Monthly Archives: January 2013

Grace Before the Ages Began

Before God laid the foundation of the universe, He was planning to fulfill His purposes through grace.  The apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:8-9 “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”  When you dwell on the fact that in its essence, grace is a response to sin – our sin, this verse is staggering.  Before man existed, much less sinned, God was planning to respond to our sin with His grace manifested supremely in the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.  This has helped me tremendously with understanding the foundation of Romans 8:28, which is probably one of two “life verses” for me.

In probably the greatest letter ever written, in probably the greatest chapter of that letter, the apostle Paul builds an insurmountable argument for God’s grace.   The “great 8:28” states that “for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  One of the main questions we should rightly ask when we read these words is “does that ‘all’ really mean ALL?”

Yes, it does.  For those who have been called by God and love him through all that he is for them in Jesus Christ, every single thing in life will be worked together for their good – everything, even suffering, even sin.

How can I say that?  I go back to 2 Timothy 1:8-9.  When God looked out over the entire span of history (which he exists outside of) and ordained every single act that would ever occur, both in the sense of allowing things to occur through man’s determined responsibility of making moral choices (i.e. the “fall” and its tragic and all encompassing effects on all of creation) and also by directing events by effectual command, all of the billions and trillions and trillions and billions of decisions and outcomes that have ever and will ever occur were shaped in a manner to work for the good of those who love Him and are called by Him.

One of the best examples in the Bible of this is the story of Joseph.  In Genesis chapter 37, we learn of Joseph being sold into slavery by his own flesh and blood brothers after Joseph revealed a rather offensive dream to them.

“Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.”  And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by.  And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.”

Can you imagine this?  Put yourself in the situation for a moment.  Your own brothers sell you into slavery because of their jealousy.  What emotions would you have experienced if you were Joseph – anger, fear, sadness, loneliness, unloved, an absolute feeling of hopelessness?  Remember, Joseph didn’t know the rest of the story like we do.  All he saw was pain and sorrow and a situation that seemed to make no sense.

Of course, he eventually “winds up” being in the right place at the right time to save his family from starvation.  But the words of Joseph reveal the astonishing reality of the situation from God’s standpoint.  In chapter 45, after Joseph has revealed himself to his brothers, we read what Joseph told them.

“And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.  For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.  And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God.  He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” (5-8)

Joseph tells his brothers that God was working through their actions the entire time.  Don’t miss this.  They were sinning.  There were committing evil against their brother.  They were ABSOLUTELY responsible for what they were doing.  They would have to answer to God for their evil deeds.  But, God was working behind the scenes to save a people.  “God sent me,” said Joseph.

That’s not all.  In chapter 50, after Joseph’s father Jacob has died and his brothers are once again regretting their sin against their brother, Joseph offers words that are so deep, they take my breath away.

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (50:19-20)

Did you catch that?  What was meant for evil, God meant for good.  I almost don’t know what else to say after that but read Romans 8:28 once more.  The rock-solid foundation of its promise is here.  It is real.  God will work all things for my good, even when it looks like evil is prevailing, even when my enemies seem to have the upper hand, even when I cannot see any possible outcome that will be good, because I know that God has been planning my good through His grace since “before the ages began.”

God is ALWAYS there, sharing in our grief and our pain, even while He has the entire scope of His sovereign plan to bring new life out of the sorrow in view; he still weeps with us and assures us that we are loved.  O WHAT A GOD!

Gold Mining and God’s Word

Yesterday marked the 165th anniversary of gold being discovered at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California.  What followed over the next two years was a mass movement of some 300,000 people in search of instant riches, eventually becoming known as the California Gold Rush.

What most of these seekers encountered upon setting out however, was a grueling trip across formidable terrain or seas only to reach an exhausting process of actually getting to the gold.  Initially, there were wide-spread, but relatively small finds of gold dust and small nuggets near the surface, mainly in rivers and creeks.  But over time, it was realized that to get to the real treasure, they would have to dig.  Skimming the surface would result in some gains, but those profits were quickly eaten up by the requirements of living.  Depth was the key to reach the gold.

There is a profound truth for Christians here, but first a question.  How silly would it have been for these people, who had risked their entire livelihood on this venture, who had put their entire families’ future on the line for gold, how irresponsible and ultimately destructive would it have been for them to arrive in California only to go about the land merely kicking up dust and turning over rocks, never even breaking the ground’s surface, for years upon years?

Now overlay this idea onto the Christian view of God’s Word.  We have been given something infinitely more valuable than gold, yet we go about rummaging around on the surface in hopes of a nugget here or a nugget there.  True, there are jewels to be found and God can and does speak through a single verse or passage.  But He gave us 66 books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament, ALL comprising His perfect and complete way of revealing Himself to His creation.  That means something.

I’ll come back to what it means in just a second, but I want to say something about how we view God’s Word in general.  For many Christians, the Bible is really two books.  One is the New Testament which tells us about the life and death of Jesus and how to be saved.  The other is the Old Testament which tells a confusing and strange story about how God dealt with people in the past.  Thinking of the Bible in this manner betrays two different views of God – the way He acted before Jesus and the way He acted through Jesus.  The problem is, it’s not Biblical.

God has not changed.  The God that wiped out entire nations in the Old Testament to keep His chosen people safe is the exact same God who killed Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts when they played with sin.  The entire Bible, Genesis to Revelation, is one story about God’s perfect plan for all of history in redeeming a people for Himself from their sin through the death and resurrection of His one and only Son, resulting in Him receiving all honor and glory.  The Bible is God’s way of telling us about what kind of God He is and it is not mainly about us; it is about Him.  It is a story about His hatred of sin, His wrath because of sin, and is great and unfailing love for His children.  When we read the Old Testament, we should see one giant arrow pointing toward Christ as our only hope and the New Testament as one giant arrow coming from Christ as the only hope of the world.

Understanding this takes me back to the fact that God gave us the entire Bible, all 66 books worth.

What this means is that it is ALL important, not just the passages we find comforting or easy.  God intends that all scripture be profitable to us, even Leviticus, Numbers and Revelation.  The problem is that we don’t dig.  We skim along the surface day after day, year after year, and end up never experiencing growth in spiritual maturity.  The result is that we build unstable foundations that are easily collapsed under the hardships of life.

Every single one of us will come to a point in our lives, if we haven’t already, where all around our souls will give way.  If we have a shallow understanding and small view of God, a collapse of faith is possible.  But, if we have a deep, hard-sought, and hard-won understanding of the sovereign God of the universe and His ability and willingness to keep us and deliver us, the Holy Spirit may be pleased to use that knowledge and fortify the very foundations of our lives.

God intended us to read and understand the Bible.  Yes, some of it is very, very difficult to understand and there is much debate on some verses, but that should not stop us from digging for treasure.  We need to pray, think long and hard, and meditate on God’s Word.  We need to put down the rake and pick up the shovel.  There is “gold” to be found there if we put forth the effort to find it.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”  “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”  For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever. Amen.  – Romans 11:33-36

Marriage and 8 Simple Ways to Bless Your Wife

As of next month and if the Lord wills, I will have been married for 16 years.  For some of the old timers, that still puts me in the “rookie” category.  But when I think about these past years, “crazy-long” is the phrase that comes to mind.  And by that I only mean it seems like a lifetime ago that we two kids started out on our journey together.

As I look back at the struggles and challenges we’ve faced along the way, I am convinced that God has had a hand in keeping our marriage together.  Without His active intervention in the midst of our stumbling and fumbling, “we” would have stopped being “we” many years ago.  But He has kept us together, and here we are today – more in love than ever and still acting like kids most of the time (to the dismay of own children!).  Of course we still have challenges, but knowing that God is guiding our steps brings great comfort and confidence in our future.

What really helped though has been to understand what marriage truly is according to God’s Word.  More specifically, as a husband, studying and learning what Ephesians 5:25-32 means has had a huge impact on how I view my wife.  Here’s the text:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

I am truly thankful God has brought me up close and personal with this passage.  It has become an absolute delight and a joy to put it to use and start walking it out.  Oh I mess up all of the time, and I really mean all of the time, and have to apologize, and seek forgiveness both from my wife and God.  But to understand how marriage was designed is to get the answers to the test.  It’s to see the foundation that supports the structure.

The problem is that God’s intention has become foreign to most of us.  The good thing about it however, is that our society’s gutter-level view and treatment of marriage puts God’s plan for it in stark relief.  His purpose and goal of marriage is something infinitely higher than what we have turned it into.  From the very beginning, God’s vision for and definition of marriage has been to give us a touchable, seeable illustration of Jesus Christ’s unwavering commitment to and untiring love for his bride – the church.  It is ultimately meant to be a picture of His blood-bought covenant with His chosen people.  When we get this, by necessity, it will affect every part of marriage and take us from holding a self-centered view of marriage to a gospel-centered view of marriage.

Husbands:  If you’ve never been taught this about marriage, I invite you to study it for yourself.  Make it a goal to find out the true meaning of your bonds of marriage.  On a more practical note, over the years (and I think she would agree) I have managed to learn a thing or two about loving my wife.  And one of the main things I picked up along the way is that marriage demands effort.  If you want your marriage to be successful, you must sow into it by investing time, patience, self-sacrifice, listening, giving, and loving.

How often are you intentional about giving of yourself to bless your wife?  If the answer is not frequently, consider making some changes.  I’ll start by offering some simple ideas about how to do just that.  Some are common sense, but that doesn’t mean that they are common.  I’ve done each one of these over the years and I think she appreciated them.  Feel free to tweak them as needed or come up with your own, but by all means, seek out ways to show your wife you love her.

1)  Clean the house for a month.  You do everything – no exceptions – for an entire month.  She gets to sit around and do whatever she pleases while you vacuum, sweep, mop, dust, wash dishes, etc.  It’s a challenge, but it will open your eyes to a lot of things and bless her in the process.

2)  Rub her feet.  Get some scented lotion, sit down, and let her prop her feet up on your lap.  You can watch TV or talk, whatever SHE wants to do.  But spend a good 20 minutes on each foot.

3)  Designate one 7 day period where you give her a gift every day.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, but make it thoughtful.  This one will take a bit of preparation and listening for really good ideas about things she would appreciate.  Don’t tell her what you are doing.  Just let her wake up to a present for 7 days.

4)  Give her a free day.  You take the kids (if you have kids) and go somewhere or let her go somewhere.  The point is to give her an entire absolutely free day to do whatever she wants to do.  And under no circumstances make her feel guilty about it.

5)  Take her on a weekend getaway.  If it means you have to plan for months, do it.  Arrange plans for the kids, save money, and go.  Keep it a surprise until you get where you’re going.  Leave everything behind for a couple of days to enjoy one another.

6)  Talk to her, and more importantly, listen to her.  Ok, that doesn’t sound like much and it really isn’t if you think about it.  Make it a policy that you spend regular time together just talking.  The topic is whatever you want, but make it meaningful conversation.  Talk about how things are going in your marriage and family.  Be intentional about it.

7)  Pray for her.   This is one of the most important ones.  You should pray for your wife every single day.  Pray for her relationship with God.  Pray for her contentment in Christ.  Pray for her strength to be a good wife and mother.  Pray that God would bless her daily.  Pray for the needs you know she has.

8)  Pray with her.  This one may be harder for some you, but that’s okay.  If you’ve never prayed with your wife, just the two of you, let it be awkward if it needs to be, but man up and do it.  Take the lead and pray with your wife.

3 Prayers for My Family in 2013

2012 is gone.  It has been thrown onto the ever-increasing pile of bygone years amassing itself in my rearview mirror.  And according to that pile, time really does fly.  2013 has arrived on scene and started its clock.  The holidays are over, the government is still dysfunctional, and we’ve yet to put away our Christmas decorations (but we’re in the south, so were fine).  Even still, the beginning of a new year is a great time for reflection on where we are and on where we want to be in life.

For many, 2013 has been launched in hopes of bettering themselves in some way.  Losing weight, saving more money, being more organized, managing time better, and a plethora of other commitments and resolutions have been made.  I think all of these are great and I hope if you’ve set some of these for yourself you will stay committed all year and see them through to success.

I personally have never been one to make resolutions, and I didn’t really make any this year either.  But I do have some goals, more like prayers really, for myself and my family.  As I look back over 2012, I see where God has moved in unmistakable ways.  His blessings have overflowed for my family time and time again even amidst the trials.  It is as though He was (and still is) heralding His promise of Romans 8:28 from the shadows of our limited understanding in His sovereign ways.  So as I peer anxiously into 2013, I see no reason to stop believing His promises.  I see faint silhouettes of what He has lined up for us but nothing more than outlines.  And that’s where my prayers come in.  I share a few of them with you in the hope that they may encourage you and your family.

I have and will continue to pray that God will use our family for His kingdom in whatever ways He sees fit.  Meaning, I will be intentionally looking for ministry opportunities for my family to be a part of, whether through church (though not necessarily) or just meeting the needs of those around us.  I want to truly live out the Christian life in boldness and without fear as a family this year more so than ever.  The word “RADICAL” comes to mind when I think about the possibilities.

I have and will continue to pray that God would be glorified amidst our everyday interactions as a family.  Meaning, as husband and father, I will be intentional in fostering an environment where at every opportunity, we lift one another up with encouragement and love.  I pray that our home will become even more of a refuge of safety and comfort and unconditional love amidst a chaotic world.

I have and will continue to pray that we as a family grow in the knowledge of the Lord during our times of family worship.  Meaning, as the spiritual leader of my home, I will be intentional in keeping our family devotions firmly grounded in Biblical truths and pray for growth together in God’s Word.  I pray that our time together will be meaningful, understandable, joyous, and Christ-exalting.

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 15:5-6

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