Tag Archives: hope

How does one classify a day?

How does one classify a day?

Was this a good day?

Was this a rough day?

It was definitely a challenging day. We are exhausted; at the end of our ropes, it would seem. I staggered into the room this morning discouraged and so very, very tired.

And the morning was a challenge.

Loud family conferences in Spanish across the curtain. The psychiatrist did a psych eval on our roommate, knowing that we were in the same room. It was loud.

And then the jackhammers. Yes, Really. Some sort of construction is going on that involves jackhammers.

it doesn’t seem very conducive to healing and i said as much…

And then the afternoon seemed to calm. I know all of the prayers going up and the Lord blessed us with a few hours of peace.

Her afternoon sessions went well, but she was exhausted. Anxiety, neurological damage, nausea and jackhammers don’t make the greatest mix.

I was eating dinner with my wife and said, “A rough day.”

She said, “Yes. But a different rough than yesterday…”

I prayed with them, and said goodnight. I sleep in an RV down the street. I gathered my things and put on my back-pack.

“Papa?” She said.

“Yes, my sweet one…” I said.

She got tears in her eyes. “I love you so, so, so much,”

Then I got tears.

I stretched out my hands. “This much?”

She said, “Much, much more…”

All in all, I think that makes it a pretty good day.

When the rope is at the end, God delights in giving you more. When you have no more strength, Jesus gives what you need.

When your soul is dry and dusty as a desert, the Holy Spirit refreshes with cool, clean water.

It has something to do with eagles, but that will wait until next time.

I think that makes it a pretty good day.

Thanks for the prayers, friends.

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The Faith once delivered…

Today was tough. She is becoming more and more awake and alert, which means she is more and more aware of what has happened. That is tough.

She started rehab evaluations today, so we saw the extent of the damage. We don’t know how much will be permanent. No one does. That is tough, seeing the damage, knowing the names of the damage.

And my thoughts fly everywhere. My emotions fly everywhere. I didn’t sleep. I feel weak and foolish. I feel angry and I don’t know who to be angry with. I don’t know if she will laugh like she used to or call me silly names like she used to or giggle hysterically at ridiculous puns like she used to.

I don’t know what will happen – and I cry out in words I can’t form. I scream in exhaustion and somewhere the words I learned as a child come into my mind and in the whirlwind I have a place to put my feet.

“I believe in God the Father Almighty,”

Will the doctors be skilled? Will they know the secrets of the mind and body that they need to know? Will her eyes work right? Will she remember how to read and what words and numbers and colors mean?

“Maker of heaven and earth.”

Why is she suffering? Does anyone care? Is there redemption for her? Is there a plan in all of this? What is the purpose? Who’s in charge that I can cry out to?

“And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our lord…”

I don’t know how this will work out. I don’t know what her future will hold. I don’t know when our breaking point will be. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know…

Is anyone walking with her, with me, with us?

“Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate…”

I wake at night with the words of Jacob in my head – “my days of the years of my life have been few and evil…” This cursed world seems brutal, short, ugly, harsh and I weary of life – and then, the words….the words…

“was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell.”

For us and for our salvation. His days were cut off brutally. He was abandoned by God so that she would never, ever be. He was forsaken so that she would never be alone in this cursed world, for he shepherds her and gathers her into his bosom….

And is there an end to this? Who will show us the way?

“The third day, he rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the father almighty.

From thence, he shall come to judge the living and the dead.”

Life is often brutal, hard and short. Some suffer a little, some suffer tremendously. Some, like Lazarus, receive evil on this earth, while others receive good things.

But he is coming to judge the living and the dead. Every enemy will be destroyed. Every tongue stopped. Every virus destroyed, every twisted illness of Satan cast into the lake of fire.

And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.

And what until then? Will we see good in the land of the living? Will God’s presence go with us until the end?

“I believe in the Holy Spirit”

But I so often feel alone and frightened and like there is no one who understand, no one to lift this burden, no one to share this journey…

“The holy catholic church, the communion of saints”

And I see the light of God’s countenance shining through the saints around the world. I know your prayers and your gifts and your encouragements and I again lift my head up and know that God has not left us without a witness, but the unanimous voice of the true church in all the ages joins their tongue with ours crying out “Holy, Holy, Holy!”

“Yet I have reserved for myself 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”

And these footsteps through this dark valley are not in vain, and even when I cry out in unbelief and fear, the shepherd does not let me go. He still cleanses; he still gathers. He still finds the lost lamb…

“The forgiveness of sins, the resurrection from the dead, and the life everlasting…”

Complete victory will be ours. We shall see him face to face. Even when we don’t feel like it. Even when he seems to have forgotten. Even when the blackness gets blacker. I remember the words.

And then she hugs me. And then she says, “Heyo, Papa.” And then she smiles.

And the light of Jesus shines again through the faith which was once delivered to the saints, and the smiles of his servants, and the voice of their witness crying out together in the furnace of affliction….”how long, Lord? How long?”

“Amen”

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My only comfort

For three weeks now, I have been sitting beside my daughter’s bedside in the hospital. I have documented the journey on my facebook page. But, long story short, she was finally diagnosed with herpes Simplex 1 encephalitis. It is rare, brutal, ugly, with a high fatality rate. You can find all of the details on wikipedia so I won’t give them here.

But I would like to document here some of my thoughts, now that I am getting them together.

Yesterday was an awesome day. She’s eating with a full appetite. Pizza, fries, mashed potatoes, ice cream…

This morning, she said, “heyo dad!” when I walked in. It is really fabulous.

But that is the limit of her words. The virus has caused damage in the part of the brain that processes speech – but she is young and the brain is remarkable. We are hopeful.

When you look death right in the face, when your loved ones go through trials like this one, you learn to say things like this:

What is thy only comfort in life and in death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own but belong to my faithful savior Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sin and redeemed me from all the power of the devil, and so preserves me that without the will of my father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head….(Heidelberg Catechism, Q1)

We have trivialized Christianity into a political movement, a culture war, a movement of power rather than a cry of helplessness.

We have become a church of moral busybodies, so concerned about what others are doing and so afraid of everything…and we forget that there are real things to actually fear.

And when we forget the real curse that is on the world, we turn Christianity into a weird ethical system that is all about homeschooling, courtship, virginity, tattoos and earrings and power plays and making sure women “know their place” and we forget that it is about redemption.

Because bondage is real, death is real, the curse is real, my sins are real.

I don’t need to win a culture war. I need a savior.

I don’t need an ethical movement. I need a savior.

I don’t need moral busybodies. I need a savior.

When you forget that, then you are no longer a Christian in your thinking.

When you stare death in the face, that is when you remember the power of the resurrection. That is when you know what Paul meant when he said that he counts everything else as dung that he might know Christ and the power of his resurrection.

And thank you, Great Physician, that my little girl is eating and saying “Heyo, Dad!”

Thank you, Shepherd of Israel, that her face lights up when her friends visit.

And thank you, Father of Lights, for the light in her eyes.

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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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God so loved the world

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:  15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John. 3:14-17)

In Numbers 21, there is an account of the children of Israel traveling through the wilderness. As usual, they were rebelling against God, angry with him, and constantly complaining. God sent poisonous serpents among them and many of them were dying.

Moses made intercession for the nation, and God told him to do something rather strange:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” (Num. 21:8 NKJ)

Moses made the serpent, put it on a pole and walked through the camp. Everyone who looked at the serpent lived.

Jesus reminded Nicodemus of this story. Jesus was teaching this highly educated and respected bible scholar something about the kingdom of God that was impossible for Nicodemus – or any of us – to see, unless we are born again by the spirit of God.

It is natural for us as image-bearers of God, to ask the question, “Am I right before God?” We all seek to determine whether we are worthy to enter the kingdom of God – or, to put it in our modern terms, whether we are saved and will enter the new heavens and the new earth when Jesus comes again. Especially those who have been brought up in the church, as Nicodemus was.

Those of you who were raised in the church, who attended Sunday School and sat through sermons, have you asked that question? “Will I be ready to meet the Lord when he comes again?”

Do I belong to him? Or, as Nicodemus would have put it, “Am I worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven?”

Naturally speaking, we look to ourselves to answer that question. Am I holy enough? Have I done enough good things? Do I know the answers to the questions? Have I had a “Christ experience in the heart?”

Early in the history of our country, the Congregationalists of New England focused on regeneration. People were taught to look at the regeneration experience to determine if they were born again. This led to the abuses of the Revivalists and eventually to the heretic Charles Finney – looking for bigger and better experiences. Finney made the excitement of the revival a means of grace, and denied the necessity of atonement.

Nicodemus would have looked to his law-keeping.

But Jesus cuts through all of that. He reminds Nicodemus of the rather strange account in Numbers.

Do you remember Nicodemus? How did our fathers live through that and not die of the poison? They looked outside of themselves to a serpent that God provided. It was put up on a pole.

You could look to your heart, but all that was there was poison and death. Life is outside of yourself.

And Jesus went on. In the same way that God loved his nation Israel, God also loved the world. The same way that God told Moses to lift up the serpent, the Son of Man will also be lifted up.

“That whosoever looks to him would not perish of the poison that is destroying them – sin – but have life without end.”

The point is this: salvation is outside of ourselves. It isn’t in our hearts, in our good intentions, in our good works, in how much we desire God, in how much we love God or love one another –

In fact, it isn’t in ourselves at all. Certainly, new life will affect behavior. But new life isn’t found in how well we behave or how we feel.

Are you cast down and anxious? Look to Christ.

Are you doubting and fearful? Look to Christ.

Are you struggling with sin? Look to Christ.

Do you doubt whether it is possible to be saved if you have done too many horrible things? Look to Christ.

Do you see him with the eyes of faith? He is nailed to the cross and dying. He is bearing your poison and will die from it. Your crimes are nailed above his head in the sight of God. Your doubts and fears, your sins and crimes, your thorns and thistles – all of your poison – is nailed to his cross.

And when he rises from the dead, do you see him? Do you see how he left all your sins in the tomb? All of your fears and doubts are buried with him. The old dying man of greed, hatred, unbelief, is buried with him. And his sacrifice was accepted by God. He rose from the dead! The Holy One of God did not see corruption, so that you might know for certain that in him is life.

Look to him and live. Quit looking to yourself.

Your hope of salvation is not in whether your faith is strong enough, whether your experience was spectacular enough, whether your works are good enough. All you will find there is poison.  Your savior is not found in your heart or in your faith or in your experience, or in your works. Your savior is found in heaven at the right hand of God. He was crucified, dead and buried for us. He rose from the dead for us. He ascended into heaven for us. And will come from there to judge the living and the dead. Look to him where he is, and live.

Believe the record of the apostles, and live. Look to him in the word and sacrament, and live. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved.

Look to Christ and live.

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Before Abraham was, I am

57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. (Jn. 8:57-58 KJV)

When Moses saw the burning bush, God spoke to him. God said that he had heard the groans of Israel in slavery in Egypt, and that he would remember the promise that he made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moses asked his name.

God said, “I am who I am”. This was the Holy Name of the Holy One of Israel.

The word “god” can refer to many things – even princes or angels. It can refer to false gods or the one, true God. But the name YWWH – which sounds like the Hebrew for I AM – can only refer to the one, true eternal God. To refer that holy name to anyone or anything else was the highest form of blasphemy according to the revelation of God.

And Jesus of Nazareth referred it to himself. If he was not the one true eternal God, then he deserved to be stoned. The Jews would have been right.

But if he was truly the one, true, eternal God then he is to be worshiped and adored and feared.

When he rose from the dead, God declared him to be without sin. The grave could not hold him for he was free from all sin. He then showed himself to truly be the Holy One of Israel, as Peter declared on Pentecost:

27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

28 Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.

29 Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.

30 Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne;

31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.

32 This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.

(Acts 2:27-32 KJV)

Peter, quoting from Psalm 16, shows how the scripture declares that the one who rises from the dead is indeed the one true eternal God, and is therefore to be worshiped. If he is raised from the dead, then he is holy and without sin, for the wages of sin is death. If he is without sin, then he spoke only the truth, including the truth about himself. Which means that the Holy One of Israel is none other than Jehovah himself.

3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: (Rom. 1:3-4 KJV)

This is also confirmed by John’s vision in Revelation:

8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. (Rev. 1:8 KJV)

Only Jehovah can say of himself “which is, which was, and which is to come”. This refers to absolute, unchanging being, not created being. Created being is becoming, changing, moving, contingent. But uncreated being is absolute, eternal, unchanging. The very first verse of the Bible makes the difference between uncreated being and created being – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Before the beginning, there was only God. All things were created by him. All that is not God was created by God. Uncreated being is set in contrast to created being.

In Revelation 1:8, Jesus of Nazareth is given the titles of uncreated being, that is, the name and attributes of Jehovah Himself.

In John 8, referenced above, Jesus refers to himself as above time and space – eternal, uncreated being. The same person who is not yet 50 years old is also the I AM of Abraham.

To use the language of classical Christology, the one person – Jesus Christ – exists in two natures, without division, without separation, without confusion, without change. One person in two natures, true God and true man.

That which can be said of God can be said of Christ. Eternal, which is, and which was and which is to come, the I AM of Abraham, immutable, absolute, the Holy One of Israel.

And that which can be said of man can be said of Christ, except sin. Finite, changing, weak, hungry, human, growing, learning, not knowing, bleeding, hurt and dying, submissive to the Father, learning obedience.

And yet there are not two persons, but one person. One Lord. One Jesus. One Christ.

The One who was laid in a manger and wrapped in swaddling cloths was the same almighty being that appeared to Moses at the burning bush.

The One who learned his alphabet is the same almighty being that spoke the worlds into existence.

The One who spoke to the woman at the well in Samaria was the Commander of the Lord’s Armies, who led Joshua into Canaan and overthrew his enemies.

The One who listened to the widow pour out her complaint was the one who struck Uzzah dead for touching the ark of the covenant.

The One who filled the earth with his glory in the sight of Isaiah was the same almighty being who was bruised for our iniquities, nailed to a Roman Cross and left to die.

The One who thundered at Job’s friends from heaven was the same almighty being that cried out, “I thirst” on the cross.

And this is necessary for our salvation, for only the same human nature which sinned can make satisfaction for sin, and only the infinite, almighty Son of God can bear the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin and redeem others from it.

And this one person is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, born of Mary, crucified, dead and buried. And on the third day he rose from the dead.

And today he is still true man, but glorified, as we will be. The heir to the throne of David ruling over all things according to the scripture, giving us a sure pledge that where he is, we will one day also be.

And he is also true and eternal God. We can cry out to him, for he hears our prayers. We commit our ways to him, for he is able to keep all that we’ve committed unto him against that day. We will never be ashamed, for he does not change, he is almighty, everywhere present, and and no time absent from us.

The same I AM that heard the cries of Israel in Egypt and remembered his covenant with Abraham is the same almighty being that took the form of a slave and submitted himself to the wrath of God for us and for our salvation.

So what do we do?

18 For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest,

19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.

20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.”

21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels,

23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect,

24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven,

(Heb. 12:18-25 NKJ)

God in these last days has spoken to us by his Son. We no longer stand before Sinai fearful of the thunder and fleeing from the voice of God. We have come to Sion, the city of Jesus Christ, the heir of David, the Mediator between God and man, true man and true God. If we refuse the gentle waters of Shiloah, the river of destruction will flow (Isaiah 8 and John 9). God’s patience is not unending. The Day of Judgment will come. Hear the voice of Jesus – “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.”

He is willing to do it, for he knows what it is like to be tired and hungry and weak, being true man. And he is able to do it, being almighty God.

But at the same time, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. The one who came in a manger will appear the second time for judgment.

This is Christianity. This is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the way, the truth and the life.

No one comes to the Father but by him.

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Do you wish to get well?

5 And a certain man was there, who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness.
6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?”
7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
8 Jesus said to him, “Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.” (John. 5:5-8 NAS)

I read this account a day or two ago and it has been on my mind since then. I don’t know if you have had that experience, where something that the Lord says grabs you and you mull it through your mind. “Do you wish to get well?”

What a question! He’d been unable to walk his whole life. Why would Jesus ask that question?

“Do you wish to get well?”

One of the tremendous privileges that God gives us as his people is the ability to choose. And yes, I am Reformed. But the question among the Reformed is not “Do you have free will?” The question, properly understood, is “Do you have the ability to choose to do that which is pleasing to God apart from regeneration?”

This we answer, “No. Before the Holy Spirit quickens us, we are dead in trespasses and sins.” We are unable to do that which is pleasing to the Lord – even to seek after him, as Paul teaches in Romans 3.

But this is a different question than “Does a person have the ability to will and to choose, and is that choice free?”

Without free will, a human is not a human. I decide if I want to marry this woman or that woman. I decide to love or to hate and to destroy. I choose to hurt or I choose to heal, choose to smile or choose to frown. No one coerces me.

It is not my nature, nor is it the will of God, that places my will in bondage. It is sin. Luther masterfully discusses this in his classic “The Bondage of the Will” so I will not belabor that point any further.

But it is the devil who hates the image of God in me. Being in God’s image, I have the ability to choose – I am not a horse or a mule that must be led about by bit and bridle. It is the hardness of sin that makes me like that. Regeneration sets me free. (Think about Psalm 32:9).

9 Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, (Ps. 32:9 NAS)

Jesus did not come to make me a horse and a mule, to drag me like a robot and force me to behave. He came to give life and healing. He came to restore and redeem me as a human being, in the image of God.

A man like this one, unable to walk, has been severely limited in choices. He couldn’t even decide to get into the water, for he had no one to help him. He had no strength, no friends, no resources.

Which means that he had very few choices.

Jesus didn’t come to put him in further bondage. He came to set him free. The curse that is on the world took away his voice – who would care about the opinions of a poor crippled beggar? And it took away his choice. He was at the mercy of forces outside of his control.

Jesus came to restore to this man far more than simply the ability to walk. He came to restore the image of God that the curse had taken away. He came to give him back his voice and give him back his will.

“Do you wish to get well?”

“You don’t understand, Jesus. I’ve been here a long time. I don’t have anyone to put me in the pool. I can’t get to the water fast enough. Whether I want to or not, I don’t have the strength.”

“Get up and pick up your bed.” And he was healed.

After he was healed, his will was set free. He picked up his bed and he walked.

Of course, he immediately got into trouble with the Pharisees. Abusers hate when the “sinner” has the gall to speak, or to choose, or to make decisions. Their power is over when the bed is picked up. When Jesus heals, the Pharisee loses control.

And the devil never gives up his kingdom easily.

From this point on, the Jews sought to kill Jesus – because he healed on the Sabbath day – the very day that the prisoner was to be set free, according to the scripture.

“Do you want to be well?” Do you want your voice back? Do you want to be light and salt in the ugly and dark and hateful world? Do you want to know the Sabbath rest and be at peace with God and with the world?

Do you want to be free of rage and free of the ugliness that has been binding you to the ground for so long? Do you want to get up and walk?

Are you ready to fly? Do you want to soar above the petty kingdoms of this world and see where Christ is, at the right hand of God? Do you want to be free from sin? Do you want to be well, to be free of covetousness and the love of money that keeps our heads in the trough so we can’t see the sky.

Jesus didn’t come to make you a horse or a donkey. He came to set you free.

This world and the devil have assaulted your body long enough. You have been denigrated and rejected, hated and mocked and scorned. You have had your choice taken away like the ground under a plow (Psalm 129). That is the curse on this world.

But Jesus’s question is for you: Do you want to be made well?

Speak to him. Tell him how powerless you are. Speak the truth to him. Tell him about how you have tried to overcome, but cannot. The water is too far away, and you are too weak. You have no resources. Your will is bound. Your strength is gone. You are helpless and without hope.

Tell him how long it has been.

He didn’t come for those who think they see. He didn’t come for those who think they walk. He didn’t come for the rich or the powerful or the entitled. He didn’t come for the ones on the top.

He came for the hungry, the oppressed, the afflicted, the widow, the orphan. Those that don’t have the strength to get to the water.

He came for those who have had their choice and their voice taken away. And he wants to hear you. He wants you to be the beautiful, strong, wise, and righteous one that he created you to be.

So here’s the question for you: “Do you want to be made well?”

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Brothers and Sisters

Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers,
2 the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.
(1 Tim. 5:1-2 NAS)

Aimee Byrd recently wrote an excellent article on the relationships between men and women. She rightly critiques the multiplying of rules that make interacting with the opposite sex so complicated. (I will take a moment here to plug her new book, which I have not yet read. I am greatly looking forward to it. It is called “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”). Aimee has done some excellent work, calling for a renewal of simple friendships between brothers and sisters in Christ. Anyway, her latest post has caused some discussion on the web. Some edifying, some not so much.

So I started thinking, naturally, about 1 Timothy 5:1-2, particularly where Paul commands Timothy to think of younger women as sisters and older women as mothers. This verse has always puzzled me, maybe it is because I never had any sisters. But I also know that there is much abuse that takes place between siblings. What does one tell a woman or a man who was abused by a brother or a sister? Did Paul mean here that we are to treat our sisters in Christ as a good brother would treat his sister?

Perhaps. Of course, a healthy sibling relationship can be a tremendous blessing to all. If it happens that way, then that would be wonderful to emulate in the church.

But when Paul wrote to Timothy, it was not at all a given that brothers and sisters were living together in chastity and purity. Caligula was emperor, and we all know what that did to the reputation of purity among siblings.

I’ve been thinking about it and thinking about Heidelberg Catechism question and answer # 1.

“What is thy only comfort in life and in death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful savior Jesus Christ…”

Natalie Hoffman writes,

Her body belongs to Jesus, not her abuser. And by the way, not only does YOUR life and body belong to Jesus, but your spouse’s life and body belong to Jesus as well. So if you’re not treating your spouse’s life and body with loving honor, then you’re missing the point of grace.

And that got me thinking. I think that Paul’s point to Timothy is deeper than simply a reference to a sibling group. The reason that we as believers are one family is that we are all members of Christ, of his flesh and of his bone (Ephesians 5:32).

This union with Christ is so unbreakable and so close that Jesus considers mistreatment of one of his children the same as mistreatment of himself. Consider what he said to Saul of Tarsus:

Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? (Acts 9:4 KJV)

Likewise, to the sheep and the goats

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matt. 25:40 KJV)

Think about what that means. Christ considers what is done to his members as being done to his own person. Why are you persecuting ME, not others, but me? When Paul applies it to Timothy, he means that when he is speaking to a young woman who is a believer, he better remember that she is a sister – a member of Christ, a prophet, priest and king. A firstborn son. A daughter of a king.

And he better remember this. Whatever he says to her, whatever he does to her, whatever he coerces from her, Jesus will consider it as done to his own person on the day of judgment. Because that is precisely what it is. On the other hand, the respect and honor, kindness, gentleness, patience and love we show are considered as shown unto Jesus himself. “Be careful to entertain strangers, for some have entertained angels unawares.”

And even greater, in the body of Christ, you are serving Christ himself with every cup of water given, every meal served, every person clothed.

On the other hand, every harsh word, every act of contempt and hatred, every intimidation and power-play over one of Jesus sheep, He takes it very, very personally.

He does not take kindly to the abuse, ridicule, insults, contempt and hatred of the members of his body – of his flesh and of his blood.

Here is what we all must keep in mind. the young woman in the congregation, the older woman in the congregation, the young man and the old man – they aren’t objects to be used and controlled according to the pleasures and whims of the pastor, but they are dearly loved members of the body of Christ. Whatever is done to them is done to Christ.

Remember that, and you won’t need any “Billy Graham rule”. Love will flow from the heart, if, of course, you belong to Christ.

Take courage, you who have been mistreated and abused and assaulted in the name of Jesus, your Lord is coming again. He grieves with you and he hates what was done to you. He will come with recompense and vengeance.

He truly will. For by faith you are members of his body and are greatly loved by the Creator and Maker of the universe.

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Meditation on the Passion

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.
2 And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples.
3 Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.
4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?
5 They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.
6 As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.
(Jn. 18:1-6 KJV)

The night that Jesus was betrayed, he was in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples. He is about to be arrested, mocked, spat on, scourged and crucified.

It will be a time of tremendous trial for the disciples, who are still expecting the Messiah to establish a kingdom in Jerusalem. Luke tells us they were expecting the one who would redeem Israel. But the redemption that Christ would bring would not be what they were expecting.

It would appear that the Messiah, the prince, the heir to David’s throne, the Son of God, is about to be overwhelmed, overpowered,  and overthrown. It would appear as if Jesus the Son of God would be weak and defeated in death.

The disciples are about to watch him dragged away bound. But before this happens, Jesus gives a glimpse into what is really going on.

Judas appears with a “band of soldiers”. This is a Roman cohort of around 600 men. Overkill, perhaps? But they have heard the stories about how Jesus works miracles, so they don’t want to take chances. “He’s really strong, so we are going to need a whole bunch of soldiers!”

Jesus asks them, “Whom do you seek?”

They answer, “Jesus of Nazareth”.

In our English versions, he responds, “I am he”, which sounds harmless enough. But in the Greek he answers “Ego eimi”, which is translated “I am.”

It is the same phrase that God spoke to Moses when Moses asked his name. “I am”. The name Jehovah is a form of that word. Jesus is answering the question, “Are you Jesus of Nazareth?” But he is showing us that he is far, far more than simply “Jesus of Nazareth”.

He is the eternal God, the maker of heaven and earth. The one who at no time ever sleeps, ever slumbers, ever loses control. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the eternal One, of infinite power, might, wisdom.

And when he speaks the name “I am” the entire cohort of soldiers falls flat on their faces before Almighty God.

At no time will Jesus every be weak, out of control, or overpowered. He gave himself. He himself said,

17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (Jn. 10:17-18 KJV)

This is worth thinking on.

When a man is being hurt, it is an instinctual reaction to pull away, to avoid the hitting or spitting. Jesus, of infinite power, did not have to be tied in place for the scourging. He did not have to be nailed to the cross to keep him in place. At any point, he could have stopped the whole thing with merely a word. He showed us that power in the garden. 600 soldiers would not have been enough had not Jesus given himself for our sins. One word, and they all fall flat.

But he remained obedient to the Father, even to death. It pleased the Lord to bruise him. He gave his back to the whip and his face to spitting.

The one who stumbled under the cross on his way to Golgotha is the very same one who gave the law from Sinai, who spoke to Moses from the bush, who destroyed the firstborn of Egypt.

His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. What the world views as weakness was nothing other than the strength of almighty God, tearing down the strongholds of sin and misery and shame.

And Jesus of Nazareth is still the one, true eternal God. He is still on the throne, reigning over all things. And he still is conquering. His sword comes from his mouth and his word still defeats the world. Take courage! His strength is made perfect in weakness.

What God considers strong is not the same as what the world thinks as strong. The greatest act of strength the world has ever seen was the suffering servant – arrested, scourged, ridiculed, crucified – and through those sufferings Satan is bound, and his kingdom is plundered.

Satan’s kingdom is still plundered the same way: through the word of Christ.

So beloved people of God,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
(Col. 3:16 KJV)

It is hard for us to believe that this word – sung, spoken, taught, preached – has the power over sin and shame and misery. But again, God’s ways are not our ways.

When the devil attacks, attack back with the word of Christ. Watch the armies of the enemy fall backwards to the ground.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:1 KJV)

Take just a minute today to think about it. Run it through your mind. Picture the Son of God at the moment of his arrest. But right before, he speaks, “I AM.”

This is whom we worship. And when we worship the Lamb who is the Lion of Judah, what do we have to fear?

What army can overthrow this one? What power could remove us from his hand? What have we to fear.

Let the word dwell in you, and do not be afraid. It is his good pleasure to give us the kingdom.

Everything is going exactly as he planned it. How can it not? He said, “I AM” and 600 troops fell down flat, and that was BEFORE he rose from the dead and was exalted to the right hand of God.

What then can take us from his hand? Who can stop his kingdom?

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way.

THIS is whom we worship. Blessed are all they who put their trust in him (Psalm 2) .

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