The worst day of my life – almost

Today could have been the worst day of my life. It could have been the day that we remembered forever, the day that our whole lives changed, and the day where my heart was torn out. It wasn’t, but it could have been.

After church, everyone was saying their goodbyes, and Amy walked across the parking lot to talk with another woman. Three-year-old Jacob ran after her, never noticing Betty backing out of her parking spot. My mother-in-law watched in horror as her grandchild ran into harms way, and she honked her horn, as the only action her panicked state allowed her to do. This alerted Betty, who immediately put on her brakes, and Amy, who had no idea until then how close we were to losing our precious Jacob.

I am friends with others who have lost children, and I do not know how they ever get through it. I have a vivid imagination, and I cannot even begin to try to imagine the pain of losing a child, especially one so young, especially to such a tragic accident. It leads me to these thoughts:

1. I am so glad for God’s protection. The Bible never talks about guardian angels per se, but it does say in Psalm 91:11: “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” You can be sure that I lived in thankfulness to God the rest of the day for His protection.

2. I am so glad for God’s goodness. I do not know the specific reasons that God spared Jacob, but I am so glad that He did. Yet, in saying that, I also do not believe that if He had not, He would no longer be good. When Betty heard that horn, she could have accidentally hit the accelerator instead of the brake. Before today I knew that God was good. God taking something good from me does not change that. Romans 8:28 says “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

3. I am so glad for God’s grace. While I didn’t have to spend today begging God for grace, I know what the answer to that prayer would have been. God gives a peace and a grace that transcends knowledge, and especially in hard moments Jesus Christ comes to meet with us in our grief and heartache and gives us the grace we need. Paul asked God to remove his pain in 2 Corinthians 12, and God said this: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Today could have been a bad day. I am so thankful it was not. What a loving Father I have to teach me about Him during what could have been the worst day of my life.

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Unexpected Snow

This is the 27th day of spring, and yet in Park Rapids, it doesn’t feel that way. People who planted flowers and vegetables when the weather was nice last week are now kicking themselves for their naive optimism. Snow when it is supposed to be warm is expected in autumn, but we were looking forward to more “spring-like” weather.

On a day like today, it seems fitting to quote a proverb from the wisest man ever to walk the earth, inspired by He who is Wisdom. The proverb is Proverb 26:1, which says: “As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, so honour is not seemly for a fool.” Proverbs has several categories of people, such as the scorner, the simple, the wicked, the righteous, and the wise and the fool. This proverb tells us that honor does not belong to a fool. One should never heap praise on someone for their foolishness, nor give rewards to foolish acts. It doesn’t belong. We love when an Olympic athlete that has honed her skill performs perfectly. She deserves a gold. Someone who is out of shape and merely lumbers around a track or rolls around a gymnasts mat doesn’t deserve a gold medal.

Giving honor to a fool is as out of place as snow in summer. Now, I know that it is not summer in Park Rapids right now, but this snow was unexpected. However, instead of grumbling and complaining, we ought to see the lessons that God is trying to teach us. Ask yourself these questions: How do we honor foolishness in our lives, or in the lives of others? Do you congratulate yourself on a prideful spirit or an angry response? When you make a bad choice, do you reward yourself with another bad choice? Do you have a friend who acting like a fool, yet you refuse to tell him or her about it?

God gives us instruction in His Word because He knows best how people and the world works. God wants us to be wise in our dealing with ourselves and others, and to reward righteousness. Giving honor to a fool makes as much sense as snow in summer or rain during the harvest-time. It messes up what is supposed to be.

Just like snow on April 16th.

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Contrast

The long winters make the days that the sun is shining even better. You see smiles everywhere in Park Rapids today because the weather is so nice, and it seems like it has been so long since we have had nice weather. However, if today’s weather was found in July, people would be complaining. It really is the contrast of the long, hard, cold winter that makes days like today so wonderful.

In the same way, it is the constrast of my sin that makes God’s love for me so precious and sweet. If someone came up to me and said, “God loves you!” I might be tempted to say, “Well, of course He does! Who wouldn’t! I’m a pretty great guy!” But when I see in Scripture how sinful I am, and how far short I fall, it makes the love of God even sweeter for me. I love God’s love, but I love it even more when I consider verses like Romans 5:8, which says: “God commendeth [demonstrated] His love for us, in what while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” When Jesus died for me, He did not give His life for a lovable, slightly imperfect person. He gave His life for a wicked, selfish rebel, and that makes His love even more astounding to me. It’s like an American soldier diving in front of a bullet to save a member of Al Qaeda. It’s like a man whose son was murdered giving a positive character testimony at the murderers day in court.

It’s like sunshine after a long, hard winter. I love it.

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The Enemy

We are facing an enemy more sinister and powerful than Al Qaeda or terrorists. This is an enemy we face every day, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. It is vital that we know as much as we can about this enemy, so that we might properly defend ourselves and avoid the traps that have been set for us. Who is this enemy?

The Bible says in Ephesians 6:12: “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” The enemy to which I am referring is Satan and his fallen angels, or devils. Some in our secular society have scoffed at the idea of a spirit that works evil in the world. Others admit that there is spiritual evil in the world, but say only that it is a “culture” of evil, not a real personality behind it all. Yet the Bible teaches that Satan and his fallen angels are not only real, but active and dangerous.

In what is Satan involved? He is involved in the affairs of government. Several times in Scripture Satan is referred to as “the prince of this world” or “the god of this world.” Revelation 20:3 says that Satan uses these governments to persecute believers. Satan also tempts people to sin. 1 John 3:8 says: “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning.” Satan also exploits the effects of a fallen world, bringing natural disasters and disease. Satan is not behind all of these things, but is behind many of them. Satan also blinds unbelievers to keep them in their sin and unbelief. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”

Concerning Christians, Satan seeks to devour us (1 Peter 5:8); he accuses us (Rev. 12:10), and he withstands us (1 Thess. 2:18). Though Satan cannot “possess” a born-again believer, he tries to do everything he can to get Christians to fall and lose their testimony. What can we do about this? First, we can resist him. James 4:7 says: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Through the power  of God’s Spirit, we can overcome temptation to sin. Second, we are to not give any place to him. Ephesians 4:27 says: “Neither give place to the devil.” We give “place” to the devil when we allow sinful things into our lives, or live carelessly. Third, we ought to be wary of the devil. Though 1 John 4:4 says “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world,” we also understand that any victory we have over Satan is through Christ’s life through us. Jude 9 gives an example we should follow when confronted with demonic forces.

It is good for us to know our enemy and then, through the power of Christ, to defeat his effects. To ignore the person and power of Satan is as foolish as walking in a jungle with no heed taken to the “roaring lion, walking about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

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April Fools Day

Yesterday was April Fools Day, a day known for practical jokes. I have always enjoyed harmless practical jokes that are meant to make people laugh, not as an occasion to laugh at others. One of the best April Fools Jokes was when in 1957 a BBC television station reported on spaghetti trees in Switzerland. Since spaghetti had been newly introduced in England, no one knew that it did not grow on trees.

It is fun to have one day of the year devoted to fooling one another, but the idea of being a fool is a serious topic in the Bible. The book of the Bible that talks the most about fools is the book of Proverbs, written by King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. Consider some of these proverbs describing fools:

  • Hates others- “He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool.”Proverbs 10:18
  • Self righteous- “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.”Proverbs 12:15
  • Openly Angry- “A fool’s wrath is presently known.”Proverbs 12:16
  • Unteachable- “A fool despiseth his father’s instruction.”Proverbs 15:5
  • Discontent- “The eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.”Proverbs 17:24
  • Destroys himself with his words- “A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.”Proverbs 18:7
  • Self-reliant- “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.”Proverbs 28:26
  • Mocks sin- “Fools make a mock at sin”Proverbs 14:9

 The Bible says foolishness is the natural tendency of everyone born (Prov.22:15), but that God can deliver us from it and its consequences. Foolishness is not something to be toyed and trifled with, but something that is dangerous and destructive, like a poisonous snake.

I myself am content to have only one day of the year dedicated to foolishness.

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Sacrifices of Thanksgiving

In 1 Peter 2:9, the Bible calls all Christians “a priesthood.” It says: “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We do not need a physical human priest on this earth to go between us and Jesus Christ: we are able to go to God ourselves as believers in Christ. We are priests before God!

But if this is true, then how do we do what priests are supposed to do? Priests offer sacrifices, but we believe that Jesus has paid the sacrifice for us “once for all.” Since Christians are priests before God, they should offer spiritual sacrifices. One of these sacrifices is described in Psalm 116:17, where it says: “I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD.” We should offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to God as a form of worship, but what does this mean?

1. It means remembering God’s past wonders, and living in thankfulness for those things. Psalms 116:7 says “the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee.” Verse 12 says: “What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me?” We offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, not only when we thank God for all that we have, but when we deflect thanks others have for us to God alone. Someone may say: “Good job!” and a sacrifice of thanksgiving makes us say: “Praise God for what I am able to do! It is by His power!”

2. It means realizing that we owe God, and living in deference to Him. When we thank someone, we are essentially saying, “I would not have what I have without you. I owe you.” Offering sacrifices of thanksgiving means remembering that we owe God everything we have, and living in gratitude of that fact.

3. It means praying our thanks to God. Verse 17 says “I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD.” That verse equates the sacrifice of thanksgiving with prayer. Prayer is one of the easiest ways to thank God for what He has done, and to offer this spiritual sacrifice.

God is pleased when His priests offer spiritual sacrifices. First, however, you must become one of His priests through the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ. Then, you can feel free to worship Him as one of His priests!

Posted in March | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inheritance

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to get a letter saying that I had an unknown rich great-uncle who recently passed, and that I, as the oldest living relative, would be getting his fortune. I can think of many uses for that extra cash flow that comes from an inheritance. This will probably never happen, but there is another inheritance that I am waiting for. It is not from any living relatives, though I have some unknown relations in Estonia and Great Britain. This inheritance is from my heavenly Father.

Ephesians 1:11-13 says: “In [Christ] also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.”

There is an inheritance available to us from God our Father. This inheritance is the glory of God after we depart this world. It includes heaven, a new glorified body, and fellowship with God forever. When I read about heaven, think about having a new body, and imagine what being with God would be like, I realize that this inheritance is better than anything I could get on this earth. How do I know that I am to receive this inheritance? I know for four reasons.

First, I know because I am a child of God. I was not born a child of God: no one is. I was born a “child of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), but there was something that happened that changed my status. I was adopted by God as His son. John 1:12 says: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” When I was five years old, I trusted Christ as my personal Saviour, and became an inheritor. Ephesians 1:13 says that if anyone is going to receive this inheritance, they must first “trust” Christ as Saviour.

Second, I know that I will receive it because Jesus died. In order for someone to be granted an inheritance, the one holding the inheritance must die. Jesus was and is the glory of God, and He went to the cross for me, so that I could receive the inheritance (Hebrews 9:16-17).

Third, I know that I will receive God’s inheritance because God has sent me proof of it. Though I have never seen heaven, experienced my new body, or walked in fellowship with God personally, I know that all these things are real and available to me because I have the Holy Spirit. Verse 14 says that the Holy Spirit is the “earnest of our inheritance.” Earnest money is money paid to assure that the rest is coming. I know that I will receive my inheritance because God has given me a down payment in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God.

Fourth, I know that I will receive an inheritance because God keeps His promises. The promise of God is: “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  (John 3:16) I can believe God because He is Truth, and to not keep His promise would be to lie.

What about you? What are you expecting to receive after you die? This inheritance can be yours by faith in Jesus Christ, because of the promises of God.

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Reunions

I am thinking about my mother today.

She was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer over twelve years ago, and lived for ten years after that before she could no longer take chemotherapy. Two years ago, my brother and I took Mom to Florida to see her mom, which we all knew would be the last, as the health of both of these wonderful women was failing.

I’m thinking about Mom because two years ago today was the last time that I saw her. I had to drive back home to Minnesota, so I hugged her goodbye and walked out the door. I took one look behind me, and that was it. Had I known that that was the last time I would see her, I would have stayed longer and delayed my plans. Had I known that 36 hours after I would leave the house she would be unresponsive until her death 13 days later, I would have stayed a few extra days. I thought we had months, but I was wrong. I am thinking about seeing Mom sitting on the couch, and remembering that that was the last time I saw her.

It is hard to think about.

The only thing that makes it easier is the fact that I know that that was not the very last time I will see her, just the last time I saw her.

Mom had trusted Jesus as her personal Saviour at the age of 16 and Christ made a lasting impact on her life. I know that right now, as I write this, she is with Jesus now, waiting with Grandma for the rest of us to come Home. I know that I personally will see her again, not because everyone goes to heaven or because I am a good person, but because I am trusting that what Jesus did on the cross was for me and my sins. I accepted God’s gift of grace at the age of five, and was completely forgiven by God.

The fact that Mom knew Jesus Christ as Saviour and that I know Jesus Christ as my Saviour makes our reunion not a possibility, but a yet-unrealized reality. I did not come to Christ so that I could be with all my loved ones. I am trusting Jesus because He is beautiful and worthy of my adoration. I haven’t willed Heaven to be because it’s a nice idea and I don’t want to be sad. Too many people love heaven but not Jesus. Heaven is simply a wonderful bonus that should never take the place of the worthiness of Christ. It is real, and I am looking forward to it.

It is not trite to say that I will see Mom again. This hope is one of the reasons that 1 Thessalonians 4 was written. It says in part: “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep [those Christians who have died], that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven… and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

I am thinking about my mother today, and the next time I see her.

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New Years Resolutions

It is New Years Day, which for many means resolutions. Some people are going to resolve not to eat too much, or to try to diet. Some are going to resolve to be better about helping the poor. Some are going to resolve to relax more and not be so stressed out about work. New Year’s Day is a great way to hand yourself a clean slate and say, “This year, I will be different.” It holds anticipation of what might be a year from now. Just think about the way that your life was different at the end of 2012, and you realize what a difference a year makes.

Let me encourage you, as you set your resolutions, to do as theologian and preacher Jonathan Edwards. Edwards is famous for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which helped spark the First Great Awakening, but he was a pastor of a small New England Church, and was a man who took the Christian life seriously. He wrote out a list of resolutions that he endeavored to read through every day, so that the life of Christ might be more evident in him. There are almost seventy, and you can read most of them here, but let me highlight a few.

  • Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.
  • Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.
  • Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him
  • Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
  • Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule.

This year, make your resolutions of a spiritual nature, which will be more long-lasting, satisfying, rewarding, and achievable through the grace that Christ gives a Christian through the Holy Spirit.

And Happy New Years!

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Merry Christmas

Christmas is one of the most wonderful and most misunderstood holidays of the year. Amidst all the songs, the Santas, the presents, and the lights is a sometimes carefully obscured true reason for the holiday. Most Christians know the real reason we celebrate Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ.

However, even there, Christmas is misunderstood. Christmas is not a nice story about the birth of a baby who one day became a great social reformer or the humble beginnings of a great prophet. It is a gritty story that, when properly understood, makes us cry out with tears of agony and joy all at once. Let me illustrate the true meaning of Christmas.

This is Greg Butler.

In 2011, he was arrested for beating an elderly woman in Jacksonville, FL. Barbara Lesta, age 80, opened the door to him and gave him a sandwich. He left, came back, beat her, jumped on her head, and stole her car, leaving her for dead. She crawled to a neighbors house and called the police, who found Greg walking down the road with Barbara’s blood on his shoes. He was sentenced to 30 years for attempted murder, robbery, and grand theft motor vehicle.

This is Benjamin.

He was born the last day of November this year.

Let’s say that I am told that in twenty years time, Greg Butler will be killed in a prison fight, and that the only way to save his life is if someone else dies in his place. Would I be willing to send Benjamin to the prison today, to grow up and one day take his place?

Absolutely not, for two reasons.

First, Benjamin is not just a baby boy, but he is my son. In the short three weeks I have known him, he has brought immense joy to my life, and I could not bear the thought of being separated from him, especially in a place where people would not treat him right. Second, Greg Butler is not just any criminal. He has offended me personally, because Barbara Lesta was not just a random woman, she was my mother’s mother. I heard her describe what it felt like for him to jump on her head. Had she not been attacked, she might have been able to undergo surgery to remove the cancer that eventually ended her life. Greg Butler deserves his punishment, and I, more than most, want him to serve it.

Would I send my son to die for an undeserving, guilty man?

Absolutely not.

But God did.

Though I have personally offended God by my sins, and though I deserve all the justice and wrath God can muster, He loves me, and 2,000 years ago initiated the plan to pardon me. Jesus would grow up among sinners and eventually be rejected by them. He would hang on the cross, not for sins He committed, but as the punishment for the sins of those around him.

As the punishment for my sins.

The gift of the substitution, though available to all, is effective only for those who will personally trust Christ as their own Saviour. The gift, like our own Christmas gifts, is not earned by good works, but is received by faith, as it says in Ephesians 2: “For by grace are ye saved by faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Christmas is Phase 1 of the infinitely wise plan of God to give Jesus, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

What is Christmas all about?

“God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.”

That is neither clean, nor inspiring, nor trite. It is agonizing, it is glorious, and it is the best example of love.

So, Merry Christmas.

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