Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Being remembered

But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more." But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause. (Jeremiah 11:19-20)
The people of Jeremiah's home town, Anathoth, have conspired against him. They do not like his message from the Lord and have planned to kill him, so that "his name be remembered no more."

It's a futile scheme ultimately. Jeremiah will continue in faithful ministry for many more years and the people of his home town will die in the warfare and famine that will come when the Babylonians invade the land.

I have often thought one of the worse things that can happen to a person is to pass away and be forgotten. It's bad enough when people don't know you or can't remember your name, or don't recognize you or have never heard of you before. At such times you feel small and insignificant. But to be cut off from life and your name and memory never comes up in anybody's thoughts or discussion. To have people go on with life and never give you another thought. Don't we all want to be remembered?

So, one reason death is so formidable is that it cuts us off from the land where life and community and memories take place. The key of course is the truth in Psalm 115:12... "The LORD has remembered us; he will bless us..." If we are remembered (that is, known) by him, he will see to it that life and remembrance and good thoughts about us will always continue.

Jeremiah was a case in point. I know nothing about the people of his home town, Anathoth -- no names, no memories, no nothing. But here I am reading Jeremiah's writings 2,500 years later! I know his name. I know his story. I read his messages. I see his heart. God saw to it that he would be remembered.

God would say through Jeremiah these words, that promise us a future (29:11)... "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."

Remember us, Lord, and cause us to be remembered!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jack Bauer, Aragorn, and what the angels are watching

"And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen." (1 Peter 1:12 NLT)

The angels intently watch the advance of the gospel in the world. They know that the suffering of God's son, his resurrection, and the growth of God's kingdom through the Spirit is the cosmic drama of all time. This story line involves risk and danger, the opposition of dark powers, suffering, the need for courage, the arrival of unexpected miracles, the presence of unsolved mysteries, and the blessings of faith, friendship, and humility.

I believe that God has built within us an awareness that life is, or should be, a story-- not just a succession of meaningless days.

We feel this when we are captivated by a good story line. We get caught up with Jack Bauer, or the characters of LOST, or Aragorn and the Fellowship of the Ring. We need to realize, however, that God has designed it so that a good story points us to something beyond itself, namely to the drama of redemption. Maybe we should call it the Real Story. Just like beauty points us to something beyond itself, namely the beauty of God, so also a good story points us to the Real Story beyond it.

We often finish our favorite program, movie, or book with the impulse to go get another installment, or we just rent another movie with the hope that the excitement and mystery will continue. We don't take time to ponder that there is a real cosmic drama going on around us. The prophets wrote about it. Angels are riveted to it. And the destiny of billions of immortal souls is involved.

Practical next steps: read Pilgrim's Progress, or a book on church history, or a missions biography. Pray for fellow Christians around the world who are suffering opposition as the Gospel advances. Follow some missionary blogs. Read some biblical theological works that give an overview of the history of redemption, by such authors as Edmund Clowney, Graeme Goldsworthy, or Erich Sauer.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sunday's quotes

“Faith is a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God's grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace.” (Martin Luther, Introduction to Romans)

"If I were to go to heaven, and find that Christ was not there, I would leave immediately, for heaven would be hell to me without Christ." (Thomas Goodwin, 1600 -1680)

"All that we call human history--money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery-- is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.... God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love costs

A young boy at church made this observation to his mother (in the context of watching people spend money for Valentines gifts): “love will do that to you…make you lose all your money”.

This reminded me of 2 Corinthians 8:9 "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich."

Love enriches others at the cost to oneself.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln, on our economic crisis

"We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!"

(President Abraham Lincoln, in declaring a national day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer, March 3, 1863)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Luther, on what faith is

"Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they speak and hear much about faith. 'Faith is not enough,' they say, 'You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.' They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working, creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, 'I believe.' That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn't come from this `faith,' either. Instead, faith is God's work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn't stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words. Faith is a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God's grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they're smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools. Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do."

(An excerpt from "An Introduction to St. Paul's Letter to the Romans" by Martin Luther)

Just a thought on the economic bailout

"Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive." (C. S. Lewis)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

On his blindness

This poem by Milton came up in a discussion today, related to expectations that we have on the form our service to the Lord will take...

"When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

(-- John Milton, 1673)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The tribulations and sufferings of Christ

Isaiah called him “the man of sorrows”. Isaiah 53:3-4 "He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…"

• He was born on the road, in a stable, and into poverty (his dedication offering was the minimum required for the poor of the land).
• Raised in a backwater town. Trained as a man of labor in a hard-working profession. Did not attend rabbinic school or have a life of studied ease.
• At some point he did not have the benefit of an earthly father figure. (Joseph may have died during Jesus' youth.)
• He gave up a home to live on the road.
• He was tempted and opposed by the devil himself.
• He was single, not married. If he filled out a census, he would have been listed as single, homeless, and beneath the poverty line.
• As far as we know he walked everywhere, over the length and breadth of the land. Only one time it is mentioned that he rode an animal.
• He spent a lot of time ministering to those who were sick and possessed. Some days went from dawn until late at night helping sick and possessed people.
• Was questioned & doubted by those who said they loved him.
• Was laughed at. (Matthew 9:24)
• He answered lots of questions, and explained lots of things, many times.
• He bore with less than perfect followers, who said and did many frustrating things and for three years really didn’t get the message.
• He endured intellectuals who feigned courtesy in order to trap him in some inconsistency.
• He was opposed by the political and religious authorities of his day.
• He was betrayed by someone who had been a friend.
• Was mocked, and spat upon. (Luke 18:32)
• He was misunderstood, talked about, slandered, the object of conspiracies, betrayed, abandoned by his friends, violently treated, tortured, humiliated.
• He was the victim of injustice and a corrupt court.
• He was crucified on a Roman cross, one of the most brutal forms of execution of all time.

(And you think you've had a bad day?)

And he did all this for you and me. He lived the life we could never live, and died the death that we deserve, and rose to give us a life that we could never attain without him. He experienced separation from his Father, so that we might experience reconciliation with his Father.

He did not purchase our redemption in heaven on some kind of online transaction. His deliverance of us was not remote, business-like, at arm’s length. He came down and fought for it and won it against much opposition and in the midst of suffering.

Jesus was born perfect, but he was perfected by his obedience and testing and opposition, and so has become an object of our trust: Hebrews 2:10, 5:8-9 "For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering… Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him..." He is a perfect and perfected Savior. Not just technically perfect, but actually perfect. He is proven, genuine, compassionate, and no stranger to pain and tribulation. We can trust him.