Good news!

good friday

I woke up Good Friday morning thinking: What’s “good” about it?

After all, it’s the point in Holy Week when the hero dies.

Jesus is beaten, bloodied and finally nailed to a Roman cross. Crucifixion: an excruciatingly torturous form of public execution meant to deter criminal opposition to the state.

Jesus, who is innocent of wrongdoing, submits to this horrendous death. This is the same Jesus who healed blind men, lepers, paralytics and raised the dead, even Lazarus who had been in a tomb 4 days and had begun to stink!

Jesus’s followers were counting on Him to save the world. Instead, He hung on that cross until He died. Some onlookers remarked, “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself.” (Matthew 27:42)

How can this be “good”?

It’s not the end of the story.

Good Friday presents Jesus, the baby in a manager in Bethlehem, fully grown and identified by John the Baptist as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), actually becoming that atoning sacrifice. When Jesus says from the cross “It is finished” (John 19:30) it means something like: “Mission Accomplished.”

What was Jesus’s mission?

Scripture teaches that while the wages of sin is death, God’s gift is eternal life in Christ.  “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of death is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Cor 15:56-57)

Good Friday is Jesus accepting the death penalty in our place. Those who accept His sacrifice on our behalf are completely forgiven. We receive life that never ends, restored fellowship with God, our creator. We are no longer slaves to sin or the fear of punishment that comes with it.

Hebrews 12:2 says of Jesus, “for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].” (Amplified)

Holy Week builds to the cross of Good Friday after which things go quiet and still. Then comes Resurrection Sunday. Boom! Jesus gets up from the grave demonstrating that He is exactly who declares Himself to be: the resurrection and the life. (John 11:25)

Jesus Christ is the real deal. He took the worst punishment the world could dish out, and He conquered so that we can be more than conquerors. That is good news!

 Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

What if you don’t like God’s answer?

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What if God’s answer to your prayer is something you don’t want to do?

A while back I struggled with feeling good in my own skin. Nothing I could put my finger on, but I knew something wasn’t right. My doctor’s response was more meds. It didn’t help. So I prayed for an answer.

A gestational diabetic with three pregnancies, I had twice managed it with diet and exercise. The third time I needed insulin shots. I was so freaked out by needles that my husband had to play nurse. The day he was away on business, I was late for work trying to give myself that stick.

All that vanished when I gave birth, which I considered a bonafide miracle!

Fast forward a few years. I am following doctor’s orders but still don’t feel like myself. I drove a friend to a church-sponsored health fair planning to drop her off. She asked me to stay. A panel discussion that included an endocrinologist presented new treatment options for a variety of conditions. I decided it was time to engage a new provider.

Some months and tests later, I learned I’d been misdiagnosed. The solution to my problems turned out to be the very thing I wanted to avoid: a daily insulin shot. I was angry at God. Why did I have to do what I dreaded to receive the relief I needed?

I had to choose:

  • Resist the answer to my prayers because it wasn’t the one I wanted? Or
  • Surrender to what God was doing and face my fears?

I surrendered, but not without a struggle. I  can’t explain why God sometimes works this way.  It comes down to Sovereignty. God is God. He does whatever He pleases. It pleases Him to do us good even when it doesn’t seem good. Proper treatment would improve my health. It simply wasn’t the treatment I wanted. Frankly, it still isn’t.

In a moment of retrospection not overshadowed by hysterical emotion, I was reminded that God causes everything to work together for good to those who love Him. So I looked for the “good” in the expense, inconvenience and daily discipline required to manage insulin-dependent diabetes. Knowing the truth about how to maintain my health is a good, freeing thing.

We buried my mother 9 years ago this May. She spent her last years in a nursing home after diabetic complications resulted in a below-the-knee leg amputation. Fiercely independent, she was diminished by having to leave home once she lost a leg. I’ve wondered how much she really knew about how to manage her condition and the difference it might have made.

I don’t know what you’re asking God, but don’t be surprised if His answer includes the thing you don’t want, don’t like or have declared you won’t do. God is about truth. Accepting an inconvenient truth can be humbling, making us more dependent on Him. That is always a good thing.

God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. Yet, all His ways are right.  If we truly believe those things, we must leave all options on the table for God to choose. We can accept His decision as what’s best, knowing that God is for us!

Trust in the LORD with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.

Seek His will in all you do,
and He will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT)

Do It Now

mlkSettling into the three-day weekend for the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, I listened again to his “I Have a Dream” speech from the 1963 March on Washington.

I heard something in the Baptist preacher’s historic words that I hadn’t noticed before. It was a reference to “the fierce urgency of now.”

The Rev. Dr. King delivered that address on August 28, 1963. He talked about his dream for racial justice, freedom and brotherhood. He urged people to return to the slums of the north and the racist hostility of the South and continue to work for change that surely would come.

He would be assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

Scripture is clear that every man’s days are numbered. Limited. Finite. (Job 14:5)

From the day we are born, the clock is ticking. Only God knows how much time each soul is granted. We know that He has given us today.

I celebrated another birthday just days before the MLK holiday. King’s speech awakened me to “the fierce urgency of now.” I asked myself: What are you doing with your now?

Now never seemed very urgent before. I may have been wasting now waiting “until.” Until retirement. Until our children are settled. Until there’s less work. Until there’s more money or a more convenient, cheaper season. Until, until, until.

What are you waiting for? Now is the time. Yesterday is a memory. Tomorrow is not promised. Just as the Christian’s eternal future depends on our response to Jesus here and now,  King dreamed a future rooted in acting “now.”

Jesus had roughly 33 years of now. He knew He was on the clock. He lived with intention, and so should we.

On His way to the cross, Jesus touched people’s lives in impactful ways. He healed a woman in bed with a fever (Matthew 8:14-15), called attention to a poor widow’s small but sacrificial offering (Luke 21:1-4), blessed children (Luke 19:14-15) People are the reason Jesus came to Earth. He invested His life in people, gave them time, love and compassion, presenting Himself as the bridge to restored relationship with God the Father.

My heart, perhaps yours too, can be selfish when it comes to personal time-sharing.  The  culture encourages “Me Time.”

  • Seated across a dinner table, phone screens are more interesting than eye-contact conversation.
  • If someone has a need, and we have prior plans, it’s a struggle to put aside our plans for their need.
  • The phone rings for the third time from that same lonely person and we’re tempted to let it go to voicemail

While it’s easy to presume we’ll have more time for them, we can’t be sure.

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)

We all could live to be fat, happy and full of years. That doesn’t lessen “the fierce urgency of now.” There’s no guarantee today’s opportunities will come around again.  While it’s still called today, may God help us to give the hurting people around us the very best of ourselves: our time, our hope, our full attention and genuine caring. For night’s coming. (John 9:4)

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

Faith Is Expressed In Love

stop-hating-paint-grunge-sign-vector-6373892(1)Jesus’ command to His disciples is “Love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another.” Love is to be the distinguishing mark of Christ followers. “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

So why are American Christians such “haters”? In public discourse, whether social media, talking-head news shows or conservative commentary, the loudest “Christian” voices tend to be indefatigable critics eager to cast stones.

It ought not be so.

This week, I read an article in Atlantic magazine  in which self-described Christians criticized singer Lauren Daigle for performing on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.  Ellen is an openly gay woman. Daigle’s haters argued that a Christian has no business fraternizing with a lesbian.

Never mind that Jesus ate and drank with sinners and social outcasts, sometimes in their own homes, which earned Him the wrath of Pharisees, those professional religious people for whom He reserved His strongest condemnations.

A radio host later pressed Daigle to opine on whether homosexual relationships are sinful. She said, “I don’t know” with minimal elaboration. Whereupon she was widely condemned as a coward, a compromiser, a Judas to the faith.

These critics act as though homosexuals have a monopoly on sin. Jesus came to save sinners of whom Paul the apostle said, “I am chief.” Paul never forgot who he had been: a persecutor of Christians who hunted them down, dragged them to jail and approved of their murder, watching as Stephen, the first martyr, was stoned to death.

Each of us has a sinful past. Writing to the Corinthians about the kinds of people who will not inherit eternal life, Paul added: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:11)

Daigle was accused of fraternizing with a sinner. However, the prohibition of Scripture is that believers “not associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard or swindler – not even to eat with such a one.” (I Cor 5:11, emphasis my own)

Disassociation is how to deal with people who call themselves Christian brothers while living a lifestyle of sin. Paul plainly states he doesn’t mean believers are to disassociate from “the immoral people of this world… for then you would have to get out of the world and human society altogether.” (I Cor 5:10)

Clearly, Jesus wants His people in the world. “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (John 17:15-16)

Advent is a good time to remember that salvation began with love, not hate:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:16-17)

Lover or Liar?

LoveGod   Do I really love God?

Not “love” as some warm, emotional feeling, but love as action.

When I know what God wants me to do, and it sticks in my craw, do I do what God wants or do I follow my own heart?

When we really love someone, our heart’s desire is to please them – above ourselves.  Self-denial seldom feels good. Loving God is about choosing to honor Him, despite how I feel.

The Bible has two important things to say about Love for God.

  1. Love is measured in actual obedience.

Saying “I love God” is worthless if my actions betray a different allegiance.

Matthew 21:28-31 speaks of a father who asks each of his two sons to go to work in a vineyard. The first says, “I will not” but later has a change of heart and goes. The second says, “I will” but does not go. Jesus asks: “Which of the two did his father’s will?” The reply: the one who obeyed.

God loved the world so much that He gave the gift of His only son. (John 3:16) The Son arrived on planet Earth and fulfilled the words of Psalm 40:7-8: “Here I am O Lord, I come to do your will.”

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus struggled with what God’s will required: being brutally beaten, abused and nailed to a cross to die. Sweating drops of blood, knowing the agony that awaited Him at Calvary, Jesus finally submitted to the will of God.

“He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)

How do we demonstrate love for God? “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

  1. Love for God is directly related to love for people. If we don’t love them, we cannot love Him.

“But if we say we love God and don’t love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God, if we don’t love the people we can see?” (1 John 4:20)

My struggle to love actual human beings who are made in the image of God is a reflection of my struggle to love God. “Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.” (1 John 4:8 ) People can be mean, cruel, hateful. I’m still commanded to respond in ways that reflect love for Him. This isn’t possible except God’s love abides in us.

Jesus repeatedly asks Peter if he loves Him. Peter replies that he does. Jesus responds: Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep. Follow me. In other words, show your love for Me in loving relationship to my people.

It’s easy to claim ignorance about what God wants. Yet, we know more of God’s will than we want to admit:

  • Love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:31)
  • Love your enemies,
  • bless those who curse you,
  • do good to those who hate you,
  • pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matt 5:44)

In the book of Revelation, Jesus rebukes a perseverant but loveless church for having “forsaken the love you had at first” and calls them to repentance. (Revelation 2:4-7)

What matters most is love!

The first of all the commandments is, ‘Listen, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

 

 

 

 

 

What Do You See?

See    At the grocery checkout I notice the sparkling blue eyes of my cashier, a slim college boy with a dirty blond ponytail. I tease him that he’s the only employee whose eyes match the uniform polo shirt.

He replies, “Really? I didn’t know. I’m color-blind.”

Not everyone who is blind is completely unable to see.

Some of us are just blind to nuance, to gradation, to perspective. We Christ-followers can be so fixed on what the eye can see that we are blind to people’s underlying issues, the spiritual stuff the eye cannot detect. I plead guilty.

When we see only in the natural, we can miss what’s most important. Apart from God, what can any of us really see or know? “People look on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7 NIV)

I knew a man who was drunk, drinking, hungover or on his way to get drunk as long as I knew him. Never knew him sober until he was too old and sick to get liquor on his own. And I knew him my entire life. Or thought I did.

It turns out drunkenness was not his core issue. When he died, I learned the rest of his story, the linchpin of his life.

When this man was young, he’d gotten into a fight with his best and lifelong friend, whom he killed in a drunken rage. They had grown up together in a small community that people seldom left. Their families were friends. This man had gone to prison for killing his friend. When his prison days were over he returned to that same community to live among those same people. He never went to church in a community where life revolved around Sunday services, camp meetings, gospel singing, weddings, funerals. He didn’t even go to his own mother’s funeral.

The one thing he did consistently was drink.

I thought I knew him. What did I know? He’d committed murder, killed his close friend. He’d had to return home to the place where he’d killed him and live with it. Alcohol might have submerged the guilt, sorrow, pain and heaven only knows what else. But those things never drowned. I never saw this hurting human being. All I could see was his vice.

In the same way,  it’s easy to “see” only the flawless resume: Ivy League education, check. Employed by a solid Corporate Inc., check. Spouse, 2.2 children and a dog, check. Home in the right neighborhood. Membership in the right church. Supporter of charitable causes. Check, Check, Check. What we see isn’t necessarily all there is. That resume may belong to someone who also is a closet drinker, sexual abuser, embezzler, pathological liar.

I’ve learned that I cannot always trust my eyes to see no matter how clear my vision. And neither can you.

“Remember, the sins of some people are obvious, leading them to certain judgment. But there are others whose sins will not be revealed until later.” (I Timothy 5:24 NLT)

Looking for Fruit

We inherited fruit trees when we moved into our home nearly two decades ago: Plum, cherry and peach with thornless blackberry bushes thrown in as a bonus. We rolled up our sleeves and went to work. Naturally, when the season came, we were looking for fruit.

Peaches were not forthcoming.

The tree looked pitiful, leaning crookedly to one side with gnarled, dead limbs. That first fall, I got a book on pruning and went to work, knowing that once the beneficial whacking was done I could expect nothing the following spring. The tree would skip a yePeachtreear of bearing.

Three years in the little tree popped with gorgeous and fragrant peach blossoms. Then they were gone! No flowers = no fruit. We quickly discovered Bambi & Co. visited our yard to graze on all things green.

Fast forward: When blossoms managed to survive to produce fruit one year, the tiny peaches were infested by hole-boring bugs that left sticky black goo in their wake. I invested in organic sprays. Another time,  plump peaches promised a real harvest. They began to turn yellow and smell delicious. Overnight they vanished.

  • In desperation, the next year my husband strung habanero peppers around the tree like Christmas lights to ward off the deer. Later, he caught a glimpse of squirrels in the tree knocking our precious peaches to the ground – half eaten.
  • Determined to have peach rewards for our labor, we plucked a few to ripen in the window sill one year before leaving on vacation, knowing there would be nothing left when we returned.

This year, my husband had enough. He insisted on chopping the tree down. “It’s no good,” he’d say repeatedly. “Just taking up space. Might as well start over.”

I begged him to leave it alone another year.  I sprayed it. I talked to it. Life got busy and I forgot it.

One day he was mowing and stopped near the tree. Were those peaches beneath the full leaves? Indeed, they were. After 17 years of nursing this tree, we harvested 9 good-sized organic peaches. Fuzzy, vine-ripened, full-flavored with a little blush on the skin. Absolutely worth the wait!peaches

This year’s harvest was the fruit of patience and mercy. The tree didn’t deserve it, but its survival depended on it.

In Luke 13, Jesus shares the parable of a man who is repeatedly disappointed to find not a single fig on a well-tended fig tree. The tree took and took and gave nothing in return. The owner determined to get rid of it. The gardener asked for another year to tend and nourish it. If it still produced nothing, the owner was free to axe it.

In a prior conversation Jesus and the disciples discuss a disaster that left 18 men dead after a tower fell on them. Did the disciples imagine the men who perished were more wicked sinners than others in the city? Jesus said they were not: “No, I tell you. But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:5)

Our peach tree brought this story home for me. That tree is my life’s story and perhaps yours, too. I have received much and returned little: a mix of no fruit, wormy fruit, spoiled fruit, small fruit, only occasionally good fruit and not enough of it.

I live not because I am any more consistent or any less sinful than those whose graves I have stood over. I live – each of us lives – because God has mercifully given us more time. Each day is a gift and an opportunity. He waits patiently for those of us who claim to be Christ followers to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” (Luke 3:8)

Even so, the day will come when our time is up.

“Indeed, the ax is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:9)