Monday, December 24, 2007

An Advent Story

I grew up a privileged youth. My father’s wealth was unparalleled in our town. His flocks and herds were vast beyond all measure. All looked upon us as the richest and most blessed of families. My father was also known to be a righteous man and kind to a fault. As far as fathers go, he was the best quick to correct me and quick to show me the depths of his love. Our hired servants loved working for him. There were many occasions when he blessed them with uncommon kindness.

As I grew past my early youth I found in myself a yearning to venture you beyond the gates of our home and explore the unknown world. Tales of pleasure beyond anything I had imagined lay just beyond the borders of our country.

As these passions grew, it dawned upon me that one day I would control half of all my father’s wealth. Although I loved my father the thought of his death and my inheritance churned through my mind and I found I was beginning to wish that he could peacefully pass into death so that I could leave and pursue my dream of exploring the world beyond.

It dawned upon me one morning that I could ask for an advance on my inheritance! This was not something we did in our country because it was, in effect, wishing your father dead but it was the only way I could pursue my dream.

That same day I found my father and asked if we could talk. He readily welcomed me into his presence and inquired, “Come my son whom I love! What can I do for you this fine day?” His face dropped when I asked him for my half of the inheritance. I could see that he felt the sting of what I said. This kind and generous father deserved better from me. He deserved a son who recognized his kind and generous heart.

After a few moments silence, this faithful father looked up to me with sadness in his eyes and granted my wish. My heart was filled with the excitement of knowing I was now rich and in full control of my life. I could do anything I wished. There were no limits on my anymore. I was to become a free man able to make my own decisions and pursue the pleasures I had been dwelling on so much.

I hastily thanked my father and kissed him before making a quick exit to prepare myself for my new found life of freedom.

It was the next day that father came to me with the money. His reputation in our town allowed for a quick sale of half of all his lands and livestock. His eyes were red and tired looking. He gently handed the money over to me as a tear began to run down his cheek. He embraced me. Even in the midst of his warm embrace, I longed for release so I could pursue my new life. He didn’t say anything, turned and left the room with his head hung low. Still my heart was unmoved, unaffected by what I had done. Such was the intensity of my passion for this new life. Nothing stood in my way now. I left the next day. My father waved to me as I walked away from him, perhaps for the last time. His eyes were still red and tired looking.

I made my way to a neighboring country that did not put limits on a man. In this country a man could pursue any passion; any desire. With my new wealth I found ample opportunities to explore and embrace their culture to the full. New friends were quickly made who helped me further explore the delights of this new world. Nothing was off limits. I felt no guilt. This was the life I wanted to live. My youth was filled with careful restrictions and sensibilities quite at odds with my new life. I cannot speak of these with too much detail but I am sure you know what I speak of.

It didn’t take long before half of my father’s wealth was gone. The inheritance that he worked a lifetime to hand down to me was gone in a matter of months. Can you imagine the kind of living that can burn through that much money? It was a whirlwind of pleasure but it was now grinding to a halt and I found myself in an inhospitable and strange land. There was no family here. There was no one who cared about me especially now that my wealth had been expended.

Oh how I had fallen. Without money I had no way to feed myself. I was now in survival mode. Because I was a foreigner I was looked down upon in this place. The only job that was available was working for a very difficult and unkind man feeding his pigs. In my country pigs were considered filthy, unclean animals. Even so, I was faced with either taking this job or starving. This man did feed me but it was of a quality so poor that I envied the pig’s food.

One morning as I was feeding the pigs, my nostrils filled with a stench beyond telling, my stomach crying out for food, I remembered my father. It was the first time since leaving home that I gave him a thought. He would never treat his servants like this. He would never force his servants to eat food that wasn’t fit for pigs if he ever had pigs, which he didn’t. His servants always spoke kindly of him grateful for his treatment of them and their families. What a stark contrast I was seeing between my employer and my father. What if I just went home? What if I went home and pleaded for my father to take me back as a servant? There was certainly no way he would take me back as a son, this I knew. It was not done. A son who wishes his father dead and squanders his inheritance like this is not worthy to be received as a son. This much was clear but a servant in my father’s house lives a much better life than this. As I thought about this and my father’s kind nature the decision was easy. I would return to my father and fling myself upon his mercy knowing that he is kind and good and completely at odds with this place I was now living.

The journey home was an uneasy one as I was filled with thoughts of my unworthiness. Surely I will be humiliated and scolded but that is what I deserve. When I was still a long way off one of my father’s servants crossed my path on his way back from an errand. His face reflected alarm when he recognized who I was. You can’t blame him. The life I had led left me looking aged and tired. Pig effluence effervesced from my clothes and skin. Not knowing how to respond, he left me without saying a word. Doubt filled my thoughts. “How could my father receive me like this? I am dirty, filthy, humiliated. I had broken his heart and wished him dead and now I return to him empty-handed having squandered everything.” Even so, I reflected on his nature. He was always good, always kind, always faithful and righteous. My confidence was stirred as I reflected on this and I continued my journey home with resolve.

My father’s servant returned to him and dutifully reported what he had seen. His eyes had cried many tears since I walked away that day but now he brightened. All the time I was gone he had did not come looking for me but held out hope that I would come to my senses and now word had come that this wayward son who had wished him dead was making his way home. The servant commented on the condition I was in but still my father’s face was filled with the joy of this news.

Without thinking he left the house and began walking in the direction he knew I would be coming from. As I approached I saw a figure in the distance that began to sharpen as I walked. An elderly man on foot still a great distance from my old home. This elderly man quickened his pace then broke into a full run. I was struck with both fear and anticipation as I realized this was my father! It was him who I so terribly wronged running. Never before had I witnessed my father run. A dignified landowner like him never ran. Others ran for him but he always maintained his dignity.

The gap between us was quickly closed and he threw his arms around me with the same warm embrace I had know as a child. He held me and wept tears of joy loudly proclaiming that his son was home! His servants now catching up to us stood around us amazed at the scandal unfolding before them. They knew of their master’s kind heart but this was well beyond all they even fathomed possible.

As he held his filthy, smelly wayward son, he began shouting tearful commands. “Bring me some descent clothes for my son! Bring a ring and put it on his finger! Prepare a feast in his honor!” With tears he shouted, “My lost son has come home! He was lost but now he is found!”

This was not what I expected. I was being received back not as a servant but as a son! My father had forgiven me for all I had done to him. He didn’t scold me or bring up anything I had done and much to my amazement he didn’t mention the money then and never since.

My older brother was not pleased when he heard of all this. He had seethed with anger when I left and he wanted justice now. He felt my father should punish me and send me away. Shocked by this, father took him aside and plead with him to see things in another way. He couldn’t. All he knew was that he had always been a faithful son doing as he had been told and yet never had this kind of reception been offered to him. Father wanted him to understand that his lost son and been found and that he should rejoice with him but he couldn’t failing to understand the depths of our father’s kind heart.

I now dwell in the house of my father and will all the days of my life. I rest in his goodness and kindness amazed that I ever saw things any other way.

Concluding thoughts

I wrote this at advent for a few reasons:

I can’t get this off my mind.

Advent is really about God running to a lost world that has gone a-whoring. God is breaking in on our world to rescue it and receive it back through the gift of his son. This parable is such a poetic way of speaking of advent. My prayer is that we all see the kindness of God in advent. To know the spectacular the scandal of a righteous God becoming one of us in order to receive us back.

Book news

I recently finished off the book on sonship by Sinclaire Ferguson. A great read and one that will be of great benefit all my life. What a privilege to be called a son of God and to be a part of his family.

As I looked over my library in search of a new book, I took up a previous read, Don Carson's "The Cross and Christian Ministry." It has been couple of years since I read it last but it is the kind of paradigmatic book that should be re-read every so often. It is not a large volume but very tightly packed with exegetical thoughts from I Corinthians. The hub for all Christian service and ministry is rooted in the cross of Christ according to Paul. In our day the evangelical church is pursuing techniques all various and sundry but drifting farther and farther from the center of our faith, the cross of Christ. Carson simply amplifies Paul in calling us back to humble orthodoxy.

A book like this is not just for pastors. A book like this is important for small group leaders, ministers, mothers, fathers and everyone else in the church. We are all called to serve. We cannot conveniently leave the service to pastors and others we might be tempted to see as professionals in the church.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Gospel At Work

Check out this video from the New York Times.

I was amazed that such a thing could be found on their website.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I have begun reading a work by Sinclair Ferguson entitled "Children of the Living God". After reading a few chapters I think I could summarize the thesis this way: Understanding our relationship with God as that of a son is key to realizing all that God has done in redeeming us. this understanding unlocks the gates of joy and peace.

As I pondered one chapter I realized that, in my heart, there is a distrust of God. It is as if I am not sure if he is going to pull the spiritual rug out from under me. I try to place my trust in him but deep within, I fear that he rejects me. what Ferguson is saying, I believe, is that this is rooted in a lack of understanding of sonship. We must, "Carefully unfold the true character of God" and learn to trust him fully.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Walking by the Spirit

In my devotions this morning, I read from Galatians 5:

"So I say, live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (also translated as 'flesh')."

I remember reading in Gordon Fee's "God's Empower Presence" that understanding Paul means understanding the issue of Spirit/flesh anti-thesis in his letters. For Paul, two ages are set at odds against each other one the age of the Spirit and the other the age of the flesh. The age of the Spirit is the age that was ushered in at Jesus' resurrection and sealed by the coming of the Holy Spirit at the feast of Pentecost. This is the age promised in the prophets when God himself would rescue his people and establish his kingdom that would never end. Sin and death would have no power in this age. This age is set in opposition to the age of the flesh which is the old Adamic age marked by the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. This age is marked by death, disease, famine and sin.

Here again in this passage we see the two set at odds. Paul is admonishing the wayward Galatians to "live by the Spirit" and not "gratify" the flesh. Can you see the tension that Paul has in view? The Galatians are troubled by men who have sought to divert them from his Gospel that declares salvation in Christ alone. These men would have them add Jewish works of the Law, (eg., circumcision, dietary laws), to faith in Christ. Paul sees these as belonging to the age of the flesh when they are to live out their present circumstances as those who have already entered into the new age; the age of the Spirit. Their failure is tantamount to living as though Christ's sacrifice has had no bearing on them which is simply not the case. Here as in other places in his letters, Paul wants his hearers to live out the reality of their conversion and not as though nothing has really happened to them. Paul is commanding them as he commands us to live today in accord with the reality of God's grace as it has found you. He wants them to grow up and open their eyes to what has been given to them.

You see here also that the Gospel is external to us. It comes from without and not from within. We are called by God and respond but it is God who initiates. Paul is not telling them to simply conjure more faith to resist the false teachers. No, he wants them to reference the reality of God's prior activity in their lives. It is as if he is saying, "God has graciously given you the keys to the Kingdom. You have been forgiven in Christ and are citizens of the New Jerusalem. Given that reality, stop living like it isn't true! Stop living as though Christ hasn't died for you."

What about us? Are we living today as though we still belong to the age of the flesh? Are we still dabbling in sinful practices that will never have a place in the new age? The question I have for you is why? If you have professed Christ as savior and embarked on the path of faith, why have you given into the seductive but futile patterns of a fallen age? Ask yourself, what things will live on in the new age? Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, self-control? Yes, of course but what of tawdry sex, rude speech, unfaithfulness, unkindness, duplicitous living, lying, cheating, murder, hatred and on and on? Paul says walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the flesh. Pattern your life after the life of the future and you won't capitulate to a pattern of living that is way past its shelf-life. Compare and contrast the two ages and see for yourself which is preferable. The one marked by the Spirit of God or the one marked by sorrow, misery and death.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Getting back into my life

I just returned from a brief trip to Europe yesterday. Our first stop was Sweden, a country that feels very much like home to me. When I walk up to a Swede they first speak to me in Swedish which is not the case in most other European countries. I guess I look and dress like a Swede. From there we flew to London Stansted airport which is in the county of Essex north of London. It was a typical winter evening in England with howling rain and near freezing temperatures. We left for the USA the next day and it was sunny and beautiful.

I sit at my desk now powering over memory verses preparing my heart for prayer. Paul writes this in II Corinthians 12:

7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Whatever it was that afflicted Paul, we can conclude that it wasn't a pleasant thing. Some see a problem with his eyes while others think it could be a person who was constantly opposing his message. Paul was the kind of driven person that didn't want anything slowing down his pace. He was commissioned to take the good news about Jesus all over the known world and to suffer for the sake of it. You can perceive his thought process here as he pleads with God to take away the thing that is slowing him down. "Lord, please take this affliction away so I can pursue the task you have given me with greater efficiency!" What an honorable thing to ask. God's response is equally interesting. He says "No". "No Paul, I won't take this thing away from you. I won't make you more 'efficient'." God wanted both Paul and us to understand that human strength does not propel the gospel. Rather, it is God's strength through human weakness that propels the gospel! As his hearers look upon Paul, they see a man who has been beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, has problems speaking clearly and has some kind of illness. Hardly a Herculean figure. When they see such a man succeed in the task he has been assigned they then must acknowledge that it is God who is the source of his strength. It is God who empowers his message. God gets the glory and Paul doesn't.

What about us? Are we charging forward in our own strength or are we embracing our weakness? The reality is we are all filled with weakness because of the fall. We live in a sin-cursed world and we ourselves are sinners riddled with weakness. It is the height of folly to think otherwise. Do you want to know true power? Do you want to know true strength? Acknowledge your weakness before God and man. Accept the fact that you are a sinner and do what God commanded Paul. Trust in God's grace because it is sufficient for you and I. God's strength is the strength that created all that is with a word. God made you and me. The winds, seas and mountains bow before him. Trusting in God's grace is trusting in his power and strength to overcome our weakness and leave people with no other choice than to credit him.

Becoming a Christian has its roots in this reality. How can I come to trust in the Savior's provision for me if I have no need? If I am basically an okay person then Jesus is just there as a pathway to a better life. But if it is true that I am so lost in my sin, so weak, that I am utterly powerless to escape God's wrath then I am prepared to hear the gospel of grace that says "God himself will deliver his people."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

T'was Grace That Taught My Heart to Fear

My daughter recently attended a Josh McDowell seminar with her school. On our drive home from school that day I asked her about it all. She gave a glowing review. I pressed her for details and she told me of Josh asking kids why they are "Christians". Most could not give an answer. At this moment I blurted out that we, (the Church), have failed them! We have not taught them about sin! My daughter said, "That's just what Josh said!"

We have become so affected by the therapeutic gospel that says we must improve our self-esteem that we have neglected the Gospel that says "while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." The Gospel that says, "as for you, you were dead in your sins and trespasses in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world." If there is no sin there can be no grace. If there is no sin we don't need a savior. If there is no sin Jesus and his Gospel simply become a means to live a better more affluent life.

The Gospel says we are enemies of God and guilty of rebellion against his authority. This a punishment that requires the sentence of death. Our sin along with our culture have convinced us that we have some intrinsic worth that God somehow recognizes apart from his grace. Somewhere in us is a small voice that tells us that God got a pretty good deal with us. Life should therefore conform to my hopes and expectations or I'll be disappointed or even angry. The Gospel tells us that far from it, we are so far gone that a good man had to die so that we could be saved from God's just wrath. Not just any man but the unique Son of God. "He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

Now let's ask that question again. Why am I a Christian? The answer is simple and natural. I am a Christian because I am a sinner. I am a Christian because Jesus offered his life so that I could be purchased for God. Jesus rescued me from God's just and holy wrath that I completely deserved. I love him for the cross and will follow him all my days as God grants me faith.

C.J. Mahaney, (leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries), likes to say that he is "better than I deserve" when asked how he is. That reveals a heart that knows his sin and can in turn know God's grace. Apart from sin there is no grace, no Savior and no Christianity.

This is ancient truth that transcends our flimsy, thin culture. I pray that we all may come to grips with this aspect of the Gospel so that we can fully come to grips with what is so good about the Good News.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

My first post

A blog's first post is a difficult one. It seems to me it should be sort of a raison de'etre. Why start such a thing as a blog about my life in Christ. My life in Christ is not so much about me but about the Savior who rescued me. I sit here tonight in a hotel room in Miami, Florida, so utterly overwhelmed by the grace of God in Christ that I decided to follow through with this thing I have long contemplated. For many months I have pondered this work and simply not acted upon it but of late God has been making his mercies new to me in marvelous ways. The substitutionary atonement of Christ is blazing before my eyes as I write this. His grace has completely eclipsed my sin and all I see is his marvelous magnificent grace. How can I not speak of these things I have seen?

The raison de'etre for this blog is the exaltation of Jesus Christ as the risen Messiah of God because he has wonderfully, mercifully rescued me from the dominion of darkness and brought me into the Kingdom of his Son. I bring nothing of value to the discussion of who God is or what he is about in this age. I am not a pastor or a seminarian. To be completely honest, for most of my life, I have been a fool. (Knowing this is a blessing, I promise. John Newton wrote "'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear". Knowing who you truly are is a blessing. It is interesting to note that "the old African blasphemer" next wrote that it "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear". )

I believe that God exists. I believe that he has chosen to reveal himself in Holy Scripture. I believe that God created all that is including you and me. I believe that he became incarnate and walked among us. I believe that he took upon himself the sin of his people and suffered that he might at once be just and justifier. I believe that He became incarnate in Jesus and because he died and rose again God's presence is now at work in the world through his church. I believe that because of Jesus' faithful obedience to God the Father, he has been exalted to the highest position imaginable. I believe he has been given the keys to heaven and earth. I believe that God indwells his people and empowers them for works of service. I believe God is meticulously sovereign in all affairs of his creation and I love him for this truth. He is God and there is no other. I believe that God is at work in the world through his Church. I believe that at the time of the feast of Pentecost in Acts 2, the church received His Holy Spirit that indwells his church empowering them for works of service. I believe that the same Spirit of Acts 2 is at work today in all creation and the gifts that God gave then are available to the Church today. All who profess that Jesus is the Messiah do so based upon God's prior activity in them convicting them of sin and their need of repentance. I believe salvation is rooted in the magnificent sovereign grace of a merciful God who loves me and gave his son for me. It is God who summons. It is God who calls. I believe we do not possess some spark of life within that allows us to reason our way to God. I believe that prior to God's intervention I was dead in my transgressions and sins in which I used to live. I believe I could no more will myself to live to God than the corpse can. I have another blog about being a bike racer. I invite you to check it out. I hope many who travel through that site will come here. I hope that they will see how kind and merciful my God is. Many will write me off as a fool and that is okay but I hope they don't. If they could but see what I see in the beauty of God.

None of this is intended to be dogmatic. In all honesty, it is to magnify the kindness of God. I believe Holy Scripture supports these views and I believe it with all my heart.

Soli Deo Gloria