Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Deeper the Cost, The Greater the Prize

We, like many grieving parents, wondered what sin we committed in the past that prompted God’s removal of our son Micah from our lives. Other parents come with a sense of self-righteousness, believing that because they had previously been faithful to God, God had no “right” to take a child from them. Both lines of thinking are really a self-centered, self-created form of righteousness, a type of righteousness that God clearly does not ascribe to. Throughout the Old Testament, God uses the law to show how distinctly different (“Holy”) He is. Our human inclination, to every fiber of our being, is bent upon making ourselves dependent on ourselves, to make what few things we can do relatively well as the epicenter of a self-created system of righteousness. The death of Christ is the demonstration that our greatest works are completely insufficient to bring us into relationship with God. Pastor Tim Keller says, “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” The good news of the Gospel is that our earthly circumstances are not the result of a transaction with God based upon our performance, about us fulfilling some set of rules. Rather, our relationship with God has been set permanently by the blood of Christ on the Cross. The Apostle Paul says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14. God will glorify Himself through us, and the lives of our children, living and deceased, and in Him now we can take the utmost joy. The more we understand the cost that Jesus paid for us, the more appreciation we have for the prize we have in our salvation in Christ. We pray that on this Easter, you would take great joy in God.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Holding on to the Promises.

Today is Micah’s 8th birthday. Like many grieving parents, we could try to live in the past in order to find “joy” in the memory of those brief, fleeting “happy” moments. But what hope does that bring for the future? A present hope in God, continually renewed by the Holy Spirit speaking to us through the promises of scripture, must be the sole source of our significance and hope for the future.
We grieve how short Micah’s time with us was. But ultimately it is not Micah’s tragedy that we grieve, it is sin itself. For even with our life-long spouses and friends, we will ultimately be separated by death. In contrast, we are promised in scripture that, if we are trusting in God now, that we will be with Him forever (Psalm 73). Our hope in each other and ourselves will disappoint, if it has not already. In contrast, Jesus promises a joy in himself that will never end. (John 4). Jesus shared with the outcast Samaritan woman at the well the same startling truth that He knows we need--that nothing on this earth can fill us with the joy in Him. The great promise of our faith is that joy in God is exceedingly greater than anything else offered by this brief physical life. On Micah’s 8th birthday, we hold on to this promise.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

High Expectations of God

In my law practice, I try to "under-promise" and "over-deliver." That is to say, I try to manage the expectations of my prospective clients to make sure he or she understands precisely what I can do, and what I cannot do. Ultimately, I want to make sure I complete those tasks we agree upon, but avoid any misunderstandings beyond those tasks. In contrast, God tells us that our expectations of Him can never be high enough. We are told in Ephesians 3 that God is "able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us..." Ephesians 3:20. Rather than attempting to minimize the significance of our earthly and temporary trials, God promises that the end result is greater than we dare imagine. None of us can escape the impact of sin; whether the premature death of a child, job or marriage loss, or poor health, all of us feel the profound grief of an unacceptable earthly existence. We were created to look for, and experience, true and lasting pleasure and significance. Rather than ending a search for lasting pleasure and significance, God tells us to switch our pursuit from whatever occupies our thoughts, now, to a pursuit of Him. Whatever we are currently enduring, He promises that He will make it worthwhile. "Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you...My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips..." Psalm 63:3,5. Rather than lower our expectations in life, let's look to God to give us hope, and look to see how He will meet those high expectations.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

On the 7th Anniversary of Micah's Homegoing

Could we show that Micah belonged to us, and not to God? Could we show that Micah's death was a surprise to God, and not within his plan? Could we show that Micah's death was God's punishment, and not as an act of love? If just one of these three legs of the three-legged stool were kicked out, then our faith would topple over like a misshapen top. We would be justified in living a life of self-absorption, of fear, of anger, or a combination of all three. And yet God has shown us through life and scripture that He, in fact, upholds all three legs of our faith. God says, "Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine." Job 41.11. "[God] can do all things, and no purpose of His can be thwarted." Job 42:2. On this, the 7th anniversary of Micah's death, we submit in reverence to the love, power, and plan of God.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My Email to a Sick Friend

Like Job’s friends, I think many of us have a tendency to want to give the “easy” or “Sunday school” answer to you in these difficult days. We want to simply assure you that God is in control and therefore all of this “will work together for our good.” (Take Romans 8:28 out of context). But such “pat” answers eliminate the reality of your pain—your physical pain and the relational pain it causes between you, family members and even God. We ask questions like, “What possible good could come from this?” Lord, whatever lesson you are trying to teach me, did you have to impose such a burden on me. There HAS to be a more efficient way of glorifying yourself through me and my life, considering the havoc that this is wrecking on our finances, my career, our marriage, and our family. Lord, if you are in control, why can’t you stop it? I pray that the Lord would put an end to your sufferings immediately. But if it does not, I pray that you would bear patiently under the stresses of this health, even as you wait for your “redemption” from both the physical healing you need your lack of understanding in God’s purpose in all of this. In 2 Corinthians 4:8, Paul says he is “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair.” I pray that you and your family would moment-by-moment bring your petitions, physical ailments, and needs before him so that, while you can quite rightly be perplexed by God’s purposes, you would not give up (“be driven to despair.”) King David could sleep soundly in the knowledge that the Lord would preserve him from the thousands who followed Absalom and wanted his very life. Likewise, I pray that you would trust in God to heal you. “Arise, Or Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.” Psalm 3. May God break the teeth of your ailments. I pray that in your struggle with God over meaning and purpose, that you would come out of this current phase with an increased reliance on Him, knowing that while His ways are above and beyond our understanding, that He can accomplish great and lasting changes through us and our mortal bodies.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Living for His Immediate Return

In the months after Micah died, Heather and I felt ready for Jesus’ immediate return. We wanted nothing more to be Home, in Heaven, with Jesus and Micah. But as the years pass, so have the concerns of life cluttered this perspective. Jobs, career, financial and family concerns have competed in our affections for what had previously been an unopposed desire to be in Jesus’ immediate presence. In concluding the book of Revelation, Jesus tells us to be ready at any moment for his return. “And behold, I am coming soon.” Revelations 22:7. Seeing as this was written some 2,000 years ago, I used to feel (as no doubt a skeptic would) as though God has owed millions of His followers an apology. How can He be trusted if we told he is coming back "soon," and now we must wait so long? How can this return be "immediate?" In fact, I have come to believe so strongly that it is no mistake to live one’s life as if Jesus’ return is not just within our lifetime, but within the very week, the very day, the very hour. As humans, we must have affections that stir us to action. We cannot stay in neutral when it comes to living in affection. Nor can we put certain affections “on hold,” and then return to those affections at some later date. Our immediate affections will, in the absence of some extraneous force, become our long-term affections. We cannot tell ourselves that we will follow Jesus only after we complete our degree, or settle down into a career, or have children. God knows that one’s future character is intricately linked to our current one, and that our current character will dictate what type of person we will become. If emulating Christ is indeed what is best for us, and ultimately is what is most satisfying, then God’s encouragement to live as if He is returning tomorrow is indeed most loving. In the perspective of God’s history, not our current earthly timeline, a 1,000 years is like a day. In the perspective of all eternity, our lifetimes will be the duration of a vapor; indeed, the 2,000 years will be a small fraction of all human history. If God truly loves us, why would he not encourage us to avoid the frivolities of current American life, and focus on that which will be of value in eternity? I pray that Heather and I can return to this same perspective, looking in eager anticipation for turning the page on the end of this short, brief temporal existence into an eternity filled with the worship of our Lord Jesus.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Persistent Prayer

While it may be difficult to hear, those in the midst of great grief have one significant advantage over those of us who are in the midst of relative peace and security in life circumstances. Those enduring great grief have the "advantage" of holding a right understanding of our lack of self-sufficiency, and our constant need for Christ. In Luke 18, Jesus describes a widow who bombards an unrighteous judge with her petitions for justice. Eventually, the unrighteous judge gives in to her requests, not because the judge is righteous, but because the widow is persistent. If this widow was successful, how much more successful are we when the recipient of our persistent requests is a loving and righteous God? Most of us don't pray like the persistent widow because we really don't believe we need prayer that much. Our culture, and any own personal experiences of personal success, teach us that we can "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps" and achieve what we set out to do. Indeed, some of us fill up our lives with tasks, and create status in our minds about ourselves so that, having formed a sense of self-righteousness about our status, believe we can look at others in self-created righteous indignation over failure to abide by our self-created, self-governed standards. Moreover, these same standards are then applied to God when God fails to abide by our self-created sense of sufficiency. For those in the midst of great grief, we must continue to pour out or requests to God. In His timing, we trust that He will answer in ways that are eternally beneficial. For those like me in periods of relative comfort, we must continually repent of our attempts at self-sufficiency, and look to move to greater and greater dependence upon God. In that dependence, we can then persist in prayer, knowing that we have a good and loving Father hearing our prayers.