Cause for Sorrow

Yesterday I wrote that in this digital age we (especially in the Church) need to be intentional about mourning (update: it seems that Russel Moore agrees). Ever since I wrote that, I have been processing things that are worthy of being sorrowful over in the wake of the violence over the weekend. Here is my list. What would you add?

  1. That no less than 100 people made in the image of the Almighty God have been killed or injured by wicked men (both in Friday’s and Saturday’s attacks).
  2. That their friends and loved ones are suffering greatly in the confusion that has ensued.
  3. That the blame shifting has already begun, and it’s apparently everyone’s fault.
  4. That well-meaning Christians have once again been lumped in the homophobic camp with militant Muslims.
  5. That many people are going to be facing unfair stereotypes in the upcoming days/weeks (in the LGBTQ community, in the Christian Church, in the Muslim world).
  6. That evil people do evil things.
  7. That the politicians have already begun casting stones.
  8. That erroneous, false prophets (i.e. Westboro) are blaming the LGBTQ community for what occurred.
  9. That many people continue to die without Christ daily.
  10. That this will continue until Christ returns.

Hope in the Cross

In spite of the sorrow, there is hope at the foot of the cross. God looked down and saw the pain and suffering that his creation was enduring and followed through on His age old plan to sacrifice Himself so that we would not need to be separated from Him for eternity. His death and resurrection secure the our hope in a Kingdom that will come to earth. There is pain now, but for those who place their hope in Christ there will be lasting joy. I have sorrow for all of the above, but my God is alive and gives me hope to come through the sorrow.

Jesus talked about the crane

I know it wasn’t you. But it was someone you know. Someone in the maddening crowd of social media-ites posted something about God’s judgment when the crane toppled over on Saturday killing over 100 people in Mecca and injuring many, many more. I know, because that is the first time I read about it. Someone (I don’t recall who) compared it with 9/11 and said it was God’s judgment for Islam’s actions 14 years ago.

The gospel of Jesus is opposed to this ultra-right-wing-conservatism that blames every bad thing that happens in the world on someone’s sin (cf. Pat Robertson after the Haiti quake).

What Jesus said about it 2000 years ago

Luke 13.1-5 (emphasis mine)

There were some present at that very time who asked (Jesus) about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

To be sure. There are plenty of examples in Scripture where direct, physical punishment occurs for sin (2 Kings 5.20-27; Acts 5.1-11; Acts 12.20-25). But the first inclination of Christ’s heart is compassion for those who suffer from seemingly meaningless pain. And through this, He ultimately desires that every Muslim, Jew, and Atheist (and everyone in between) come to repentance and follow Him as Lord and Savior.

They are no worse sinners than we, and daily deserve our prayers and compassion.

“… Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” — 1 Timothy 1.15-16

That which will never fade

Recently I read an article in our  local paper about technology’s ability to maintain information. The general thrust of the article was that despite our best efforts and misplaced hopes, not everything that we put on line via social media and the like will be attainable later on. The author proceeded to discuss the importance of keeping hard copies of things that we actually want to keep around (favorite photographs, and such). Oddly enough, in attempting to read the article on line later that week, I couldn’t find it on the newspaper’s website!

All will fade

It has been said that anything you put on line will be accessible for a long time (even if it has been “deleted”), but there is still great validity to this article. Some things that we think are so important (or conversely, so terrible) turn out to be small bumps in the road a few years down the line. Furthermore, think of every thing and every one that we deem to be “important” in this world. How long will their importance last? Your family trip to Disney Land might be remembered for a generation and then fade. Important world events will be written down in history books and be remembered for generations (until revisionists change the books), but even the truth of what exactly happened will be obscured over time.

A popular speaker will be remembered for anywhere from ten to 75 years (unless they were really well known and influential, then their speeches will have been recorded for other generations to hear); well known authors will have a deeper, wider, and longer impact being remembered for a number of generations (again, more if they had a huge impact); and important world leaders and politicians will go down in history! This will be the case, at least, until they fade into antiquity where it is difficult to separate fact from fiction.

My point? They all fade. They all will dissipate. You have to be really, really important to be remembered for longer than the average person– but even then, you won’t be remembered (correctly) forever.

The Promise

We have a great promise from God regarding that which will never fade away:

…you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for:
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1.23-25)

Not only will God’s Word (and thus His promises) never fade away, but we will be upheld in Christ forever– we who are in Christ have been born again of an imperishable seed! This should give us hope in every aspect of life. When your physical and spiritual pain is more than what you can bear, when your friends desert you, when you feel as though it is pointless to stand for God’s Word, when your relationships are nearing their end, you can stand on this truth that only one hope that outlasts everyone and everything: that the Word of God remains forever and those in Christ will overcome the world because of that true Word. Everything else will fade and cease to matter in light of Christ’s great promise here.

Beyond Happiness

Happy WeddingIn the past few months, this post has made its rounds. The article’s point is to state that marriage is not about you and your happiness but about your spouse’s happiness and your children having a good set of parents to raise them.

Good, but incomplete:

While I agree that we need to have an outward focus in our marriages (otherwise we’re blatantly selfish) I think that it can be (notice I didn’t say definitely is) equally selfish make the happiness of your spouse and kids the center of your marriage. This goes along with the adage- “Happy wife, happy life.” Do I want a happy life? Of course! Then I am going to make my wife happy! Whatever it takes– because I want a happy life!

Happiness, in and of itself, is easy. If my wife’s happiness was to be the chief focus of our marriage, I would have little trouble getting into the right patterns and habits to make her happy all the time. I would give her whatever she wanted, never challenge her opinion, and if she were wrong about something or caught in a sin, I would let her be wrong rather than challenging her and risking her temporary happiness.

Don’t get me wrong, happiness is a wonderful thing! If my goal were the opposite of making Emmalie happy, that would be a very bad thing. It is not wrong to desire the happiness of our spouses, but there is something that is beyond happiness to which we must aspire.

Beyond happiness is holiness

Holiness, not happiness, should be the goal of our marriage. If I look to make my wife’s holiness my goal then I am going so much further than the fleeting pleasures of happiness– I am encouraging in her something of a greater eternal benefit. I would argue that this is what we are told to do in Ephesians 5.22-33, and 1 Peter 3.1-7. In Ephesians Paul compares marriage to Christ’s relationship with the Church (and tells us that marriage is meant to be a picture of that relationship). Here, he speaks of the sanctification of the Church through Christ’s work on the Cross.

Husbands: If you are to love your wives as Christ loves the Church, you are to pursue her sanctification (holiness) beyond her (or your) happiness. Pursuing her holiness is, in this case, how one “loves his wife as his own body.” You strive to take care of your body, don’t you? Focusing on temporary happiness at the expense of leading in righteousness is akin to eating all of those sweets at Christmas that later led to horror and discomfort in your bowels. We need good, fulfilling food; so do our wives. Nourish your wife. Cherish her. Aid her in holiness. Don’t give her only what tastes sweet if it will lead to the sourness of un-righteousness.

In 1 Peter we see that wives are commanded to submit to their husbands. Whatever you think about the idea of submission, know this: the purpose of this submission is the salvation and sanctification of the husband (1 Peter 3.1,2). Is your husband an unbeliever? Win him over with your grace, kindness, and compassion for him. Show him that the Spirit works in you and makes you submissive. Is he a believer? Encourage his growth in Christ by your submission to him. Show him what submission looks like so that he will continue to have a good example for submitting to Christ.

Marriage can bring a whole range of emotions: happiness, sorrow, anger, and joy. But if our goal is mutual holiness then even the sad moments of hurt and pain will be used to advance that goal. Aiming for happiness, even if it is the happiness of your spouse, is aiming too low.

Our Great God

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. — Psalm 115.1-3

“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without a witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” –Acts 14.15-17

Our God is in the heavens…

How great it is to know that our God is not like those things that man creates! God dwells in holiness apart from us and does that which seems right to him. He set things in motion and made them work the way they do. In reading the rest of the above Psalm, one sees the opposite of this God: those idols that man makes and worships. They see nothing, can do nothing, and are ultimately worthless. In the end and even now, although God’s people can see the “gods” that are created by man, we are the ones who will ultimately ask, “Where is your god?”

That’s right… your god is nothing.

And what proof does our God give us for the spreading of his fame? Does he rely solely on man to accomplish his work?

No.

He sends his people out to accomplish his will and spread his gospel. He became man himself, so that those who believe in him will not be forever separated from him, but see eternal life in his Kingdom. He gave us his Word, which, by the power of his Holy Spirit, moves in his Church and convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgement.

But at the most basic level, God has used his created order to display his greatness. He waters trees, upholds and sustains life, perpetuates the cycle of the universe, and gives us the food and drink that we need. This, all for the sake of his name being glorified.

Come to Jesus– the one true God, the one who satisfies souls, the one who created all that we see. Your gods are nothing compared to the greatness of the one true King.

Being a blessing

Two elderly couples are sitting at two different tables at the same restaurant. Both couples are professing Christians who are involved in their respective local Churches. Both frequent this restaurant quite often.

One couple (the ones I happen to be sitting with) is jovial: laughing with the waitstaff, smiling, and sharing concerns about the Church while expressing their desire to remain faithful there. The other–seated a table away– not so jovial. I don’t know the exact nature of their conversation, but I do know the response the waitress gives: “I am sorry… for that I do apologize.” This apology, as marked by the look on her face, was not for something she had done but for something they had complained about. Something meaningless and unimportant; it is just food, after all.

And how do I know them to be believers? As they leave they excitedly greet our dinner companions and it’s explained that this couple was there when our host came to Christ.

I wish this was an anomaly, but it isn’t. I have been in multiple situations where I have witnessed professing believers (once right after an Easter morning service) enter the community and trash Christ’s name through their attitudes–meanwhile wearing their “Church” clothes.

Our gracious host

Christmas is coming. This is a time where the Church remembers in a special way that Christ didn’t count equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing and became a man for the sake of dying a humble yet terrible death on our behalf. We sometimes miss the part about humility–and us having the same mind.

Our host that night didn’t. True, our waitress was also slightly emotional, but for a different reason; our host handed her this letter to the editor he had once written:

I am writing relative to a hard-working group of people in our society today. My wife and I enjoy dining out frequently, and we notice the hard-working waiters and waitresses who serve the public in our local restaurants. We watch them try to be pleasant, courteous and efficient as they work. We see them try to give service as they serve food, clear tables, carry heavy trays and deal with unhappy costumers. They work hard for the minimum wage (which is lower than the state minimum). We also feel there are many people who do not leave the proper gratuity (at least 15 percent) that is expected today.

We know there are days and weeks set aside to honor nurses, teachers, secretaries and other service people. This is a fine thing to do. They deserve it. We also think of those faithful wait-people who deserve to be honored for a job well done.

Passing on humility

Christ came to call us to be part of His Kingdom through His death and resurrection. What does that resurrection do for us? Well, for starters, it affects our attitudes so that we are no longer walking in the ways of the flesh but in the Spirit with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5.22-23). But these attitudes are worthless if left unexpressed. Our responses must be kind and good, gentle and loving, and spoken with patience and self-control. If they are not, is Christ glorified? If we recognize our failures, is He glorified in our apologies to the victims of our words? Many of us who are in Christ would do well to check our hearts and invite more of the Spirit’s control whenever we interact with unbelievers.

Maybe then we can do as this gentleman did–recognize the good that others are doing and respond with love and admiration to them.