Thursday, July 21, 2022

Trading Places


I don’t like being sick, but it might be even more difficult to see your child sick. You try to comfort them and help them heal, but there’s only so much you can do. There have been times when I would say to my child that if it were possible I would trade places with them. And it’s true. If you’re a parent you’ve probably had the same sentiment. We would gladly bear their pain if we could spare them. But as much as we want to take their pain, we just can’t.

One of the prominent pictures of God throughout the Bible is that of a father. God is our father providing for us, guiding us, teaching us to walk, and even disciplining us. And I get this sense that just as I hurt when my children hurt, he hurts when we hurt. And as a compassionate father he nurses us back to health. He helps us heal just like we do for our kids. And I imagine that God has those same feelings I have for my children when they are sick. He too would gladly bear our pain to spare us. Though I can’t do that for my children, he can and has done that for us.

The greatest sickness we suffer from is sin and the greatest pain we will ever experience is separation from God, our Father. And that’s what sin does. It keeps us from our Father, the source of all that is good. That separation is painful to us, but it is equally painful to God. And our Father has done something for us that we all wish we could do for our children. He traded places with us.

That is what the cross is all about. Jesus’ death on the cross is God bearing the pain of sin for every one of us. I’ve heard criticisms that it’s cruel for God to punish someone else for what we have done, but that’s not what happened. God punished himself in so much that Jesus is God. Jesus makes that claim and the biblical writers confirm it. “Jesus is God in the flesh” is an indispensable teaching of Christianity. God does on the cross what every parent wishes they could do for their child – he suffers for us. This is how much God loves us.

I believe God knew he would have to do this, even before he created us. He knew that parenting requires sacrifice and from the beginning he was willing trade places with us. Long before Jesus came, the prophet Isaiah painted this beautiful picture of God’s fatherly love:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering. He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

God took our pain. Jesus suffered for us. He took my place. But after all, that’s what a good father does, and He is a good Father.

 

 

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

It took me to the moon and beyond!

Today I said goodbye to a good friend.  Just to be up front, no one died so this naturally doesn’t rise anywhere close to that level of sadness. But I did say goodbye to something that has been a part of my life for the last 21 years. My 2001 Honda Odyssey van has gone to the big car lot in the sky. I sadly confess that it took me more than two years to finally scrap the old vehicle, but today was the day, and it was just as hard as I thought it would be.

It was towed from the curb outside my house and left in a sad scrap metal facility populated by similarly old cars and other objects that had outlived their usefulness. I’ll remember this moment as much as I remember the moment we signed the papers to take ownership of a pristine new vehicle that would serve our family of four. That family would grow to five and then to six, and oh the memories we made.

Road trips to South Padre Island. Football games and band trips. Tennis matches all across north Texas. School drop offs and pickups. Dropping off kids at camp and college. Holidays to family homes. Some of my happiest moments in life were driving that van glancing to my right to check on my wife and checking the rear-view mirror to see what the four kids were up to. In many respects, our family grew up in that van and all those happy memories came racing back to my heart and mind faster than that van ever went.

In all, the van travelled nearly a quarter of a million miles, approximately the distance to the moon. But in reality it took me to the stars where dreams of love and family come true.

 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

What do you smell like?

A few years ago about this time of year I walked into a convenience store and the clerk asked me how the yard work was going. I hadn’t told him what I had been doing but he figured it out - probably based on how I smelled. You know that yard-work smell – a mixture of freshly cut grass, gasoline, and sweat. It’s hard to believe they haven’t come out with a designer fragrance for that one.

Sometimes our smell can give us away. After camping you carry around that smoky campfire scent. If you've been around smokers, discerning noses can detect that odor. After you’ve cooked out some burgers or hot dogs your aroma goes ahead of you. Our scent can reveal a lot of who we are and who or what we’ve been around.

What do you smell like?

Of course, I’m not talking about our odor picked up by the noses around us. I’m talking about the attitudes and impressions we emit when we walk into a room. You know some people that can just bring down a room by walking in. Or others who can brighten up a room just by their presence. We all carry with us some smell.

Isn’t it logical to assume that those of us who have been around Christ should have a certain aroma? The apostle Paul seemed to think so. In 2 Corinthians 2:15 he wrote, “Our offering to God is this: We are the sweet smell of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are being lost.” Christians should smell. We should carry along with us the sweet smell of Christ!

When people are in our presence, they should smell the pleasing aroma of love and forgiveness. They should delightfully inhale the scent of patience and peace. People around us should smell the sweet smells of hope and joy. Christians ought to be the smelliest people on earth! When we enter a room there should be no doubt who we’ve been around.

But isn’t it true that sometimes we don’t smell that good? Instead of hope, we bring despair. Instead of patience, we bring anger. Instead of joy, we bring grief. And then we put on the deodorant of fake smiles and insincere niceties, but through the deodorant people can still smell our rancid odor. What’s the problem?

We smell like who or what we’ve been around. We smell like a campfire because we’ve been around a campfire. We smell like gasoline because we’ve been mowing the lawn. We smell like despair because we’ve spent too much time around the decaying world. We smell like Christ because we’ve spent time around him. It’s really our choice how we smell.

What do you smell like?

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Ultimate Shark Tank


Have you ever watched the reality television show Shark Tank? If you’re not familiar, it features aspiring entrepreneurs who pitch their ideas to a panel of successful, wealthy businesspersons in hopes of securing their financial and intellectual support. The premise is that once they can partner with one of the “sharks” they will be well on their way to prosperity. Some get rejected and leave the show dejected while some get chosen to team up with one of the panelists. For them it’s a dream come true to work with a financial expert.

There’s a concept we see throughout Scripture that resembles this arrangement. It’s called covenant. A covenant is an agreement between two individuals or nations. Sometimes they are equal parties and enjoy some sort of mutual benefit through the agreement. In other cases, the covenant is made between a superior individual and an inferior individual where the superior offers the inferior some benefit in exchange for money or services. In some ways this is similar to what we call contracts or treaties.

What is unique in Scripture is that God himself enters into covenants with people. An example is His covenant with the Jewish people. God offers to bless this nation, provide them a land to live in, and promises to use them in special ways to represent Him to all the other nations. In exchange He expects obedience and a commitment to live a special ethic. That ethic is summarized in the Ten Commandments. The Old Testament of our Bibles is essentially the story of the how this relationship plays out. In fact, the word “testament” can be synonymous with “covenant.”

When Jesus arrives, he uses covenant terminology as well. One of Jesus’ missions is to bring to all human beings the offer to enter into an agreement with God. God offers forgiveness of sins, abundant and eternal life, and His special presence with us through the Holy Spirit. In exchange he expects faith – a commitment to recognize Him as the one and only God resulting in a life characterized by things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and other virtues we see in Him. The New Testament of our Bibles is essentially the story of this offer.

We have a choice with our lives. We can try to make a go of it on our own. We can rely on our own abilities, our own wisdom, our own creativity and hope for the best. Or we can partner with someone. And there are many people who are willing to offer their expertise in life in exchange for something. Poets, philosophers, scientists, preachers, and an assortment of gurus are more than willing to take us on as partners.  I suppose they all have something beneficial to offer. But one exceeds them all.

The all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God beckons us from heaven offering us His wisdom and expertise. He offers to partner with us and take our flawed and broken lives with the promise of turning them into something more beautiful and wonderful than we can even imagine. And this offer remains on the table to all. To you. To me. To everyone.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Untying your donkey


This Sunday is traditionally known as Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the praise of the Passover crowd.  Much is made of the palm branches, the shouts of Hosanna, the objection of the Pharisees, but overlooked in the story is owner of the donkey.

As Jesus was approaching Jerusalem he instructed his disciples to go into a village where they will find a donkey. When they find the animal they are told to just untie it and bring it him. Sounds like a first century version of grand theft larceny. Who in the world is going to let perfect strangers just walk up to their donkey and take it with no explanation?

Anticipating that someone may have issue with this apparent thievery, he further instructed the disciples that if anyone asks why they are untying this donkey just tell them, “The Lord needs it.” I guess the disciples are satisfied with the plan and proceed – an act of faith in and of itself.

They followed the instructions and as they are untying the donkey naturally someone, likely the owner, does ask them what they are doing. They replied as Jesus told them with, “The Lord needs it.” Did they hold their breathe wondering what would happen? Were the other disciples placing bets on whether or not they would really be able to pull this off?  Whatever they were thinking or feeling, the strange thing is that it works! Those simple words appease the owner.  He hands over the donkey and then Palm Sunday happens.

I suppose this could have been prearranged by Jesus, but there is no indication in the Gospels that this is the case.  It may have been just those simple words - “The Lord needs it” - that was enough for the donkey owner to hand over what was no doubt a prized and valuable possession. Perhaps he even felt a sense of pride in being able to play a part, albeit a small part, in this grand celebration that ensued.  “The Lord needs it” was enough for him.

I would like to think that all of us have something the Lord needs. In fact, I believe that each of us have a donkey of sorts that they Lord could use. Some ability we have been gifted with. Some words that could offer healing. Some opportunity to bring peace. Some way that we can join in with Jesus in bringing his reign into the lives of people. But we must be willing to untie it.

What do you have that the Lord needs? What possession, gift, or ability do you feel the Lord untying from your life? Are you willing to let it go?

I wonder if the donkey owner was in the crowd when Jesus entered Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday. If he was, I imagine he felt a sense of joy knowing that he played this small role. Any sacrifice that he may have made was well worth the satisfaction that something he owned could be used by the Lord. And I can’t help but think that we will feel the same.

Today hear those simple words, “They Lord needs it,” and let that be enough.

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This blog was inspired by the Eyewitness Bible Series video "The Need". You can access that video and more by clicking here.

 

Friday, February 25, 2022

One Biblical response to current events

The recent invasion of Ukraine has resurfaced lingering questions believers have about the sovereignty of God. How can a good, loving, just God seemingly sit back while innocents suffer at the hands of a political juggernaut? How do we process recent events in light of the clear Biblical claim that God is sovereign over the nations? How do we make sense of scriptures like Daniel 2:21, “He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others;” and Romans 13:1, “The authorities that exist have been established by God”?   

I don’t have the answer, but I can propose a response - one that goes back centuries to an Old Testament prophet named Habakkuk. Let it be known that we are not the first to wrestle with this apparent contradiction, nor will we be the last.

Habakkuk asked the same questions we are asking. In his case the evil nation was powerful Babylon who decided to flex their ungodly muscles at the expense of God’s chosen people, the Israelites. None of it made sense. I recommend you read this brief book. It's relatively obscure even to the churchgoing, but it is so relevant for these theologically confusing days.

The book opens with the prophets charge against God: "Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds?” (1:3) Quite a bold opening line to the God of the universe. And then he delivers this follow-up question: “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (1:13) The rest of the book is a dialogue between the prophet and God.

Like Habakkuk we are confused and perhaps even angry that this world works like it does. This little book gives us permission to be angry and confused. This minor prophet, as he is sometimes called, reminds us that this world often doesn’t make sense. This dialogue ultimately calls us to remain patient and trust – difficult tasks when the world is caving in around you. It takes faith to live in this world. Faith in a God who is in control even when all appearances seem to contradict that foundational belief.

The book ends with one of the most magnificent statements of faith preserved for us in the Sacred Writings. Habakkuk’s conclusion is this: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (3:17–18)

Confused? Yes. Angry? I would think so. But through the confusion and anger the prophet finds room for praise and, in doing so, calls all the faithful to join him.


Thursday, January 27, 2022

The following article contains mature language


Have you ever started a show on television and seen this warning?

The following program contains mature language. Viewer discretion is advised.

We all know what “mature language” means, but I wonder why they call it “mature.” We have a way of sanitizing things, don’t we? Shouldn’t they just tell us there’s going to be some cussing or swearing or profanity or words you don’t hear in church? Why would anyone ever call that kind of language “mature”?  Is it really “mature” to use those words? I think those warnings give “mature” a bad rap.

I’m all in favor of using “mature” language, but not in the way these warnings define it. Here’s an alternative definition of “mature” language from the Bible in Ephesians 4:29 and few rules to help us.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Rule #1 – If it’s unwholesome, hold it in. If a word is dirty, foul, or obscene don’t say it! If you need some help on what words fit into that category, ask your grandmother. She remembers. People let far too many words fly from their mouths without passing them through the wholesome filter or, for that matter, any filter at all. We would all do a lot better by holding some words in. That would include gossip, insults, and course jokes. Keeping your mouth closed may be the most mature thing you can do.

Rule #2 – Use language that builds up. Everyone loves and needs to hear words that encourage them.  Tell people how well they are doing. Tell people how much you appreciate them. Tell people what good qualities you see in them. Your words can either make someone stronger or weaker. Choose those words that make people stronger.

Rule #3 – Use language that meets other’s needs, not your own. Stop telling people how great you are. Stop bragging about your accomplishments. Stop interrupting people when they are talking. One of the best ways to meet people’s needs is to ask questions and really listen. Ask people about their weekends. Ask people what’s going on in their lives. If you want to meet people’s needs, you have to know those needs. Mature language is concerned about other people. Mature language draws out the thoughts and feelings of others.

Rule #4 – Be graceful. The word translated “benefit” in Ephesians 4:29 is the same word that is translated in other places as “grace.” Grace is often used to describe God’s forgiveness towards us. Use forgiving words. Use words that affirm someone’s value and your love for them even when they mess up. You don’t have to remind people of their faults. You don’t have to hold grudges. Mature language communicates forgiveness.

Now that you know what “mature” really means, let it fly. I think we’d all do well to use mature language.