Category Archives: Faith

Stepping into Life

He knew he’d be arrested again, but that was what he wanted.  It was too too scary out here.  In prison he would be locked up, but at least he’d know what to expect.  He’d know the rules, know he would eat three times a day.  So when they let him out, he arranged to go right back.  For us on the outside, that doesn’t make much sense.  Sure, it’s more unpredictable out here in real life, but it’s also more free.  Without freedom it just isn’t living.  We understand that, but for some who have been locked up most of their lives, they can’t see it.

Like the people of Israel who suddenly found themselves released from slavery in Egypt following Moses out into the desert.  He thought they would relish the sweet aroma of freedom in their nostrils. But they didn’t get it.

11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Exodus 14:11-12

2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Exodus 16:2-3

We read that and think, “How could anyone prefer to live in slavery?  How could they choose not to be free?  But slavery was all they knew.  They were more comfortable as slaves.  Stepping into real life was too scary.

If you are tracking with all that, consider these words of Jesus:

25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:25

Jesus invites us to trust Him and follow Him.  But, having surrounded ourselves with things that make life seem predictable and secure, it may seem as though He invites us into a desert wilderness.  It may seem too scary.  But in reality, Jesus invites us to step into real life and real freedom.

1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Tough Love

“Keep your eyes open and don’t let down your guard.  Stand tough and strong, like real men.”  Who might say those words?  A military leader?  A football coach?  How about an apostle of Jesus?  Paul encouraged his readers with similar words.  Surprised?  Be more surprised when you consider how he exhorts real men to act.  He wrote:

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love (Corinthians 16:13-14)

Paul was a man’s man.  He knew the meaning of tough.  When he said, “be strong,” he wasn’t fooling around.  Paul routinely waded into situations that left him bruised and bloody.  But he understood that real men are motivated by love for others.  Tough love.  The kind that sometimes costs or hurts.  Real men put their own selfish desires aside to do what is best for the other person.

My son tried to teach me how to play a video game.  He said, “You can’t survive at this level unless you pick up a super power and use it.”  I didn’t understand.  But Paul did.  He knew loving toughness, the kind that is watchful, strong and dares to do the right thing even in the face of danger, is necessarily powered up by God’s Spirit.  

Fist-Pump Singing

I’m a bit slow.  It takes me awhile to catch on to things that should seem obvious.  For example, consider this line from Exodus:

The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;  (Exodus 15:2a)

I’ve heard that line many times without thinking about it much.  That is, until I came upon it, reading through Exodus this morning..  I began to see that, what had been for me a somewhat stale cliche of churchy songs, was for those folks a mighty fist-pump!  They had just escaped the mightiest army on earth with an amazing demonstration of God’s power.  They were so excited, they just had to sing.  Because God had revealed His power to them, and because His strength had become their strength, they had to express it somehow.  They had to sing.  They had to dance around and whoop and holler.  About God.  He had become their song.

Maybe you are thinking, “Yeah, of course, so…?”  Or, “Duh…”  But that idea began to hold new meaning for me, Mr. Slow, this morning.  I’d sung that line so many times without any thought, without any excitement.  And yet, this morning, when I began to think through an actual list of how God has been strong for me, how His power has been evident in the circumstances of my life and of how He has become my strength and salvation, then I began to want to sing about it.

On that list was a time I had impulsively picked up a hitchhiker on the way to Cheyenne.  Without boring you with the details, as I dropped him off that day, I knew,in the pit of my soul, he had just delivered a personal message to me from God.  He had been a messenger, what the Bible calls an “angel.”  Alone in the car that day, I burst into loud and raucous song.  I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t sit on it.  I didn’t have words for my song but it didn’t matter.  I just had to express my wonder and excitement.  Because God had showed me He would be my strength, He just had to become my song.

What’s your list?  Take a moment to add it up.  If you’re having trouble, ask God to show you.  Kind of like that “Footprints” thing.  About 150 years ago, someone, whose name has been lost, must have been doing that as he wrote these words:

No storm can shake my inmost calm

While to that refuge clinging;

Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,

How can I keep from singing?

 

Finished

It’s no fun stepping on a nail.  It was just a small nail, but it hurt like crazy.  The pain of the Crucifixion must have been unimaginably horrible.  No wonder so much has been written and sung about the agony Jesus endured on the cross.  And yet, consider this surprising thing He said as He waited for that terrible day to come:

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!   (Luke 12:50)

Jesus was not looking forward to being crucified.  His prayers in Gethsemane bear witness to how awful He knew His next day would be.  But the distress He felt as He waited was the distress of yearning for His work on the cross to be accomplished.  Because it was not until the price for sin was fully paid that God’s Spirit could be given to people like me, by God’s love, grace and perfect justice.  And without that life-giving Spirit, we all were doomed.  When Jesus looked around, everyone He saw was headed for Hell.  It distressed Him; He could hardly wait until He made eternal life possible for everyone who would receive Him by faith.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.”  (John 8:24)

“…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  (John 10:10b)

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”  (John 6:63a)

Even though He knew how badly it would hurt to make God’s Spirit available, He loved me more.  And you, too.

That’s why, with His last breath, 

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  (John 19:30)

Sort of finished.  His part was finished.  But it’s not completely finished until you accept it.

Another Rule (for an unborn son)

Have you seen “1001 Rules for My Unborn Son,” by Walker Lamond?  If not, check it out; it’s worth many a smile.  Here’s a couple of my favorites:

  • Drive across the country. Don’t rush.
  • If you make a mistake, forgive yourself and move on.
  • Have a favorite song. It doesn’t have to be hip. (The best ones never are.)

Of course his rules aren’t all good.  For example, he says, “Men should not wear sandals. Ever.”  Or, “Men with facial hair have something to hide.”  Walker apparently hasn’t met some the men I know…

Here’s a rule I’d add to the list:

  • Look for God on your own terms; when you find Him, get to know Him on His terms.

Look for God on your own terms, because you can’t borrow or use someone else’s faith, not even your parents’.  Real faith grows from a fertilizer of healthy doubts.  Like an extension ladder, you need to check it and shake it before you get on.  If you only rely on what “they say,” you haven’t done that.  And, trust me on this: God can handle the quirky terms you have.  If you are really looking for Him, He will find you.

But when you do find Him, you’ll know it because you will be absolutely awestruck by His majesty and authority, His perfect goodness and love.  His invitation for you to get to know Him is thus logically accepted on His terms.  We do not dictate terms of surrender to Almighty God.  His terms are excruciatingly costly – you cannot afford them – and yet have already paid in full by His Son, Jesus.  Amazing Grace!  You already know the story.  Now go check it out on your own and see if it is true.

No Can Do

This guy had it all.  He was extremely wealthy.  He had a position of great influence.  Like Donald Trump, except he still had his youth.  But it wasn’t enough; he was missing something.

And as he [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   (Mark 10:17)

He knew he couldn’t buy his way into heaven and, like so many of us, he sensed that he needed to do something.  Some good deed, some act of penance or sacrifice.  Jesus began by telling him a sobering truth.

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  (Mark 10:18)

Translation?  Nobody could do enough to get to heaven except God.  If you want to get to heaven by doing, you’ll have to be perfect.  In order to help the guy understand, Jesus said:

You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”  (Mark 10:19-20)

Really?  He somehow had accumulated great wealth and had never taken something that didn’t rightfully belong to him or told a lie?  Not likely.  Even the last thing he’d said to Jesus wasn’t true!

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

Now, take this one step at a time.  First pay careful attention to Jesus’ attitude toward the man.  Because He has the same attitude toward you.  Then, notice that Jesus took him all the way down the road to understanding he could never do enough.  He said, “Ok, you want to do something, go sell everything and give it all to the poor.”  Jesus knew, even if the man had done all that, he still would be in the same, empty, desperate condition.  Because, even doing such an extreme act of personal sacrifice would not earn you a spot in heaven.  What he really needed was to “come and follow” Jesus.

The man was already on his knees before Jesus and yet Jesus still told him to “come.”  “Come” meant stop relying on what he could do and instead, fully trust or surrender to Jesus.  And follow Him.  But even doing that would not be enough.  What is enough to qualify a person for eternal life is what Jesus  has already done and what He does for those who fully trust Him.  He gives them His eternal, Holy Spirit.  Jesus has done everything needed.  Our part is to come and follow.  And receive.

I don’t have words to explain why this is so.  But, I have discovered, to my own amazement and joy that it is.

Words of Beauty

You can’t explain beauty.  You just see it, hear it, smell it or think it.  Dream it, maybe.  Sometimes beauty lies in the way words are used.  Like this:

Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.  (Genesis 25:8)

“Gathered to His people.”  Those words sing beauty.  Not lost, not buried, not laid to rest.  But gathered.  Wow!  I’ve been stopped in my tracks by those words, especially after the death of my wife.  I wonder how they came to be, who thought of them and what they meant to convey.  Certainly, the continuity of life after death and the reunion of special relationships.  But commentaries that seek to explain them obscure their beauty with academic huffing and puffing.  They don’t really know.  So, I will not add to that.   

Except to remind you that Jesus extended an invitation and promise to all who would trust Him. They would not perish, but enjoy everlasting life.  And be gathered.  To their people.