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Apr 4, 2015

Resurrection Hope

Do you ever despair to the point of losing hope? Ever feel attacked, outnumbered, abandoned, and alone? Have you ever wanted to just give us, believing for certain that your defeat is inevitable and just a matter of time? Well if you have, you’re certainly not alone. Most of us have reached that point at least once, feeling so defeated that we lose all hope. Some come back to that point over and over and struggle to ever find hope in their life.

This week my wife and daughter are away, leaving me home alone. While I miss them greatly, it gives me time to catch up on some “guy time”, doing stuff I normally make a lower priority when we’re together as a family. So in addition to a couple rounds of golf and some extra time on my bike, I watched the Lord of the Rings again. One particular scene in the second movie caught my attention as it portrayed the feelings of fear, helplessness, and even anger when facing a challenge with little hope of victory.

Before the approaching battle at Helm’s Deep, Legolas, the normally stouthearted elf, was feeling despair at the seemingly imminent doom set before them. He began expressing his worries to his friend Aragorn, but also in the presence of the even more frightened people surrounding them. He pointed out that they were a mere three hundred against ten thousand. He declared, “They cannot win this fight. They are all going to die.” Then Aragorn, the future king, replied, “Then I shall die as one of them!”

Most of us have reached such moments of despair and hopelessness. We may not have faced an approaching army of 10,000 orcs, but we’ve had other fears, fights, and failures. Maybe you lost hope when you lost a loved one, a job, or your health. Maybe you grow weary from a longer battle over sickness, broken relationships, self-doubt, guilt, or a besetting sin that you can’t overcome. Maybe the worries of the world weigh heavy on you and you realize you can’t do a thing about it. In those moments it can even be hard to hang onto your faith and still trust that God knows what he’s doing or even cares about you.

But imagine what the disciples of Jesus must have felt immediately after his crucifixion. They had expected that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Jesus was about to defeat his enemies and set up his kingdom on earth. The Messiah had come. Then, only a week after his triumphal entry into the city, he had been betrayed by one of their own, arrested, falsely accused, sentenced to death, tortured, humiliated, and finally, crucified. They were scattered, suddenly without their leader and friend, without direction, and in danger for their own lives. They must have been confused, angry, heartbroken, and afraid.

But then came the Resurrection! And hope was restored. Eventually they understood what had really happened and why. They were shown God’s great plan of salvation and it began to make sense. Out of the despair of their darkest day, came eternal hope and everlasting joy in the risen Christ.

In our lives, often filled with troubles and doubts, we have to remember and believe that God is in control of all things and that he loves us. He knows exactly what he’s doing with us in our lives. He has not forgotten us or abandoned us, even when we feel alone.

And even when our trials persist, when we still struggle, and when things are not resolved to our satisfaction in this life, we can look to our eternal peace and joy thanks to the saving grace of our Lord. We are called to have hope in both this life and the next. We can find the strength through Christ to claim as Paul did, "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." (2 Cor 4:8-9)

As we remember both the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus this Easter weekend, praise God for the hope that he brings to us through his saving work and eternal love for us. And don’t lose faith or hope even as we go through our trials in this life.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."  (1 Peter 1:3-7)

Later in the scene I was describing from Lord of the Rings, Legolas came back to his friend Aragorn in private and told him, "We have trusted you this far. You have not led us astray. Forgive me, I was wrong to despair." He was able to overcome his despair by remembering that his good friend could be trusted, had kept them safe so far, and was even willing to sacrifice himself. If this fictional character can find hope in an earthly king, then shouldn't we have an even easier time trusting in the one true King who will never lead us astray and really did die as one of us to provide us eternal life and a living hope?

Happy Easter and may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Jul 27, 2014

Woke up in New Zealand

Wow, has it really been a year and a half since I posted to my own blog?  And was my last entry really based on an ad campaign for a fast food chicken sandwich?  Talk about leaving a legacy and going out with a big finish! 

So why the long absence?  Where have I been for 18 months?  I hate to cop out with a feeble cliché of an excuse, but I've been busy.  Really busy.  I've made some big life changes that have occupied my time and kept me away from writing here.

The main change in my life has been that - my family and I have moved from the US to New Zealand!  That major event, along with all the other associated changes, has pretty much consumed me for over a year.  Just to get approved to move involved background checks, medical exams, lab work, interviews, transcripts, record searches, and a huge application package.  Then when finally approved, we had to downsize an entire family home into a 20 foot shipping container and either sell or give away the rest of our life's possessions.  Then there was the move itself, and a costly and worrisome process to ship our family dog too.  Once we got here it was the search for a new home, new jobs, new cars, a new school, new church, new friends, and so on.  Anyone who's moved can appreciate the process, but if you've never moved internationally, compound it by about 10!  So please forgive my absence as you may get the sense of what I've been up to.  I hope to have time to contribute here again.  

Speaking of forgiving, it's in my nature to be hard on myself when I don't accomplish what I think I'm supposed to, so it would be easy for me to feel like a failure for dropping my own blog for a year and a half.  But I'm slowly learning to rest in God's perfect timing in our lives and to appreciate that there are seasons for everything.  And thanks to my supportive wife and new pastor, I'm also learning that we even need times to learn, to reflect, and to grow before we have more to share with others.  No time in our lives is wasted unless we choose to waste it by not growing.

So in the last 18 months I've been learning and growing.  I've learned so much about patiently waiting on God for provision, to open doors, to reveal his plans for us, and to guide us to new adventures and challenges.  I've met so many new people here from all over the world and learned from their often different perspectives.  I've met and worshiped with Christians here on the other side of the world and been encouraged by the obvious but often unappreciated reality that God's church is universal and spans all nations and peoples.  Finally, I've been refreshed and renewed in my faith by depending on God more than ever, by marveling at his creation here in this beautiful country, and by feeling a sense of peace and new beginnings at this point in my life.

But everyday life goes on too, so I'm still been learning how to love and encourage my wife more, as she's joined me on this wild adventure and accommodated so many changes and challenge.  I'm still learning how to guide and encourage and support my teenage daughter, especially as I've moved her to the other side of the world and asked her to trust me that it will be ok.  And I'm learning how to balance my priorities in life, between a new career, ministry, hobbies, friends, personal time, and family.

I hope and pray that God is using this time in my life to continue to teach me, sanctify me, grow me in wisdom, and encourage me to be the man he wants me to be.  And I hope that what I learn can once again be something I can share with other men on their own spiritual journeys.  I look forward to what's ahead and I thank God for adventure in life and for his faithful plans and purposes for each of us.

Dec 24, 2012

True Comfort and Joy

The other day, while waiting in the drive-through at one of my favorite fast-food restaurants, I noticed the sign board was advertising a chicken sandwich with the exclamation, “Discover the delights of Comfort and Joy!”  Given the time of year, I can only assume the slogan was a not-so-subtle reference to Christmas and the familiar carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, which proclaims “tidings of comfort and joy.”

Now I love a good chicken sandwich.  When I’m hungry, a good juicy chicken sandwich will give me delight, even comfort and joy.  Sometimes however, especially if it’s made with breaded chicken and topped with extra bacon, with a side of fries, it might give me discomfort, guilt, and remorse.  But usually a tasty chicken sandwich does indeed give me comfort and joy.
But aren’t we giving the delight of food a bit too much credit here?  And by using that phrase on a billboard at Christmas time to describe a fast-food sandwich, aren’t we really downplaying the only real source of comfort and joy, that is the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ?  This was how I felt when I saw those words used that way.
When you compare the carnal “delight” of a piece of food to what the Christmas carol promises, you’ll see how there’s really no comparison (and probably shouldn’t have been, even in a clever ad campaign).  In that familiar song we’re reminded that “Christ, our Savior, was born on Christmas day to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.”  Eternal salvation from our own sin and the power of Satan?  That’s lasting comfort and exceeding joy.  Not even angel food cake can deliver that, let alone a chicken sandwich.
In all seriousness, let’s look even beyond a human authored Christmas carol and remind ourselves of what God himself promises us in terms of comfort and joy through the birth of his son, Jesus Christ.  Let these words from sacred Scripture give us true delight this Christmas.
In Jeremiah 31, God promised the restoration of Israel, but also gave a promise of final restoration with him through Christ.  “Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well.  I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”
The fulfillment of this promise is proclaimed in the opening of the New Testament when the incarnation of our Lord is announced.  In Luke 2 we are told, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

But how do we know this joy in our lives?  How can we attain this peace from God?  Simply through accepting God’s gracious love and returning it to him and to others in this world.  Listen to the simple instructions from Jesus himself on how to love and be loved.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:9-12
But for some of us, Christmas without beloved family members or during times of suffering or sickness can be even harder than normal days in our lives.  Can we still have comfort and joy at this time too?  In God’s merciful grace, yes we can.  “Though, now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief…” yet “are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,  for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  Now, more than ever, “The Lord is at hand…” so “ do not be anxious about anything…and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
And finally, as we count our many blessings from the Lord, let us be a comfort to others, especially those less fortunate than us.  Remember Paul’s reminder on this to the church in Corinth.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 2 Cor 1:3-5
So praise God today for true comfort and joy which can only come from salvation through Jesus Christ.  From God we can have comfort that lasts more than a meal, comfort from all of life’s trials, comfort for our very souls.  We can have comfort which lets us be “content in any and every situation.”  And we can have joy beyond measure.  Exceeding joy when God’s glory is revealed.  Joy which surpasses all human understanding.  Joy at the coming of our salvation.
“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

Apr 30, 2012

Humility and Boldness

I have been calling godly men to be both bold and humble.  But often, these seem like conflicting goals and are certainly hard to perfect at the same time.  Most of us fail in both areas, but often find one more challenging than the other.  Some men are naturally bold, but could use a big dose of humility.  Others are perhaps too humble, or rather meek, and need to step up in their boldness.

My pastor once claimed something I found remarkable, but once I really thought about it, very true as well.  He said that only in the Gospel can you be both humble and bold at the same time.  Think about that for a second.  The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us two critical things.  First, we are lost in our sin and without hope of ever being good enough or of saving ourselves.  That’s humbling.  But second, we are also of infinite worth due to the price God himself paid for our sins, and as eternal heirs of the King, we have been granted truth, salvation, righteousness, and power in this world and the next.  That should make us bold and confident.  If we can remember and embrace both of these truths, we may be able to balance humility and boldness in our walk with God and before men.

Many men, perhaps most men historically, have a tendency towards pride or even arrogance.  Many men without the truth of their lost and sinful state go about their lives bragging, competing with the other alpha males, and living for their own selfish indulgences.  Still, I was shocked when I saw an extreme example of this on the bookstore shelf this week.
It was the title of the book which caught my attention first.  I’m Awesome.  The subtitle was even sillier and just as arrogant – One Man’s Triumphant Quest to Become the Sweetest Dude Ever.  No, I didn’t see this in the Humor section, it’s a real autobiography of an ex skateboarder, ultimate fighting enthusiast, and now radio talk show host.  I was disgusted but intrigued by the title so I had to at least read the intro.
“My book has it all: Drugs, alcohol, wild boars, prostitutes, skateboarding, guns, motorcycles, broken bones, fire, and Tony Hawk.  I’ve been knocked out more than ten times, and done a ludicrous amount of drugs, but this is the whole story, as best as I remember.”
Despite the author’s claim that his book “has it all”, I’m pretty sure there’s at least one thing missing – humility.  This guy seems to be reveling in, bragging about, and now profiting from a wasted life of hedonism, abuse, and juvenile foolishness.  This kind of guy gives the rest of us men our unwanted reputation as adolescent idiots, who without the wise restraining protection of our mothers, our wives, and the government, would have burned out or killed ourselves by age 25.
Could the power and truth of the Gospel message instill some much needed humility in a man such as this?  Just consider one passage from James 4 to get God’s perspective on a life lived (and wasted) in the prideful pursuit of self.
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” James 4:6-10

Fortunately the church may not have too many macho fools like the author of the book I saw.  Maybe a few with a colorful testimony of past sins, but hopefully not many still glorifying such a lifestyle with the arrogant conclusion of “I’m Awesome!”  No, for most of us Christian men, our problem in this balance tends to be our lack of boldness.
We go about our lives acting as if we don’t have the Truth or the confidence of being indwelled with power by the Holy Spirit.  We are often timid and sheepish in our interactions with others, believing the world’s lies of relativism, coexistence, and equality of ideas.  We find ourselves passively accepting what we know is wrong, afraid to confront or even disagree with others.  We make excuses for our inaction and silence like “Who am I to say what’s right or wrong?” “How could I make a difference?” or “I don’t want to start any trouble.”
Maybe we have the humility thing down (although I doubt it if we’re honest), but most of us could still use a good dose of Gospel truth to bolster our boldness in this world.  Consider Paul’s encouragement in Ephesians 3 and Philippians 4 that “in Christ Jesus our Lord…we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him,” so that “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

No men, we have no business going around telling everyone I’m awesome, but we should never forget that we serve and are saved by “the great, the mighty, and the awesome God.”  The truth of the Gospel should keep us humble, reminding us daily of our depravity, our helplessness, and our total dependence on God’s saving and sustaining grace.  And the Gospel should also motivate, encourage, and inspire us to confident boldness in the name of Christ.  Yes, only the power of the Gospel can equip us to be both humble and bold.

Apr 22, 2012

AdultBirth - Well Worth the Pain

In a recent sermon from Galatians 4, we heard of the apostle Paul being “in the anguish of childbirth” for his “little children” of the church. Our pastor suggested another term we may consider as parents – "adultbirth". If childbirth is the act of producing a child, adultbirth is the even longer process of producing an adult. Childbirth generally takes nine months and several hours to accomplish. Adultbirth may take 18 to 20 years to finally produce a young, but independent new adult. 

My pastor acknowledged that guys may be a little uncomfortable with the thought of birthing a child. And probably as a result, women bear the full burden of childbirth themselves. Hopefully they are helped through the process with the love and support of their husband by their side, but if you’ve ever been blessed to witness a birth, you know women alone bear the full painful responsibility of pregnancy and childbirth. 

But all parents, including fathers, are responsible for adultbirth, the long process of raising little children into healthy, responsible, loving adults. And just as childbirth can be a long, exhausting, and even scary process, so can raising the child into adulthood. But just as childbirth is ultimately well worth the pain to bring a new life into the world, parenting for all those years is also worth the effort to bring a fully grown adult into our world, prepared for what lays before them. 

Parenting, or adultbirth, can be challenging. For many men, being a father is both the most difficult thing they will ever do, and also the thing they feel most inadequate and least equipped to do. For starters, parents have to keep their children alive, from giving them the right medicine, to teaching our little boys not to jump out of the tree or pick up that snake, to picking out the safest car for them when they’re ready to drive. Parents have many sleepless nights, whether it’s sitting up all night comforting a sick baby, or sitting in the living room waiting for your teenager to finally come home. Parents are expected to know all the answers, from why do squirrels have bushy tails to why do I have to wait if I really love him. And parents have the constant responsibility to set a good example for their children in every way, to model Christ before their eyes every day, to display the fruits of the Spirit in their home, to say sorry when they fail at this, and then to hope that their children make better choices in life than they did when they were the same age. These and many more daily burdens are why most fathers have grey hair if they have any left at all. 

But parenting is also the most rewarding and worthwhile responsibility that a man or woman could pour themselves into. For starters, God places brand new, impressionable little souls under our care to lead and teach in the ways of righteousness. We get the privilege of being God’s primary instrument to evangelize and disciple new believers within the daily confines of our homes for roughly two decades. Each day, if we take the time to notice and appreciate it, we can watch a new human being develop right before our very eyes, growing each day in size, strength, maturity, knowledge, and wisdom. We get to witness a unique personality and sense of humor develop out of what was originally a helpless, mute, little baby. As parents we share in the pride and satisfaction of each new accomplishment, comfort and encourage after each new pain or heartache, and guide and lead through each new challenge. Finally, we get to pass on family legacies and traditions, to carry on our family name, to affect our world through the ongoing impact of our next generation. Being a parent is a blessing without compare and as any parent will confess, no matter how tired they may be by the end, well worth all the years of hard work and sacrifice. 

I’ll leave you with one final word of encouragement to all parents, but especially fathers. Some births are more difficult than others (and none are easy from what I’ve seen). But mothers know they can’t quit no matter how hard or painful it might get. They have to push through the pain and focus on their goal of bringing their new baby into the world. And parents, yes fathers too, have to push through the tough times and do what’s necessary to reach your goal, that of bringing about a new adult. A fully grown, responsible, God loving, ready to face the big bad world adult! And fathers can’t quit this task, no matter how hard it may get, no matter how much our kids still kick and scream to have their way, no matter how easy it would be just to retreat into the much easier worlds of career, sports, and self, leaving the hard work of parenting to our wives. No men, adultbirth is your job too, and according to the Bible, primarily your job, so don’t quit just because the birth pains double you over sometimes. There’s a new adult waiting to be born, and it’s up to you to bring them into the world.