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Beanbag Faith

Junior Vinyl PurpleWhen my wife, Marcia, and I first talked about having children, we knew that we would need to teach them many things. What I didn’t expect was the many things they would be teaching me. God has blessed Marcia and I with some wonderful children and we are always learning from them. The other day, as I was at the dining room table preparing to head out the door, I saw a purple shape fly down the stairs past me and hit the floor and wall with a loud WHUMP! sound. I was really startled because my first thought was that one of the kids had fallen down the stairs, and if you have ever seen our stairs, you would know that they are extremely steep and treacherous. With my heart in my throat, I looked up to see what happened, and was relieved to find that it was just a bean bag chair that had come down the stairs and landed on the floor. My relief was short lived, however. As soon as I turned back around to finish what I was doing, I saw another shape fly past in a blur and land with an even louder WHUMP! at the foot of the stairs. This time it was a child, only they hadn’t fallen down the stairs. Our 5-year old daughter, Melanie had jumped down the stairs into the bean bag. She threw the bean bag down first for the sole purpose of jumping into it. Thankfully, she was completely uninjured, had already jumped up (giggling happily) and was preparing for another leap. After recovering from my initial shock, I informed her that what she did was dangerous and she was never to do it again (I also tried to disguise the fact that I found it quite amusing).

Later that day, as I was thinking about Melanie’s little adventure, I realized that what she had done was quite a demonstration of faith. Misplaced faith, perhaps, but faith just the same. She had no fear about diving headlong down a flight of stairs because she had the utmost confidence that the beanbag chair was going to protect her from harm. She hadn’t even considered the possibility that the beanbag might fail her. Oh, the things we could accomplish if we had that kind of faith in our almighty God who, unlike that purple beanbag, is sure to never fail. What might we accomplish if we always lived and acted with that certainty?

Matthew 21
21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Our faith isn’t naive, nor is it blind. Our  faith is not misplaced when we trust in God. We can trust in Him and have full confidence in His power, mercy, and love because of that which He has already done for us. He loved us enough to sacrifice His one and only Son. A sacrifice that the Son made willingly out of obedience to the Father so that we, His enemy, might be clothed in His righteousness and enjoy a relationship with Him.

Isaiah 61
10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
    my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
     and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
    and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
    to sprout up before all the nations.

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Judgement, Restoration, Commitment

508898main_wide_corona_eclipse_ti3Luke 23 – ESV
44It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

Luke 23 – The Message
44By now it was noon. The whole earth became dark, the darkness lasting three hours— 45a total blackout. The Temple curtain split right down the middle. 46Jesus called loudly, “Father, I place my life in your hands!” Then he breathed his last.


 

There are so many things contained in these few short verses that we couldn’t possibly examine everything in this brief space, but I would like to take a look at three things:

  1. This verse begins by talking about the time period between the sixth hour and the ninth which corresponds to a time of between noon and 3 PM which is why we hold Good Friday services at this time. Obviously, this is a time of day when you would expect the sun to be shining. Even in bad weather, there would still be daylight. Being that this was during the time of Passover, we also know that there could not have been an eclipse since it would have been the time of a full moon, not a new moon, which is the only time a natural eclipse can occur. What we have is a three hour period of supernatural darkness.
  2. During this time, the curtain in the temple was also ripped in half. This was the heavy curtain, believed to have been about 60 feet high and four inches thick, that separated the Holy Place of the temple from the Most Holy Place which represented God’s physical residence on Earth and no one was allowed in except for one day a year when only the high priest was allowed entry. The tearing of this curtain was also a supernatural event.
  3. Jesus’ final words.

First, let us take a look at this three hour period of supernatural darkness. Particularly in the Old Testament, darkness is associated with judgment. We see a physical manifestation of God’s judgment that has come upon Jesus – Israel’s representative, our representative, our scapegoat. This was not a judgment that He deserved, Himself, but it was expected. Jesus himself had spoken about darkness in Luke 22:53“When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

Second, we have the supernatural tearing of the temple’s enormous curtain – the curtain that separated man from God. Sin, and the complete abhorrence God has for sin, required that separation. Israel’s sin, man’s sin, our sin. Being in the presence of God would have destroyed us because of our sin. The tearing of the curtain, the removal of that very clear and distinct separation, makes it clear that something fundamental had changed.

Third, we have the final words of Jesus. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” He didn’t say, “I quit.” He didn’t say, “I can’t do this any more.” He didn’t say, “I hope this is worth it.” His final words were not those of defeat, nor of despair. He knew that His death was not the end. Those words come from Psalm 31:5“Into your hands, I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” Christ knew His purpose, and willingly submitted to the wrath and judgment of God the Father, experiencing pain (physical pain to be certain, but even more so a spiritual pain that we cannot begin to fathom), culminating in His death, the moment of which He commits His very spirit to the Father from whom the judgment has come. John Piper writes this, “One of the great temptations at the hour of death is to believe that our death is a horrible blow from God and that therefore we are under his wrath and cannot commit our spirit to his care. Let us learn here from Jesus. His death was a horrible blow from God. He became a curse for us. But Jesus did not abandon faith in God’s love for him.”

Taking a look at these three points together – we have God’s judgment upon Jesus, the removal of the barrier between God and man, and Christ committing His spirit to the Father. These three points are interwoven and connected.

  • God’s righteous judgment, which must be satisfied, coming upon Jesus, is the reason that the barrier between man and God, necessitated by man’s sin, was able to be removed.
  • The reason we celebrate this day as Good Friday, celebrate the death of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is because it is only through His sacrifice that we are able approach God and experience a relationship with Him, restoring us to the purpose for which we created in the first place. The Benedictine monk Anselm said,  “The debt was so great, that while man alone owed it, only God could pay it.”
  • Christ, in making this sacrifice, did so knowingly and willingly, in full and complete obedience of God the Father, finally entrusting His spirit to the Father’s care.

Let us also never forget that this is not the end of the story, but that Christ defeated death and today intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father. Can there be a more amazing thing for us to behold? Man sins against God, bringing God’s righteous wrath and judgment from which there is no escape only to have Him send His Son, who in complete obedience, becomes a man, without sin, for the purpose of taking that judgment upon Himself. Doing so, he dies a horrible death, in order to defeat death and reside with the Father until his triumphant return. What a promise! What a victory!

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2012 in Christianity

 

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Have I Offended You?

Christmas-CarolsThis is a great time of year. A time to give and receive gifts, a time for gatherings for families and friends, and a time of celebration. As we celebrate Christmas, we quite often sing as part of that celebration. In this day and age, when we sing our Christmas carols we need to be very careful that we don’t offend anyone. In order to help with that, I’ve found a list of some non-offensive, acceptable songs. These are the Top 10 Politically Correct Christmas Carols.

10. O’ Holiday Tree
9. Have Yourself a Merry Little Day of Winter
8. Chestnuts Roasting Over a Safely Contained, Continuously Monitored, Eco-Friendly, Nontoxic Outdoor Fire (For Which I Do Have a Permit)
7. Higher Power, Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (and Gentlewomen)
6. Grandma Allegedly Got Run Over by an Unidentified Non-Human Perpetrator
5. Deck the Halls with Boughs of Unendangered Foliage (If Office Policy Permits)
4. Frosty the Snowperson
3. I Saw Mommy Greeting Santa Claus with a Purely Platonic Expression of Inoffensive Mutual Affection
2. I’ll Be Home for a Short Period of Time in December
1. Hark! The Herald Mythical Winged Creatures Sing

Obviously, changing Christmas carols in this way seems crazy, and yet, there may be times when we go out of our way to avoid offending people when perhaps we shouldn’t. I am not suggesting that we should go around trying to offend people because that would also be wrong. Romans 12:18 says: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” What I am suggesting is that we need to make sure we are not hiding who we are just because it might make others uncomfortable. Matthew 5 tells us:

14“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5

If we are that city on a hill, that beacon of truth, there will be some that take offense. Even Jesus offended with His message of truth. In Matthew 15, we read this:

12Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” – Matthew 15

Look at all of the coverage that Tim Tebow is getting. Most of the coverage isn’t because he is the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Most of it is because he continually, unashamedly gives God the glory for everything. Many people want him to just shut up and play, to stop talking about Jesus, to keep his faith and his football separate. The fact of the matter is, the truth makes people uncomfortable and shielding them from it won’t help them.

Have you made anyone uncomfortable today? Should you have?

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2011 in Christianity

 

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Who’s the Poop?

PopeChairYou know – the older I get, the more I realize that I am not any different from my kids. Quite a few years ago, our whole family piled into our van and headed to Michigan for my sister Rachel’s wedding. It was a long trip, about 9 hours, with 7 of us in one vehicle so we passed a lot of the time by listening to the radio and talking. If you can remember that far back, this was same the weekend that that Pope John Paul II died, which meant that we couldn’t listen to the radio without hearing news about his death. There were news reports, continuous updates, talk-show segments, etc. It seemed that everything we listened to was about the pope. After many hours of pope reports, pope news, pope updates, and pope facts – it became a bit of a running joke for one of us to turn to another and sarcastically ask, “Hey, did you hear that the pope died?” Through all of this, our two kids, Marilyn and Sam, were mostly reading books and playing games so they were only paying attention to the rest of us intermittently.

As we headed towards Canada that weekend on our way home from Michigan, an inquisitive little voice came from the back seat… it was Sam, who was seven years old at the time. Quite sincerely, he asked, “Who’s the poop?” Once we got through a bit of a chuckle, we explained that the pope was the head of the Catholic church and many people consider him to be a very important person which is why there were so many reports about him. Sam listened intently and when he was satisfied that he had a firm grasp of the situation he went back to whatever he had been doing. During our conversation, Marilyn had been listening to music on her headphones and she had not heard our conversation with Sam, so she asked the same question a little bit later, “Who’s the pope?” Sam, eager to use his newfound knowledge, proudly proclaimed to his sister, “Don’t you know? The pope is the head of the Cataract Church.”

This story serves as a reminder to me that whenever I am sure that I have things figured out – when I am certain that I know exactly what is going on, I just might be very wrong. I need to be very careful to keep my eyes open and to always be prepared to learn something new. The more that I study things, particularly the Bible, the more I realize how inexperienced and ignorant I truly am. Quite often, I learn the most about that which I thought there was nothing left to learn about.

Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
– Proverbs 3:7

By insolence comes nothing but strife,
but with those who take advice is wisdom.
– Proverbs 13:10

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2011 in Christianity, Personal

 

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Violent Pottery

Throwing on the WheelHave you ever had an occasion where you have heard or read something that, although you may have heard it a thousand times previously, suddenly strikes you as new and different with meaning that you had never before noticed? A few weeks ago, as I was listening to the sermon, the pastor mentioned the verse about the potter and the clay. I found it very familiar and I am sure that it is familiar to all of you as well. The verse from Isaiah reads as follows:

But now, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Isaiah 64:8

While I had heard and read that verse hundreds of times, something new struck me that day. I had always formed a picture in my mind of God as a potter merely shaping the clay and forming it into what he wanted it to be so that it would be desirable and useful. That in itself is an awesome thing and an important aspect of being a potter, but as I thought back to my days in high school and college art classes, I came to the realization that there is much more to the analogy. In those days, when I was in school, one of my favorite activities was working with clay. I loved throwing on the wheel and the first thing I was taught, before even attempting to make a ceramic vessel, was how to prepare the clay for use.

Before the clay can be shaped, or even placed on the wheel, it must be prepared. The act of preparing clay is a fairly violent process and involves kneading it, smashing it, folding it, pulling it apart, and throwing it against a hard surface. I know that if I was a piece of clay, I wouldn’t be too happy about being treated in such an apparently brutal manner. The reason for being so rough on the clay is that it contains many small air bubbles and imperfections that must be forced out. Every forceful and intense action, to which the potter subjects the clay, is designed to prepare the clay for the fire that will harden it into a useful object. If the potter did not beat, smash, and throw the clay, its imperfections would cause it to explode and break in the kiln when it was fired. The time and effort spent lovingly crafting and shaping the clay into a beautiful vase or even a simply, utilitarian bowl would be completely wasted if that clay wasn’t properly prepared before being tested in the fire of the kiln.

I find it comforting to know that God is our potter and He is a master. It may not be pleasant and we may not always understand it, although we can be sure that not only will He shape us beautifully, but that He will prepare us properly for our time in the kiln.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2011 in Christianity, Personal

 

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Great Expectations

ExpectationsThroughout this week, I have been thinking quite a bit about expectations. We all have expectations. When we flip a light switch, we expect the light to come on. When turn the key in the ignition, we expect the car to start. When we go to church, we expect to sing, be taught, and to have a time of dedicated worship. These things are all natural and practically speaking, if we never had any expectations, our lives would be quite difficult and tiring. However, it is very easy for expectations to be misplaced and misguided. I quite often look forward to things and build them up in my mind until I have an expectation of what is to come. If the future doesn’t live up to these (quite often unreasonable) expectations, I am robbed of any joy of that moment. For example, let’s say I’ve had a long day on the road, working on a client’s computer network and am looking forward to coming home. In my mind, I picture everyone greeting me and giving me a hug when I walk in the door and being excited to see me. Instead, when I walk in the door, Marilyn is doing homework, Marcia is making dinner, Melanie is coloring, and Sam is upstairs. I should be happy to be home, be excited to talk to each person about their day, be pleased to see Marcia working hard for the family, Marilyn being diligent, and Melanie and Sam enjoying their activities. It should be an awesome place to come home to. But it’s not. My homecoming doesn’t meet my idealized expectations, so I find no joy. Joy has been replaced by a resentful spirit.

A joyful heart is good medicine,but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. – Proverbs 17:22

While we can often place unreasonable expectations on others, the other side of that same coin is having expectations of God that are too small. Our God is a great and wonderful God, capable of doing things more wonderful than we can even imagine.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God. – Psalm 86:8-10

I don’t know about you, but I tend to put God in a box and think, “This box contains the things that God can do. Everything else is too big and just can’t happen.” I don’t expect God to do great things. This attitude holds me back and prevents me from doing some of the things I could be doing and should be doing because I know that I can’t do them. William Carey said, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” We know that God has great things in store for us. Do we act as though we believe it?

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.Jeremiah 29:11

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2011 in Christianity

 

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Borrowed Perfection

Gattaca01I like movies. My favorite movies are the ones that make me think. I believe that ANY movie should make you think, because we should always evaluate what we see and hear, but some movies are truly thought provoking. The best of the thought-provoking movies cause me to evaluate who I am and  who God would have me to be. In this regard, my favorite movie is one that most people have probably never heard of, a science fiction movie called Gattaca. While Gattaca is not a Christian movie, there are many Christian themes throughout the movie and there are many ideas and concepts that should provoke thought in any Christian that watches it.

The movie is a cautionary tale which takes place in a near future where DNA analysis and genetic manipulation are commonplace. Virtually everyone is conceived in laboratories in such a way that only the best genetic material is selected from each parent. Anyone conceived naturally is at a distinct genetic disadvantage and society has effectively split into two classes of people through discrimination that, while technically illegal, is almost impossible to stop or control since simple DNA test of a stray hair or piece of skin easily reveals the true genetic nature of any individual. Those naturally conceived, known as in-valids, are considered societal outcasts and relegated to only the most menial and undesirable vocations.

The protagonist of the story, Vincent, is one of these outcasts and his parents are informed almost immediately upon his birth that he is fragile and has a 99% chance dying of a heart disorder at the age of 30. The movie is about his struggle to achieve his absurd goal of becoming an astronaut and making it to space, something that is reserved for only the absolute best and brightest, the perfect – something he could never hope to achieve due to his “inferior” DNA. In order to get into Gattaca, the space travel and training institution, he has to borrow the DNA – blood, hair, skin flakes, etc. – of someone who IS genetically perfect and pass himself off as that person. Any small amount of his own DNA would make him unacceptable to the institution.

While there are many ideas and concepts that I find thought provoking within Gattaca (I quite often glean some new nugget of truth from it each time I watch it), the idea of this borrowed perfection struck me as particularly relevant to the Christian experience. Entrance to heaven and experiencing a personal relationship with God is reserved for those who are perfect and sinless. Any small amount of sin, regardless of how tiny it is, renders us completely unacceptable. No matter how hard we try, no matter how much good we accomplish in this world, no matter how many times we go to church, no matter how often we pray – we can never hope to be perfect. We cannot hope to be sinless, which means that we are doomed to be eternal outcasts. We need to borrow someone else’s perfection. While Vincent had to go through an unbelievable amount of effort  and deception in order to pass himself off as perfect, the work has been accomplished for us by Christ and we are not to hide it, but are to share it and declare it boldly because His perfection is boundless.

Romans 3
21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2011 in Christianity, Movies

 

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