Reasons To Have Hope You’ll Change

The New Year always offers hope for a new start, hope for change. So on Dec. 31, many people make daring resolutions to do things like run 18 miles a day, floss before, during and after meals, and quit listening to Barry Manilow.  Years ago I abandoned making audacious New Years’ resolutions, because I have the willpower of a famished hyena face to face with a medium rare sirloin steak.

Yet I have hope to change.  Because I have an iron will and incredible self-discipline?  Nope.  My hope for change is Christ.  If you’re a believer, Jesus is your hope too.  Here are a few reasons why:

  • Because the Father loves you so much he gave his one and only Son to save you.  If the Father loves you that much, surely he’ll help you change.
  • Because the Son the Father gave you is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, and the Prince of Peace who cares for you like an Everlasting Father (IS 9).  Jesus employs all his amazing attributes for you.
  • Because God will get glory by transforming you.
  • Because God has predestined you to be conformed to the image Christ (RO 8.29).
  • Because God has promised to complete the good work he began in you (PHP 1.6).
  • Because the Holy Spirit will produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control in your life.
  • Because Jesus’ rule in your life will keep increasing and advancing (IS 9.7).
  • Because Jesus himself is interceding for you day and night (HE 7.25).

We should use all God’s means of grace to grow – reading and meditating on Scripture, prayer, fellowship, worship, communion.  But our hope for change is our mighty Savior, not ourselves.  So take courage – Jesus is at work in you!

photo by ali edwards

Crazy Counsel

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3)

How would you respond to the following situations?

  • Your little girl has the flu, keeping both you and her up all night.
  • Your 401k is tanking and it appears that you won’t be able to retire until age 144.
  • A highway accident backs up traffic for two miles and you’re bringing up the rear.
  • You’re diagnosed with chronic arthritis.
  • You discover that your mother has terminal cancer.

Let me tell you how I would be tempted to respond. Complaining. Ranting. Raging against God. Demanding better. Throwing a colossal self-pity party. I don’t like trials. Not big ones or small ones.

But then I read James and find myself confronted with what appears to be the counsel of a madman. But it’s not. It’s the command and counsel of the living God. I’m to count all trials (that’s all in case you missed it) as all joy.

I’m to count every trial as joy. Not just the big, life-crisis, call-all-the-family trials. Even the little, I-can’t-believe-my-son-just-puked-again trials.

Why? Because trials test my faith. Tested faith is steadfast faith. Steadfast faith doesn’t waver in the face of trials. It doesn’t quiver at the prospect of three months without pay, or three weeks in the hospital, or three days of the chicken pox. Steadfast faith is confident in the extravagant goodness of God and his unwavering faithfulness.

Trials are a fire that harden and temper my faith. That’s why I’m to count them as all joy. God is using every difficulty – from diaper rashes to chronic illnesses – to draw me deeper into him.

As you go to work, or homeschool your kids, or lay sick in bed, let this truth encourage and comfort you. All trials, all joy.

Reasons To Keep Asking Jesus to Heal

It’s easy to get discouraged when you keep asking Jesus to heal you or someone you care about and no visible answers come.  But here are some reasons to keep praying:

  • Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb13.8). When people brought their children or friends to Jesus for healing, he always cured them.  Jesus hasn’t changed.  When we pray for family members and friends, Jesus is right there, as much as if he were visible.
  • Because Jesus told us to keep asking, seeking and knocking (MT 7.7).  He wouldn’t have told us to do this had he not intended to answer our prayers.  God doesn’t give us futile exercises to do.
  • Because God instructs us to make our requests known to him with prayer, supplication and thanksgiving (PHP 4.6).  Again, he would not have told us to make requests if he didn’t intend to answer.
  • Because Jesus is full of sympathy, compassion, kindness, mercy, tenderness, power and graciousness.
  • Because healing people glorifies Jesus and results in thanksgiving to him.
  • Because Jesus loves to bless his children.
  • Because Jesus takes no delight in our suffering.
  • Because he has made many promises to help, rescue and deliver, e.g. “Light dawns in the darkness for the upright” (PS 112.4), and “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” (PS 34.19)

I don’t have answers for why some aren’t healed, but God never lies, and I know that he is completely good, wise, and loving.  So keep asking Jesus to heal.  Keep seeking and knocking.

photo by ro_buk [I'm not there]

Beating The Post-Christmas Blues

Have you ever come down with a nasty case of the post-Christmas blues? You know the kind I’m talking about. It’s two o’clock on Christmas day, you’re sitting in your living room surrounded by approximately 2.4 miles of wrapping paper, and you start to get this sinking feeling. You slowly begin to realize that Christmas wasn’t all you thought it was going to be. You got some nice gifts, ate some suh-weet food, and got a slight tear in your eye when you watched “It’s a Wonderful Life”, although you never would acknowledge that you were actually crying. But in spite of all this it seems like a let-down.

Christmas is the season of hype. At 12:01 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving, malls put up Christmas decorations, radio stations begin playing Christmas carols, and Old Navy begins selling jeans for 70% off. Everywhere you look somebody is telling you that they can satisfy you. Get an HD TV and you’ll be happy. Get your wife diamond earrings and she’ll love you forever (or until next Christmas). Get a new cellphone that makes phone calls, plays music, makes espresso, and acts as a personal trainer and you’ll finally find some satisfaction.

But when Christmas day comes and goes and all the gifts are unwrapped, it feels really hollow. Why? Because it is really hollow. Empty, shallow, a facade, whatever you want to call it. We get the Christmas blues when we place our hope and joy in these things.

So how do you give the Christmas blues a big kick in the pants? Follow the advice of the Psalmist. In Psalm 43:4 we read, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you…” Do you want to avoid feeling deflated after Christmas? Go to God your exceeding joy. Be very intentional about finding your deepest and sweetest joy in God himself. Don’t look for joy in family, friends, presents, Christmas dinner, or anything else. Find your joy in God.

How do you do this? Here’s one practical suggestion. At some point on Christmas, spend time with God, your exceeding joy. If you can, spend some personal time reading God’s word and praying. As you spend time with God, you’ll find yourself refreshed and filled with the joy that only God can give.

Don’t let the Christmas blues rule you on Christmas. Go to God, your exceeding joy, and find true satisfaction.

Originally published December 24, 2007

Incarnation Conversation

Father: What shall we do, my Son?  Look at this hopeless throng, mired in their sin.  My holy justice has called forth my terrible wrath, like a tsunami, to sweep them away with eternal retribution.  How shall we rescue them?

Son: Father, I’ll go.  I’ll take on their nature and live in their world.  I’ll obey you completely like they should have.  Give me your wrath in their place.

Father: But you’re my one and only Son, the everlasting delight of my heart.  Do you know what this means?  Things will be different.  In your human nature, you won’t sense me in the way you have for all eternity, you won’t experience my love in unbroken, face to face fellowship.

Son: But it’s the only way to rescue them from the holy justice they deserve.

Father: Here in heaven you have only infinite pleasure.  On earth you’ll be poor.  You’ll shiver with cold and cry out in thirst.  You’ll be spit on, mocked and insulted.

Son: I’m glad to be emptied to make them rich in you.

Father: Son, for 33 years you will endure the fierce, personal temptation of the Evil One.  For he will realize that if he can entice you to disobey me just once, the human race will be irrevocably lost.  He’ll spare nothing in his attacks.  No human has ever been or ever will be tempted the way you will.

Son: Father, I’m willing to endure all his venom for you and the ones you love so much.

Father: Son, to remove their sins, I must lay you in the dust and give you to be tortured, beaten beyond recognition, and nailed to a cross.  And when I heap the mountains of their sin upon your soul, you will practically become sin itself.  In my infinite loathing for sin, I will abandon you.

Son: More than any pain, Father, I dread being cut off from you.  But I’m looking to the glory that lies beyond, when you exalt me and I bring your children home.

Father: My beloved Son, in whom is all my delight,  I love you.

Son: Father, I love you and delight to do your will.

(note: Obviously, the Father had eternally planned our redemption.  I got the idea for a conversation from John Flavel in The Fountain of Life as a way of contemplating what the Incarnation cost the Father and Jesus).

Merry Christmas everyone!

Photo by: IrenaS

Christmas In the ER

If you want a fresh appreciation for Christmas, try spending four hours in the emergency room.

This past Saturday my little girl had a high fever and was in obvious pain. After consulting with a pediatrician, Jen and I decided to take her into the ER as a precautionary measure.

Five minutes in a hospital is all it takes to destroy any rosy conceptions you might have of the world. In the waiting room we talked to a little boy named Luis, who carried around a stuffed monkey and a bag of powdered doughnuts. Luis’ grandpa had accidentally sliced his hand open with a pair of scissors.

In the examination area we were surrounded by pain. A girl next to us complaining of incessant nausea. Another girl with heart palpitations. Occasional cries of misery from down the hall.

Emergency rooms bring you face to face with the reality that something is seriously wrong with the world. Things aren’t as they should be. Suffering permeates our existence. We live in a world that has been ruined by sin.

But a brilliant light has penetrated this darkness. A baby born in squalor and filth. Jesus Christ, the eternal God, the Holy of Holies, the King of Kings, took on flesh. God plunged into the blackness – the blackness that we created. Hope came to hopeless people. People enslaved to sin. Emergency room people.

A sinless life later, the Light of the World hung upon a wooden cross, engulfed in darkness, calling out in anguish. The sustainer of life died.

But death couldn’t hold him. Empty tomb, death broken, sin beaten. The kingdom of God is now advancing, invading one sinner at a time. The darkness is being repulsed. Forced back. Crushed. And a day is soon coming when emergency rooms will be no more.

All because of a baby born in a manger. Christmas is truly a glorious holiday.

By the way, Charis is fine. A simple infection that can be easily treated. One day those will be gone as well.

Blinking In The Light

Imagine yourself in a dark auditorium.  On stage, you can barely make out some pitiful figures groaning and weeping, groping for relief.  Some, attempting to walk, stumble and fall in the blackness.

This was the nation of Israel in the days of Isaiah.  Their longstanding rejection of God had brought them under Assyria’s cruel fist.  It was a time of darkness, gloom and anguish, as God disciplined Israel with shame and humiliation.

But suddenly the darkened stage is drenched in blazing light.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined. (Is 9.2)

John Oswalt says, “They did not produce [the light] nor are they responsible for it.  Where they had been groping in darkness, or sitting in the land of death’s shadow, they suddenly find themselves blinking in the light.”

What a picture of God’s grace.  Israel, loving darkness, had said “no thanks” to God, but instead of abandoning them to their sin and misery, he graced them with light, like he did with us:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 CO 4.6)

When God enlightened our hearts, it was as great a miracle as when God first spoke light into existence.  In our sin and darkness, we never saw Christ as desirable, but when God shone his light in our hearts, suddenly we could see God’s glory shining in Jesus.  We too, found ourselves blinking in the light of salvation.

This Christmas, think back to when God gave you light, and give him praise.

How Many Blogs Do You Read?

I’m a curious guy, in the sense that I’m curious about things, not curious looking. Today I’m curious (about) your blog reading habits.

How many blogs do you read on a daily basis?

If you use a blog reader, how many blogs do you subscribe to?

If you’ve never commented here, now’s the time to join the party.

Update: For those who are interested, I subscribe to 17 blogs in Google Reader.

Killing Complaining

O Lord, I am astonished at the difference

between my receivings and my deservings,

between the state I am now in and my past gracelessness

between the heaven I am bound for and the hell I merit

The Mover from Valley of Vision

Honest confession: I’ve been a complainer lately. My life has been somewhat – okay insanely – busy. Long papers to write, tricky Greek words to memorize, books to read – all wonderful things leaving me little time for anything else. I feel like I’m stumbling through a fog, just moving from one thing to the next.

And I’ve had a low-grade cold that won’t go away, like one of those people who doesn’t pick up certain social cues. I’ve been chomping on Zinc and guzzling “Airborne” but things still aren’t quite right.

It’s these kind of weeks that are ripe for complaining. I survey my life, look at the chaos around me, and feel like I deserve better. I deserve a peaceful life, good health, and a small bird sitting on my shoulder singing a happy tune (okay scratch that last one). Or do I?

Nothing kills complaining like a good dose of the gospel. When I consider the difference between what I really deserve and what I’ve received, I am astonished. Each morning I experience new mercies from God – I should be experiencing new judgments. God is my loving Father – he should be my judge. I am always getting much, much better than I deserve. The gospel leaves zero margin for complaining.

The next time you’re tempted to complain about your tyrannical boss, or bickering kids, or chronic illness, ponder the gospel. Let yourself be astonished at the difference between what you’ve received and what you deserve.