Good Gifts

www.bible.com/1713/luk.11.13.csb

I think I know better than to give my children things they can’t handle. Jesus says you would not give your child a snake or a scorpion if they ask for an egg. We know better then that. If my child asks for some food, I don’t give him a spider. We are not that cruel. Even cruel people don’t do that to their own children, at least I hope not. There are always exceptions.

But Jesus’ point here that that even we, who are evil by God’s standards, are not so cruel to our children so that we willingly hurt them when they ask for a gift. We may not give that exactly what they want, but what we think they need, in order to help them. My kids would ask for carbs and sweets, but they get proteins and veggies because that’s what they need. But as a father, I know them well enough to give them what they really want on occasion. And that’s a key point. If you know your kids, you know what gifts make their heart sing. And if I know my own children in this way, God knows us even better.

So when we ask God, He knows what we want and what we need. He also knows how to bless us that truly satisfy us. I believe God will occasionally bless us in a way that doesn’t necessarily exalt Him, But is something that makes us really happy. Sometimes God gives because He wants to see us smile, not for His own glory but for ours. Mind you this doesn’t happen often, but I believe it does happen.

What have you asked for lately?

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A Father’s Compassion

www.bible.com/1713/psa.103.13.csb

Happy Father’s Day to all the men who have sired progeny today. This day we set aside to honor and remember those men whom we call “Dad” above others. Some memories are harder than others. For some, dad was a hard-nosed disciplinarian. For others, he was non-existent, or cruised from day to day from his recliner and never-ending case of beer.

No surprise, dads are human. As one Scripture says, our fathers disciplined us the best they knew how. I empathize with those whose fathers were less than ideal.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? Regardless of what kind of father you had, you had a better picture in mind. It’s funny, even children raised by bad fathers can tell something isn’t right. It’s like we have this implanted knowledge of proper fatherhood, and when we become fathers, we suddenly feel nervous because we feel we will fail that inbuilt standard.

That’s why today I want to draw attention to this verse, because compassion is something we seldom associate with fathers. Discipline, angry outbursts, hard working, but compassion? We see that come out in grandfathers, seeing their grand babies for the first time, and feeling like God has given them another chance. I think grandfathers may feel the grace and forgiveness of God more acutely.

Compassion is a gift given where it is not deserved. You can’t earn compassion. It is given freely and with no expectation, and when fathers are expected to raise kids according to rules, learning the helped knocks of life, compassion seems like an extra lesson. More than this, it is the measure of a good father. A father who exercises compassion is the reason we have a Father’s Day today, because a little girl once thought there ought to be a day to honor men like her father.

Father I want you to do a compassion check today. Do you care when your child is sick, or your wife is hurting? Do you seek your child’s best interests, or your own? What is more important, your needs or your wife’s? If you were able to answer in love, you are probably doing okay.

Men, I want to encourage you today to take after your Father. He has called you to be His witness to your family of His love and grace, as well as His justice. MY you find that just as sensitive a balance as I have.

God bless you all!

So What’s the Promise?

www.bible.com/1713/eph.6.2.csb

We have a lot of Scripture to thank the Apostle for. We can attribute much of our daily practice and theology to him. Which is why this passage presents us with a problem.

Paul has written elsewhere that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the law, and that we are no longer under the law, but under grace. That said, he presents this text “Honor thy father and thy mother”, the fifth commandment, complete with its context, for this commandment contains a promise “that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land” the Lord God is sending you to, i.e., the land of Israel. Here’s why this is a problem.

The promise of the fifth commandment is to the people of Israel, so that they could occupy and inhabit the land of promise indefinitely. The promise involved a particular piece of real estate. However, Paul does qualify this promise in its original context. Instead, his quote ends at ” land”. The problem, one might argue, is that Paul is appropriating the land promises made to Israel and passing them on to the Christians of his day. In a greater argument that Paul is extending the promises (and obligations) given to Israel are also to Christians. That’s a lot of weight to put upon one verse, especially taken out of context of the rest of Paul’s words.

Rather, Paul is extending the promise here made to Israel by observing a different focus. His focus is on the promise of “long life” rather than the land. The land here really could be anywhere Christians find themselves. The strength of this promise comes from the authority of God Himself. So why do Christian children, who have honored this commandment, still die young?

Let me present the third possibility. That the land of long life promised here isn’t eighty years and dying of old age. What’s in view here, a child that honors his father and mother by clinging to the God that saved them is a child who is promised eternal life in the land God has prepared for them.

If we are honoring father and mother, we are working out God’s will in our lives. We are honoring those He chose to bring us life, and this is important, whether we actually respect them or not. Being able to honor them is to fulfill the commandment, and to honor the God that maybe even despite them, brought you to Himself.

Not every parent is perfect, and many don’t come close. But the commandment of God is non-negotiable. Honor means respect, both in life and in memory. Honor can be honest, but it must be respectful. If you have good parents, this is easy. If not, this is one of your greatest challenges. But know that we are all in this together. If you need help, ask. Let us pray with you.

I hope you can have a happy Father’s Day. God bless you all!

His Holy Dwelling

www.bible.com/1713/psa.68.5.csb

Does God Care? He doesn’t have to. God exists in His Holy Dwelling infinite, eternal, needing nothing. In His palace He reigns supreme over the universes, the realm of the spirit and our own realm. He also exists in His own realm, the realm of uncreated Being, where He alone exists. His Being unveiled in His fullness would destroy all created realms and beings. Therefore, God chooses to reveal Himself in veiled form, dwelling as a “King” in His Heavenly palace, or a s a “Father” to His “Son”. The truth is that God is so much more awesome that we can imagine that we could not have invented Him, because we don’t know what He is, really, for that knowledge would be too much for us to grasp.

This is the God who cares. He cares for those so far beneath Him as to be microscopic. Why? Because we contain one unique quality in all of creation: He made us in His image, a concept that we still argue over today.

This verse points his care for widows and the fatherless. These two groups are considered because in the culture of Psalms, these groups are irrelevant because the culture was tied to family relationships. Broken families such as these were second or third place in that society. We still carry some of that water in our own culture.

By caring for those considered least, we know that God cares for the whole. God cares for us all equally, as He is often a father to those whose father is unavailable. He is a husband to those wives who feel alone. God fills in the gaps in your life. In a very real sense, He does this through HIs people, which is why I encourage you to attend a local congregation if possible.

Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you. God bless you today.

Revolutionary

www.bible.com/72/rom.1.16.hcsb

Jews AND Greeks? Are you serious? God wants to save both of them? What about the Romans?

Seriously, the power of God is the gospel. Without regard to piety, reverence, law-keeping and ritual, the gospel has more power than any of these. The gospel is a story. It is the story of an Almighty Creator God who wants to save His Creation, namely Man from his own rebellion. So God sends His Son as witness and testimony to the care and love of God. Man kills the Son in the ultimate act of rebellion. The Son rises from the dead in order to demonstrate His forgiveness for sin. He is the God who loves us despite our evil to compel us to change.

This requires of us in humanity a desire to return. Under the right circumstances and conditions, something in us will revive that had died. It is our love for our father. Our desire to be approved and loved by our father. Our desire to make our father proud of us. It is as deep-seated in us as our need to breathe. It transcends culture and language. And the gospel is the power of God to restore that fundamental relationship despite our sin and grief and guilt. It is God who forgives, who stands ready to receive us back when we’ve realized in the hog pen that being in our father’s house, even as a servant, would be far better.

I challenge you with the gospel today. I know this world is lost and broken. It has Daddy-issues. But the gospel is stronger. The world has rebellion, strife, murder and death, but the gospel is stronger. It is the power of God unto salvation. And it is ours to wield simply by telling.

God bless you today.

Source Code

I had the opportunity to watch “I Can Only Imagine” last night, the biographical movie about Bart Millard’s journey to stardom in the band MercyMe. If you are familiar with his story, you know he grew up in a abusive home and left as soon as he could, only to discover he couldn’t be “authentic” until he resolved his issues with his father. In the meantime, his father had turned to Christ and became a different person. Their reconciliation becomes the impetus for Bart’s own transformation. His father’s death prompts him to write the eponymous song. The shining point of the movie is Bart’s moment in Nashville, having sung his song, seeing his father clapping for him. In an interview, Bart explained that he believed he sang to two people that night, both his father, and His Lord. It moment worthy of the Kleenex.

That moment also got me to thinking about father-son issues, in which this movie traded heavily. Even if our parents, mothers or fathers, treat us horribly, even if we hate every fiber of their being, every breath of their body, there is still a part of us that cares. There is still a part that longs for reconciliation, even if it’s no longer possible. That’s why this moment is so powerful in the movie, because it resonates. Everyone has a father, and everyone desires approval from that father. We all want our fathers to be proud of us because it is built into us to care what our father’s think of us.

We can’t explain it, because it isn’t part of the intellect. In fact, it defies the intellect. It is part of what I liken to “source code”, or more exactly, that code that a computer has burned in to its motherboard that tells it how to read a hard disk, before it ever loads the first bit of the operating system and everything its ever learned. It’s the BIOS of the human psyche. It is built into us as human beings to have a relationship with our parents. When that relationship isn’t “right” it leads to a host of other problems, “daddy issues”, psychological syndromes and traumas later on. As described in the movie, Bart couldn’t have a close relationship with his girlfriend until he resolved his relationship with his father. How many people labor today in horrible marriages, live-in situations even same-sex relationships because that one aspect of their being was wrong?

We are all built with this source code, called a conscience. The Bible recognizes this:

They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them
(Rom 2:15)

Written on our hearts, our BIOS if you will, is the law of human beings. As sentient, rational beings, we are built with a set a laws of interaction (not unlike Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics) that direct the “rightness” and “wrongness” of our actions. Our conscience (C.S. Lewis’ moral law argument) is universal. Every human being has one, and they are all coded with a set of unwritten laws of human interaction. One of those laws is that relationship between parents and children. And when we willingly violate those laws, that’s when we run into problems,from simple (in the form of fractured relationships) to complex (in the form of mental illness). I believe that a person who consistently violates his own moral code, deterred by his “conflicting thoughts” in his conscience, is well on the road to insanity. He is trying to reconcile a world of his own creation with the real world as written in his source code. A logical being (which we are, to a fault) cannot hold two diametrically opposed points of view simultaneously, and still have a hold on reality.

So how do we address this innate moral code so that we can correct ourselves for error? Can we correct ourselves?  Let me re-introduce you to the most succinct explanation of our innate moral code ever written, complete with correctives for repair. You may know it as the Ten Commandments.

  1. “You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
  3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
  5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
  6. “You shall not murder.
  7. “You shall not commit adultery.
  8. “You shall not steal.
  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
    (Exo 20:3-17)

I will come back to this issue of parents and children, but to do so, I need to look at the Ten, the underlying principles that each describe, and how they affect us when they are broken. These commandments are so well written, that if you know how to read them, you can discover both the underlying moral code that we were built with, and the correction for applying that moral code to life. The manner in which God sends these ten is I believe one of the most dramatic in history (He wrote them down with His own finger so we wouldn’t miss how important they are). He doesn’t do anything like this until Daniel 5 (where he writes again, saying, “you have been measured and found wanting”). These ten, though immediately applicable to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, describe the innate moral code of all human beings, which is why they affect people every time they are posted. This is why many want them taken down.

For the next several posts, I will be taking and looking at each commandment individually, and its parallels in Deuteronomy 6, with other passages in tow. I can’t wait to dive into these things with you. Thank you for reading and I hope this is an encouragement to you.

On this Father’s Day

IMG20040When my grandfather died in 1989, it was a Saturday in December. Dad had worked all night the night before and was sleeping when the phone call came. I picked it up. It was mom, who was at the hospital. She said to wake Dad up and have us all come to the hospital. I woke him up, but he rolled over. I told him Mom wanted us to come to the hospital. He said ok, and fell back to sleep. I left the bedroom. He woke up fully a few minutes later and coming into the living room, confirmed what I’d said, and we all rode up to Lafayette, to Home Hospital, where my grandfather was. When we arrived, I heard crying, and looking into the room, saw my uncles, my mother, and my aunts weeping around the bed. Grandpa was lying there with his jaw open. I remember seeing his jaw just hanging open, which was just unnatural and wrong. Part of me knew he was dead, he’d had prostate cancer for about a year, but it felt wrong to see him so utterly still. It was the first time I’d really seen anyone dead before. I didn’t know how to feel, or what to think. I just felt numb. It was weird to see my family, who normally would be laughing and talking together just weeping and holding each other. I didn’t know what to do or how to react.

Sometimes, I still don’t.

The closest I came to crying over him was at his funeral, when someone was singing, and nudged my emotions to the surface. If I had known him better, or longer, I probably would have been more distraught. But all I could feel was numb. Every December 26th I remember him again on his birthday. I remember waking up the morning after Christmas and having breakfast with him before we had to go home. But what tears me up now more than ever is what he could have told me. Whether or not we was proud of the direction my life has taken, or what he would have thought about my family. I don’t know why I care what he would think, but I do. He was always quiet in his praise of others, and I guess I am hoping I would make the cut.

I need death to be more than the grave, but a New Beginning, for my grandpa and for everyone else’s. I need to death to be temporary, not permanent.

There are two things going on at the cross, one explicit in the gospels, and one implicit, which is expounded in the letters.

  1. The death of Jesus Christ was a horrifying event (What we see)
    1. The manner in which the gospels records Jesus’ crucifixion is actually matter-of-fact, told in passing, as if the gospels’ audience were well-familiar with this manner of execution. Mark 15:25 (NIV) is typical, “It was nine in the morning when they crucified him.” The word employed in the Greek is stauroo. There is no reference to the nails, the “tree” or to the manner of how the nails were fixed. The only reference to “nails” in the New Testament is Colossians 2:14, where Paul employs the image of “nailing” to nailing (proseloo) the law to Jesus’ cross.
    2. The gospels focus on what Jesus says from the cross, and what the crowds say to the crucified Jesus. The manner of Jesus’ death, that is, slowly losing his ability to breathe, adds unseen drama and urgency to Jesus’ words.

     

  2. The death of Christ Jesus was a atoning event (What we know)
    1. The gospels hint at this in the rending of the Temple veil, a sign that the way to the Holy Place (if you were familiar with the placement of the veil) is made clear upon Jesus’ death.
    2. The letters too add to the weight of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice – namely Colossians 3:13-14, “. . . He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” And Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this, While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The letters stress that Jesus’ death on the cross was a means of God saving sinners from eternal punishment for breaking the Law and satisfying the wrath of God for sin. Romans 5:9, “Since we have not been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”

Why it matters

  1. So what? Why do we care about this? Because we abhor senseless death. With every fiber of our being, we strain to find reason out of chaos. When a father or mother dies, we look for a reason. Maybe it was the cancer, maybe it was the hospital. Maybe it was “his time” or “God needed another angel” but we strain to find a reason for things when they cut to our heart. We strain because we cannot accept that God would allow someone good to die for no reason. Many of us shake our fist at God, even to deny He exists, or at least to hate him because we cannot reconcile a good God with senseless death.
  2. Of anyone on earth, Jesus’ death was the most senseless. He had committed no sin. He had no regrets, no family members he was on bad terms with, no one he owed money. Jesus had everything to live for. Yet on that night in Jerusalem, he was arrested, arraigned in a kangaroo court, and murdered in front of everyone.
  3. Over and over again, Jesus repeats that it was exactly God’s will that he go to the cross. Jesus prayed in the garden, “not my will but thine be done.” He knew he was going to die, knew the greater purpose for which he died, and still prayed in the garden to avoid it. Why? Was it because some part of him screamed that he didn’t deserve it?
  4. But the death of Jesus Christ changes how we look at death. His death was infused with purpose and meaning. Every facet of his death throes we examine in detail looking to uncover fresh meaning. From the significance of the promise of paradise to “it is finished” we keep finding new ways to see this very old story. Why do we do this? Because I think it helps us understand why our grandmas pass away, and our grandpas. Our moms and our dads, even our children and grandchildren. We need the death of Jesus to mean something powerful and significant to bring meaning to the deaths of those we dearly love. We need this story to be true. The world tells us we are pinning our hopes on fairy tales, but I don’t remember Cinderella dying for me, or Rapunzel’s grave to be found empty, or the seven dwarves testifying to their dying words that Snow White is risen. We find the faith in Jesus Christ tested and tried and found true. We find that meaning plastered all over the New Testament, both for him and for us. Each and every death isn’t an end, but a portal to a new and eternal beginning. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we find hope for our own loved ones who have passed on, and an urgency to declare Him to those who haven’t accepted Him. Perhaps we are better informed than the lost for those who die without Jesus, and ought to grieve more.

Do you see? As the gospels show us the death of Jesus, which we can relate to and understand, the New Testament show us its meaning, which we cannot know without the Bible. Each baptism is a reenactment, each death a harsh reminder, but each day we live in Christ, a new creation and a joy to know we have our hope in Him. It is a hope that we will hear these words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things. Now you will be faithful with much.” The death and resurrection of Jesus make it possible for us to believe that death, though harsh, isn’t the last word.

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.

(Heb 2:14-15)