Category Archives: Hope

Jesus touched the leper

Do you get that?

Does that sink into your soul?

A leper was unclean. He was untouchable. To touch a leper was to make yourself unclean.

They were cast out. They were driven from society. The were not allowed in the Temple.

And Jesus touched them.

(Mark 1:40-41)  40 And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
  41 And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.

And when he touched them, they became clean. And he took their uncleanness upon himself.

And then the Romans and the Jews and the World dragged him outside the camp, with all of our uncleanness, and crucified him – along with all of our uncleanness.

Think about that. Jesus touched the leper.

Who are we afraid to touch? Who are we afraid are too dirty for us?

If you think that someone is too dirty, then you do not yet understand. Read it again.

JESUS TOUCHED THE LEPER.

The greatest sorrow that crushes our soul is the sorrow of uncleanness. Being driven away; being hated; being considered unclean.

Too dirty, too sinful, too seductive, too “other” for all of us clean people.

Do you feel like you just showed up at the feast and you are filthy? Do you feel that in your soul?

Your soul crumbles under the weight of your uncleanness. You are unclean yourself. What you have endured left a film of stain on your soul that you just wish would go away.

How you long to be one of the normals! To just live and shop and eat and drink and love as if you didn’t have a huge, ugly sign attached to your neck: UNCLEAN. DON’T TOUCH!”

Jesus touched the leper.

Jesus touched the leper.

Stand up straight. Lift up your eyes. strengthen your knees.

You are the circumcision of God. You are clean. You are in his presence.

Because Jesus touches you as well.

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Filed under Gospel, Hope

Achan and the Gospel

When Joshua conquered Jericho, God gave Israel specific instructions concerning the goods there. Everything was to be killed, burned or put into the treasury of the temple.

The story of what happened next is disturbing. The next city to be conquered was Ai. It was a far smaller and less powerful city, and the strategy was just to send a few of the army there. But they were soundly beaten, which caused Joshua and all Israel shock and great sorrow. What happened? Why had God forsaken them? Why did the army flee? Had God forgotten about them? What about the rest of the conquest that they were promised?

Joshua fell on his knees and asked the Lord what had happened.

Someone took gold and silver and clothing from Jericho and kept it for themselves against God’s command. Because of this disobedience, all Israel was troubled and God gave them into the hands of their enemies. God pointed out the criminal and Achan was stoned with his whole family in the valley of Achor.

Read the account. It is disturbing. Joshua 7.

This morning, I received a question about the event. The person asking the question was taught that if a parent had sin in their lives that God would punish the church and their children until they confessed it and turned from it. They were taught that this was the message of Achan. If someone is disobedient, the whole church will suffer, and their children will suffer.

I was greatly disturbed by this and have been thinking about it all day.

This, by the way, is not the gospel. The gospel is NOT “if you sin, God will punish your children.” And didn’t Jesus say that all of scripture taught of him?

We do learn of the holiness of God in this account. He is not someone to trifle with. He cannot bless disobedience. He cannot dwell with sin. He does indeed visit the iniquity of the fathers unto the children to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 20:5) and his character does not change.

How can any of us escape? How are any of our children blessed? How can anything unclean stand in his sight, and who of us are clean enough?

The wrath of God and the horrors of sin are the backdrop of the gospel, but they are not themselves the gospel. “Do this and live” is not the good news, for who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?

The stoning of Achan is disturbing, for God does not change.

But centuries later, the prophet Hosea saw the gospel from a distance. Israel had been divorced by God – they were no longer his people. But Hosea was shown a glimpse of the gospel.

14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Bring her into the wilderness, And speak kindly to her.
15 “Then I will give her her vineyards from there, And the valley of Achor as a door of hope. And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.
(Hosea 2:14-15).

There will be a new exodus and a new deliverance. God’s bride will be gathered from every land and every nation. The gentiles will be gathered in as well. And the valley of Achor will be a door of hope.

What does it mean? How can this scene of the trouble that came on Israel be a door of hope for God’s bride?

Because Achan pointed to Christ. Achor pointed to Calvary. Christ was taken outside the camp and bore all of our uncleanness. Christ was cut off from the land of the living, bearing our curse. Achan’s sin troubled all Israel, and when he was cut off by stoning, the curse was taken away and they went on to victory. But that victory was short-lived, because all Israel were descended from Adam. All of them were unfaithful, just as all of us are unfaithful. The conquest was incomplete. The book of Joshua concludes with the book of Judges. What hope is there for any of us?

All of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory. All of us are unclean. How can Achan be stoned and take the curse away from us when every single one of us is Achan?

Only in Christ. In Christ, true God and true man, the curse that lay upon each one of us is taken away.

Isaiah puts it so clearly.

4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? (Isa. 53:4-8)

That is the gospel. The curse is on us because all of us have hoarded our stolen things. All of us have trusted in our own resources rather than trusting in the living God. If God marked iniquity, who should stand?

But God doesn’t send US outside the camp to bear our iniquities. He laid them upon Jesus Christ. Or you could say that he took them upon himself. Because of the mystery of the Trinity, both are correct. God laid them on Christ. God took them on himself.

The story of Achan is not “Behave or God will curse your children”. It is “come to Jesus, who bore our iniquities in his body on the cross.”

Teach your children about Jesus when you teach them about Achan.

The valley of Achor becomes a door of hope at Calvary.

Praise God!

On another note, if your church has never taught this, then it is not teaching the gospel. If you are being taught that God’s blessing comes on you when you obey and when you disobey you will earn God’s curse, then you are not being taught the gospel. Flee those churches. It is what God calls a synagogue of Satan. Go to where the gospel is proclaimed.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

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Filed under Gospel, Hope

coming out

When Paul was in chains in Rome, he rejoiced that the power of the gospel was seen in his weakness.

One thing that I have read continually from those who heard Ravi Zacharias speak is this: when he spoke, you knew you were in the presence of a great man. he was so articulate, so wise, so charismatic. He could work a crowd. He could answer any objection.

Paul was just the opposite. In fact, Paul said that he preached in weakness and trembling. He was ridiculed frequently for NOT being a great public speaker, or a skilled rhetorician.

As I was thinking these things, I decided to come out. I have hidden something about myself for many years. I’ve hidden it even from myself, preferring to beat myself up for not being quite right than acknowledging that I have a weakness that I can do very little about.

I have anxiety disorder. Whether it was inherited or whether it was learned through much experience, or perhaps a little of both, it is a chain around me that I cannot rid myself of.

My brain warns me that I am in danger and tells me to flee, usually at the most inopportune time.

My heart races. My face flushes. I break out in a sweat. I start to shake. My words start to stammer.

If it is bad, I won’t eat.

I wake up frequently in the middle of the night having conversations in my head, running events through my head over and over again – until I break out into a sweat and my body temperature goes up.

I read recently that Herman Bavinck, arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century, vomited before every sermon.

I don’t vomit. But I completely identify with the sentiment.

I manuscript sermons because I don’t know when my mind will go blank. I rehearse conversations because I have no idea what to do in them.

Social events are exhausting. I tend to flee somewhere just to regroup. Weddings are torture.

My mind tells me that everything is OK. God is on the throne. I am just human. My conversation is fine.

But there is a part of my brain that attacks me during every single conversation:

“You are such an idiot. I can’t believe you said that. They are going to hate you now. You will be left alone. Don’t you know how to people?”

“You are doing this wrong. You are going to fail. You’ll never make this. They will think you are stupid.

I won’t try out a new restaurant if the ordering procedure is too different. I have never tried sushi. I have never attempted to do something new for fear of failing.

When I am in a new place, or trying something new that I am required to do, my heart races and I go into panic mode. “Failure deserves to be beaten, outcast, isolated, and alone.”

I would far, far rather serve the table than sit down at it and be served. When I am clearing dishes I know what is expected, and when I know what is expected, I don’t break out in a cold sweat and listen to my heart pound in my ears.

I have been like this as long as I could remember. When I was younger, I would pinpoint a person that I figured was an acceptable person and try to imitate them. Maybe I wouldn’t be rejected if I could be someone else.

But that is a hard way to live.

One of my earliest memories was being terrified of trying out the slide. My parents, not knowing what to do, spanked me until I went down.

I remember the absolute terror of my first fire drill when I was about 5. They should not allow children to be tortured like that.

I self-medicated with nicotene for years. It gave me a good excuse to leave any social situation and it would calm my panicked nerves. But when I quit several years ago, my panic attacks and anxiety would attack from out of nowhere.

Today I know that it has a name and there are things to do about it. I have anxiety disorder.

I have anxiety disorder.

My dad used to say that worrying about stuff never helped. He was fond of saying that the things he worried the most about never happened. I’m very glad for him.

For me, everything that I ever worried about actually did happen, but those are stories for another time.

The curse on this world is very real. People do things that are even worse than you can imagine. The hate that the world can throw at you is unfathomable.

Illness is real. Cancer is real. Brain damage is real. Suffering is real.

The cross is real, and if we are Jesus’ we will pick it up with him and follow him.

And like Paul, when those chains tie us down, paralyze us and keep us from doing what we want to do – God will show himself strong.

“How can you be a minister” – my anxiety tells me repeatedly.

And then I remember Paul’s words:

(1Corinthians:2:1-5)  And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:  That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

And so I’ve decided to quit pretending that I’m something I am not. I will speak the truth. I will teach from house to house. I will visit. I will call. I will do what I can to show the power of God in the cross of Christ.

But then I might have to sit down. I might have to go outside and regroup. I might need to do something to calm my pounding heart and my rapid breathing.

I’m not the kind of preacher that has everything together. When people see me, they don’t say, “I’m in the presence of a great man” and that’s OK.

Because if I can lead someone to the living water, if I can exalt the power of God, if I can tell you about the beauty of Jesus who sweat great drops of blood, who fell down terrified at Gethsemane in order to bring me to God – then it is all worth it. Because I also know that when I am at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, I will sit in his presence and rejoice and no longer panic. I will no longer feel like an outcast. I will no longer be an outsider looking in on the normals.

And that is what I long for. But more than that, I long to be free from sin and misery.

In the meantime, don’t look for me to exalt human strength. I don’t have any. When I am in God’s presence, it won’t do me any good anyway.

Instead, I have an anxiety disorder. And so I look to Jesus.

Jesus didn’t come for the well. He came for the sick. He didn’t come for the strong, he came for the weak and foolish – and that is me.

If you are like me, and struggle with these things, don’t be ashamed. Walk right into it, for Jesus is with you through the valley of the shadow of death.

I wrote these words so that you might not feel so alone. There are a lot of us out here. I just thought that you might want to meet one.

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Filed under Anxiety, Hope

Things for the New Year

Things to do for 2021, in no particular order:

Meditate on things that make you smile.

Think about things that are beautiful.

Sit on the porch and look for birds.

Listen to a kind of music that you have never listened to. Put the effort in to appreciate something different. Beauty is worth the effort.

Listen to someone who has different political views without viewing them as an enemy to be destroyed. You might learn something. At least you will be stronger in your own conviction. You might actually change your mind about something.

Understand that changing your mind about something is absolutely necessary for spiritual growth.

Kiss your spouse every day.

Quit thinking all the time about who is in charge and simply enjoy the ride.

Slow down. Smell the wine. Swirl it around the tongue. Try to understand what the label is talking about.

Think about the people you are going to hug when this is all over.

Call someone who is lonely and ask them how you can pray for them.

Stop being afraid of everything.

Go outside and walk beside a river.

Find a bird sanctuary and sit and listen. Leave your phone at home.

Give a cold bottle of water to a homeless person on a hot day.

Quit dividing the world into us and them. Reject all notions of the “repugnant cultural other”, and learn to honor the dignity of the image-bearer of God in front of you, no matter who they are.

Buy a coloring book and crayons.

Forget the label and just have chips and queso. Just know when to stop.

Clean out your closets. You might find a memory.

Wear the clothes that you like to wear.

Buy a pair of fabulous socks.

Pray for your pastor every day.

For each of the things above, for the crisp air, the fabulous wine, the birds in the sanctuary, the sound of the river, the flowers in the grass, the chips and queso, the colors and sounds and textures – just stop for a minute and give thanks to our great God and Father, who makes all things.

And give thanks to Christ who has redeemed us by his blood and made us kings and priests.

And give thanks to the Holy Spirit who breathes life into us so that we can see and hear and taste and touch and marvel and the wisdom and beauty and faithfulness of our Father.

O that men would praise the Lord for his covenant faithfulness, for his works of wonder among the children of men!

Happy New Years!

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Filed under Goodness, Hope, Thankfulness

Just a little more…

“I’m supposed to be writing something, but I can’t think of anything to write!”

I complain to my daughter.

“What?” She says.

“What should I write about? I can’t think of anything.”

It’s been a long two weeks. At first I was looking forward to a time of exile. Perhaps I could accomplish something. My life is the endless quest to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish….but it seems as if God always has other plans.

I am doing dishes. The dishwasher is broken, so I do them by hand. And it never fails. I drain the water. And clean the sink. And I find one more. Just one more. Just finish that one, and then you can sit. Then you can write. Then you can read. Then you can learn that sonata you’ve wanted to learn. Just one more.

But after that one, there is just one more….

But life doesn’t give you the instruction manual. I see myself at sixteen. I am full of ambition and hope. I see my High School yearbook, full of promises and dreams. I read the “Stay in touch!” from the people that I haven’t spoken to since they wrote that close to 40 years ago…

My brief foray into video games happened at age 15. It was 1978. Asteroids, or some such. I put my quarter into the machine and waited for the instructions to tell me what to do. And while I waited the machine beeped. And then it said, “Game Over”.

I never played again. I don’t like feeling stupid.

At 20, I’m in college trying to fit in, trying to be someone else. I am trying so hard not to be the guy who can’t even figure out Asteroids. I don’t know how people behave. I am keenly aware that I look at the world differently and I loathe myself. I study what other people do and try to imitate them. I don’t know how to matter to anyone, and in my quest to matter to anyone, I lose the friends who care about me. The game was over before I even started.

But there is always another change. So move. Get another job. Pay some more bills. Try to get to a point where I am not paycheck to paycheck and I might even get a few dollars put aside.

But there are only so many hours in the day, and so many of them are working, working, working. And there are bills. And they pile up. And you have to put food on the table. And there are diapers. I’ll get to writing after just one more. Pay off one more loan. Work one more job.

If I could accomplish something, maybe I could get my father to pay attention and see me. If I could just do more maybe my life would matter. Maybe I could leave a legacy behind…

I think about it from time to time. But there are 12 hour work days. One right after another. Horrible pay. No advance. Year after year. Putting food on the table. Paying bills. Just one more, and then I can start my life’s work, my life goal.

Maybe then I won’t end in a mass grave where no one knows my name…

Do more. Work harder…and finally, you hit middle age and then come the chronic illnesses.

For many, many years now my wife and I have had one life-threatening, rare illness right after another. Some have no cure. Some involve surgeries. Some we just live with. Constant pain. Dislocations. Heart trouble. Ruptured colons. Ehlers Danlos. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

Maybe I can get something accomplished when the next round is finished. But there seems to always be just one more…

And then you hit fifty five and the machine starts to beep at you. The day when the neon flashes “Game over” is far closer than it used to be. And I still haven’t written that book. I still haven’t done anything that really matters. I still haven’t finished that Sonata. Wrote that music. Accomplished anything, really. I’ll get to it someday.

And then the exile. Quarantine. Outcast, unclean. Locked away.

I say to myself, “This is my life’s goal! I now have plenty of time and nowhere to go!”

But my wife is so sick she can’t get out of bed. My daughter needs full-time care. The dishes need done. The laundry is piling up. Just one more…

“What do I write about, Maggie?”

“I don’t know anything. I don’t get those words…but look, the tree is starting to get yellow…”

And I look, and sure enough the broom bush is starting to blossom.

And the jasmine is breaking open its perfumed buds into tiny white flowers; and the roses are in bud; and birds are singing.

And I think about it….

I put some tomato plants into the ground, and I think about it.

I trim some bushes and I think about it. I pick some mint and make a mojito and I think about it.

This evening I zoomed with my grandson in Colorado. He laughed at my ostrich puppet and called me “Grandpa”. I thought about that too.

And I thought that maybe I have been looking at this whole thing all wrong.

Maybe I’m not just sitting by the asteroid machine waiting for it to start. Maybe I’ve been knocking them all back one after another my whole life. Or maybe life isn’t a video game without instructions after all and the smartest thing I ever did was just walk away from that stupid game and went outside. I just wish I could have embraced that about myself a lot earlier.

Instead of life being about how much we accomplish, maybe we should just learn how to rest. Maybe that is what it is about. It isn’t about putting away more money in the bank, or leaving a legacy, or making your life matter, or getting a high score – because in the long run, none of those things will make me matter at all.

Maybe it is finally realizing that I DO matter, because Christ died for me and has restored me to his image and not a hair can fall from my head without my heavenly father…

And maybe I’ve been so busy trying to win some imaginary game, hoping that some imaginary person might recognize my worth that I forgot how to just live.

Youthful habits are hard to break, though. But I am going to try.

I’m going to try to just sit and listen to the birds. I’m going to see the jasmine and watch the roses open.

And most of all, I’m going to love my wife, continue to perfect Lebanese Hashweh and maybe just play the piano because I enjoy it, and not because I have anything to prove.

And I pray above all else that my heavenly father will forgive me for all the time I have wasted trying to prove something that didn’t need proving. And instead, I need him to teach me how to just stop and rest and finally know what it means to be accepted in the Beloved – to listen to the music. To quit talking. Quit overthinking everything. And just walk through the woods. Listen to that bullfrog outside. Smell the jasmine. Watch TV with my wife and daughter and praise God that I have them to walk through this valley with.

Sometimes I forget what a tremendous blessing it is to have a wife. And not only that, but a wife with whom I am never alone. 25 years of marriage, and I have not had one day alone, even when she is ill. Not everyone can say that, and that, it seems to me, is far greater than any earthly blessing. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

So I gave my daughter a hug. Now I know what to write. I’ll get to it in a minute. After one more dish….

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Filed under Abuse, Coronavirus, Hope, Trust

Here comes the sun

  2 But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.(Malachi 4:2)

This earth seems very dark indeed at times. The power and the ugliness of sin corrupts and rots the heart.

The oppression of the strong against the weak – the relentless assaults of the world, the flesh and the devil…

And the despair…does anyone care? Is anyone listening? Will this pain every end?

Will I ever get well? Will my friend talk to me again? Am I as ugly, unwanted and shameful as I so often feel in my heart?

Some wounds don’t ever seem to heal. Words are thrown about that cut to the heart. Parents let their kids know that they are unwanted, ugly, unclean. Spouses telling the ones they once vowed to love that they hate them. “You’re so stupid. You are worthless. If I threw you out, no one would have you…”

But we were created in honor. A little lower than the angels, crowned with glory! We were given dominion and the wonderful blessing of fruitfulness and life and love and unity: Be fruitful and multiply!

Sexuality was God’s way of delight and joy and spreading his kingdom throughout the world.

And how ugly it became! Instead of joy, now there is shame and guilt and pain. Heartache and loneliness. Anger, oppression.

It is an ugly, dark world and it so very often seems like the darkness will never end.

But Malachi describes the coming gospel – the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing.

Here comes the sun, and I say it’s alright. With apologies to the Beetles.

Malachi was going for true light though, not wishful thinking. He wasn’t thinking of dreams of air, but the gospel of Christ. He had in mind the word of God made flesh and pouring out his life as an offering for sin.

All of your sin and guilt and shame was nailed to the cross, and instead of the curse you are restored to glory and honor in him. Here comes the sun!

And when the gospel is proclaimed and believed, it is as if the clouds have broken open, the first glimpse of the glorious day is seen from afar and we know…

We KNOW…

Here comes the sun. The Sun of righteousness is coming, and healing is coming with him. We know that because we have already glimpsed it. There is already hope there; we see the beginnings of a new life; a new way of thinking. So we can endure the remainder of the night, for the Sun is coming!

So let’s quit walking in darkness. Let’s quit walking as dead men who have no light, stumbling over the obstacles as blind men.

Awake, you who sleep, and Christ will give you light.

Healing is coming, dear ones! The broken heart will heal. The body will heal. The words that tore your soul will heal. Your tears will be wiped away. The scars will be wiped away. The soul will be restored, new and whole and light as air, freed from the muck and mire of sin and shame, filled with goodness and righteousness and truth.

And the filth that festers and grows in darkness will be flushed away when the Sun arises.

And we will walk again. We will rise up with new wings as eagles, filled with the Spirit of Christ, pure again with beauty and glory and honor!

Take heart, dear ones. Here comes the Sun!

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Filed under Gospel, Hope, Light

God Sees

When the church was at its lowest point; when Israel was in hard bondage in Egypt; when they had no strength, no future, no hope…

We read this:

24 So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

25 And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them.(Exo 2:24-25)

God uses our language to speak to us. He desires to impress upon us that he always hears the cries of his people. How can an infinite, almighty, everywhere-present God communicate to us?

We are finite, complex, multi-faceted, creatures of space and time. And God is none of those things.

So how does he speak to us? He uses our words. Eventually the word of God would become flesh, condescending to us so that we might know God. Eventually, that word, our Lord Jesus, would come and be the mediator of the covenant – fulfilling it all in our place. Our sins are put away in him that we might know God.

But until that day, God will speak by analogy.

He hears our groaning. Our pain rises to him. He who knew no sin and no oppression and no suffering hears the groans of his people.

He remembers. He doesn’t forget, but he does remember. He “brings to mind” what he promises. He will never forget his word for he cannot lie. But there are certainly times when it appears as if he hides his face from us.. But take heart. He has not forgotten his covenant. The Seed has crushed the head of the Serpent. Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved, for God remembers his covenant.

He looks with compassion – it is far more than simply seeing. He sees with compassion; he enters into our space and time and sees our afflictions. He does not delight in our suffering, although it is the just consequence of sin. But where sin abounded, grace super-abounded! He delivers us from all of our oppressors and afflictions because he looks upon us.

And he knows us. He knows us intimately. He loves us with everlasting, eternal, unbreakable love in Jesus Christ. We know this, not because we feel it in our hearts, but because he tells us. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

And when he speaks he cannot lie. He doesn’t change his mind. There is not a secret corner of our soul that he doesn’t know, for he knows his people intimately. He knows us and he gives us eternal life, for it is his desire that we know him.

Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”

When you lie awake at night recounting all of your sins, tossing in your bed; when you wonder about your life – am I in sin? Does God really love me? Am I really a believer? Am I truly one of God’s children?

Remember this – God hears you, he remembers his promise, he sees you, and he knows you.

It doesn’t feel like that all the time. In fact, in this valley of tears called life there seems to be more weeping and sighing than laughter.

We sigh and groan because of oppression. We cry out because of illness and pain. We lift our voices up to heaven because of sin and misery. And we sigh because we are not yet home and long for the appearing of our Lord Jesus.

And yet, he has promised to prepare a place for us. And he will wipe away all tears because he hears our groaning. He will take away the curse, for he remembers his covenant. He will cast death and hell into the lake of fire, because he looks upon our affliction. And he will dwell with us forever and be our God, and we will be his people – for he knows us.

That is truly something to be thankful for.

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The goodness of God

17 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:
  18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
  19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places (Hab 3:17-19).

God’s people were suffering under tremendous injustice. The kings were wicked. The princes were wicked. The judges were wicked. But God is still good.

God is about to punish the wickedness of the nation with the invasion of Chaldeans. It would be brutal, harsh, deadly. Most would not live. But God is still good.

Some times fig trees don’t blossom. But God is still good.

Some times the grapes don’t grow. But God is still good.

Sometimes the wheat fields fail. Sometimes the flocks die. Sometimes plague takes away the cattle. But God is still good.

God is sovereign over sickness, cattle, fig trees, olive trees. If they don’t blossom, it is by God’s decree. If they die in the field, it is by God’s decree. When children get sick, it is by God’s decree. A God who has no power over sickness and health is not a God to worship at all.

God is beyond easy answers, mindless platitudes, memes with pretty pictures, and viral sloganeering. He doesn’t fit into your boxes. But he is still good.

We only see part of the tapestry. He sees the “end from the beginning”. And he is still good.

We see only a little bit of the tapestry and we are inside of it. We are a part of created order, creatures of time and space and limits. But he is outside seeing the whole – and it fits into his perfect decree. Not one fallen hair out of place. And he is still good.

His goodness is seen in the beauty of the fig tree, the joy of the olives, the delights of good wine. In the perfectly cooked roast and the wondrously spicy curried lamb.

His goodness is in the children around the table like shoots of an olive tree. In full larders and green meadows and the sound of surf on a spring morning in Oregon.

But he is beyond easy answers. Because sometimes the fig tree fails. Sometimes the olives don’t blossom. And he is still good. He prepares a table for me, but I am still in the presence of enemies. God’s goodness is seen even in suffering, if we have the eyes to see.

I suppose that certain theological persuasions are trying to be helpful when they tell me that it is not God’s will for people to be sick. But it really isn’t helpful because it isn’t true, and lies are never comforting. Sometimes the truth is hard, but it is always better than a lie.

Who’s will is it, then, that there is sickness? Is there something outside of God’s decree? Is there something outside of God’s control? Is there someone or something that is in charge of illness that isn’t good? Of course not. There is only one God, only one Lord, only one Creator. Only one sovereign.

But the hard truth is this:

Crops fail, and God is still good.

Children suffer, and God is still good.

Death still happens, and God is still good.

He isn’t ignoring suffering. He isn’t delighting in the suffering of his people. But he isn’t out of control either.

Not one hair falls, not one sparrow falls, apart from God’s decree. But hairs and sparrows still fall.

And God is still good. And I can’t sort all of that out, but I can cry out to him. I can’t sort it out because I am in the tapestry of creation and I don’t see everything. But I know he does.

And here is what I know. He hears me when I cry to him. He loves me and receives me as his child in Christ. He has washed away my sin.

I will walk on high places and my feet will one day leap and dance like an antelope.

And until that day, even in suffering, I know I can trust him.

Because he is still good.

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We can’t fix it

We really want to. We want to fix everything. We even sometimes wonder why God isn’t fixing it.

Ministers molesting children. Men and women breaking up their homes through adultery, violence, abandonment, hatred, reviling. Drunkards in the pulpits. Injustice everywhere.

Sometimes it is overwhelming. And sometimes I hurt all over hearing the stories – YOUR stories. I hear you and my heart grieves. And I can’t fix it.

I can’t talk your abusive minister and elders into removing your excommunication for divorcing your criminally abusive husband. I can’t convince your grown children to become Christians. I can’t take away injustice. I can’t humble a proud man or convince a hater to put on love.

I would love to fix things, but then I remember that I am dust.

Stalin just tried to fix things. Marx just tried to fix things. Hitler tried to fix things. Pol Pot, Mao, Kim jong Il…

The world is littered with the corpses of the powerful men who tried to fix things.

The problem is sin. And the older I get the more I understand how powerful, complicated, tangled, horrible, fracturing and evil sin is.

The spot of paint inside the painting can’t see the painting. How can I even see what the problem is? How can I fix anything when I can’t even fully understand the tangled web of my own heart? I am simply a small fragment of the whole tapestry that only the Great Artist can see. I can’t see the creation from the perspective of the creator, for I am not the creator.

But here is what I know: Jesus hates injustice far more than we do. Jesus hates violence and murder far more than we do. Jesus hates adultery, cruelty and reviling far more than we can possibly imagine.

So why does it seem as if he is doing nothing about it?

He did do something about it.

4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isa. 53:4-5 KJV)

All of the violence, hatred, grief, sorrow, murder, hatred and reviling came upon him. He became sin for us.

The fact is this: If he cleansed the earth of all wickedness, there would be no one left. That includes you and me. The wrath of God against sin doesn’t excuse me, because it doesn’t play favorites. When I cry out for justice, I also cry out for mercy, for without mercy I cannot stand a moment. God sees the heart. And that means that I am in trouble.

So before Jesus purges the earth of wickedness, he redeems a people for himself. For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son.

Those nails were meant for me. That crown of thorns belonged to me. The abandonment and shame were mine.

And all of the injustice and hatred and cruelty that is in the world he bore in his body on the cross. He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.

But now that he has died and risen again, now that he has provided salvation, why doesn’t he come in judgment? Why is he allowing such evil cruelty to exist in his church?

Jesus does not delight in the death of the wicked. He is giving every opportunity for the wicked to repent. He does not follow the timetable of men, for he sees far more than we do. When he finally comes in judgment, it will not be the bloodbath of the kings of the earth, it will be no holocaust, no great purge of Mao or Stalin.

He will judge the earth in goodness and righteousness and equity. He will be merciful to those who confess his name, and he will come in judgment for all the cruel, the murderers, the liars, the hypocrites, the adulterers, the revilers – no matter what outer form they take. He knows the difference between the sheep and the goats.

The one who took our sorrows will also vindicate his own. He will come to pour out his wrath against sin.

And there is comfort in that. He will wipe away every tear.

In the meantime, I will do what I can do as a creature of dust. I will seek to find the right words to comfort and rebuke as necessary. I can listen. And above all I can point to the One who died for me and invite you to meet him, the lion who is a lamb. I can only do that with the Bible. I don’t have answers on my own. I don’t have the solutions on my own.

All I have is the word of God, the record of the apostles and prophets. But that is enough – sufficient to equip us for all that we need. It points us to Christ, who died for us and rose again the third day – according to the scriptures.

Hold to that. When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.

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Filed under Hope, justice

I believe in the life everlasting

In the heartache of life, when day blurs into day and night finds you staring in the dark remembering your sins

When the ugliness of the curse and the filth of sin cover everything

When you plod from place to place in pain, when every step hurts and your heart hurts and the tears won’t come because big boys don’t do that

When the miry pit grabs the legs and drags you down, it is easy to forget…

And so you remember, and you say…

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting…”

As you stood under the waters of your baptism, and the clean, cold, clear water flowed down your head, so also you are washed. You are clean. You are dressed in the finest robes you can imagine, the righteousness of Christ. A crown is on your head and your skin has been anointed with the finest perfume. You have an invitation to the supper. It was bought with the blood of Jesus Christ. But you are not just there, you are welcomed there. You belong there. You were reserved a place from before the foundation of the world, because God loved you in Christ.

I believe in the forgiveness of sins.

And the day will come when the gulf between heaven and earth will be no more. The curse will be taken away. The last war will be fought, the last argument heard, the last illness, the last death, and then the voice of the Son of God will be heard and the dead will be raised incorruptible.

I believe in the resurrection of the body. Wherever my ashes are scattered, wherever my bones end up, every speck is accounted for, preserved in death by the One who went there before. And when he speaks, the dead are raised incorruptible.

And we will walk in the new heavens and the new earth where the lion and lamb lie down together, where the leviathan and behemoth dwell in peace with man and man is at peace with man and God and all pain is gone. The thorns and thistles are no more, the uselessness and drudgery of this earth are no more.

And we will stand in the presence of our God forever.

I believe in the life everlasting.

I cannot imagine life without pain in my legs, and ache in my heart. I cannot imagine life without sin and death and pain and misery.

But I get a glimpse ever now and then. I taste the apricot and the apple, so I know what tastes good and fresh and wholesome. I hold my wife close and I know what intimacy and love should look like. And I get a glimpse in the scripture of who Jesus is, and long to see him face to face.

For then beauty will be perfect, and life and holiness and righteousness will be  complete. Then we will know what we only taste now. And we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. When God says to “think on these things” he would have our affections in heaven, where Christ is seated. There is our treasure, there is our hope, there is our end.

We are driven by the future. We are not determined by our past, we are not forever locked in the drudgery of the present. We are not defined by what we have done or what has been done to us.

We are defined by where we are going, who we are in Christ, and where we end up. The grave is not the end. Yesterday will pass away. Today will fade. Tomorrow brings “bright hope” for the place in heaven has already been prepared for us.

And when I finally reach the River, I will pass through to the Promised Land. My sins will be left behind. My filthy garments. My hopelessness and vanity, as well as my aches and pains, my sleepless nights, my pain-filled days – I will leave all of that behind in the River of Death, and victory will be mine at last.

That is where we are going. Jesus is already there. He is the way, the truth and the life. How do you get there? Only by trusting in him. You have to have his garments and his invitation, which only come by faith.

Look beyond this present world, with its loves and hates and fears and terrors. Look beyond the brokenness and hatred and rage and sorrow. Raise your head up and see where you are going. Jesus stands there at God’s right hand, ready to receive you…

I believe in the life everlasting…

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Filed under Gospel, Hope