Down Memory Lane

Lately I’ve found myself going down memory lane, revisiting things from my childhood,: back to Puffalumps and Smooshees, Double Dare and Glow Worms, My Little Pony and the doll with Play-Doh hair you could really cut, Super Nintendo and Commander Keen, Milton-Bradley board games and Lost ‘n’ Found plushies.

The things I remember from the 80’s are more than nostalgic. They carry with them a sense of safety. After all, I made it through the 80’s. Revisiting them is like somehow entering a “time freeze”—a safe zone in which I already know what’s going to happen.

When I think about even this taste of what eternity might feel like, I’m overwhelmed that Christ would come from such a safe zone and enter the frail and very mortal world of you and I.

I try to go back to the 80’s to feel young again and a little immortal; but Jesus really was in eternity everlasting. He had no beginning and no end. Yet He chose to step out of tha realm and, for a time, become part of our time march, even experiencing the curse of death.

Jesus stood on the edge of the abyss of death, all He had to do was call on His Father, and a multitude of angels would come to whisk Him back into the priceless security of eternity.

He didn’t have to stand before the clock of time. He didn’t have to relinquish the last second of his life or plunge into the pit of death. He was the one, the only human being, who has ever been able to control when He died.

But He chose to yield to mortality so that He could break the hands of time once and for all for even the worst of sinners.

I can go down memory lane and try to relive a little of my childhood, but I can never get it back. Yet, because of Christ, I don’t have to look at my life as a wind down to death. Instead, the death I will have one day (unless Christ returns first) will unravel to life. That is the promise of eternity with Christ.

And that’s something I don’t have to be nostalgic about. Because the life I’ve never even dreamed of . . will always be right in front of me.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9b, NLT)

Does what I do make a difference?

It’s something I’ve been pondering for several months now.  Does what I do make a difference?

Lately I’ve really been struggling to write.  I’ve been fighting a big bout of discouragement.  It seems that I can strive to be a popular writer, a cool writer, or a powerful writer, but the question lingers still: Does what I do make a difference?

It seems like, so much of the time, what I write is possibly read (or skimmed), possibly encouraging, possibly thought-provoking–and then it’s time for the reader to check email . . or get a second cup of coffee . . or go to that work meeting.  Does what I do make a difference?

How can I write in a way that causes people to want to give their lives to Christ?  How do I write in a way that evokes a life change that’s real and radical in my Christian friends?  How do I write in a way that such a change happens within myself?

Does what I do make a difference?

I’ve felt stumped with writer’s block . . tired . . unmotivated . . and just like the busywork of life is more demanding and more promising.

God forgive me.

I’ve been so blind.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus talks about such a problem a farmer has.  He works hard throwing out all of this seed by hand, but so much of it is unsuccessful.  So much of it yields no crop.  What with birds and thorns and rocks, most of the seed is a huge disappointment.  That’s the way it’s going to be in this life.

Most people who read this (if people do actually read this), are going to think, “Hmm, interesting,” or “Well, that was boring,” or “Huh”, or “You don’t say” . . and that will be the end of it.  They won’t change their lives.  But I should have realized that would happen.

Many people who read the Bible have the same reaction.  My writing is dust, but the Bible is God’s eternal Word.  And yet many people, when they read it, carelessly let the truth slip between their fingers.  They have no reaction to catch it, but rather simply to observe it (or argue against it).

But let’s make it more personal. How many times do Christians–do I myself–read God’s Word and I don’t even begin to let it steep before I’m off to the busywork of life?  It’s like percolating coffee in the morning, going to the trouble of pouring it in a cup, and then leaving it on the counter and never touching it again.

God warns us in the parable of the sower that much of our work in this life will seem fruitless.  Much of the time, when we try to bring people to Christ, or bring Christians to a deeper understanding of Him, in the eyes of the world we totally and utterly fail.  Nothing grows.

Yet we still sprinkle seeds everywhere.

Why?

Surely it must be love.

Surely the farmer throws seed on rocky soil, thorny soil, and on the path not because he is incompetent, but because he chooses to give all the soil a chance.  Surely he allows himself to experience the disappointment of a failed crop again and again, simply to give every possible piece of land the chance to thrive and grow.

The wise and perfect Farmer, Jesus Christ, knows just what kind of soil we are in our hearts.  And He still throws out the seed to all.  We, on the other hand, have no true idea what kind of soil is in the heart of another, yet we are reluctant or even unwilling to scatter seeds if the outcome looks unpredictable to us or the chance of success is unlikely.

We are called to scatter seed–not to grow it.  We can do no such thing as growing.  Only God can do that.

But we can act like our Master in Heaven, Jesus Christ, when we give everyone the opportunity to hear God’s Word and respond.  What they do with it is a choice God has left up to them.  Their choice, however, has no bearing on our responsibility to first get the Word to them.

I love the way the movie Courageous ends.  To paraphrase in a way befitting this blog, some may read this and not care.  Some may read this and agree, and they’ll forget what they read as soon as the next interruption comes.

But a few may read this and seek Christ.  And even if it’s just the possibility of one, that’s a chance I’m willing to take.

I’m ready to scatter seed again.

“A farmer went out to sow his seed . .” (Luke 8:5a, NIV)

 

Published in: on July 26, 2014 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I don’t deserve a bike, but here I am riding!

cute little boy on a bicycle

I grew up with Andy Griffith Show reruns playing every day at 12:30 in the afternoon. One show that sticks in my mind is when Opie thinks he’s received an A on a test he took.

His dad gets so excited, and praises him for his good work. Opie’s exuberant–right there on Cloud 9. But the next day he goes to school and finds out there was a mistake made, and he didn’t really earn an A at all. He goes home downcast, having fallen hard off the clouds, only to find his father has bought him a bike as a reward.

The guilt he feels over the next few days drives him to run away from home.

As believers, sometimes I think we come before God like Opie does before his father. We know we haven’t really received an A, but we think God has a better impression of us than we really deserve. This leads us to depression and fear and anxiety that God will find out we’re not really as great as He thinks we are.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. God is totally aware that we are flops and failures. He’s not under a misconceived notion about who we really are. He knows exactly what we’ve done. He knows our worst motives. And He knows every reason why we don’t deserve Heaven.

One of the easiest and yet hardest things to understand in the Christian faith is justification. Justification is the idea that Christ’s A is laid down over top our F, and that the Father accepts that A on our behalf. It’s so easy that a grade-school student can understand it. And yet, it’s so difficult to really live out in our lives. Sometimes we find ourselves, like Opie, running away from God in fear that we are not really good enough.

That’s bad theology. :) We forget that God already knows, far more than we do, who we are. And we forget that Christ’s A really does cover our F. When God gives us gifts, we don’t have to be hit with an enormous wave of guilt. Because, in God’s eyes, we have received the A. We are rewarded for Christ’s grade. That’s grace.

Running away from God when He gives us good things does not send the message that we are unworthy (which is what we think we are communicating), but instead sends the message that Christ’s A is unworthy. We don’t mean to say that, but that’s what it looks like. We don’t really live out justification if we think our F stands in the way of God’s love for us.

Opie had good reason to feel guilty for receiving a bike he didn’t really deserve. No one had stepped up for him and said, “Here, Opie, take my A and everything that goes with it.” But we have the most loving Friend in the world who did exactly this for us! We can receive God’s gifts with excitement and joy and, most of all, praise to Jesus, who makes all gifts possible.

That leads us to the point of this little blog. I’ve received Jesus’ A for my F. That’s justification. So even I don’t deserve a bike, here I am riding!  I can unwrap every good thing God has in my life, praising Christ Jesus all the way, because Jesus is my test-taker and He has laid down His life so that I could have His perfect A.

It’s time to take my new bike out for a spin.

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.
 (Romans 5:18, NLT)

 

 

 

The cup

Have you ever seen a reality TV episode where a contestant had to drink something gross to win a prize?

I remember one episode where the host was blending all kinds of weird things into smoothies. The contestants would have to drink the liquid to the dregs if their team wanted points. There was such a relief in getting the last swallow down.

In the Bible, God’s wrath is sometimes described as a cup. People forced to drink from His wrath had to experience the consequences of their wrongful actions and God’s reaction to them.

Yellow broken cup on wooden backgroundWhen Jesus came to earth, He came for a unique purpose: to drink God’s wrath dry. The night He was betrayed, He prayed that He could avoid drinking the cup set before Him, if it was at all possible. But He was willing to yield to what the Father wanted, and not His own will.

Jesus chose to go ahead and drink that cup of wrath, because there was no other way for humanity to be saved. He drank to the dregs every last punishment for our sin and every bit of God’s just anger towards us.

On the reality TV show I saw, some contestants who finished the requirement of the drink would slam the cup on the table proudly, showcasing its emptiness to the world.

Just before Jesus took His last breath, it was as if He slammed the cup on the table and shattered it. The curtain the separated God from man was torn in two from God’s side to our side (top to bottom). An earthquake brought attention to the finality of Christ’s act. Best of all, Jesus Himself announced the beautiful words,

“It is finished.” (from John 19:30)

There is no reason for any of us to taste God’s wrath. We can be totally free because Jesus drank the cup we so fear. And He drank it to the very dregs.

From a butterfly

“Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly, “one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”
–Hans Christian Andersen
butterfly

I’ve been struck increasingly more deeply by these words.

So many people are “just living”.  They go through life as though the only thing they can expect is nightfall, storms, bondage, drought, and badlands.  These people walk through great deserts of the soul, never imagining anything could change their fate.

Why does the Christian assert Christ?  Why does the Christian say only Christ can be the eternal sunshine, freedom, and flower?

Because God is the great game changer.  The turn in the plot that not even Satan could foresee.  God has created the happily ever after, because He is the only one to do so.  And with it abundant life.

God died to give us life.  And sometimes when we think of life, we think of it in sterile, religious terms.  Not at all!  The life Jesus gives is the life of sunshine, freedom, and flower.  The life He gives is to accept that you are indelibly and delightfully cared for by the God of all the universe.  The life He gives is to understand that you are forgiven of all your sins, even the very worst, by the most just of all judges.  The life He gives is to receive a love so intricate that none of the relationships we have on earth can fully explain it–one of a servant to a king, or a child to a father, or a sheep to a shepherd, or an outcast to a suitor, or a wife to a husband.

One must indeed have “sunshine, freedom, and a little flower”.  “‘Living’ is not enough.”

God gives us the full package of life when we receive Him.  Today, let’s remember to open it, even if we only get so far as to undo the ribbon and pull the twine off the brown paper.

“Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (Jesus, John 10:9b-10, NLT)

 

 

Published in: on July 16, 2014 at 7:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Inheriting Light

You will also thank the Father, who has made you able to share the light, which is what God’s people inherit. (Colossians 1:12, GWT)

InheritingLight

When you think of the word “inheritance”, what comes to mind? A bag full of cash? Stocks and bonds? An estate sale? What about light?

As believers in Christ, the inheritance we have is light.

Doesn’t that sound incredibly peculiar to our ears, and yet breathtakingly spectacular at the same time?

Like many children, I was terrified of the dark. If you would have told me as a five or six year old getting ready for bed that God’s gift to us is light, I would have immediately gotten the significance—in a way that maybe we forget as adults.

In the dark, I can imagine all sorts of things looming around the room. But with even a small nightlight, the room is transformed into an ordinary bedroom made for rest. If I enter my house in the dark and hear a loud crash, I am filled with panic. However, if I flip the lightswitch on and see my dog looking rather sheepish beside a broken lamp, I am filled with relief.

What is light? What is this gift that God gives us?

It’s both the first thing He made for the heaven and earth (see Genesis 1:3) and one way He describes Himself (see 1 John 1:5). Light is a picture of who He is.

God gives us clarity about the dark around us and, most importantly, inside us. We can only see sin as what it really is when God’s Light breaks through the darkness. Before that, we are oblivious to the danger and damage of sin in our lives. When we become believers, that Light lives within us. We see the world through new eyes—and we wonder how we never saw it this way before. As we mature as believers, the Light inside us grows brighter and brighter, and more and more we glimpse how things really are.

What is our inheritance as believers? Light. There is no inheritance I’d rather have. The richness of gold streams, pouring over our hearts in love. This is no ordinary light. This is God’s Light, and with it we will one day live in a new heaven and new earth (see Revelation 21:23). In our new dwelling, it is not the sun or the moon that illuminates our way, but Christ Jesus Himself.

My heart’s desire is to inherit this Light. As a child I longed for light at night, and even now, at nightfall, I find myself longing for the skies to be filled with the sun’s honey-glowing rays and not the blind, unfeeling blanket of darkness. I’m so joyfully thankful to be a child of God, that one day I will live not with the temporary light of the sun or the dim light of the moon or the tiny light of a nightlight, but with the Light Himself.

You will also thank the Father, who has made you able to share the light, which is what God’s people inherit. (Colossians 1:12, GWT)

Published in: on July 1, 2014 at 10:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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Choosing pink toothpaste

Walking down the toothpaste aisle at our grocery store as a child, I saw a kind of toothpaste unlike the ordinary blue kind I was used to.  It was a pink toothpaste and it had my favorite characters on it.

My mom warned me I might not like the flavor of the toothpaste.  I was sure I would.  She warned me I might not.  But with my favorite characters on it, how could it possibly taste bad?  I was sure that I would want to use every last bit of the toothpaste.

However . . I tried it once . . and found out that, just because your favorite characters are on something doesn’t mean it will taste good.  My mom and dad ended up using up the pink toothpaste.

It’s a little story of grace.  My parents used up what I had asked for, pleaded for, and found out I despised.  It reminds me of the ultimate story of grace, when Christ took in all the sin that we had asked for, pleaded for, and discovered we despised.  Even though none of it belonged to Him, even though He had every right to demand that we carry it ourselves, He bore our sin for us . . all the way to the cross.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4, NIV)

Published in: on June 25, 2014 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tailgate

One time my aunt and I were out grocery shopping at a local bulk goods store.  We were coming out, about to cross the street, when a pickup truck pulled out of the parking lot.  His tailgate was down and, as he accelerated, a gallon of milk rolled out the back of his truck.

There was nothing we could do to stop him.  As he drove down the road, a large carton of strawberries spilled out of his truck and on the road.  He disappeared from sight.

I’m reminded of the parable of the seeds.  One seed, in particular, landed along the path.  The seed never had a chance to grow because it was quickly scooped up by birds.

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.” (Mark 4:3-4, NIV)

Some people receive the Good News about Christ in this kind of way.  It’s like loading salvation in someone’s pickup, only to have them ride off spilling it everywhere because either they didn’t want to keep the message or didn’t yet know how to.

We can’t give up on these people, though.  As we pray for them and continue to share the Gospel with them as God gives us opportunities, they may place their tailgate up.  :)

Take a moment to pray for those people in your life . . right now.

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. (1 Timothy 2:1, NLT)

Published in: on June 24, 2014 at 11:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bounce

Financial calculationWhen I was a teenager, I got my first paying job at a fast food restaurant. My mom helped me open a checking account.

I felt like big stuff having a checking account. I loved that I had the power to write checks.

I loved that power too much.

My mom carefully taught me how to balance my checkbook. For a short time, I kept up with it. After that, I sort of estimated. Or just believed the money would be there.

My mom insisted I balance the checkbook one night, and I realized something very important.

The check I’d written that day was going to bounce. It wasn’t even a check for stuff I needed, but just stuff I’d wanted to have.

I felt embarrassed about it, and I tried to brush it off as no big deal. But Mom wouldn’t have it.

Mom told me the store could put my name on display at the registers for the clerks to look at, to make sure not to accept anymore checks from me. And, to top it off, the bank doesn’t look keenly on bounced checks and charges an overdraft fee—and I didn’t even have any money in savings for the bank to draw from.

After I realized more of the gravity of the situation, Mom told me she would pay the debt—I think the check was for something like $200 and much of the money I didn’t have.

I didn’t realize it at the time nearly so much as I see it now, but my mother was presenting a clear picture of the Gospel for me that day.

First, God gives us the freedom to choose how we will spend our lives. But in Adam, we all chose to turn away from God and now we have a sin nature that makes right choices impossible apart from Christ.

Second, we all get in debt to sin. And not sinning for things we need—just things we want. We have no excuse for the sin we get ourselves into. We’re careless about getting ourselves into sin. We don’t realize the full consequences.

Third, we defend ourselves when confronted with sin. We try to brush it off or justify it as if it’s no big deal—or we regress into self-pity and remorse.

Fourth, God convicts us of our sin. We see that we have no excuse and that we have no way out on our own.

Fifth, God offers to pay our debt. We can start all over again, debt free, by belief in His Son. (For someone who is already a Christian who sins, we get a fresh start in our walk with Him.)

This miracle is made possible by grace. God takes our debt—sure to bounce back to us on Judgment Day—and pays it all off. He takes on our poverty, and we inherit His righteousness. This is the power of the cross.

He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:14, NLT)

The power of a name

I have a fear of forgetting people’s names. Really, I have a fear of calling someone the wrong name. So I usually avoid calling someone by their name unless I know them very well, for this reason:

“Well, hi, Beth, how are you today?”

“My name’s not Beth. It’s Rachel.”

I mean, where do you go from here? What do you say?

“Hi . . Rachel. I know the name Beth doesn’t sound like Rachel, and I don’t even know anyone named Beth who reminds me of you, but I do want you to know I remember who you are and I care deeply about our friendship.”

*buzzer sound*

Before Ben and I were ever married, I warned him about my fear of calling him the wrong name. And I have. At least three times. There’s nobody on earth I love more, and I have called my beloved, my soulmate the wrong name. How do I explain that? Thankfully, I’m blessed with an understanding husband.

Recently one of our pastors at church said that many people’s favorite word of all is their name. And many people don’t get to hear their name nearly as often as they long for.

I’m inept with names. But God isn’t. Scripture tells us that God identifies each star with ease (see Psalm 147:4). And if we think He’s forgotten us, we can think again. In a passage about His love for Israel, His chosen people, He tells them that He has their names on His palms. Surely God does the same for His people today.

Imagine God, with a ballpoint pen, writing your name on His palm. Whenever He turns his hand over, He looks down at His palm and sees your name. And He thinks of you.

See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49:16a, NLT)

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