Weep with those who weep.

 

weeping

Another day has gone by, and another black man has been shot by police. Social media is once again loud with folks either claiming injustice, or trying to dispel the myth of it. People are scared and people are angry, and this is true from every side of the discussion.

I’ll be perfectly honest, I have no answers. Many of the videos I see are disturbing. The stories I hear are things that I can’t imagine. I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be black in America, nor can I understand what it must be like to be a police officer during these turbulent times. Everyone is on edge, and it seems like everyone is responding in the worst possible way. This isn’t true in every situation of course, but to a large degree it is what we see being played out in the media.

Again, I don’t have the answers. I can’t tell people how to feel. I certainly can’t mend the divisions that I see in our country that are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime…but I do know how I feel, and the truth is that I’m hurting.

All morning I’ve been struggling to put into words what I’m feeling. I’m still not sure I can. But, as I look to social media this morning, the one thing that stands out to me is this: Many Christians seem to have lost the ability to “weep with those who weep” or “mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)

The fact is, our Christian compassion can’t be dictated by whether or not we agree or disagree with the fact that there is systemic injustice in our legal system. It doesn’t matter whether or not we know all the facts, or variables in a case. It doesn’t matter the character of the individuals who are suffering, or have lost their lives. The only thing we need to see, as Christians, is that people are hurting. This is true from all sides, and if so as Christians, we have only one proper response: To “weep with those who weep.” We must weep for those who have lost their lives. We must mourn for the families who have had their lives turned upside down. Tears should flow freely over a world so broken by sin. When we see our neighbors suffering and struggling to deal with loss, fear, or even anger, we must come alongside them and join them in their struggle. Christian compassion leaves us no other choice. The love of our neighbors that Jesus commanded gives us no other option. (Matthew 22:39)

I was reminded this morning of Jesus just before he raises Lazarus from the dead. Jesus knew he was going to raise him, he knew the end of the story, yet what does he do when he sees the sister of Lazarus weeping? He too weeps. The Scripture says, “…he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled,” (John 11:33) and that “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

Jesus identified with Mary in her pain and in her suffering. This is the type of compassion we as Christians must emulate. There were some who were standing by while Jesus wept, and they even accused him of “injustice” if you will…they said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37) Everyone didn’t understand the big picture, they didn’t have all the answers, but still they saw our savior weeping over the tragedy of death. In the same way, we may not have all the answers, but we do know how Jesus feels about the tragedy of death, and the reality of sin. He weeps and mourns over it. As we should.

There were others there that day, and as they saw Jesus weeping over the death of Lazarus and they said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36) So, too as people see us mourning with those who mourn, and weeping with those who weep, they will see our love. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) Can many of us honestly say people know us by our love? Does our love for others make it plain that we belong to Jesus?

Again, whether or not you agree that there is indeed systemic injustice, it doesn’t give you an out clause to not weep and mourn alongside our brothers and sisters who are hurting. Whether or not we know all of the variables, doesn’t excuse us from the command to love our neighbors. If our political slants, beliefs, and agendas get in the way of our compassion and love for others, then the truth is we need to reevaluate ourselves, and where we are with Jesus.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore…” (Revelation 21:4)

Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus…

The Tragedy of Sin

bathsheba

I’m not sure there is a more tragic portion of Scripture than what we have in 2 Samuel 11. Most of us, even if we don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible know this story. David, one of the most loved and celebrated men in the history of Israel committed one of the most disgusting acts that we can imagine. This act I am referring to is his sin with Bathsheba, and the ensuing murder of her husband to cover up his sin.

The Bible says that, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.” This is an important detail that we might be quick to just pass over. As the stage is set for the Bible to relay the story of David and Bathsheba to us, we see that David should have never been in position to commit this sin, he was supposed to be out in battle with his men. David however has grown complacent, and instead is at home while his men go out and fight his battles.

This is an important detail for us, and the point in which I want to make. I’m writing today, not so much to talk about the tragic case of David and his sin, but I want to write about the nature of sin, and the danger of sin. I’m not writing just about David’s sin, but our sin as well.

Sin tends to snowball. One sin leads to another sin. In order to avoid the consequences of one sin we have to commit another sin to cover it up. Our sin ends up not simply impacting us, but the people around us. Very often, it isn’t only ourselves that suffer for sin, but those around us as well.

David’s very first sin in this scenario, is as I said slothfulness. He was supposed to be in battle with his men, yet he stayed behind. The next sin we see David committing is lust. David takes a stroll on his roof and he sees Bathsheba, a beautiful woman bathing. David then sent and inquired about the woman and discovered that she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite. One would think that a righteous man such as David, in whom we’ve seen God work so mightily throughout the Bible up to this point would then back away from the situation. Certainly an upstanding man such as King David wouldn’t pursue this relationship any further.

Sadly, this isn’t the case. David sends for Bathsheba and he commits adultery with her. Sometime later, Bathsheba informs David that she is with child. In order to cover up his sin, David sends for Uriah and makes several attempts to get the husband of Bathsheba to sleep with his wife. Uriah, being more righteous than David refuses to do so. He refuses to eat and drink and lie with his wife while the other soldiers are in battle. When David can think of no other way to cover up his sin, he sends word to put Uriah on the front lines of battle, then for the other men to fall back. To put it plainly, David has Uriah murdered. David then takes Bathsheba as his own wife.

Usually when we talk about the heroes of the Bible, we don’t associate a sequence of events like this with their lives. If we had only studied the life of David up to this point, and knew nothing of this story before now…we would be in utter shock!

But the Bible is very clear about sin, even the sins of those whom God in his providence chose to use in mighty ways. The Bible is very clear about the nature of sin. Sin is dangerous, sin is evil, and even the best of us are not immune to its disastrous effects and consequences. This window into the life of David is a powerful reminder for us all. When we crack the door, even a little bit and let sin into our lives we have no idea how tragic the results can be.

In David’s own life, what started out as sloth and complacence gave way to lust, which gave way to adultery, which gave way to murder. As a result of David’s sin a righteous man died. But not only did David’s sin cost Uriah his life, but several other of David’s men died. We know from further reading in 2 Samuel that the child whom was conceived as a result of David’s sin also died.

Again, David’s sin had tragic consequences that were far reaching. The depths of sin and the consequences of sin were far beyond anything that David could have imagined.

Truthfully though, this isn’t just true of David’s sin, it is also true of our sin. It is very rare that our sin impacts only us. Very often when we allow sin to take root in our lives, the end results are far reaching. As parents our sin affects our children. As husbands our sin affects our wives, and vice versa. The sins of children affect their parents – and we could keep going, but I think we get the idea. Sin is indeed tragic, and left to itself it kills and leaves a path of destruction in its wake.

But God in his grace has given us the remedy for sin. God offers mercy and forgiveness, for even the most tragic cases of sin. What is that remedy you might ask? Repentance. When we come face to face with our sin, when we see it for what it is God calls us to repent – to humble ourselves, admit our sin, and turn away from it and throw ourselves upon the mercy of God. We know that this is what David did. (2 Samuel 12, Psalm 51)

God’s forgiveness ultimately comes through Jesus Christ, the “Son of David” who willingly took upon himself the tragic consequences of our sin so that we wouldn’t have to. This is good news for us all. Again, if David can fall victim to the tragedy of sin, no one is immune. So, no matter where you are today, no matter what you’ve done, you have hope in Christ. Turn to him today and ask him to take your sins away and to pour out his mercy upon you.

Your Relationship With God

relationship

God desires to have a relationship with you. God loves you, and so desires to be in a relationship with you that he sent his Son Jesus Christ to die for you and to make it possible. (John 3:16, Romans 5:6) I could write pages upon page about the lengths that God went to in order to draw you into a relationship with him, but that isn’t why I’m writing this. My purpose for writing today is that I want to pause and contemplate the unbelievable reality that the God of the universe desires a relationship with you and to think through the implications of that truth.

I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “Christianity isn’t a religion it’s a relationship.” Normally that statement makes me cringe because I believe it to be too simplistic. That being said, there is an element of truth there that we would be wise to take notice of. Christianity is indeed a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and since it is a relationship there are some things that we need to understand.

Relationships take work. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship understands this. It doesn’t matter if you are speaking of romantic relationships, parent/child relationships, friendships, or work relationships, it takes work. If you want a relationship to work you have to put in time and effort. If this is true of human relationships, why would we think it isn’t also true of our relationship with God?

How often do you talk to God? How often do you take time to listen for what God might be trying to tell you? Do you make time to just be in the presence of God? Do you enjoy being with him? Do you want to get to know him better? What are you doing to try to make this happen? What do you hope to get out of your relationship with God? And here is a big one: Do you love God simply for who he is, or because of what you hope he can give you?

How successful will a marriage be if there is no communication? Not very. If children aren’t listening to their parents, or speaking to them, that relationship is in trouble. How happy would a wife be if her husband never came home? Husbands would be crushed if their wives never wanted to spend time with them. When couples begin dating, they do everything they can to learn what the other person enjoys. The parent is hurt when their child only calls when they need something, and not just so say “I love you.”

It’s not hard to see the parallels that I’m making here. It’s easy to see the correlation between what makes human relationships work and what we ought to be doing to cultivate our relationship with God. If we aren’t spending time in prayer communicating with God, if we aren’t spending time in his presence and listening for him, and learning more about him as we spend time in the Bible, then our relationship with God will suffer. Are your prayers always about what you can get from God instead of simply praising God for who he is? Do you ever simply tell God you love him? Do you thank him for the many blessings he has given you?

The wonderful thing about God is that he takes the initiative in our relationship with him. He made the first move, and even in spite of our failures to do what it is we should be doing, if we have truly entered into a relationship with him, he won’t ever let go of us. He loves us in spite of our many failures. But this isn’t an excuse to try less, it is motivation to try harder to love a God who has loved us so much. Even though we can rest assured that God will never turn his back on us, we are robbing ourselves of so much joy by not seeking him as we should. If you are missing time in prayer or bible study, you are missing more pleasure than you can imagine. If you are neglecting times of worship, both personal and corporate, you are missing one of the greatest blessings the Christian life has to offer and your growth in grace is suffering.

All relationships take work and must be intentional, I think we all know this. We also know that successful healthy relationships are a beautiful thing, and are worth every ounce of effort we put into them. This is infinitely true as it relates to our relationship with God, for there is no greater joy, no greater pleasure, and no more beautiful relationship than this. There is no one more worthy of your love and affection, and certainly no one more worthy of the effort you’ll put in.

You’ll never give God more than he’s already given you.

No Condemnation

NC

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

The Bible is filled with unbelievably powerful verses that offer strength and encouragement to the believer. I come to this verse today and I’m in awe of the implications of these words as I ponder the realities of the Christian life and most of all the beauty of God’s grace.

The reality of the Christian life is that we all struggle. We struggle with past failures, past sin, and oftentimes the messes that we have made of our lives. Whether it be damaged relationships, financial ruin, or other lingering physical reminders of past sin, we often mourn our past and the mistakes we’ve made.

We also struggle in the present. Even though we know God has saved us from our sin through Christ and given us a relationship with Him, we continue to deal with sin and its consequences. We want to live lives that honor God, but we find ourselves coming up short so often. We live lives of perpetual guilt as a result.

This struggle in the present also leads to a fear of the future. Even though we might say with our lips that we understand our sin has been taken away, we still fear the judgement of God because of our current failures. How will we be able to stand before a Holy God with all of this sin remaining in our lives? Will God somehow punish me later for what I did yesterday?

This is where Romans 8:1 is so very powerful. The Apostle Paul tells us that there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. If you are in Christ Jesus, if you belong to Him, if you have put your faith and trust in Him, then you have no need to fear. You are not condemned for past failures. God is not going to condemn you for what you do today. Your standing before God is secure regardless of what mistakes you may or may not make in the future.

Those who belong to Christ are forgiven of all their sins – past, present, and future. When Jesus went to the cross he took on himself the punishment for all of your sins. Every sin you have ever committed or will commit was put upon Him. This is why “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Jesus was condemned to die to pay the penalty for your sin.

Now, some would say, “Does this mean it doesn’t matter what we do?” No, this isn’t what it means. As you read the remainder of Romans 8 you will see that the Apostle Paul speaks about life in the Spirit, and how the Holy Spirit lives inside us and gives us life. Because of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to overcome sin in our lives. We are given the desire and the ability to live lives of increasing holiness as a result of the work of the Spirit that indwells the believer. Each of us who are Christians have the Spirit of God Himself living within us – the very Spirit of God who raised Christ Jesus from the grave. (Romans 8:11) What more could we ask for?

We are often tempted to dwell on past sin, or even current sin in our life. We feel defeated and see so little progress in our Christian walk. Our struggles with sin often lead us to draw back from God. If we’ve failed in the past, then surely we won’t do much better in the future.

But the beauty of God’s grace is that not only have we been forgiven of our past sin, but God is powerfully working within us to make us more like Jesus. (Romans 8:29) He is using all things, even our sins and struggles to make this happen. (Romans 8:28) So, instead of our fears and failures causing us to run away from God, we ought to see them as opportunities to run to God free from condemnation. We run to Him for not only forgiveness of our sin, but also strength to overcome our struggles and sin.

How wonderful is that? As the Apostle Paul says, “…nothing in all of creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

Confidence for the new year…

“The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD is high and mighty.” –Psalm 93:3-4

Few things in our natural world are as powerful as the ocean and as powerful as the seas. We live close to the coast, we’ve seen the damage that the ocean can do. We saw the flooding in Charleston not so long ago and all of the destruction that caused. When the ocean starts to roar, or when the flood waters start to rise there isn’t anything that is going to stand in its way.

But we serve a God who spoke the waters into existence. We have a Christ who calmed the sea with the word of his mouth. In Mark 4:39 Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”…and it listened…

After this happened, the Bible says that the disciples were then “filled with great fear.” The Bible says that they said, “Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey him…”

We should be asking this ourselves. Indeed, who is this Christ that we serve!?!

We serve Jesus, the one who not only calms the water by the word of his mouth, but he walks over the water and he walks ON the water.

Throughout ancient literature and even in the Bible, floods and waters were symbolic of and metaphorical for turmoil, chaos, and trouble, and I have no doubt that God wants us to learn from this and that God wants us to apply these truths to our own lives. God often teaches us in metaphor, because pictures are sometimes (often times) more powerful that words alone. Therefore, I have no issue saying that I think there is a powerful metaphor that we need to get here.

Just as God is more powerful than the ocean, and any sea, God is also more powerful than any trial, turmoil, or chaos that we have going on in our lives. Just as Jesus says to the disciples after he calmed the sea, I think he is often saying to us, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

And just as he said to the disciples as he was walking on the water, and they were so frightened, he tells them “take heart, it is I…”

We truly have no reason to fear. We can look back at our lives and over the last year and we can center ourselves on the promises of God. We can take heart. As we look forward into 2016 and beyond, we can walk with no fear. We serve a God who is all powerful. Not only is our God more powerful than any ocean, any trial, any storm, or any turmoil in our lives, but He is in complete control of them.

This is the God we walk with. This is the God we serve. This is the God whom we are to be telling people about. This is the God who is working through us! And if that doesn’t give you boldness and confidence going into 2016 then I don’t know what will!

Christmas Reflections

CR

I wonder how many of us truly grasp the miracle of Christmas. This time of year we are filled with warm and fuzzy feelings, there seems to be joy in the air. I think is by providential design. I wonder though, how many of us truly grasp the gravity of what took place that first Christmas night.

We talk about the miracle of the birth of Jesus. Some marvel at the miracle of a virgin birth, and rightly so. But God says, “I see that miracle, and I raise you one.”

John 1:1 says that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” A little later in verse 14 of that same Chapter it says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

1 John 4:9-10 says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

The miracle of Christmas, is not a cute little baby boy in a manger that grew up to do some amazing things. The miracle of Christmas isn’t that this baby boy was born to a virgin. The miracle of Christmas isn’t that this baby boy with the miraculous birth is still able to help us feel warm, fuzzy, and full of joy one season out of the year. The miracle of Christmas is that God himself took on human flesh, became a man, and lived a sinless life despite being tempted in all things just as we are. Yes, this man performed many miracles and this man taught many great things about how we are to live. But, this man, was the God-Man who wrapped himself in a human body, who condescended to earth in order to one day die on a Roman cross for the sins of all those who would accept his sacrifice.

Jesus didn’t come to the earth just to allow us to be filled with joy one season out of the year. Jesus allows us to live lives of perpetual joy. To live lives defined by joy, knowing who we are in Him. Knowing that we are reconciled to God because of what He has done…

I don’t think we can fully grasp this. We may have an idea, but to fully grasp this concept, I don’t think we can. And thank God that we can’t.

All praise be to God.

The Greatest Gift

greatest gift

Whether we like to admit it or not. We all like gifts. The thing I like about children is that they are way more honest than most adults. Adults talk about the “true meaning” of Christmas and pretend that they don’t get excited about the presents they see wrapped up under the tree with their name on it. But, I have good news for us all, we can stop pretending. It’s okay to get excited about gifts, because God designed us that way. Not only did God design us to like gifts but he gave us the greatest gift of all, His own Son.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

This verse is by far one of the most familiar verses in all of the Bible. Even people who don’t read their Bibles or don’t know anything about the Bible have heard this verse, and what a beautiful verse it is. I was speaking to a pastor friend of mine recently about this verse, and the gift of Jesus, and he made the point that he thinks sometimes people don’t understand why it is that Jesus is a gift.

To answer this question fully would take way more time than a single blog would allow, but I think the book of Romans helps us to shed some light on the question at hand. Romans 3:23 tells us that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Every person reading these words right now has sinned against God. The Bible time and time again tells us that God is Holy. Since God is Holy, he cannot dwell in the presence of sin. Most of us would like to believe that God could just look past our sins or just “get over it.” But to do that would violate who He was as God. So, if we know and believe that God is indeed Holy, but we are sinful, and that God and sin cannot dwell together, then that creates an obvious problem.

But, here is the amazing thing. Romans 5:6, “…Christ died for the ungodly.” In Romans 5:8 the Apostle Paul said it like this, “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

I can’t think of a more beautiful picture or a more wonderful thing to celebrate this Christmas than the fact that a Holy God would love sinners so much that He would give his only Son to the world. Many times when we read John 3:16 we think of God “giving” Jesus to the world simply in terms of his birth, or maybe even his life and ministry while on earth. And while the birth of Jesus, His incarnation and everything that flowed from that is an amazing thing, and something we should celebrate…God went even further than that.

Not only did God send His Son Jesus to be born into a world of sin and to live amongst sinners and to teach us about God and do all of the amazing miracles that He did. But God the Father actually sent His Son to earth to die for sinners. Christmas isn’t simply about the cute baby Jesus in a manger, but it is also about a Roman Cross and the death of our Savior for us. It is about Jesus coming to earth to take upon Himself the sins of His people.

God gave His Son to the world so that we might believe in Him and receive eternal life. Is there a greater gift than this?

Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

You and me, through our sin we earned death. But God has gifted us with His Son Jesus, and in Him Eternal life. In Matthew 7:11 Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Friend, the greatest gift God could give us is His Son Jesus. My question this Christmas season to you is, have you received this gift? Those of us who have children know, there are few joys greater than giving our children gifts. God feels the same way about his children, and if you are yet to ask him for this gift of eternal life that only comes through Jesus, I ask you today to come to Him and ask. It is a gift. There is nothing you can do to earn it, the gift is free…all you have to do is ask.