He Hears

We all have had bad days. Some of us have had bad days that last for weeks and months at a time. We know the difficulties of discouragement and the darkness of despair. We’re not alone in our heartache. In Psalm 6, the psalmist says he is “languishing” (Psalm 6:2, ESV) and that his “bones are shaking” (Psalm 6:2, CSB). He recounts how he has cried himself to sleep every night (6:6) and how his eyes have swollen shut from his weeping (6:7). But, in his heartache, he finds hope. He finds it in God’s steadfast love (6:4). He knows that God has heard his weeping and pleas (6:9-10).

We’ve all felt this kind of pain and shed these kinds of tears. And, by God’s grace, the same hope and help that comforted the psalmist can comfort us. In the darkness of our despair, we feel alone and isolated. We wonder if anyone cares or if anyone is listening. We wonder if there is any way out of the pit we’re in. The psalmist reminds us that there is. The One who created the universe created you in His image. He hears your cries. He knows your heartache. And, He can help. He can lift your gaze off your circumstances and onto Him. He can give you a new perspective that sees beyond your context to the God who holds all things in His hands. Cry out to Him. Trust in Him. Rest in His steadfast love.

Advertisements

Promise

I have seen and heard of a number of different kinds of promises. There is the pinky promise. There is the promise ring. There is the politicians’ promise. There are contractual promises and marital promises. Then, there are divine promises. It is this last type of promise that we see in Jesus’ conversation with the thief on the cross. And, it is the promise of Jesus that offers pardon for sin.

As Jesus hangs dying on the cross, Luke’s gospel tells us (Luke 23:35-43) that the crowd watched, the leaders scoffed, the soldiers mocked and the thieves insulted. But, then something happened in the heart of one of them. He stopped hurling insults at Jesus and began to rebuke his co-conspirator. He reminds him that his death was imminent. Judgment was coming. He was going to stand before the eternal judge who would soon render His sentence. This repentant thief acknowledges his own guilt and declares he’s deserving of the punishment he is receiving. He recognizes the innocence of Jesus and asks him to “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42, CSB).

The thief had nothing to offer Jesus in payment for such a request. He had no good works to give. He had no time or opportunity to engage in religious rituals or practices. He had no chance to make amends for any or all of his wrongdoing. He simply asked to be remembered when Jesus comes again. His is a plea of faith. You and I bring nothing to Jesus other than the sin that needs forgiven.

Jesus offers the thief, and everyone of us who come to him in repentance and faith, hope. He assures him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42, CSB).

Today. Jesus’ promise suggests that there is no delay for those who trust in Him. No purgatory. No soul sleep. No waiting. The moment we breathe our last breath on this earth, we take our next in the presence of Jesus.

Furthermore, Jesus promises His eternal presence. He says, “You will be with me.” All who turn from their sins and look to Jesus in trusting, saving faith will be with Jesus forever.

Finally, Jesus says the thief will join Him in paradise. The psalmist spoke of dwelling in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6). That’s the hope Jesus gives here. Those who are His have an eternal home.

As Jesus hung dying on the cross, He reminds us that death is not the end. It is not our final domain. Jesus died so we don’t have to. Because of Him, we can live, even though death comes to us all.

A promise is only as good as the individual who makes it. They have to have the character and the ability to follow through on the commitment. Jesus has both. Since He is God, He is perfectly holy and trustworthy. As God, He has the ability to follow through on what He has promised. He promises pardon for sin and a restored relationship with God. May our hearts be repentant, our eyes be open, and our hearts be receptive to the hope Jesus offers. Rest in Him and Him alone today.

God Remembered

ios9-reminders-app-icon-for-wrap

On more than one occasion in my life, I’ve had to confess that I’ve forgotten something. I forgot about a deadline or an appointment or an assignment of some kind. More and more, I find myself having to use the reminder app on my phone to help me remember what to take where and who to call when. In our busyness and frailty, we often forget. We forget dates, events, promises and sometimes even people.

Frailty and forgetfulness seems to go together. We know that deep down. After all, we forget…and we have been forgotten. Someone has let us down in one way or another. A forgotten anniversary or birthday. A forgotten lunch date. A forgotten promise. We are not only forgetters. Sometimes we are forgotten too.

When we read the story of Noah and the great flood, we read of a man named Noah and his family building an ark, loading up animals, and surviving a deluge. After the rain falls and the storm subsides, the Bible says, “God remembered Noah” (Genesis 8:1). God remembered. What comforting words.

Those words struck me one morning as I was reading this text. In the face of all the fears we have, we do not need to fear that we are forgotten. We’re not. The God who created everything has not lost track of us. A hectic schedule and a full calendar have not squeezed us out of God’s mind. His omniscience is not impacted by the frailty that robs us our memory as we age. God had promised Noah to bring him through the storm safely. God not only remembered Noah, but He also remembered His promise to him. The winds came. The waters receded, and Noah stepped out onto dry land. And as God remember Noah, He remembers us. As God remembered His promise then and He remembers His promise now. In Christ, we are not alone. We are not forgotten. When those fears arise let these two words encourage you. God remembered.

Fix It

breaking-worldTechnology is great, except for when it isn’t. The other day, my iPhone acted up and some app wouldn’t work properly. I had uploaded some meeting notes into the cloud and the app kept crashing. And, I got frustrated. I tend to do that when things break. My frustrations aren’t limited to the tech world. Leaky pipes, sticky garage doors, and touchy automobiles frustrate me too. Things are supposed to work the way they’re designed to, and when they don’t, it’s aggravating.

My guess is that you share in my frustrations. Most of us can only handle so much brokenness. We want things right. We want things to work properly. We want things fixed. And, our desire to address the broken is not limited to our gadgets and gizmos. We want the same thing for our culture and our world. A simple look at the headlines reminds us of the brokenness of our world and our collective desire for things to be right. Social unrest. Corruption. Lawlessness. Disregard for life. Division and discord. The list goes on and on. We want these things fixed. We want these things to be right. We want things to work the way they’re supposed to.

At its most basic, our desire for things to be right is a desire for justice. When my iPhone doesn’t work properly, I want Apple to fix it. After all, they made the thing. They can make it right. Fixing the technologies in our lives are one thing. Fixing our world is something else. Where do we go fix it? Our governments? At best, their solutions are short-lived. At worst, they compound the problems. Our collective sense of right and wrong? The problem here is that we are fickle. Today’s right is tomorrow’s wrong. We shift with the wind and the tide. Social media? Right. Ranting on Twitter and Facebook really solves things. No, none of these are real answers. We’re going to have to go the One who made us. Only He can make things right. Only He can fix it.

The Bible assures us that one day, Jesus will come and right every wrong. He will fix what’s broken in our world. As believers, we long for that day. We long for His justice to reign and the corruption caused by sin to be completely overcome. But, what about the gap between then and now? More importantly, what do we do when we realize that we are as corrupt and broken as the world around us? We have to look to the One who made us because only He can fix it.

When Jesus died on the cross, He satisfied God’s justice. He bore the judgment we deserve. And, because of that, we are free in Him. While we still bear the scars and the struggles of this broken life, we know that God’s grace has lifted us. We are able to move forward and persevere in a world filled with things that don’t work right. Grace works like that. It deepens our understanding of our own brokenness and the brokenness of the world around us. We grieve more as we mature in our faith. Our heart aches more and more because of the reality of sin and the impact it has in our lives and in our world. But, in the midst of our sorrow, there is the strength to go on and the hope to look ahead. Jesus is indeed coming again and He will right every wrong. Justice will be served. He will fix this broken world and He will reign in righteousness. He will fix it. Until then, His grace is sufficient. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

 

 

Speaking through the Ages

 

bible-sunset-2

It’s amazing to me the way God speaks through His Word. Sixty-six books written over the span of hundreds of years by scores of authors in a myriad of different contexts and circumstances all with one central theme.

I was reminded of this yet again today. This morning, I was reading in the Old Testament book of Daniel and the New Testament book of Hebrews. At first glance, it seems like these two book have little in common. One centers around a man’s life while in exile in a place very foreign to him and the other stresses the superiority of Christ. They were written hundreds years apart in very different circumstances. Yet, upon a closer look, they both emphasize the importance of faithfulness in the face of temptation and pressure to do something else.

Throughout the book of Daniel, we read of a quartet of young Jewish exiles who are growing up and growing old in Babylon. Over the years, they forsake the king’s food, refuse to bow down and worship his statue, and hold fast in the worship of their God in face of constant threats and opposition. The culture around them pushes them to worship one way, yet their hearts remain true to the one true God.

The book of Hebrews is also written to people being pressured to forsake their faith in Jesus. They are being beckoned to walk away and to worship in some other way. The author of this letter goes to great lengths to encourage his readers to hold fast to Jesus because He is superior in every way to anything they had ever known.

The correlation between these two very different writings struck me afresh this morning as I read of Daniel’s insistence to continue to pray to God in the manner in which he was accustomed. He did so knowing it would jeopardize his life. He refused to waver in his faith. He clung to what he knew to be right, even in the face of an incredible amount of pressure. As he did so, God not only delivered him from the lion’s den, but He also revealed to him a vision that concluded with this promise:

“And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’” (Daniel 7:27 ESV)

Daniel stood fast and drew encouragement by the promise that God would prevail.

As I turned several hundred pages (and several hundred years ) forward in my Bible to the book of Hebrews, I read of the marvelous provision of Jesus and its sole sufficiency to save us from sin and judgment. Despite pressure to look in some other direction, Hebrews reminds us to cling to Jesus and to salvation only He can offer. And, it challenges us to encourage others to do the same, especially in times where pressure mounts to do otherwise. Towards the end of the tenth chapter, the author writes:

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:19-25 ESV, emphasis added)

The pressure to walk away is real. The voices calling us to quit are loud. The temptation to give up is alluring. Constantly struggling against the winds of culture can be tiring. Yet, Daniel’s example challenges us to press on and to hold fast, even in the face of opposition. His vision encourages us with the hope of Jesus’ ultimate victory. The words of Hebrews remind us that Jesus is sufficient to bring us into right relationship with God and because of Him, we can stand with confidence. So, we should encourage one another to hold fast even in the midst of the difficult days in which we live.

So, draw strength from these words. Be encouraged by them. Words written hundreds of years apart by different men in the midst of different circumstances, yet united in a message of hope and deliverance and in the encouragement that offers.

 

Longing

I like winter as much as the next guy, but there’s winter…and then there’s winter. A couple of inches of snow around Christmas is one thing. Siberia is another. Where I live, it’s snowing…again. And the low tomorrow is supposed to be -15. And no, that doesn’t factor in windchll.

As I heard the weather forecast this morning on my drive into the office, I couldn’t help but pray. I thanked God for the seasons and then said “but I really long for spring.” And then it hit me. If the challenges of winter intensify our longing for the deliverance of spring, how much more do the challenges of life…the wintry seasons of our souls…intensify our longing for the deliverance of Jesus?

As we all know, this life is filled with difficulties and challenges. And, many of these testify to the brokenness and corruption brought on by sin. Yet, there is a coming day when the last vestiges of sin’s power will be destroyed. Jesus is coming to right every wrong, reclaim those that are His, and restore and renew all that is. Sickness and death will be a thing of the past. Evil will be no more. Heartache and heartbreak will be gone forever. It may be winter now, but there’s an eternal spring coming. Long for it.

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20, ESV)

Why Christmas?

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.  In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:1-7 (ESV)

Most of us are familiar with the who and the what of Christmas.  At the very least, we have heard of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus.  We know of the shepherds and the wise men.  We’ve heard of Bethlehem, the manger and the star in the sky.  While we know most of the who and the what, we sometimes forget about the why.

In the book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes to a group of Christians who are forgetting how they became the children of God.  As he does so, he reminds us that apart from Christ, we are slaves. Just to what are we enslaved?  Elsewhere, Paul suggests that as an unbeliever, we are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:17).  Here, he is saying that not only are we slaves to sin, but we are also enslaved to our own efforts at being good enough to overcome our sin.  We work hard at being good and religious, but that is not enough to free us from our sin and its consequences.  We need help.  Something or more specifically someone has to set us free.

Subsequently, God sent His son.  At just the right time in human history, God fulfilled His promise to set us free.  Jesus became man and was born to a virgin.  As He grew, He lived a perfect, sinless life and died in order to set us free.  When we yield our lives to Jesus, He sets us free from the law of sin and death.  He frees us from the power and the penalty of sin.  He frees us from our human efforts at being good enough to earn our way to Him.

Ever try to be different only to come up short?  Have you felt the frustration of not being able to make any real changes in your life?  We need help.  We need Jesus to set us free.  Only He can deal with what really holds us back. This Christmas, experience the freedom that Christ offers.  Quit being enslaved to your sin and your efforts to overcome it.  Instead, give your life to the One who came to set you free.  And, in Him, experience the real hope of Christmas.