Hope

Nahum 1:7-8 (ESV)

The LORD is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
and will pursue his enemies into darkness.

Not knowing

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

I don’t know what to do. I’m coming out of my skin right now because so much of me wants to do something, anything. Oddly, most of what I want to do would be a distraction from the decision/problem/heartache/fear we’re looking at. Because about that, there’s not a lot I can do other than offer advice and love and push down, down, down the fear that I feel.

I want to create. I want to dig in. I want to make a difference, to play music, to construct something. I want to push back on the strange feeling of being twenty five in my head and fifty three in my body. I want to do ministry, and to give ministry away, all at the same time.

I passionately want everyone in my family to flourish and thrive. I’m pushing back on the feeling of the unknown, of ticking through every second of twenty seven years of parenting looking, searching, scouring for the reason that not everyone is. It has to be my fault. It’s always the father. But I don’t know the root cause. Maybe I’m blind to it because blindness to obvious things is the root cause.

I know that the future is all we have. I know, I know, usually we say “all we have is the present” but that lasts an infinitesimal slice of time and inexorably leads to the immediate future of the next tenth of a second and all the daisy-chained ticks afterwards. The present doesn’t stand alone – it’s the tail that wags the future’s dog. Choose Carefully.

I am stuck in the not knowing. I’m fighting against fear and the background noise of despair and learning patience in my old, tired, weary soul because while I believe the promise, with all my heart, that all things will one day become as they were intended to be, I know that we are often compelled to wait years or lifetimes for that one day. I’m tired.

I’m writing this because I have to. I’m writing it publicly (not that this will be read, but because it can be read) rather than in a closed journal, because I need to risk.

Lord Jesus I need you. I need my distracted mind calmed. I need to know if it’s OK to just go to bed and pull the covers over my head and rest tonight or do I need to take action? The future has a million different paths. I know the fork we’re standing before only looks dire because of the events of this summer and the awful scourge of this sickness that I hate with the fire of a million suns that has attacked my family. Was I not supposed to protect my family? But how can I fight against an attacker that I can’t see, who always, always sneaks up on me by surprise?

Do I know I would choose the right path?

I don’t know. I’m covered, buried in Not Knowing.

What would have been a simple decision in May now doesn’t look so simple. I don’t know. And it ultimately – if my words are to be believed and I’m to stand true to them – isn’t my decision. And maybe both paths have their merits and ultimately this will be no big deal. If I described the situation to you, you probably would think so. But that’s not how it feels. Perhaps being held over the edge of the cliff so recently has me afraid of heights of any kind.

But listen: God is sovereign.

Lord, this is what you meant when you said we needed to have faith. Faith isn’t believing the Bible to be true, though that’s a good foundational starting point. Faith is believing, leaping, trusting, falling, burrowing into the YOU that your true word speaks of.

It is resting in the not knowing,

knowing that you know.

Righteousness and rescue

The Bible
God’s word
The Word
The Word made flesh
The Man
The Word, the Man, enacting
In flesh, in bones
in veins, in muscles, in neurons
The righteousness, the rescue
Spoken of, performed
For centuries
Under the shadow of Rome
Spoken in a new tongue
Once unknown, in Greek, new languages, new customs
In lights fueled by unquenchable oil
By sad rivers in Babylon
Besieged, blinded, childless
In scenes of unspeakable horror
Yet with hope in the lament
Morning, new morning, in the night
Righteousness and rescue
Spoken of in the word
Performed
In a new temple
In a tent
Milk and honey
Across a river
Across the wilderness
One dark night in Egypt
Hope within lament
Lament and cacophony
A bush burns
Righteousness spoken
Wonders performed
Hungry bellies filled
Reconciliation
Hope in famine
The Word
A family
A flood
A bloody stone
A tree
But not alone
Righteousness and rescue
Now in flesh appearing
Carrying in his body
The power, the surge
of righteousness and rescue
Now in the written word
Now in the living Word
Become flesh
At last

“And they devoted themselves . . .”

This is based on a short talk I gave at our college lifegroup night of worship last night.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

– Acts 2:42-47

I’ve read this passage hundreds of times. Today as I read it again I noticed the first four words as if for the first time: “And they devoted themselves”.

One truism about people in general (and perhaps young people in particular) is that many of us are looking for something to devote ourselves to. Something worthwhile. Something meaningful. Something we can live for and die for. You may be feeling that today.

Acts 2:42-47 is an invitation to devote yourselves. To set aside this summer to taking new steps, large steps in your relationship to Jesus. If you are in Christ, it’s an invitation to own your faith more, to devote yourself to Jesus more fully and more deeply than ever before. If you aren’t yet a believer in Christ, what better time than tonight to take that first step? Let’s speak the good news of Jesus to ourselves and to each other. I deserve God’s wrath for what I’ve done in life, to be separated forever from Him in hell. Yet he devoted himself to the salvation of me and you and to the salvation of the whole world. He died the death I deserved to die and rose again in new, eternal life and offers me that as well! This is such good news, something that we can feast on together!

Lifegroup is not a house on one night; it’s a group of people who are alive. Our hope for College lifegroup is that it will be an experience in Jesus that you can devote yourself to this summer. Not just for yourself, but for others; to devote yourself to teaching and friendship together, to eating together, praying together, worshiping together, being in awe together, seeing God together, helping each other, sacrificing for each other, making your relationship to Jesus an every day thing, an all the time thing. Devoting yourself to being glad rather than angsty, generous rather than selfish, to praising God rather than idols, to being truly alive, and to watching the Lord add daily to you and to us and to himself those who are being saved.

That’s the invitation! We’re ready to devote ourselves to it, and I hope and pray you are too.

Beloved and destined

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints . . . (Romans 1:7, ESV)

I love this salutation in the opening of the book of Romans.

“To all those in Rome who are loved by God . . .”

Do you see it? Paul addresses the believers in Rome as those who are loved by God. This is true of all believers in Jesus, and yet I’ve noticed that for some of us the idea that God loves us is difficult to accept. Yes, we know he has saved us. But it’s easy for me, at least, to think that he’s holding back his love from me until I get a little more adept at doing this Christian thing.

I was talking recently with a precious young believer who told me about her hard background. She said something very interesting to me regarding her relationship with her earthly father. They were a pair who didn’t naturally get along, but she said that eventually she “chose to love” her father, and he “chose to love her”.

I bring that up because, I admit, often times in my heart of hearts I believe that God is mistaken to love me. I think this because I’m not that lovable, frankly, especially when I compare myself to other believers or to God himself. In other words, it feels like I haven’t earned it yet. I’m  a fool for thinking that: God has chosen to love me; his love is not something I can earn. I hope that if you, like me, think God would have to be off his rocker to love you, you’ll let these words, this simple truth, sink deep into your soul: God loves you.

Believer, you are beloved by him. He cares for you in ways you can’t fathom, and he loves you passionately, fervently, with a love that is purer and more intense than any you have ever known on earth. Most of us have a deep, deep need to be loved and fully known. This causes much distress in our lives because of the Catch-22 it embodies: we fear that if we were ever fully known, no one could possibly love us. But God knows us far better than we know ourselves. He knows the truth about us, even the truth we hide from ourselves. He knows ever atom in our bodies and every thought in our heads and every action we’ve ever done, and he loves us.

The second half of Paul’s sentence brings this home: “. . . called to be saints”.

When I was a new believer, many moons ago, the word “saint” in the Bible tripped me up. I thought you only became a saint when men in elaborate robes met in a stone castle and elected you. But someone explained to me, early on, that Biblically all believers in Jesus are saints. The word “saint” simply means “holy one” or “called out one”. A saint is someone whom God is “sanctifying”. Now “sanctify” is another large word that might cause confusion. To be sanctified means to become like Jesus, to be made to conform to his likeness. Take a look at this verse:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. – Romans 8:29

This hit me like a freight train a few years ago. I thought God saved me to make me a better person. I know now that God has no interest at all in doing small renovation projects on me, or performing minor cosmetic surgery, applying nips and tucks to my often unpresentable life. His goal is not to make me better. His goal is to make me new.

God is remaking me into the image of his Son. This is my destiny. It’s not an optional change, reserved only for the most devoted and dedicated of his followers. It’s the destiny of every person who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. He has us, and he means to bring us into perfect conformity with his perfect Son.

He’s not kidding around on this either. Our God is stubborn, zealous, and almighty, and he means what he says. This is the God who led his people with a pillar of fire to the promised land, bringing them out of the land of slavery with plagues and wonders and a strong and mighty hand. This is the God who sent his Beloved through the whips and thorns and nails of the cross to bridge the canyon-like chasm of our horrible sin and make us his sons and daughters. He is not fooling around.  If you are a believer in Jesus, you will one day be like him.

Case closed. It’s your destiny.

The victory shout of Resurrection Day

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:54-57

And don’t forget verse 58! Because you have the victory:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

An observation about utopians

I think Dennis Prager is on to something:

Utopians will always be less happy than those who know that suffering is inherent to human existence. The utopian compares America to utopia and finds it terribly wanting. The conservative compares America to every other civilization that has ever existed and walks around wondering how he got so lucky as to be born or naturalized an American.

Whatever you think of his larger point, I do think there’s a certain lack of gratitude in the utopian mindset, even about their own plight, let alone that of the truly less fortunate. Not that I have anything against utopianism, of the right sort. As a Christian, I’m a utopian, but I don’t expect the new earth to come from, of all things, political action.

Life is hard. Some of us in the West have been blessed to be born into an extremely wealthy, healthy, and peaceful society when compared to most all other places and certainly to most all other times in history. For those to whom much is given . . . We’re to work hard to make the plight of others better.

But we’re not going to be the saviors.

The Bride was beautiful

Take a look at these pictures if you can. The Bride was beautiful.

Beautiful

Katie Kirkpatrick, 21, held off cancer to celebrate the happiest day of her life. Katie had chased cancer, once only to have it return-to clog her lungs and grab hold of her heart. Breathing was difficult now, she had to use oxygen. The pain in her back was so intense it broke through the morphine that was supposed to act as a shield. Her organs were shutting down but it would not stop her from marrying Nick Godwin, 23, who was in love with Katie since 11th grade.

Five days later, Katie died. She did not let sickness stop her from living, take away the hope or faith that made her believe she had a future. She had a lovely wedding and she had love and she gave love and love doesn’ t die. And that is how Katie beat cancer.

[H/T: Challies]