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.

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#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]

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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)