House burning dawn

I heard the song 1933 by Frank Turner while running my dog and listening to Punk Tacos Radio on iHeartRadio. [Yes, I said running my dog — my Shih Tzu, Beaux, and I jogging through the neighborhood. It’s quite a Saturday morning event for both of us. And, yes, I’m a middle-aged man who loves punk rock.] The song is a commentary on surviving the terrible events of 1933 and then repeating the same mistakes in later generations. Want to hear some 1933 highlights?

  • there was 25.2% unemployment (the worst during the Great Depression)
  • Adolf Hitler became the chancellor of Germany and opened the first concentration camp at Dachau
  • prohibition was repealed
  • the US banking system was on the brink of collapse
  • the Midwest drought and dust bowls continued

The 1933 lyrics are all exceptional, but here’s the line that struck me.

Don’t go mistaking your house burning down for the dawn

This reminds me of a mistake we (okay, maybe just me) commonly make in our relationship with God. Far too often, we trust our circumstances as the barometer for our life-health. Am I succeeding in my job? Are my kids doing well in school? Do I have lots of friends? We use our situation to verify that we are good, that we’re living life correctly. Conversely, when things go wrong, we spiral down into self-recrimination and hopelessness. I’m a middle-aged man with kids in high school and college and I’ve lost my job. My spouse was unfaithful. My son gets high every day.

Listen: your circumstances are neither your salvation nor your damnation. My favorite story from the Bible is the parable Jesus taught about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). There are actually two sons. The younger brother requests his inheritance early and promptly squanders it in wild and irresponsible living. He ends up feeding pigs. Trust me, this was not his intended destination. And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful house.” (Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime) Yep, I’ve been that guy.

The older brother remains at home and oversees his father’s household. He believes that he has earned credit and honor for his obedience. He’s a legalist and is living life without mercy, compassion, or love. Rules are his god. Check, I’ve been that guy, too.

Neither circumstance defined me, though. What defines me (and you) is the story’s climax.

And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

It is the grace extended to us through our belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior that provides our sunlit dawn. You are so loved! I’ll leave you with this promise penned by the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth.

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16 MSG)

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No good day

I’ve been alive for over 17,000 days. However, I cannot point to a single day where I can say that I deserve the mercy and grace extended to me through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Not one.

I have good news that sounds like bad news. You don’t have an acceptable day either. Not one. This is good news because it means it’s not up to you and me. It is not by our best efforts, the summation of our good works, that we earn salvation. Rather, we are freely gifted deliverance from sin because God loves us, because Jesus willingly accepted the punishment for our sins.

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

If you’ve not done it already, I encourage you to receive this gift today. Right now. Admit that you have no good day to offer and ask Jesus to show you an eternity of bright new mornings. Peace!

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Snake on a stick

The Bible is a collection of God-inspired writings by God-chosen men and women. Some of these authors appear to be unlikely selections. Take Paul, for example, who wrote the majority of the New Testament (the second part of the Bible that begins with Jesus’ birth and life). Saul (later Paul) started his religious career pursuing and persecuting the small band of early Jesus followers scattered throughout Israel and Judea… then Jesus called him personally to spread the good news of salvation through belief in Him to the Gentiles (non-Israelites) within and beyond those borders. Read Acts 9 to learn more. Here’s the takeaway: it doesn’t matter what you’ve done or what life you’ve led, God can use you, too.

I don’t know the Bible perfectly, but I have learned that there is one theme that connects the entire narrative. That theme is Jesus. You see, Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection wasn’t a backup plan hatched in response to our sin. It was THE plan from before time (1 Cor. 2:7, Eph. 1:4). We didn’t surprise God with our bad behavior. He created us with free will. He knew we’d need rescue when that freedom led us into sin bondage through the worship of God-substitutes (success, sex, security, …), good stuff made bad by elevating it to God’s rightful place in our hearts.

Let’s look at an example Old Testament event that pointed centuries forward to Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. I chose this one because it includes a powerful visual aid that I didn’t understand for a long time, but I think I now have it sorted. Onward and upward.

We join Moses and the Israelites in the desert (wilderness) near the Red Sea. God has just delivered them from Egyptian bondage through 10 plagues that demonstrated His unlimited power. The Israelites have already forgotten these events, though, and are mainly interested in their daily comfort (you know, like you and me).

4Then the people of Israel set out from Mount Hor, taking the road to the Red Sea to go around the land of Edom. But the people grew impatient with the long journey, 5and they began to speak against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!”

6So the LORD sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died. 7Then the people came to Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8Then the LORD told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” 9So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed! (Numbers 21:4-9)

In summary, the people acted badly. God punished them. They asked for delivery and healing. God gave them a snake on a stick. If they simply looked at it, they were healed.

What?

Okay, now let’s fast forward hundreds of years to John 3. This is the Gospel written by “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Keep this in mind; during Jesus’ ministry, He referred to John and his brother James as the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). Listen: Jesus knows you and your weaknesses and still wants to use you to share the good news of His love.

“But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. 14And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.

16“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:13-17)

Do you see the connection? Moses lifted the snake on the stick so the poisoned, desert-bound Israelites would be healed simply by looking. Jesus was nailed to a cross and lifted up so that you and I can receive forgiveness (healing) and freedom from our own sin-prison simply by believing.

Why the snake, you ask? This is a symbol to remind us that, as the perfect sacrifice for our innumerable sins, Jesus became cursed in that moment in God’s eyes.

Thank you God for your unlimited, unending, undeserved love. I accept. I hope you’ll accept, too. A new life awaits!

 

 

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Never alone again

I’m dating myself, but 17-year-old, high school senior Tony liked the Dokken song Alone again. Probably too much.

I’d like to see you in the morning light
I’d like to feel you when it comes tonight
Now I’m here and I’m all alone
Still I know how it feels
I’m alone again

I was also a fan of Whitesnake’s Here I go again.

Here I go again on my own
Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known
Like a drifter I was born to walk alone
An’ I’ve made up my mind, I ain’t wasting no more time

I fully embraced this notion of facing the world alone. Come at me, bro.

Fast forward 30 years. I now know that I was foolish, immature, and just plain wrong. Alone is terrible. Alone sucks.

Thankfully, I will never be alone again because Jesus hung on the cross alone. In that moment, He experienced the full, crushing weight of my sin, your sin. Past, present, and future. As the perfect sacrifice for our sin, He suffered separation from His Father. He was abandoned by His disciples (John 16:32), rejected by His people, and condemned by the religious and political leaders.

Alone.

Nailed to the cross, He died for my sin. For your sin, too.

Out of this solitary darkness, as the sun rose on the third day, the Light shined again. The stone was rolled away and Jesus lived (Luke 24:1-8). Because Jesus lives, I will never experience alone again. He will forever be by my side. He’d like to be by your side, too.

Praise you Jesus. Our Savior, companion, friend!

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I am I was

Luke 24 begins with history’s pivotal event. Stone rolled. Grave empty. Jesus alive. In the greatest plot, the one that defines our future, the one that was did not originate in a screenplay, the twist on Jesus’ death by crucifixion is life!

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10b)

And so the work of the Gospel begins. This good news must be shared by those who believe. That’s you and me, friend.

Jesus kicked off the missionary work. Luke 24 continues (verse 13) with two of Jesus’ followers leaving Jerusalem. They are headed to Emmaus, on a seven mile walk. “Is that it? Death on a cross?” “I know, right? Did you hear that the grave is emtpy?” “Yeah, no Jesus to be seen, though.”

Jesus joins them.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)

The resurrection truth is the foundation of Christianity and it has been shared person to person for over 2000 years. I’m intrigued by the Emmaus walk for reasons beyond the Gospel’s beginning, though.

Emmaus is the Latin name for the town near Jersusalem, so it appears in that form in our English Bible translation. In Aramaic, the primary language of the Jews and Jesus at that time, Emmaus is Imwas (these are the English letters for the Arabic characters).

Imwas. I’mwas. I’m was.

I am. I was.

I’ve taken some interpretive liberty here, but this speaks directly to Jesus’ identity.

The Gospel of John begins:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

Jesus was before time began.

When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and stubborn, fearful (you know, like you and me) Moses asked for a name, an identity for the one who sent him, to give to the Israelites, God replied simply:

I am who I am. (Exodus 3:14)

God is.

Finally, in the revelation from Jesus Christ, the final book of the Bible:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)

Listen: Step out on the Emmaus road. Walk the Imwas path. Head straight toward the I am, I was. You won’t walk alone. He’ll walk with you and tell you all about the good news.

Peace!

 

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You are sent

Let’s take a walk through the ninth chapter of John to see how the Bible tells us more than events. It teaches us life.

[Verse 1] As Jesus was walking, he saw a blind man.

You are not forgotten no matter how hopeless your circumstances. Jesus is always seeking. He is dynamic, not static. He sees you.

[Verse 2] Jesus’ disciples ask if the man is blind because of his sin or his parents’ sin.

We can think of blindness as representing sin and separation from God for the purposes of this miracle.

[Verses 3-5] Jesus answers that this man was born blind so the power of God can be seen. Jesus states that He is the light of the world.

Jesus contrasts a life of following Him (light) with one in His absence (no light – blind).

[Verse 6] Jesus spits on the ground to make mud and spreads the mud on the man’s eyes.

The dirt Jesus used was the same ingredient He selected to create man (Genesis 2:7). With His spit, with Him introduced into the dirt, it was transformed (into mud) and it now had the power to heal when applied to the blind eyes (sin).

[Verse 7a] Jesus told the man, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam.” Siloam means sent.

This is fantastic. Jesus (the One sent from God) sent the man to the pool called Sent. Sent times three.

[Verse 7b] The man did as he was told. He went to the pool, washed, and then he could see, for the first time ever!

The man had to participate. He had to go when sent, to believe Jesus, to obey (sometimes we are best positioned to finally put down our pride and do as we’re told when all is lost and we are most desperate). He had to wash. Only then could he see. Washing represents the removal of our sin through belief in Jesus as the one and only Savior, our only hope for freedom from the bondage of sin and punishment.

[Verse 39] Jesus finds the man later and explains the miracle. “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.”

I am sent. You are sent. If you’ve not yet acknowledged your bondage to sin, you are sent to wash, to believe, to see. If you have received freedom through belief, if you have sight, you are sent to spread this good news.

Be sent. Love you!

 

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How to face great odds

Green Day’s “Good Riddance” lyrics begin:

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go

I like the song, but disagree with the second line. I’ve stood at that fork many times and have never found time directing me by the wrist. I had a choice to make. Ultimately, the two tines on that fork are: keep doing what you’re doing, or do the unexpected.

Want my advice? Be bold.

I recently learned an inspiring quote from an early 20th century pastor and author, (William Benjamin) Basil King (1859-1929). He said:

“Go at it boldly, and you’ll find unexpected forces closing round you and coming to your aid.”

You may have heard it phrased as:

“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.”

God used similar phrasing when encouraging Joshua. Here’s the situation. God had delivered the Israelites from Egyptian slavery through Moses (using the 10 plagues). They had spent the ensuing 40 years wandering in the wilderness (near the promised land of Canaan) because they had to learn to trust God. Moses carried the burden of this leadership.

Moses is now dead. It’s Joshua’s role to lead the fearful, stubborn, unruly people (you know, like you and me) across the Jordan River and into their promised inheritance. The problem is that other nations already live there and they’re not offering to pick up and move. The Israelites are going to have to fight for their future. Sound familiar?

This is where we find Joshua. Overwhelmed. Uncertain. Unproven. Another fork stuck in the road. Should he go forward or turn back? This is where God met Joshua. God will meet you in your current circumstances, too.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

So what’s the answer to “how to face great odds”? Like Joshua. Not alone. Turn to God today. He’s our mighty Father and He’s trustworthy. Be bold. Be strong. Be courageous!

 

 

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