Purpose in Pain

This morning I was reading in Jared Wilson’s “The Story of Everything“, the chapter on pain called no More Tears.  What a powerful chapter on a challenging subject and I really can’t do it justice herre with a short summary.  I appreciated the depth & the honesty of Jared’s take.  He didn’t shy away from how challenging pain and suffering is while at the same time proclaiming God’s purpose in it.  Jared points out that there is purpose in pain in God’s great plan for the world and God is not absent. God is there and has not forsaken me.

The larger point is that for believers, God’s promise is not keep us from pain now, but that pain has an expiration date.  Without Jesus, that’s not true.  And if I know that it’s absolutely going to end, I can endure, even if that end isn’t in sight.

Over and over, God’s message to the suffering has been I see. I know. And I am looking after you.  Trust me.

I find that I’m often too impatient.  I want God to fix it now, not eventually. I, frankly, don’t necessarily trust Him and His plan because I can’t see far enough ahead to know that it’s really going to be OK.

I want to more faithfully endure, looking ahead to better time, rather lamenting that this time isn’t as good as I want it to be.

Joy Runs Deep

Jared Wilson talks about how the expanse of the Gospel is far bigger than anything we know, bigger than our traditions and expectations. It bursts forth, requiring us to change our ways of thinking and our expectatuions.
And it’s founded, at least in part, on the joy of ‘God with us’. The disciples had no reason to fast, for Jesus was with them (Mar 2:18-22), and He is with us too so, as Jared says, “those united to Christ are not to be typefied by grief but by joy”. Indeed:

When we have this deep joy, we navigate seasons of suffering and brokenness with both the firmness of faith and the flexibility of it. We are able to confidently say, “This day” — with all its troubles — “is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24) Because we know that the joy is so deep, it will buoy our souls for all eternity.

It’s a great post, go read the whole thing.

Farewell, George

I found out on yesterday that a dear friend, George Wolfe passed away of complications from a fall. The news rocked my world. I’ve known George for over 20 years.
My first memory of George was from college, the summer I lived in a rented 3 story house with 14-16 college and single guys (not recommended, BTW). He and I were watching TV and he turned to me and out of the blue he said “Brother, I have to confess that I have an attitude with you now. I’m sorry, I don’t know why, I have no reason, but I just do. I had to tell you to get it off of my chest, please forgive me.” I had only become a Christian a few months before and I didn’t quite know what to make of his surprising openness. I think I said something like “It’s OK.” or something equally profound. But that was George, a man with a heart bigger than his small frame could possibly hold.
Though I knew him well enough, we were never what folks might call close friends. He was just always around. I would see him regularly at various singles or campus events and at church services for 4-5 years until Maria and I were married and we moved to Detroit for my job.
That was over 19 years, 2 states and 5 residences and ago, yet George kept up with us and he’d send us 1-2 letters a year, hand written, 2-3 pages each. Peppered with scriptures and dripping with encouragement, it was always a highlight when a letter from George arrived. Along with news of his life, he’d remind me of how great our God was and exhort me to remember his blessings and not neglect my faith. He’d encourage me to be mindful of my duties as a husband and father to lead my family and raise my girls in the Lord, while at the same time praising me for how I was doing with them.
I was not nearly as good of a pen pal, but I did manage to write back a couple of times, telling him how encouraging it was to receive his letters. Encouragement was clearly his gift and I told him so. He wrote back right away, you’d think I had wrote him a check for a million dollars he was so thrilled that his letters were making such an impact.
If anyone in this world had the gift of encouragement, it was George. He was the kind of guy that was easy to overlook, but if you stopped and paid attention to him, you were the one blessed.
The world will be a decidedly dimmer place without George in it. Lord, give him a big hug for me, please, and George, save me a place at the table.

Till the Decisive Hour

I posted on Twitter & Facebook:

Today in church we sang songs from 3 centuries, 2 each from the 1700s & 1800s, 3 from the 1900s so we can stay relevant.

I love the diversity of our music ministry. I’m a big fan of the old hymns, but new music is good too. I guess new is relative since our songbook dates to 1999.
The oldest song today was the one that moved me. Isaac Watts penned “I’m Not Ashamed to Own My Lord” in 1707 (it wasn’t put to music for 130+ years!) and this verse helped tie together our works vs His for me:

Firm as His throne His promise stands,
And He can well secure
What I’ve committed to His hands
Till the decisive hour.

Yes, we work, we obey, we follow and act based on His command. Obedience is not trivial, yet the best we can do is commit it to his hands. But that is enough, as he can and will carry it through to that decisive hour.

Communion Lesson

This is the communion lesson I gave at church this morning.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 5:7-10

There at the beginning of verse 9 is a curious phrase – ‘once made perfect‘.
How is it that Jesus, the Son of God, was made perfect?
Jesus was perfect before he came to Earth and he arrived here perfect, just as all babies are perfect. The Jesus we just celebrated last month, that baby in a manger, started like all other babies – pure, sinless, holy.
But human babies (as opposed to God babies) don’t stay perfect. We quickly stray from that path. We sin, at first without knowing better, but eventually we know full well what we’re doing. We all become prodigals, and so do our kids. We live our lives our way, convinced that we know what we’re doing, though we do not. And we, and our children, prove this every day.
We are in a very real sense being made imperfect.
But Jesus lived the path we could not. When faced with choices to sin, he did not. Through ‘prayers and petitions’ and ‘fervent cries and tears’, he learned the obedience we refused to master.
In the process, he was made perfect.
The perfection he had before wasn’t chosen or earned, it simply was. He had no opportunity for imperfection. So he had to come, he had to be tempted because it wasn’t enough for Him to simply be perfect; in order to become our ‘source of eternal salvation’, he needed to be made perfect.
That’s the real price of our sin – that a sacrifice that was simply perfect wasn’t quite sufficient; it had to be made that way through suffering. In a very real sense, he had to earn it in order to offer it to us.

Continue reading “Communion Lesson”

Ruth 3 and 4 –

Ruth 3:4 – Can you imagine telling your daughter to go lie won at the feet of a man she has just met for the night?
I have to admit, I don’t understand the cultural goings on here in Ruth 3. She seems to demand of him that he care for her in Ruth 3:9, and he agrees, conditionally. She spends the night with Boaz, innocently at his feet, and sneaks off in the morning before first light. It would appear to the casual observer that sin is afoot, and even today we would assume that a woman who goes out to meet a man and doesn’t return until morning was up to no good. Yet both Boaz and Ruth praise her for her actions. Certainly they were noble, yet they have the appearance of impropriety.
I suppose she went out at some personal risk, but did so in faith that Boaz was the honorable man he seemed to be. He could have taken advantage of her or dismissed her as an unclean outsider, but he did not. instead, he praises her faith and promises to redeem her.
Isn’t this like how we approach Jesus? We come, unworthy, unclean and with nothing but the faith that he will redeem us. He has no obligation to do so, and we have nothing appealing to offer. We approach the perfect, holy God of all creation in our rags and sin, risking His rebuke in hope for that which we cannot get on our own – redemption. And we find in Jesus, like Ruth did in Boaz, our hope fulfilled.

Hebrews 9:15-28 – Redemption Through Blood

Hebrews 9:15 – Why can we “receive the promised eternal inheritance“? Because “a death has occurred that redeems” us.
Hebrews 9:22 – How serious is sin? “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins“. Note, he makes no distinction between sins, only that forgiveness is not possible without blood. We like to think that they aren’t that bad, but we’re wrong, they are that bad.
Hebrews 9:24 – “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” As I read this, I had the image of Jesus, still dripping with the blood of the cross, entering the throne room of God to present Himself to the Father on our behalf, and it brought tears to my eyes.
I feel like the soldier, aged, at the end of Saving Private Ryan, standing at the graves of those who sacrificed on his behalf asking, “Was it worth it?” Here’s the thing, those men in that fictional story didn’t know what would become of the life they strove to save. But God, seeing all of time before Him, did know. He knew those he chose to save would lie, cheat and steal and that they’d act in their own interests instead of His. He knew that we’d corrupt His church and forget our first love. He knew the abuse we’d inflict on each other and the hurt that we’d cause, even in His name.
As I heard Jared Wilson say when he was here in Columbus, “Seeing us at our absolute worst, God said ‘I want that guy.'”
Disciple of Jesus, if that doesn’t move you, read it again and again until it does.
Hebrews 9:28 – “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Do you long for His coming? If you understand your own depravity, you do.

God’s Design Beats Man’s. Again.

This 7th grader took a look at the world and saw something that scientists and engineers in solar energy hadn’t yet. Read the article, it’s fascinating and amazing what this 13 year old’s mind discovered. Here’s a snippet or two:

[W]hen I went on a winter hiking trip in the Catskill Mountains in New York, I noticed something strange about the shape of the tree branches. I thought trees were a mess of tangled branches, but I saw a pattern in the way the tree branches grew. I took photos of the branches on different types of trees, and the pattern became clearer.
The branches seemed to have a spiral pattern that reached up into the sky. I had a hunch that the trees had a secret to tell about this shape. Investigating this secret led me on an expedition from the Catskill Mountains to the ancient Sanskrit poetry of India; from the 13th-century streets of Pisa, Italy, and a mysterious mathematical formula called the “divine number” to an 18th-century naturalist who saw this mathematical formula in nature; and, finally, to experimenting with the trees in my own backyard.

He discovered that tree branches and leaves are arranged in a pattern that comes from the Fibonacci sequence. Calling leaves ‘the solar panels of trees’, he theorized that this pattern was a more efficient way of gathering solar energy than a flat array of panels, which is how man made solar panels are made. He built an experiment to answer that question – and he was right:

The Fibonacci tree design performed better than the flat-panel model. The tree design made 20% more electricity and collected 2 1/2 more hours of sunlight during the day. But the most interesting results were in December, when the Sun was at its lowest point in the sky. The tree design made 50% more electricity, and the collection time of sunlight was up to 50% longer!

The tree design takes up less room than flat-panel arrays and works in spots that don’t have a full southern view. It collects more sunlight in winter. Shade and bad weather like snow don’t hurt it because the panels are not flat. It even looks nicer because it looks like a tree. A design like this may work better in urban areas where space and direct sunlight can be hard to find.

This is amazing, and just makes me grin, both because of the brilliance of this kid and his experiments and the brilliance of our God who designed this amazing world. I look at this and think of Romans 1:20:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Man in the last few decades figured out how to use sunlight to directly generate electricity. In the intervening years, they’ve designed different ways to arrange the panels, even using motorized arrays that track the sun’s movements to try to get the most out of the rays. But God figured this out eons ago and created trees in a way that may look random, but is actually a clever way to maximize capturing the sun’s rays.
I imagine God looking at this ‘discovery’ and say, “Of course, that’s exactly why I did it. Why didn’t you look there sooner?”
Amazingly, the kid credits ‘evolution’ and folks at Slashdot say ‘nature’ figured this out. They are faced with the brilliance of God’s design and evidence of His supremacy compared to us, and yet fail to see Him in it.
The evidence for God is everywhere, yet most fail to see it, though it’s right under their noses – or, in this case, above their heads.

Preach to Yourself

I’ve found this to be so true lately. When life is overwhelming, be it self doubt, family stress, work stress, church stress or anything that overwhelms my abilities, the best remedy is a good time of prayer to remind me of how God loved and desired me so much that he was willing to send Jesus to live and die in order to remove all possibility that we could be separated.
Once that reality is firmly embedded in your soul, nothing else matters.
HT: Jared Wilson

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