In just a few days the world will collectively celebrate the coming of a brand new year. New Year's resolutions and planned gatherings, reflections on the year past and thoughts on the one to come will take center stage. As I think to the turning of another page on my calendar, I am struck by the reality that our time here is so very limited. As opposed to common young adult thought, we will not live forever on this planet. We all have a time appointed.
If you think about it, death is very humbling. It turns us "self-assured," "self-productive," "self-sustaining" beings into a pile of ash. It reduces us back into the nothingness from whence we came. The thought of it rankles. We were never meant to experience it, were never meant to be touched by its sting. But here we are, surrounded, influenced, and affected by it. So why talk about death when so close to the happiness and joy of a New Year? Because, as God alone so beautifully does, He has created another purpose for this thing sin intended solely for destruction.
Through Christ, death, the destroyer, has been turned into that which unshackles us from the chains of sin which seek to bind us in their grip. It is turned into a vehicle of freedom. Through it, we will be raised unto new life to be lived for an eternal "New Year" before the throne of God where sin will no longer reign! By it we are freed to forever escape the bonds of sin and live in completed perfection before Christ for all eternity.
Phenomenal how He does that, isn't it? How He takes something so utterly miserable and transforms it into something good? Without God's sustaining grace, our hearts would cease to pump, our lungs would fail to draw breath. By His decree we take each step as we go about the day He has given. Not one iota of "our" existence has anything to do with "us." It's all about Him - and death is used to keep us mindful of that fact.
Death is allowed that our focus might remain on He who destroyed its staying power. It inhabits our mortal frames that we might not "trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead..." (2 Corinthians 1:9). Death, sin's ultimate last stab at the work of Christ, ought catapult our minds and hearts in the direction of the One who took death upon Himself and crushed into powder its claim over us. Our thoughts should focus on the One who delivered us from an eternity without Him. It is from that dreadful state, so great a death, He has saved us!
As we think about the New Year, let us be resolved to keep our focus on the One without whom there would be no new day, new tomorrow, new plans, new hopes, new dreams, "New Year," or new life!
Every time I read through Romans I am blown away by all the doctrine, theology, and apologetics contained in its sixteen short chapters. Chapter eight has long been one of my favorites and is definitely appropriate during this week of gift-giving. Just look at what it tells us we have been given!
Verse 1: There is no more condemnation to those who are in Christ! No more condemnation! In Christ we are washed, cleansed, held guiltless, pure, and righteous before a completely perfect and holy God! He will never again look at us and say "Guilty" but "Covered in the blood of Jesus." Satan may condemn, but we are guilt-free in Christ! What a phenomenal gift!
Verse 2: We are made free from the law of sin and death! Sin and death have absolutely NO hold over us whatsoever! Through the Holy Spirit, we have been empowered to stand up to sin, say 'no,' and live righteously. Will we fall? Yes. We all do. But sin ultimately has no power over us! We do not have to bow to sin's false lordship. And when, at the end of this life's journey, sin tries to win one final time, we can say, "Where is your sting? Christ has won the victory!"
Verse 3: God came down and took on the form of human flesh. This will long, long remain a source of amazement. To think that God Almighty condescended to leave His glorious throne in perfect heaven to dwell in the muck and mire of a sin-filled, cold and dirty world that He might ransom us to Himself! Is there any greater gift than this?
Verse 15/28: We can call God our "Father." This is a concept I have come to treasure more as time goes by. God is not just our Savior, Master, Lord, and King. He is also our Father! He loves us as a father loves his child. He cares for us, desires the best for us, has plans for us, leads us, guides us, directs us. He watches over us.
Verse 32: He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? He spared not. He delivered him up. Shall he not freely give us all things? What a gift! What a remarkable verse! God held nothing back but the sting of sin and death for you and I! He gave his Son. He gave us life. He gives us hope and love and a promise of a life lived for our good and His glory. Shall He not freely give us all things? Yes! Yes He will! He will give us all things indeed! And in so many ways, He already has!
As you consider the many gifts God has given us this Christmas, I pray that you, like I, will be held in awe and wonder over what He has done. It was not simply one gift given to the world when Jesus came to inhabit the earth - the number of gifts which come with His sacrificial action are as innumerable as the stars of heaven, among which a brighter shone that night long ago.
What is prayer to the Christian? Among many topics, prayer is one regarding which countless sermons have been preached, endless conversations had, and classes taken. It is a preponderance of endless measure inspiring awe, questions, and praise. Though many can discuss what prayer is, I have yet to meet one who can authoritatively discuss how it works. Prayer is, in part, a mystery and one that is worthy of every Christian's thoughts.
If there is one thing I have learned through my time overseas, it is that prayer is a great privilege. Consider it. In prayer we are talking with God! I think often times we as Christians take very much for granted the fact that we have this unbelievable gift of approaching the throne of the Almighty Creator of the universe and speaking with Him.
For Muslims, the Christian concept of prayer is far off and far fetched. For these, prayer is a meaningless repetition of vain words spoken five times a day at scheduled intervals facing a particular direction. They will tell you that in prayer they are not, truly, speaking with God. They will also tell you that God may or may not hear them, he may or may not care, and he may or may not respond. I had a friend once look at me utterly flabbergasted when I told her I spoke with God on a daily basis. Her response to my statement was, "No! No man can speak with his God!" Needless to say, we went on to discuss how this was, in fact, very possible.
For many religions, prayer is an instrument through which one hopes they reach God. For others prayer is a cleansing ritual or an act of obedience in hopes of avoiding the wrath of God. For yet others prayer is a mystical exercise by which the self is aligned with the universe. ONLY in Christianity is prayer actually sitting at the foot of the Creator and receiving His listening ear!
Prayer is not vain repetitions or memorized words. It is not petitioning a genie who you hope will grant your three wishes. It is not an overture to a harsh and unloving God. How devastating prayer would be if it were so! The fact alone that prayer, boiled down, is simply "talking with God," ought leave us in awe and wonder. We are talking with God! My mind cannot fully comprehend such an incredible mystery but let me tell you, I will exercise my right as a child of God and embrace this precious privilege!
Questions abound as to why there is suffering in this world. Why must Christians suffer? What good does it do? What is the point? Why doesn't God just make it all go away and "heal the child" or "give their finances back" or "make the situation better"? "Why doesn't God DO SOMETHING?" Well, my dear friends, I am here to tell you that in each of our lives, and most specifically through trials, God IS doing something.
He is sanctifying us. Through the years I have been taught that suffering draws us closer to the LORD more than any other vehicle through which growth is obtained. When we are emptied of ourselves and cast upon the Cross of Christ, that to which we cling becomes our foremost thought, hope and desire. Sin melts in light of the Cross, becomes despised, wretched and ugly. Sin is abandoned that we might be sanctified in Jesus, taught to suffer as he suffered, giving glory to God and upon Him casting our entire being, mind, body, and soul.
He is purifying us. Suffering refines us as fire to gold and melts away that in us which is not pleasing to God. Like fire, it brings to the surface what we are without Him and burns away our self-sufficiency, pride, and carelessness until we are left broken, humbled, and overwhelmed by the grace and mercy of God.
He is perfecting us. In suffering, every breath I draw, every tear I cry, every sorrow I feel ought be done in worship and praise and submission to the glory, sovereignty, and holiness of God. Worship poured out from a heart buffeted and weary, wounded and sorrowful, squeezed out from a place of unspeakable pain, is worship most beautiful, accepted of God, holy, pure, and pleasing. It is refined worship. It is a worship that denies self, denies comfort, denies earthly happiness and, in the midst of tragedy and heartache, still cries out, "You are God."
God IS doing something when we suffer. He is producing in us patience and hope. He is revealing the greatness of the Gospel. He is revealing the greatness of His grace and mercy. He is revealing His marvelous love. And ultimately, He is making us like Himself. For this reason alone, we can praise Him through the darkest of trials, the worst of storms, and the deepest of pits into which we find ourselves fallen.
but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. Romans 5:3-5
Thanksgiving is over and now the western world has turned its attention onto Christmas. Much of what I overhear in stores these days is, "How many days left??" or "How am I going to get everything done?" Worries over what to serve and who to invite, gifts to give and expanding waistlines are as much or more the topic of choice than the beauty and joy which this season ought to inspire.
One of the most common questions I hear is, "What do you want for Christmas?" The answers are many and varied and, as I listen to them all, I cannot help but reflect on the fact that I have already been given what I want. Beyond temporal gifts, beyond time spent with family and friends, beyond traditional enjoyments of rolled-out cookies and hot cocoa, I have been given the most blessed and glorious gift of all time.
The wretch, the once-unrepentant sinner who wallowed in the muck and mire of sin's ugliness, by the blood of Christ has been transformed, made new, cleansed, washed, purified, sanctified, justified, and made holy! I could want nothing besides and yet God goes beyond this gift and gives me infinitely more!
God gives me everything necessary for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). He gives me unrepentant love (John 3:16). He gives me hope and joy and peace (Romans 15:13). He gives me access to God (Romans 5:2). He gives me an eternity spent with Christ - an eternity spent with the one "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification" Romans 4:25.
All this He has given me. All this is mine!
What an incredible thought! This salvation, this love, this eternal hope, this purpose, this life in Christ is mine! It is mine to own, to revel in, to sing about and proclaim. It is mine to speak of and give to lost and hurting souls. It will never break, tarnish, become outdated, need those dreaded batteries which are never included or require "some assembly" for which one needs an architectural degree to complete. For all eternity, these glorious gifts, free for the taking, are mine!
What praises we ought sing to the greatest giver of gifts ever known!