Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Keys

When I was little, I thought my dad was the coolest guy in the church. He wasn’t a pastor, a teacher, or a speaker. But he held the keys. It was his job to open the church building on Sunday mornings, and I got to tag along. Our church had several exterior corridors, and Sunday School rooms were accessed from the outside. So with Daddy’s giant key ring, I loved opening all the doors and entering into places where kids didn’t usually go. I thought it was such fun to peek into the baptistry, choir room, and offices. Because of my Daddy, I thought I was special and important.

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As I’m thinking about Good Friday, I remember that my Heavenly Father has given me access  because His Son holds the keys. On the day that Jesus gave His life, the curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place in the temple was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). Only the high priest could go beyond this curtain on one day of the year – the Day of Atonement. The tearing of the curtain (historically described as four inches thick) signified that Jesus’ sacrifice opened up a “new and living way” for us to come to God. Access to the presence of God is no longer only a privilege of a high priest. All those who believe in the Son have access to the Father.

This incomprehensible truth is much, much more than I can ever fathom. The size of the universe is mind-blowing (consider that the farthest thing in the universe that has been measured thus far is 13 billion light years away, and a light year is 5.88 trillion miles long!) And yet Scripture tells us: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth” (Psalm 33:6).

And this is the God who made the way for us to become His children. He listens to our prayers. He gives us a peek into eternal glory. He understands and loves us beyond our imagination. And He invites us to call Him “Daddy” and to come to Him freely.

He holds the keys to your eternity, and forever begins now.  Enter with Him.

Revelation 1:18 – (the voice of Christ): “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the Living One. I am He who was dead, and now you see Me alive for timeless ages! I hold in my hand the keys of death and the grave.”

Ephesians 3:12 – In Him (Christ Jesus) and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Hebrews 9:12 – He (Christ) did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.

Hebrews 10: 19 – 22 – Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings…

Romans 8:15 – The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.And by him we cry, “Abba,Father.”

Resources:

The New and Living Way” by Ligonier Ministries – http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/new-and-living-way/

I Am Not but I Know I Am – written by Louie Giglio

The Joy Set Before Him

The concept of living intentionally has been popularized in recent years, and I too want to live with awareness and purpose rather than just making it through.  Like cycle class at the Y, for instance, where I could spin the flywheel on the bike all day long if I didn’t use resistance to challenge me. My legs would be moving with the pedals, but mostly because of momentum and not because of my effort or power.  The instructor can coach me for 50 minutes, but I decide where to set my gears.  More resistance makes me stronger. Do I enjoy a climb with heavy gears? No way. Even when (or especially when) I cycle outside, I’d prefer to go for a ride along the path of least resistance. But the instructor will often say (or shout) something to the class along the lines of “Remember why you came!” Being intentional is motivating.

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During Holy Week, I think often about Jesus’ intentionality on the way to the cross.  Even as the crowd praised Him as a King on Palm Sunday, He knew the reason He came. There would be a cross before a throne. It was the Father’s intention all along.  We can see His purpose all the way back in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:15 when God spoke to the serpent – “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This verse is called the “proto-evangelium” – or the “first Gospel.” Charles Spurgeon says, “This verse contains the whole gospel and the essence of the covenant of grace.”  Although the enemy strikes God’s people, he is a conquered foe.  There will be war, but Jesus will deal the crushing blow.

God’s story, as revealed throughout the Bible, is all about Calvary from the very beginning.  People often think of Jesus’ death as an injustice, and He certainly did nothing to deserve death, but the Cross was in God’s plan all along. We see this in Luke 9 as Jesus foretold his death to his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (verse 9).

Luke 9 also tells us that “when the days drew near for Him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to Jerusalem.” He knew that just outside Jerusalem’s gates was a rocky hill with the appearance of a skull – Golgotha.  Our Lord was resolute. He knew that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint” (Isaiah 50: 6 – 7).

In John Piper’s Holy Week devotion, Love to the Uttermost, he writes of the intentionality of the Cross: “If we were to look at Jesus’ death merely as a result of a betrayer’s deceit and the Sanhedrin’s envy and Pilate’s spinelessness and the soldier’s nails and spear, it might seem very involuntary….Jesus was not accidentally entangled in a web of injustice. The saving benefits of His death were not an afterthought.  God planned it all out of infinite love to sinners like us, and He appointed a time.”

This morning I read this devotion from The Wonder of the Cross by Chris Tiegreen: “The painful cost of redemption was not paid grudgingly, a reluctant last-ditch effort to salvage what He could of His broken creation. It was planned from the foundation of the world – with pleasure.”

With pleasure? The horrible agony of the cross? The Bible tells us in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus endured the cross for the “joy set before Him.”

When Jesus set His face to the cross, He set His face toward joy. Jesus willingly, intentionally, and joyfully made the ultimate sacrifice in redeeming you and me.

Blessed Redeemer! Precious Redeemer!
Seems now I see Him on Calvary’s tree;
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading,
Blind and unheeding—dying for me!

“Unheeding” means paying no attention, consideration, or regard.  This makes me think of Philippians 2: 6 – 8 ~

“(Jesus), being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Jesus intentionally turned a blind eye to His own advantages and the pleasures of Heaven when He set His face upon you and me.

As Chris Tiegreen asks, “Do you realize that His love for you prompted Him to pay extraordinary costs to bring you into His fellowship and that he did it gladly? Most Christians know that intellectually but don’t believe it deep in their hearts. They see God as a reluctant, obligated lover.  But that’s not how He portrays Himself. He’s delighted to sacrifice for your love.”

This is the heart of God. This is why we remember the Friday of Holy Week as “Good.”

The Cross was not plan B. God always has a plan and He brings it to pass.  Just as He didn’t look at Adam and Eve’s sin and think “oops, now what?” He doesn’t look upon any circumstance in our lives and think “uh oh, what happens now?” No, He is already there. He has already been there, working according to His purposes and promises.

If Jesus was delighted to make a way for our greatest need – our salvation – we can trust Him to meet every other need. Calvary demonstrates that God is not reluctant to pour out His love and grace. Although circumstances didn’t look so good on “Good Friday,” in His heart and plan, it was good.

Luke 9 teaches me something else about intentionality.  After foretelling his death, Jesus spoke these words:  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (verses 23 – 25).

It’s my turn to be intentional.

Taking up my cross means that I will be unheeding. I will turn a blind eye to whatever I might gain from the world and I will follow the Source of deepest joy.  The Cross bids me die yet truly live.

Oh, Lord, let this be. And may my motivation spring not from duty but from a heart that delights in You. As you pour Your love into my life, let me offer it back to You. I realize that it’s an offering far too small, but take my love, my life, my all.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12: 1 – 2).

So many times my good intentions haven’t turn out as planned. I’ll fail again, many times in fact. I’ll ditch the climb and choose the easy gears.  I’m not perfect, but I have a “perfecter of faith.”  So I will follow my Savior in choosing the cross and the joy set before me. I hope you’ll join me, and let’s race together, fixing our eyes on Jesus and remembering why He came.

Resources:

Charles Spurgeon – The Redeemer’s Face Set Like A Flint, sermon – August 4, 1901. http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols46-48/chs2738.pdf

Chris Tiegreen – The Wonder of the Cross Devotional. March 28 entry.

John Piper – Love to the Uttermost Devotion for Holy Week. Free PDF –  http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/books/love-to-the-uttermost

Great and Small

If you are sufficient for your task, it is too small.” Those words, spoken by Pastor John Piper, have captured my attention in a great way this year. At the beginning of 2013, I discovered a prayer included in a Salvation Army book of prayers. It begins like this…

“We hear Your call to go – go and make disciples,

Identify with strangers, walk on shifting sands, and

Build a kingdom church.

“Go” is not a comfortable word.

Teach us how to depend on You again…”

As the year began, in my heart I knew that God was leading me into a season of depending on Him like never before. Pastor Alex Kennedy has been challenging Carmel Baptist Church to align our mission and our values with those nearest (our families), our neighbors, and the nations.

Ministry to the nearest is hard. But it’s the incredibly important place where ministry begins. I’ve recently participated in two Bible studies focused upon marriage (Respectfully Yours) and parenting (Five Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter). We know that this is where the rubber meets the road. I’ve learned that if I want to glorify God in my church, my community, and my world, then I have to honor Him in my home first. Marriage and parenting relationships are designed by God to help me to depend on Him more fully, love Him more deeply, image Him more truly, and glorify Him by being the same person at home that I am to the rest of my world.

Ministry to my neighbors is hard too. Especially for an introvert like me. I love my church, and along with my family, it is the place of those nearest to me. It is the place where I love to serve. But I knew that God was urging me to look beyond the walls of the church building and to think about being the church in my community. So I signed up for a work/study program at a local hospital as an entry-level chaplaincy student.  Believe me, I quickly learned that this was a task for which I was completely insufficient. “Go” is not a comfortable word. With a degree in Christian counseling and many experiences in nursing home and hospital visitation,  I actually feel at-home in the hospital. But to knock upon the door of tragic despair and attempt to bring hope to a stranger….that’s really hard. And really, really good. It is one of those opportunities to experience inadequacy and peace at the same time. To be weak and to trust that He is strong. To know with certainty that I CAN’T but to believe with even more certainty that He CAN.

Relying upon the Holy Spirit in a bold new way is energizing. So, I decided, no more small tasks for me. Let me be uncomfortable! My thoughts turned to the nations. A few weeks ago, I boarded a plane after a tearful goodbye and traveled to the Dominican Republic. It was probably the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever done. And the most unexpected. I was part of team which represented Joni and Friends International Ministries. Our mission was “Wheels for the World,” meaning that we distributed almost 300 wheelchairs to children and adults living in poverty with profound disabilities. The team was primarily made up of physical therapists and wheelchair mechanics. Since I have none of those skills, I was a support person. I expected that I would interact with the families while they waited for their turn, work alongside the rest of the team with their duties, hand out Bibles and hygiene supplies, share the Gospel and pray.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that my job would be in “the shop” with power tools, hammers, plywood, and staple guns. Me – use a saw? Mention “power tools” and I imagine hair dryers, food processors, etc… But so it was. I wanted to be the hands and feet of Jesus, but I never pictured making seat cushions, back rests, and neck supports. It was a place of unexpected insufficiency. It was really hard. And at the time, I couldn’t say that it was really good.  It was awkward, hot, and monotonous. I didn’t pray aloud or pass out Bibles or give anyone a hug or even speak the name of Jesus. After five long days in the shop, I was discouraged, tired, and homesick. But on the sixth morning, one of my teammates led a devotion about the widow’s offering (Mark 12: 41 – 44). Jesus watched as many wealthy people put large sums of money into the offering box. An impoverished widow gave 2 coins valued at a fraction of a cent. Certainly, everyone considered her contribution as small. But Jesus called her offering the greatest because she gave all that she had.

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Cutting foam, sawing plywood, and stapling vinyl fabric seemed quite small. But I decided to give it all I had. In the shop, I chose a new perspective: “this is not about me.” I knew that going in, but sometimes monotony dulls our spiritual senses. Life becomes so much simpler and brighter when we see it through eyes of worship. And the Holy Spirit gave me His eyes. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).   I would make comfortable seats for people who were literally broken. I became grateful for the opportunity to give a great offering.  I could not have done it, but God did it.

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And so I came back home and went to my work/study the next morning, beyond exhausted. My visits were flat. No one was interested in what a chaplain might offer. In most cases, I was politely dismissed and didn’t get a chance to pray. Normally, I would have considered those visits as unsuccessful and of small significance. But I realized in the Dominican Republic that only God can decide what is small and what is great. He judges differently. We may never know the significance of the small things that we do in His Name. Knocking on the door, no matter the result, is a act of obedience. Cutting the plywood, no matter the level of satisfaction it gives, is an offering. Honoring my husband and spending time with my daughter, no matter how spiritual it seems, is an act of worship. It occurs to me that my kitchen is kind of like my “shop” (and I’m much more comfortable with culinary power tools!). And on those days when I think that making another pot of spaghetti is just a small thing, I need to remind myself – whatever we do, as unto the Lord, matters.

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As recorded in Zechariah 4:10, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah: “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel?” In Zechariah’s time, the Jews were greatly discouraged over the foundation of the second temple (being rebuilt by Zerubbabel) because, in their limited perspective, it could not be as great as the first temple. But God spoke to remind the people that their human standards didn’t matter. He is able to take small offerings and make them great in His eyes.

Later that morning, I had the opportunity to pray with a young woman who was deeply grieving over a hysterectomy that was her only medical option.  Great or small – the Lord decides and appraises the opportunities that come our way. He is glorified when we give all that we have – when we come to the place where we can’t but He can.  God often chooses small and unlikely vessels to bring about great things for His glory.