Poem for the Suffering

Poem for the Suffering

Word in Season

Author’s Note: The thoughts below come from the struggle we face when we watch someone we love suffer. This poem is meant to explore the tension between wanting to take the suffering away yet at the same time recognizing that the Lord loves them too. In his love, he works for their good and his glory in the midst of the very sufferings we long to take away.

I would take this from you if I could, I’ve often told you the same.
I’d gladly swap you places and this would be finished as quickly as it came.
No more tear stained pillows or wondering when it all will end.
That would all be gone in an instant if I could take this from you sweet friend.

I’d take this from you if I could, the heartache, isolation, and hard days to come.
That distant look in your eyes as you know this season is far from done.
The why’s, how can this make sense, and what does this all mean?
That would all be gone in an instant if I could just intervene.

I’d take this from you if I could but you know I really can’t.
I’m not even sure this is a prayer I want the Lord to grant.
You see his ways are higher and even in this suffering he is good,
You would miss all that in an instant if I took it away so I really don’t think I should.

I wouldn’t take this from you because the Lord works mightily when you are weak.
To build your faith, draw you to him, and reveal places in your heart he wants to tweak.
If we are happy and able to do it on our own we have no need for him,
And this is what I want most for you, to cling to Jesus with life and limb.

How can I wish to take from you what may be a great means of his grace?
You may not know the why or how but you’ll know deeper the one who took our place.
He’s been through every suffering and warns we must follow him there,
To know him more and grow in love, in his sufferings we must share.

I wouldn’t take this from you if I could, but I will stay by your side.
I’ll bear these burdens with you that you must walk, you’ll have a friend who won’t hide.
I’ll sit in silence without a word just so you know someone is present,
Other days I’ll be sure to read you the Word to remind you of the one who is omnipresent.

I won’t take this from you if I could because the Lord uses these things for his glory.
But I’ll pray and pray you trust when he says that your sufferings are part of his story.
May this darkness release your tight grip on this world and point your eyes to our true home.
Someday this will all end and we will spend eternity in a place where we will no longer groan.

I want this to end, yes of course I do and I pray the Lord will bring relief.
May you emerge to find that because of this he has greatly increased your belief.
Yes, I’ll pray for him to take it away AND for him to refine you through this fire.
Ultimately, may his will be done and his kingdom come however he may purpose and desire.

What is Real Love?

What is Real Love?

What I Learned Last Sunday

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:16-18

Check out last week’s sermon here.

Question: How do we know what love is?

Do you know that you are loved? How?

Love is certainly not truly understood through mere words. Case in point, if a husband, with words of loving tenderness said to his wife, “Honey, I love you.” while contradicting himself with physical abuse to her, that wife would hardly say that she felt loved by her man’s flimsy words.

Love is only truly known and proven through actions that align perfectly with that common phrase, “I love you.” We in the world are capable of experiencing varying levels of imperfect love. The bigger the love experienced, the greater the feeling of joy, thankfulness, security, and peace. 

When a child is given a hug and kiss from his father, she feels the tender embrace and secure care that her daddy offers. When a coach spends decades of life pouring into his players with time, effort and correction, those players understand that there is a level of love that the coach has for them through his investment into them paired with his joy at their victories and corrections in defeat. When a family gathers to feed the homeless, there is also an element of love in that action toward the needy.

Is that real love?

Yet, every example falls short of a perfect love offered in Jesus Christ.

Apart from Christ, the father’s extension of love to his child is tinged with the imperfections born by sin. The father’s feeble attempts to provide love and safety to his child will only be a temporary safety, never protecting that child from her greatest needs. No matter how much love the child feels, she will only experience the limitations of human love. No sane father would ever claim he loved his child perfectly, with never a tinge of selfishness, pride, angry outburst, or other sin. Because all father’s are sinful, the love they offer is tainted by sin—imperfect love.

Christ-less love from a coach to his players always has some self-preservation in mind. A coach desires to see his players succeed, because he wants to succeed. A coach wants to be praised. Yes, his love has personal motives and conditions. The players will never fully experience from their coach a higher love that exceeds the conditions of human love. A coach cannot offer his players what they truly need in life. Come adversity, failure, the element of time, rejection, or many of the other forms of love-eating challenges, and that imperfect love will prove to be what it is—imperfect.

Without Christ, the helping hand to those in need is meant to both be love for the homeless while also padding one’s “societal” bank account. No one truly loves another without thinking of the praise they will get from others around them. “She’s such a philanthropist.” “He just loves giving back to his fellow man.” And like the rest, this philanthropic love will prove absolutely conditional. When time and finances run out, so dies the philanthropy. Thus, even if that needy person feels love from the kindness of that “do-gooder” their felt love will not be the highest form of love, never reaching what someone needy needs to have fulfilled—love that makes peace with a holy God.

Yet, all these deeds could be seen as pure if humans were actually worthy of other human’s praise. But we are not. When we get praised for our imperfect love, we steal praise from the only One who truly is deserving of praise.

Whether people “love” because of the feeling they get from helping others or to look good to others, I will will stand on this statement that there is not a human in the world who has given their time, resources, a kidney, or even their own life for the sake of self-empowered “love” without some thought or desire for self-satisfying praise in their mind and heart. “People will think kindly of me when I do this.”

If human love and kindness is faulty, then how do I know that I have experienced real love? 

Answer: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.

“This how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” – 1 John 3:16 (NIV)

Real, perfect love can only be found in the love that Jesus Christ extended, as he laid down His life on the cross. Do you want to to see and know love? Behold Jesus.

“[Jesus,] though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:6-8

Only in Jesus was/is desire (the willing to love) coupled with ability (divine God-man who defines perfection in all His deeds) to express real, perfect love. Where fathers, coaches, philanthropists, and the like portray imperfect love from imperfect desires and abilities, Jesus’ expression of love will never fail or be found imperfect.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:6-8

In Jesus, you will find love without condition. Your receiving of Jesus’ love is not based on giving something to Him first. You are a sinner, and Christ died for you. In Jesus you will find love flowing from intentional desire. Jesus Christ laid down His life FOR us. In and only in Jesus will you find words of love expressed fully and completely through His actions—perfect actions that address humankind’s greatest needs.

Where do we go from here? 

“Christ wrought, blood bought, sacrificial love does things.” -Pastor Mike

When your understanding of love, experienced in its varied imperfect forms in the world, gets exploded by super-love of Jesus, a life cannot return to normal, ordinary loveless living.

“[Because of Jesus’ love] …we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” – 1 John 3:16b-17 [Brackets adding commentary]

“John is calling for the disconnect between our words and deeds to be utterly destroyed.” -Pastor Mike

The application from the love that John saw Christ express is to love holistically in practical expression to those around us, especially in the Church. John is not calling for self-serving piety. He is calling for people to walk the trail of love that Jesus blazed.

“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” -1 John 3:18

Two Questions To Probe My Heart

Does my view of what Christ did on the cross lead to me to focus inward on myself, or outward to show the love of Christ to others?

If my understanding of what Christ did on the cross is leading me to self-focus rather than love-to-others-focus, what is missing in my understanding of what Jesus did on the cross?

1 John’s Easter Hope

1 John’s Easter Hope

What I Learned Last Sunday

“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” – 1 John 3:11-15

Check out last week’s sermon here.

The “Cain Principle” – seen naturally in every human heart through attitudes of hatred, envy, jealousy, and the like – is a deadly foe to the affection and love that brothers and sisters in Christ are called to.

Question: How is the “Cain Principle” only defeated?
Answer: “When the Cain Principle meets Jesus, it is utterly destroyed…Jesus takes up the cross and He dies for our sin.” -Pastor Mike

Question: How do I know that the old principle of envy, jealousy and hate has been put to death by Jesus?
Answer: “The gospel frees us to love one another. Love is evidence that the gospel is doing a work in our hearts.” -Pastor Mike

Question: When I am exposed by the sin of the “Cain Principle,” hating my brother or sister in Christ, where can I turn?
Answer: “The answer to our envy, jealousy and hate is to take our eyes off of ourselves and off of one another and put them on Jesus. We stand amazed at the wonder of the cross, that God would show grace and kindness to sinners, a sinner even like me.” -Pastor Mike

All these truths stated, may the celebration, remembrance, and worship of Christ this Easter weekend be ever more the precious and God glorifying. Why is Good Friday good? Why is the resurrection so hope filling and joy filling?

Take a moment to ponder the cross and the evil in your heart that Jesus took on His shoulders. Worship Him this weekend.

Good Friday Hope Through John’s Eyes For The Traveling Saint
When the darkness of sin looks sweet (1 John 1:5),
When the Devil’s works seem right (1 John 3:8),
When I am moved to hate (1 John 2:9),
The one for whom Christ bled and died,
My sin exposed by their holy life (1 John 3:12).

O God, to Calvary return my heart,
Where light crushed darkness at great cost (1 John 1:5),
Where Christ destroyed the Devil’s works (1 John 3:8),
Where perfect love destroyed my hate (1 John 3:1),
Through wood and nails and mocking scorn,
Blows taken for my wretched life,
Now at that cross again I cry,
“What wonder!” God of heaven calls me child (1 John 3:1).

And God if to sin I fall (1 John 1:8),
To darkness, Devil, path of death, deeds of Cain (1 John 3:12),
The hypocrite I play (1 John 3:8).

O God, again to Calvary,
Where Christ was light, not received (John 9:5),
And in rejection took my sin,
And crushed the works of that Satan (1 John 3:8),
Where through His body, blood was titled,
“Sinners Advocate” before the Holy One (1 John 2:1),
And for sinners, perfect propitiation (1 John 2:2),
Now I, this wretched one, made son (1 John 3:1),
On the rock of Christ, His cross, I run (1 John 1:7).

Small Sin & Sin Fighting

Small Sin & Sin Fighting

What I Learned Last Sunday

“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” – 1 John 3:4-10

Check out last week’s sermon here.

How small minded can we be about sin and sin fighting? Our view of sin is dreadfully too small, otherwise we would fight it as if Hell itself were at our heals. Meanwhile, serious sin fighting is negatively shrouded with words like “legalism” by those inside churches.

What is John’s response to these errors?

Whoever Practices Sin is of the Devil
With sin so small you will never see Jesus rightly. With sin so small you forget that, “…the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8). Sin is not small, for it was paid for at the cost of one death of the Son of God.

There is a well-known book that, though intent on helping us understand the grace of God in Christ, gets sin completely wrong as the authors imagine a light hearted conversation between Jesus and a sinner about that sinner’s sin.

“[Jesus] …directs my sight to that mound of filth [the sinner’s sin] now in front of us. After several moments , with a straight face [Jesus] says, “That is a lot of sin. A whole lot of sin. Don’t you ever sleep?” He starts laughing. I start laughing.”*

With respect to those authors, sin is never a laughing matter, for Jesus came to earth to destroy the works of the Devil at the cost of His life. Sin is not merely ‘faults’, ‘brokenness’, or something worth a joke and a laugh.

“Sin is cosmic treason.” -Pastor Mike

Take heed of John’s warning the next time you are tempted to make a mockery of God’s grace and His Son by indulging your sin. As Pastor Mike said, “Jesus legally killed your sin,” through perfect obedience to God’s standard of payment. “For the [cost] of [your] sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord [, because Jesus paid for your sin with His body].” (Romans 6:23 with added emphasis and commentary). To indulge in sin is to partake of that which Jesus came to destroy. To be in sin is to be of the Devil and his works. Jesus came to destroy and one day will finally destroy the works of the Devil. Be terrified if you are not in Christ at the foot of the cross.

Whoever Practices Righteousness is Righteous
Serious sin fighting falls prey to a misunderstanding of what legalism is.
True legalism would say, “I am made righteous when I practice righteousness.”
True Christianity says, “I practice righteousness because Jesus is righteous and has made me righteous.” True Christianity embodies a heart that is transformed in pursuit of One who has done a transforming work, defeat the works of sinful rebellion against God in those who trust in Christ. Following after Jesus with serious vigor to sin fight is not legalism, it’s Christian through and through.

Sin and Sin Fighting Seen Rightly
Misunderstood Christianity, which see its sin as small and sin fighting as legalistic, creates a false Jesus who said and did little more than the human focused mantra, “Be excellent to each other.”** True Christianity sees both sin’s cosmic rebellion, and the goodness and loving kindness of God in Christ. As Pastor Mike shared, “Jesus came to destroy your hate and my hate.” His work is truly transformational; He truly changes hearts and draws us in to Himself. See your sin for what it is, and run from the works of the Devil. See the righteous perfection of Christ, and run after Him because He is and has made you righteous if you are trusting in Jesus.

When the thought from Satan enters your mind that your sin is small and your warring against it is legalistic, fight that fire with sword of the Spirit.

“Everyone who has been born of God does not sin, because his seed remains in him; he is not able to sin, because he has been born of God.” -1 John 3:9 CSB

*Quote taken from The Cure by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall.
Note, though this book has many great images in it that may help a young believer understand the grace of God, I believe it forgets the seriousness of sin. Sin in the book has more personal understanding of its effects on the sinner than a cosmic understanding of its rebellion against the nature and character of God.

**Thank you to the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure for this quote.

Come and See What God has Done

Come and See What God has Done

What I Learned Last Sunday

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” – 1 John 3:1-3

Check out last week’s sermon here.

“Yes I’m saved, eternally secure, and adopted as God’s child, but…”

“…but I don’t think that I will ever be happy if I don’t find a spouse.”

“…but if I don’t make the right career choice, my life will be unfulfilled.”

“…but (insert any other genuine pain or struggle in life).”

Insert any discouraging statement after those words, and the point will be proven that, as Pastor Mike shared Sunday, time has a way of making us dull to the beautiful realities of the work of the Gospel. We are too easily bored!

Due to our natural state (Jesus called it, “the flesh” in Matthew 26:41 as did Paul in Romans 7:18) we tend to get so bored that we can talk about our relationship with the holy, holy, holy God as if it were a college degree we earned. Yes, at the time it meant a lot and involved a lot of my life, but now our conversion, and what happened in it, is as normal as a look at the diploma on the wall (or possibly in a dusty box in the basement as mine is).

Is it really true that we can get bored with God?

Give yourself an honest moment of self-reflection, and you will attribute any missteps into sin, failure to represent Christ, and that bored Sunday morning yawn to the ‘sin’ of boredom or familiarity.

Jesus affirms the truism of human nature that “familiarity breeds contempt,” with His words in Mark 6:4 after being rejected by His own people in Nazareth, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” Jesus’ statement affirms that He believed the natural state of people was to mistrust those they were familiar with.

So too, in Jeremiah’s day, a sort of familiarity with the temple of God led God, through Jeremiah, to reprimand the people of Judah for their excess of worship and absence of love for God through their disregard for the oppressed.

“Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’” – Jeremiah 7:4

The people of Judah loved the things associated with God (the temple), but their familiarity with God did not lead to reverant fear and obedience. They forgot the heart behind the law to love God above all and their neighbor as they love themselves (Leviticus 19:18).

Yes, time, through our natural state of sin, has a way of making us dull to beautiful realities. We are too easily bored.

An Invitation To See Wonder 

John invites us again to see God’s love afresh, so that we would continue after Him purifying ourselves and hopefully looking to that day when we will be like him!

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us…” – 1 John 3:1

We fight boredom and familiarity by seeing and remembering the wonder of salvation. I invite you to see the same wonder through the hymns.

In Your New Birth…

Charles Wesley, in the classic hymn, And Can It Be prods our hearts to worship that dead hearts are transformed to life by the work of the Spirit. I pray these thoughts lifts your hearts beyond familiarity to wonder and worship! 

“And can it be that I should gain

An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?”

You do not know how it happened; it was not in your own power or intellect that changed you. One day, through the miraculous work of God by the Spirit (John 3:1-8), you saw Jesus and the work he accomplished as beautiful. You gained an interest in the Savior’s blood. He was no longer foolish to you; He became the joy of all your heart.

Died He for me, who caused His pain—

For me, who Him to death pursued?

You gained an interest in the Savior as you pondered the thought that the Jesus, whose hands and feet you pierced with the nails of sin and rebellion, was the same God-man who pursued you in love to point of death. 

Your heart cannot but scream…

“Amazing love! How can it be,

That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”

In God’s adoption of you…

Of our adoption, Stuart Townsend, in the hymn, How Deep The Father’s Love helps us reflect more on the works of God in saving us to be His kids.

How deep the Father’s love for us,

How vast beyond all measure,

That He should give His only Son

To make a wretch His treasure.

Are you feeling ‘wretch-like’ today, wondering whether or not God loves you? His Words says He gave His only Son for wretches like you.

“…God shows his love for us in that while we were still [wretches], Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:8

 

“How great the pain of searing loss –

The Father turns His face away,

As wounds which mar the Chosen One

Bring many sons to glory.”

How wretched is your sin? Greater and more costly than you can truly ever know. How great is God’s love? Greater than your easily bored mind can even comprehend. But this, you know at the least, in the pain and suffering, the Savior felt on your behalf, God reached down His hand and says, “You are MY child!” The wounds that marred Jesus were the means God used to bring you in as his own.

“And because [the Son of God redeemed you,] you are sons, [and] God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “[Daddy!] Father!” – Galatians 4:6

God has done wonderful things, and our faith is founded in wonder. Wonder today! Ask God to help you see His love and kindness afresh!

On Miscarriage

On Miscarriage

Word in Season

Miscarriage. I could not dislike a word more. It speaks of the senselessness of death: something was carried and it was a mistake, and it was cast out for its mistakenness. There was a life, little fingers were formed and a heart was beating, and for no apparent reason, it is no more. 

My fourth pregnancy was a happy surprise for us. As we dreamed of holding her and recognizing our features in our child, we also longed to see God’s own image imprinted in her. But on the 13th week we were facing a new reality. Life was swallowed by death. Physical pain now accompanied the ache in our hearts and sorrowful questions: why Lord? How could this be?

The subsequent days were filled with the chaos of talking to family and caring for our toddlers, whose needs could not be pushed aside, grief or no grief. I was surprised by the different ways my husband and I mourned. He cried unashamedly. He wanted to sit in the dark and hold hands. 

I, on the other hand, would start cleaning the bathroom late at night, had several sewing projects going, and furiously moved furniture. I could not sit still in fear that tears would come and flood my whole life. 

But at some point, I started listening to my husband, whose worldview is steeped in the Gospel more deeply than mine. I realized that my fretful activity functionally showed that I was minimizing the heavy reality of this death. I was acting as if this death was just like a wrinkle in the carpet: we tripped and kept moving. 

I turned to the Lord then and this is what he taught me. 

I learned not to push against grief, but instead, accept it. 

Death is the awful curse for sin upon this world and has brought so much chaos with it. Ecclesiastes speaks of it: all our aspirations and toil end up being vapor because death hangs over us all like a heavy cloud. It catches us like birds into its nets and sucks the meaning out of everything that our hands touch (Ecclesiastes 2:17-22, 9:11,12). Yet we shrug our shoulders, numb the pain, speak flippantly about God having a plan, and push the tears down  – and with that we minimize the reality of death and God’s work to overcome it. 

But God calls us to live, walk, rejoice, weep in the light of his glorious Gospel. He calls us to name things as they are. He calls us to assess reality honestly, so that in the thorny paths of life this pain – acknowledged and accepted – could bring us closer to him. 

And God invites us to mourn before him. He inspired David to record his laments for us in psalms. These words that we are ashamed to say out loud are pleasing to him: “How long of Lord, Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). In these psalms we can pour out our pain, bewilderment, disappointment: there is something deeply wrong with this world. This should not be. How can it be that a life is swallowed by death? The silence around miscarriage only makes the void created by death palpable. My body knows, and my heart knows: there was a life, and it is no more. Death came and swallowed it and I feel the emptiness. 

I will lament before the Lord. He knows and hears and sees. 

I learned to mourn wisely. 

The feeling of emptiness lingered and made what seemed stable to be shaky and uncertain. Troubled, bewildering questions ran in circles. Grief often takes our thoughts in so many directions, not asking us permission on what to leave untouched. 

Grieving wisely means being patient with it all. It takes time to sort through the lies, face our fears, get used to the new reality. It means not boarding the train of emotions; but instead, waiting on the Lord to comfort me and strengthen me.     

I was learning to mourn as a child of God.

Grieving meant not only honest mourning, but also a deeper appreciation of things that are just as real as death. God conquered this enemy, and this victory will one day swallow death forever (1 Corinthians 15:54). The perishable will one day be clothed in the imperishable, and the mortal will put on immortality. There will be a day when we will see our baby clothed in glory that far surpasses the glory of angels and the glory of our best intentions (1 Corinthians 6:3;15:43,44). 

This resurrection has meaning not just for my future: it is also hope and power for my dark days now. As I was groping for something stable in the shaky places, his Spirit guided me into his truth that has not changed since the day there were two hearts inside my body. 

These are the truths that my feet found as a strong foundation:

  • Who is God?

He is the God who sees, the Shepherd who became a Lamb and passed through the valley of the shadow of death to defeat this enemy; whose resurrection means a living hope for now and for eternity (Psalm 23, Genesis 16:13, John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:3). He has not changed. I can trust him even if I do not understand why he let hope take root in our hearts and took it away with no apparent reason. I can trust him because his words tell me I can, no matter how strong my emotions rage. Together with Spurgeon, I will learn to say: “His sovereign will is the pillow on which I can rest my head amid suffering”. 

  • Who am I? 

A redeemed child of God, called into the fellowship of the Father and the Son (1 Corinthians 1:9). A sheep that was lost but now found, always seeing the rod and staff before her (Psalm 23). I am loved with the same love that the Father loves his own Son (John 17:24). 

In this grace, there is true power for my days. Life will flow on, and my pain will continue reminding me of how broken this world is. But gradually this pain will become clothed with a hope – a living, steadfast hope that is founded – not on what is seen and tangible, and thus, corruptible – but on his word, and on God himself (1 Peter 1:23-25, Hebrews 6:13). 

I learned to grieve in community

Many conversations after the miscarriage revealed that we were not alone. People gathered around us and shared their past experiences – their helpless feelings before the death of their children. My eyes started noticing a layer in the biblical narrative of a multitude of women who suffered a loss. In this community our hope took on flesh and became more real: our child is not dead, and death does not have the final say. 

We were very comforted by the prayers, food, and offers to watch our kids. The Lord taught us to be patient with the awkwardness of those who did not know what to say or offered simple, even if often untrue, platitudes. We accepted the grace offered to us and tried not to allow grief to isolate us: we saw the Lord himself stretching his arms out to us through his church. 

This creation, in which we are called to live and be transformed from glory to glory, is subjected to curse and futility (Romans 8:20) – and miscarriage is one of the terrible manifestations of that curse. Sorrows like this one will always be part of our life here, but we can be confident in this: the one who walked on this earth and who tasted the curse to the fullest, will finish what he started in us and this world (Philippians 1:6). His Spirit within me is truth and life, leading me into his glory so that one day I can say with all that is within me: “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” (Revelation 16:7). 

Rest for the People of God, Part 3

Rest for the People of God, Part 3

Word in Season

This is part 3 of a series of posts on biblical rest. See part 1 here and part 2 here.

After two posts on sorting through how the Bible presents rest, we are ready to respond. Side note: Theology is important because you cannot rightly apply the Bible if you don’t know what it says. That is another blog post for another time. Back to application. The rest for our soul, our eternal redemption that is secure in the unchangeable hands of our Savior, must enter into our work and our rest. More specifically, Christ himself must enter our work and our rest.

Christ enters into our work. Christ has redeemed us and enters into our work, telling us that all of our labors can be used to bring him glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). He brings purpose to our work because these are works he prepared for us to do, for him (Ephesians 2:10). Our work doesn’t provide our value, identity, or salvation. All of this is secure in Christ. We aren’t saved on our ability to climb the corporate ladder, maintain a certain GPA, our athletic prowess, homemaking abilities, or how great our kids turn out.  

Restlessness, anxiety, anger, needing to control outcomes, incessant busyness are indicators that we, instead of Christ, are at the center of our work. When we labor like this, we are saying that Christ’s work isn’t enough, there is more to do. We must cease from striving, cease from our works, sit at the foot of the cross, and rest with our eyes on Christ. We labor from a place of rest. One type of work brings slavery and the other brings freedom. 

Here are some helpful questions to ponder as we think about our labor:

  • Are my emotions controlled by how my “work” went that day? What is it I’m seeking for from my work that is controlling me and my emotions? Joy, pleasure, success, identity? 
  • Whose standard am I trying to achieve? My own, my peers, my children? Who do I need to accept me and tell me, “well done”?
  • What am I trying to accomplish and what happens to my world if I don’t accomplish it? Who’s performance matters?

Christ enters into our rest. The Lord knows we need rest. There was a practical point to the Sabbath as well. We aren’t God and we need rest. Christ enters into our rest just as he enters into our labor. We can rest for the glory of God. We don’t hide from him in our rest, we bring him into those times of rest. When we neglect to bring Christ into our times of rest, this is when we find ourselves not rested at all. It is funny how much work it is to rest well. Self-indulgent rest leaves us exhausted. 

What are some signs we aren’t resting well? 

  • Feeling guilty for resting or feeling like we need to sneak rest
  • When rest seems separate from your life as a Christian. We don’t think about Christ when we rest, it is an escape from Christ and his work. 
  • Feeling like you have to hide from God when you are resting
  • Rest that is primarily self-indulgent

Bringing Christ into our rest in the here and now is practice for the coming eternal rest where we will dwell with Christ forever. 

What small steps will you take this week to rest in Christ as you labor and as you rest? 

  • Ask. Ask God to show you where you are striving apart from him. Seeing where we aren’t trusting Christ is good and necessary. We can’t fight what we don’t see. 
  • Repent. Repentance helps us to rest. Turning from our sin to Christ in and of itself is restful. 
  • Trust. Trust that Jesus died for sinners like you and me. He forgives and provides the grace to help us grow in this area. Seeking refuge in the forgiveness, mercy, and grace from our gentle Savior is the foundation of all true rest. 
  • Act. Is there a small change that can help you rest better in Christ? I write this from a place of great neediness and desire to grow in this area. I’m slowly learning to bring Christ into my labor and times of physical rest in small, simple ways. 
    • Saturday mornings I try to sleep in. I now thank the Lord for the opportunity to sleep a little extra and it helps me not only enjoy that refreshment with Christ but also recognize that it is a gift from him. I am aware of my tendency to hide from Christ in my rest. 
    • I am learning to recognize signs of anxious toil in myself. Acknowledging before the Lord that this is placing trust in myself instead of Christ has been a huge step forward in freeing me to rest in Christ as I work. This freedom has even had a positive impact on my physical energy levels. 

I’m thankful we have a Savior who says his yoke is light. I’m thankful the cross penetrates into all areas of our lives. I’m thankful our salvation is complete in Jesus. Lord, help us rest. 

Note: These series of posts were greatly influenced by a podcast from CCEF on Rest. I encourage you to take a listen here: https://www.ccef.org/podcast/rest/

See part 1 here and part 2 here.

The Abiding, Sufficient, and True Anointing

The Abiding, Sufficient, and True Anointing

What I Learned Last Sunday

“I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.” – 1 John 2:26-27

Check out last week’s sermon here.

You can’t handle the truth!” 

Jack Nicholson’s famous line from A Few Good Men completely falls short of what our world is begging for today—the truth. You might rather say, “Who cares if I can’t handle the truth; I just want to know what is true!”

A 2016 Pew Research and Elon University study of media and technology experts found that respondents were nearly split down the middle (51% to 49%), completely divided in predicting whether or not the future would see an improvement in the spread of true information. Frank Kaufman, one of the more optimistic experts said, “The quality of news will improve, because things always improve.” 

Don’t tell that to my Facebook feed, Frank.

How do you remain in what is true amid the lies? As Pastor Mike shared Sunday, 1 John 2:18-27 was written so that you would avoid deceivers and remain steadfast in what is true.

“I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.” – 1 John 2:26

Question: How do you avoid deceivers today?

Answer: You avoid deceivers when we rest in the anointing you have received. 

Question: What is this anointing?

Answer: The anointing is the work of the Holy Spirit in the salvation of a sinner (Romans 8:19).

Pastor Mike shared that the anointing is better than today’s lies because:

1. The anointing abides (lives) in you.

Jesus said that His coming was what prophets longed to taste for ages (Matthew 13:17). The heart of stone would one day be turned to flesh by the Spirit’s work (Ezekiel 36:26). Jesus affirmed the Spirit’s coming work through His work (John 14:16-17). The Apostles attested to the result of Jesus’ work, the Spirit’s indwelling in believers (1 Corinthians 6:19).

2. The anointing is sufficient.

Jesus said he would offer rest to all those who come to Him (Matthew 11:28). One aspect of the rest found in Christ is the steady rock of assurance and unwavering hope that in Him there is no further improvement needed. He offers a peaceful rest, true assurance that he alone is the solution to your longing heart. Christians do not need to constantly progress into new, evolving truth. Jesus offers foundational 2,000 year old truth that we cling to, preserve, and learn. Do you want rest? Stay close to Jesus. You will not find anything more sufficient.

3. The anointing is true.

You may not believe that statement, but you cannot deny the claims that Jesus made. You must believe Him to be true, or reject Him.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” – John 14:6a

4. The anointing is proven.

No who gives their life to Jesus will ever find him empty. He will always be faithful to you. You will find him more desirable than anything this life can offer.

“You [God] have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” – Psalm 4:7

“in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11

“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” – Philippians 1:23

Question: What happens to those who have been anointed?

Answer: They abide in Christ!

“Jesus made it clear, abiding in Him means you trust Him for everything. You trust Him for life. You trust Him for fruit bearing. You trust Him for help. You trust Jesus Christ alone.” -Pastor Mike

If you have the anointing that is proven, sufficient, true, and abiding in you, run to and live in Christ. 

The world is full of deceivers and alternative truths, and Jesus is calling to you, “Abide in me!” That is a truth you need every moment. Jesus will not fail you.

Rest for the People of God, Part 2

Rest for the People of God, Part 2

Word in Season

This is part 2 of a series of posts on biblical rest. See part 1 here and part 3 here.

Biblical rest is about finding refuge, satisfaction, and actively trusting in the finished work of God’s son, Jesus Christ. Putting our faith in his work on the cross as final for our salvation is where we find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29). Before we dive into application, I think it is helpful to look at the opposite of rest in the Bible. 

Rest and Restlessness: The opposite of rest in the Bible is restlessness. This means we can labor without resting and we can rest without resting. The key to biblical rest is not necessarily to stop laboring and physically rest. 

Psalm 127 is about three areas of human activity: The home, the city, and the family. What does the Psalmist point out about these places of labor? He reflects on the significance of our labor and God’s work. 

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved sleep. – Psalm 127:1-2

It isn’t the work that is bad, it is the heart behind the work. There is a vanity to laboring in any of these areas of life when that labor comes with anxious toil or restlessness.  Why is it in vain? Because this is God’s work to complete. It is he who is taking the work and using it for his purposes. He is in charge. It is a gift from him to have a family, a home, and a safe city. We are not in control of the outcome and our anxious toil is a complete giveaway that we are resting on our works instead of in his. God is pushed out of the picture entirely. That is why the Psalmist stresses that we can lay down that restlessness labor and sleep as an act of faith. 

This striving on the basis of our own works is mentioned in Hebrews chapter 4. 

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.  So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. – Hebrews 4:9-11

We strive, but we strive to enter the rest provided in Jesus Christ. We rest from our works, our striving, our insatiable need to prove or earn something. We are redirected to strive towards the rest found in Christ. We lay down our anxious toil, our restlessness, and surrender our work and our rest to our Lord, Jesus Christ. 

When the Israelites neglected to keep the Sabbath it was a sign of their declining spiritual state. When we find ourselves full of restless striving in the work God has given us to do or unable to physically rest, it too is a sign of spiritual self dependence and a lack of faith. Striving apart from Christ never brings rest. 

In the next post we will make our way towards application.

See part 1 here and part 3 here.

The Old News is Still the Good News

The Old News is Still the Good News

What I Learned Last Sunday

“They [those who deny Jesus] went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.” – 1 John 2:19-21

Check out last week’s sermon here.

The idea of progress in many ways is deceiving. Solomon’s timeless statement, “...there is nothing new under the the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) rings true throughout history and very true today when thinking of “fresh” or progressive heresies.

New, Old Heresies
Heresy A: “I don’t buy the thought that God would send people to Hell for not believing in Jesus. God’s love wins in the end.”

That question is posed as if doctrines are pulled from thin air.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” – Hebrews 9:27

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” – Romans 1:18

Heresy B: “I don’t buy that God really desired Jesus to be killed on the cross for my sins. God willingly putting His wrath on Jesus is abuse!”

Of course, when one anthropomorphizes the eternal God, he/she would come to conclusions like this.

“He [God] who did not spare his own Son but gave him up FOR US [sinners] all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” – Romans 8:32 (Emphasis Added)

In our enlightened age, we see so much good and potential in the world. Humanity simply needs to bond together in love to accomplish great things. The God who is wrathful against sin is for another age of darkness. We are of the enlightened.

Just a few years back (approximately 1,900 years or so), Marcion of Sinope was so offended by the thought of a wrathful God against His own Son, that he threw out the Old Testament and much of the New Testament creating a brand new, nicer God who is: “…incapable of anger, entirely apathetic, free from all affections.”*

Marcion could not live with a God of wrath, and thus the “modern 21st century” view found among many progessive Christians was born…before 144 A.D. Thank God, Marcion’s teachings were condemned as heretical, and the God we see in the whole Old and New Testament was preserved in all His wonder, mystery, and glory.

Old News Is Still The Good News

“Tell me the old, old story…
With earnest tones and grave;
Remember I’m the sinner
Whom Jesus came to save;” -Katherine Hankey

As Pastor Mike shared on Sunday, John in his letter was compelled to draw his “children” back to fundamental reminders about Christ. The fundamentals are learned and believed through the anointing, saving work of God in Christ (1 John 2:20).

Heresy C: “I don’t buy that there is only one way to God. Any good life and genuine religion is good enough.”

“No one who denies the Son has the Father.” – 1 John 2:23

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

We must cling to Christ, the real Christ as revealed in Scripture. Clinging to who Christ is will guard against error and is fundamental to being a Christian. Those who do not cling to Christ are, “…not of us.” (1 John 2:19). The old story of what Christ has done is where true Christianity lives. We must live there as well.

The Wrath-Love Gospel
I uphold the cross, its shame,
My sin was laid on Jesus’ back,
As the Father turned His,
Divine wrath poured on His Son;
I fall with tears, heart torn apart,
That God in kindness,
Planned salvation from the debt I owe;
I cheer the love, of Christ to save,
My life from death upon that tree;
I shout forever, “Christ is King!”
He rose victorious, my hope sealed;
I wait for Him, this final hour,
Divine Son returning,
He’ll make wrongs, right.

*Quote taken from “The Prophets, Volume II” by Abraham Heschel (p. 80)