Thursday, August 14, 2014

A letter to my kids as they prepare for a new school year

You guys are going back to school on Monday! I hope you’re looking forward to a great year. Your mother & I are so proud of you guys and are praying it’s great. Believe it or not I remember what it was like to go back to school after summer break. I remember being nervous and excited and a little scared-and that was last year when I started seminary. So I wanted to tell you guys some things that I hope will help you this year.

—Everyone else is as nervous as you are. I know that’s probably hard to believe. I know there’s a group of super cool kids who everyone wants to be like and everyone wants to be friends with. But even they are nervous. Even they want to be accepted. They just fake it better than everyone else. If you can get hold of this it will make your time in school so much more enjoyable! When I finally got it school was so much more fun. I know, you’re surprised that dear old dad wasn’t one of the cool kids. But believe it or not, socially awkward band nerds aren’t always at the top of the high school totem pole. But when I figured out that everyone else was as nervous as me life got so much better!

—Just because everyone else wants to be someone’s friend doesn’t mean they’ll be a good friend. This is in reference to those super cool kids. I know that group. They’re the coolest and everyone wants to be with them. Here’s the thing-that doesn’t mean they’ll be good friends. In fact, some of the super cool kids could be pretty lousy friends. I’m not saying to ignore them or be mean to them. We ought to try to show the love of Jesus everyone, whether they’re good friends to us or not. Just keep in mind that if you’re not friends with the coolest person in the universe, that’s not actually the end of the world.

—Don’t let your value be determined by other people. Here’s what I mean-sometimes there are people who can just crush you. With a word, a laugh, or a lie they can ruin your day. And when your day gets ruined it’s easy to forget about our real value. When we’re not in the group we want to be in at school, when other kids are mean on the playground, when people who were your friend last year decide you aren’t cool enough for them this year it can make us feel pretty worthless. But listen carefully-your value isn’t determined by other people. Your value is determined by the One who made you. You are valuable because God says you’re valuable. And even more, you’re valuable because God has demonstrated that  you’re valuable. Jesus died for you. Read that sentence again. I’ll wait. If Jesus died for you then what difference does it make what someone who can’t even match their socks says? 

—People can be mean and will hurt your feelings. That’s not fair but that’s the way it is. When that happens, forgive them as Jesus forgives you. Love them as Jesus loves you. Don’t try to hurt them back. I’ll do that for you. Just kidding. Kind of.

—If your friends talk about other people, know that they’ll talk about you too. That’s just the way things are. So if you’re with a group of people who like to talk about others you need to decide if those are the kinds of folks you want to make memories with.

—You’re going to make mistakes. Some will be small. Some will be big. When it happens, remember that your mother & I love you because of who you are, not because of what you do. We love you because you’re ours and nothing can change that. Let us know what’s going on and we’ll figure it out together.

—Joy only comes from Jesus. You can find happiness in a lot of places. But lasting, forever, never-ending, always and forever joy only comes from Jesus. Jesus is so serious about our joy that He died for us! So don’t rest your hopes on things that won’t last.

—You will likely never regret doing what’s right.

—You will likely never fail to regret doing what’s wrong.

—Be a friend to the person who has none. This won't be easy. It won't be the cool thing to do. It will be awkward and uncomfortable. Do it anyway. It’s the kind of thing Jesus would do and we want to be like Him.

—When you have a bad day, telling it to God helps. Telling mom and dad helps too. So does ice cream. So let's plan on doing all 3, together, this year.

—Your life is making an impact for God’s glory. This is the most important one. You probably think you have to be grown to do big things for God’s glory. But that’s just not true. Right now, as you live for the glory of God, as you try to walk in obedience to Jesus and do the things He would do, right now you’re making an impact for Him. Every step of obedience is a lasting step.  

—We love you so much and are so proud of you! We don’t know why God chose us to be your parents but we are so glad He did! You guys are amazing! I love you more than you can know and can’t wait to share this new school year with you!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Willing though Unwilling

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.  I Corinthians 9:19-27

You know that feeling when you know what you should do but you don’t have the motivation to do so? Of course you do. Everyone wrestles with that. Too often in my life it seems that the lack of motivation becomes my motivation to avoid my responsibility.  In other words, my excuse for disobedience is that I don’t want to obey. That sounds terrible when I say it out loud doesn’t it? Which is why, for the most part, I won’t.
Here’s the thing—the Bible absolutely destroys this as an excuse. Look at Paul’s philosophy of ministry. In vs19-22 outline his strategy; do whatever it takes to minister the gospel to people. Why? Vs23. For the sake of the gospel. See, that’s the key. Paul’s motivation wasn’t something that came from inside, it came from outside. Here’s what I have to remind myself of—the gospel is worth it whether or not I feel like it. Jesus is worthy of everything I can offer, even when I don’t like offering anything.
In verse 24 Paul illustrates what he means. Run like you mean it, he says. I find it very interesting that he looks to sports for his analogy. We often have all the motivation we need for other things, don’t we? We can find time for a game, or for whatever else, when we can’t find time to walk in obedience to the one who loved us and gave Himself for us. Don’t misunderstand, this isn’t about guilting us into something. It’s about diagnosing a heart issue that the gospel can fix.
Now in verse 27 we see how Paul willed to obey God even when he wasn’t willing. He disciplined himself. Literally translated, he gave himself a knockout punch. His point is that he made a choice about how to live. He would live for God’s glory. He would be all things to all men, even when those men were mocking him, unjustly accusing him, or stoning him. Why? For the sake of the gospel. Jesus was worth it. Jesus’ message was worth it.
The reminder for me, and for all of us, is that Jesus is worthy whether I feel like it or not. I can walk in obedience even when I don’t feel like walking in obedience. I can trust His promises-that there is joy in His presence and that I’ll find that joy as I continue to obey. I can be willing even if I’m not willing. Even when the flesh screams “No!”, the new me, the real me, the eternally remade into the image of Jesus me can say “Yes”, and walk in obedience to the glory of God.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Good Friday Prayer

The following is taken in its entirety from The Valley of Vision.

My Father,
Enlarge my heart, warm my affections, open my lips
     supply words that proclaim 'Love lustres at Calvary.'
There grace removes my burdens and heaps them on thy Son,
     made a transgressor, a curse, and sin for me;
There the sword of thy justice smote the man, thy fellow;
     and infinite atonement was made;
There infinite punishment was due,
     and infinite punishment was endured.

Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,
          cast off that I might be brought in,
          trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend,
          surrendered to hell's worst that I might attain heaven's best,
          stripped that I might be clothed,
          wounded that I might be healed,
          athirst that I might drink,
          tormented that I might be comforted,
          made a shame that I might inherit glory,
          entered darkness that I might have eternal light.
My savior wept that all tears might be wiped from my eyes
          groaned that I might have endless song,
          endured all pain that I might have unfading health,
          bore a thorny crown that I might have a glory-diadem,
          bowed his head that I might uplift mine,
          experienced reproach that I might receive welcome,
          closed his eyes in death that I might gaze on unclouded brightness,
          expired that I might forever live.

O Father, who spared not thine only Son that thou mighest spare me,
All this transfer they love designed and accomplished;
Help me to adore thee by lips and life.
O that my breath might be ecstatic praise,
          my every step buoyant with delight as I see
               my enemies crushed,
               Satan baffled, defeated, destroyed,
               sin buried in the ocean of reconciling blood,
               hell's gates closed,
               heaven's portal open.
Go forth, O conquering God, and show me the cross,
     mighty to subdue, comfort and save.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

God is with Joseph--and with us

There’s an incredibly remarkable phrase in Genesis 39:2. The Bible says, “The Lord was with Joseph…” Taken on its own, with no context at all, that doesn’t seem to be too special. What makes it remarkable is the story that surrounds it. Back in chapter 37 we’re introduced to Joseph; he’s 17 at this time. We’re told that Joseph was his father’s favorite son and as a symbol of favored status his father gives him a very expensive, very ornately designed robe. This does not help Joseph’s standing with his brothers. In fact we’re told that they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. Next we see that Joseph is a dreamer. In his dreams he’s the main character and everyone else plays a supporting role. Best of all his dreams follow a simple theme. He is exalted above his family and they bow down to him. To the surprise of no one at all, this makes his brothers hate him even more. They decide that the best course of action is to sell their brother into slavery—initially they wanted to kill him but one of his brothers convinced them to just throw him in a pit.
Now let’s just stop for a minute and consider where we are at this point—how messed up is your family if this is what happens? You’re the favorite son and you can’t shut up about how you think you’re going to run the show. Your dad makes no secret that you’re the favorite and this drives your brothers so crazy that they are ready to end your life and only the intervention of an older brother saves you. However, you’re still sold into slavery. Best of all, this is how they spin it to dad-they kill a goat and dip Joseph’s fancy robe in the blood and take it back to Jacob and say, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” Pretty heartless isn’t it?
That’s what makes 39:2 so remarkable. We’re supposed to believe that God is with him even after all he’s gone through? Surely he’s been abandoned by God, right? Or, if this is what it means to have God ‘with you’ then maybe its best to ride solo. Hang on, it gets worse. Joseph is sold to a man named Potiphar, an important official. Everything is going great until his wife notices that Joseph is pretty handsome. She begins to try and seduce him. Day after day, scripture says, she offered herself to him. Finally she accuses him of rape and he’s thrown in prison. And then we see that remarkable phrase again in 39:21, “But the Lord was with Joseph…” Again we might ask, ‘How can scripture say this? How can we say that God is with Joseph when he’s obviously not living his best life now?’ Here’s a couple things I think Joseph’s story reminds us of, very important things to keep in mind when we face the inevitable hardships of life.
--God Has a Plan. We’re going to come out of the gate with a cliché. I can hear the eyes rolling as you read that statement. But while that sounds tired and trite there’s something we have to acknowledge—God does indeed have a plan. Not necessarily a plan that involves everything going easy for you, which we’ll get to momentarily. But God isn’t up in heaven wondering how things are going to turn out. He is working out all things according  to the mystery of His good and sovereign plan. Joseph is in Egypt so that he can one day save his family from a famine; which will preserve the nation of Israel; which will one day produce Jesus. The point is that God is at work, even when our hearts are broken.
--Your Circumstances don’t Affect your Standing with God.  God is with Joseph when he’s home with his father. God is with Joseph when he’s sold into slavery. God is with Joseph when he’s in prison. I think the point God wants us to get is that He is with us. No matter what we face in life, no matter what we’re going through, God is with us. The great thing about grace is that it’s undeserved—and that’s great because if I didn’t do anything to earn it, I can’t do anything to lose it. My standing with God is not based on what I do (or don’t do). My standing with God was settled when I repented of my sins and placed my faith in the finished work of Jesus. All my sin was placed on Christ and all His righteousness was given to me. My standing before the Father, then, is as secure as Christ’s standing before the Father. So when things are good God is with me and I rejoice. When things are bad God is with me and I rejoice. What I’m going through has no bearing on where I stand with God. “But if God is with me”, we might ask, “why am I suffering?” Great question. Here’s the answer.
--God May Want You to Suffer. If there’s anything we don’t want to hear, it’s this isn’t it? Nobody likes to suffer, nobody likes to face hardship. But the reality is that God may want you to suffer. God may bring things into your life that are unpleasant. Why? The short version is that sometimes it’s correction for sin. Sometimes God is using that hardship to shape us and mold us into the image of Jesus. Sometimes it’s just because we live in a world that has been broken by sin. Scripture doesn’t always make plain why God allows suffering—look at Job’s life. Nobody ever told Job why he lost everything. The point is that the suffering we face doesn’t mean we’ve been abandoned by God. We simply must learn to accept that there is no guarantee of east in God’s kingdom. That’s a hard word. How do we learn to embrace that truth?
--God Uses Your Suffering. Now I know this sounds like a cliché but here’s the thing—God actually does use our suffering. He uses our suffering to further conform us to image of Christ. God uses our suffering to help us demonstrate to others that Jesus is greater and more glorious than anything else we face. Sometimes He uses our suffering to advance the gospel. None of those things take away the pain that we feel when we suffer. But being reminded helps us to hold fast and continue to trust even through these times. Joseph had no way of knowing it but God was using the suffering he was facing to prepare him for the place of leadership He would one day bring him to. But He had to prepare Joseph for that place. Now I know there are tons of objections to this. I imagine someone asking, “So you’re saying God allowed my heart to be broken, my family member to die, my job to be taken away from me for my good?” I would say that the answer isn’t that simplistic, and I’m certainly not insinuating that we ought to jump up and down and be happy when our hearts break. I’m saying that we have to keep in mind that God is so great and good and sovereign that even in the midst of pain and heartache and loss He is still at work in our lives, still bringing things around to a conclusion that will be for our good and His glory.
So what do we do? How do we face these times of suffering? I think Joseph shows us the answer—we continue to serve and continue to trust. Now that’s not easy to hear is it? We want something else. But here’s the reality-what else are we going to do? As I see it we have two choices-we can abandon our faith or we can cling to our faith. That’s pretty much it. We can trust in the one who loved us and gave Himself for us; we can believe that even if we don’t know what’s going on, He does. We can believe and hope and trust that He’s going to work it out for our good and His glory.
Or we can turn our back on Him. We can decide that the cost is too high and the pain too much to bear. Those are our choices. So I think it's crucial that devote ourselves to a careful meditation of the goodness of God, that we ask God to continue to reveal to us His matchless splendor so that we'll see that no matter what we face, Jesus is worth it. God has never turned His back on us, and I pray that we’ll never turn our backs on Him.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

#POTUS, #SOTU, & other acronyms

After spending some time reading twitter updates & facebook statuses (stati?) about last night’s State of the Union speech I’ve got a couple observations of my own. 
If President Obama’s speech left you in the throes of despair, if you’re certain that we’ve finally stepped over the edge and that we are, in fact, heading to hell in a handbasket—take heart. King Jesus is greater than any President, any Premier and any King. He rules and reigns in sovereign splendor over all things. He holds the hearts of kings in His hand and can turn them in whatever direction He so chooses. The nations of the earth are but a drop in the bucket compared to His greatness. Take heart, fellow believer—our King outranks and supersedes all others and He is bringing all things to a conclusion that will brilliantly shine the light of His glory for all eternity. There is nothing—and no one—who can stop that. Rest in the power and rule of Jesus.
If President Obama’s speech left you enraptured and enthralled, if you’re filled with joy at the clear leadership, the obvious compassion and the measured, wise response to the crises that are faced by our nation and by the world—look to King Jesus. Our greatest joy and highest hope is found not in a man but in the Son of Man. Give God thanks and glory for the leader he’s given to our nation but give Him greater thanks and glory for His divine leadership over every area of our lives. Rejoice that in His sovereign goodness and grace He’s blessed us with a compassionate leader, but let your heart swell to the bursting point as you meditate the greater goodness and eternal compassion found in Jesus. Give thanks that God has given us a Solomon—but rejoice that in Jesus a greater than Solomon has come. No matter where you fall in the political spectrum, you can know with confident assurance that Jesus is Lord over all. You can rest in His sovereign care and rule. And you can rejoice knowing that no matter who is in the Oval Office, King Jesus is on the throne. Pray for our leaders, but trust in Jesus. Thank God for good leaders, and thank Him even more for His perfect leadership.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Reading in Psalm 5 this morning, and verse 7 really jumped out. David says, "But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you." David has just spoken of God's judgment of those who live in rebellion against God. In contrast to that, David maps out a different path for himself. 3 things stand out about this path.
First, David Knew Where He Was Going. David had a clearly defined path for his life. Now before you think that this is a post about having a strategy for where you're going in life, complete with 5 year plans and flow charts, understand that if I can plan something two weeks ahead I call it long-term planning. The point isn't having a specific time frame in mind-the point is having a specific destination. For David, that destination was the presence of God. His goal, his aim, his plan was to get into the presence of God. In Psalm 16:11 he would write, "You make known to me the path of life;  in your presence there is fullness of joy;  at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." David's path was set towards the presence of God because he realized that his highest joy and greatest fulfillment would be found not in sin but in God. His joy, his treasure was Christ! Do I recognize Jesus as the treasure of my life? Am I willing to sell everything to gain Him (Matt. 13:44)? Or do I chase after the passing pleasures of sin? As my friend Dylan Watson preached last night, "The fleeting pleasures of sin give us no lasting benefit." Am I wasting my life in the pursuit of that which won't last? Or am I chasing after the only thing, the only One who can offer true fulfillment?
Second, David Knew How He Would Get There. David's heart was to be in God's presence. But there was something that would keep him from God. In verse 4 he says, "For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you." This is extraordinarily bad news for people who are guilty of wickedness, who are condemned by their sin as evil people. No matter how badly we want to be with God, our sin keeps us from Him. That's what makes what David says in verse 7 so incredible: 'But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house.' David's path was set towards the presence of God-but he acknowledged that the only way he would get there would be the abundance of God's steadfast love. The Bible makes two facts abundantly clear--we are great sinners, and Jesus is a great savior! There is no way we can bridge the gap between our sinfulness and God's holiness. The astoundingly good news of the gospel is that God bridges the gap for us. Jesus has taken our sin on Himself , borne the wrath that our sins deserve, and granted us His righteousness. God's holiness is satisfied and I am forgiven. I can enter God's presence, and I can do so by through the abundance of God's steadfast love to me in Christ.
Thirds, David Knew Why He Was Going. David's desire was to enter God's presence-why? Verse 7 says, "I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you." David's desire to see God was for the purpose of worshipping God. This is a crucially important truth for us. God's desire is not to make much of me! I'm not the aim of the Bible. God is. All of history is being brought to an ordained end. And when that end arrives I will not be at the front of the victory parade. All things are being brought to the end that God has ordained, and that end is the praise of His name for all eternity. As I chase hard after Jesus, may it always be for His glory and not for my own.