Engaging Well – A Response to Myself

Welp. That didn’t go as planned, or maybe it did. Or maybe I didn’t really have a plan. In case you are wondering what I’m talking about, this morning I posted a “hot-take” response to President Trump holding a Bible in front of an Episcopal Church in DC. The post exploded. Some agreed. Some disagreeing. One person scolding me. Some defending Trump. Some interacting with each other. People I didn’t know got into the mix. It got too divisive and I realized some things, and so I took it down.

As for the issue itself that set me off – Trump appeared to simply stand in front of a church, and awkwardly hold a Bible while the cameras clicked and recorded away. That was it. He didn’t go inside. He didn’t go to pray, talk with clergy, or anyone. St. John’s Church, considered the “Church of the Presidents” was completely unaware of what was going on.

It looked absolutely staged and false. It made me livid and truth be told I still am. These last few weeks have been on a low simmer for me. I have strong feelings about racism. Feelings about our country. Feelings about our president and I have never spoken out. This morning, I the slow simmer boiled over and I spoke out. But, did I do it well? Yes and no. So, therefore I write this response, to myself.

What I Did Wrong:

  • I fell victim to emotions. This is what’s called in the business as a “hot-take” – meaning that we are confronted with an issue and we respond immediately. [Proverbs 18:13]
  • I judged a man’s heart incorrectly. [John 7:24]
  • I sparked division. [Romans 16:17]

All of those things are sinful and against what I am support to be about, and run the risk of bringing shame to Jesus, so for that I ask for forgiveness.

...But what needs to be said:

  1. We, as Christians, have to find a way to speak out against injustice. I have been deeply convicted in these last few weeks. I’ve been doing a lot of reading for my doctorate and learning the tragic stain of racism. Our country has deep systemic racism throughout its origins and that racism has tentacles that reach today.
    • Guys like me, too afraid to speak up, have remained silent and because of that it continues. It flares up from time to time, when we see a police officer kneeling on a black man’s neck until he is dead. Enough is enough.
  2. We, as Christians, are actually called to judge each other.
    • I saw a few of the “don’t judge” responses in the comments and we have to realize something – that just isn’t true. We are called to judge each other rightly – see John 7:24, which puts the famous Matthew 7:1 “Don’t judge me” in correct context.
    • My mistake was not allowing any wiggle room for him to be genuine.
    • But, if the President claims to be a believer, we [Christians] need to judge his Christian walk. My walk is judged…and it is a good thing.
    • My specific issue with this morning was – what WAS that? What if he came to Highlands Bible Church, and stood by our sign with a Bible? Has he ever been in it? What Bible is he holding? Why just stand outside a church, unannounced, take pictures of you awkwardly holding said Bible and then leave? Some claim he was boldly proclaiming his faith and standing on the Word of God. That is highly suspicious and reads an awful lot into the whole situation. Why didn’t he say anything then? He only said things like “We have the greatest country in the world.” He moved to other positions, clearly posing with the Bible as a prop. Watch the clip. He had the perfect opportunity to clarify what his true beliefs were, to say exactly what he was doing, yet he did not.
    • We can get a window into someones soul by the words they use, which is why I’m trying to be very careful with mine. Look at the President’s words. Read his Tweet stream. Tell me, if a member of your church used those words, wouldn’t you be seriously concerned about the state of their hearts?
  3. We, as Christians, are called to not spark division.
    • I don’t know what I expected would happen with my post, but it quickly revealed some very strong allegiances, bad theology, and it was spiraling out of control. I didn’t want the world to see us as Christians like that.
    • My words, the way they were used, were divisive. They left no room for any other opinion.
    • My operating rule on social media has been to keep things nice. Surfacey. Don’t talk about Trump, or LGBTQ issues, or racism, or anything that will cause people to not like me anymore.
    • Welp, that time needs to be over. Without anyone talking about these issues they just continue to fester and grow and sometimes they spill over.
    • The question remains – how do we engage in these issues well?
    • The answer…that is what we all need to work on.

The stakes are too high – we are the ones entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation, the gospel of peace. Let’s demonstrate that in grace in our words, as we figure out how to mix them with truth.

The Cancer – COVID Connection

2020 definitely is one for the books. Especially for the Ruel family, it’s been one thing after another. One thing is always certain in times of trial – God is good and He is in this with us.

But what exactly is God doing in the midst of trial? Most of the time, we don’t know.

We know generally that He is working all things for His glory and our good. [Romans 8:28-29] Sometimes, we can get a little obsessed with trying to figure out exactly what it is God is trying to teach us in the middle of the trial, thinking that if we learn all the lessons quickly – He will end the trial.

It usually doesn’t work like that. God is doing BILLIONS of things at all times, and every once in a while we get to see a few of them.

On January 7, 2020 God saw fit to allow me to have been diagnosed with Metastatic Squamous Cell Carcinoma, at the exact same moment that my wife was with her father in Florida as he was passing away.

Now, after months of grieving, 3 surgeries and weeks of radiation there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Has God taught me anything in this trial? Yes, absolutely. Is He still teaching me things? Yes, absolutely. I’ll share with you one of them.

As the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter, the temptation increases to find my contentment at the end of the trial. The lesson is this – contentment needs to be found in the midst of the trial, not when the trial is over.

I’m quite certain you are all painfully aware of another star player for 2020 – the global COVID pandemic that has literally shut the world down. This is like nothing we have ever seen – everyone working from home, stores and restaurants closed, schools shut down and moved to online learning, professional sports on hold, or playing to empty stadiums, churches not able to gather in person, have all exclusively moved to live-streaming their services.

Right now, as we are over three months into this COVID lockdown, what is the biggest question on everyone’s minds? “WHEN will everything get back to normal? I can’t take this anymore!” What are we really saying in that sentiment? I’ll be OK when everything returns to normal.

There is the cancer-COVID connection. The lie is this: contentment is found at the end of the trial, not in the middle of it. The whole idea of contentment is that we are at peace in the midst of troubling circumstances, not in the absence of them!

There is a very powerful verse in Proverbs that speaks to this truth –

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
(Proverbs 13:12 ESV)

If we keep setting our hope in what keeps getting pushed off…what is the result? A sick heart. If all my hope is set on how happy I’ll be once cancer is over, it’s the wrong place to put your hope. Because guess what? Setting my hope there is unrealistic, because it is inferring that once this is over, everything will be OK. That’s just not the case. Will life be easier? Sure. Will everything be OK? No.

When the COVID lockdown is over, will it be sweet? You betcha. Will everything therefore be OK? Nope. Things will still go wrong, trials will still come, fear, worry and anxiety will still come knocking.

So the biblical idea is to train our hearts to hope in what is sure, true, and eternal. To not hope in circumstances getting better, but to hope in the God who is behind the circumstances.

A biblical worldview is one that explains that in this life, things will never be totally OK. This world is broken and we see the symptoms of the brokenness every day in things like COVID and cancer. It’s broken because we rejected God as our rightful King and in so doing not only fractured our relationship with him, but opened pandora’s box and out came sin and all its effects. Sin, therefore, will always be infecting, staining, stealing some aspect of our earthly lives. To put all our hope then in this life, is to end up with sick heart.

So what should be the object of our hope? The biblical solution to sin – Jesus Christ – whose sacrifice is the only thing that can make “everything OK.” That through faith, we might experience a hope, a bulletproof hope, that goes beyond this life and what awaits us in eternity. The reality is that some things will never be made right in this life, but in Jesus, all will be made right in the next. COVID and cancer will be gone. My wife will see her dad again in heaven.

Therein lies our hope in the midst of trials, not that everything will be OK because the trial will be over, but we hope in Jesus when the trial is at its darkest.

Learning from Israel’s Thankfulness

Israel was really good at expressing thankfulness to God.  The book of Ezra records a time when the Israelites were returning to their land to rebuild the temple many years after it had been destroyed, and they had been exiled as punishment for their rejection of God.  God promised not only to punish them for their disobedience, but he also promised to restore them.  He kept that promise and they were thankful.

And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel.And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”

And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” (Ezra 3:10–11 ESV)

Laying foundations of templeWe can learn two things from this – first, Israel thanked God for the work in progress.  They hadn’t finished the temple…not even close…but they stopped after laying the foundation to hold a mini-party, they did so out of thankfulness to God for the work in progress.

Likewise, we are all works in progress.  Thanksgiving is always a time to consider the last year, and hopefully to give thanks.  We might be tempted to think that we haven’t come as far as we’d hoped, maybe we’ve had setbacks, or perhaps the hardest year of our lives.  But we all have progress, however small, and for that we should thank God. What foundations, that may have even been destroyed, have been rebuilt? Or are in the process of being rebuilt?  Express thankfulness to God.

Second, Israel thanked God for who he wasGod is good and he loves us.  After many years of extreme hardship, brought on by their disobedience, they have lost everything – their country, their homes, possessions, many lives and they are starting over.  But they do so while clinging to the deep-seated knowledge that God is good and he loves them.  Yes, he allowed them to be nearly wiped out, but he is bringing restoration.

Whatever kind of year you’ve had, God doesn’t change.  He is still good and he still loves you.  Trust Him.  Keep this truth in the center of your thoughts, especially in difficult times.  Our God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, he forgives sin and is a God of justice. [Exodus 34:6-7]  He keeps his promises.

Israel knew this because they are back in their land, rebuilding their temple and rightfully thanking God for it.  We know this, because we live on this side of redemptive history where we know that God sent Jesus.  As He promised He sent the Messiah, that came through the line of Israel.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost, to rescue and redeem those who could not do so for themselves.  He came to be the atoning sacrifice for our sin, our failure, our weakness, our rejection of our God.

And we didn’t deserve any of it.

So while we can learn a lot from Israel about thankfulness, ultimately we should be thankful for what came out of Israel – our redemption in Jesus Christ.

The early got this – and Martin Lloyd Jones summed it up powerfully in his usual bluntness –

“The early Christian church was a rejoicing, praising church that is filled with thanksgiving, magnifying the grace and glory of God. They were a thankful people. But why was this? . . . What is a Christian? Well, Christians are men and women who know that they are what they are by the grace of God. Their sins are forgiven. Why? . . . Christians know that they owe everything to the grace of God in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They have received it all as a free gift . . . Now if you can believe a thing like that and not feel grateful and thankful, then I do not understand you. It is impossible.”

Christians, we should be the most thankful people on Earth all the time, but perhaps this year, I’m most thankful that God is not as blunt as MLJ.  He does understand us, our weakness, our ungratefulness and in his jaw-dropping mercy and grace gave us Jesus.  And for that…we should be abundantly thankful.

#ChesterBennington and The Fight

The 90s-early 2000’s were my jam.  I was a musician playing clubs and I connected with many of the artists and their music.  Today, many of the lead singers of these bands are no longer with us.  Lane Staley, Scott Weiland, Chris Cornell, and the one that hit the hardest for me – Chester Bennington of Linkin Park.

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I identified strongly with the music of LP and Chester’s raw cutting lyrics – not because I was performing them, but because I was living them.  Hybrid Theory came out in 2000 and Meteora came out in 2003.  I had them both on CD and ripped them to my first generation iPod [remember the one with the wheel?!] and listened to them continuously.  In my office, at the gym, in my car.  I knew every word.  I felt Chester’s pain because he was transparent and vulnerable to let it out.

It was a time of deep personal and spiritual struggle for me.  I was coming out of a decade of self-destructive, self-centered, sin-soaked behavior and I was angry about it.  Angry about the things I’ve done, that I can’t get back the years lost, and that how I couldn’t get past any of it. Life. Was. Hard. Here…take a sample…

Crawling in my skin, These wounds they will not heal
Fear is how I fall, Confusing what is real.  [“Crawling” – Hybrid Theory]

I wanna run away, Never say goodbye
I wanna know the truth, Instead of wondering why
I wanna know the answers, No more lies
I wanna shut the door, And open up my mind  [“Runaway” – Hybrid Theory]

Don’t Stay” – Meteora…pretty much the whole thing.  Yeah. Great angry song.

I wanna heal, I wanna feel like I’m close to something real
I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along – 
Somewhere I belong [“Somewhere I Belong” – Meteora]

ta0ERGeu

It’s easier to run, replacing this pain with something numb
It’s so much easier to go, Than face all this pain here all alone

Something has been taken from deep inside of me
A secret I’ve kept locked away no one can ever see
Wounds so deep they never show, they never go away
Like moving pictures in my head, for years and years they’ve played

If I could change, I would, take back the pain, I would
Retrace every wrong move that I made, I would
If I could stand up and take the blame, I would
If I could take all the shame to the grave, I would [“Easier to Run” – Meteora]

You get the idea.

Chester had a way of crafting and delivering lyrics that reflected the darkness and evil that is sin…although he may not have realized it was sin.

I came to Christ after an epic battle with sin that nearly killed me.  Even still today, I don’t consider battling sin to be a neat and tidy sniper shot from half a mile away.  It’s more like a gory, dirty, blood bath, cage fight/guerrilla war where the enemy never really dies.

But the reality is that the power of sin really is dead and one day, it’s presence will be gone too.  It’s dead because someone killed it and died in the process.  Except his death is the road to life for anyone who comes to an end of themselves and throws themselves on his mercy for healing and restoration.

Here are some “lyrics” from another author who was very blunt about the battle with sin – the Apostle Paul…

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:15–20 ESV)

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:23–25 ESV)

We all have to get to that point in the fight with the darkness, “our demons”, evil, sin…call it what you want where we say “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?!”  There is only one hope and one answer – “Jesus Christ our Lord” who became sin for us so that we become what our souls are crying and starving to be – whole, complete, healed, righteous…reconciled to God.

I still like angry music.  I like tattoos. I despise Christian Contemporary Music and plastic Ned Flanders Hellmans on Wonder Bread churchianity. I sometimes just really want/need to be alone.  Some parts of life are still really hard.  Sin is always there, but so is Jesus and he is greater.

I don’t know if Chester ever put those pieces together before the darkness deceived him completely – but I pray that others will be transparent and vulnerable about the ugliness of sin and seek refuge in the one true answer – Jesus Christ.

 

 

Be a Man…

lightstock_205409_jpg_user_1188538.jpg In a world where there has already been much confusion – gender confusion is unsurprising.  What does it mean to “be a man?”  There is no shortage of opinions.  What do we do when we need to know truth?  We go to the source of truth.  God’s word – the Bible is where God has revealed his truth to us.

We read in the opening chapter of the first book of the Bible that God creates humans “in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”  [Gen 1:27].  We know three things right off the bat – (1) God created humans, (2) He created them in his image, therefore every single human has dignity, value, and worth, and (3) He created male and female to be distinctly different.

So, this being true [God’s word…remember?] what does it mean to be a man?   Someone who is rough, gruff, physically intimidating, superior in sports, makes tons of cash, or has been with scores of women?  Are there any differences at all between men and women? I’m going to suggest that perhaps one hopefully helpful way of defining a man is “leader.”  All over Scripture we see men as leading – and let’s maybe look at 3 ways men are called to lead in particular:

  1. Sacrifice.  This has to be said first, because it is the attitude that undergirds the leadership.  Men should lead in service.  Selfless service.  Considering other’s needs above his own [Phil 2:3-4], in humility, [Eph 4:2] in love.  This includes helping others, honoring others, and being patient and gentle with others. Think of how Christ sacrificially served others! [Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:32]
  2. Sustenance.  Men should lead in providing for themselves [as in try not to be 28 and still living with your parents] or if they are married, providing for their wife and family.  God commanded Adam, before the Fall, to work the garden. [Gen 2:16] This means financial security, but also physically – taking care of the house, the cars, protecting, helping [see #1] in all aspects of housework, [not just “Man’s Work”] and taking care of themselves physically. Truth hurts –  so many men are just unhealthy and undisciplined!
  3. Spirituality.  Men should lead in knowing God, but this should be done in service too others and sustaining their own spiritual growth.   Husbands are called to love their wives in such a way that it makes her grow more mature as a believer. [Eph 5:25-27] Much is made of the wives’ submission to the husbands – but before that happens a husband must submit to Christ. We are also called to bring up their kids in fear and instruction of the Lord. [Eph 6:4].  Single dudes:  you need to be growing in Godliness long before a wife and kids to do this well when the time comes.

One summary “truth hurts” comment perhaps – men have largely punted on leading, or restricted it to one or two areas of their lives. [Leading in Fantasy Football is not what we are going for here…] As a result, we see the devastating results in marriages, families, and a glutton of young men drifting without direction or passion.  Being a man isn’t a secret trait, or something that you either “have it” or not.  I’d challenge us all to give serious consideration to what the Bible calls men to and ask God humbly to give us the grace to live it out!

PS:  Many thanks to the men that I had review this and add their thoughts!

God of Our Own Understanding

lightstock_294429_xsmall_user_1188538Several times this week I’ve been confronted by others perspectives on God.  At an AA meeting, celebrating a friend’s sobriety, I heard testimony from others about how they trusted in God – “as they understood Him.”  A best-selling book has become a movie and will most likely make millions – but yet it portrays God in a way that is different from the Bible.   A popular “Christian” artist caused a firestorm on Twitter by discrediting the Orthodox teaching of Jesus’ substitutionary death for us on the cross.

Is any of this a big deal?  Social media has seen a slew of reprisal posts calling for people to “calm down” with all this doctrine and just love each other, after all people…we aren’t supposed to be theologians, are we?  That’s just for seminarians, Pastors, and other egg-heads, right? [No…that picture is not me…]  Well…yes, we are…because anytime we open our mouth (out loud or online) about God, we are theologians.  So it is sort of a big deal- because like it or not, we are all theologians.  The question remains will we be good theologians or bad ones?

The way to be a good theologian is to seek to know God where he reveals himself and teaches us about himself – in His Word, the Bible.  We must therefore conform our thoughts about God to be aligned with what’s in the Bible, not of our own understanding. Here…don’t believe me – look what the Bible says…

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

(1 Corinthians 2:12–13 ESV)

Two applications come from consideration of this passage.

  1. The Holy Spirit brings understanding.  Our eyes have to be opened by God to understand spiritual things.  Jesus is the one who “utters the words of God and gives the Spirit without measure.” [John 3:34] so we receive the Holy Spirit through hearing the Word of God proclaimed about Jesus…the gospel.  After conversion, we continue to seek deeper growth and understanding through the Holy Spirit causing us to understand God’s word.
  2. Theology informs our lives – we live out what we believe.  Humans are interpreters.  We all have a worldview, a perspective that we filter life through.  What we believe about God is HUGE, it colors all of our interpretations about life, so we must be all the more diligent to ensure it is accurate, as compared to who God claims to be in the Bible.   Otherwise…we can drift away into strange and dangerous teachings. [See more from Hebrews 2:1; 2 Tim 4:4, etc.]

 

Adoption, the Gospel, and Fairness

Nearly 2 years ago I received a call from my wife that I had received many times before. She told me that DYFS called and they want to place a foster child in our home.  We’ve said ‘yes’ to 7 children previously, but this one seemed different.  4 month old baby boy.  Undernourished.  Almost definite we could adopt if we wanted to – truth be told, we had been hoping we’d find a child we could adopt someday. We said yes immediately.

As I drove home from work that day, I was anticipating a cute, cuddly baby boy.  When I walked in the door and saw him, I was shocked.  Sticks for legs and arms, oversized head, sunken eyeballs.  I was angry…I was trying to not be self-righteously angry.  “How could anyone starve a child in this day and age?”

Baby S quickly started to thrive, mostly because of my wife’s status as a SuperMom.  We started our journey with him – as he started to grow and change.  His smiles, his laughs, his first crawling (more like Army crawling/sliding/dragging), first standing up, first walking, first foods…first words. His obsession with balloons and YouTube Kids. The “not-so-fun” stuff like poop filled diapers, a seemingly constant need for schedule modifications and baby sitters, the countless nights of interrupted sleep, screaming, dinners with friends cut short by projectile vomiting, an awesome case of coxsackie virus on vacation…and the introduction of the full blown 2-year old fit when you do not draw the letter “S” to his exact requirements, or “dit” (sit) when and where he’d like you to. In all that he became our son.  A part of our family.  He had a brother and a sister, grandparents, pets…and an extended family at church that adored him.

img_0028Now, 2 years later we held each other as the DYFS van came back, this time to take him away and reunite him with his birth parents. I snapped this picture standing with the van door open in the awkward, and seeming 45 minutes (in reality probably 2 minutes) it took the driver to strap S into his carseat, while Mel and I cried our eyes out. I didn’t know what else to do, I felt stupid for just standing there. The “impossible” had happened, and it seemed to happen fast.  The trajectory turned quickly from adoption, to him being removed from us and reunited with the situation that put him with us in the first place. Shock.  Pain.  Loss of words. Anger. Disbelief. Fear of the future. Then today…just numbness and grief.  I haven’t cried that hard in a long time.

The thing that comes to mind most often is “this isn’t fair.”  And that would be correct – but it points to a greater truth.  This world isn’t fair.  It’s broken.  It’s chock full of unfairness.  It’s that way because of sin.  We were all created to be in perfect relationship with our good and perfect Heavenly Father, but we chose to reject him – and in so doing fractured the perfection of this world and opened the door for sin, pain, hurt, sickness, unfairness to charge in and take over.

But there is a greater reality that sin hasn’t taken over completely – because it can’t.  Our loving Heavenly Father knew that we would reject him, and despite the stupidity of our choice, he had a plan that he enacted at the perfect time to reconcile us, forgive us, heal us, and conquer sin and unfairness, forever.

Today, we receive this thru repentance and faith.  We turn (repent) from our choice to reject God, and believe (faith) in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, to he sent to absorb his full wrath for our sinful choice on the cross.  He then was resurrected from the dead to prove that the sacrifice was accepted and also to allow us to be united with him in new life.  We live this new life here on earth by his power, and one day he will return to permanently banish sin, sickness, unfairness, and death.

While human relationships will always be flawed and full of sin, and occasional unfairness – thru Jesus our relationship with God can be one of perfect grace, healing, hope, and fairness.

While we won’t always know why things happen, we do know that God is always good and always fair, most profoundly because of what he demonstrated to us in the cross of Jesus.  Fairness in treating sin the way it needs to be treated, and overwhelming grace to give us something far above we could ever earn.

So in that, we press forward.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

(Romans 8:32 ESV)

 

 

Walking in Thankfulness

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“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

(Colossians 2:6–7 ESV)

Paul is writing to the church, Christians, reminding them of the gospel and encouraging them.  As you are Christians – then WALK in Him.  Biblically speaking, to “walk” is to “live.”  So then, as Schaeffer said – How then shall we live?

First way is “rooted and built up in Him.” This means to be a Christian, our hope, our lives, our purpose, our mission is centered around Jesus.  We are to be “rooted” in Jesus, like a tree’s roots go deep into the soil, so the roots of our lives should go deep into Jesus getting our nourishment from him.

This world tempts us to sink our roots into other soil – We must be careful to see what sold our roots are actually in.

That brings us to the second way – we are to walk “established in the faith”.  We are to live as those who are confirmed, sustained, strong in the faith.  Note we also see that this is “just as we were taught.”  It’s the faith that we were taught. We learn this in His word, the Bible.

These two things, living rooted and built up in him; walking established in the faith as you were taught – should then result in something. 

So what’s the result?  Thankfulness.  Not mere thankfulness – overflowing, abundant thankfulness.  This is something that is ours to do, ours to recognize.

We can live in abundant thankfulness because of what Christ has done in our lives.

We were dead in sin, unable to save ourselves, alienated from God, objects of His wrath, broken and needing healing and we can’t fix ourselves. God in his mercy and grace, gave us Jesus.   We then live transformed lives and we then abound in thanksgiving.

This gospel-based thanksgiving can transcend circumstances because it’s based on what Christ has done.  This Thanksgiving, let’s abound in thankfulness for what Jesus has done.

How Firm a Foundation

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My iPhone, as reliable and critical to my life as it is, does have its quirks. For example, every once in a while it apparently downloads and plays random music from my collection. On this morning’s ride to the office, I had originally planned on catching up on my sermon listening, but apparently I didn’t download any (Hey…it IS a Monday…)…so music it was. A few minutes into the drive, the song “How Firm a Foundation” (Enfield version of course, although the original was written in 1787) came on to my surprise. Surprise because it wasn’t on there yesterday. When I hear this song, I think something like “What a great song about the faithfulness of God’s word.”  Yes…but this time the lyrics hit me like a wrecking ball, especially those after verse 1 – here – check out from verse 2 on:

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

I never realized the extent of how it is not US holding onto God..but how God strengthens, helps, upholds, sanctifies…US.  How he will not let us be deserted to our foes, and he will never forsake US.  He keeps, guards, protects and holds his children fast.  Even in our deep waters he has a purpose, he is purifying us (consuming the dross) and refining us to make us more into his beautiful image.

The more we think it’s up to us – the more anxiety and stress builds.  The more we think there is no way out other than sinning, the less we depend on God.  This hymn is a great reminder that God calls us to himself, saves us through his son Jesus, and sustains us in his mighty power for the work he calls us to.

It reminds me of Isaiah 41:10, which I’ll leave you with:

“…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

(Isaiah 41:10 ESV)

 

 

 

 

The Massive Importance of His Sacrifice

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The bottom line is that what today traditionally represents, the sacrifice of Jesus, is massively important.

Everything hinges on who Jesus is and what he came to do.  There is much confusion – some say Jesus was a good teacher, a kind man, even a “perfect man” – and the usual answer to the question of what he came to do was “die on the cross for our sins.”  Why did he have to do that?

I’m thinking of (at least) our reasons why this day is massively important:

 

  1. Jesus’ sacrifice saved me from God.  Ephesians 2 tells us that we were all at one time, objects of God’s wrath because of sin.  God is justifiably angry with us because of our willful rejection of Him.  The amazing thing is that God makes the first move to reconcile us to Him by Jesus. We were saved from God by God.  As Propaganda says, “let that one bake your noodle.”
  2. Jesus’ sacrifice satisfies all of God’s wrath for my sin.  Jesus’ sinless life and sacrifice in my place, satisfies ALL of the wrath of God against me – IF I have understood this by faith and live a life of worship and submission to God.  That’s a big IF…because until you turn from your sin and to Jesus, your sins are not forgiven.  As John 3:36 says, “His wrath is still on you…”
  3. Jesus sacrifice took my sin AND my shame.  With sin comes shame, sometimes huge shame, guilt, grief, pain. Isaiah 53 says that the Messiah will bear it all.  Jesus is both fully man and fully God, therefore he understands all of the hurt and he bore it on the cross, and has the power to atone for it.
  4. Jesus sacrifice paves the way for life.  Without His sacrifice, there is no payment for sin, if there is no payment for sin, then there is no way to be forgiven.  But God just doesn’t merely forgive our sin – he takes our sin and in exchange gives us new life.  As Christ rose from the dead, we too – by faith – obtain a new life.  This is tremendous HOPE that goes beyond any seemingly hopeless situation – nothing can take that new life away.

Maybe this is the season when you make the most important decision you can ever make, one with eternal significance.  Turn from your sin and embrace what God has already done in Jesus by His sacrifice.  If you have already done so then dwell.  Consider.  Soak in the depth of this amazing, loving plan of God.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:1–4 ESV)