggle we go through with our pride, especially us young men, as right before verse five we are called out to "be subject to your elders, and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another." We're given the practical solution in how to carry out this transformation in verses 6-7:

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares for you.

We will only conquer our pride by submitting ourselves to God. We have to stop thinking we can do anything on our own--including, ironically, fighting our own pride. Jesus shouldn't be our crutch; he should be our stretcher, our ambulance, our medical team, and our AED. We are nothing but a dead corpse without God! Realizing this, let us bring all our anxieties to Him. It will humble us, realizing we can't handle anything on our own, and God will give us the grace we need to keep growing in true humility! It's a central theme of the Bible: the way to victory is surrender.

I'm done with the putridness of pride. I want to stop stinking, and smell more and more like the sweet aroma of Christ! Who's with me? May we all be like Nebuchadnezzar, who had his reason restored when he turned his eyes to heaven and blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever. May we not become like Herod, a man who built his own crumbling little sand castle of a kingdom while God's eternal Word and rock-solid Kingdom was spreading like wildfire. May we refuse to be a dead corpse eaten up by pride, but instead take the first step to true humility by humbling ourselves and drawing near to God. Will you insert your name for Nebuchadnezzar's in this verse? Will you confidently say:

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.
Daniel 4:37 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

When Will You Bear Your Cross?

What is the cross?
So often in Christianity, truths become phrases, phrases become sayings, and sayings become clich├ęs.  We’ve formed a whole set of “Christianese” thanks to the process. Just imagine how foreign it sounds to someone outside the church to hear about “being born again” or “being washed in the blood”. And yet, we Christians are so used to our Christianese that I wonder if we really stop to think about what we’re saying. This might be true of the cross.
Sayings about the cross are pervasive in our church culture. How often we sing about it in our worship songs and reference it in sayings like “That’s just my cross to bear”. Jesus himself mentioned the cross a few times. The first time we see him do so in the Gospels is Mathew 10:38:
“And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”
It’s so clear that a cross, then, is central to our relationship with Christ! A cross is at the very center of our Christianity. Taking it up and following Christ is what it means to be a Christian!
So again, what is the cross?
It’s not the cute little ornament that dangles from our tiny chain necklaces. Nor is it the pinnacle atop every church steeple. It’s more than a symbol. In the disciples’ day, it was the reality of the most brutal execution imaginable. There was nothing cute about it; it was hell on earth. As John Macarthur notes about the cross:
“To [the disciples] it would have evoked a picture of a violent, degrading death. [Jesus] was demanding total commitment from them—even unto death.”
The same is true for us. Jesus perfectly demonstrated this violent, degrading death when he submitted to the Father’s will in bearing his own cross. His flesh was torn to shreds. He was beaten beyond recognition. He collapsed under the weight of the cross as he bore it to the very place where he would be stretched out and crucified on it. His own blood stained the cross where his hands and feet were nailed to it. This is what he suffered as he denied himself and was terribly persecuted by the world for his perfect righteousness.
And this is our calling as well.
Kind of takes the wind out of the sails of those “health and wealth” prosperity preachers, doesn’t it?
It would seem at first blush with this understanding of the cross in mind that true converts to Christianity would be few and far between. Who in the world would ever want an ending to their lives like Christ? Who in their right minds would even want a taste of the tortures of crucifixion?
But here’s an even more troubling thought. What if this cross—this terrible torture, this degrading death—cannot be escaped by anyone, believer or non-believer alike? You see, what else do we know about the cross? It’s the just punishment for sin. It was the death Christ bore for us when he became sin and was forsaken by God so that we in exchange could be righteous. The cross is a microcosm of hell.
It is a sample of the eternity unbelievers will spend apart from God.
If that is true, then the cross is something each and every soul on earth will have an individual encounter with, one way or another. So now, from a completely logical view, which version of the cross would we rather bear? Would we rather take it up and follow Christ in this world, or take it up and bear it in eternity apart from Christ? This is where the good news starts, because as we compare the two, bearing our cross now far outweighs putting it off till after death. Believe it or not, it can actually be a joy!
You see this theme of the benefit of suffering now for Christ as opposed to suffering for living in sin throughout First Peter. There’s almost too many verses on the topic in that book alone to list, but the highlights include:
“For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” 1 Peter 2:20
“But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.” 1 Peter 3:14.
“For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” 1 Peter 3:17
“Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” 1 Peter 4:1
“But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.”1 Peter 4:13
This is one of the amazing paradoxes in the Bible. It is in taking up our cross that we can rejoice, because this suffering is for our good!! It helps cleanse us of sin. It drives us to rely fully on Jesus, who loves us and offers us a new, abundant life if we keep crucifying our old life and submitting to his will. We truly are blessed, even if we have to physically endure a cross! Have you heard the amazing stories of martyrs praising God even as they were brutally murdered? What kind of amazing life is this that even in torture we can rejoice?
It’s real, friends. Accept Jesus Christ as Lord and go ahead and shoulder that cross. It won’t be too heavy, I promise. It won’t be too hard. Look at Paul! He describes our afflictions as momentary and light in 2 Corinthians, the same book of the Bible where he lists his own afflictions, including, “Five time I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren. I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”
Sheesh, if Paul can look at his own life and shrug his suffering off as light and momentary affliction, I don’t think we have anything to worry about. Put that in mind the next time you are tempted to complain about your “hostile” work environment or that nasty Facebook comment slamming your faith.
It’s time for us to faithfully surrender our lives to Christ. No more putting off the cross. Accept what Jesus has done for you on that cross and cheerfully follow his example in bearing yours! Let’s lose our lives so that we can find them. It’s the only way to live a truly worthwhile life!
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wished to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mathew 16:24-26

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Glimpse of God's Care for Me in an Ordinary Worry

Has God ever given you a glimpse of His amazing, sovereign care for you, even in the little things? Have you ever gotten shivers as you realize that there is far more than just coincidence at play in your life? 

I was given just such a glimpse yesterday.

It started with something bad.

I was loading my mower into my trailer after one of my first few lawns of the day, slowly dismounting while brushing dust and grass clippings off me, when my eyes fell on a troubling little crack on my mower deck. I thought at first that it was just a bit of paint flaking off, but further inspection revealed that my deck somehow cracked all the way through in that one spot. And it looked like it could get worse.

This was not exactly a shiver-worthy God moment. More like a “God, I just spent $3,000 dollars on this piece of equipment; and it’s already developing a serious issue??” kind of moment. This concern was in the back of my mind all day long. I was imagining myself having to drill a couple holes in my deck and bolt down a piece of metal to hold the crack from getting worse. Nothing like a tacky hillbilly fix to a piece of equipment you were hoping would retain its value for a few years.

Fast forward to later in the day. My work done, I headed over that evening to a new customer’s place to get a bid in on the lawn. The man and his wife are super nice, both new believers and members of our church. It was so clear while talking to the husband, Doug, that his faith was real and impacting his life. If you ever need a pick me up, just get talking with a new believer, I tell you! It was really encouraging and refreshing.

But as good as this was, the real cherry on top and what really showed God’s sovereignty was this: On a whim, Doug asked to take a look at my mower. While I was enjoying showing it to him, somehow it came out that he loved to weld and fabricate metal. Almost out of the blue, he said he’d be happy to help me if I ever needed anything welded.

I must have stood blinking at him for a couple of seconds in shock that God had so quickly given me relief from my silly little worries. “As a matter of fact,” I blurted out, and showed him the crack in the deck.

And would you believe it, Doug’s eyes got wide with excitement, “like a kid in a candy store”, I said later to my mom as I related the story. He launched into a detailed description of how he could fix it no problem, “Like it never happened!” He then led me back around his shop and showed me his own lawn mower deck, where he had cut out a large spot of rust and welded new metal on. At least, that’s what he said he did. The deck looked brand new to me, he is that good.

All told, I had an offer to trade half a mowing for the quick welding job, and a free lesson in welding to boot. But even more valuable, I gained a new friend and look forward to some more fellowship with a great brother in Christ. I am confident that I just “happened” to notice that crack yesterday morning, that I just “happened” To be meeting Doug yesterday evening, and I just “happened” to show him my mower because God was orchestrating a chance for me to engage with a new disciple of His. I can’t wait to see what God wants from me in this new friendship!

God cares about us deeply and wants to be involved in our day-to-day, ordinary lives. He has far more than “just” saved us from eternal damnation, but has carefully prepared good works for us, his children, to walk in. He’s gone before and cleared the way through the tangled weeds of care and worry this world so often seeks to choke us with, and we can’t help but wander down this clear path. May we more than wander, but walk step for step with our Lord in what He has planned for us! And may we, even in the little things, be awed by His sovereign hand and give Him all the glory. Amen!

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Ephesians 2:8-10

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Would you rather fight your brother . . . or Goliath?

David had every right to be mad with his brothers. Here he was in 1 Samuel 17, delivering aid to the brothers he thought would be hard pressed in war, and they were instead caught in a fear-fueled stalemate. A horde of Philistines loomed on the other side of the battlefield, but his bros and all the men of Israel were too paralyzed to meet the threat in battle. Or maybe “paralyzed” is the wrong word for it. Israel’s soldiers were running . . . just in the wrong direction. They fled the battlefield at the mere appearance of a fierce brute you may have heard of before. The man who stood nine-and-a-half feet tall. The Philistine soldier who could hoist a weaver’s beam as a spear and who’s armor alone weighed 125 pounds. The giant Goliath.

And this giant was calling for hand to hand combat, a winner-takes-all duel of nations—the Israelite’s champion against the Philistine’s champion, Goliath himself.

So sure, maybe it was kind of understandable that David’s brothers were hiding in fear. We might be tempted to understand their cowardice, but David certainly didn’t. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” he shouted for all the cowering men around him to hear. He couldn’t understand why no one had risen to the challenge. With the living God on their side, after all, who wouldn’t want to take the giant out?

The response to David’s question by his oldest brother, Eliab, was a biting put down. Eliab was too scared to take on Goliath himself, but he wasn’t about to let his baby brother be the hero. “Why have you come down?” Eliab cries. “And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your insolence and the wickedness of your heart; for you have come down in order to see the battle.”

With this one sweeping verbal blow, Eliab sought to undercut David’s intentions, his occupation, and even his character. It was utterly unfounded and uncalled for, and a modern macho American portrayal of what happened next would feature David reducing his brother to shreds. He had plenty of dirt on his brother to sling back with, for sure. “Oh yeah, maybe I did come to see a battle, but looks like there is no one man enough to bring it!” “Samuel anointed me king over you, remember?” “If I’m wicked, what does that make you?”

But instead of bickering with his brother, David merely dismissed the insult and moved on, trying to find someone who would give him the scoop on the giant in town. Turns out, though, his brother wasn’t the only one to treat David like a nosy, annoying little boy who should be ignored. He was given the cold shoulder by the callous soldiers again and again. How frustrating it must have been to David to see such apathy and indifference! But still, he didn’t give in to his frustration and start quarreling with the soldiers. His question was probably double-edged. He wanted to know about this giant who was as haughty as he was hefty, but he was also challenging the soldiers to action. When they refused to answer him and rise to action, he didn’t waste any more breath on them.
David’s persistence and zeal finally got him an audience with King Saul, and then, a matchup with the Philistine brute. When the dust settled from their climactic face off—you know the story—David held up the severed head of Goliath for all to see. The Philistines lost their confidence and the soldiers of Israel finally found their courage at the sight, and an all-out rout of the enemy followed.

There’s a huge lesson here for all of us, I think, and that is this: What would happen if we stopped squabbling with our brothers, and started pursuing the real fights? Sure, some of our Christian brothers are annoying. They are camped on the sidelines of the battle, too apathetic to join in—or even, we might be tempted to think, drop the "a" in apethetic. But what would happen if we stopped trying to babysit fellow believers into being as engaged in the struggle for hearts and souls as we think they should be, and instead just got down to the business of slaying some giants?

I enjoy making snarks at Southern Baptists and the pandemonium at your local mega-church’s youth group just like most people do, and I so often gripe about Contemporary Christian Music or Tobymac’s latest attempt to “make Jesus music cool”. But all those guys are in my camp! The real fight is across the valley, and he’s yelling profanities and curses against my Lord. He’s a giant, a lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God. He’s a formidable foe, a doctrine spawned by demons, but I have been given something better than David’s sling to take him down with. As a soldier for Christ, I have been given divinely powerful weapons for the destruction of strongholds!

So, no more walking in the flesh. No more posturing and boasting and laying the smack down on my brothers who annoy me, or even insult me. Wherever there is teaching that is clearly contrary to God’s Word, that is where you’ll find the true warriors of Christ rallying. They won’t be found arguing over the worship music or the color of the carpet in the foyer. The personal strongholds of sin are what you’ll see stalwart Christians laying siege to. They will be focused on removing logs instead of pinching at specks. It’s time to run out into the battlefield and meet Goliath head on. When we trust in the Living God, there’s nothing we can’t conquer.

My sister Caroline recently lived this out. In talking with a local mega church pastor, trying to get him engaged in the fight for life through the Forty Days for Life prayer rally, she was frustrated with his response that he’d rather be known for “what he stands for, not what he stands against”. She tried to reason with him through a couple more e-mails (doesn’t standing for something automatically mean you will be standing against that which is contrary to it??). But when he kept graciously bowing out of the conflict to publicly stand in prayer for the endangered unborn, Caroline moved on. She had to get back to rallying the prayer warriors who were willing to stand and take on the giant deception of abortion. And through God’s blessing on the campaign, she saw much, much success in our community.

I wonder if, years from now, that pastor will regret that he didn’t have a hand in the transformation of our society from a culture of death to a culture that values life at conception. It’s not our place to say what battle he should or should not join, though. God will hold him accountable to that. We just need to be faithful to bring down the giants in front of us. And if we fight the right battle and bring a giant down, perchance our distracted or fearful brothers will find their courage and join us.

Now I, Paul, myself urge you by Christ—I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every though captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.

2 Corinthians 10:1-6

Saturday, June 10, 2017

All Roads Really do Lead to Heaven

    But who is waiting for us there? 

    If there is a heaven, there must be a heavenly being that created it. That means there is someone looking down on us from the top of the proverbial mountain we are climbing. We all have a divine encounter waiting for us, the moment after we die. When we have lived our lives to their entirety—when we finish climbing to the top of the mountain—we will be there, in the presence of our maker. Universalists have definitely got that part right, but it may not be the comforting truth they think it is.

   Who is this god that waits for us at the end of our life’s journey? Who is he whom we draw inevitably closer to with each climbing step, day by day? Will he love us and accept us merely for having made the climb, or is there some standard, some requirement of us before we can enter into that restful, joyous afterlife?

   If we accept that merely making the climb gets us into heaven, then that would qualify the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and Bin Laden—men who went to their graves only after sending millions of people before them to theirs. Do we seriously want a god who would give these men everlasting paradise? I have a sense of justice that makes that thought untenable, and I doubt I am alone. There must be some standard by which we enter heaven. Justice would seem to require it.

   Is it the sincerity of our belief, then, that will get us to heaven?  If we make the climb firmly convinced and striving for the divine, even if our views of God differ dramatically from culture to culture, will it be enough to see us through? Unfortunately, this is a purely illogical view. There is no practical example of faith for faith’s sake alone being strong enough to overcome all obstacles. I can believe with all my heart that I can fly with the pair of cardboard wings I cut from a Wheaties box—but that faith is not strong enough to overcome gravity.

   We must also keep in mind that Hitler and Stalin believed firmly in their own manifestations of faith. No one was sincerer about his faith then Hitler when he made possible the murder of 6 million Jews. He was walking the talk of what he believed about religion and the Jewish people. The sincerity of our faith is just not a valid claim to heaven. Faith is only as good as what it is placed in.

   So what belief is strong enough to get us into heaven? Can we rely on our good works? If it is possible to get into heaven not on the basis of the sincerity of our faith but of our goodness, we would first need to describe what “good” is. Stalin thought his communism was an ultimate good, worth killing 20 million of his own citizens for. Hitler believed the Aryan Race was good. If “good” is left up to our own discretion, Stalin and Hitler still get to enter heaven. There must be some absolute code of right and wrong that transcends what us so often selfish, twisted humans can come up with. And since it transcends our own understanding, we must believe that the divine creator made it for us—and will hold us accountable to it. He is less like a fan cheering us up the mountain, and more like the referee holding us accountable to play by the rules. And since it is a foul and harms the other players in the game, our heavenly ref will throw us out of the game if we violate the rules. For the first time, the Hitlers, Stalins, and Bin Ladens of the world don’t make the cut. We're making progress!

   This view of God as our heavenly judge leaves us with only three religions to follow: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Islam and Judaism are works-based religions. They hold that you have what it takes to storm the gates of heaven and enter victoriously. Haven’t we already established, though, how shaky it is to believe that the human race can do good? What if not only are we incapable of establishing our own right and wrong, but we can’t even keep the right and wrong revealed to us by God? Have you ever lied, stolen, lusted, coveted, or taken God’s name in vain? Have you failed to keep the five pillars of Islam? Yep, you’re out.

   That’s the problem with works-based religions. We can never be sure we’ll make heaven, and what’s more, the evidence and an honest evaluation of our hearts seems to suggest we won’t make the cut. At this point, we’re in dire straits.

  Is there any hope in Christianity? Here’s the standard Jesus lays out for us to “make the cut”. He says in Mathew 5:48: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

   So . . . if we’re relying on ourselves to get past the gates of heaven, we’re done for.

   But that is where Christianity makes a break from all other religions. It doesn’t depend on us, but on what Jesus has done for us! He knew we couldn’t live up to the perfect standard it takes to spend eternity with our heavenly Father, so he came and lived a perfect life for us! He offers this life in our place, to pay for our sins. Where all other world religions say do, Jesus says done.

   The Lord is compassionate and gracious; He does forgive transgressions. But yet at the same time, because He is a righteous judge, He can’t leave the guilty unpunished. (Exodus 34:6-7) That is why Jesus had to die for our sins, the just for the unjust, so that he could bear the penalty we deserved and we could go free! That is how God can be both a righteous judge and a compassionate forgiver.

   This the amazing good news that we as Christians get to share with the world! If you confess Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved! For those of us who already have confessed Jesus as Lord, we are called to be trail guides to others following behind us up the mountain! We need to stop worrying that we will be called “close-minded” or “intolerant” (Check out this post, btw, for a true definition of tolerance), and stand unashamedly for this good news! There’s still some people standing at the crossroads. They’re asking for the ancient paths, they’re asking where the good way is; they want to walk in it (Jeremiah 6:16).

   Can we help them find it?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me”. John 14:6