Tag: hope

A Christmas Story Written By Friends

A long-long time ago on winter night, snow began to fall.
Through window cracks it fell and fell until it covered each wall.

Crisp, winter winds blew the snow into piles.
The swirling snow could be seen for miles.

Just when it looked like there was nowhere to run from this snow cloud in my house.
Behold I was scared for I nearly tripped on a mouse.

The poor little creature had come in from the cold
Along with his family ten thousandfold!

I stopped and I thought, “Do I take pity on them all?”
or do I throw them all out like little bouncing balls?

And so I grabbed their tails as they started to run,
and threw them out one by one.

Before they were all out the door in a row, one turned its head and said “why do humans hate we mice so?”
I chuckled and said “maybe because you’ve all eaten my cheese and cake and cookie dough.”

As the mice wandered off into the cold winter night,
I saw in the distance an unfamiliar light.

It’s glow was warm and it flickered and danced.
As the snow swirled around, I fell into its trance.

A man with a fiddle and a man with a bass, played Christmas music
at that yonder place.
The music that floated gently through the air, spoke of Christ’s wonder,
goodness and grace.

They sang a song of that blessed pair
No room in the inn, were left out in the night air.

The melody went on, it spoke of the fame
Of the prince who came to declare his Father’s name.

And who should appear but the mice I threw far from me.
Their voices sounding like a sweet symphony.

A lump grew in my throat as I looked down in the snow,
There is a lesson here that someone wants me to know.

So I took the scene in afresh and anew.
I paused to ponder like so few do.

“Mr. Mouse, you asked why humans hate you so.
It has something to do with snow.

For in a town, a long time ago,
was born our savior whom we must know.

He brings a future hope of all things new:
A lion with a lamb, and a man with such as you.”

And in this scene of wind, snow and music pleasant,
we remember the Savior as our greatest present.

And once more they lifted their music loud,
for a man named Jesus overcame sin’s shroud.

I said to the mouse “Our sin and hatred He will no longer know,
because of Jesus we can start fresh, white as snow.”

The end.

Why I stayed in church

I’ve constantly dealt with the question of why 20’s and early 30’s were leaving the church. I never asked why I didn’t leave. Here is a first attempt at answering the question. It revolves around one key thing: God.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 1:6

Religion is a crutch
True. We do not need a crutch, we need a savior. We don’t need help or an aid, we need something that will radically change us. The biggest thing to me about the church is the Gospel. The central message of the Gospel is death to life; sin to righteousness. This isn’t found by a right of passage or a self-help crutch. It is founded on Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

Christians are just hypocrites
True. We’re also liars, thieves, fornicators, cheats, gossips, gluttons, drunkards, murderers, slanders, etc. Funny thing is, as I look across the human experience, I see the same thing. The church isn’t made of perfect people, and if it were, we’d at least be liars according to 1 John. Church is family. We’re not perfect, but being perfect is not the point. Again, it comes down to the central message of the Gospel. Church is filled with redeemed people not perfect people.

Church doesn’t meet my needs
True. Here is the paradox of church: If everyone comes to church focused on meeting everyone’s needs, everyone’s needs gets met. Church is not about what you can get, it is about what you can give to others. Why would someone join something that is not about them is a bit crazy. This goes back to the central message of the Gospel: Jesus gave Himself on our behalf. His focus was on our needs and the Father’s will, not Himself.

The Gospel
I did not quit because I believe Jesus died and rose again. Believing this means being a part of a community of people who also hold that belief and seek to proclaim the message of death to life. The Gospel is central. Church is not about what I get, but as Jesus modeled, church is about what I give. The hardest principle to get is realizing the church is not about me, it’s about Him.

The Church
I embrace the church because it is Jesus’ most prized possession. In pursuing Christ and helping others, ultimately our own needs get met. In getting the focus off ourselves we gain depth and a spirituality that can only come from the grace of the Cross. In church we realize the greatest need of all mankind and the only solution. We’re messed up, and knowing that fully, Jesus still reached out to us.

The bottom line:
I did not quit church because Jesus did not quit on me, those in the church, or those who still have not heard the Gospel. The church isn’t perfect and neither am I, and that’s ok. Christ is the one who makes us complete and perfect. The problems of church become less and when I pursue God and help others more.

Name it & claim it!

The Sunday sermon talked about the cows of bashan from Amos 4. (Ok, you can insert corn fed, I mean lame jokes here: The sermon was moo-ving, A1 sermon, nothing like milk of the Word, etc.) I suppose there is just no way to discuss that passage elegantly as the cows referred to women. The juxtaposition of brokenness to hiding it was striking.

Pondering the sermon
Those who hammer holiness in their sermons need to take a serious look at key women in the Bible. It’s messy. Then, take a look at key men in the Bible. It’s even more messy. The problem with depravity is the constant thought that we don’t measure up; that we are lacking. This leads us to a choice: to listen to the fool or the wise. To listen to fallen voices of depravity or the grace of the Gospel. Pastor Jon did a good job pointing to these two choices: truth or error.

Name it & claim it
There is truth to the name it and claim it phrase. It’s not centered on our wants, but grace. 1 John 1:9 is a name it and claim it principle. If we confess our sin (name it) He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins AND cleanse us from all unrighteousness (claim it). Name it and claim it should be about grace, not possessions. When we embrace our brokenness God offers not just forgiveness, He cleans us up!

The Bottom Line:
We have a choice. What will we pursue? Truth or error? Grace or tyranny of our fallenness? If being perfect consumes us, we will never get dirty. Serving and helping people is messy. We want to hide our depravity, but Jesus bring it into the light. We view it as a stain, Jesus views it as dirt to be washed away. His scars prove that. We view it as hopeless, Jesus forged the Gospel in hope. Name your sin, claim its forgiveness, and as a bonus Jesus makes you clean. The Gospel is a powerful thing.

Unspiritual warfare…

The Bible teaches about spiritual warfare and depravity. Both are important to keep in mind, but we tend to ignore depravity. Often we view that good things are blessing from God and bad things are from Satan. This puts us in a seemingly innocent place. Satan can “bless” (the Bible often speaks to the unrighteous prospering) and God can be the source of “bad” (the Bible also speaks of trials and testing that God allows in our lives). It is dangerous to ignore our depravity.

The path to sin

“But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when list has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” ~ James 1:14-15

Lust is a desire that we have: hunger, thirst, sex, acknowledgment, etc. God designed us with certain appetites. He did not create us as unemotional beings. Being tempted is not a sin. Desiring is not a sin per se, but there are frequent times when our own lust carries us away to sin. This is not a spiritual battle, this is our own self we’re talking about. We often choose to sin because we want the sin that is before us.

The reality of sin

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” ~ 1 John 1:8-10

John’s letter was written to Christians. He gives us a reality check: we sin. While in Christ we are saints, the reality of our current condition is we will sin. To ignore this fact is to miss the mark. This is not a spiritual condition, it is a human one. We are depraved. But, in Christ we have forgiveness. While Christ covers all our sin, there are sins we need to scrub out of our lives. This is not a tragedy, it is a reality. Christ took the tragedy upon himself so you and I can be forgiven. We can be clean.

The choice to sin

“Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” ~ Romans 6:12-13

In Christ we have the freedom of choice. We can choose to be righteous. We can choose to sin. The power of being in Christ is that sin does not have power over us. Christ broke the bondage of sin. God does not describe this as an easy choice. He knows that we often desire the sins before us. When sin reigns in us, it’s because we let it. The power of Christ gives us the only way out.

The bottom line:
We avoid the fact that we are depraved as it leads to what we loath even more, responsibility. To ignore our depravity is to ignore the power of the Gospel. Christ on the cross broke the bondage of sin. Reality is we will struggle until we see Christ face to face. Depravity is the greatest equalizer we are all guilty, but in Christ everything changes; not making us better than others, but making us free.

In Christ we are: a new creation, saved, sanctified, cleansed, an heir, family, royalty, a crown, alive and righteous. In Christ we are saints. If we ignore our depravity we forget that we are nothing without the Gospel. If we ignore it, we can lose sight of the hope that is to come: a time when there will be no more sin. In Christ we are free. After all, He won!

Book Review: The Land Between by Jeff Manion

The Lang BetweenThe sub-title of the book says it all: Finding God in difficult transitions. Jeff Manion is not dealing with a hard day. The Land Between deals with gut wrenching periods of time. This book ranks as a must read. If you are in traveling in the land between, you’re crazy to ignore what Jeff is communicating. Strong words but true, and coming from a guy in such a transition.

The premise
Using Israel’s trek from Egypt to the promise land, Jeff uses lessons from Israel to help guide us in our own land between. The book handles the Bible passages with excellence. Often the Old Testament is moralized and man centered. Jeff brings out what these passages are really about: God at work preparing and refining His people. He describes God as the hero; not just for Israel but you and I as well. Throughout the book the choice is clear between trusting in God and the pit of complaining & bitterness.

Serious stories
Jeff’s places stories a the right spots like an expert chef using spices. They are brief, real, and at times very raw. (Challenging transitions are like that.) While at times he gives the result, there are times where he does not. Jeff’s own land between ends in blessings. In difficult periods, we need to remember that God does get us through. The stories shared bring reality to light. (Like wondering when the transition will be over.) He clearly articulates the dirty reality of hard times.

The book
The book reads easily and conversationally. I appreciate how the book handles Bible texts well, while not academic in their explanation. That skill is hard to find. The book is applicable in the sense of our relationship with God; the choices we are faced with, the emotions that will boil in us (they will boil) and the intimate involvement of God throughout. Jeff took roughly 200 pages would could be volumes. The Land Between is the perfect size, depth and readability for his intended audience; those of us in the land between.

The bottom line:
The last thing we want to hear is another book we should read when in difficult transitions. This is a book we should read. Why? 1) Israel made costly mistakes that can be avoided. 2) We need to remember that God is not merely with us, He is intimately at work in us. 3) It is not a lassie tale of hard times turned good. The Land Between lays out the road map for our hard journey. More than the insane details of our challenges, we must embrace God. The feeling I got after reading The Land Between was calm resolve. Not the emotion I expected.

There are not many books I’ve read were I have a wish to thank the author in person. Jeff, thank you for you for the map of the desert!

God save me from…. because I’m bad!

Psalm 38 really popped out at me. It’s like a divine irony. I invested much time meditating on psalms 37-40. All these Psalms focus on God’s deliverance, with a unique twist. In Psalm 38, the twist is a double whammy: sin & enemies.

I’m bad
The Psalmist realizes his depravity and grieves over his sin. While one should work under grace, patients, and meekness when dealing with their depravity, there is still a real and sickening element to sin. Sin should grieve us. Grace does not remove the sting of sin.

Pop-factor #1: In trials, we must remember we’re also fallen.
Avoid: Self-righteousness, it’s everyone else’s fault.

Save me from…
The Psalmist realized he’s lost and in grave need of grace. He still asks for deliverance. God can use enemies, hard situations and trials independently or because of our sin. In either case, we see the pattern of asking for God’s deliverance. While trails are hard and grievous, its ok to ask for them to be over.

Pop-factor #2: In trials, its ok to ask for God to end it.
Avoid: Self-pity, making it all about yourself.

God
The real issue for anything good or bad in our lives is to show God to be God. Trials may deal with our sin, or be completely independent of it. They may be to strengthen us, or they may not. The big thing the Psalmist realizes both in his sin and in his trial is the greatness of God. God is the biggest concern. God’s justice must be satisfied as well as His compassion. God upholds the righteous, but only He can make one righteous. This deals with our sin. God delivers His own, and only He can do such. This deals with our situations.

Pop-factor #3: Trials regardless of reason are about God showing Himself as God.
Avoid: Self-focus, forgetting the big picture.

The bottom line:
God delivers bad people from bad situations because He wants to show Himself as good. It’s a hard listen. But, in bad situations don’t think you’re all perfect. Deal with the sin God reveals, even if its unrelated to the difficulty challenge you’re facing. Remember, God is God, you’re not. So, God save me from…because I’m bad!