Monthly Archives: March 2018

The Truth of Imagination

I Can Only Imagine.

The hit song is now a surprisingly successful motion picture.

Surprising by Hollywood’s jaundiced expectations – the industry doesn’t put much faith in Christian films.

If you haven’t seen it, you should.

You will be moved by the story, the acting and the gritty truth about Bart Millard, author of this beautiful song. Its amazing popularity helped Millard launch his Christian band, Mercy Me, which has also been incredibly successful.

I Can Only Imagine, certified 3x platinum, is the best-selling Christian song of all time.

Millard was inspired to write the lyrics – in about ten minutes – shortly after the death of his father. He tried to imagine what it might have been like for his dad when he first entered Heaven.

And saw Jesus.

Would he dance, would he sing – or would he stand in awe-filled silence before the Savior?

We can only imagine.

What is it in this contemporary musical speculation about the Christian’s afterlife that has inspired and comforted millions around the world? Across continents, races, denominations and cultures?

What is it that unites the followers of Jesus Christ of every age? What gives Christians hope in the face of life’s sometimes harsh and sad realities? In a world reeling in turmoil, injustice, violence and corruption, what gives believers strength to believe?

It’s not a song.

I Can Only Imagine is an expression – albeit a unique and powerful one – of a much more profound reality for every disciple of Jesus Christ. For the Christian, this reality is the difference between hopeless despair and unquenchable hope. It is the way Christians see the world, the future, their death and their destiny.

It is a supreme reality that determines how each of us – who have trusted Christ – live our lives. The choices we make, the values we embrace, the service we offer, the love we show and the faith we share.

The Apostle Paul lays out this reality – this undeniable yet incredible truth – in his second letter to his fellow Christians in Corinth.

The truth is this, says Paul:

“Christ has been raised from the dead” (II Corinthians 15:20).

The resurrection, the apostle argues, is the centerpiece of the Christian’s faith, the cornerstone of Christian theology and the only hope worth having.

Without the resurrection, Paul reasons, our faith is in vain, our hope is fantasy, our sins remain, we are lost, and all is lost.

If this is our “Best Life Now”, we are, Paul laments, the most hopeless and miserable people on earth (I Corinthians 15:19).

The great apostle insists to the contrary.

On the cross, Jesus won the battle against sin, death and the devil; he secured our eternal redemption, paid the price for our sins and made us right before God.

It was three days later, when he rolled the stone away, that his triumph was signed, sealed and delivered forever. The eternity God placed in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) would now be a guarantee for every man, woman and child who said yes to the Risen Lord.

Death is “swallowed up” in the victory of the empty tomb.

Death still makes us sad when we must say goodbye to our dearest and best, but we enter the cemetery and stand by the grave not in defeat but in victory, not in futility but in faith, not in fear but in confidence.

Death barks, but it cannot bite.

For the Christian, there is no final goodbye, only “au revoir” – until we meet again.

Before Jesus tested the apostle John’s own imagination with a spectacular panoramic vision of the future, he told him not to be afraid.

Why?

“I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1:17-18).

All hail the living Conqueror of the Last Enemy!

All the power of death is dead. Life – grander, more beautiful, more glorious than anything we can imagine – awaits all who die in Christ.

Fanny Crosby was separated from Bart Millard by more than a century. But she shared his vibrant imagination, his joy and his hope of the future. She also wrote a song:

“Someday the silver chord will break, and I no more as now shall sing; but O the joy when I shall wake within the palace of the King. And I shall see Him face to face and tell the story – saved by grace.”

Our imaginations soar in joyful anticipation of what awaits beyond our final breath. Those speculations are sanctified by the power of the resurrection.

Those imaginations are rooted and grounded in the certain hope – the eternal truth – that the chains of death could not hold our Savior. Nor can they hold us.

We shall stand saved before him.

We shall be happy enough to sing.

Excited enough to dance.

In awe enough to be silent.

Seeing Jesus Christ face to face.

In Heaven forever.

Can you imagine?

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The Power of Weakness

It began on a high note.

This historic week.

The crowd, though a somewhat odd assembly, was happy and enthusiastic.

Their hero rode upon a young donkey – his choice.

His followers cheered him as the coming king, the one who would make everything right. His triumphal entry into the ancient city stirred all of Jerusalem.

Who knew it would turn so tragic – and violent?

It seemed a great reversal.

The week that would change history and eternity ended not in joyful triumph but in condemnation and death. It would end not in the overthrow of injustice but in surrender to brutality.

The people’s expectations were dashed. Public opinion, once a happy friend, turned into a scornful and cynical mocker. Adoration mutated into contempt.

People have a prejudice against weakness; a fondness for power.

These people were no different.

If this Jesus has no power to deliver us from Rome. If he stands bound and silent before Pilate. If he won’t lift a finger in his own defense before the Sanhedrin. If he allows himself to be ridiculed and tortured by Rome’s barbarous soldiers, then we say,

“Crucify him!”

He is of no help – no value – to us!

The Creator of the universe permitted himself to suffer a painful and ignominious humiliation at the cruel hands of his creatures. They whipped him, beat him and tormented him. Then they cursed him, their Maker.

His love was that great – and reached that low.

To know God as he invites us to know him; to behold his wonderful salvation. To understand ourselves rightly and to appreciate the woeful human condition of which you and I are an undeniable and inescapable part, we must be led to Calvary.

We must survey the cross upon which the Prince of Glory died.

We see him taken prisoner in the garden. He had the power to call 10,000 angels to fight for him. That summons never came. All the hosts of heaven stood by with no call – no command from their almighty Captain.

Jesus told Peter this had to be.

Marched summarily through six illegal trials in less than a day, we see him before the authorities flaunting their power. He stands before the snarling, ruthless Pilate and then the pompous and inquisitive Herod.

Soon Jesus is the pitiable and bloodied object of Rome’s sadistic military.

We see him taken outside the city, stripped of his only garment, nailed to a cross and hung to die as a despicable criminal.

The crowd that had hailed him now taunted him. “Save yourself – if you can!”

It was for us.

Jesus chose powerlessness and submission to his Father’s will over the adoration of the crowd and the seductions of the devil.

None of this had anything to do with wielding earthly power, currying influence, promoting agendas, conducting focus groups, bowing to corruption, winking at evil or commissioning polls.

Paul tells us the Lord of All “made himself of no reputation” and became a servant. He gave up the free exercise of his divine authority. Jesus “emptied himself” (Philippians 2: 6-8).

Of all but love.

After he fed the 5,000, his excited followers had determined to make him king. But he slipped away and went into the hills to be alone.

John said Jesus knew what was in the heart of a person – and he didn’t trust it (John 2:24-25).

Jesus knew people were fickle. He knew they were easily deceived. He knew they were as sheep without a shepherd. He knew how quickly they could fall for the latest thing as the greatest thing.

He knew how easily people are manipulated. How they seek a human savior. He knew their carnal appetites, the hope they would put in politics. He knew the tragedy and futility of that misplaced faith.

He understood better than anyone the beguiling and ephemeral illusions of power.

Jesus knew the Source of true power – and the power of Truth.

That didn’t stop Satan from trying.

First by showing him all the kingdoms of the world and then through the mesmerizing clamor of human approval, the devil told Jesus he could have it all. All he had to do was sell his soul to the Evil One.

It didn’t work.

Jesus won.

On the cross, when all seemed lost and doomed, at the very hour his own Father turned away; in that hour, alone, while his mother wept, the crowds sneered, the sky went black and the earth shook, Jesus triumphed over sin, death and the devil. He defeated all the hosts of hell.

Jesus freed you and me in that instant from the eternal dominion of darkness and gained for us glorious entrance to his own kingdom of everlasting light.

“Today you shall be with me in Paradise,” he told the thief who died with him.

Because Jesus stood in our place, endured our shame, was condemned for our sins and paid the price for our guilt, you and I have the forgiveness of all our sins and true righteous standing before a holy God.

We have eternal life.

He did for us what none of us could do for ourselves. He did for us what none of us would do for others, even if we could.

Through his weakness Jesus delivered us from the power of Satan and the strength of sin.

Through obedience to his Father’s will he made us sons and daughters of the Most High – children of God.

Through his weakness Jesus Christ conquered the evil that assailed him and triumphed forever through the power of the cross.

For all who believe.

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Chasing Us

Through the dark woods the little boy ran.

As fast as his skinny legs would take him he ran. Through the gullies and up the hills; across the streams and over the fields he breathlessly scurried on.

His heart beat faster and faster.

Fear raced through him like a freight train. He dared only once to glance back at the giant vicious predator. The bear was closing on the lad, his fierce growls of hunger growing louder as he pursued his tiny prey.

The boy finally reached the place of no return – and no escape.

He was cornered.

The little boy closed his eyes tight. The bear leaped on him from behind and gave a menacing final growl.

Chased – and caught.

Then just as suddenly, the bear released the little boy from his powerful grasp. The boy squirmed out and jumped to his feet and turned to face the bear. The boy giggled and ran into the bear’s strong limbs.

“I love you Daddy!” he gleefully exclaimed.

Hugging him tight, the dad smiled and whispered, “I love you too, son.” Taking the boy’s little hand in his, the father walked his son out of the bedroom.

Game over.

How comforting to know that the menacing bear you imagine pursuing you is really your loving father. Your unfounded fear melts away in the warm embrace of the one who would never harm you because he loves you more than you’ll ever know.

After all, he’s your father.

When Francis Thompson first published his iconic poem, The Hound of Heaven, many readers were at first startled at the metaphor of God as a relentlessly pursuing animal. But when studied and understood, the comparison pulsates with a passionate beauty. The poem is the story of God’s determined persistence in the face of our stubborn and foolish resistance.

We try to run and hide, but we can’t.

God chases us “down the nights and down the days … down the arches of the years …” We continually flee “from this tremendous Lover”, Thompson writes. Until, in time and circumstance, God corners us with his love. And we surrender, not into the grip of a ravenous hound, but into the arms of a compassionate and merciful God, who loved us all along.

After all, He’s our Father.

When Jesus first addressed the Almighty Creator of the universe, shrouded in sovereign, inscrutable mystery, as “Our Father”, the Jews were unaccustomed to such Deistic intimacy. Nor were the gods of other religions any more approachable.

People perceived a menacing bear, a hungry hound, perhaps, but not “Our Father.”

Still, Jesus pressed the analogy.

“You fathers,” Jesus said, “if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13, emphasis added).

We all want to be good parents. Most of us believe we are, whatever else we may be. Is not God our Father capable of being so much more to those who commit themselves to his care?

That’s the point Jesus is making, not only in his Sermon on the Mount, but throughout his teaching and his stories – throughout his brief life on this earth: God is our merciful and loving Father. Yes, he will punish us, he will correct us, he will test us and he will teach us.

The one thing God will never do is hate us.

Why then do we so often fear him and flee from him? Why are we tempted in our sorrow and pain and suffering to see God as a cruel, vindictive or, at best, indifferent Sovereign?

The truth is, God is too kind to ever be cruel – and too wise to ever make a mistake.

The mistake is ours when we blame him. And when we doubt him.

God loves you and me perfectly. John tells us that “there no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18).

John wraps up our relationship with God into the arms of the Divine loving nature:

“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (I John 4:16, emphasis added).

This is much more than a pleasant esoteric concept; it is a life-altering reality for the one who believes.

The Bible is nothing more – and nothing less – than the story of our Father’s abiding presence, his faithful provision and his unfailing protection. The essence of its panoramic display – cover to cover- is the Father’s unchanging, unconditional and endless love.

CS Lewis, in The Chronicles of Narnia, consistently portrays the lion Aslan – the Christ figure – as neither tame nor safe but always good.

I don’t know why God should love me. I truly don’t. But I know he does, despite my occasional misgivings. It is his nature to love me. As Paul reminded Timothy: “he cannot deny who he is.” (II Timothy 2:13).

After all, he is my Father.

“God is love.” Here is the summation of his nature.

In this central, undeniable and incontrovertible truth is our hope – both now and forever.

He’s our “tremendous Lover.”

He doesn’t stop chasing us.

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