In the Darkness

stars in valleyStars shine brightest in the darkest of nights.  Though they are always present, the  brilliance of their ever-glowing light is most visible to us in the midst of darkness.  The bleaker the night sky, the more beauty we see of the stars in the heavens.

The Christian life is much the same way.  Darkness makes way for the light of Christ. Difficulties open the door for God’s power and might to be revealed.  Life is found in death.  Joy is found in sorrow.  God’s riches are uncovered as we become aware of our need.  Grace is discovered in the midst of our sin.  Losses lead to gain.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single  seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35)

“I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:8-9)

God is a Redeemer.  He brings light out of darkness and life out of death.

The entire Christian life from beginning to end follows this pattern of life through death.  That’s why The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions begins with this prayer (may we make it our own today):

Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,

Thou has brought me to the valley of vision,

where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;

hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

that the way down is the way up,

that to be low is to be high,

that the broken heart is the healed heart,

that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

that to have nothing is to possess all,

that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

that to give is to receive,

that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,

and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,

thy life in my death,

thy joy in my sorrow,

the grace in my sin,

thy riches in my poverty,

thy glory in my valley.

God never wastes trials, difficulties, and pain.  If you are in the darkness, He is near to you.  Look up and let the light of Christ Himself shine upon you.

When You Feel Like You’ve Blown It

failed

There are times when we all realize that we’ve messed up.  That we’ve stepped out of line.  That our actions have not been consistent with our core values.  That we’ve sinned.  That we’ve blown it and we’ve failed.

In these moments, we have a choice to make.  We can either wallow in self-pity and try to feel good about feeling bad (a miserable way to live), or we can Remember Jesus Christ and return once again, through him, to the God of all grace and mercy.

In his book The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges quotes a letter written by Mutua Mahiaini, a leader in The Navigators ministry in Kenya, Africa.  In this letter, Mahiaini gives sound advice to those who feel like they’ve blown it:

“Sin grieves God.  We must not down-play the seriousness of it in the life of a believer.  But we must come to terms with the fact that God’s Grace is GREATER THAN ALL OUR SINS.  Repentance is one of the Christian’s highest privileges.  A repentant Christian focuses on God’s mercy and God’s grace.  Any moment in our lives when we bask in God’s mercy and grace is our highest moment.  Higher than when we feel snug in our decent performance and cannot think of anything we need to confess.

Whenever we fail–and fail we will, the Spirit of God will work on us and bring us to the foot of the cross where Jesus carried our failures.  That is potentially a glorious moment.  For we could at that moment accept God’s abundant Mercy and Grace and go forth with nothing to boast of except Christ Himself, or else we struggle with our shame, focusing on that as well as our track record.  We fail because we have shifted our attention from Grace and Mercy.  One who draws on God’s Mercy and Grace is quick to repent, but also slow to sin.”

So, if you feel like you’ve blown it, you are actually experiencing a potentially glorious moment.  At this very moment of weakness and frailty and failure and sin, you can return to God through Christ and experience his abundant mercy and grace.

If you are in Christ, Jesus lived the perfect life that you have failed to live, and that perfect life has been credited to you by grace through faith in him.  Jesus carried your failures.  Jesus paid the penalty you owed for your sins.  Jesus bore the wrath that you deserved.  Jesus rose from the dead for your justification.  And even now, if you confess your sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive you your sins and purify you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

You see your sin and failure, but don’t despair.  Jesus is a friend of sinners and his grace is greater than all of your sin.  Go to him in all your need, and he will receive, forgive, cleanse, and purify you.

“Fourteen Days”

just married

I’m currently within 2 weeks of my 14th anniversary to the most amazing woman I know.

Laura, this one is for you.  I was reminded today of a poem I wrote for you 15 years ago, just 2 weeks before we happily said, “I do!”  I only wish we could have been married earlier.

Along with my salvation in Christ, you are the greatest blessing in my life. Remember this poem?

“Fourteen Days”

In 14 days, we’ll sing his praise,
  as you and I commit our ways, 
to live together for all our days
  in communion and love for our God
 
In just 2 weeks, we’ll end the streaks
   of simply kissing on the cheeks, 
My heart will pound and my knees grow weak, 
   as our lips together touch.
 
How can I tell you how I feel, 
   though emotions inside seem so real, 
And I know you’ve waited so long until,
    we would finally be One?
 
All I think that I can say, 
   is that I watched a bride and groom today,
I watched intently all the way, 
   but my mind was fixed on you.
 
I’ve saved myself for you,
   for what else could I do,
from before time our Lord knew,
    that you would be the One.
 
I wrote to you this poem – 
   it’s simple, but it’s true
All of this is just to say
   that I am deeply in love 
      with you.
photo

Disney, Diversity, and our Final Destiny

Disney Diversity

This week, my family and I had the joy of visiting Disney World while on vacation in Orlando, FL.  This is our fourth trip in recent years, and every time has been a magical experience.

There are aspects of Disney World that make me long for heaven. It’s not the expense (thankfully, our tickets were given to us as gifts this year) or the heat that we endure willingly while standing in long lines awaiting our next adventure.  It’s actually something very positive that makes me particularly long for heaven on these trips.

What strikes me the most nearly every time I visit Disney is the incredible diversity that gathers together in one place for a shared experience.

With a ticket, everyone is welcome.  Everyone is warmly received.  The young and the old.  Men and women.  Boys and girls.  The physically strong and the disabled.  Children and adults of every age, every race, every nation, and every language are all invited to come and to enjoy.  The appeal is universal and the reception is for all who will come. In that sense, it reminds me of heaven.

Heaven will be full of wonderful diversity.  It will be an incredibly colorful place. There will be no cliques. No exclusivity (John 3:16).  No partiality (Acts 10:34).  No favoritism (Rom. 2:11).  No crowds leaving other individuals on the outside-looking-in.  Heaven’s gates are open-wide to any and all who will come through Jesus Christ (John 6:37-40).  Jesus is the way and everyone is welcome who comes through him.

I love the way J.C. Ryle wrote about this in his book A Call To Prayer:

“There is a way by which anyone — however sinful and unworthy — may draw near to God the Father. Jesus Christ has opened that way by the sacrifice he made for us upon the cross. The holiness and justice of God need not frighten sinners and keep them back. Only let them cry to God in the name of Jesus, and they shall find God upon the throne of grace, willing and ready to hear. The name of Jesus is a never-failing passport for our prayers. In that name a person may draw near to God with boldness, and ask with confidence. God has engaged to hear him. Think of this. Is this not an encouragement?”

What encouragement this is!  Anyone can come to God through Jesus.  He is the passport.  He is the ticket.  He is the gate, and ALL are welcome to enter through him regardless of where they have been, what they have done, or where they are coming from.

Yes, heaven will be very diverse and very fascinating to us all.  It will be filled with sinners saved by grace from every nation, tribe, and race who have come to God through Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.  We will enjoy hearing all kinds of different dialects and differing stories about the same Savior who is mighty to save.

Revelation 5 gives us a vision for heaven’s diversity:

“And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

This week, as I’ve beheld a great deal of diversity in Disney, I have been reminded that nothing can compare to the richness and variety we will encounter when we enter heaven’s gates.  In the midst of a sea of unique faces and surrounded by the sounds of different dialects, I once again remember Jesus Christ and long for my final destiny where all voices will unite together in joy to sing his praise!

It Takes Faith to Take a Vacation

oceanside

I have to admit that it can be difficult for me personally to take time off for vacation.

The two primary roles I have held professionally have been in sales and in pastoral ministry.  In my sales career, a great deal of my income has largely been tied to commissions.  I risk losing opportunities every time I leave my desk.  I also have clients (and a team) depending on my efforts.

In pastoral ministry, the work simply never ends. There’s always another message to prepare, event to administrate, or pastoral issue to walk through.  So, for me, taking vacation provides an opportunity to trust the Lord.  I have to remember that God created us to follow a regular rhythm of work and rest (Exodus 20:9-11).

Charles Spurgeon, the nineteenth century London preacher, counseled his students to take an occasional rest from their labors for the purpose of being refreshed.  In Lectures to My Students, he commented,

“He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy…  A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is the next best… The ferns and the rabbits, the streams and the trouts, the fir trees and the squirrels, the primroses and the violets, the farm-yard, the new-mown hay, and the fragrant hops–these are the best medicine for hypochondriacs, the surest tonics for the declining, the best refreshments for the weary…It is wisdom to take an occasional furlough.  In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.  On, on, on for ever, without recreation may suit spirits emancipated from this ‘heavy clay’, but while we are in this tabernacle, we must every now and then cry halt, and serve the Lord by holy inaction and consecrated leisure.  Let no tender conscience doubt the lawfulness of going out of harness for a while.”

This counsel has been so helpful to me over the years.  What I have found is that it is often in the break from regular routines and responsibilities that I (and my family) have received the refreshment needed to continue working hard.

Whether it is a week or a day, far away or in our own backyard, time away from our labors can sharpen the saw and allow us to return to our work rejuvenated and refreshed.  This in the end will be more productive than “on, on, on forever without recreation”.

With this counsel freshly in mind, my family and I are pulling away this week to spend time together in sunny Florida for a week-long family vacation.

I am planning on breathing a mouthful of sea air, enjoying a stiff walk in the wind’s face, and loving every minute with my family.  I’m asking God to tend to my work this week while I tend to my soul and my family (Isaiah 64:4).  I’m trusting that we can serve Him this week with holy inaction and consecrated leisure, and that in the long run we will do more by doing less.

Question:  Do you see the benefits of taking time off for vacation? How have your vacations been particularly helpful in rejuvenating you to return to your regular work refreshed?

Hope for the Discouraged

hope

hope

I battle discouragement.  As long as I can remember, I always have.  Some days, I struggle more than others and some seasons present more difficult daily battles, but the temptation to give in to discouragement has been an ever-present reality in my life for years.

I wonder if you can relate?

Mistakes we’ve made, sins we’ve committed, sins that have been committed against us, and opportunities we’ve lost can all ring loudly as the dominant notes in our ears like a sad song set in a minor key.  On this side of heaven, we can easily become disheartened, dispirited, and cast down.  Things are not all as they should be.

The God of Encouragement  

Yet, there is hope for the disheartened and discouraged.  Our God is “the God of endurance and encouragement” (Romans 15:5).  In the midst of a broken world, God sustains His children.  He speaks and quiets our fears.  He lifts our spirits. He delivers us from the depths of our discouragements.  He fills us with hope.

I can remember one particular, extended season in my life several years ago that was marked by discouragement.  Though people may not have perceived it outwardly, inwardly I was cast down.  I had recently transitioned jobs, and I felt like a complete failure.  I was sad.  I was burdened.  I was lonely.  I was struggling, and I wondered if God could ever use me again.

In my regular reading of Scripture, I stumbled upon the first chapter of Joshua, the account of God commissioning Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land just after the death of Moses.  It is no exaggeration to say that God used these verses to powerfully transform my perspective, deliver me from deep discouragement, and profoundly encourage my soul.

Here’s what I read:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9).

A Gracious Command

It was as if the Lord had gently but firmly grabbed a hold of my shoulders, looked me square in the eye and said, “I know what you are going through, and I am commanding you now to be strong and courageous and to not give in to discouragement and despair.”

A Precious Promise

God could have ended the sentence after giving this gracious command, but he didn’t.  In his kindness, He provided a precious promise powerful enough to deliver us from deep discouragements and despair:

“The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” 

God is with us.  Not only is He with His children.  He is with us wherever we go.  If you are in Christ, the God of all endurance and encouragement is with you right where you are.  He is with you to sustain you, support you, and empower you.

I realized that morning that though my job had changed, God’s presence was continually with me. Richard Sibbes has written, “His presence makes any condition comfortable.” (The Bruised Reed).  In the light of this truth, my entire outlook was instantly changed.  I can remember walking in to my new job that day with a sense of empowerment and purpose and the confidence that where I was, God was there.

God is the God of encouragement.  Discouragements do not come from Him.  He is with you, and He will never leave or forsake you (Heb. 13:5-6). No matter what.  Take all your discouragements directly to Him and the God of encouragement will meet you there.

Question: What Scriptures have been used by God to encourage you the most? How have you been delivered from deep discouragements?

“Thank you, Mommy!”: A Mother’s Day Poem from Grateful Kids

mommy and child

Dear Mommy,

Thank you for your love and care;

No matter what, you’re always there.

Through restless days and sleepless nights,

you give us hugs and calm our frights;

you wipe our eyes and soothe our fears

You fill our lives with hope and cheer.

You feed us, teach us, train and lead us

with grace and joy and great delight,

imparting blessings left and right.

You serve and serve with all your might.

Though sometimes faint, yet always going

your life, your warmth to us is showing:

love for God and for His Word.

Thank you, Mommy,

We’re the happiest kids in the world!”

Happy Mother’s Day!  I know of no other role that demands more energy and brings more blessing than that of a mother.  When you live your entire life in service to others, God takes particular note of your sacrifice.

  • Mark 8:35 “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
  • Proverbs 11:25 “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”

May the one who refreshes others herself be refreshed!  May God Himself refresh you today and every day continually, for His Glory.

You ARE making a difference and we are grateful!