Monday, November 21, 2016

Say The Words

Give thanks whatever happens. That is what God wants for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:18

It was Children's Worship last week at church and the last song they sang was "Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart", a song made popular by worship leader Don Moen. I'll never forget how the melody touched my heart and opened me up to God the first time I heard it. Only recently did I discover that the song was not written by Moen, but by Henry Smith. In 1978 Smith found himself without a job and suffering from a disease that was causing him to go blind. Not much about his circumstances was cause for gratitude. But after hearing a sermon on the selflessness of Christ, he composed the song which includes the line, "...let the weak say 'I am strong', let the poor say 'I am rich' because of what the Lord has done for us." A U.S. serviceman attending Smith's church heard him perform it and took it back to his base where he was stationed in Europe. It spread like wildfire and in a few short years had reached back to the shores of the U.S. When Don Moen recorded it for Integrity Music in 1986, the credits on the album were "author unknown". But soon Smith informed them that he was the author and subsequently signed an agreement for its publication. So it was more than fitting that the author of a song entitled "Give Thanks" received grateful recognition, not only from the publishing house but from all Christians who have been blessed by it since.

I was thinking this morning about the words, "give thanks" -- the apostle Paul wrote (and Henry Smith reiterated) that thanksgiving is not a feeling but an action. Give thanks -- say "Thank You" to God no matter what is happening around you. Thank you God that the election is finally over! Thank you God that I am breathing. Thank you God even for pain because it tells me I am alive. Thank you God that no matter how I feel or how bad things may get, I can still say the words, "Thank You." 

In the middle of his struggles Smith found a reason to thank God for sending Jesus to make us rich in the wisdom of salvation. Whatever you are facing, whatever has happened, you and I can do the same. We have so much for which to be grateful -- so say it, show it, live it -- "Give thanks with a grateful heart... because of what the Lord has done for us."

Thursday, November 17, 2016

More Than A Box

But this precious treasure—this light and power that now shine within us—is held in a perishable container, that is, in our weak bodies. Everyone can see that the glorious power within must be from God and is not our own.  2 Corinthians 4:7

A friend of mine is an artisan who creates display boxes from exotic hardwoods. On a recent visit to his workshop he was showing me some projects. No two are alike as he uses an array of rare colors and grains to craft boxes that reveal the true beauty of wood -- beauty that would never be seen looking at the source tree in its natural state. One box caught my eye -- an olivewood coffer with rounded lid and sides and a unique burl in the center. My friend explained that olivewood, while beautiful, is temperamental and a bit unstable, thus making it a challenge to have a perfect fit. This particular one was finished but sat on the shelf with several other unfinished and failed box projects. I was captivated not only by my friend's artistry, but also by the golden glow of wood grain with its variant swirls and striations. 

Olive trees are renowned for their ability to survive for centuries, even millennia, and I wondered if this box might have come from such a tree. Maybe it was around when the Savior found sanctuary among the olive groves of Gethsemane. "This is so beautiful," I told my friend. "It's imperfection only adds to it's elegance." Before I left he gave it to me as a gift. I thanked him and told him it would make the perfect case for another olivewood item given to me a few years ago -- a carved piece that formed the word "Jesus" into a cross.

I've been thinking about this gift box, looking at it every day since -- to me it represents the workmanship of God in my life. He takes a chunk of seemingly unusable humanity and shapes it into something beautiful -- not despising the imperfections and flaws, but highlighting them and turning the entire piece into an exquisite receptacle for another piece of His handiwork. A Work named Jesus who was also bypassed, ignored and even cut down. A Work who reveals the stress, the wounds and attacks suffered -- injuries that only have made Him more beautiful. Not a relic to be hidden away on a shelf, but a Redeemer to be held inside of me, a Savior who is revealed whenever I am opened.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Ban The Blame

“Some people ruin themselves by their own stupid actions and then blame the Lord.”  Proverbs 19:3 (GN) 

Not long ago I heard about a guy who sued a Las Vegas casino because he lost half a million dollars gambling. He claimed it was their fault because they allowed him to gamble while he was drunk! It makes me think that the words, “personal responsibility” have been eliminated from our vocabulary – it’s the Casino’s fault, it’s the government’s fault, it’s my parent’s fault because they didn’t raise me right, or the teacher’s fault for leaving the test answers out where I could see them. 

Often we blame someone or something else because we just can’t handle the truth about ourselves and our actions. We pass the guilt off so we don’t have to take it. Ultimately, like Adam, we even will blame God just to avoid owning up: "It was the woman you gave me who brought me some, and I ate it.”(Gen. 3:12). But the guilt is ours and it won't just go away by blaming others or God. Because blame always come back around to haunt us and to hurt us.

Psalm 32:5 says “When I owned up to my sin my guilt was gone because I found forgiveness.” 
Don't blame others or try to rationalize it: 
“Well I did such and such because…” 
“If she hadn’t come on to me I never would have had that affair…” 
“I think I was just trying to make up for the deprivation I felt as a child...”

Don’t try to minimize it – 
“It’s not that bad… those other people are much worse.” 
“Is it really a sin to gossip? I’m not really gossiping, I’m sharing my concerns.” 

The path to forgiveness always begins with admitting that we are culpable.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Price of Emancipation

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners...  Isaiah 61:1 (NIV)

More than once Jesus got into trouble when he announced that His mission was to set captives free. Like the time He was preaching in his home church (synagogue) at Nazareth (see Luke 4). The local folks were fine with having one of their own gain a good reputation by helping people all over the land. Until He suggested that they were the ones who needed help. Offended, their approval turned to denunciation and they tried to kill Him.

Another time He was caught up in an escalating argument with the religious elite (John 8). "If the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free..." -- again trying to get the listeners to understand their condition and His salvation. Like the citizens of Nazareth, these national leaders were incensed at the suggestion that they could be enslaved to anyone or anything. And after initially denying any ill intent toward Him, they too tried to kill Jesus on the spot.

What is it about human pride that would rather suffer in bondage than to be set free? We are so afraid of being exposed for what's really going on in our lives than to accept God's liberation. "There's nothing wrong with me, I'm just FINE!" Denial looms as a fortress of self-protection against the incursion of God's interference. But it is a fortress of self-destruction if we stay entrenched in our refusal to see the truth about ourselves. 

Jesus came to set us free from sin, from moral decay, from death. But the price we must pay for our freedom is the admission that we need help -- that we are indeed spiritually lost and blind and shackled. Blessed are those who admit their need, for they shall be set free!

Monday, November 7, 2016

View From A Distance

I look at the heavens you made with your hands. I see the moon and the stars you created. And I wonder, “Why are people so important to you? Why do you even think about them?  Psalm 8:3,4 (NLT)

Years ago I worked at a boys ranch in the mountains of Oregon. We cared for teenage boys who came from the court system and life could get pretty rough at times. Often when I  was emotionally exhausted and physically burned out I would hike up to the ridge behind our house and sit on a rock looking over the valley. From that perspective all the big problems of my life seemed so small and insignificant compared to the vastness of the landscape. It got even better at night when millions of stars cascaded through the black sky, and I would be reminded of God's greatness and my puny-ness. 

David's question in this Psalm is one I have asked many times, "Who am I that you would give me a second thought?" And yet that's exactly what God does-- He gives me a second thought and a third and fourth. In fact the Bible says you and I are constantly on His mind.

I'm so glad God is bigger than my problems and perplexities, yet not so big that He is unable to see what's going on in my tiny life. He made me, He knows me and He loves me. His greatness is constantly brought to the aid of my insufficiency. And rather than feel alone when I look out at His universe, I feel immersed in His care. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Feeling of Freedom

With Jesus as our high priest, we can feel free to come before God’s throne where there is grace. There we receive mercy and kindness to help us when we need it.  Hebrews 4:16

The very idea of God is easily overwhelming -- the Transcendent Omnipotent One, so immense, so aware, so pervasive and thus seemingly so inaccessible. How do I the temporal and temporary transgressor even begin to approach the Almighty? Over and over the gospel answer is: through Jesus. Miracle of the ages, He is one of us even as He is One with God, bringing together that which was otherwise irreconcilable.

In Christ, through faith in Christ I can approach God. I get a first-in-line audience with the President of the cosmos, the Maker of the universe. Not just a one-time ticket, I can approach any time, I get carte blanche access. "What can I do for you my son? How are things going with you today?" I know He knows the answer to both questions, but I am aware that He is drawing me out, interested and invested in my well-being. 

I can approach with freedom, with confidence. Not arrogance or presumption. But also not with fear. Though there are plenty of reasons to be afraid. Like my sins, like my insults, like my part in the death of His Son. But that's the divine irony -- it's His Son's suffering and sacrifice that bring me so freely into throne room of heaven. I'm not only part of the cause of that death, but part of the reason He willingly died. So that I could be brought back into the good grace of my Father, so that I could stand in His presence without dread or insecurity. So that I could know this astonishing freedom.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Fightings Within

"I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate."  Romans 7:15 (CEV)

"Were you trying to be a bad boy? Did you really want to make me angry?" Maybe they aren't the exact words, but as a child I would hear my parents say something like the above when I would do something wrong or get into trouble. I never knew quite how to answer -- I'm not sure they really wanted an answer. What if I had said, "Yes, I was intentionally trying to ruin your day!" The punishment would have been much worse. Honestly I didn't know why I did the things I did that were wrong. Now I know better.

I remember the first time I read Romans 7 with understanding I realized that Paul was saying there are two principles at work inside me -- one is the human nature that wants what it wants and does what it wants -- selfish and stupid as it is. The other is the divine nature through which God plants the desire to obey, to love, to give. These two are opposed to each other and often I find myself in misery because of the battle within. Romans 7 did not give me an excuse for my sinning as a Christian, but rather an understanding as to how I could be so conflicted -- how could I do wrong when I belonged to Christ? Why didn't my desire to do right always translate into right doing? And why do I do things I know are opposed to God's will? Am I trying to make Him angry? (I still hear my parents' words).

As I read what the Apostle wrote I was gratified to know that I wasn't the only one who struggles with sin. Some commentators think Paul is just describing the general state of messed up Christians and not himself. I think he revealing his own battle with the forces of sin and righteousness fighting over his soul. And when he asks, "Who will rescue me from this body that is doomed to die?" The answer is what the gospel is all about -- "Thank God! Jesus Christ will rescue me." (Rom. 7:25). 

It is Christ that saves us from the death sentence of sin. It is Christ who puts those new godly desires and thoughts into us, and it is Christ who ultimately defeats the power of sin within us, delivering us to a whole and holy eternity.