The New Has Come!

This is an exciting time of year for me. Not because my birthday falls in March (well… not totally), but because spring is definitely in the air. Yes, winter is still very much a present reality, but somehow its punch seems a little softer and there’s already evidence in nature that we’re on the brink of change. I can’t think of a better time of year to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. At this transitional time, our thoughts are instinctively drawn toward themes of “new life” and warmer and brighter days. Just as the sap begins to flow causing the buds and leaves to appear, we can sense our own physical energy being renewed just thinking about all the things we enjoy doing outdoors.

In the weeks to come, I’m looking forward to sharing messages about the love of God and how it is seen ultimately in the gift of His “only begotten Son.” When I think of that gift and what it means for us as faithful recipients, the word “potential” comes to mind. As the sun’s rays intensify and winter’s icy grip subsides, nature’s productive potential is unleashed and we are blessed by all the beauty and bounty that follows.  In the same way, when we begin to experience the power of God’s Son in our lives, the effect of sin and decay are driven back and there is much potential for spiritual beauty and bounty. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

The key that unlocks this potential is faith; faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ; faith in the fact that His death was no accident and His resurrection was no lie. When we understand that He died in our place and for our sins and that His resurrection was only the first of a great future harvest, how can we not radiate with joy and hopeful enthusiasm? As the natural world dutifully prepares to display the glory of God this spring, should we not all the more intentionally prepare our lives to display the grace and character of Jesus Christ, for His glory?

Prayer: Dear Father, thank You for loving us enough to send Jesus to die in our place. Thank You, Jesus, for willingly laying down Your life for us. Thank You for seeing the potential each believer could possess and for beholding that vision with joy — even in the shadow of the Cross. Help me to live my life in such a way that I would continue to make You smile and encourage others to experience Your light and life. Amen

Higher Than the Hills

God can do anything, anytime, anywhere, and in any way. There’s just nothing he can’t do. Do you believe it? In Luke 1:37, the angel Gabriel was commissioned to take that message to Mary, the soon-to-be mother of Jesus. He keenly assured her that “with God nothing is impossible.” She was not too small, weak, or insignificant to benefit from the personal touch of God on her life. Later, in his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul made it clear to his readers that they too were beneficiaries of the same divine power. Speaking of God, he wrote: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

To put limits on what God can do is simply wrong. Yet we do this more often than we’d like to admit. There are times when we feel tempted to “throw in the towel” saying, “It’s hopeless! I’ve tried and tried but this is a no-win situation.” But giving up without intently looking to God for help is just another way of saying, “This is impossible… even for you, Lord.” Ouch! …and we wonder why we’re not making progress. Simply put, God can’t help us overcome obstacles that we are unwilling to face with faith.

I like to think of God as the great “Picture Changer.” He specializes in transforming what seems hopeless to us into pictures of promise and blessing. But sometimes He allows us to reach the end of our rope because it’s often only when we’re there, hanging on for dear life, that we get desperate enough to invite Him to come and take control. And when He comes, He comes not as a mere tinkerer, but one who has the power to completely alter the landscape of our lives according to His good purpose.

In Psalm 121, the psalmist wrote, “I lift up my eyes to the hills where does my help come from?” In the old days, a person fleeing for his life would often escape to higher ground; they would, as the saying goes, “head for the hills!” There were logistical (and tactical) reasons for this. Not only could “the hills” provide suitable hiding places — they also gave you a better chance of spotting your adversary before he saw you! The benefit of higher ground is even more obvious when the imminent danger is from rising floodwater. But in the very next verse we learn that the psalmist’s confidence ultimately was not in mere physical or logistical advantage. No, he had his eyes much higher than the hills! In verse 2 he declares, “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). The help he was looking for is the same kind of help we all need in order to be the kind of spiritual overcomers the Bible says we can be.

In these modern times (and in this part of the world), it’s easy for us to take for granted that “help is on its way.” We have developed structures and systems to ensure our well-being and, to a large degree, we have put our trust in them. But true spiritual help will not come from these “hills.” True spiritual help comes only “from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

At the beginning of a new year it’s appropriate to acknowledge our ultimate source of help and strength. We don’t know what the year will bring but we do know that there will be both challenges and blessings. And we know that we serve a God with whom “all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Take some time to affirm your trust in God. Let him know that you are serious about walking with Him, abiding in Him, and being fruitful for Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank you that with you, all things are possible. Thank you for making me your child and giving me new life in Christ Jesus. Thank you for your promise to be with me each and every day and to provide the strength and help required to overcome every obstacle. Help me to walk closely with you so that others may see enough of you in my life to inspire them to put their trust in you. I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

When Is A Thorn A Good Thing?

When is a thorn a good thing? I suppose some might say, “Never! What good is something that, when physically encountered, causes pain and hinders our forward progress?” Well, if that was the limit of our reasoning, there’d probably be quite a few more bonfires and genetically altered roses in the world today.

But nature is not without examples of how thorns can play a positive role within certain ecosystems. So, like many things in life, context is important, and understanding the function of a thing in its place can make a world of difference in our attitude and what we can learn to live with.

In his letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul was speaking metaphorically when he referred to the “thorn in his flesh.” The Bible doesn’t tell us what it actually was, but it was serious enough that Paul prayed quite earnestly for God to take it away. Like most of us, Paul didn’t fancy pain or things that hindered his work. No doubt, he reckoned he had a solid case that warranted some quick intervention of the divine kind. Perhaps to the surprise of some readers, Paul’s request was not granted. It’s not that his prayers were unheard or unanswered – he just needed to learn the value of his thorn and the power that could be revealed in his life because of it. So, God’s answer was essentially, “I could take it away, but I have something better for you!” Paul’s weakness and humble dependence on God would connect him to a source of strength that would enable him to go farther and accomplish more than he ever could have on his own.

We all wrestle with pride. Sometimes we instinctively rally our strength and insist on doing things on our own. But if Paul insisted on doing things his way and in his strength, he would have accomplished only a fraction of what he did. or maybe nothing at all. Instead, Paul’s accomplishments, in spite of his thorn, were nothing short of monumental; even miraculous! So, apparently God’s vision for what Paul could do was bigger than Paul’s, and the key to Paul’s acquired strength came in the shape of a thorn. God’s strength was made perfect in Paul’s weakness (c.f. 2 Cor. 12:9)

We experience “thorns,” as well. We often struggle with things that leave us saying, “If this just wasn’t here.” or “If I didn’t have to deal with that, then I’d be able to..” We struggle to understand why these thorns exist and where they come from but the answer eludes us. Well, Paul’s experience teaches us that while our thorns are present and the pain they cause is real, they need not hinder us from realizing our spiritual potential and that, paradoxically, they can even be the key to unlocking that potential. Sometimes the purpose is obvious to us. Other times, we have to trust the promise that “God works for the good of those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28).

 

Trusting God in 2012

Whew!  We made it!  Have you ever felt that way at the end of a roller coaster ride? I actually like roller coasters, but the last time I rode the Minebuster at Canada’s Wonderland I began to wonder how much longer the creaky thing would last!  As the train ground to a stop, I found myself agreeing with King Solomon: “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning” (Ecclesiastes 7:8).

Maybe that’s how some of you feel as yet another Christmas season wraps up. 

I really enjoy Christmas – family gatherings and all – but the older I get, the more I find myself enjoying the return to normalcy.

2011 is forever relegated to history. Now, as you review the year with its ups and downs, can you honestly say you’d like to do it again? I suspect the answer for most people would be “no.” And, probably for good reason, most of us are also glad though that we can’t see all that lies before us in 2012.  So we approach the New Year with a cautious optimism, knowing that just as previous years have come and gone leaving us somewhat intact, 2012 shall also pass.

This is where we can take great comfort in trusting God with our future. While most of us are pretty good at critiquing the past (hindsight is 20/20), none of us can predict with certainty what lies ahead. At best we can only make educated guesses based on the apparent course of history. Even the most informed predictions cannot take into account circumstances that lie beyond the limited scope of human control. But my faith in God soothingly informs my heart that where human knowledge ends, an eternity of divine wisdom, love and providential care is just beginning.

God cannot be quantified, contained or explained. If he could, he wouldn’t be God, after all. In the Bible, He declares, “…as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). Simply put, God is infinitely beyond the radar of human intelligence and perception. Even religion itself (as a human construct) cannot grasp the divine nature.

But God has not left us without help. In the person of Jesus Christ, He revealed himself to us.  2000 years ago, He stepped into time and space clothed in human form, and in the person of Jesus, we have a living, walking, talking parable of God’s moral nature.  Further, by accepting His invitation to follow Him, we have an opportunity to experience fully in our hearts what our minds can’t begin to comprehend.

Jesus’ great invitation is to experience rest for our souls; to enter into a relationship with God by which our angst and concerns about the future are soothed by the heart-knowledge that God is holding us firmly in his hand.

King Solomon’s words, “better is the end of a thing than its beginning” is true concerning much of the past. But concerning the future, my policy is, “It’s better to put your trust in the One who knows the end from the beginning.” With faith in God, the future is always full of hope.

Christmas Light

 “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6)

As we pause to spend time with our families and friends again this Christmas, let’s be sure to make room in our hearts for the most important person of all—Jesus.  For all the celebrating that goes on in His name, isn’t it sad that He is excluded by so many during this widely anticipated (and conveniently renamed) “holiday season”?  This is an unfortunate reality that stems from the blindness and hardness of human hearts.  And it’s not a recent development; people are much the same as they were some 2000 years ago when the Apostle John wrote: “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood” (John 1:5).  It’s all too obvious that this “darkness” is still present, but the Light of Jesus also continues to shine for the benefit of those who are being saved and who “are being transformed into his likeness” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Our prayer for CPC is that we would be more deliberate than ever in our pursuit of God’s Light.  May we draw inspiration from the Magi who relentlessly followed Bethlehem’s star just for an opportunity to worship at Jesus’ tiny feet.  They understood that He was more than just a baby and so they presented Him with the best gifts they could offer.  Jesus truly is “the light of the world” and if we, too, will offer our best—our lives—we will “never walk in darkness” and we will have “the light of life” (John 8:12).  What an awesome gift… and it’s within the grasp of anyone who has “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” God’s invitation to receive it!

More light than we can learn,
More wealth than we can treasure,
More love than we can earn,
More peace than we can measure,
Because one Child is born.
—unknown

May God richly bless you with the light of His presence this Christmas, and may the strength of Immanuel uphold you and be your guide in 2012.