23837 (2)

What if the worst does happen… then what?

Modern-day, western Christianity says if we really love God, if we have enough faith, we’re protected by a force field that nothing truly bad can penetrate. Should something terrible manage to get through, this fiction continues, we can pray it right out of our lives.

My real life experience has proven otherwise. Bad things happen. And sometimes the only way out is to walk through.

No matter how many crosses or garlic cloves actors use to ward off movie vampires and murderous mummies, in life there is no Christian talisman. The cross, after all, is synonymous with a torturous death that had to be endured before it could be overcome.

Jesus is frank:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.(John 16:33b)

Should we encounter a nightmare scenario, it won’t mean that evil has won. Those who trust God may have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but Christ walks with us to the other side.

Our relationship with God doesn’t have to crack under the strain of hard things. It can survive and deepen. Job is the Old Testament example.

By God’s own testimony, Job was blameless. (Job 1:8) Yet, God allowed this guy’s life to fall apart without warning and without cause. (Job 2:3) In a single day, he lost his wealth, his children. On some other day, his health was attacked. There had been a “hedge” of protection around his life. (Job 1:10)  Clearly, for reasons that are inexplicable beyond His Sovereignty, God sometimes allows the enemy to get at us.

We know that Job kept faith, though he had so many questions. God brought him to a deeper understanding of Himself and restored Job without ever explaining why things happened as they did.

God still causes His people to triumph through tragedy.

  • A friend’s only child, a son, was murdered. She endured the court trial, saw his killer convicted and jailed. Despite profound loss and grief, she somehow kept believing and trusting God. Decades later, she still says with conviction that “God is good.”
  • A family’s home caught fire while they slept and burned to the ground, a complete loss. Everyone escaped alive, including a visiting missionary couple later said to be accidentally responsible for the blaze. Think this family struggled with having missionaries set their house on fire? Still, their faith and their marriage survived a life in ashes.
  • A man who had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer stood in church to proclaim that a year later he is cancer-free. A miracle to be sure. Yet he had not escaped suffering. He had endured cancer treatment and had, by God’s grace, prevailed.

In this Holy Week, when we Christians remember how Jesus Christ became our Savior, it’s worth noting that the captain of our salvation was made perfect through suffering, the very thing most of us spend a lifetime trying to avoid.

Christ “tasted death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9), a torturous, humiliating, excruciating death. Nobody dragged him to the cross. He went willingly, drinking to the last drop the worst the world had to offer. Three days later, He got up fully alive, overcoming the very thing that sought to overcome Him.

No matter what happens from now on, Jesus Christ has fully prepared those who trust in Him for what happens next. “No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

 

 

Advertisements

God Wants You to Live

  • A pregnant mother is brutally murdered in her suburban home, teeth fragments scattered around her room, blood puddling so that her toddler, left unharmed by the assailant, tracks crimson footprints through the house. The convicted killer: her husband.
  • A woman is shot dead in her employer’s parking lot by the father of her children in the midst of a protracted custody battle that ends as a murder-suicide. Their children: orphaned. 
  • A young man is stabbed to death in his own apartment. Police arrest his live-in partner amid rumors of domestic abuse.

These are not random plot lines from an episode of CSI or, my personal favorite, The Closer.

These are real life tragedies involving flesh-and-blood people whose names and faces I knew. Not characters in a Hollywood drama. These were neighbors, fellow church members, co-workers.

No one ever expects to actually know somebody whose life ends in homicide. But what used to be the stuff of screenplays or page-turning novels has become the scenario of everyday life.

Relationships matter.

The people with whom we choose to enter into intimate relationship can alter the course of our lives for good or ill. The right relationships with the right people can be a blessing, life-giving. The wrong relationships with the wrong people in the wrong circumstances can be deadly.

How do we know which people can be trusted? We don’t. Ultimately, those who have a relationship with God, must choose to trust God. Through Jeremiah, the prophet, God said this:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” He added: “I, the Lord, search the heart…” 

Whatever else may be a mystery to you about God, know this:

Now, be honest. Do you see yourself or someone you know living a plot line with the potential to end badly – in bruises, body bags, morgues?

Resolve to do something: To get help, To get out.

No one has to die. You can walk away. You can start over. God makes all things new.

* Are you in Wake County, NC and need safety, support, aware in a domestic violence situation?  Interact offers a 24-hour crisis line: 866-291-0855 Toll-Free or visit http://www.interactofwake.org/

Are you sure God’s Not Mad?

God Is Not Mad at You.” That’s the catchy title of the 100th book recently published by Joyce Meyer. It caught my eye while strolling the aisles of Walmart.

My first thought was, “Really?”

Psalm 7:11 says something quite the opposite:

 God is a just judge,

And God is angry with the wicked every day.

So whose report will we believe?

I’m not hating on Joyce Meyer. I’ve listened to her teaching, been to her conferences, bought her tapes. I even own a leather bound signature Amplified Bible translation from back in the day when her ministry was known as “Life in the Word.” (The ministry now broadcasts as “Enjoying Everyday Life.”)

The truth is whether God is angry at you depends on you. Romans 8:1 tells us there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. 1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us. We don’t need to wallow in guilt and shame.

If we happen to be disobedient, unrepentant, and rejecting God, however, the unvarnished truth is that God is angry. The Bible clearly says so.

I know the idea of an angry God is not good marketing strategy. We live in the age of “God is Love,” where even Christians try to make God look good by sometimes shading the truth. An angry God, after all, doesn’t play well to crowds. An angry God is dangerous.

Listen to Jeremiah 15:6 “You have rejected me,” declares the LORD. You keep on backsliding. So I will reach out and destroy you; I am tired of holding back.”

Personally, I think a holy fear of an angry God is a good thing. There was a time when Americans were moved to repentance to know that God was angry at sinners. The great preacher Jonathan Edwards, preached a now famous, unemotional sermon entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” that prompted many to seek salvation.

Today, in our desire not to offend, we sometimes give people a less than accurate impression of God in an attempt to make our message more palatable. Scripture explicitly warns us not to add or subtract from God’s word. Unrepentant sinners are guilty before God and should be ashamed. God hates sin; and He will judge it, if we do not repent. It’s an uncomfortable truth.

The central message of Christianity can be summed up in John 3:16, which simply states that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to save us. Ephesians goes on to say, “By grace you have been saved…”

Ever ask yourself, just what is it that we Christians are “saved” from?

The Bible answer is that we are saved from “the wrath of God.” The Book of Revelation, in which the long withheld judgment on an unrepentant planet is finally unleashed, makes particular reference to “the winepress of the wrath of God,” and to “bowls full of the wrath of God” being poured out on the disobedient, the unrighteous, the unbelieving.

God is not one-dimensional. He is both a God of Love and a God of Wrath. By definition, wrath is “extreme anger.” It is God’s great love that, for a time, restrains His wrath. “He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

We can’t fully appreciate God’s undeserved love toward us until we acknowledge the very real wrath that He will one day justly unleash on those who reject His offer of rescue. Paul, writing to Christians in Colosse, admonished them to “put to death sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.”

When Christ returns to Earth, He is not coming as a meek, suffering servant. He is coming the Second time to “rule with a rod of iron” and to “dash in pieces” the wicked.  

We can escape the wrath of God to come by accepting His gift of love today. John 3:36 says: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

As Jonathan Edwards said in one last appeal to listeners of his famous sermon, “Therefore let everyone that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come.”

Got Commitment?

I’m a fan of the old Journey song “Faithfully” with front-man Steve Perry and with good reason. I’ve been married for a generation and appreciate what it means to stay in a relationship and work through the kinks. 

Even so, being married doesn’t exempt anyone from being tempted to take a second, romantic look at someone other than the spouse. In that fleeting moment of temporary insanity that other person may seem more this, that or something than what’s waiting at home.

If it ends with a look, no harm done. “Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin,” goes the hymn. Marriage, after all, is commitment, not blindness. But how committed to marriage are we 21st century dwellers, really?

I recently stumbled upon a NY Times “Modern Love” column headlined: “You May Call It Cheating, but We Don’t” in which the married columnist recounts kissing a family friend over drinks in her husband’s absence. 

The friend broke off the kiss, anxious that he’d be unable to look the husband in the eye later, and chided himself for going around kissing women who are “unavailable.” The columnist, on the other hand, considered herself available, insisting her husband of 12 years wouldn’t have objected. Their marriage is monogamous, she wrote, but with “a small asterisk on [her] part.”

The asterisk is modern marriage as a convenience that begins with a few hastily spoken words (the vows), moves to a big party (the wedding reception) and climaxes – no pun intended – with conjugal rights that too often were enjoyed long before anyone said “I do.”

When marriage* becomes inconvenient, annoying or just plain boring, the aggrieved party is open to other options.

Contrast this with biblical marriage as the once-for-all,  “one-flesh” experience God described to Adam and his bride Eve. It’s a relationship that depicts Christ’s faithfulness and unbroken union with His bride, the church, for whom He will return one day and “so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 

Do we really believe in this kind of marriage anymore?

About six years ago George Barna reported on the waning conventional morality, a consensus about right and wrong, good and evil. People in their 20s and 30s eschew such moral absolutes, living instead by a personal situational ethic: “what’s right for you.”

No surprise then that the Times column went on to praise the modern indulgence in cuckoldry. Historically, to be a cuckold was to be the disgraced husband of an adulteress, which sometimes led to deadly duels demanded by husbands who considered the marriage bed inviolate and an intruder worthy of death.

Sadly, what once was scorned, according to the Times article, is now celebrated as a sporting way to keep marriage interesting. The 1970s-era practice of couples “swinging” is making a comeback. 

Christians are called to break ranks with the culture and to affirm marriage as exclusive. God calls us to faithfulness even if we’re bored in bed, repulsed by what used to attract or longing for affection the other party is physically incapable of giving. Christian marriage, real marriage, is finding a way to make the sex in that relationship work.

Finding a way may mean:

  • Getting wise counsel
  • Getting a physical exam
  • Getting in the Bible and on our knees
  • Getting over ourselves and embracing self-denial

Nobody can keep that kind of commitment to another human being — and not be filled with bitterness, anger and resentment — without first committing themselves to God. The author of marriage is the only One who can help us keep our commitment to it. 

Instinctively, we know that marriage isn’t to be violated on a whim no matter what the culture or our own libido tells us. We also know that commitment comes down to a decision.

After that kiss, the columnist’s male friend responded: “We shouldn’t do this. I should leave.”

And he left.

The Cross: The Ultimate Intervention

 The A&E television series Intervention will start a new season tomorrow. The story line is pretty much the same every episode: a bunch of people come together to stage the rescue of a hapless family member whose substance abuse and/or prostitution to support their addiction has brought them to the edge of a precipice.

In short, it’s a televised last-ditch effort to save somebody from the grave. Invariably, the person at the center of the intervention insists they don’t need help. Sometimes they relent and accept rescue. Other times, they tell their family members to go to hell and walk away.

It would be tempting to judge these people as whacked and to congratulate myself for not being “like them” – were the show not so graphic a depiction of the human condition.

At our core, we all are fatally addicted to sin; we can’t help ourselves.  To quote T.D. Jakes, “There is no human remedy for sin.” Each of us needs Divine Intervention. Yet, like the church in Laodicea, we live in denial.

You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Rev 3:17

Search the Bible and you’ll find one helpless sinner after another and a God who stands ready to intervene.

Consider two snapshots:

  •  In Ezekiel 37, the prophet stands in a valley of dry bones. These bones belong to the long dead, bleached by the sun, brittle, disconnected. God asks the question: Can these bones live? From a human perspective, they’re hopeless. But the question is being asked by God with Whom nothing is impossible. So the prophet replies: “Lord, you know.”

The bones can do nothing for themselves. God takes the initiative. He does all the work.

He tells the prophet to speak to the bones these words: I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

Then God does what He says right there, right then. The image is of God opening the grave, calling out and reassembling a bunch of raggedy skeletons and speaking life to them so that they stand upright, a living, breathing, mighty army.

  • In Zechariah 3 Joshua the high priest is standing before the Angel of the Lord in filthy robes. Filthy as in: vile, dishonored, morally defiled, unclean. Picture a priest standing in a holy place before a holy God to perform some religious ceremony while wearing clothes covered in excrement. Despicable. Beside him, ready to accuse him, is satan himself.

“Look at this guy,” satan is prepared to say. “He isn’t fit to serve God. He doesn’t deserve to be here. Look at him; he’s nasty, full of sin.” Joshua stands mute. He can say nothing in his own defense. The charge is true. The Lord Himself rebukes satan.  The Lord gets the filthy robes removed from Joshua and gives him new, clean clothes.

This is the human situation before God. Dead, filthy, justly accused, hopeless without the work of Christ on the Cross. That work is The Ultimate Intervention, and that’s worth contemplating during this season of Lent.

Forever in Blue Jeans?

My house is filled with teenagers who ask a lot of questions. Consequently, there’s a lot of discussion around what I call “the culture wars,” modern-day controversies that clash with historic Christian teaching.

I recently edited an article for someone regarding a May 8 vote on NC Amendment 1, which would amend North Carolina’s state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The subject came up at home. Finally able to vote in an election, one of my children stated their position. Then came the question: what do you think?

My husband and I are about to celebrate a silver wedding anniversary, telegraphing that I favor church-sanctioned marriage for a man and a woman. I view marriage as a picture of Christ and His Bride, the church. That said, I have no quarrel with civil union, which has nothing whatever to do with the church as far as I’m concerned. It merely provides legal standing regarding property rights, hospital visits as “family” and the like. I see no point in enshrining a same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution. Same sex marriage already is illegal in North Carolina.

A hail-storm of questions ensued: Is it “fair”? How can a loving God just reject people and consign them to hell because they “love” someone of the same sex?

We humans tend to accept some things as a natural part of life, of what is. We consider other things, spiritual things in particular, negotiable, open to question or outright challenge.

Quick example: My employer has a dress code. I can wear denim on Fridays only, but not all Fridays. On Fridays when special guests are on property, business attire is required. Sleeveless arms, Capri pants, sling back pumps, mules and exposed-toe shoes are taboo every day of the week.

As far as I know, no one ever has challenged the code. Acceptance of employment includes submission to the company’s dictates regarding what can and cannot be worn on site. Their property, their rules. No question.

In that way, the company gets more respect than God who provides the air we breathe. Something inside us insists on the right to challenge everything about Christianity that goes against the grain of personal preference or popular culture. I’m guilty. I have a sin nature just like everyone else on the planet. Compliance is not my first response.

On Facebook, the nation-sized online community that’s poised to go public, young and old freely post what they are thinking, reading, watching on YouTube or listening to on Ipods, Spotify, Pandora or Rhapsody. There I find a pervasive embrace of peace, love and inclusion that is devoid of biblical perspective. Historic Christianity is widely viewed, even by professing Christians, as narrow, dogmatic and intolerant of other faith systems that proclaim other ways to God, many paths to enlightenment.

Seems to me that most of us fail to grasp the real meaning of Christianity. It’s not a democratic system in which we vote on what we like, majority wins and rewrites everything to suit us. We are not running things. God is Sovereign. Christ is the Head of the Church, the body of Christ. As members of His body, we are blood-bought Company men and women, governed by our relationship with Him. He rules in love, but He does rule.

In its simplest terms, Christianity is a holy God’s offer of rescue to sinful mankind. It’s John 3:16.  He alone is God. We come to Him on His terms, His way. Dogmatic? Absolutely.  It is an offer. Like an offer of employment, we can accept or not. But once we accept, we wear His robes of righteousness. No wardrobe changes.

I encourage my children to question. My husband and I clearly do not have all the answers. The answers we do have from Scripture don’t always satisfy. Young people are much more attune to culture speak on issues of gay marriage, pluralism and so on than they are to historic church doctrine. Modern-day paganism seems so much hipper.

Still, I’m of the opinion that an unexamined faith is not much faith at all. Christianity can hold its own in the marketplace of ideas. God can handle questions. The real issue is our willingness to accept answers we don’t want to hear and then to do what we otherwise would not.

When it really matters, we can develop a willingness to conform. Today is Friday. I’ll be wearing jeans to the office. Big decision: Gap, Liz Claiborne, Calvin Klein or Levi’s?

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

It’s Christmas night. The last package has been opened, the last dessert eaten and the dishwasher packed. Cup of tea in hand, my mind goes back to Day No. 8 of what I now refer to as my Advent Jury Service.

We jurors are by now on a first name basis. Personalities are beginning to show and personal stories are shared.

  • Juror No. 2 is the Joker, the cross country biker who makes all of us laugh. Juror No. 5, who sits beside me, is an EMT who reminds us to buckle up, not to injest too much ibuprofen and never to bring our work home with us. He recommends we all see “Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol.”
  • Juror No. 6 is the twentysomething manager of a golf pro shop. He has an ever changing list of  “me and my buddy”  adventure stories.
  • Juror 11, a chemistry teacher,  carries a big satchel filled with papers he grades whenever he gets a moment.

Juror 9 is the one who gets my attention.

He sits directly in front of me in the box, the outline of an oddly shaped scar just visible beneath his buzz cut. He speaks rarely. When he does, his speech is slightly thick, but his mind is sharp. He’s built like a professional baseball player; the only thing missing is the uniform and a wad of Red Man in his cheek. No surprise that he is a coach.

When conversations turn to accidents and survival, Juror 9 starts to say something about a life-altering event just as the bailiff summons us back to court. We return from a recess and I ask if he would share what he’d meant to say earlier.

Turns out, in high school, he was well on his way to becoming the pro baseball player he resembles. He was being recruited to play in college; he had offers.

All that ended with a knee-to-the-head collision with a fellow player that left his skull cracked and his brain permanently damaged. Everything changed. Suddenly, an easy run to class became a grueling 15-minute walk. Without meds, even today, he risks seizures.

“That’s when I found out who my friends really were,” he said.

Most shunned him because he was “different.” He eventually left his home state to start again. He tells his students that most of the people they know are just acquaintances; if they have three friends in all of life they will be lucky.

We are all quiet after that. For a moment, the trial in Wake County Superior Courtroom 10B fades in importance. It’s about money. Life comes down to relationships.

                       ***

On Day 9, we rendered a verdict and went our separate ways to meet holiday visitors at airports, finish trimming trees and otherwise make merry at Christmas. Juror No. 9’s story seems a fitting part of the season. Like that juror, we Christians aren’t what we used to be. If any man be in Christ he is a new creature.

The change doesn’t always set well with former friends; and sometimes we have to start fresh. But we don’t do it alone.

In Christ, whose birth we celebrate at this season, we have a lasting friend. The God who reveals Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is indeed “a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

Through every day, every circumstance, whether tragedy or triumph: Immanuel, God is with us. That, beloved, is Christmas every day of the year!