Bundle Up – and Behold Our God

polar

Tuesday I went for a short run after work. It was 4:30, and the temperature was 15°. I hope to regain feeling in my face by Easter. Aerobically speaking, I think I could have achieved the same result by pouring burning oil into my lungs. Now while you may not be dumb enough to go for a run in the recent cold weather, if the multiple headlines using the words “Polar Vortex” were true, many of you experienced temperatures equally as cold if not colder.

So here’s a question: what can we learn from a cold spell? (Apart from “Stop running, you idiot.”) Is there anything a polar vortex can teach us about our God? Actually, there is. Listen to this description of God from Psalm 147:16-17:

“He gives snow like wool; he scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold?”

Who can stand, indeed? When the temperatures plummet as they have in the last few days, we stand witness to a fresh glimpse of the power of God. Our weakness and frailty before creation is brought starkly to our remembrance. Despite all our modern technology, our synthetic fibers and engineered heat systems, the best we can do is minimize the effects of the cold. If we attempt to face the frigidity without any protection, we will suffer the consequences. The power of the cold is a display of the power of God.

There’s also another aspect of God’s character shown: his goodness. Why isn’t our planet constantly bombarded by freezing, sub-zero temperatures? What makes the majority of our world, most of the time, a warm and hospitable place for weak humans to live? The goodness and wisdom of the Lord. Yes, scientifically speaking it has to do with weather patterns and atmosphere and ozone and all that – but as Christians we understand that’s just another way of describing the wise and loving care that God has lavished on our planet. God created a world that would sustain human life, and even after our rebellion against him he still sustains us and makes our lives possible. The cold we’ve been experiencing will pass. Warmth, spring, and summer heat waves will return. But imagine if God instead unleashed the full power of his cold on our planet – who could stand then? Polar vortexes demonstrate not only the power of God, but also his goodness to men and women on planet Earth.

The polar vortex may have left, but it’s still winter. Cold temperatures are the order of the day. So when the mercury plummets again, make sure you bundle up. Instead of a run, maybe stay home and drink hot chocolate. But as you bundle up to face the cold, remember to behold the power and goodness of our God and Creator. Who can stand before his cold?

Photo by NASA Goddard  Photo and Video

It’s Gonna Be Loud. And Bright. And Glorious.

It’s gonna be loud.  It’s going to be noisy.  And bright.  And impossible to miss.

Some Christians believe that Jesus will return secretly, and the “rapture,” when Jesus “catches up” believers into the clouds of glory with him will be secret.  As a young Christiain I watched a number of movies about this secret rapture.  I particularly remember one called “A Thief in the Night.”  The opening scene shows a young woman waking up with the radio on announcing the sudden worldwide disappearance of thousands.  She calls out for her husband a couple times, gets no answer, so she gets up and goes into the bathroom only to find his electric razor laying in the sink buzzing.  Terrified, she screams.  

You can watch the opening sequence of “A Thief in the Night” here.

My friend Jim recently told me that when he was 11 years old at a church camp they showed all the kids that same movie in the rec hall right before bed.  “We were all scared after we saw it, and it made a big impression on me.”  Jim said that every morning the camp would play reveille over loudspeakers and everybody would get up, make their beds, and go down in front of the dining hall, line up, say the pledge of allegiance, and march into dining hall.  If not there, you’d get in trouble.  When Jim woke it was thundering and lightning.  He looked around and everybody was gone.  No one was in the cabin. Terrified he thought the rapture had happened.  He ran out of the cabin.  All the cabins were empty. The dining hall was down the hill.  He ran down and could see that nobody was lined by the flag pole. Then to his great relief he saw the other campers in the dining hall.  “Boy was I happy.  I was quite relieved that the rapture hadn’t happened.”

“A Thief in the Night” takes its title from Matthew 24:43-44:

But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.  (Matthew 24:43-44)

We must live every day as if Jesus might return that day.  We don’t know when will come.  But when he does he won’t come secretly.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.  (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

Believers who have died and those alive when Jesus returns will be “caught up together…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,”  but it won’t be in secret.  The whole world will hear the “cry of command,” “the voice of an archangel” and the “sound of the trumpet of God” announcing the presence of Jesus.  What will these things sound like?  These sounds will strike terror into the hearts of all who are unprepared for Jesus to return, but will be joyful alerts to Christians.  They will announce the joy of seeing Jesus and being with him, eternal pleasures at the marriage feast of the Lamb, along with all our loved ones who had entered heaven before us.

Jesus’ return is going to be visible and bright as well:

and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8)

For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  (Matthew 24:24-27)

No one will miss Jesus’ return.  The “rapture” won’t happen in secret.  Will unbelievers see us caught up to be with Jesus?  Will we see each other flying through the sky toward our Lord and his angels?  I don’t know.  But it’s going to be loud.  And bright.  And glorious.  I can’t wait.

All The World Is A Stage

All God does is for his glory!

God allowed Egypt to enslave Israel so he could display his glory by his incredible miracles and deliverance. The worse our circumstances are, the greater God’s glory when he delivers us. The worse things get, the better for God to display his awesome power and faithfulness.  Here are a few examples from Exodus:

9:16 But for this purpose I have raised you (Pharaoh) up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. 

6:7 “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”

7:4-­5 Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”

9:14 For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.

11:9 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.”

14:4 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.”

Mark Dever says that all the world  is a stage for God to display his glory. Everything in our lives, every affliction we go through is a stage for God to display his glory. Paul said that his thorn in the flesh was so that Christ could show his power through Paul’s weakness.  If you are walking through flood and fire, know that God is waiting for the perfect moment to deliver you that will most clearly manifest his glory.

So keep waiting, keep praying and keep watching for God to come riding in on his white horse in the nick of time.

Jesus Don’t Look Like You Imagine!

There’s a picture of Jesus painted on a church sign near my town. His head rises above the rectangular outline as though he stands on tip-toe peering over the top of the sign. He has long, flowing brown hair and a sickly white complexion, like a flower child of the 60’s who hasn’t been in the sun for a decade or two. You can imagine him playing with children or maybe feeding pigeons with crumbs from the five loaves. But this “Sign-Jesus” is not awe-inspiring, not majestic, not glorious.

Contrast “Sign-Jesus” with the vision of Jesus presented in the book of Revelation. King Jesus’ voice is like Niagara Falls at a full roar (1:15). His face shines brighter than the sun (1:13). He speaks, and hearts are pierced and enemies routed (1:14, 19:15). He is both the Lamb who was slain and the Lion of the tribe of Judah (ch. 5), the ruler of the kings on earth (1:5). In his hand are the destinies of every human being, for he holds the keys to death and Hades. And He is the living one who, though once pierced for our transgressions, is now alive and lives forevermore (1:18). This is a Jesus to be reckoned with, a Jesus to be worshipped, a Jesus to be served!

Now let me ask you a question: when you think of Jesus, which image comes to mind? A soft-spoken, timid “Sign-Jesus,” or an all-powerful, glorious, radiant King Jesus?

I’m afraid we often think of Jesus only in his humiliation, the man of sorrows, our humble Savior, without giving attention to his status now as our exalted Lord who sits enthroned at God’s right hand. In Scripture Jesus’ humiliation leads unfailingly to his exaltation. “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death…therefore God has highly exalted him” (Phil. 2:8-9). Let me suggest two reasons why the exalted King Jesus’ rule is good news for us.

Temptation. Have you ever faced a temptation to sin with sense of defeat or hopelessness? “I can’t fight this one – the temptation is too strong, I’m too weak,” etc.  Sometimes we live as though all we have in our faith is a system of redemption to apply that helps us battle our inner demons. But we have not a system but  a living, powerful Redeemer who is present with us to help us overcome sin. Will there be a battle between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit? Absolutely. But we denigrate the power of the risen Jesus to change his people if we face temptation with defeatism. Our King breaks the power of canceled sin and sets prisoners free.

Evangelism. The world is full of lost people, people convinced God doesn’t exist, or is irrelevant, or is there to accept them as long as they are sincere. How can we change their minds and convince them the gospel is true? Well, we can’t. But thankfully we are not trying to convince people to elect Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We are simply heralds of the King. When we share the gospel of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord himself by the power of the Spirit is speaking through us. We cannot know who he will speak to, or how, or when. But we can be certain of this: King Jesus is mighty to save! When he speaks, he will be heard. And amazingly he uses our stumbling efforts to share the gospel as his royal, life-giving proclamation to dead sinners!

This is the risen King’s word to us his waiting people: “Fear not, I am the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17). Christian, behold your King!

Photo by Mrs. D. Krebs

Really, What Do We Have To Be So Stinkin’ Proud Of?

…What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?  1 Corinthians 4:7

It seems like the Corinthians forgot a very important principle: If we have something, it means someone gave it to us.

If there’s food on your table, it didn’t just magically appear there, it’s because Jesus gave it to you.  “No you see, Mark, I bought that food with my hard earned money I get paid by going to my job every day.”

But who put you in a nation where you could get that job? And who gave you the talent to do that job?  Who put you in a country where you could be educated for that job?  Keep tracing it back. Ultimately you’ll see that your talents, your job, your money, and yes, the very food on your table is a gift from God.

If you’re saved, it’s because God chose you before the foundation of the earth, then Jesus purchased your salvation with his blood. Then he sent someone to you to share the gospel with you. Then he opened your ears and heart and granted you faith and repentance.

We don’t want to make the same mistake the Corinthians made and forget where our gifts come from. So let’s remember if we have:

  • Spiritual gifts
  • Natural abilities
  • Success
  • Health
  • Strength
  • Intelligence
  • A good church
  • Spiritual knowledge
  • Friends
  • A loving spouse
  • Children
  • A sense of humor
  • Wealth
  • A home or apartment
  • You get the idea…..

We’ve received them.  They didn’t originate with us.  Therefore we have no reason to be proud of our gifts. But we have every reason to glorify God.  So what spiritual gifts do you have?  Thank God for them today.

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!  Psalm 115:1

Does Your Religion Travel With You?

People are quick to spot hypocrisy.

Nothing has done more harm to the faith than those who claim to be Christians but don’t live it. Peter tells us that we should do good and live exemplary lives as servants of God before a watching world:

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. (1 Peter 2:15-16)

Charles Spurgeon puts it this way – our religion should travel with us.

“A Christian cannot live by a double standard but lives to say, ‘If I pray, I will also act. If I go to the house of God and profess to love God, I love him everywhere. I take my religion into the shop, behind the counter, and into the office.’  If it does not travel with us, God knows it is not religion at all.”

We never know who is watching us.  What do our lives say about the God we believe in?  Are we cheerful?  Are we servants?  Are we generous?  Are we holy?  Or do we grumble?  Do we join in office gossip?  Do we join in impure conversations?  Would our classmates or neighbors see anything different about us?  Are our neighbors glad we are their neighbors?

So for God’s glory, let’s take our faith with us to work and school, to the coffee shop and the grocery store.  Our religion should travel with us.

Do You Have The Right Goal?

“We need to deal with God… that God may be glorified in our condition, whatever it is. If he wills for us to be rich and full, that he might be glorified in our bounty; if he wills us to be poor and low, that he may be glorified in our patience; if he will have us healthy, that he may be glorified in our labour; if he will have us sick, that he may be glorified in our pain; if he will have us live, that he may be glorified in our lives; if he will have us die, that he may be glorified in our deaths” (Romans 14:8). — Thomas Manton

Discontentment comes from having the wrong goal: our happiness.

Though it is natural to desire to be happy, if this is our goal in life, we’ll always be frustrated and discontented.  First of all, because we can’t always be happy – in this fallen world we will suffer.  We won’t get all the things we want.  And even if we did, earthly things won’t satisfy us.  The only thing that can truly satisfy anyone is Jesus Christ.

The key to growing in contentment is to make our goal the glory of God. To glorify God with our lives, whether we are rich or poor, healthy or suffering.  To glorify him whether we are married or single, surrounded by friends or lonely.

And God knows exactly what will glorify him most.

He knows exactly what to bring into our lives that we might most glorify him.  It may bring him the most glory for us to trust and rejoice in him and declare that he is good through sickness.  We may think we could glorify God most by generosity.  God may know we will glorify him more by trusting him to provide our daily bread.

God glorifies himself in blessing his children.  He’s lavish, generous and gives us many good things, for which we should thank him and praise him.  Yet God’s goal is that we might know him and become like his Son.  And this will glorify him more and make us more happy in the long run than any worldly blessing.

O gracious Father, loving Lord Jesus, wonderful Holy Spirit,
Be glorified in me
Praise you that you always do for me
What is most loving
Most wise
Most merciful
Most good
And what will most glorify you.
Help me to be content
And to praise you in every circumstance
And help me make your glory
The goal of my life.

photo by PV KS

Pursue The Right Glory

I’ve been reading Steve Jobs’ biography, “Steve Jobs”.

I can’t shake the sense of tragedy I feel that though he was so incredibly gifted, he didn’t know the Lord (at least not that I know).  It seems that he spent his whole life pursuing excellence, glory and greatness, yet not the right kind.  I want to pursue the right kind of glory.

When we’re born again, God gives us an appetite and desire for glory – his glory. The Christian’s great hope is the hope of seeing and enjoying Jesus in all his glory, and being conformed to the likeness of his glory.

God orchestrates our lives to display his glory in countless ways.  We display his glory by singing his praises.  We show his glory by loving others.  We glorify him by serving others, forgiving others, caring for the poor, teaching our children about God, and working heartily in our jobs and homes.  We bring him glory by trusting him, hoping in him, and making him our great treasure in life.

When the goal of all we do is the glory of God it transforms how we think about every circumstance in our lives.

When we’re having a conflict in our marriage or with a roommate or another believer, instead of trying to “win” or pursue our own happiness, we should ask what would bring God the most glory in this situation.  Puritan Thomas Manton says:

“We need to deal with God… that God may be glorified in our condition, whatever it is. If he wills for us to be rich and full, that he might be glorified in our bounty; if he wills us to be poor and low, that he may be glorified in our patience; if he will have us healthy, that he may be glorified in our labour; if he will have us sick, that he may be glorified in our pain; if he will have us live, that he may be glorified in our lives; if he will have us die, that he may be glorified in our deaths.”

I’m so grateful to have been part of a church of flawed saints for the past 38 years, as we’ve tried our best to glorify Jesus together.  We’re definitely not slick or polished; most of us are just average in our gifts.  Often it feels like we’re just muddling along, but we’re serving and caring for each other and seeking to reach people for Christ. Imperfectly.  At times imperceptibly.  In good times and bad.  And we’re doing it all for the glory of Jesus.

I can’t wait to be there on that final day to watch Jesus reward my friends.  To hear him say “Well done, good and faithful servant” to the humble servants in our church.  I’m so excited to see the rewards Jesus heaps on my brothers and sisters who have glorified him in their suffering.

O Lord, help us to live and die for your glory.

photo by Jacobo Garcia