Jesus and Prayer

Jesus and prayer. Many scoff at these during these difficult times, saying they don’t work. However, this is like a person cursing tools because he can’t get a screwdriver to screw in a nail or a hammer to saw through a plank. The problem is not the tools but the one misusing them. 

There is peace, guidance, and even healing for our nation and its citizens; Jesus and prayer are the means by which these can be attained. However, we want to approach Him, the King of the universe, as if He is some waiter still in high school: “Hey buddy, yeah, we’d like riches, cures, and power. Do these and you might get a $5 tip and maybe even a thank you… Oh, and make it quick!” We treat the King like some schmuck, then wonder why we seem to be ignored?

Yet, the Scriptures give us promises for if we are ever really ready to do business:

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. ~ Isaiah 1:18

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. ~ Isaiah 59:2

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. ~ Jeremiah 29:13

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. ~ Psalm 51:17

So much good can happen if we would but go to God with humility and sincerity. Jesus and prayer are not the problems. We are. 

If we would but go to God on His terms, acknowledging our guilt (guilty we are), and truly seeking His face—only heaven knows what incredible blessings would come!

Lose not hope. Instead, let us lose our pride.

Our Refuge

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea. . . . ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’” Psalm 46:1-2
Augustine writes, “Our hearts are restless until we find our rest You.” How often our hearts are restless, uneasy, on edge, and fearful. Just as there are numerous natural phenomena that pose very real threats of destruction (e.g., tornados, floods, hurricanes, fires, etc.), so there are also numerous stressors that pose very real threats of mental and emotional trauma (e.g., loss of loved ones or work, betrayal, marriage conflict, financial debt, etc.). We can feel like we have been pulled into the depths from a riptide, dangerously far from shore. Nevertheless, our God promises to be a refuge for His people. While He will not always immediately take away the storms, He will protect us through them. May we learn to be still before Him, and that in doing so our hearts may experience peace.
~ From the book, Christian Reflections in a Deflecting World

Spring’s Declaration of Our Everlasting Hope

Living in Minnesota, the winters can seem rather long. In fact, some can seem forever. The sky is often gray and dismal, and the temperature biting. “Seasonal depression” is not uncommon here.

March and April can be taunting months. Warm, sunny days and melting snow—then comes another snowfall. Repeat the process. I remember one year this happened several times, and one could sense the irritability in many people (including myself). Although the blustery, lifeless winters would appear to have a stranglehold, spring proves to be victorious as life bursts forth throughout the landscape.

In his book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis tells of the evil white witch who brought perpetual winter to the land of Narnia. Yet, certain citizens (i. e., the Beaver’s) remained steadfast in their hope in Aslan and his promise of the coming spring. Mr. Beaver quotes the ancient rhyme:

“Wrong will be right,
when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar,
sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth,
winter meets its death
And when he shakes his mane,
we shall have spring again.” [1]

Lewis’ series, The Chronicles of Narnia, is an allegorical story of Creation, the Fall, and Redemption. The winter wonderfully portrays the brutal coldness of the witch’s heart, as well as the barrenness and harshness of the ice and snow. These capture well the absolute evil of the adversary (the devil), and the  impoverishing effects of sin: loneliness, guilt, greed, violence, evil, and death. I know Hollywood makes entertainment of these, the education system scoffs at the source of them, and Washington and world leaders make use by exploiting these. Regardless, the reality of these is before us continually.

The situation, indeed, appears hopeless. However, just as the Beaver’s held to the promises of ancient rhymes, we also have ancient promises we can hold onto with confidence.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. ~ Romans 8:18-25

Because of sin, creation was subjected to bondage, corruption, and futility. For centuries, for millennia, creation has been groaning—left to suffer in the ever bitter winter. However, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sunlight has pierced the dreary skies. The temperature is rising, and the snow and ice are melting. Although the winds still bite, the eternal Spring draws ever closer! At that time,

A new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ~ Revelation 21:1-4

Although the devil and wicked men sought, and continue to seek, to silence Jesus, His Gospel continues on and will not stop.

As Lewis writes, in a manner as only he could,

“‘It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards’” [2]

Darkness will continue to try to smother the light; evil will continue to resist the good; and the wicked will continue to persecute the righteous. These would forever perpetuate the winter; however, the light of Christ has already dawned. Even now the ice is melting. Although the blustery, lifeless winter of sin at times seems to have a stranglehold, when Christ returns His Eternal Spring will prove to be victorious as life bursts forth gloriously throughout the landscape—to never succumb to another winter again.

Notes:

[1]  C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1950), 74-75

[2]  Ibid., 159-160.

Heaven (Part 3): R.S.V.P.

Not everyone will enter heaven. What a sad and fearful thought that many church members—even persons of the clergy—will be denied entrance. Jesus says,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” ~ Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

Only those who repent of their sins (each of us have sinned) and believe on Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for our sins. Some will argue this is unfair, but consider the following:

  1. God is perfectly holy and pure. By His very nature and essence  He cannot, and will not, permit sin in His presence and heaven.
  2. Those who love sin would not enjoy heaven. The immoral, nefarious, and maleficent would abhor the absolute purity of heaven. Make no mistake, heaven would not be a paradise for those whose hearts are not changed by the Gospel and Holy Spirit.
  3. Some argue the Gospel is too “exclusive,” but God offers His salvation to every individual, regardless of their age, background, gender, color, or nationality. He will not force anyone to accept, but why would a person not want to?

If a deadly virus began ravaging the world, would you resent hospitals for saying there is only one cure? Would you refuse it because of its exclusivity? Yet, God says the only Cure for our dire spiritual predicament is to believe on His Son Jesus who died for our sins. Many are offended by this, and thus, forfeit heaven and every spiritual blessing that could be their’s in Christ.

Heaven (Part 2): The Beautiful City of Holiness

While a measure of rest can be had in this life, the true rest is in the life to come—heaven. What does the Bible say about heaven?

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ~ Revelation 21:2-4

Heaven will be a beautiful place, like a stunning, breathtaking bride!There will be no suffering, crying, or death. There will no longer be feelings of distance or disconnect from God. There will be no violence, betrayal, corruption, or oppression. There will not be racism. In fact, we are told,

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” ~ Revelation 7:9-10

Heaven (Part 1): The Christian’s Longing

The world mocks the concept of sin; nevertheless, we see and experience its ravaging effects through violence, crime, addictions, betrayal, heartache, loneliness, weariness, sickness, suffering, and ultimately, death.

Life can be very dark and wearisome—even for the people of God. The Scriptures are neither shy nor vague about this. Jesus says,

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” ~ John 16:33

Paul writes:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. ~ 2 Timothy 3:12

Even the people of God can grow weary and discouraged. The author of Hebrews writes to such individuals:

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. ~ Hebrews 10:35-36

Does Truth Matter?

Does truth matter? Is it relative? Can persons genuinely have their own individual truths? These questions initially appear idiotic; however, truth has fallen on hard times. And strangely, many who deny truth or declare it to be “relative” are the very ones who tend to vehemently oppose those who disagree with their views.

Isaiah writes:

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. ~ Isaiah 59:14 (ESV)

Earlier he writes:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! ~ Isaiah 5:20-21

C. S. Lewis notes,

“If no set of moral ideas were true or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilised [sic] morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality. In fact, of course, we all do believe that some moralities are better than others.” Lewis goes on to explain, “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.” [1]

Apart from truth we cannot truly have justice, order, structure, or a foundation. Apart from truth we are left with opinions, illusions, chaos, lawlessness (anarchy), oppression, and insanity. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). This can put persons in very dangerous and costly predicaments.

This is, in part, why our societies are in such a mess. We have ideologies based on desire but not logic; we have opinions based on feelings—fueled by emotions—but not necessarily on reason. As if these are not bad enough, the graver consequence is the loss of ourselves—our real self, our true identity, and our deeper meaning.

Jesus asks:

For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? ~ Luke 9:25

Elsewhere, He says:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! ~ Matthew 6:21-23

If one’s eye is healthy (desirous for what is true and good), a person will be filled with light (truth). But if a person’s eye is unhealthy (desirous of what is temporal, corrupt, false), then a person will be filled with darkness (falsehood, deception)—and how terrible that darkness is!

Ours is a world filled with passions, greed, and lusts. Because of the insatiable covetousness and cravings, people do horrible things to try to satisfy these longings. As a result, our world is also filled with unpleasant consequences: abuse, wounds, scars, guilt, shame, confusion, brokenness, and fear. Yet, these are not what we were created to be; these are not our identities—at least, not the original intentions of who we were to be.

But what is truth? Pilate had asked Jesus this question:

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. ~ John 18:36-38

The text implies Pilate did not really care what truth is—just as many do not care today. What matters is their ability to fuel their drives and succumb to their pleasures. What relevance, then, does truth have?

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. ~ Romans 1:18-19

So, what is truth? Jesus states plainly:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. ~ John 14:6

Sanctify them in the truth; your [the Father] word is truth. ~ John 17:17

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” ~ Matthew 5:17-18

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. ~ Matthew 24:35

These are astonishing statements. Jesus is not simply saying He speaks truth, but that He is the very essence of truth. He is stating that the Father’s Word (the Scriptures) are truth. He is declaring emphatically that the Scriptures and what He says are absolutely reliable. For those who profess to be Christians (i.e., followers of Christ) but accuse the Scriptures as containing error do not realize the inconsistency of their supposed faith. The very God and Savior they claim to believe in had complete confidence in the Scriptures; in fact, the very Scriptures they cast doubt on are the very ones He declares, “it is they that bear witness about me” (see John 5:39).

At the close of His sermon on the mount, Jesus says,

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” ~ Matthew 7:24-27

Do you realize what He is saying? He is declaring with authority His teachings are foundational, giving stability and structure. It is important to note that many recognize Jesus teaches a lot about love; however, often persons use this as a license and condoning of immorality and unrighteousness. The love Jesus teaches us does have perimeters.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 (emphasis added)

Similarly, throughout Scripture truth and wisdom go hand in hand. James, contrasting worldly wisdom from wisdom from above, writes:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. ~ James 3:13-17 (emphases added)

So, does truth matter? More than we can even begin to imagine. As long as people continue to suppress the truth (see Romans 1:18-32) in order to pander to desires, mythologizing it and declaring it as “relative,” and speaking such foolishness that persons can have their “own truth,” our societies will continue spiraling downward into mayhem. Even worse, continuing to stumble in complete darkness while never realizing they are in the dark.


Notes:

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1952),11.

Weak, Mighty Warrior

We people are a paradox: we are quite fragile, as mere words can cut us to the core; yet, we can be strong and resilient, rising up from circumstances that can otherwise be crushing.

This day, my friend, your night might be long, but know that morning will come and the sun will again shine upon you. Your winter might seem eternally cold, but your spring will again come with its warmth and beauty.

You might feel weak, as though you cannot go on—but you can, you must! Allow your storm to soften the ground so you can grow deeper roots. Sway along with the winds, yet allow them to strengthen your branches.

All pain hurts (physical, emotional, etc.), but none define. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ, even while you hurt, and He will not waste your pain, tears, or even your failures. As you are wounded, you will be strengthened. As you heal, you will be as healing to others. As you forgive, you will find freedom. As you recognize you are weak, you will also find that, in Christ, you are strong.

But [the Lord] 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

Be encouraged, Warrior, you are weak, but you are incredibly strong!