Monday, February 24, 2014

In Christ Alone

Hi there.  

I have been truly blessed by a song lately.  So much so that I wanted to draw attention to it in hopes you would be equally blessed.  This song has been classified as a contemporary hymn and has become one of the most popular songs to be included in worship sets in the last 10 years.  

The lyrics encapsulate the entire gospel from life, to death, to resurrection.  This is very important because, as we worship we need to be contemplating what Jesus did for us through His perfect life of obedience and His atoning death on the cross.  

I included two links here so that you can listen to it if you like.  The first is a recording by the original artists who wrote and performed the song Keith Getty and Stuart Townend.  They wrote it and Kristyn Getty, Keith's wife, is singing it in the video.  This original version has a very Celtic feel which some will enjoy.   It has been remade several times.  I particularly like a version recently arranged by Kristian Stanfill, worship leader at Louie Giglio's church, Passion Church in Atlanta.  It has a more contemporary worship feel. He included a tag at the end which I find very effective.

Unfortunately, his version leaves out the second verse.  I am not sure why he did that, but I hope it is not for the same reason that the Presbyterian church(USA), not PCA, denomination was trying to leave it out.  The PCUSA is a more liberal branch of the Presbyterian church than the PCA for those who don't know what the distinction is.  Actually, they just wanted to change the third line of the second verse from "Til on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied" to "Til on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified".  While this line is true, God's love is already emphasized in other ways in the song in all that He did for us at the cross.  But to remove the lyric "the wrath of God was satisfied" is to remove a crucial piece of understanding of what Jesus did for us at the cross thus minimizing the "magnification of God's love" as they would like to put it.  So it is actually having the opposite effect.  The PCUSA is not alone in their discomfort with these lyrics but they made the news because they wanted permission to print this song in their new hymnals with the above stated change and the writers would not allow it.

You see many people today have a problem with the idea that God poured out His wrath toward all the sins of those who would place their trust in Him, past, present and future.  And that He poured it out onto His Son Jesus while He hung on the cross.  Jesus paid the penalty and removed the guilt of all true believers and followers of Christ at the cross.   It is known as "penal substitutionary atonement" in theological terms and it  is a crucial part of the gospel story and it is biblically accurate.(Romans 3:24-26, Romans 5:9-10, 1 John 4:10)  These verses speak to the idea of propitiation which means, " to appease or satisfy".  This idea makes some people uncomfortable but I believe it is crucial to our understanding of what Christ did for us on the cross.  To fully appreciate His mercy and grace, we must understand His wrath and justice. A price had to be paid for our rebellion against a holy and just God.  This same God, in His great love, chose to send his Son, who came willingly, to pay that price and satisfy that sin debt rather than destroy all sinners in their sin.(Romans 5:8, John 3:16) All you have to do is repent and believe for this to be available to you.(Mark 1:15)  May it be so in your life in Jesus name, if it not already.

I have included the full lyrics as written by the original authors and a link to both versions of the song.  They may show up in the body of the email.  If not, hopefully you can click on the link.  If not, just cut and paste in your browser.  Give both versions a listen and meditate on the goodness of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ as you do.  I pray it is a blessing to you.

Love in Christ alone,


In Christ Alone
In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song, 
This Cornerstone, this solid ground, Firm through the fiercest drought and storm, 
What heights of love, what depths of peace, When fears are stilled, when striving's cease,
My Comforter, my All in All, Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh, Fullness of God in helpless Babe, 
This gift of love and righteousness, Scorned by the ones He came to save
Til on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid, Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay, Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day, Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory, Sins curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine, Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death, This is the power of Christ in me
From  life's first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man, Could ever pluck me from His hand
Til He returns or calls me home, Here in the power of Christ I stand

TAG (by Kristian Stanfill)
I find my strength, I find my hope, I find my help, In  Christ alone
When fear assails, when darkness falls, I find my peace, In Christ alone
I give my life, I give my all, I sing this song, to Christ alone
The King of Kings, The Lord of All, all heaven sings, to Christ alone

Til He returns or calls me home, Here in the power of Christ I stand

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Overcoming Evil With Good

So I was watching Tears of the Sun recently and at the end, this quote was presented:

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" by Edmund Burke.  

I had heard it before but it really hit home after watching this movie.  Not just in the context of the movie but, of course, in the spirit realm.  What is our responsibility in fighting evil?  What does it mean to not allow evil to triumph?  What does it mean for good men to do "something".

This scripture came to mind. Romans 12:21, "Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good." 

Theatrical Context
The quote above suggests action, as does the scripture.  However, there is much to be considered regarding the word "good".  You see, in Tears of the Sun, the soldiers, led by a character played by Bruce Willis, wrestle with how best to handle injustice that they encounter in Africa while on a mission to save a doctor.  Along the way they kill quite a few rebel soldiers that are massacring other Africans.  They defend themselves and those in their care as needed.  However, at one point they come across a village of people whom are not their direct responsibility.  These people are being raped and murdered just because.  The soldiers are indignant and engage the enemy to enact justice on these rebels committing this heinous crime against humanity.  In all honesty, if I was in their position, I am not sure I would not do the same.  As I was caught up in the story line I found myself empathizing deeply with everyone involved and wanting to see justice served.

Scriptural context
My dilemma comes in considering what the bible teaches regarding the idea of taking justice into our own hands not just legally, but spiritually.  Certainly the idea in the movie is that the U.S. soldiers were assisting citizens of a country in which there was no true governing authority so utilizing Romans 13:1 may not have been most appropriately applied here.  However, Romans 12:21 does seem to suggest that revenge, whether personal or governmental in nature, is not generally ours to enforce.  I realize that this could be another discussion entirely so I will be striving to apply this more to personal action rather than getting heavy into a debate on wartime actions.  Please understand, that I am not speaking to the idea of self-defense or the defense of another, physically or otherwise, in the moment so much as I am to the idea that harm has already been done and now we must choose how to respond after the fact.

This scripture teaches that we are to love our enemies, bless those who persecute us, etc.  Basically, the most selfless and sacrificial love that can be shown, we must show to those who may have done horrible things to us or those we love.  How contrary to our nature is that?  I have heard many a person make statements that suggest the revenge that they think they would take if something was done to a family member.  I confess that I empathize entirely with those thought processes.  However, if we are to be obedient to God's word we must prepare our hearts and minds well before anything horrible ever crosses our path.  Whether it is happening to us or we observe it happening to someone else, our job is not to play God, but to put God first.

God Our Avenger
I will not pretend that if I were in the position of the soldiers that I would not have done what was necessary to stop the evil that was being observed.  To be honest I am not sure that their actions were wrong in that scenario considering that they were in a particular position that, it could be argued, had the authority to enforce justice at that moment.  Wartime is a very particular circumstance when thinking through these things.

But, when we work through this in our day to day lives we must remember that as Christians, it is not our job to avenge every wrong, whether done to us or someone else.  God is our avenger.  He retains for himself the right to enact justice as he sees fit.  Our sinful nature will be to destroy that which has harmed us.  However, time and time again in history, we see God using the very destructive acts of sinful men to save those very individuals responsible for the destruction.  It is not our right to harm or take the life of those whom God may desire to provide eternal life.  His plans are always bigger and better than ours.  Even if we cannot see it in the moment.

Our Sovereign God is in Control
What we must remember is that God is in control.  However, his control does not mean that he reacts to bad circumstances, but that He is actively involved from the beginning, planning all things with a purpose in mind.  Much could be said of this but I will give just a quick couple of examples for consideration.

The story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 is a good example of this.  I will not strive to recap the whole story but if you read it you will observe that in all of Joseph's seemingly tragic circumstances, God has a plan.  In Genesis 45:5-8, Joseph actually gives God credit for sending him through his circumstances to put him where he needed to be for the benefit of his entire family and the nation.  Even though his family was responsible for his harm.  In Genesis 50:20, Joseph understands that God intended the evil of his brothers for good all along the way.  His brothers were responsible for their sinful, hateful actions and humanly speaking Joseph would have been entirely justified in destroying them as revenge.  He was in a position to do so.  However, Joseph understood that God had a bigger plan, that He knows what is best, and that He is always in control, sovereignly ruling over all circumstances.  His love and submission for and to God and his understanding of God's sovereignty allowed Joseph to be forgiving and selflessly loving to his brothers.  This is the perspective we must learn to have in all things.

The other example, of course, is the selfless life and death of Jesus.  The very Son of God came down, took on flesh, did everything right in the sight of God the Father and yet sinful man despised Him, rejected Him, and killed Him(Isaiah 53).  We understand this as the heinous acts of evil men and that they are responsible for their actions.  We also understand that God planned this from the beginning.  He ordained that it would happen(Acts 2:23).  He determined it from the beginning as the only way by which sinful humanity might be saved.

Overcome Evil With Good
And so I believe that we must be very careful what we call "good" as it relates to overcoming evil.   You see When Paul speaks to revenge in Romans 12:9-21, it is in the context of selfless love.  And lest you be inclined to reject this teaching, you need to realize that Paul is simply reapplying what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:38-48.

The application of these teachings need not be applied simply in the most extreme of circumstances, as in the horrific scenes from Tears of the Sun.  They need to be applied in the simplest of circumstances.  Such as when your spouse is not handling your heart appropriately.  When you find it difficult to even be in the same house with them, much less actually show love and care for them.  Or, when your coworkers or neighbors are behaving in ways that hurt you or annoy you.  How about when your children are rebelling and disobeying more often than not.  When everything in you wants to scream at them and beat them senseless.

These are the moments when we must realize that any "evil" that we feel is being visited on us by someone else, WE have actually visited on Jesus at the cross.  In instructing us to be sacrificial in our response to our "enemies", He is not asking us to do anything that He did not do for us on the cross.  His amazing sacrificial love is being poured out on us continually as he gently leads us into becoming more like him, even as our sinful clay flesh still rebels against this peaceful potter.(Romans 5:6-11)

So when we think we want to respond out of anger and an attitude of vengeance toward those whom have brought us pain in one form or another, let us not forget the cross.  We must understand that this gospel of sacrificial love is the "good" that both Paul and Jesus want us to respond with when we are striving to overcome the evil of this world.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only thing that has the power to truly overcome evil.  We must share this good news to a lost and dying world, even if their sins are directly impacting our lives in a negative fashion. So let your light shine and live a life worthy of that gospel that God may be glorified(Philippians 1:27, Matthew 5:16).

Love in Christ,


Monday, February 17, 2014

"The Bible" miniseries, Son of God, & God's Not Dead

The big bible based media event of 2013 was The Bible miniseries.  This, in my opinion, was a wonderful piece of work.  Not perfect mind you, but I believe it accomplished the purpose for which it was created. Some will critique it because of the secular/spiritualistic associations of the married duo Mark Burnett and Roma Downey who were responsible for it coming to pass as it's producers.  Some, because it is not a verse by verse portrayal.  I was moved enough by what I was able to see of it on TV that I asked for it on DVD for Christmas.  I was not disappointed.

Don't get me wrong, it has flaws.  They do take certain contextual liberties with where and when certain statements are made and events take place.  However, the liberties they take do not change the overall impact of the redemptive story of the bible as a whole regarding the fallen state of sinful man and our need for a Savior that can only be found in Jesus.  They hit many important highlights along the way and they take you all the way through Revelation to the extent that they could with budget and time restraints.  I am not aware of anything that has been produced to date that has attempted to paint the whole picture of scripture from beginning to end.

It could be argued that people will make assumptions of their understandings of scripture based on this miniseries and that this could be dangerous.  This is true but let's face it, that is what we are here for as Christians.  Because people use any and every means to justify what they want to believe about God and the bible, including never cracking their bible and taking, without question, the word of preachers who preach unbiblical doctrine .  If we allow this miniseries to do what it was intended to do which is, to be a conversation starter, then we can take those opportunities to go to the scriptures, make corrections, and share the gospel.

I for one pray that many will watch it that might be much less likely to open a bible, and that it will create the interest in God's word that it is intended to create.  That was the purpose behind it's being made in the first place.  I am very glad it was made.

Son of God 
2014 is getting off to a relatively fast start with the release of two Christian movies that have been in promotion, at lest on FB, for some time.  Son of God comes out February 28th.  It essentially appears to be the parts of The Bible miniseries that focused on  Jesus' life, ministry, death, and resurrection.  While many movies have been made surrounding this topic my hope is that people will recognize Jesus as the actor from the miniseries and want to go see it, or maybe get someone to go see it that perhaps will not watch the miniseries.  This movie could have been made simply as an easy opportunity to capitalize on the popularity of the miniseries however, if people get saved because of it, I don't care.  The same thing happened with the preaching of the gospel in the Apostle Paul's day while he was in prison. He didn't care what the motivation was as long as the gospel was being preached(Philippians 1:14-18).

God's Not Dead
God's Not Dead is a movie geared around the defense of the Christian faith.  It comes out March 21st.  It is set around the debate over God's existence in a college philosophy class.  I have seen several trailers for this.  There are probably a couple of theological points that I would differ with slightly but on the whole I think it does what it set's out to do from what I can tell.

I have read critiques by those who want to pick at the viability of the overall story line.  For instance, as to whether a college philosophy professor could actually get away with his insistence that students either write God is dead on a piece of paper or defend their reason not to.  At the end of the day, it is a story with a specific purpose.  Fiction often creates mildly to totally implausible scenarios in order to accomplish the purpose of it's story.  It does not appear to be doing major damage to any biblical concepts such as movies like Noah, starring Russell Crowe, are doing. (More on that another time).

The fact is that if we are consistent in sharing our faith, we will be challenged.  Sometimes in the classroom, sometimes at work or on the street.  So that aspect of this story line is not implausible at all.  If it get's people thinking about what they believe about God and why they believe it and challenges those that are Christians to be able to give a defense for why they believe then I will be thrilled(1 Peter 3:15).  We must be ready at all times, in season and out of season(2 Timothy 4:2).  This appears to be the purpose of the movie and I think it will challenge and inspire youth and adults alike to consider just how prepared they are to stand up for their faith and defend it appropriately.

I have trailers for both of these movies on my blog page.  Feel free to go check them out if you are not already on it reading this.  I pray that all of the movies discussed here are tools that will feed your love for God and the bible and that you are able to use them to positively influence others to pursue a relationship with God through Jesus Christ as well.

Hope you go see them and support the Christian movie production efforts.  Take someone with you.  It may just change their lives.

Share the love. Defend the faith.  Live a life worthy of the gospel! (Philippians 1:27)


Saturday, February 8, 2014


Hello everyone.  So obviously I have been inspired lately and on a bit of a blogging kick.  At least for me anyway.  By God's grace I have many more ideas but, I have found myself so wrapped up in blogging and Facebooking recently that I have neglected some much needed reading.  Consequently, I am going to try to take a week or so off from writing anything either by blog or FB in order to catch up on some reading both in the God's word and some other material.  I appreciate any and all who support my writing efforts and encourage me along the way.

Another piece of information I wanted to share is something you may have seen on FB recently cause I shared it there.  Logos bible software company offered a free tool that I was able to apply to my blog.  It is a tool that is applied by embedding the html of the tool into the html of the actual blog.  This tool causes any scripture reference that I type in to be highlighted in blue.  It also works retroactively, so it should be applied to every blog that I have written to date.  It is awesome because all you have to do is hover over the reference with your mouse and the body of scripture is shown in a box right there on the page.  You can even share that scripture to several social media platforms right from that box.

While I try not to allow length be a major factor in how I write, I am cognizant of the fact that people do pay attention to length and that multiple scripture quotes can really beef up the appearance of the body of the blog.  So I am hopeful that this will allow me to, more often than not, paraphrase a scriptural idea, and provide the scripture to see without the post appearing so long. We shall see.  You may have noticed that I have also been employing subheadings in the last little bit.  I have hoped that this makes the posts more organized and thus more easily read.  I don't know how it is working but it feels more organized to me so I am keeping it for now.

As always, I am open to feedback related to subject matter, blog presentation, etc.  I love to have dialogue about anything that I blog about so please feel free to FB me, email me, or comment on the blog itself if you have a Google account.

I pray all are well and will be back at it soon.

Thanks to all,


Friday, February 7, 2014

Patiently Frustrated or Intentionally Content

Which are you?

What in the world do you mean Josh?  Aren't they kind of the same thing?  Well, yes and no.  I admit I kind of thought so when I first began thinking through them.  However, while they are both forms of waiting on the Lord, they are actually quite juxtaposed to each other in their nature.  I heard reference to this general idea once recently and I began thinking about how it applied to me and how many others may have similar experiences.  Which one is more biblical?  While I am getting better at being "intentionally content", I have certainly spent a significant amount of time being "patiently frustrated". What's the difference?,  you might ask.  Let me explain.

Patiently Frustrated
Imagine you are on a subway headed to work.  You are running a little behind and you are frustrated because you cannot get there any faster.  Yet you know that you have no control over the situation so you sit in the back of the car, as far away from the door as possible, with an air of frustration and try to be as patient as possible, knowing it is out of your hands.

This is a flawed analogy I am sure,  but I think it paints a descent picture of being "patiently frustrated" on a spiritual level.  Often times we find ourselves desiring to grow in our relationship with God and yet it feels like we are spinning our wheels.  Perhaps you know in your heart of hearts that God is beginning to reveal a plan for the next step in your life or He has brought a conviction about something that needs to be changed in your family, but you know that you must be careful in shepherding them through the process of that change.  Maybe you are burdened for a prayer to be answered regarding a need or the salvation of a loved one.

Our tendency is to get frustrated.  We know what needs to happen but we cannot make it happen as fast as we would like without potentially messing something up.  Or in the case of someone's healing or salvation, we cannot do anything at all beyond prayer and sharing the gospel.  So we sit and we wait, knowing that God will work it out, but frustrated that it is not happening as fast as we want it to.  That is being "patiently frustrated".

The danger here is that we can make the mistake of sitting on our hands and "waiting on God" when their are things that we should be doing along the way that God has already given us permission to move on in His word.

Intentionally Content
Imagine again the above scenario.  Only with a more optimistic and contended slant.  This time, you don't sit at the back of the train, on your hands, and in a frustrated funk.  Instead, you position yourself by the door at the part of the subway car that you know will be closest to the stairs.  You anticipate the next move.  You are content to wait, knowing that the next move is coming soon enough rather than sitting by idly when there are things you can do to position yourself for what is next.

Being content is not the same thing as being complacent.  Complacency indicates a lack of care about the situation.  You care deeply.  Otherwise you would not have been frustrated in the other scenario.  No, I would define being  biblically "intentionally content" as worry-free, yet purposeful, action.

Paul As Our Example
A good biblical example of this would be the Apostle Paul.  In Philippians 4:11-13 he says this, "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

Unfortunately, that last verse is often used improperly to suggest that there is nothing we cannot do whether we are gifted for it or not or if we have enough faith.  Or, it can be used to push forward in action without thought and without prayer.  Sometimes a misunderstanding of this scripture and others like it can bring a feeling of guilt or condemnation because if we do not experience the success we expect through prayer we begin to question our faith.  As if God not moving when we think He should or how we think He should is an indication of whether we have faith or not.  This is a mistake.  Faith is exhibited in doing everything that we are responsible to do and then trusting God to do the rest when He sees fit and how He sees fit.

No, these are NOT what Paul is trying to convey.  His contentment is the focal point of this passage.  I would say that Paul was "intentionally content".  Here is a man that faced resistance, physical abuse, and threat of death continually throughout his ministry yet he learned to be content in the face of it all.

He did not sit around feeling sorry for himself or questioning His faith nor did he go places or do things that the Holy Spirit had not directed.  In fact, in Acts it is told that he intended to go places that the Holy Spirit definitively said no to in order that he would end up where God wanted Him.  Paul did not sit around waiting for God to say go or do.  Paul went and did until God said, "not here, not now".  He continually did what he knew to do until God revealed what he did not know to do.

Even as believers, we have a tendency to get frustrated with God's timetable.  We often find ourselves sitting around saying, "when O Lord", and doing very little when there is so much that we know we should be doing.  "Patient frustration" can cause us to wait with desperation, rather than hope.  Often times hope and contentment is what we are so desperately waiting for.

"Intentional contentment" must be purposeful.  If we are not intentional in our thought and prayer life and our meditation on God's word, while sharing the gospel and living lives worthy of that gospel, then we will lapse into despair and loose hope.  These actions are things that we do not need special instructions for.  The bible is clear on these things and we can do them anytime and anywhere.  When God wants to give us special instruction, He will.  In fact, we will often find that it is in the midst of obediently doing these other things that God will reveal the next step that we have been waiting for regarding something more specific.  It is also in doing these things that faith is built and hope is found.  His timing is perfect, so trust it.

I want to encourage you.  When you find yourself "patiently frustrated", check yourself.  Evaluate the other aspects of your spiritual walk and see what you are neglecting while waiting for that other thing to happen.  Be "intentionally content". Do what you know to do until He shows you what you don't know to do.  It is a much more pleasant and productive way to live and serve God effectively.

Being "intentionally content" does not mean that you feel nothing about your concern.  It means that you have prayed fervently about the concern(James 5:16).  It is biblical to pray with emotion and passion about our concerns.  Now that you have done that, you must rest in God's faithfulness, obediently trusting God with every circumstance.  In that place you will find great joy, peace, and contentment(Philippians 4:4-7).

I confess to you that I struggle with this.  I do not want to suggest that this process is easy.  I believe it is a lifestyle of habit-forming practices that you grow in over time, yet never getting it perfect. I think as long as we are in this body of flesh this struggle will always exist.  So please pray for me and I will pray for you.  Together, perhaps we can prayerfully encourage each other to victory more often than not.



Thursday, February 6, 2014

Hope and Freedom through the Lense of an Eternal Perspective

Hello all.  I hope you are well.  I know that I do my share of exhorting unto obedience and rebuking of behaviors or thought processes that are not biblical.  While I do this with an unknown group audience in mind, I realize that my messages can be easily personalized and taken offense to as well.  I confess that this is not like your typical inspirational thought for the day that people buy or subscribe to for some light extemporaneous motivation each day.  There is nothing wrong with that, alongside serious time spent in prayer and meditation on the word.  I have tried to think like that for this blog on occasion and I simply cannot do it consistently.  It is just not who I am.   Or at least it is not who I am meant to be through this blog, most of the time.  One thing I can tell you for sure.  All topics are important to me either because they are a struggle for me as well or because they were, and I am on the other side of that battle by the grace of God.  I never blog as one who assumes he has it all together.  Please know that.

My heart for this blog and my heart for you!
I think the reason I do not do well with short, inspirational thoughts is that, I think like a teacher/preacher and that's how I write as well.  Since I do not preach/teach anywhere else at this point, this is my pulpit.  This is my classroom.  Whether I do it well is for the reader to decide.  Whether people's hearts are touched and moved to read it to begin with, much less experience a change of heart or not, is also a matter for God to decide.  I would not dare to pretend that I live what I "preach" here perfectly all the time.  No one does.  My hearts desire in life however is to develop an eternal perspective on life and live with that perspective always in front of me, interpreting all that I say and do.  This desire is the same thing that drives the content of this blog.

I have two great goals in life.  One is to live with a passion for the glory of God to be made known in my life through all that I say and do.  Two is to inspire others to do the same.  Sometimes that means challenging ways of thought or action that steal glory from God.  Other times that means shining light on the hope and freedom that are found in possessing a passion for the glory of God in your own lives.

Both of these goals can only be accomplished if you and I live with an eternal perspective.  This perspective can only be attained with a proper revelation of and a continuing meditation on what God has done for us in His great grace and love for us.  First, let's look at a few viewpoints that do involve a strong, biblical foundation based on faith in Jesus.  Consequently they are temporary or temporal perspectives.

Hope from a temporal perspective.

  • There are those who are professing atheist or agnostics that typically suffer from a naturalistic worldview.  They do not believe that there is anything beyond this life.  Often their view is that we are just a bunch of random particles crashing into each other.  Once you die your just gone.  Not much hope there.  There is no real purpose to life beyond the life you are living.  No hope or resolution through pain and suffering.  No real answers to "life's big questions.
  • Others believe in karma which essentially says "what goes around comes around".  While there is certainly a principle of reaping what you sow in Christianity, it is not the same as karma.  Not only does karma say you will pay for your good or bad decisions now, but that who you are in the next life is determined by how you lived this one.  Not much hope there either.  No hope for redemption if you have really screwed up most of this life.
  • Yet another group believes in God and even in Jesus, at least theoretically or intellectually, yet they do not believe that God is sovereign in His control of everything.  They tend to believe either that He does not know everything that is going to happen, but reacts according to peoples decision or that He is like the great watchmaker in the sky who created everything and set it in motion and now just sits back and watches it go.  Either way, their is very little hope to be had in a God who is not the Sovereign Ruler that the Bible says He is.
  • Still others have some belief in God, but put very little if any faith in the Jesus of the bible.  They want their understanding of God to be whatever feels good to them.  A God whom provides some semblance of hope, and yet doesn't require to much of them.  A faith built on a truth that is relative.  A faith that does not inconvenience them to much and still allows them to do what they want...for the most part.  This most often produces false hope because while they have a faith and a hope of some form, it is misplaced on a deity that looks a lot more like the sinful creation than the creator. (Remember, we were made in His image, not the other way around.)  That is not the God of the bible.  Consequently, it does not exist.  So while they think they have hope, they really have no hope at all.

Real hope from an eternal perspective.
Hope that is real, is hope that is alive.  It is hope that is based in a real relationship with the only true and living God.  Scripture tells us that hope and peace are found in our relationship with God through faith in Jesus.  Contrary to much contemporary teaching, hope and peace are found much more in suffering than in blessing.  In fact many have grown in their faith and intimacy with God through trials and loss than they ever did through the good times.  God's word does not tell us to ignore or rebuke our sufferings and trials in order to find hope.  On the contrary, it tells us to rejoice in our sufferings.  Why?  Because suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.(Romans 5:3-5)

My Savior suffered in ways none of us will ever be able to comprehend.  Far be it for me to suggest that I should not have to suffer or endure trials because I am a Christian when the very one who saved me, suffered and endured great trial for my salvation.  Jesus said that if we are going to be His disciples we must take up our cross and follow Him(Matthew 16:24-26, Mark 8:34-35).  Yet there is much hope to be had in the resurrection that followed His suffering.

God's love for us vs. our love for Him
You see, unlike every other religion in the world, our eternal perspective and hunger for God's name to be made glorious in our lives is not driven from a man-centered, gotta be good enough to get to God, type of religion.  No, true believers have a different motivation.  We realize that our God is better because, while everyone else is pursuing relationship with God as a means to an end, our God is pursuing us. 

Even more mind-blowing than that is this.  Romans 5:6-11 tells us that God pursues us even while we are still in our sinful state.  That when He reaches down from heaven and draws us to himself, we are yet still in our rebellion against Him.  That God sent His only Son to die for His enemies. 

That is worth everything!
I am still blown away when I consider the hope that is found in knowing that the God I put my faith and hope in, is a God who chose me first.  That while I was living in rebellion in so many areas, even while having religion but lacking true faith, He patiently drew me to himself.  And while it was free, in that it cost me nothing initially, it was not unconditional as many assert.  His love is unconditional in that He loves us in spite of ourselves.  There was still a cost to be paid.  The reason we call it unconditional love is because God knew that in our rebellions state we could not pay the price, yet He loved us enough to provide a perfect sacrifice in His Son(Romans 5:8).

No, there was most certainly a price.  The primary condition for my eternal good was this; the price that had to be paid for my sins was Jesus' life.  My eternal redemption cost Jesus EVERYTHING!  It cost Him physical suffering.  It cost Him communion with His Heavenly Father.  It cost Him having to endure the wrath of God being poured out for the sins of all who would put their trust in Him, from creation until His return.   No, there was a great cost and a huge condition to be satisfied for our redemption and Jesus satisfied that at the cross.

Now that's hope!
You really must contemplate these truths.  You must honestly consider that as a Christian you are not just putting your hope and faith in any old God.  You are putting your hope in a God who as Father sent His Son to die for you; as Son, came and lived the perfect life that you cannot live and died the death that you should have died for you; and as Spirit, came to dwell inside of you to change your heart and empower you to follow Jesus through radical obedience.  The Holy Trinity, God in three persons loves you enough to do all this for you and for His glory.

Let's be clear.  Jesus is not the means to an end.  Jesus IS the end.  The goal or inspiration of Christianity is not, what I get out of it, but whom I get out of it.  You get to have eternal communion with your Creator, Almighty God in all His fullness; your Risen Savior, Jesus Christ; and with your Wonderful Counselor the Holy Spirit.  Everything else is icing on the cake.

Do you have an eternal perspective?
That perspective will change the way you value everything else in life.  It will begin to change the purpose for which you do everything in life.  When you meditate on that, you can only come to one conclusion.  I will give everything to live a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ(Philippians 1:27).  That's a God I can put my hope in.  That is a God for whom I will strive to filter everything I say and do through the lens of an eternal perspective.  Through the lens of the gospel.

An eternal perspective brings eternal hope.  An eternal perspective gives eternal purpose.  If you truly have an eternal perspective, you WILL NOT be the same and you WILL NOT live the same!  You WILL meditate on God's word!  It WILL change your heart!  You WILL repent!  And, you WILL begin to desire to do NOTHING that would steal glory from the one who gave everything to bring you eternal life!

When your view on life says that God's glory in all things is where your greatest satisfaction is found, THAT is hope.  THAT is freedom.  THAT is an eternal perspective. 

May it become in so in our lives more and more in 2014!  May we live lives worthy of the gospel!

In Jesus name,


Monday, February 3, 2014

Life Goes On, Death Goes On (Dedicated to a National and a Local Celebrity)

Today, February 2, 2014 was a great day in so many ways.  My family and I spent some real quality time together and I wrapped it up by watching the Seahawks spank the Broncos in the Super Bowl.  As I enjoyed the game I engaged in harmless banter with all the other Facebookers that were providing a running dialogue about the game.  The game ended, then I saw it.  In very short order, I became aware of two deaths that occurred today.  One this morning and one this evening.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman
First, I read that this morning the Academy Award winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman passed away, most likely of a heroin overdose.  He was not portrayed as a junkie.  Rather, he was portrayed as a man with a lot going for him, but was struggling with a drug problem.  People were pouring out condolences all over Facebook for this national celebrity, loving father and gifted actor/director.  Many mourned the loss of this familiar face in the entertainment industry.

Todd Martinez
The second death that I read about regarded a man that worked as a fire equipment operator for the High Point Fire Department in High Point, NC.  He also worked for Guilford County EMS as I understand it.  His name is Todd Martinez.  Todd was not a national celebrity.  In many ways, I am sure he considered himself an average joe.  But, to those that knew him well, he was a local celebrity.  Many knew him and many loved him.  According to an article I read, along with the many, many posts on his Facebook page, I understand this man to also have been a wonderful father and husband as well as a joy to work with.  He seems to have been an unsung hero in the eyes of those whose lives he impacted.  Sometime in the evening while we were all preparing for or watching the Super Bowl, Mr. Martinez was out riding his bike when he was struck by an automobile.  Despite a valiant effort by Fire, EMS, and Moses Cone Hospital Emergency Department personnel, this dear man did not make it.  His seemed a life well lived and a life that will be missed.

Below the surface.
So why tell all this on a blog?  What point am I trying to make?  Well, we have all heard the phrase "life goes on".  Shucks, a song was written with that title.  There was a television show with that title.  And it's true, life does go on, whether we want it to or not.  But below the surface of life's continuing fast pace, is death.

Most people are not very aware of it.  We prefer not to think about it unless we absolutely have to.  By that point, we have spent so much time avoiding the uncomfortable truth that all people die, sometimes suddenly and tragically, that we don't know what to do with it when it smacks us between the eyes.  However, there are a few of us, in particular lines of work, who face death all the time and are aware that it happens all too often and quite often, far too suddenly and tragically.  Those in roles such as emergency workers, police, pastors, and employees of morgues and funeral homes.  We do not have the luxury of ignoring death as a reality not to be faced unless absolutely necessary. It is always lurking as a truth that cannot be avoided and may very well be around the next corner.

I work in the Emergency Room at Moses Cone so I can tell you first hand what it must have been like when Todd Martinez was brought in.  I can also imagine what it was like to potentially observe the heartbreak of the family, as they tried to wrestle with the idea that their loved one was gone.  Oh yes.  Life goes on, but death is not far behind it, and no one knows when it is coming.

WOW! Really! Your really morbid Josh!
Not really.  So why in the world am I delivering this grim message you ask?  I will tell you.  I believe we all need to be given reason to spend a little time considering the brevity of this life.  Even those of us who face it everyday have mechanisms in place to protect us on some level until that moment that we come face to face with it yet again.  Believe it or not, death, loss, and grief, while never easy, are easier to deal with if you have given your response to them some thought before they happen.  In fact, scripture suggests a particular attitude that we should have toward this life and it's certainty or lack there of.

James 4:13-15 gives us these instructions.  James says, "Come now, you who say, "today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit", yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  instead you ought to say, "if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that".

A Word of Encouragement
I want to encourage you.  I am not drawing attention to these things as an opportunity to preach or fuss.  NO.  These men's lives deserve the honor of not simply being used as a tool.  We need to honor them by living our lives with death in mind.  We need to, as the song says, "Live like we were dying".  Life is short and we are but a vapor.  God is in control and only He knows and controls when we will leave this earth.  He calls us to live in the now.  So love your families.  Kiss them, hug them, bless them with kind words, and please never cease to ensure that they know by your actions and your words how much you love them.

Even more than that.  Honor them by making a difference with your life.  By showing love to those whom you don't know and have no specific reason to love.  And if you are a professing Christian, love your enemies.  Our idea of what an enemy is varies but whether it is someone you don't know well, or if it is that spouse that you can hardly stand the sight of, God still commands us to love them like Jesus did.  In light of this topic we would be foolish not think on this for a moment.

Hope in Death through Christ's example.
Jesus gave it all.  Jesus died for those who would believe while they were still sinners. He died for them while they were still as enemies to God(Romans 5).  He did not wait for them to fix their wrongs or change.  That is what Jesus asks of us as believers, to strive for unconditional love.  However, once you are a believer, repentance and obedience are key evidences of true faith.

Spiritual Death
If, when you think about death, you are gripped with fear, it may be with good reason.  The bible says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"(Romans 3:23) and that "the wages of sin is death"(Romans 6:23).  If you or your loved ones do not know Jesus as Savior and Lord in a way that is evidenced by repentance from sin and obedience to His word, then not just physical, but spiritual death and eternal suffering are the end you will face.  You and your loved ones have much to fear without faith in Christ.  Eternal death does go on.

Spiritual Life
However, if you or your loved ones have placed your trust in Jesus and are following Him and repenting of your sins, then you have much to rejoice over.  You don't have to fear death for yourself or for those you love.  If you and those you love have placed your faith in Jesus then death for this mortal body is nothing more than simply stepping over the threshold of a door into an eternal dimension where there is no more pain, suffering, or sadness.  You see while Romans 6:23 states that "the wages of sin is death", it also states "but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord".  That is Good News that, when properly understood, can bring peace and joy even in life's most difficult trials, including death.  Even in physical death, through Christ, eternal life does go on.

Put your trust in Jesus
So, if you don't know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then cry out to Him to save you and start reading the Gospel of John in a bible.  He will change your heart and give you "joy unspeakable and full of glory"
(1 Peter 1:8).  You will repent of sin and pursue obedience willingly out of your great appreciation for what Christ did for you on the cross.  If your loved ones don't know him then, once you have been saved, introduce them to Jesus in God's word and wait for God's Spirit to do the same work in them that it prayerfully has done in you.

If you are already a believer then rejoice in life and rejoice in death for both are covered by the blood of Jesus.  And, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven"(Matthew 5:16).

In Jesus name,