Lately, I’ve been feeling very dry
and dead inside. I decided to do some personal refreshing—something we all need
from time to time. I started reading Soul Keeping, by John Ortberg. In the
introduction, he speaks about his relationship with Dallas Willard. He tells a
story about a young child that would come into his father’s room and crawl into
bed. Since it was dark, the child could not tell if his father was looking at
him. Dallas says the child would ask, “Is your face turned toward me, Father?” Only
when the father had assured him that his face was turned toward the boy could the
child sleep. This struck me deeply because of my granddaughter, Gloria.
Gloria and her mother live with me and my wife. She has been with us all her life and is the joy of Nana and Pawpaw (my wife and me). Most evenings her mother works until after bedtime. For this reason, Gloria starts the night with us. She climbs into bed between the two of us. But Gloria will not sleep if Pawpaw is turned away from her. I will hear her little voice say, “Pawpaw! Sleep with me!” This is her way of asking me to roll over and face her—a request that is always honored. Once I roll over to face her, she will quickly fall asleep no matter how dark. She feels safe and loved because her Pawpaw is facing her.
you to take this to heart. Gloria just knows that, with Pawpaw present and
facing her, she is safe. She can rest in my arms, knowing that I will not
abandon her and will protect her. It’s funny because her mother comes in later
and carries Gloria to her bed. Gloria will often get up during the night and
find her way back to Pawpaw’s arms and face.
Think about this for a moment. God, our eternal Father, is always looking upon you. You are safe; you can rest; you can trust. There is no danger that can overcome you. Yes, we may have trouble in this life. Yes, we may struggle. This is not a prosperity gospel. But no matter what comes in this life, your Father is looking upon your face and keeping an ever-watchful eye upon you. And, whether you recognize it or not, you are wrapped safely in his embrace. Nothing can remove you.
trust God, just as Gloria trusts her Pawpaw.
This morning, while reading in Luke 12, I came across Jesus words
in verses 2 and 3:
“Nothing is covered up which will
not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have
said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in
private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops” (ESV).
Of course, the context is his warning to avoid the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He often accuses them of doing one thing in public but doing another in private. Jesus does not want this to be us.
One way this is taken is to live our lives in constant awareness
that what we do in secret is seen by God and will be revealed. But is this what
he is calling us to do? Is this how he is calling us to live? Is this the
secret to holiness? I would argue that it is not—at least not without some
deeper understanding. Years ago, a young man asked me the difference between a
child and an adult. My answer to his was simple, “A child does what is right to
avoid being punished (if a child thinks he or she can get away with it, they
have no reason to restrain themselves). But an adult does what is right for no
other reason than that it is the right thing to do. This is character.
It has often been said that character is who you are when no one else is watching. If you are holy there is no need to fear being caught because the holy person lives holy; because the holy person is holy. We see a similar version of this when Paul speaks in Romans 2 about those who are a law unto themselves. The law says “Do not murder.” But if I love my neighbor, I need no law telling me not to murder him. The law says “Do not commit adultery.” But if I love my neighbor, I would never touch his wife. If I love my wife, then I will not touch another woman. My character, if holy, should be such that I do not need a law to tell me what to do. Paul describes the law as a guardian to keep us in check until Christ came. He goes on to say that “now that faith has come we are no longer under a guardian” (Gal 3:24-25 ESV). Don’t get me wrong. This is not antinomianism. This is transformation. The spirit of the law is still kept—I do not kill, steal, cheat, etc. because I am no longer a person who would do such things. Through the Holy Spirit’s presence, I have become a different person. While I am not there perfectly, I am getting there. This is where the law comes in. If I am a new believer who has not learned quite how God would have me live, I can look into the law and see the things which God forbade. I am no longer under law, for it was only a shadow of the real things that were to come (Heb 10:1). Yet, I must now live in the reality that casts the shadow—the truly holy life. So, please do not take this as a license to unholy living. This is actually a key to truly free-living—free from the bondage to our lost and spiritually dead selves.
What about this command of Jesus to understand that all hidden things will be displayed. Do we live holy lives because we know we will someday be caught? Not if we are holy. Jesus is here making a statement of fact. He says nothing is hidden from God and nothing will escape the light of his truth. This is not a reason to live holy (I live this way so God does not catch me living that way). It is an encouragement to holiness (I live this way because God, who loves me, sees me and I seek to please him). There are those times when we are tempted. One major problem in the church is porn addiction among the people and leaders. This is one of those problems that is fed by darkness and hiding. Addictions are another. When we sneak around to do things we lead ourselves into a bad place. Before long the hidden and dark take over our lives. Jesus is reminding us that nothing is hidden, so live the life of an open book. Understand these things. Live this life, not because you will get caught, but because you want to live the life of light and truth. This is an effective inspiration to avoid hypocrisy.
Colossians 1:12-14 says, “…giving thanks to the father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (English Standard Version).
In the previous passage, Paul expressed his hope that the readers would be strengthened, empowered and enabled to endure with patience a and joy. He then gave them a reason to be joyful: the actions of the Father on their behalf.
The passage tells us that God the Father has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints. ἱκανώσαντι translated as “qualified” is interesting. According to Perschbacher[i] another meaning is “to make sufficient.” This is a powerful thing. God makes us sufficient to inherit with the saints. To be sufficient is to be enough, to be fully qualified with nothing lacking. He does not simply start the process of qualifying us and leave the rest to our own actions. No. He made us completely sufficient to inherit. There is nothing left for us to do but recognize the change wrought, and respond with loving praise, thanksgiving and obedience. We do not inherit our portion among the saints through any quality within ourselves or personal works (Eph 2:9), but through divine action making us qualified/sufficient. God changes us; we experience the change; God transforms; we are transformed. God is the actor; we are the recipients of the action.
Paul goes into more detail in the next portion when he speaks of our deliverance from the power/authority of darkness and our transfer into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Note that he does not use kingdom to refer to both realms. He speaks of the kingdom of the Son, but of the power of darkness. The power of darkness is not a legitimate ruler or kingdom. It is a usurpation of the rightful rule of God. In our sinful state, we were under the command and power of darkness—sin, depravity, etc. We were ruled by darkness itself, and by the darkness within us. But God removed us, he delivered us, from that dominion. Because of his actions, we have been transferred to the kingdom of the Son. Rather than being dominated by sin and wickedness, locked in darkness, we are not ruled by the Holy One of God, his beloved Son, the bringer of light and righteousness.
The last part of this passage helps us understand this qualifying action: in Christ, God forgave our sins, redeeming us (buying us back from the one to whom our sins had enslaved us). God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together to redeem you—purchasing you—with forgiveness of your sins, and a transfer from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of light. It is their action which accomplishes this.
[i] Perschbacher, The New Analytical Greek Lexicon.
In 1 Timothy 1:15 (ESV), Paul says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” I often wonder how many Christians believe this. Don’t get me wrong. I understand that to be a Christian is to understand one’s need for a savior, Jesus’s status as the only source of salvation, and our personal status as saved by him. However, while understanding this and even stating it, we often act as if the gates to the kingdom were barred after we passed through; or as if passage through the gate, for those who come after us, has changed. You are probably wondering what I mean by this.
Let’s start with our own salvation. There was a time when you were trapped in sin (as was I). If it were not true, then you needed no savior. Despite your sins, and knowing them full well, Jesus called you to himself, credited your sins to his account (took them upon himself) and credited his righteousness to your account (declared you justified and righteous in the sight of God). Jesus did not say, “Take care of your sin first, then I will save you.” He did not say, “Get your life right and I will come into it.” He said, “You are trapped and enslaved by sin. You have destroyed your life. You are a person whose natural state is rebellion and self-degradation. But I love you, regardless. I love you; I want you for my own; I died for you; I am going to transform you.”
John 3:16 is a very popular and well-known verse. But too often we forget to read on. Verse seventeen says Jesus did not come to condemn the world. Verse eighteen tells us something we must understand about ourselves. It says those who “do not believe are condemned already” (ESV). We did not need to be condemned. We did not need anyone to come and condemn us. We, in our natural state, were condemned because of our sins. Jesus came as the solution to condemnation; as our liberator from sin and sin’s results. He came while we were trapped in sin (Romans 5:8).
We—as his followers who walk in his steps, work as his hands, and beat as his heart—should love those around us, regardless of their sinful status. Take careful note of that. We should love those around us, not “in spite of” their sinful status, not “because of” their sinful status, but “regardless of” (without regard for) their sinful status. Too often, after coming to Christ ourselves, we pretend that others must first stop sinning before we, the people of Christ, accept them. When we do this, we charge them a toll for our love: “Become like me and I will accept and love you.” To whom does the average sinner go to when suffering or in need? Church people? Pastors? For the most part, no. So many people refuse to speak to Christians about their sins and the results of those sins because they expect to be condemned and judged. They expect this because it is what they often experience from Christians—Christians who have forgotten their own personal sinfulness and who have no idea how to model the love of Christ.
How should we respond to the sinners around us? That is an easy answer to give, but, like most easy answers, it is often misunderstood. We should respond to the sinners around us with love and acceptance. Though trapped in sin, we must acceptthem and lovethem. Why? Because that is exactly what Jesus did. That is exactly what he did for us. When encountering such prodigals, we act more like the older brother, forgetting the heart of the father who wanted his son to return, regardless of what the wayward son had done (Luke 11:15-32). While many of us are saying, “Get your life right. Stop sinning. Be a better person.” God is saying, pleading, crying out: “Just come to me! Come as you are! Come, laying aside all else. I’ll cleanse you. I’ll save you. I’ll make you whole and pure.” But all they hear is the din of our condemnation, as we lay burdens upon them—burdens which we ourselves never had to lift, never would lift, never could lift, for salvation (Matthew 23:4). When we came to Jesus, we said “Take me as I am and make me as you are.” So, why tell others, today, “Become like me and he will accept you”? Of course, we may never say it outright, but we too often act it out.
Look at Jesus and his example. Where were the sinners in his day? Where was Jesus? Where are the sinners in our day? Where are we? Now, where would Jesus have us be? When sinners came to Jesus, how did he respond to them? How do we respond to them? Now, how would he have us respond to him?
Of course, many people will point out, rightly, that Jesus always told the sinners who came to him, “Go, and sin no more.” This is true. Yes, there is a place for us to tell sinners that their actions should (or even, must) stop. But did Jesus do this before accepting and loving them, or after? Of course, he loved them first. He accepted them first. He welcomed them into his life and into his presence first.
So, why do we too often tell sinners, “You stay over there until you stop sinning, then I will love and accept
you.” Why do we hole up in our churches where the sinners are not to be found, while patting ourselves on the back for reaching the world around us? Why do we do this, when our Lord would have us out looking for sinners to whom we can demonstrate his love? Yes, I know the sinners came to Jesus, but how many sinners come to you for help? Perhaps, if you would come out of your comfort zone, accept and love them, they would start to do just that. I can assure you that if you become known as a person who loves the sinner two wonderful things will happen. First, you will develop a reputation among sinners that is Christlike instead of Pharisaical. Second, they will start seeking you out—love attracts those who need love. Of course, another thing will happen as well. The modern religious Pharisees (Today this is spelled ‘good church people’) will lump you in with the sinners. But when this happens, you are in the best of company—Jesus.
A central focus of my life and ministry has, for some time, been prayer. I strive to spend regular times in prayer. Part of this includes a daily prayer time, a weekly period of a couple hours where I get away to pray and let God speak through authors and Scripture, as well as making a habit of lifting before the Lord anyone who comes to mind through the day.
Before you look at this and gush that Pastor Ken is so holy, understand that this is what I strive for. I fail at it often. For the last few weeks, my daily prayer time in the mornings has been sadly, and sinfully, lacking. I, like anyone else, can let other concerns get in the way. This morning, I started thinking about the things which keep us from going before God in prayer. I considered four causes (they are not in order):
First, we get busy. “Sorry Lord, but you know how busy I am this morning.” This has happened to me with my educational efforts. I have a great deal of homework, and only a limited amount of time to do it. It is easy to get tempted to lay aside the prayer time to concentrate on other work. Pastors are notorious for this, because the work we most often do is in service to the Lord. But this is the problem. It assumed we can serve the Lord without going before him on our faces, seeking his presence and his power in our lives. In effect, we say, “I’ve got this God. You sit this one out.” We don’t have it. We need God’s active presence in everything we do. This is true for me, as a pastor. It is true for you in whatever vocation or trade God has placed you in.
Second, has to do with getting busy. In the first, we get so busy doing good that we try to do it without God. The second is different, but subtle. We have a limited time of day to do everything. If I don’t finish this assignment or project it effects my grade, gets me in trouble with my boss, cuts into my profit margin, etc. However, if I don’t spend time with God, he will forgive me. This is true. But this consideration shows something about our heart condition. Can you think of any greater reason to spend time with God than his mercy and love? He forgives me because he loves me, and it is in his nature to do so. Now, I respond by taking advantage of that love. Rather than cherishing the relationship, I take it for granted. This is just not right. God, the loving and merciful, deserves far more attention than the squeaky wheels in our lives.
Third and fourth have to do with maturity and relationship. The third reason I considered for not praying is that we find it boring. Many do find it boring to pray. I used to be one of them. For me this is confounded by the fact that my mind was always running after things I needed to do. However, this is the problem. Consider your relationships. I was once a young man—a long, long time ago. My wife and I were once dating—my kids can’t even imagine such a thing. When we were dating, she was fascinating. I loved to just sit and look at her, consider her face, hear her voice and just spend time together. We didn’t even need to talk. Just being in her presence made my head spin. Now, after thirty years of marriage, we it’s harder—much harder. It takes restraint sometimes when we sit down to eat to not pull out the phone and check email, etc. Is it possible that you are bored when you pray, because you are living on an old relationship? Everything new grows cold. Fan into flames your love for Christ. Build desire, like you once did in the relationship. How? That will depend on yourself. Find your passion in Christ. What about him still brings you excitement? What gives you a desire to learn, to listen, to implore?
Fourth, is related to the third. Some of us don’t put off prayer because of boredom, or being busy, but because we just don’t know what to say. This is the easiest fixed, but also one of the most commonly cited causes. Imagine someone who longs to have a deep relationship with you, but you avoid them just because you don’t know what to say. If they want such a relationship, perhaps they will do the talking. There’s an option! If you don’t know what to say, open your Bible and ask him to speak to you. Then, sit silently for a while. From time to time, read and pray the words before you on the page.
Prayer is the work of a disciple. It is the one thing we can do which requires no special gift—we all receive that gift when the Holy Spirit comes upon us in salvation. Prayer is also the most powerful thing God has given us. Imagine, the God who spoke the universe into existence, wants to hear how your day is going. Imagine, he loves you enough to take not only an interest, but also an active role in your day.
Lay aside the excuses. Go to God; spend time with him.
I write this, as I sit in Korea at my brother-in-law’s home. I’ve been thinking this morning about a recent event and how it may appear to some. We left the US on March 7 bound for Asia. This involved flying out of Chicago to Shanghai where we spent the night in a small Chinese hotel. The next day, we flew the rest of the way to Incheon, Korea—my wife’s hometown. The trip has been a wonderful adventure. We saw the Shanghai Bund (the picturesque financial district skyline). We rode the Maglev train in Shanghai, which reaches speeds of over 250 miles per hour. We’ve seen places from my wife’s childhood and our early married days in Korea, as well as war monuments and family. Besides all this, the food has been amazing. Wonderful authentic Chinese and Korean food. My wife also had the joy of preparing a nice meal to share with family. She loves to cook, and to share her cooking with people she cares about.
One thing happened that really got me thinking this morning. When we left the plane in Shanghai, it took two hours to get through immigration and to retrieve our luggage. We found that my wife’s suitcase was missing. She was quite upset. After filling in paperwork, we left the airport and went on with our trip. I explained that many things could have happened and she should not get her hopes up, but should just enjoy the rest of the trip.
Between then and now, the airline found her suitcase, put in on a plane to Korea and delivered it last night—about a week after our arrival here. We are grateful to family and friends who prayed. We are grateful to God. We praise God that he answers prayers. This gratefulness and the idea of prayer got me thinking about such matters and how the Church and the world sees them. I especially think of how the world sees them because I have many nonbelieving friends who have a hard time understanding our thinking on this and assume I am saying things I am not. Allow me to explain.
First, the loss of a suitcase is a very trivial matter. I agree. It is trivial indeed, especially when it is not your suitcase, and you are not thousands of miles from home with only the clothes on your back. My wife however was quite distraught by this. She had bought all new clothes for the trip—something she only does about once a decade. The suitcase also contained gifts for her family—important in a society where a visitor brings gifts. Also consider that since she had only a set of clothes here, she had to borrow one from our sister-in-law to have clothing while hers were being washed. This also meant clothes had to be washed much more often, making the trip much less enjoyable and far more difficult. So, while some might think the loss of a suitcase is a trivial thing to pray about, and far too trivial for God to bother with, for the one without the contents of the suitcase it can be far from trivial. I encouraged my wife to not let the missing luggage get her down, but I could tell it was bothering her. It robbed her of some of the joy she could have otherwise had on the trip. Yes, that is a matter of her priorities, but they are her priorities and I must deal with them.
Second, some will argue that praying for a suitcase to be returned and then having it returned is faulty reasoning. They will accuse me of committing post hoc ergo propter hoc. This is an old fallacy in which one assumes the occurrence of B after A, means (usually offered as proof) B was caused by A. If while walking down the street I picked up a penny, and then experiencing good things the rest of the day this does not mean my good day was caused by picking up the penny—no matter how many times you hear “See a penny, pick it up and all the day you’ll have good luck.” But this is not what I am claiming here.
You see, I am not saying God took time out of his day to find and retrieve my wife’s suitcase. But I am also not saying he didn’t. You see I don’t care about the mechanism. I and others were concerned for my wife. We prayed for her, that this pressure on her would be alleviated—through the retrieval of her suitcase. How it happened, and what was the cause is not our concern. We can still be grateful that it happened, and grateful to God. For one, God has encouraged us to bring all requests to him, no matter how large or small. He has also said that he cares about us—even in trivial matters. Our thanking God for the answers to our prayers should not be taken as a form of superstition. Instead, we thank him because he is God, he listens to our needs and he acts on our behalf. How things come about is his business. We are offering no proof, nor claiming any from this. My wife got her suitcase back. She is happy. And like all husbands, I am grateful to God for a happy wife.
So, before jumping into thinking I am saying something I am not, I would encourage the skeptic who deals with Christians to consider what I actually said above:
We are grateful to family and friends who prayed.
We are grateful that people lift us up in prayer. We would be just as grateful had we never recovered the suitcase. Friends who pray for us are precious and worth far more than gold.
We are grateful to God.
We are grateful to God. We thank him that we have such friends. We thank him that he cares about our needs, even the trivial ones. We thank him and are grateful that he encourages us to bring such needs to him. We are grateful that the pressure on my wife over her lost suitcase is now gone. We are grateful that she can relax and has more clothing to wear—understanding, as we do, that all good things ultimately come from God, even those which may happen mechanistically.
We praise God that he answers prayers.
God answers prayers. We are not offering this experience as proof of some cosmic luggage retrieval system, but as a simple acceptance that we asked and later received. What happened in between is his business—and the airlines. It may be that God merely allowed the airline’s system to work. So? What does that change? We asked and later received. We are grateful for receiving. We do not offer this as proof to you that you too should pray. That argument would be made much differently.
I’ll end by saying thank God my wife now has her new clothing. She is now happy, and as all married men know, “If she’s happy, I can be happy. Because, if she ain’t happy, Lord help me!” –Just kidding honey! You know I love you!