I gotta fever and the only prescription is more JOY!

I gotta fever and the only prescription is more JOY!

The following originated from an email I sent to my fellow team members at Christ Chapel on January 8, 2018.

Good morning team,

On December 31st, I set about my morning bible reading asking the Lord to give me a passage of scripture for the new year. Up to this point, I had been journeying through the Psalms. At eventide of 2017, my foot set upon the golden shores of Psalm 16.

As I considered the entirety of this magnificent passage, I discovered a treasure I could hold in my heart at dawn of a new year…

 

“In your presence there is fullness of JOY.” (Psalm 16:11)

 

Unbeknownst to me, Pastor Ted Kitchens would announce on Sunday that the staff’s “theme” for 2018 would be ‘JOY’!

I too thirst for Joy! We all do. It’s been tough and trying year for many of us, and the only prescription is more Joy!

As I studied Psalm 16 again today, I couldn’t help but reflect on Jesus’s words in John 15: 1-11 (the True Vine). I encourage you to set both passages side by side and ponder them. One can’t help but be awe struck by how God has woven his word together. So, I pulled a couple threads I hope will encourage your heart as we embark on our voyage this new year.

Where do we begin?
Begin with the end in mind: Joy!

“in your presence there is fullness of Joy….” – Psalm 16
“that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full (or complete).” – John 15

How do we find this ‘Joy’?
Set the Lord before and abide in Him – the Vine

“I have set the Lord always before me…” – Psalm 16
“Abide in me (Christ)….” – John 15

By intentionally yielding our will in humble obedience, we enthrone Christ in our hearts to rule and reign. In turn, we yield fruit (which brings the believer Joy to the Father’s delight!). We are running to our Father shouting, “Father, father, look! Look at this beautiful fruit that you planted in my garden!” And the delight of the Father’s smile begets Joy in the hearts of his beloved children.

Can we find Joy apart from Christ?
The answer is ‘no’.

“I have no good apart from you.” – Psalm 16
“apart from me (Christ), you can do nothing” – John 15

So, Where do we end?
End with the beginning in mind: Joy!

Everyday – “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord’… in your presence there is fullness of JOY!” (Psalm 16)

Who’s Joy?
His Joy… our fullness of Joy!


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Pondering Glory – For on this world the Creator has stood

Pondering Glory – For on this world the Creator has stood

Originally posted in December 2016

I have been reading Charles H. Spurgeon’s (1834-1892) collection ‘Christ’s Glorious Achievements’. Last night I awoke around 2am unable to sleep. So, I quietly made my way to my study and decided to read a few pages of Spurgeon’s book. My hope was that I would become sleepy again and wonder back to bed. I eventually did. But it was not until God put an impression on my heart and mind that I wanted to share with you.

I won’t go into details but 2016 has been a trying year for me. It has been a year of transformation and refining. As I wrote a few days ago, there has been grief around the passing of my father. Thank you for your love and support.

 

Today, I want to shift the gears from Grief to Glory.

My prayer for this Christmas is for the Lord to deepen the meaning and allow me and my family to experience His presence in a special way.

Below are two verses I’ve pondered many times in the past. However, this morning, I have treasured them in my heart. And now, I hold them out for your consideration.

“And, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14a)
“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

The first verse states the Incarnation of Christ, Immanuel – God with us. The second verse states His mission then and now.

Consider the words of Spurgeon:

“You have often thought of it, but have you ever worked your mind into the very heart of it – that God has actually visited the world in human form – that he before angels bow has actually been here, in fashion like ourselves, feeding the hungry crowds of Palestine, healing their sick, and raising their dead?

 

I know not what may be the peculiar boast of other planets, but this poor star cannot be excelled, for on this world the Creator has stood. The earth has been trodden by the feet of God, and yet it was not crushed beneath the mighty burden, because he deigned to link his Deity with our humanity.

 

The incarnation is a wonder of wonders, but it does not belong to the realm of the imagination, or even expectation, for it has actually been beheld by mortal eyes…

 

From Bethlehem to Calvary he has traversed life’s pilgrimage. Thirty years of more yonder canopy of sky hung above the head of Deity in human form… for a thousand joys lie close compacted in the word ‘Immanuel’ – God with us, ‘The son of man is come.’”

Now imagine the power and humility involved with such an act of grace. Would you trade your home, comforts and lifestyle to be born into a shanty town to a poor family – from a people ridiculed by the world only to die for those who hurled insults at you? I wouldn’t.

Christ is come and Christ remains. Why?

To seek and save the LOST.

Spurgeon said, “Proud men do not like us the preach this truth.” I completely agree with him as a man of former pride in being lost. Are you too proud to consider yourself as ‘lost’? By ‘Lost’ I mean the depraved condition of your being, your thought patterns, your selfish motives, habits and addictions, secret envy and hatred toward good – maybe you attempt to exist under a shiny veneer of ‘imaginary holiness’ or comparison to others who overtly behave worse than you. Only God’s spirit can make you understand you are in fact ‘lost’. Otherwise, we all continue being lost in our lostness and without hope. We are like blind men grappling in darkness on the edge of the abyss we refuse to acknowledge exists.

But, think of it. “God with us.” God is come in the humble form of an infant babe whose mission in life and death is to seek and save the lost. Our finite minds cannot fathom the depths of this grace. But, dead men see the light and He makes them live. Everyday for 2000 years, the lost have been found. As the Lamb of God trods the pathways of time, do you feel the earth tremble beneath His glorious steps?

For on this world the Creator has stood… “and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

No human could possibly contrive such a revelation of a personal God condescending to his creation to save it, thus revealing his ultimate Glory.

Merry Christmas!


Read previous post: Blurry Lights – Grief and the Holidays

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Blurry Lights – Grief and the Holidays

Blurry Lights – Grief and the Holidays

I have been keeping a journal for nearly ten years, and every year at the end of December, I have a tradition of reading through the previous year’s entries. Sometimes, I get lost in the pages of my own writings and I am swept back in time.

On the morning of February 5, 2016 I journaled a prayer for my dad’s ‘routine’ gall bladder surgery later that morning. He had been experiencing a great deal of pain.

My prayer: “Lord, I pray that you would use this trial in his life to draw him closer to you … bring him out of this a changed man.”

 

That morning, I was reading Psalm 36 as my devotional. The theme of this Psalm is God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.” (Psalm 36:7-9)

There is a huge difference between knowing the meaning of a passage in your head and understanding it in your heart.

Shortly before noon on February 5th, I entered the crucible with my family. The surgeon walked into the waiting room with a file folder in his hand. He seemed to be a bit young to be a surgeon of his caliber. But, I brushed that aside remembering that I’m older than I think. The doctor sat down next to my step-mom and began to speak. The surgery was a success and dad’s gall bladder was removed. The doctor opened the file folder. Inside it were hi-res photos. Then the words came, “Jim has cancer.

58 days later on Saturday April 3 at 9:33 p.m., after indescribable suffering, my father succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Poppa was surrounded by his family when he drew his last breath of Texas air and woke up in eternity a changed man. The words of the old hymn “Finally Home” washed over me and gave me comfort.

“But just think of stepping on shore – And finding it Heaven!
Of touching a hand – And finding it God’s!
Of breathing new air – And finding it celestial!
Of waking up in glory- And finding it home!”

A couple days ago, I woke up early in the morning as is my habit. I turned on the lights on our Christmas tree in the dark room where it sits in a corner, lovingly decorated by our children. On this particular morning, the lights were blurry. A wave of grief ushered in my quiet time with God as tears had blurred my sight. I did not know the tears were there until I turned on the Christmas lights.

“In your light do we see light.”

I now understood the meaning of the passage in my heart.

This holiday season, there may be an empty chair at your dinner table. You may wake up early on Christmas morning to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to the one you love only to find them gone. There will be a void in life. There will be an embrace and a voice missing from the greetings and conversations. That distinct familiar laugh from the other room.
There will be blurry lights.

Therefore, take heart! It’s okay to grieve. To grieve is at the core of what it means to be human. Grief tells you that you have loved and been loved. It reminds you that you must truly live. Grief should point us to God as our help and comfort in this broken world. We can draw near to Him and to each other.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

 

In the light of God’s love, there is sufficient grace for me and you. In the midst of the storm and fog, there is a kindly light and peace to be experienced.

 

“The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings… in your light do we see light.”

Those who grieve can help the grieving. When the lights are blurry, remember many others experiencing the same thing. Do not allow the ministry of grief to be wasted. We who grieve have the privilege to come alongside those who are grieving. We do well to acknowledge and validate the pain yet lift each other up in love. God’s kindly light shines through the fog of pain and grief. The warmth of that light is felt in a loving touch, a nod of the head or a kind word of encouragement.

I’ll leave you with my closing words from dad’s memorial service. I pray it will minister to you if you are grieving and encourage you to be sensitive if you are not.

“It is part of the pathos of mortality that we only discover how dearly we love things after we have lost them.
“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
It is the law of the cross, it is a sacrificial law.
“Christ gives rest to the heart by giving burdens to the shoulders. And, as a matter of fact, it is in being burdened that we usually find rest… Heavy luggage is a cure for weary hearts.” So, we must bear each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

F.W. Boreham

Lord, “in your light do we see light….” Even if the lights are blurry.

Originally posted December 14, 2016


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By This We Know Love

By This We Know Love

When someone says, ‘I’m a Christian’ the first thing I look for is evidence of love. Let’s talk about what we mean when we use the word ‘Love’.

‘Love’ is a blanket term describing a variety of things spanning from sexual love to commitment to pleasure in someone or something. I ‘love’ ice cream and I also ‘love’ my wife… What’s the difference?

In Greek, there are four words used to describe what we call ‘love’. I appreciate the Greek because the words are rich in meaning and contain dimensions our English word ‘love’ simply does not contain.

Love rendered in Greek… simply.

  • Storge means the love or affection of family (parent and children)
  • Philia means affection between friends or equals. Think brotherly love (Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love)
  • Eros means sexual or romantic love. This is where we get the word, ‘erotic.’

‘Agape’ love is the highest form of love. Agape love is a sacrificial love and is an act of the will. Meaning, this love is a choice and has a cost. This love delights in its object and is sacrificial in its essence. Let me clarify. Agape love does not mean total acceptance of acceptance of bad behavior or choices. I can love you and absolutely disagree with you at the same time.

So how do we recognize ‘agape’ love?

Look for the sacrifice. Which means humility and an act of the will will be involved. It will be an abiding affection, delight and commitment by the one expressing it.  The value I place on the object of my love is directly linked to what I’m willing to sacrifice.  The higher the cost, the greater the love.  How can I find delight in sacrificing ourselves? Great question!

Here is the hard part of understanding ‘agape’ love. Agape love must come from outside one’s self. Other affections are self-manufactured and may have self-gratification undergirding them. Meaning that other ‘lower’ forms of love can have selfish motivations driving them. Only agape is completely SELFLESS.

The Evidence of abiding faith in Jesus Christ is love ‘in deed and in truth.”

This love is the pinnacle of love expressed as ‘agape’ love – sacrificial love.

With this love there is a cost involved.

With this love there is a choice – an act of the will.

This ‘agape’ love must come from outside ourselves.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down out lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16).

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” (John 3:16).

There will be a cost…. there will be a sacrifice with this love.

The sun darkening at noon

The sun darkening at noon

“The sun darkening at noon is a fit accompaniment of the death of Jesus. Is it not?”
– C.H. Spurgeon 1896 (Three Hours of Darkness)

Every Good Friday, I attempt to explore the agony of the Cross of Christ. It is a wonder beyond comprehension. Read of it in the Gospels and you’ll find your heart pierced. Below are thoughts stirred by Spurgeon as he brings three hours of darkness into focus. There is a link at the end to read his sermon in its entirety.

Veiled in darkness a cosmic transaction occurred. Mockers and murderers groped in the absence of light. Work and celebration were halted by a heavenly shadow. Concealed in a veil sin and death paid for in three holy hours no eye could see.  A price was paid.

“Nothing provokes the devil like the Cross.” We can expect clouds of darkness to gather anywhere the Cross of Christ is made known to hide it from the eye’s of the sinner.

Christ is the light of the world. You will live and die in darkness unless you reach for Him.
In the darkness His hand awaits and voice is heard. “Ye sinner, ye heavy ladened… come to me and I will give ye rest. I will make my home in you and bring light into the dark windows of your soul. Once home, I will never leave you. MY spirit will never depart. I live, so shall you live.”

Spurgeon said, “I know no greater joy than to be useful to your souls.” I can’t agree with him more.

Read his ‘The Hours of Darkness’ sermon here…

“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”
-Will­iam Cow­per

The Beauty of God’s Holiness

The Beauty of God’s Holiness

The Bible states, God created all things. He loves that which he made.

All things are held together by the power of His Word. He keeps all things. Nothing can contain God, yet he is in and through all things.

God is Holy. This means He is separate from His created order and creation is contained in Him. God is infinite. His power and wisdom shine forth through creation.

Ultimate beauty and splendor find their source in God’s holiness.

The finite mind cannot fully comprehend that which is infinite. But, God makes provision for us by His Christ. The person of Jesus Christ is an “exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by the power of His Word.” (Heb. 1:3).

God’s provision of Grace did not stop there. God followed through with a comprehensive plan to bring unity between The Holy and the unholy. The pinnacle of this great provision was the cross of Christ. In the darkness surrounding Calvary, a cosmic transition occurred where The Holy made righteous the unrighteous by the final work of Jesus Christ. We know it was final because the last words left his lips on the cross; “It is finished.”

Christ burst forth from the grave, we behold the beauty of His Holiness. There is no beauty in death. Splendor is “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3) who is eternal.

Set our hearts on that which is above, eternal and infinitely beautiful.

(Post above inspired by personal Bible study of the character of God and A.W. Tozer’s ‘Attributes of God’ and ‘Knowledge of the Holy’).