Monthly Archives: April 2017

Intimate

“It is an absolute human certainty,” wrote John Joseph Powell in his book, The Secret of Staying in Love, “that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.”

To know, and to be known, is the greatest feeling you and I can ever have.

It is the secret of the truly satisfying life – the key that unlocks all our longings, the assurance of our embrace and acceptance, the heart and soul of our identity.

Nothing saddens us more than the sense that no one knows us – the isolation, loneliness and despair of being alone, even when we’re not.

Nothing gives us more hope and confidence and sheer joy than knowing, at the end of each day, that there is at least one other who understands us and loves us for who we are – and in spite of what we’re not.

Here is the essence of love without condition – to know and to still love. It is not to overlook, as is often thought, but rather to see clearly and honestly and then to love. It is not the denial of reality but the triumph of the heart.

In the most beautiful description of love ever penned, Paul the apostle tells us of a love greater than mere sentiment. He writes not of a pliable emotion but an enduring commitment. Not an easy ignorance but a knowing loyalty.

This is muscular devotion that knows and presses on:

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13:4-7, NKJV).

“Love never gives up … “(NLT).

This is not the shallow sensuous nonsense of Reality TV, with its flittering suitors. It is the ancient sacred vows.

Vows that acknowledge the hidden challenges of an unknown future and the inspired love strong enough to endure them – and deep enough to grow through them.

A love that fails not but bears out the victory.

This is agape. This is God’s love.

This love is based on two eternal and immutable, yet seemingly contradictory, truths:
God’s intimate knowledge and his undying compassion.

David knew God knew him – inside out, to every dark corner – and loved him still. David knew too that God loved him the most when he deserved it the least.

From this awareness of divine intimacy, the shepherd psalmist who became king wrote the incomparable 139th Psalm. Has there ever been a more beautiful description of God’s continual presence and abiding faithfulness?

“O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me,” David confesses in verse one. The psalmist proceeds to tell of all the different times and situations in which God knew, understood and cared.

“You know everything about me” (NLT).

God sees him when he moves and when he’s still; when he speaks and when he remains silent. God knows David’s innermost thoughts. God is everywhere: “You go before me and follow me” (Psalm 139:5, NLT).

He’s closer than David’s shadow.

David admits this divine knowledge of his intimacy is “too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!” (verse 6, NLT).

Everywhere David goes – every place he might go if he could – God is there.
“Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (verse 7, KJV).

To the heavens, God is there. To the grave, God is there. If David could fly with “the wings of the morning” to the farthest oceans, even there God is present, alert and fully engaged.
Even if David wanted to hide from God, he knows it would futile.

He doesn’t.

For David knows that wherever he goes, “even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me” (verse 10, KJV). It is the presence of God that protects and guides him.

After acknowledging the intimacy of God in time and space, David exults in praise over God’s creative intimacy.

“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (verse 14, KJV).

David describes the hidden knowledge of God; his exquisite detailed workmanship of body and soul. God had “knit me together in my mother’s womb” (verse 13, NLT).

David marvels at the beauty and perfection of the divine design. God saw David, and knew him intimately, even “when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth … and in thy book all my members were written” (verse 15, KJV).

“… as if embroidered with various colors” (The Amplified Bible).

David’s own worth is reflected in the glorious mirror of God’s intimate knowledge of him and of God’s care and compassion – his endless and unchanging agape.

“How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!” (verse 17, NLT).

The best thing of all?

“And when I wake up, you are still with me!” (verse 18, NLT).

How wonderful to know that the God who knew and loved David so intimately is our own intimate God.

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American Cyrus?

It was a solemn occasion. An annual event since 1953.

The day when official Washington gathers to reflect on the meaning of faith in America. A time when elected leaders set aside their differences to unite in seeking God’s providential guidance.

The religious community, like the political one, would be drawn together in a belief that what unites the nation is more important than what divides it.

The National Prayer Breakfast is an opportunity for the American President, regardless of party, to offer noble words of encouragement; to affirm the moral and spiritual values that create what has long been described as a “civil religion” that binds and strengthens the American republic.

This is a very dignified and thoughtful event.

Our new president began his speech with a request that we pray for Arnold Schwarzenegger, the President’s successor as host of the TV reality show The Apprentice.

“And we know how that turned out,” the president said. “The ratings went right down the tubes. It’s been a total disaster … so pray for Arnold.”

Then, referring to the Senate chaplain, the president said he would make sure he got reappointed:

“I don’t know if you’re Democrat or Republican, but I’m appointing you for another year. The hell with it.”

It was another first – presidential profanity at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Once again, Donald J. Trump reminded us – in case we may have forgotten – that he is a unique president.

Trump won the White House with the enthusiastic support of many leading evangelicals and the votes of most Christians.

It was drenched in irony and hardly a match made in heaven.

He didn’t win those votes by pretending to be a paragon of virtue. He didn’t bill himself as “the Christian candidate.”

On their way to the polls, most followers of Jesus overlooked Trump’s awkward attempts at being one of them (“Two Corinthians”; not asking for forgiveness), his three marriages, his obscene videos about sexual conquest, his wide array of personal attacks and his often crass, violent and vulgar language on the stump.

It was in spite of this mountain of moral evidence that Christians voted for Trump.

He was running against Hillary Clinton. The country had been led for eight years by the most liberal president since Woodrow Wilson. Gay Marriage had become the celebrated law of the land and religious liberty was in the dock.

Christians were feeling increasingly threatened by the media, popular culture and their own government. Just like blue – collar workers in the industrial Midwest, evangelicals saw themselves under siege by forces they could not control.

They threw away the Christian litmus test and cast their votes for one of the most profane and least pious nominees in history.

They cared less that President Trump swore at the prayer breakfast and more about his pledge to “get rid of and totally destroy” the legal prohibition against churches’ open political activity.

By permitting their ministers to endorse candidates from the pulpit and engaging in other partisan efforts, churches run the risk of becoming an extension of the party caucus on Sunday.

It’s not a wise move for the church – or the state.

Be that as it may, Trump has told Christians he’s on their side in this moral struggle and would stand up boldly for them.

Martin Luther famously said he’d rather be governed by a competent Hun than an incompetent Christian. As we mark the first 100 days of his administration, we may not yet know how competent Donald Trump will ultimately prove himself to be. The Presidency changes a person dramatically. We’ve already seen this in how our new Commander-in Chief responded to the Syrian gas attacks.

He changed his position and struck the evil regime.

When you’re president, where you stand depends on where you sit.

Competent or not, Trump has persuaded most evangelicals that he will be their fearless champion and defender. As it was last November, for them, for now, that’s enough.

In the Bible, Cyrus, the founder of the Persian empire, was chosen by God to be the instrument of liberation for the Jews. Through the prophet Isaiah, God spoke directly to Cyrus long before he was born. He was the only non-Jew to be called by God “his anointed one” (messiah, Isaiah 45:1).

God promised Cyrus – in a divine prenatal prophecy – that he would be given success, power and great wealth. God said he would do this “so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name” (Isaiah 45:3, NLT).

God raises rulers for his own divine purpose – whether they know him or not. Whether they fear him or not. They may not call him by name, but he knows them.

“Why have I called you for this work?” God asked Cyrus. “Why did I call you by name when you did not know me?” (verse 4, NLT).

It’s another divine rhetorical question, replete in scripture.

There’s always a purpose in God’s choosing and guiding of nations and kings.
“It is for the sake of Jacob my servant, Israel my chosen one” (verse 4, NLT).

God’s people.

They would be protected, cared for and freed by a secular king who did not worship their God. A king who did not share their faith in Jehovah but set them free to worship him in their own land.

An unlikely instrument; an unwitting champion.

Why?

“So all the world would know there is no other God” (Isaiah 45:6, NLT).

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Linchpin

It’s a pin inserted around the axle to prevent the wheel from falling off.

No linchpin, no wheel; no wheel and you’re not going far.

That’s one meaning of this word.

Here’s another:

“A person or thing that holds something together; The most important part of a complex situation or system.”

“A central, cohesive element.”

Paramount – central, indispensable, irreplaceable, non-negotiable and irredeemable.

That’s a linchpin.

It defines everything and holds it all together.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the linchpin of Christian belief. If it took place it renders our faith everything. If it did not take place it renders our faith nothing.

No in between.

Certain things in our lives must be regarded as decisive. The resurrection of Christ is the most decisive event in history. It dominates the past, defines the present and determines the future.

For the follower of Christ, the resurrection is the linchpin of life – now and forever.

If Jesus Christ did not rise again, life itself signifies nothing.

In his powerful case for the resurrection, made brilliantly in his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul is categorical and explicit:

“And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless” (I Corinthians 15:14, NLT). We might as well eat, drink and be merry, Paul says, for tomorrow we die and that’s the end of it. We perish in our sins without hope.

Paul argues that but for the resurrection of Christ, life is without meaning and Christianity is a silly superstition.

The one thing that keeps us looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, is the fact that he defeated death and the devil when he rose again.

You may reject Christ and Christianity as frauds perpetrated centuries ago upon gullible people by extremist and fearsome quacks. But you must still admit, logically, that the resurrection is central to the understanding of Christian faith.

It is the linchpin.

Paul told the Corinthians that if our hope is limited to this life we are miserable people. Nothing – not our health, not our money, not our homes, or our jobs; not our careers, not our ambitions and not our possessions – none of these things offer us any lasting hope. Not even our family or friends. We search in vain in this life and in this world for anything that will secure our permanent, eternal happiness.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ provides the only perspective on life that makes any sense.

What is the one thing that gives the person and life of Jesus Christ authenticity and reality? That proves his divine identity beyond doubt?

What is the one thing that delivers us from the fear of death?

What is the one thing that gives us a joy-filled confidence at the graveside that we shall see our loved ones again?

What is the one thing that can make us optimists in the face of life’s trials, tribulations and tragedies? In the sad reality of the fallen human condition?

What is the one thing that gives us security in the face of life’s uncertainties?

What is the one thing that gives us an undying hope for the future?

Without Christ’s resurrection, there would be no reason to believe in him, obey him, follow him or to be his disciple.

The resurrection is more than a theological belief. It is more than a historical fact. It’s more than a comforting metaphor or a colorful annual celebration.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a world view. It is a way of living. It is an attitude. Because it is a fact, this new way of living is a hope founded, not on wishful thinking, but rooted in reliable reality.

The resurrection defines our lives and how we live them.

Because the stone rolled away at the glimmering dawn of the third day, the outcome is no longer in doubt. Because the resurrection is true, we can live a resurrection life now. In this world. Come what may.

The evidence for the resurrection is more than circumstantial – it is overwhelming, incontrovertible, compelling, definitive. Paul – who saw Jesus after his resurrection – builds his entire case for faith upon this undeniable truth: Jesus is alive.

Paul appeals to no other historical fact or confidence than the resurrection.

Had Jesus only been born it would be a beautiful but meaningless story; the manger a lovely but empty scene. If Jesus had only died it would be a heroic tragedy and a marvel of sacrifice; but it would still end in defeat. We would still be hopeless.

“Without the resurrection,” declared Billy Graham, “the cross is meaningless…an unopened grave would never have opened heaven. “

Jesus was unequivocal.

He told Martha that he was “the resurrection and the life.”

Jesus dueled with death and raised Lazarus from the grave; he restored to life a little girl when others laughed at the prospect of a miracle; Jesus touched the casket of the widow’s son and turned a funeral procession into a joyful celebration of restored life.

Jesus’ earthly ministry was the precursor of immortality.

Resurrection Day.

A day of hope. A day of joy. A day of glory. A day of victory.

His day. Our day.

The securing of our eternal triumph. The meaning our faith.

The linchpin of our lives.

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The Kenosis

He had it all.

All the glory. All the honor. All the preeminence.

No one was higher. No one was greater. His light shined the brightest.

He was the only Son.

There was no other like him – not even close.

By him were the heavens made; the sun, moon and stars did his bidding; the universe bowed down. Through him was every ruler and kingdom and throne set forth, and they governed under his sovereign authority.

Paul exalted him in his beautiful prologue to the Colossians – a song of infinite and unparalleled praise:

“And he is before all things, and by him all things consist … who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead: that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:17-18, KJV).

“His own almighty arm upheld the spheres,” declared English preacher Charles Spurgeon, “the praises of cherubim and seraphim perpetually surrounded him; the full chorus of the hallelujahs of the universe unceasingly flowed to the foot of his throne”.

We occasionally hear that someone has won “universal acclaim”.

It may be safely said that of Jesus Christ only is this literally true.

In reverential amazement we struggle to see, understand and more fully appreciate what took place in heaven, and then on earth, two thousand years ago.

Jesus Christ was God, Paul tells the Philippians. With all the glory and honor of the deity.

“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (Philippians 2:6, KJV). Jesus did not “grasp” at divine equality (NIV); he accepted it as his right and position. Then Jesus did something extraordinary – at the request and with the approval of God the Father.

The angels marveled. Heaven went silent.

Jesus consented to become human; to be a man.

He “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7, NASB).

Jesus laid aside his power and glory. He “made himself of no reputation” (KJV).

The Greeks had a word for this self-emptying: kenosis.

In this act of self-denial, the Son of God “made himself nothing” (NIV).

In kenosis, Jesus emptied himself of all self-will and became entirely submissive to his Father’s will and purpose. Jesus depleted himself.

Paul the apostle shows us Jesus as the premier example of humble sacrifice and tells us in his letter to the Philippians to “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5, KJV).

Jesus left his throne and glory in heaven and came to earth.

In being “made in the likeness of men” (verse 7, KJV), Jesus never surrendered his divine attributes; instead he voluntarily relinquished the independent exercise of those powers.

In the flesh, he remained God.

He told his disciples he would lay down his life and take it up again; this would be by his power and his choice; it would be his prerogative.

“The Father loves me,” Jesus said, “because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again” (John 10: 17-18, NLT).

When the Roman soldiers came to take him captive in the garden, his very voice had the power to throw them to the ground (John 18:6). “I am he”, he calmly said and in that moment displayed his divinity.

Still, they took him.

The creatures crucified their Creator.

Here was the ultimate kenosis.

Jesus humbled himself and became a man. He took upon himself not just the form of a servant, but a suffering servant. He became obedient unto death, but not just any death – death on the cross.

This was the great self-emptying of a God who so loved the world that he gave up his Son.

Jesus Christ was acquainted with grief that you and I might know joy. He was rejected by men that we might be accepted by God.

He faced hell’s worst in order that you and I might inherit heaven’s best. Jesus was wounded so that by his stripes you and I could be healed.

He endured shame so you and I could inherit glory. He suffered that we might be comforted. He died so you and I could live forever.

Charles Wesley beautifully wrote:

“He left his father’s throne above; so free, so infinite his grace; emptied himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race; tis mercy all, immense and free; for, O my God, it found out me!”

After Calvary and the resurrection, God restored his Son’s former glory and his former throne. The Father gave his Son a name above all names; a name so great that at the name of Jesus someday every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2: 10-11).

Jesus had it all and gave it all up so you and I could receive it all as a free gift.

“Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”

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