A Day at a Time

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. ~James 4:13-16 ESV

New Year’s resolutions are a joke but we all do them. We like to reflect upon the year that has passed and look at the new year unfurling before us clean and fresh with opportunity. Last year we did this or that and that was bad but this year, oh man this year it’ll be different. We’ll be Bible scholars with six pack abs – just wait.

Now I don’t have a wholesale problem with New Year’s resolutions. I make goals for each year and I think it’s a good exercise. Do they tend to rot in my journal? Yes. Do I even know what 2015’s goals were without looking? No. Maybe you’re better at this than me and I’m just projecting, but it seems to me we are all pretty weak at this.

The problem is that resolutions tend to be weak-hearted in the first place. Losing weight to make your body aesthetically pleasing is not a sustainable endeavor because double bacon cheeseburgers taste better than 5 pounds of weight loss. You can’t “I’ll do better, I promise” your Bible into your hands.

“Ought to” and “should” will not get you through hard change. Our motives are too weak. And what’s positive change anyway? What are we shooting for with all these resolutions and goals?

Let’s quit tearing the idea apart and start putting some pieces together.

First, our goals and resolutions must align with God’s plan for our lives – as laid out in God’s Word. A clear prerequisite is knowing what God’s Word says. If you don’t have eternal justification for your plans you probably are following the aroma of temporary satisfaction. For example (and not to belabor the weight loss example), if you want to lose weight so you can, per Ephesians 5, serve your wife with strength and energy, that’s a solid rationale. As you lace up your running shoes or load up a barbell you’ll remember the godly reason for your struggle. Make sure you align your plans with God’s plans.

Second, we must add a massive caveat laid out in James 4:13 – God willing. Great plans laid out on the bedrock of Biblical truth will sometimes be destroyed. Because God is about His glory and our good and because He sees the entire picture (while we see through a pinhole), unexplainable events will occur in our lives that thwart our plans. But it’ll always work out for our good and His glory.

Finally, our 2016 must be lived in increments of now. Plan your days, your week, your quarter, but always remember your life is a mist. Today might be your last day on this planet and time spent living in the future takes you away from the reality of now. If your plans this summer rob you of the pleasure of enjoying God right now, check yourself.

May 2016 be a year where we all delight in God’s plan for our lives, even if His plans look nothing like ours.

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God With Us

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” (Matthew 1:18)

 

I was in the room when my kids were born. I remember the doctors, the pattern on the couch, the look on Lindsay’s face, and the smell of the sterile hospital. I remember time went slowly at some points and quickly at others. I was there.

But I don’t know what birth is like.

Observing something and experiencing something are different. We can empathize when we observe and we learn by watching, but doing is another matter entirely. That’s why Jesus’ incarnation carries so much weight.

If you look at other faiths of the world, their gods are ethereal or detached. They are in the heavens or in some other realm and we are in this realm. So even if these other faiths presume divine creation, their gods don’t know what it’s like to be in creation. But Jesus does.

All of the human experience is known to Jesus, except the experience of sin. Jesus learned, wept, laughed, worked, went to the bathroom, and washed clothes. He did the normal stuff we do. And He did it perfectly. But He didn’t live perfectly so He could say, “Look people, you can be perfect like me – just try harder.” No, Jesus lived perfectly because He was earning a perfect record on your behalf (2 Cor. 5:21).

I appreciate the reverence of the paintings and sculptures that give Jesus flowing locks of hair, a perfectly trimmed beard, and 4% body fat. I think the goal is to show respect and honor to Jesus as God – which He is. But these renditions miss something, and that is the important fact that Jesus was also one of us. We know in Scripture that he wasn’t a real attractive guy (Isaiah 53:2), but rather He was just a regular blue collar guy. You wouldn’t look twice if He sat next to you at Starbucks.

Jesus entered the pain of being human for a purpose. So He could further bear the pain of the sin of all humans. It was a journey of pain and suffering. But you know what, Jesus didn’t do it begrudgingly. His love for us was bigger than the pain He endured. It was worth it to Him and it was worth it to The Father, who sent Jesus on this mission.

No matter what you’re going through, you have an Advocate. He has been there, not in some vague sense but in reality. He has been there.

His name is Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

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God is Good – All the Time

While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. Luke 24:15 ESV

 

Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Our loved ones pass away and we follow them shortly after. War, abortion, sickness, murder, poverty, and other forms of brokenness invade our world. If things are smooth sailing, it is temporary. Suffering is unavoidable, like death and taxes.

Several members of our church experienced the loss of loved ones this week. It is a heavy week, with hearts grieving yet rejoicing.

In Luke 24, two of Jesus’ disciples are hurting. Jesus had just been crucified and the hope of many died with him. Others whispered about a resurrection but many were skeptical. Rumors abounded. But as we watch these two walking down the road, we see Jesus Himself draw near to them. We see Jesus enter the space of their grief and interrupt the mourning with His presence. That’s what Jesus does.

But Jesus did not only offer His presence (which is enough), He gave them an explanation of what happened. They started their walk in sadness and confusion and Jesus ended their walk with clarity and peace.

As we mourn with those who mourn, know that Jesus mourns as well. Jesus wept with those weeping about the death of Lazarus. He shed real saline tears from the bottom of His perfect heart.

And then He raised Lazarus.

Our Lord never leaves us to weep alone. He enters into the places where our hearts stick in our throats and our eyes sting from crying. With His presence, He displaces the confusion and infuses a love so deep it is hard to comprehend. Now does this make our weeping stop? Does it make it all okay that we have just lost someone very close to us? No on both fronts. We will weep and hurt and it’s never okay to lose a loved one. It hurts, badly. But if those who we lost knew Jesus we know that He too will raise them. That their death is merely a transition to a deeper communion with Jesus.

While death still stings, it won’t sting forever. Our mortal body will put on immortality.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:51-57 ESV

So we mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. We offer hope and sometimes we offer nothing more than our presence, because that’s where Jesus starts. And we know that God is good – all the time.

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What if He Didn’t Come?

As we step into the Advent season, we look toward the birth of Jesus. We celebrate and anticipate our savior taking on flesh to rescue us from sin and death. The season is filled with great music, gifts, food, and celebration. It is truly a magical time and those who do not even know Jesus still celebrate, albeit for different reasons.

Jesus’ coming to earth changed the world forever. No one argues that, not even the aforementioned nonbelievers (as they sip their coffee in their cars listening to Christmas music heralding the good news of Jesus).

But what if He didn’t come?

I know, that’s a weird question to ask. Why bother asking that question? Sometimes we need to look at the absence of something (or someone) to understand the real value of its (their) presence. The coming of Jesus is so earth-shattering it is worthwhile to stop and think about what it would look like if Jesus hadn’t come.

Let’s step into the darkness of that thought for a moment.

If Jesus didn’t come, we would still be under the law of the Old Testament. We would be required to keep the perfect covenant with a perfect God, with the huge problem being that we aren’t perfect. Take the Ten Commandments. Could you keep them all? Well have you? Let’s see:

 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22 ESV)

Do you pass the first test? Yeah me neither. Murderers all raise their hands (all hands go up). Guilty. We could go on and on with the other commandments. It doesn’t look good.

If Jesus didn’t come, we’d stand condemned, liable to judgment. His blood would not cover our filth and we would have to try like crazy to be perfect. Or maybe we’d just run from God altogether, terrified and exhausted.

Furthermore, if Jesus didn’t come we would still be eagerly waiting like a dog at the front door. When would our Master return? Is that Him? Nope, just the mailman again. But wait, don’t we already wait for Jesus to return? Aren’t we in the same position we’d be in if He hadn’t come to earth? Well, no. We do await the second coming of Jesus. As we watch the world crumble, we groan for His return. But we await His return as freed men and women. That’s a huge distinction. The Jews did (and still do) await their rescue.

If Jesus didn’t come, there’s no need to celebrate. There’s no time to celebrate when you’re trying to be perfect and righteous all the time because you’re too busy looking over your shoulder.

But He did come.

Jesus came, humbling Himself, to rescue us from our rebellion. His love was so benevolent we struggle to make sense of it. So with our chains thrown off, we have been set free. Free forever. Free to celebrate Advent with all the bells and whistles and what nots.

Because Jesus came, we can join together to sing:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King.

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