Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Homeward Bound for Glory

Dear Friends, 

I am posting this excerpt from John Piper because it contains a vital perspective. May you be blessed in understanding the role of God and of you and of our fellow Christians in this arduous journey toward our eternal home.  

Will We Arrive Blameless on the Day of Christ?

There is a faith-sustained holiness that Paul wants his converts to have on the day of Christ — the day of his return, when the dead in Christ will be raised (1 Corinthians 15:23). This holiness (which he also calls “blamelessness” and “guiltlessness” and “being above reproach” and “purity”) is certain through God’s faithfulness, contingent on persevering faith, and dependent on human agency.


Paul is certain that God will work this persevering faith and holiness in his converts for the day of Christ. This is part of God’s faithfulness. That’s Paul’s expectation and confidence for his converts. But the certainty of their perseverance in faith and holiness is not automatic. That is, it does not lie within the converts in such a way that their faith and holiness will survive without God’s work in them.
The Christian convert as God’s new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) does not contain the power to persevere. Rather, the new creation contains the link to the one who daily provides the power to persevere. And that link is sure, Paul says, because it is sustained decisively by God, not man. This is why Paul insists, “God is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:9).


Nevertheless, though it is certain for all who are new creatures in Christ, Paul tells believers, “You . . . [Christ] has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith” (Colossians 1:21–23).
The holiness that we are to have at the day of Christ’s coming is contingent on continuing in the faith. This contingency does not contradict certainty. God is faithful; he will do it. But no believer should think that he will be ready to meet Christ if he does not “continue in the faith.”
God’s faithfulness is experienced in his continually awakening in us the grace to keep believing. He keeps us. And he does it by giving us the passion to treasure him and pursue holiness.


Paul does not simply watch this dynamic play out in the lives of his converts. He prays for them. And what he prays is that they will, in fact, be pure and blameless on the day of Christ.
It is certain they will arrive safely in faith and holiness at the day of Christ. That arrival is contingent on persevering faith. And Paul’s prayers are the agency God uses to bring them safely home. (Philippians 1:9-11, 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)
Therefore, let the truth of Paul’s certainty make us sure. Let the truth of contingency make us serious. And let the truth of agency make us to surround ourselves with praying brothers and sisters who intercede for our faith and holiness.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Who needs patience? Or, Waiting for Heaven

“Great sermon on loving your enemies,” New Convert said with a sigh. “But I can’t even handle my annoying in-laws, or the lazy people I work with.”

“I know what you mean,” chimed in young Holy Homemaker. “Some days my kids drive me crazy. I wish I were more patient with them.”

“Oh, no!” exclaimed Every Christian, who had joined them at the coffee urn in Fellowship Hall. “Never pray for patience!”

“Why not?” asked New Convert na├»vely.

Wise Old Saint behind the refreshment table gave her head a rueful shake. “Because when you do,” she said softly, “prepare to suffer.”

Thus a universal truth gets passed down from one generation of Christian to the next. To pray for patience is to invite trouble.

And rightly so. The original Bible words that mean patience are often translated as forbearance, endurance, longsuffering, or perseverance. They all carry the sense of putting up with the disagreeable or difficult. For the most part, we see patience as the ability to make it through stressful circumstances with a smile on our face.

Like love, joy, and peace, we find that Jesus demands patience of us. After all, patience is an attribute of God. If his indwelling Spirit is to form Christ in us, patience is part of the deal.

Most people picture God under the old covenant as wrathful and tempestuous—exceedingly impatient. I find this ironic, considering that the history of Israel is one long testament to the forbearance of Yahweh. Time after time, God overlooked provocation the same way we as parents overlook our children’s failure to meet adult standards. We are merciful to them when they err, but we never release them from our objective: one day they will have to be adults.

We might be wrong to limit our understanding of this divine attribute to hanging on through hard times. Literally, to be patient is to “abide under,” yet there is nothing beyond God’s sovereign control. To the extent that he puts up with anything, he himself has set the parameters for his own good reasons.

Nevertheless, he is able to help us in our weakness because Jesus suffered under the proving of his faith. That’s why he came. During his earthly life, he was subject like us to the course of nature and the rigors of life among sinful people. Having thus shared in our creature-hood, his Spirit within is now able to train us in patient endurance, in longsuffering, in perseverance.

The startling conclusion is that we will need patience in the life to come. As Paul pointed out, these “light and momentary afflictions” are working for us an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all (2 Co 4.17). That is, “if we endure, we will reign with him” (2 Ti 2.12).  

What characterizes his reign even now? Seated at the right hand of God, Jesus waits (He 10.12-13). Jesus has the ability to wait for things to develop. He is a God of process.

This insight changes the complexion of patience.

Process is everywhere. The formation of the cosmos and the cycle of life. Embryonic growth and human development. Photosynthesis and football games. Education and eschatology. Raising crops and religious reform. Work flow and the way of the cross. Everything. Everything is a process.

The same with bearing fruit in the Spirit. The formation of the divine nature in us drives home the point that God loves process.

Still, one thing I always thought exempt from process is the afterlife. God himself never changes. Heaven is always set forth as the goal: just get there. Isn’t Christ’s an eternal kingdom, an everlasting dominion that will not pass away? Likewise Jesus described hell as a place where “worm does not die and the fire never goes out.” The essence of heaven is righteous perfection, an enduring state of pure blissful happily-ever-aftering. The very concept oozes permanence, immutability. Is this not the antithesis of process?

And yet God builds patience into his saints. Why? What is the nature of our eternal existence that patience should be required?

Sadly, our thoughts here answer little. Mainly we have to get past St. Peter’s sketchy checkpoint at the pearly gates. There we’ll pick up a custom-made harp and hear a lecture on not offending other denominations who think they’re alone. Then we must find our assigned seats on a designated cloud and get down to the business of making heavenly music. Forever. The only sense in which we’ll need patience in that scenario is if we don’t happen to like harp music.

Could we be more wrong?

The essence of patience is that we await a better outcome. If patience is required to reign with Christ, then we can be sure of this: Each passing moment will bring ever-improving life. 

In a world without pain or tears, we will move from joy to joy. That's a future worth waiting for.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sea Billows and The Guy Who Calmed the Storm

“Peace, I leave with you,” Jesus said. “My peace I give to you.”

What did Jesus have in mind when he talked about peace? Certainly not a utopian existence where everything goes along without a hitch. He gave clear warning that in this world his followers would have trouble.

This was an especially important point for Jesus to make. Israel had long expected a Messiah to arise from the line of David, a prophet on the order of Moses. Someone to return the kingdom of Israel to its former glory in the international arena.

By the time John began to preach and baptize in the Jordan wilderness, the nation had not seen a son of David on the throne for nearly 600 years. The oppression of Rome filled them with messianic longings. Jewish youth cut their teeth on Daniel’s promise of an “everlasting dominion that will never be destroyed.” Old people haunted the temple, waiting for the “consolation of Israel.”

Enter Jesus. A miracle worker with unprecedented power—to heal the sick, to deliver from demons, to raise the dead. A teacher with great wisdom and unmatched authority. No wonder their Messiah sensors went off. Surely this hope was behind Peter recognizing him as the Christ, and his hasty if erroneous insistence that Jesus should not die at the hands of the religious leaders.

If we’re honest, we all have a little of Peter in us. We long for Jesus to rock the world—and we don’t mean the gentle sway of a cradle, either. We want to see him take the world by the scruff of the neck and shake some goodness into it. We know he can. We know he will. It’s hard to wait, especially when suffering makes our longing so poignant.

Why does he tarry? Why indeed?

Because his kingdom is not of this world. Before Jesus establishes his reign on earth, he first had to reconcile God and man. He did this by offering his own blood as an atoning sacrifice on Calvary. He paid the ransom set by God: one perfect life in exchange for all who come by faith. He tarries today because still others will come.

But why he tarries isn’t our problem. We live in a broken world. We suffer evil at the hands of wickedness. We are not spared disease or poverty or loneliness. Despite the many commands not to be afraid, we fear something out there is set against us.

The truth is, hardships are very real. They threaten us and our loved ones. We know ourselves to be defenseless before them. Fear combines with need and, left unchecked, anxiety takes root in our souls. More and more people resort to meds to moderate the anxiety of daily life.

How sweet Jesus’s command to take heart. How welcome his assurance, “I have overcome the world!” Our poor hearts, trounced by fear and pain, can barely gasp, “If only it were true.”

Wake up, Christian! You’re having a nightmare. His word is true. Jesus has overcome the world. All authority in heaven and on earth already belongs to him. Turn to him! The troubles of this world no longer master those who abide in Christ. Abide in him! These light and momentary afflictions are working for us an eternal weight of glory. Fix your eyes on the unseen!

Easier said than done, right? For many of us, the immediacy of our trouble eclipses the greatness of his help, and we are still afraid. Is the peace he promised really meant for today?

Sometimes I think we live so far this side of Pentecost that we’ve forgotten the little Flame. Worse, for many the Indwelling has been reduced to a mere “seal,” a stamp on our ticket that’ll get us into heaven when we die.

How tragic! The omnipotence of God is at our disposal and we are defeated by next month’s bills, a bad medical report, a family crisis. Weak we may be, but whatever happened to the peace that passes understanding? Oh, how we need to recover the hope of glory: Christ in us.

Do you get the strength of this hope, that GOD lives in us? What once separated us from him was defeated at the cross. Jesus died there—wrapped-up-and-laid-in-a-tomb dead. Yet he returned triumphant over death and demons, over world powers and principalities, over sickness and need and despair and every other everything that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.

This triumph is yours through the Indwelling Spirit. Embrace your victory! The peace that Jesus gives, his own peace, doesn’t have anything to do with circumstances. The beautiful truth of the Indwelling is that peace is part of who we are. Therefore we do not lose heart. No matter how often or how hard trouble wallops our life, the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Let’s be done with prayers that amount to nothing more than pleas for comfort and ease. When fears assail you, take them captive. Make them obey Christ. Fill your mind instead with thoughts of better things, things that are good, noble, praiseworthy, excellent, true, right, pure, lovely, admirable. Rejoice always. I’ll say it again, rejoice. Be thankful.

Above all, don’t be like Jerusalem—Jesus’s metaphor for empty religion—who failed to recognize the time of God’s coming. “If only you had known what would bring you peace,” he wept over the city.

Does Jesus weep over you?

Do you know what will bring you peace?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Time to Laugh. A Time to Weep.

(Posted by guest blogger, Lesley Hansen)

“To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven”
-The Byrds

            I find it difficult to recall just one instance in which God made Himself real to me, in which He really made Himself unequivocally known. At first, I despair because I want more than anything for God to be real to me. Then I am reminded that He constantly reveals Himself to me and whether or not I notice, I most certainly forget in short-order.
            Although my subconscious fights to forget all of the emotions and revelations I experienced this past weekend, I must acknowledge that the speaker at the Ladies Retreat had a poignant message that seemed tailored to my concerns as of late.
            The most impactful point, however, was the scientific importance of tears to not only our mental health but to our bodily health as well. Jane Rubietta pointed out, with some vivid stories, that “if you don’t cry, your body will.” It’s not a sign of weakness. It is essential for healing.
            Crying is a stress-release. When you allow tears to fall, with them comes the release of hormones that promote bonding and healing[1]. I have always known that a good cry does me a world of good, but to have scientific support that healing agents are released in tears makes me feel less shame in crying.
            I am not usually a public crier but I also don’t deny that I cry when I need to release pent-up emotions or am just severely exhausted. We push ourselves and tell ourselves to just get through things but if we don’t allow ourselves to feel, our heart begins to die.
            If crying is shameful, why is the Bible so clearly unapologetic and matter-of-fact when it says “Jesus wept”[2]? He wailed and let out a guttural cry. That’s what that phrase means in the original language. There was no shame in it. When Jesus saw Lazarus in the tomb, he let his heart feel pain. Scripture even tells us to “weep with those who weep.”[3] If tears were something to avoid at all cost, why does our authoritative scripture tell us it’s essential?
            God helped me to see this past weekend that holding in tears when I so desperately need to cry will only cause me pain. Being vulnerable is difficult, but sometimes I need to allow others to weep with me. When I am moved, it is okay to cry. I am generally a self-conscious person, but there is “a time to laugh, a time to weep.”[4] I pray that God will help me to recognize and distinguish those times. I pray that I will allow God to heal me instead of me trying to fix it on my own. Tears are a God-given gift in the desert place and I do not ever need to apologize for accepting this gift.

[1] Prolactin and Oxytocin
[2] John 11:35
[3] Romans 12:15
[4] Ecclesiastes 3:4 and Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Joy in the Junkyard?

Constant joy. That’s what my name means. 
But I can’t say life started out that way.

To this Roman Catholic girl, God was a frown-faced judge with an almighty list of sins—MORTAL, Venal and cardinal. Always on the lookout for the slightest misstep, he assigned a guardian angel to “watch over me.” Read, keep track of what I did wrong.

I had no more desire to be seen by the Watchful Eye than he presumably had for my sin-infested soul. I kept the sacraments out of fear of his wrath, not as a means of his grace.

God didn’t love me and he certainly never sent his son to ransom me. The cross served only as a reminder of just how much God hated sinners like me. Since the only person God ever loved was Jesus, his death was all the more terrifying. If God did not spare the son he loved, what horrors lay in store for the likes of me?

Far from being good news, the gospel confused me: God so loved the world that he killed his favorite son. Now when God looks at me, he somehow sees Jesus, so I get to live with him forever.

That, my friends, is what comes of not knowing the Bible.

Long after I began to read God’s Word for myself, I came across 1 Tim 1.11, “the gospel of the happy God.” It felt like the Holy Spirit reached out and poked me in the eye. God is happy? I could not fathom it. Why would a happy God be in such a bad mood all the time?  ALL. THE. TIME.

Yet if God were happy, that changed everything.

Listen, the rest of Scripture provides ample evidence that God is not only essentially glad, he is himself the fountain of joy. True joy not founded on God’s promises but on God’s nature. His own bottomless, unshakeable, unending delight in who he is.

This makes sense. God is good. God is wise. He knows everything. He has unlimited power. He needs nothing. He is sovereign and creative and free. Surprise, surprise, this makes him not wrathful but joyful.

We know this because the life of Jesus—God-in-the-Flesh—was marked by joy not judgment. Anointed with the oil of gladness, his joy was rooted in the eternal presence of God: “You fill me with joy in your presence.” Everyone who met him found more than just a great attitude and good behavior and godly values.

Sinners, far from messing things up for this happy God, provide an opportunity to demonstrate otherwise unknowable aspects of the divine nature, qualities like mercy and grace, faithfulness, love, and peace. Creation may show us what God can do, but redemption shows us who he is.

This God has chosen us and loves us. Intuitively, that should make us “happy all the time,” right? What then do we make of the huge gulf between the joy Christians ought to experience, and our vulnerability to the brokenness in our world?

Of course we want ongoing joy-that-transcends-heartache. We don’t have to be smiling all the time, but  troubles that wipe the smile from our faces shouldn’t steal the joy from our hearts.

Too often they do. Gladness gets lost behind the lessons we’re learning, and the work we’re doing, and the sheer misery of knowing we can never live up to the example of Jesus. Joy may be eternal, we conclude, but our capacity for it is not. How much better if joy were part of our nature rather than a mood we must cultivate!

But isn't that precisely the hope of the Gospel? God has indeed found a way to transmit his boundless joy to the people Jesus died to save. When the Holy Spirit quickens the life of Christ in us, his joy becomes part of who we are.

Jesus promised as much to his disciples. After the cross, after the resurrection and ascension and Pentecost, his own joy would be in them. It would make their joy full because they would have the full measure of his joy within them. And not just them but all who believe in him.

The biblical concept of joy is brightness, a radiance of life as it was meant to be: lived in communion with our Creator. The promise of eternal life is the joy—the glory—of knowing God. Those who have been made righteous shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the light of life. Like a city set on a hill whose light is not hidden, our joy is a beacon to the lost and needy. 

Such joy cannot be dimmed by the stuff of this world. Pain and grief may fill our days but they don’t define our lives. The world is a junkyard and its woes, like grime and grit on long exposed objects, produce a patina of infinite value. 

Neither do we ignore the sorrows and suffering around us. How could we? Love weeps with those who weep. But to ears tuned to divine joy, every heartache also speaks of hope: this junkyard world is not our home.

When every former thing that separates us from God disappears in the radiance of his presence, we will be home. One day, he promises, we will enter the joy of our Master. We will share his joy forever. Constant joy.

Oh, be ye glad. Be ye glad. Be ye glad!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Comments Welcome

For all those of you who've wanted to comment, here is good news.

I love feedback on my writing and have been deprived in the past due to a severe case of DBAS (Differently-Blog-Abled Syndrome). That has been treated, thanks to the kindness of my new best friend, Jeanne Doyon. (Find her at

In honor of the new blog capabilities, I invite you to go through old posts and send a comment on your favorite.

Alternately, comment here with a better name for my syndrome. Surely I'm not the only one who suffers from this disorder. Maybe I'll submit the best suggestion to the DSM.

Jesus: Wild and Crazy Love

Love. Is any topic more talked of in Christianity?
Maybe sin. Maybe the cross. Maybe Jesus himself.
But in the end, they all come down to love.

So what can I say about love that hasn’t already been said? Probably nothing, but like a jewel with many facets, every new angle magnifies its beauty.

The Bible uses an unlikely phrase to describe Christian character: the fruit of the Spirit. Top of the list? Love.

The metaphor of bearing fruit takes us back to Jesus’s words in John 15. He’s the vine. We’re the branches. Only branches attached to the vine bear fruit. No doubt Paul had this in mind when, in writing to the Galatians, he contrasted unsanctified living with Christ-likeness. And the hallmark of sanctification, of Christianity itself, is Jesus’s kind of love.

For Jesus, love isn’t optional or even necessarily pleasurable. He doesn’t ask us to work up some kind thoughts or do some good deeds. He commands love. And the standard he commands is that we love the way he loved. An insane kind of love. Like nothing the world had seen until he waltzed onto its stage.

Sometimes I think I’d have enjoyed being one of his pack. I mean, Jesus was … stimulating. He always had some miracle going. He was an out-of-the-box thinker, especially where religion is concerned. He drove out demons, and calmed storms, and walked on water, for goodness’ sake! How exciting is that? But Jesus was also fun and affectionate, the kind of guy even little kids like to be around.

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure he’d have stretched my comfort zone a bit. Seating four or five thousand for dinner at a time. Getting in the face of the rulers. Traipsing through unclean Samaria. Touching lepers. Hanging with hookers and partying with dregs. Do you realize that at every funeral Jesus attended, he brought the corpse back to life?

I can see why Peter recognized Jesus as the Christ.
And I can see why Peter denied him outside the high priest’s house.

See that night through Peter’s eyes. Imagine the privilege of being invited to pray with the Master. And the disgrace of falling asleep—three times. Into the shame-filled silence of the late night garden comes a mob with clubs and swords. To arrest Jesus!

How could Judas betray Jesus like this? Jesus had only ever treated Judas with fairness and kindness. The same way he treated everybody. Do good to others. Live in peace. Speak the truth. Trust God. Trust Jesus. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Love, love, love.

And, as Judas proved, it just didn’t work.
He could have told Jesus how it would end. The world doesn’t run on love, Jesus. It runs on power and self. But not love. Love that puts others first is weak. In the end, what does it get you except betrayed and dead?

Jesus appeared more than once after rising from the dead, still talking about love. As if loving him and shepherding his sheep, tending his lambs, was going to change the world.

The only day sadder than Good Friday was the day Jesus disappeared into the clouds for the last time. He’d given them their mission, to teach others to keep his command. (There was that thing about love again.) And he’d given them a promise. They just had to wait for the gift from his Father.

Not many days later, it happened. The gift arrived. Filled the place with wind and fire. Set them all uttering divine truth in languages they’d never learned. Incredibly, Peter was able to deliver one of the most finely crafted sermons of all time, in which he articulated the gospel message of salvation in a way that’s yet to be improved on.

If I know Peter, though, the most amazing part wasn’t that he could make fine speeches and persuade others to believe. No, the real miracle was the hope he now possessed. This gift from the Father was power. Power to love. To love like Jesus loved. The love of God had been poured out in their hearts that day.

And hope does not disappoint us. In the 2000 years since Pentecost, that kind of love has changed the world. Christ’s eternal kingdom runs on that kind of love.