Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Cross and the Tomb

This was the first time I had ever been to whole Catholic place. I was there at the Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center for a day of solitude retreat. I was not sure what to expect and, whether I wanted to or not, had brought a few questions of my own for God to answer. I gave those questions to him, however, and asked that he show his desires for me and that he give me a quietness to hear what the Spirit would teach me. During a lectio divina (Luke 15:11-31 was the passage) one phrase seemed to linger a little longer than the rest—“And the festivities began” (v24b). I was unsure what God meant by this.

It was raining rather steadily when I left the warm, dry building. I never prayed the Stations of the Cross before. In fact, I had never heard of it until a week or so earlier, but I would be open minded, I determined, and would pray them, regardless how much it rained or how cold it was. I held a brochure with the prayers for each station in my hands and tried to keep it dry, though I soon gave up. By the time I reached the second station, the rain was pouring. Undeterred, however, I walked through each stating, praying each one, often feeling convicted, but also encouraged knowing I am not the only one struggling in different areas of my life.

Before long I could feel the biting cold stinging my fingers as I held the dripping wet piece of paper. I did not mind though, especially if Christ endured so much on the road to and on the mount of Calvary.

As I approached the twelfth station, something strange happened to me. I was suddenly overcome with heart-rending sadness. I couldn’t speak, could barely say the prayer, and I found myself on the verge of tears. Seeing Christ on the cross, crying out to God—why would God sacrifice his Son for me? Regardless of the answer, that fact is, he did, and I am forever indebted to him.

Walking to the last station, that of the empty tomb, the rain easing up only slightly, I began to sense a transformation-taking place inside my heart. God showed me something I could only have understood after praying through the progression of Christ’s death and resurrection. The only way to truly understand and experience fully, to truly know the festivities and celebrations God has planned for us, his children ( Lk 15:24; Ps 84:11-12; Pr 8:30), we must first experience the darkness, pain, loneliness, and suffering belonging to death. Only when we enter into Christ's death, only when we die to self, can we be made alive with Christ.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Isaiah 35

For those who are in despair, who are anxious and worried, who feel defeat is upon them, I have these words to share with you: "Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will save you" (Isaiah 35:4, ESV).

This chapter in Isaiah is filled with hope. Hope of a time when all tears and sorrows will disappear (Isaiah 35:10c; Revelation 21:4). The land will be filled with the glory of the LORD. That which was not perfect, which was broken, will be made new (vv. 8-7). It will be a time where evil will once and for all be removed from the land. Sin will no longer dwell among the good. And in this passage, the crescendo of hope and joy reaches its climax in verse 10: "The ransomed of the LORD shall return..." (ESV).

We are in Passion week right now--Good Friday is only four days away. This is a particularly appropriate time to reflect on Jesus' work on the cross (though it is always good to do this no matter what time of year). In Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples his purpose in life: to serve and give himself up as a ransom (Matthew 20:28). Before we knew Christ, we walked and lived in our sins, we were living dead people (Ephesians 2:1-3). But Christ died as a ransom.

Romans 5:12-21 reminds us of the grace we have received from God through Christ's work on the cross. It is easier, I think, to receive grace, than to give it. It is important to remember who we used to be and what Christ did for us, if only to prevent us from judging those around us (Romans 12:3).

Equal to, if not more important than, Christ's death, is his resurrection. We serve serve a risen Christ. When he rose from the grave, he returned to his Father in heaven, but promised before he left, that he would return again, and when he does, we will be redeemed (Titus 2:11-14). Our broken bodies will be made new (Revelation 21:5).

Therefore, as we reflect this week upon all God has done for us through his Son Jesus Christ and the promise of hope that awaits us at his return, let us live each moment with joy and praise, and let us "give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so" (Psalm 107:1-2a, ESV).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Amos 8:4-14

This passage (Amos 8:4-14) gives us an account of the finale of a trial against Israel. God is the Judge and his people the accused. To often in the church today, do we ignore or gloss over the judgment and wrath of God. Part of this may be due to a negative feeling about this issue, most likely brought about by a misuse of this aspect of God’s character. Nonetheless it is very important and should be talked about. After all, there are lives at stake.

One day we will all have to give an account of our actions and will be judged accordingly, whether we are followers of Christ or not (1 Cor 4:5). None will escape his judgment. God cannot dwell in the presence of sin, and we should take this to heart. Even when his own Son, Jesus, hung on the cross, God had to turn away because of the sin Christ bore. A right understanding of God’s attitude toward sin and his judgment on it, should, however, spur us on to live righteously before him (Heb 13:17). Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (ESV, Italics added).

But how does one live righteously and holy before God? Scriptures tell us that "No one is righteous, no not one" (Ro 3:10, ESV) and that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Ro 3:23, ESV, italics added). Fortunately, we have one who intercedes on our behalf, Jesus Christ. For those who believe and have accepted the free gift of salvation through him, Christ stands before the Judge, taking our penalty of death for us. By all rights we, as Christians, should receive the death penalty just the same as non-believers. But thank God we do not. This gift is not one to hoard, however, but to share. Just as “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5a), we too should show the same mercy on others (Mt 18:21-35).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Isaiah 34:8-17

I had meant to read and blog on Isaiah 35 this morning, but instead I accidentally read chapter 34, and I am compelled to write on this chapter again. Reading these verses I am reminded of what the writer of Hebrews says about scripture: “For the word of God is living and active…” (Heb 4:12). You can never read the same words twice under the same circumstances. Each reading contributes and changes you a little, and over time, other events and situations in your life change your perception on things and affects your next reading of a text.

Verse 8 speaks of a day of vengeance and a year of recompense for the cause of Zion. The cause of Zion can be understood as the cause of the LORD and his eternal kingdom. God, the King of kings, is fighting for his kingdom. He will exact vengeance for his kingdom and will compensate or repay his kingdom the justice it deserves. But notice the time spent on each. Vengeance gets only a day whereas recompense get a year. As wrathful and angry as the LORD can get, and will get on those who continually disobey and disregard him and his law, his anger only last but a brief moment compared to his love and mercy.

And there is hope in the rest of this chapter. The verse speak of bleakness and desolation, of darkness and sadness. Yet within this there is hope. God provides a place of dwelling for creation. God gathers them up and cares for them. Verse 16 is an important command: “Seek and read from the book of the LORD.” It requires an active role on our part. We are to seek after God. Perhaps Jesus had these verses in mind when he gave his famous “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt 6:25-34). In verse 33, Christ says, “But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness…”

In all his anger and wrath and judgment, there is love and mercy and hope for the one who seeks after God and read his Word and live by it, following in the footsteps of the Almighty.

"Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the river and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD"—Joshua 24:14-15 (ESV; Italics added).

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Amos 3

Verse 6b—"Does disaster come to a city unless the LORD plans it?" (NLT)

The answer to this rhetorical question is, obviously, “No.” It is an example of God’s power and control; his providence. It is an example of the fact that he is not removed from his creation but is an active player in it; but even more than that, I believe he is the principle player in the grand drama we are living. Nothing happens in the world without the LORD first planning it. Sometimes I know it may seem cruel when bad things happen to seemingly innocent people, but as it says in Job, who are we to question God and his plans? Who is the creation to question its Creator? (Job 32:12; Isaiah 29:16). God makes plans and it his prerogative to chose whom he wants to reveal those plans to and when. But he has made know his Plan (capital P) to whomever will open their eyes and see, and their ears and hear. His plan, God’s big Plan, which spans from eternity to eternity, which encompasses all of time, is simply to draw humanity to himself so that we might see him and know him and in the end glorify him. The first point to the Westminster Catechism is this:

What is the chief the of man?

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him greatly.

So if nothing bad happens in the world without God’s planning it and intending it for his greater purpose, we should also find confidence in knowing that he cares about this world and about us. Thus, what do we have to worry about? Is not the LORD God greater than anything else we can imagine?

Verse 9—"Announce this to the leaders of Philistia and to the great one of Egypt: 'Take your seat now on the hills and around Samaria, and witness the chaos and oppression in Israel'"(NLT).

Now this might seem cruel and mean—God telling Israel’s enemies to watch as he punishes Israel. It might seem as though he bragging in a way. “Hey, look what I’m doing to Israel. Isn’t this great? Their so pathetic.” But this is not why God told this to Philistia and Egypt. The reason why God said what he did here, the effect of what he said and of what Philistia and Egypt saw him do probably resulted in them asking this question: “If God is willing to do this to Israel, to his people, then how much more would he be willing to do that to us?” I think the reason God spoke those words in verse 9 to Israel’s enemies was so that they would see what God is doing and have fear of him and worship him and glorify him. We do know, that by the time of the New Testament, when God sent his Son, the Christ, to earth, he extended his invitation of salvation to everyone, including Egypt and Philistia.

God knows what he’s doing, I think. And for all those who are a part of his family, have no need to worry. All we have to do is simply obey him and follow him and seek after him. When we make him first in our lives he is glorified. And when we receive his punishment, know that it is only because he loves us and wants us to be in perfect union with him. He wants to draw us back to himself.

The LORD is great and greatly to be praised. Amen.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Isaiah 34

"Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in in faithfulness" (Joshua 24:14a; ESV). And Proverbs 1:7 says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge."

As Christians it is easy, and sometimes too easy, to believe only about God what we find comfortable. It is true that he is a merciful, loving God who deeply cares about us and who is there when we need him to lift us up and encourage us. It is true that he is compassionate and kind and full of grace. But if that is all we are willing to accept about God, how then can we learn to fear him?

Isaiah 34 reminds me of that uncomfortable side of God; that side which is full of fury and wrath. I often forget that God can get angry. It's dangerous, I think, to forget that God can be as terrifying as scripture show us throughout the Old Testament, and even a little in the New Testament. When we stop fearing God, we risk bringing him down to our level. And when that happens, we risk forgetting that he even exists.

And yet I find it amazing that even in all his fury and all the judgement he has, or will, pour out on the nations of the world, he still shows some compassion on his creation, Isaiah 34:13-17.

God is a complex being. And we should worship ALL aspects of him, whether we like those characteristics or not, whether they make us feel safe or uncomfortable, whether we understand them or not. And we should make it our life's goal to know ALL of God, not just part of him.

Ecclesiastes sums it well, "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man" (12:13; NIV, higlight added).