Friday, January 13, 2017

The Temptation of Grief

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  Hebrews 4:15-16

What does grief have to do with temptation? Is grief the result of human weakness or is it just part of what makes us human? We grieve when we lose someone or something dear, and the temptation is to deal with it on our own. The pain of loss and the resulting grief can be so unbearable that we may be tempted to find ways to medicate it. Few things have the power of raw and painful grief and only God can help us deal with it in a way that heals.

Jesus knew pain. He knew the pain of betrayal, misunderstanding and false accusation. And He knew the pain of physical abuse and torture. He also knew the pain of guilt because He took all of ours upon Himself. He could have escaped it. He could have ignored it. He could have destroyed the sources of His pain, but He chose to walk and live as we do. He chose to go through it and give it all over to His Father. He knows more than anyone the depth of human pain and suffering – He experienced ultimate loss. But He does not carry His pain as a cross, He overcame the pain and loss and the cross through the power of God’s mercy and grace.

You don’t have to wear your grief as a badge of honor or a defining attribute. Instead, you can exchange your grief for His joy – sadness for smiles, pain for peace, crying for laughter, sighing for singing. You can approach the holy and almighty One, not with head hung low but with confident expectation, with hopeful trust. He offers you mercy (he treats us better than we deserve); He gives you grace (He loads us up with special favors and gifts). Not just excusing you, but embracing and empowering you. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

This One Thing

I do one thing. I forget everything that is behind me and look forward to that which is ahead of me.  Philippians 3:13

Yesterday I drove over 400 miles to get home. I had been visiting family for a few days but it was time to get back home to wife and my dogs because they missed me and I missed them. I also wanted to miss the traffic in Southern California so I left before the sun came up. Actually, the sun never did come up because it was raining -- all the way on the El Camino Real (U.S.101) from Redwood City through San Jose and Gilroy, down to Salinas and Soledad until I got to Paso Robles. Sheets and buckets of rain intermittent with heavy drizzle. It was the kind of morning you just wanted to stay in bed and not go anywhere. But I wanted (and needed) to go home. So I sloshed through the water on the sidewalks and got in my car and drove through intimidating weather, crazy drivers, slippery roads and heavy fog on the Grapevine. I pushed through because it was time for me to move on to what was ahead of me: home.

Not a bad metaphor for coming into the new year. There's a lot from last year that we learned and loved. There's also plenty we loathed and need to leave behind. I had a good time on my visit -- I also had to deal with some unpleasant things. But just as the time came for me to move on, the new year is our signal to push through into what is ahead and let the past be past. Today, tomorrow, next week and in the coming months we will face storms and clouds, we will find ourselves enveloped in confusingly foggy situations just as we will have to deal with the often unpredictable actions of others as well as our own mistakes. But we push through because of where we are going -- Home. Our heavenly home, yes -- and even more our home in the comfort and quiet of His presence. His love beckons us on, His promises give us hope to endure the journey, His guiding Spirit shows us the way through.

Last year is in your rear-view mirror. So forget about it. Keep looking ahead and know God is with you even as He calls you to go forward.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Good All Year Long

"He will save His people from their sins." Matthew 1:21

In a couple days the year will end and a new year will begin. Just as the earth spins on its axis and circles the sun, we find ourselves living in cycles. Engaging in our basic routines of daily existence, we sleep, wake, eat, work, eat and sleep again. Then there are the habits -- repeated behaviors that have little to do with the earth's rotations or the moon's phases. Everyone has them; some are good, many not so good. And each year about this time we begin to think about our bad habits and how we can break these cycles. So we resolve: do less of this, more of that; eat less of this, more of that. We set our minds to make changes that will better our lives, our relationships and our consciences. It all lasts for a few days, maybe even weeks. Most of us can't keep the promises we make to ourselves more than a month.

Sin is a cycle, too. Worse than a bad habit, sin is a disease. The inner compass of our souls has been altered and we find ourselves living in ways that hurt us and others. We do things that are wrong because there is something gone wrong inside of us. Our sins reveal our sin. We find ourselves caught in patterns that separate us from God and contaminate our relationships with each other. But sin cannot be corrected by New Year's resolutions or overcome by personal determination any more than the earth can change it's own course. 

That's why Jesus came to be with us and be one of us. He came to interrupt the death spiral of our existence, to catapult us into a new orbit centered on God instead of self.  He is our hope for change and our help for healing. Jesus came to save us from our sins -- that's what His name means. He is the one New Year's resolution you really need because the promises you make you'll likely break. But His promises are good all year long.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

More Than A Slogan

Christ will live in your hearts because of your faith.  Ephesians 3:17Christmas is now past, it's over. Except for putting away the holiday stuff, returning the unwanted stuff, and trying to figure where to put or what to do with all the new stuff. Christmas is past, it's over. But the story of Christ is not. The fact remains, He came -- and He is still here. That's the take-away of Christmas. Because long after the colored lights are off and the gift wrapping is put in the trash we are still in need of Christ. And the story of His coming to Bethlehem, to Nazareth, to Jerusalem, to Calvary is more than a story. He came and He stayed -- one of us, one with us, The One who lives in us.The days are coming, maybe have already begun for you when you wonder where God is, why He is quiet, why He is not speaking. And in those days remember the Story -- how He came, how He lived, how He suffered and died, how He came back to life, how He offers you His life -- His presence, His reality.  "God with us" is not just a slogan for a Christmas banner, it's the truth that will carry us through the post-holiday troubles and challenges. He is here and He is speaking. Every day in a thousand ways He speaks to you and me through His Word, through circumstances and even conflict. God is with us through human as well as divine angels who He uses to help and guide and remind you of His grace and goodness. The story is more than a story.  God is near and God is here. He is with you and will live in you, filling you to overflowing so that you may know His grace, His power to forgive and transform, His Life.God is with us!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Only For The Faithful?

He came once for all, at the end of the age, to put away the power of sin forever."  Hebrews 9:26

I love traditional Christmas carols and have sung them thousands of times in my life. One song in particular is great -- "O Come All Ye Faithful". But it seems incomplete because the invitation in the song is to the "faithful." What about the unfaithful, the broken, the disillusioned? What about the sinners? Are we not all invited to come behold the newborn King? Is not the beauty and the story, the power and the glory of Christmas in its universal message? Christ came for all people -- "whosoever believes..." (John 3:16), "Come to Me all you who are burdened..." is His invitation. Come see and worship and follow the One who came for you.

A few years ago I decided to "add" several verses to this Carol. The following is the "T. Benson Version" of Adeste Fideles:

O come all you weary, sad and lonely-hearted
O come to the solace of His undying love
He heals the wounded hearts and broken spirits
He understands your sorrows
Gives hope for new tomorrows
He'll be the constant comfort and friend by your side

O come all you guilty, full of shame and darkness
Come to the One who came to give you light 
No fault or sin is greater than His mercy
For He is your Forgiver
Redeemer, and your Savior
The stain of sin He cleanses with unearthly grace

O come all you people -- nations torn in conflict
Come to the Hope of the human race
Willing, He came down from celestial glory
Was Born to live among us
He died, then rose to free us
He broke the chains of death and the grave evermore

May God grant you a blessed and beautiful Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Third Gift

He took our suffering on him and felt our pain for us.  Isaiah 53:4 (NCV)

My mother died when I was 28 and I shed no tears at her funeral. I'm not really sure why, but I was so detached from the loss that not until 10 years later did I finally grieve for her. Maybe it was because from the time I was five or six years old, I was repeatedly told that she was about to die -- from brain surgery, from bleeding ulcer, from deadly allergic reactions to food -- but she never did. So when she was gone I didn't emotionally accept it. Then the day came when I finally visited her grave and the tears flowed freely, my sorrow as healing as it was painful. Sometimes grief is a gift.

When the Wise Men visited the infant King to honor Him, the third gift they offered was myrrh, a rare and costly spice known for it's healing and aromatic qualities. It was also used to prepare the dead for burial. Though they knew the worth of their gift, I'm sure the Wise Men didn't realize its full significance. Three times throughout His life Jesus was offered myrrh -- at His birth, at His crucifixion, and when He was taken for burial. Myrrh was a symbol of the healing brought from His wounds, the relief realized from His suffering, a reminder of the price He paid for our healing and relief.

How can we be so disconnected when we think of our Lord? What He  sacrificed, what He faced, what He endured even from His birth is beyond our comprehension for sure. But if we stop to contemplate His worth, His exorbitant love and expansive grace, then the aroma of His life will began to permeate our souls and heal us. We will have heartfelt sorrow for His suffering brought on by our sins. That's a gift He offers to us.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Gift of Frankincense

As far as God is concerned there is a sweet, wholesome fragrance in our lives. It is the fragrance of Christ within us.  2Corinthians 2:15

Ever notice how certain aromas evoke recollections of your former days and ways? They can be so powerful, you remember details about the past you wouldn't think of otherwise. Like the time I returned to my favorite beach in California after being away for 20 some years. It hadn't changed much, especially the smells that wafted in and out with the fresh breezes. There were ocean smells of salt, seaweed, and fish; boardwalk smells of beach barbeque, suntan lotion, and patchouli oil. The scents brought a flood of memories of people and conversations and events from the year I spent living there -- fragrances that caused me to say, "Now I remember what it was like."

Interesting that one of the expensive gifts offered to baby Jesus by the Wise Men was Frankincense -- an aromatic substance used for religious ceremonies, for medicinal purposes, and for making perfume. Frankincense was said to represent life, and I'm sure that the fragrance of the precious resin stayed with Mary forever after as a reminder of the precious Life she brought into the world. Just one one whiff of the perfume could transport her back to those sacred moments when the Son of God came to life in her arms, giving His life to all people as a sweet-smelling incense.

The apostle Paul says that when we devote our lives to worshiping and following Christ, we become like incense that rises to God, reminding Him of His Son. And we become the perfume of Jesus' life to the people around us.

Do you have the fragrance of Christ today because you have offered Him your life? Can others catch the scent of Jesus from you?