Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sons in their Father's presence

Check out the picture on the left, that's me in my soccer picture at age 7. The picture on the right is my son AJ in his soccer picture at the same age (last year).

Tonight I came close to being one of those colossal jerk dads who get mad at their child for not performing well on the soccer field (or whatever field you use to live vicariously through your child).

I dropped AJ off for his practice then drove quickly to Dick's Sporting goods to get him a pair of cleats that fit properly. Last week, before his first practice, he was complaining that his "school" shoes were too tight, so I got him cleats a size bigger than his school shoes. They were too big. I didn't notice until tonight when I tightened them up before practice and could feel a huge space between his big toe and the end of the shoe. The poor kid was tripping on himself. So I ran to Dick's to get him a pair that will fit before his game on Saturday.

When I returned to catch the last part of his practice, I noticed he wasn't hustling as much as I'd like to see him hustle. I had this little twinge of frustration with his half-hearted demeanor. I could tell the clod-hopper's he was wearing, thanks to me, were bothering him, but still, when you lose the ball- get it back for crying out loud! I played soccer my whole life up through college and have coached for many years since. I realize the potential to be a real jerk to my boys trying to make them in to the next Ronaldinho (if you don't know who he is, I pity you).

So, as I stood there thinking of how I would verbally scold him for his lack of effort and concentration, I was flooded with reminders of promises I have repeatedly made to not cause my son to shrink at my presence but rather welcome me with confidence and security. I have to tell you, it's tough and I don't always succeed.

I'm reminded of a precious passage in 1 John-

1 John 2:28-29 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.

Because of my standing in Christ and my personal relationship with Him (abiding in Him), I need not shrink away from God, but rather I can welcome being in His presence with confidence and security. I need not be sheepish, ashamed, or scared. God has not verbally mauled or abused me, instead, He gave His own Son for me. The more time I spend with Him, the more comfortable I get in His presence.

Right after college I was a volunteer youth leader at our church. There was a particular father and a son who I was close with. For several years the father didn’t spend much time with his son as he was always busy. The son got in to trouble at school and called me to help him. I immediately asked if he had told his father about his trouble. The son told me he was scared of his father. He was scared of his father because he hardly knew him. They spent no time together and therefore did not have a good relationship. It was sad how this son could not approach his father with confidence. I was able to talk with the father and tell him that I thought he needed to spend more time with his son. The father adjusted his schedule to spend more time with his son. Their relationship began to improve greatly.

My observation is this- the more time the father and the son spent together, the more they grew to know each other. For the son, he grew to understand his father’s love for him. He grew secure in his father’s acceptance of him and love for him. At one time, not really knowing his father well, he was terrified at confessing his faults and shortcomings to his father. Now, with a new connection having been established, he was open and transparent with his dad. In fact, he had fewer instances where reprimand was needed.

Bottom line-I can approach my Father in heaven with confidence because Jesus Christ has given me access to Him! Secondarily, and back to my son and me- I really believe his concept of God is heavily shaped by our relationship. If I make it a practice of shaming, scolding, and castigating him when he screws up, what will that do to his concept of His heavenly father?

But, what about all my mess-ups? I've thought allot about that since I'm no expert on fathering. I think my mess-ups (a.k.a SINS) against him and my other boys can be used by God to help them in their spiritual formation so long as I demonstrate honesty, confession, and repentance when I blow it. I've had to ask my boys to forgive me on several occasions. Here's the key as I see it- I can't just ask their forgiveness and go on repeating the cycle of sin- I have also asked them to help hold me accountable to not continue repeating these sins. It's a powerful thing when your 8 year old becomes an agent of sanctification in your life by holding you accountable to not sin! Of course, I also commit to doing the same for them.

Anyways, where was I? Oh yes- I came real close to a major mess up with my boy tonight. Instead, after a few pivotal moments when he came off the field, the Lord allowed me to calmly challenge him to work harder at the next practice, etc, etc on the ride home.

He probably won't be the next Ronaldihno, but he's a great boy who ought never shrink in my presence.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The beach, fruity drinks, Mayan ruins, and a sweet VW Beetle with my Babe in Cozumel!

Shari and I spent Friday to Monday in Cozumel, Mexico. We bought one of those "all inclusive" vacation packages with a simple goal of spending some special time alone together doing absolutely nothing. I am happy to report, God blessed our trip by graciously granting us these things. It was one of the best times we've had together. The days, years, and months really do get better with Shari. What a helpmate!
Besides the wonderful fellowship I enjoyed with my better half, here are some other highlights-
1. Great times of relaxation, sitting by pool or beach reading books, swimming, and being served various Mexican "fruity drinks".
2. Exploring various beaches. Wow, the wonder of God's creation! We collected tons of shells for the boys, saw a cool sea crab, a bunch of fish, etc. etc.
3. Traversing the island in our rented 1960ish VW Beetle. It was a total junker, but very cool and bearing much "character". We fit right in with the Mexican culture driving that thing around. We laughed every time I started it up.
4. Striking deals at the market was an unexpected surprise for me. I actually like shopping in Mexico because it's filled with surprises. Price tags mean nothing. Make an offer! We failed to find the boys luchador masks, we'll have to try again some time.
5. Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey- that's all I have to say.
6. The food was very authentically Mexican, which tends to be less spicy than the American variety. I like that, because I really don't like American Mexican food that much. Please note above, however, I was able to find my favorite delicacy, whether it be in Mexico or the U.S.- the mighty hamburguesa...the chorizo omellettes were great also.
7. The Village People impersonation done by the hotel entertainment was memorable and interesting. The Indian freaked me out though. I'm glad the 70's are way over.
8. The Ponta Sur national park was very interesting. It had a lagoon observation area where you could get very close to free ranging crocodiles. We got good pictures of several big boys. Shari also got me to climb up in to a very tall, free-standing observation tower, I'm not a fan of heights.
9. The Mayan ruins at Ponta Sur are one of three major Mayan temple archaeological sites on Cozumel. Seeing such things saddens me a bit- to think of people so devoid of knowledge of the Savior- to the point they sacrificed their children- grieves me. Then again, I'm not sure our society is really that different, when you think about it.
10. The lighthouse at Ponta Sur was built in the 1950's. I'm guessing it's 10 stories high or more. Shari and I climbed to the top and took the picture you see above. The island is flat and densely covered with low-lying jungle. We could see a good portion of the island from this structure. Very beautiful.
There are many other things to do in Cozumel, however, we purposely stayed relaxed and slow moving- something I do not do well under normal circumstances. With the exception of some nasty sunburn, it was a perfect trip. It made me realize, once again, how I need to slow down at times, especially to enjoy the company of my best friend Shari. We're not going to wait another 14 years to do something like this. I praise God for this great time.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Be sure to get your dog bite insurance

As I have been humorously exposing the ugly underbelly of the dog-owning, dog-loving community, I've found some things kind of scary.

Check out the language used by a legal advice website encouraging owners to be heavily insured:

Every dog owner needs to have homeowner insurance or renters insurance that (a) provides coverage for, and does not exclude, injuries inflicted by dogs or animals in general, and (b) has a limit of at least $100,000 for personal liability. This type of insurance will enable the dog owner's insurance company to pay an appropriate amount of compensation for all but the most severe accidents caused by a dog. Because the dog owner's own relatives, friends and neighbors are the most likely victims of a possible dog attack, having insurance means protecting the people who are closest to the dog owner, thereby protecting valuable relationships and ensuring proper treatment of loved ones. Given the fact that a dog is most likely to bite someone whom the dog owner loves most, it is recommended that dog owners have higher limits, such as $1 million, through either their homeowners and renters policies or by an "umbrella" policy. It is very inexpensive to obtain an umbrella policy.

Every dog owner is exposed to possible liability for dog bites and other canine-inflicted injuries. Dogs bite nearly five million Americans every year, children are the victims of the most serious attacks, and the annual losses equal approximately $1 Billion. These losses do not have to be borne by the dog owners and victims, because insurance is available to pay for it.

The good news for dog owners, accident victims and society is that homeowners insurance and renters insurance normally provide at least $100,000.00 in benefits for victims.

Well that just makes me feel safer regarding all the huge, under-contained, dogs in my subdivision! They're more likely to maul, maim, or injure the loved one's of their owner rather than me or my family. Phew!

....Good to be back!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Relaxing in Mexico with my bride...

My wife and I are in our 14th year of marriage and we've never been on a vacation alone together, unless you count the three nights we spent in Oklahoma City for our honeymoon (don't knock it, the Cowboy Hall of Fame is a must see). Even the family vacations we have taken have been to one of our parents house (my parents lived in Western New York until this past Fall).

Frankly, we never could afford anything very elaborate before now (you wouldn't believe how much you can get for a kidney on the black market! Relax- I still have one left). We're excited to go. My wife is a great relaxer and vacationer. I am not. I really have a hard time unwinding. I've been psyching myself to relax so I'm not a drag to be with. We only have three nights and four days, but it will be in Cozumel, Mexico. From all I hear, it's the perfect place to decompress and just putz around. That's what I need. No wireless phone, no email, no nothing. I am going to bring a couple books I've wanted to read, hit the beach (if you hear of any beached whale alerts in the could just be me they're seeing...), snorkel the reefs, ride scooters around the Island, eat Mexican food, partake of Mexican drink, and just enjoy hanging with my best friend Shari.

So, I'll be out the loop for a few days. I'll talk at you when I get back.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

How should I feel?

On Monday the world witnessed America's worst shooting massacre to date. Such violent events evoke many feelings in us. I struggle with how I should feel as a Christian.

Emotions are one of the most enigmatic traits of humanity. I am always contemplating and analyzing why I feel the way I do. In some way, this terrible act of violence shows where emotions go when they are sinful and out of check. The man who apparently committed these murders is a case and point- his sinful emotions led to further, greater, heinous sin.

Is it possible for anyone to go down the same path emotionally? What about for me as a Christian? I have sinful emotions also, what stops me from compounding that sin by adding violence?

This recent episode at Virginia Tech raises such questions in my mind. Emotions and passions are a difficult thing to control for us human beings. For all I know about guarding my emotions, I have to admit, when I turned on the TV to see the report out of Virginia, I was filled with all sorts of mixed, indescribable feelings. Shock, anger, grief, revenge and sympathy came at differing levels depending on what report I was reading or viewing. I remember thinking how cowardly this man was, to do what he did and to then take his own life instead of facing the hundreds of people he violated by murdering their loved ones. I confess in my sinful flesh I initially felt he should have somehow been kept alive and made to undergo the psychological torture of watching the funerals, seeing parents and friends mourn, hearing bereaved siblings wail, experience the societal outrage against him, then die himself in an electric chair or worse.

Did I really feel and think these things?

Wow. The blackness of my heart is revealed under seemingly "just" circumstances.

In such times, I must go to God's Word for guidance. If my emotions are not held in proper check, they can translate to sinful actions on my part thus compounding the sins committed by the murderer. I am not suggesting we should ignore or even suppress our emotions, but rather to be sure our thoughts are discerning (according to God's Word) so that sinful emotions can be confronted and repented of.

The book of Proverbs has much to say regarding allowing our emotions to take reign over our actions- Proverbs 19:11 The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression. The book of James also speaks to our emotions at such a time as this James 1:19-20 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

Ever since Cain killed Abel, we have witnessed sinful human conflict after sinful human conflict. We should be alarmed by the heinous nature of sin and what it leads people to do, but our day is no more grievous in the volume of sin than in times past. Note what Spurgeon said in his day, the late 1800’s-

"These are said to be very horrible times- they always were ever I have known anything of the world, and I suppose they always were in our fathers’ time. We are always at a crisis according to some people. I am not about to defend the times; they are, no doubt, very bad, for the innumerable spirits of evil are bold and active, while good men seem to have lost their courage. We find amalgamations and compromises ad infinitum, and the precious truth of God is trodden as the mire of the streets."

As awful as the events of this week were, times have not really changed that much. Sin still rears its head and manifests itself in people. Every era has witnessed similar or worse such attacks. We live in a fallen world where evil is to be expected. Therefore, as Christians, we must interpret disastrous events through biblical lenses while being vigilant to guard against sinful emotions that rise up in such times. This is what I am committing to prayer during these days of manifold graphic images coming out of Virginia.

What emotions are biblically proper for me, in light of such an event? There is an image of Christ that comes to my mind when I struggle with how to "feel" about something so horrific as the massacre at Virginia Tech. It is Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus his beloved friend. Why would Jesus weep at the death of his friend when he was there to raise him again? I believe Jesus wept because of the gravity of human sin. Sin is what killed his friend. Frankly, He knew Lazarus would die again. The weight of broken humanity moved the Savior to cry. It moved the God of the universe to tears when He considered the full scope of man’s rebellion shown vividly in death.

We ought to look at the images of blood-stained sidewalks on the campus of Virginia Tech and weep. We ought to look upon the rubble across this war-torn, sinful world, and weep. Weep for the sin. Weep for those who are dying of disease and famine. Weep for the unborn who die on the altar of convenience each day. Weep for the oppressed and suffering. We ought to weep over death and misery the world over because of human sin and depravity.

I am sure much will be written and spoken regarding the events of this historic week, for me, as I consider the awful events that transpired Monday, I am moved to be wary of my emotions and where they could lead me. My primary emotion at this time should be grief. Grief over man's fallen state and the sin which produces such calamities. Grief rightly produces weeping. My weeping should be like that of Jesus, the Son of God. He looked upon fallen man, a mere shadow of what he should have been, and wept.

There is a time to grieve, no doubt. Still, I am overjoyed that Jesus didn't stop with His weeping. He raised Lazarus, then went to Jerusalem to die for Him. The experience of earthly grief is real, however, the eternal joy that comes from knowing Christ puts such events in to some kind of perspective making them bearable.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Marketplace Spirituality- RPC 2007 Men's Retreat

Our church had a great men's retreat this past Friday eve and Saturday morning. Other than being too short, it was a very profitable 16 hours. My good friend Patric Knaak (Gospel Resources Coordinator with World Harvest Mission)shared his biblically based thoughts about how our jobs are supposed to make us more like Jesus. The consistent theme running through his teaching was how the gospel applies to every area of our lives, especially including our careers. Attached to this reality is the gracious progression of sin, cross, and redemption. Here's some highlights from each of the three sessions:

Session One: Our Sin and Our Careers

Using Isaiah 44:6-22, Patric noted how idolatry is like feasting on ashes. Sounds awful to begin with, but eventually it becomes "normal". Feasting on ashes causes us to grow malnourished, emaciated, and eventually die. The Isaiah passage vividly depicts the foolishness of worshiping idols-

Isaiah 44:17-22 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!" [18] They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. [19] No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, "Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?" [20] He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?" [21] Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. [22] I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.

In order to view our jobs rightly, we have to acknowledge our propensity toward idolatry. We may not make actual carved statues to worship, but we certainly tend toward worshiping things that are not God- which is idolatry. Patric noted that idols lead us to false worship, distort our reality, and enslave our affections. The Isaiah passage depicts idols which are wood, metal, and stone. They represent things that will supposedly give comfort, control, security, etc. Obviously these are false gods and lead to heartache, despair, and hardship. Idols for us could be our career, money, education, reputation, or accomplishments. In the same way wooden idols are worshiped and relied upon, so also are these modern idols tempting us to give devotion to them.

Very importantly, Patric pointed out that idols are not in themselves evil, but are made so by our misplaced affections toward them. As a working definition,

"Idols are good and basic things which have been elevated to being ultimate things, leading to false worship, distorted views of reality, and enslaved affections."

He delineated between Surface idols and Deep idols so as to show us what drives our actions. Surface idols include our reputation, salary, influence, title, authority, lifestyle, etc. Deep idols (that which drives pursuit of surface idols) are comfort, control, security, success, and approval. Instead of mastering these things, they have the ability to master us. That's what idols do. When we believe that things, rather than the One True, Living God will make us happy, we are in serious peril.

Session Two: The Cross and Our Careers

Continuing the "Cross" part of the "Sin-Cross-Redemption" continuum, Patric addressed our sin problem with our only sure hope- the cross of Christ for me. Here Patric sited Romans 5-

Romans 5:6-11 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7] For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— [8] but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [9] Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. [11] More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Paul is telling us that God's love for us is so great, so strong, so overwhelming that when we were still his enemies, still rebellious, orphaned children who would not and could not respond to his love, that it is precisely here that God chose to pay the price for our sins! Further, Christ has paid for all our sins, past, present, and future. Not just my sins up until I became a Christian- all of my sins, for all of my life! Patric noted the three key aspects of Christ's work on our behalf- First, His love for us. Second, His forgiveness of our sins. Third, His righteousness given to us.

When our perspective is reoriented in light of what God has provided by the cross of Christ, our jobs and other things take their proper place, they cease to be idols. They remain "good and basic" things. In light of the cross, we are able to look at ourselves, our jobs, and our identity in a whole new way. Patric closed this session with a profound statement- Without a clear understanding of what has been accomplished for you on the cross, our idols will always seem to provide more for us than God.

Session Three- Our New Identities and Our Career

Our chief sin is idolatry. Our sin is met totally by Christ's work on the cross for us. This means redemption can be applied in all areas of our lives, especially our careers. Patric asked a few provocative questions:

1. Do you think God wants you to be successful at your job?

2. Do you think He wants you to be a winner? get promotions? make more money? Become well known in your work place?

3. What are the best things we can ask for from God when it comes to our jobs?

4. What is it that Jesus would want us to ask for, for ourselves?

The answer to these questions can be stated this way- The very best thing that God could do for you- and is in fact doing for you even now- is to make you perfectly like Christ. One of the primary means that he is using to accomplish this is through your career. Patric sited a poignant passage of Scripture-

Philippians 3:7-11 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. [8] Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ [9] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— [10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, [11] that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Christ-likeness for the glory of God is the goal of redemption. God uses our jobs to accomplish this. What does being more like Jesus mean? Simply put, it includes being secure as sons of God. Being more like Jesus also includes total dependence on the Father. Further, being like Jesus means loving others in such a way that they can clearly see how much God loves us and what He has done for us in Christ.

Perhaps the most valuable teaching came in Patric's final a word on the tools God uses to accomplish Christ-likeness in our lives. God will use several tools to make us more like Jesus. He uses the tool of success. If success will make us grow closer to Him, He'll use it as a sanctifying tool in our lives. He also uses the tool of failure! If causing us to fail in our job will make us grow closer to Him, trust Him more, be more like Him, then He does want us to be a failure!

Final Applications:

* Understand that every success in our work and every setback has the possibility-humanly speaking- to bring us closer to God or to push us farther away.

*God is zealously pursuing a program of spiritual formation in our lives. Everything-especially our jobs- is something He desires to use to make us more like Christ.

*Begin to look for God's "fingerprints" to determine what He is trying to teach us. Success and failure in our jobs are tools God will use equally.

*When it comes to our careers, it isn't all about you! God has cleverly camouflaged you as a workman, engineer, salesman, lawyer, manager, etc. so you can reach those around you with the gospel.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Always Reforming

A couple of years ago we (Redeemer) started running some short spots on the radio (KCCV 92.3) in order to provoke the thinking of our evangelical brothers and sisters, in light of modern trends and practices. We still run these spots regularly (3-4 times daily) and get lots of interested feedback. Here are some of the first ones I crafted-

While church membership is reportedly increasing, the influence of the Church on culture seems to be fading. Just turn on the TV or read the paper to see the downward flow of culture. God’s intended Salt and Light is not having it’s cleansing effect. Our Culture needs transformation…Reformation in the Church is the answer. The pressing obligation for the Church in our day is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him. When our view of God rises to it’s proper echelon, it will have a supernatural purifying effect on our culture. Let us agree with James Renwick who wrote- There have been great and glorious days of the gospel in this land; but they have been small in comparison of what shall be.

Worship ought to reflect our belief that the church, which Jesus builds, spans the ages and is universal, bringing many different histories and nationalities into one new family. In an age of historical amnesia, worship liturgy must have a memory. It should not be odd to be sing what was originally an ancient Hebrew Psalm, a sixth-century Gregorian chant, a sixteenth-century German anthem, an eighteenth-century English hymn, a nineteenth-century African spiritual or a recent American melody. It is wise to join our spiritual forefathers by reciting the great creeds of the church, such as the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds. These historic worship expressions remind us that we walk a path which others have walked. Our faith is their faith. Our hope is their hope. Our God is their God.

We must guard against the “chronological snobbery” of our day which tends to dismiss many of the historic forms of worship delivered to us by our spiritual forefathers. I have heard some worship planners criticize what they perceive to be thoughtless, irrelevant, empty tradition in worship liturgy. They suggest that the church should be clever and innovative, able to capture people’s attention with something “relevant.” At Redeemer, we would share a similar criticism against thoughtless tradition. However, the problem with thoughtless tradition is not necessarily the tradition but the thoughtlessness. A helpful distinction is made by Jaroslav Pelikan who writes, “Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living; tradition is the living faith of the dead.”

Church members or visitors are not customers to the church, any more than family members or children are customers to their respective families. The Church is not a business, it’s a family. The Church is a service organization, not a sales organization. The purpose of the Church is not really to serve it’s members but to serve Jesus Christ.

Rather than changing the church to make it relevant to the world of “seekers,” we ought to be aiming to make seekers relevant to the world of God. It should be our desire for strangers who come into our assembly to conclude, “God is certainly among you.” As God wills, God-centered worship causes the seeker “to fall on his face and worship God”.

When we gather each Lord’s Day in congregational worship we are responding to an ancient invitation from the Holy Scriptures: “Come, taste and see that the Lord is good”. As we worship together each Lord’s Day, God comes near to us; we come near to him. We gather together out of a hunger and thirst for God. He comes near to feed and satisfy us.

Central to becoming truly human is recognizing our dependence upon God. Our most basic posture before God is one of need. We need forgiveness, direction, spiritual food and strength for living. The good news we hear each week is that God is wildly extravagant about giving to us. He has given us His very own Son- the Lord Jesus!

At times today the church looks like a circus aimed at entertaining people with slick technology, quippy sermonettes, and pop music. At times the church looks like a lecture hall where a talking head aims at cramming information. These things obscure the more awesome spectacle of an assembly of saints summonsed into the presence of the living God.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Lord Stanley's Cup- the chase starts Wednesday

It's the time of year hockey fans love most, the two-month marathon that culminates with one victorious team hoisting the Stanley Cup, the most difficult team trophy to win. To claim the cup, a team must win 20 games (four best of seven series).

No other sport playoff structure is as grueling as the path to winning Lord Stanley's Cup. Hockey players are the toughest athletes on earth, so it stands to reason they would have the most challenging path to the championship.

This year's playoffs are particularly exciting to me, a long time fan of the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo is a small-city, by major professional sports standards, and it has been declining economically for several years. The job situation there is tough and more people are moving out than moving in. Still, there are no fans like Buffalo fans. Period. Buffalo fans have endured losing seasons (mostly the Bills, the Sabres have always fielded competitive teams, only missing the playoffs a handful of times in their 37 year history), lost championship chances (four for the Bills, two for the Sabres, and all sorts of bad calls to rub it in (ask someone from Buffalo what "no goal" or "The Immaculate Deception" refers to). Despite this, in the April 9, 2007 issue of ESPN the Magazine, the Buffalo Sabres ranked first of 122 major professional sports franchises in North America. Buffalo was cited for its player accessability, low ticket prices, and exciting brand of hockey.
Buffalo came very close to making the Stanley Cup Finals last season. They lost to the eventual Cup winners, Carolina, in the seventh game of a grueling series. Buffalo had four of their regular defensemen out for that series, there is no doubt they would have won if at full strength. They began this new season with a chip on their shoulder. They were out to prove last year was no fluke- and prove it they did. This entire year has seemed like a march to the Stanley Cup for Buffalo fans. The Sabres amassed the best record in the NHL and have home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. They have ferocious speed and a full, healthy line up going in to the opening series against the NY Islanders. Everything points to a run to the finals and their first Stanley Cup.

Still, when you're from Buffalo, you know not to celebrate early.

No child deserves this...

Totally nasty...what parent would allow such an attack?

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The bottom line

What is thy only comfort in life and death?

That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

What does the "resurrection" of Christ profit us?

First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, that he might make us partakers of that righteousness which he had purchased for us by his death; secondly, we are also by his power raised up to a new life; and lastly, the resurrection of Christ is a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.

-Heidelberg Catechism Questions/Answers #1 & 45

Friday, April 6, 2007

God made a commitment to never let me go

Since my thrice-Holy, sovereign God committed to bring glory to Himself by redeeming sinful men and women, it makes logical sense that He will never allow the redeemed to be "unredeemed". Since God committed to saving me before the foundation of the world, it is logical, for the display of His own glory, that He will remain true and not let me go. Since God demonstrated His commitment to save me by the work of Christ on the Cross, He would not discredit that perfect work by allowing or causing me to fall away from His grace.

There is no greater encouragement to obey God's Word than His promise to never leave us or forsake us. Jude's beautiful doxological statement to end his epistle captures the essence of the matter-

Jude 1:24-25 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

It takes great ability to make the heavens and the earth.
It takes great ability to create all the fish of the sea, birds of the air, plants of the earth, and the creeping things.
It takes great ability to create man in His image.
It takes great ability to be patient with Man in all His rebellion.
It takes great ability to bring forth a nation in order to bring forth a Savior who will redeem His people.
It takes great ability in all the events that took place in forming that nation- miracles of physical redemption, miracles of personal intervention, great act after great act.
It takes great ability to send His only begotten Son to die for us.
It takes great ability to raise Him again on the Third day.

All the various acts of God reveal a glorious and great God who is able to do all these things- but let me tell you what ability impresses me most personally- it is the ability of God the Father to take a lying, gluttonous, idolatrous, arrogant, prideful, lustful, wicked, rebellious, sinner like me and present me on the great and glorious day of the Lord Jesus’ appearing as one who is BLAMELESS. Yes! Me! He will present me blameless. I will be able to stand in my Father’s presence without doubt, without fear, without shame for all my many sins! All because of Christ's death for me! I’m impressed by God’s manifold abilities as expressed in creation and redemption, but nothing strikes me more personally than His ability to present me blameless in front of Him and all the heavenly hosts!

I look forward to Easter Sunday, but for now, on "Good" Friday, I will continue to reflect on the glory and grace of Christ's work on the cross for me.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

God made a commitment to do what is necessary to save me

Continuing to consider the commitment of the cross, I am staggered by God's willingness to do what must be done for a wretched sinner like me to be redeemed.

It was necessary, for my redemption and yours, that Jesus die for us. Many have rejected Christianity because of the bloodiness of the cross. They say there was no reason for the cross. They claim there could have been another way. In essence they are suggesting God really had the choice to forgive Adam, the first human sinner, for His disobedience. He didn't have to mandate Adam's spiritual death because of sin. He could have just said, "Awww... never mind, It's alright, I forgive you".

Genesis 2 & 3 help to reveal why Christ's death was the only way to save me and you.

Genesis 2:15-17 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."

Genesis 3:4-13 But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. [5] For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." [6] So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. [7] Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. [8] And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. [9] But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" [10] And he said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself." [11] He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" [12] The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." [13] Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

God makes a prohibition against eating from the tree. He declares that eating from the tree is sin. He has attached His authority to this prohibition. He is clear, the consequence for eating from the tree is spiritual death. Satan comes along and convinces Adam and Eve that God was lying. He says "you will not surely die". He further tells them they will be like God if they eat. By eating the fruit, they essentially state-"We are God, we will do what we want". In human terms, what choice does God have at this point? If He simply overlooks the sin or forgives the sin, taking the offense against himself with no reciprocity, in essence He ceases to be God. It is like the child who is told not to touch the glass. When the child defiantly touches the glass the parent relents. The child takes the place of the parent. The child controls the situation. If God simply overlooks the violation of His will He has allowed creature to author the rules. It would mean He is no God at all and His justice means nothing. To make matters worse, if God simply overlooks Adam's sin, He would have proven the serpent right. Because a Sovereign God was manipulated by the creature, He would no longer be God. In fact, the creature becomes God and fulfills Satan's promise to Eve- "you will be like God". Eating from the tree was a direct attack on God's Holy and Just character by Satan himself and Man allowed Satan to use him. For God to remain God, He could not simply overlook Adam's sin, He must judge and punish it- for the protection and promotion of His own Glory.

So, what does the cross have to do with all this? Well, as you think about the situation, there really was only one way to save human beings (Adam, Eve and their progeny). Redemption was only possible through the atoning death of a worthy substitute.

You see, there is another matter wrapped up in the sin of Adam that has passed to us. When Adam rebelled against God He personally attacked the character of God. Assault against God's character must always met equally with His Holy wrath. God's wrath is holy as it stands in direct opposition to sin. For all the sin there is, there has to be an equal amount of God's wrath poured out on that sin for God to be God. This meant that two things must happen to save us:

1. There would have to be a representative man (it would take a like substitute, not an angel or an animal, but a fellow human being) who would fulfill God's moral will, where Adam fell.

2. God's wrath for the sin of those who would be saved must be poured out on that perfect substitute.

Wonderfully, and to show the long-time commitment of God to save me (and you, who trust in Christ, by God's grace), God reveals how He would accomplish my (our) salvation directly on the heels of the text that records the fall of Adam, our first representative-

Genesis 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."

God would provide a man (to be perfect, after Adam's fall, He would have to be the "God-man") to crush the devil, yet in doing so, He would sustain injury. This is the lucid imagery of stepping on a snakes head. The snake might bite and injure you, however, you could drive your heel down and crush his head to kill him. This is what Jesus did for me on the cross! He sustained definite injury (some might say permanent injury, since He still bears the nail prints, etc.), yet defeats Satan by satisfying God's wrath- crushing his head on Calvary.

God could have simply condemned the human race to hell and poured out his wrath on them. We all deserve just that. Instead, despite all that it would require of Him, He agreed to go the only redemptive route He could, and still remain God- He sent his Son to live the life I could never live and endure the wrath I should have received. God made a commitment to saving me and do what is necessary to accomplish this. The evidence of His commitment is Jesus nailed to the Cross. When Jesus says "into thy hands I commit thy spirit", I must not lose sight of all that God has committed to regarding His glory and my redemption.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

God made a commitment to save me before the foundation of the world!

In preparation for Easter, I am meditating on this glorious Scriptural truth- before time was created, before the creation of Earth- God committed to making me, who trusts Christ (by His grace), His child through Christ's work on the cross!

Ephesians. 1:4-8 ...even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight...

I know from verses in Scripture, like these in Ephesians, the Trinity had a "meeting" where the plan of salvation for me and you (who trust Christ, by His grace) was decreed. Theologians call this meeting the Eternal Counsel of Redemption. Simply put, the Trinity counseled within itself, before time, concerning the manifesting of God's glory through the redemption of chosen men and women. This is huge- the Holy Trinity met and chose me to be part of those who would be redeemed, furthermore, at that "meeting", before time, Jesus was chosen to do the redeeming, and He agreed to it! Continuing the thought about this intertrinitarian meeting from eternity past, The Holy Spirit would be the one to apply the work of the Son to me.

The Father chooses some to be redeemed, the Son redeems by the cross, and the Holy Spirit applies redemption!

It excites and encourages me that the Godhead- the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- met before time to determine that I would be adopted as a son in Christ and, and as Ephesians 1:8 declares, wisdom and insight would be lavished upon me!

The Cross is about commitment. Today, again, I am remembering Jesus on the Cross for me. I am also remembering that it began with a glorious commitment on the part of the Trinity to save me- for God's glory.

The writer of Hebrews exhorts us by saying "May the God of Peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep". The eternal covenant spoken of here refers to the time before time that the Holy Trinity committed to saving me. When Jesus says "into thy hands I commit thy spirit" I must not lose sight of all that God has committed to in bringing the holy Lamb to that point on the cursed tree- for me.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Commitment of the Cross

Travel back with me around 1,971 years to Golgotha where the Romans have just nailed a barely recognisable Jesus to one of their instruments of death- a cross. There we stand, watching.

Imagine we are gentiles living among the Israelites prior to this fateful day. We have been witnesses of Jesus Christ and His ministry for the better part of three years already. Being gentiles, we usually stood from a distance observing the activities of this great man whom many people called the Messiah. Clearly, He was special. His words transcended time, His demeanor was gentle, yet authoritative and sure, and he did miraculous things never before seen. Time after time He healed people and showed an unparalleled compassion on those society had cast off. Now, He is on a Roman cross of execution, about to die.

Just a few months prior to this day on Golgotha, we witnessed Jesus raise a man named Lazarus from the dead- a man who was in the grave for four days. Jesus, by just a few words of his mouth, raised this dead, partially decayed man to life. Despite this, His own Jewish leaders plotted to kill him. Why would they do something bad to Him- the one who raised the dead? We had not seen Jesus for some time after that miracle. Then, we received word from a towns person related to one of His disciples that Jesus had been arrested. We decided to send one from our midst to find out more. From a distance our scout observes a mockery of a trial. As Jesus is shuffled from Jewish authorities to Roman authorities, back to the "Jewish" King and back to the Romans again, it becomes clear- Jesus will not survive the game of politics and religion going on between to unrighteous groups. The One who had done so much good, the One who had shown so much love, was sentenced to die. Why would they kill Jesus? It seems so senseless.

But wait, we were there to hear Him teach many times. Do you remember Him telling his disciples and the crowd we were part of- "let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you"? What is happening now? Was He wrong? Perhaps this is actually part of his promise?

We know this much for sure- it was now time for the Jewish Passover. The day a lamb was to be offered as a sacrifice for the sins of God's people. The irony strikes us when Jesus walked by carrying a cross. He is the lamb of God. We watched the Soldiers and crowd jeer Jesus. They spit on him as He passed by. We heard Him cry out as the soldiers pound spikes through His wrists, severing nerves. Then through his feet, tearing muscle. By a system of ropes they hoist Jesus up high on the cross. It is 9 in the morning when Jesus is put on the cross. We stay there watching him. At 12 noon darkness filled the land. The air grew cold.

We stand there through 3 hours of darkness bringing us to this moment. It's about 3pm and Jesus is saying something- "into thy hands I commit thy spirit". The sky is still dark and much of the crowd has scattered in fear. We stand staring at the Savior on the cross. We analyze His final words amongst ourselves- "into thy hands I commit thy spirit". What exactly did Jesus mean?

As we stand together looking upon the body of our Savior in our minds eye, I would like to suggest to you that the Cross is about commitment. Not our commitment, but God's commitment. God's ultimate commitment is to bring glory to Himself. Connected with this commitment is the glorification of Jesus Christ, His Son. This means, for us who are united to Christ by faith, that God has made a commitment to us personally, since we are in union with Christ. Over the next three days I will meditate on three commitments God has made to us, for the glory of His Son.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Where do I get one of these?

O.K., I will repent of all my angst and malice against the canine species if someone can help me get one of these studs! This kind of dog would be the mack daddy for sure.