The Bad News of the Gospel

C.S. Lewis in his renowned book, Mere Christianity, talks about a person’s walk with God beginning with dismay, not comfort.

Not a comforting thought, is it?

We so often want to soft-sell God, to start with the good news of peace and joy, to clean up the messy Old Testament passages, and to overlook the hard sayings of Jesus when we’re just not quite sure what to make of them.  I was reading this morning some Old Testament laws and regulations concerning the sacrifices and cleansing periods required for various maladies…over all of which God is sovereign.  Something in me wanted to say, “But you allowed the (sickness, deformity, whatever) in the first place, and then you require a payment for it?  That doesn’t seem fair…”

Ever had those thoughts?

God made us the way we are, and then we are told the way we are is fundamentally flawed.

The Law shows us that no human can measure up to the standards of perfect holiness…other than One.

That, my friends, is the bad news of the Gospel.

Which is, in essence, calling it “The bad news of the Good News”, since that’s what “Gospel” means.  We must begin, as C.S. Lewis suggests, with dismay – the bad news first.  Otherwise, who needs the good news?  The good news is so very good because we receive it after the shock of the bad news.

The bad news is, YES, we are fundamentally flawed, regardless of anything we have ever done or not done.  We are less than perfect – worse than that, we are “born in sin and steeped in iniquity” (Ps 51:5).  There is nothing we can do to fix ourselves or to be worthy to approach a holy God on our own merit.

When we have looked that square in the face and accepted it, then we are ready to receive the very great Good News: the God who set all this in motion has already provided the only and final Sacrifice we will ever need.

Why?

Because of love.  The pure,  all-consuming love of God that makes our very best, shining efforts at love seem dingy, tarnished, and broken in comparison.  The love that was willing to die to reconcile us to God.  The love that pays at great cost for us to have free will to love in return.

The problem for some is, we too must pay a price to receive the free gift of God.

No more than we can afford; only our pride.

We must first swallow the bitter pill of the bad news and let it work its way into our innards.  We must truly understand the truth that we are NOT good enough, and NOT deserving, and that God is God totally separate from us and does not owe us an explanation (or anything else).  He doesn’t have to make sense to us, He doesn’t have to do what we feel He ought to do.  He is God – there is no other.

In that place of humility and dependence, our greatest, most desperate need is met in a rushing flood of overflowing abundance, beyond anything we could ever hope for.  We are The Boy Who Held Back the Sea, but in this story, we allow the hole in the dike to come unplugged by letting go of our stubborn pride, and we stand basking in the refreshing, life-giving free flow of forgiveness, of acceptance, of joy.  Oh, the Good News more than makes up for the bad news. What a wonderful Savior!

Maybe this week you can greet someone with a smile and  “So, have you gotten any bad news lately?”…just don’t forget to follow up the bad with the good.  🙂

With love,

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The Best Christmas Gift Ever – Emmanuel, God With Us

During this advent season, the kids and I have been reading the Christmas story in Luke and Matthew over and over again at bedtime.  Shepherds and angels are starting to appear in my dreams – which is exactly what I wanted.  My hope was that we would so immerse ourselves in the wonder of the narrative that we would be transported beyond the familiar words that we can recite almost unthinkingly and be completely caught up in the story.  The hundreds of silent years that had passed since the last echoes of the final Old Testament prophet had finally died away.  The wondering – where is God?  Has He forgotten His people?  The Roman occupation of Israel, the oppression, the misery.  Soldiers where they weren’t wanted.  Taxes that were too heavy and wages that were too light. And too, the deep spiritual hunger that no amount of years of silence could quench – the hunger and longing of the hearts of God’s people for their God.  A Savior had been promised, but He was very long in coming.  The prophecies…were they really true?  Or would it always be like this, and there really was no hope at all?

The hundreds of silent years that had passed since the last echoes of the final Old Testament prophet had finally died away.  The wondering – where is God?  Has He forgotten His people?  The Roman occupation of Israel, the oppression, the misery.  Soldiers where they weren’t wanted.  Taxes that were too heavy and wages that were too light. And too, the deep spiritual hunger that no amount of years of silence could quench – the hunger and longing of the hearts of God’s people for their God.  A Savior had been promised, but He was very long in coming.  The prophecies…were they really true?  Or would it always be like this, and there really was no hope at all?

The Roman occupation of Israel, the oppression, the misery.  Soldiers where they weren’t wanted.  Taxes that were too heavy and wages that were too light. And too, the deep spiritual hunger that no amount of years of silence could quench – the hunger and longing of the hearts of God’s people for their God.  A Savior had been promised, but He was very long in coming.  The prophecies…were they really true?  Or would it always be like this, and there really was no hope at all?

And too, the deep spiritual hunger that no amount of years of silence could quench – the hunger and longing of the hearts of God’s people for their God.  A Savior had been promised, but He was very long in coming.  The prophecies…were they really true?  Or would it always be like this, and there really was no hope at all?

A Savior had been promised, but He was very long in coming.  The prophecies…were they really true?  Or would it always be like this, and there really was no hope at all?

The Best Christmas Gift EverThe long, slow ripening of times, events, governments and ages had finally come to pass, and at a word from God for the long-awaited and masterfully planned series of events was begun.

An aged priest with trembling hands slowly and methodically went about his duties, offering incense behind the veil – his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform this sacred function.  He hardly dared to breathe there in the Most Holy Place.  Then suddenly and heart-stoppingly, Zechariah was not alone – who was this terrifying, brilliant being?  “Your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son…”

“Your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son…”

My prayer?  Isn’t it a little late for that, Gabriel?  Did you get caught in an angelic traffic jam that lasted – oh – about three decades??  Do you realize how old we are?  That prayer hasn’t been prayed in a long, long time.

But this son – it wasn’t time for him three decades ago.  This son was to be a very special son indeed, and the time for him to make his appearance is now.  Zechariah and Elizabeth had been chosen – they were both upright and obedient in God’s sight – to bring a key player into the world who would prepare the way for the Messiah.  The long delay only made the joy that much greater.

About 6 months later, a young, poor girl from a neighborhood that was never featured on HGTV, was quietly going about her household tasks with a smile on her face – engaged!  Joseph was a fine man, everyone said, and she would do her very best to make a good home for him.  They didn’t have much between them – no one here did – but God would provide..and the hope of the coming Messiah was always with them.  Kneeling and folding laundry and dreaming of the future, her reverie was abruptly ended by the appearance of a large, alarming stranger who spoke troubling words to her.  How could Mary begin to comprehend all that Gabriel’s message contained?  It meant that she alone was chosen out of all humanity – past, present, and future – to bear the Christ Child.  Suddenly her simple dreams of a quiet domestic life with Joseph vanished as she responded in trust, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it

The Best Christmas Gift EverKneeling and folding laundry and dreaming of the future, her reverie was abruptly ended by the appearance of a large, alarming stranger who spoke troubling words to her.  How could Mary begin to comprehend all that Gabriel’s message contained?  It meant that she alone was chosen out of all humanity – past, present, and future – to bear the Christ Child.  Suddenly her simple dreams of a quiet domestic life with Joseph vanished as she responded in trust, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me as you have said.”

Wait…Gabriel…come back!  I forgot to ask you some things!  Will Joseph believe me??  What will my parents say?

Can you imagine the thoughts, like leaves in a hurricane, that must have wildly whirled through her mind?  Then telling Joseph – and the look of disappointment on his face as he turned and walked away.  His mostly sleepless night, tossing and turning, and trying to sort through his anger and disappointment and try to find a way out of this mess that wouldn’t completely ruin poor Mary.  After several hours, he could finally say “poor Mary”, for her choice had indeed sealed her fate and now she was to be pitied.  Finally, exhausted, he drifted off to sleep.  When he woke, the impression of his angelic dream was so strongly upon him – could it actually be true?? – that his course of action was totally changed.  He began to hear wedding bells.

Finally, exhausted, he drifted off to sleep.  When he woke, the impression of his angelic dream was so strongly upon him – could it actually be true?? – that his course of action was totally changed.  He began to hear wedding bells.

Finally, after many months that contained more highs (the visit to Cousin Elizabeth) and lows (the disbelief of those who though she was just plain crazy) than a Ferris wheel, she felt her time had arrived.  Only WHY HERE?  So far from home – this is not how she planned it!  The midwife isn’t here, her mother isn’t here – only kind Joseph trying desperately to do the impossible – to make a woman in labor comfortable on a pile of straw.  Dear God, is this how it was supposed to be??

The Best Christmas Gift EverOutside Bethlehem, in the cold and dark of the starry night, simple shepherds sat together on the grass, scanning the horizon for predators as their sheep rested.  Clueless to the timeless drama being enacted so near their quiet hillside, they ate their bread and cheese and talked – perhaps of the coming Messiah – through the long hours while young, scared Mary labored through the night.  A final scream and

A final scream and push and the sky is ripped open by a choir of angels blazing a path of glory from Heaven to that hillside – God’s royal baby announcement.  HE IS HERE!!  Dropping their hunks of bread and cringing on the grass before such stunning awesomeness, the shepherds, who had been watching, saw more than they were ever expecting to see.

HE IS HERE!!  Dropping their hunks of bread and cringing on the grass before such stunning awesomeness, the shepherds, who had been watching, saw more than they were ever expecting to see.

Dropping their hunks of bread and cringing on the grass before such stunning awesomeness, the shepherds, who had been watching, saw more than they were ever expecting to see.

Back to the now quiet stable, and Joseph again tries to make Mary comfortable.  The alarmed donkeys and cow go back to their peaceful munching, now that things have calmed down again.  Baby Jesus, tenderly wrapped against the cold, nurses, and Mary is content. Oh, the wonder of newborn life – but THIS life – it can only be summed up in one beautiful word: Emmanuel.  God with us. He is here.

Please don’t let this season rush past without drinking in the beauty of this story.  It is for you that He came.

A blessed and Merry Christmas to you with love!

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How to Cultivate a Heart of Thanksgiving Every Day

Isn’t it refreshing to be in the midst of a season that encourages us to stop and count our blessings?  I’m so thankful that Thanksgiving is not a gift-giving holiday in the traditional sense.  That will be upon us soon enough!  But before another turn of the calendar pages, our thoughts can linger like a glorious sunset over the blessings that, lovingly woven together by the Master Craftsman, create the multicolored fabric of our lives.

There is something inherently wonderful in saying “thank you”.  It lifts both giver and receiver a little Heaven-ward.  And who couldn’t use a few (or many) such lifts throughout the day?  Some days, however, we mere humans are hard-pressed to find anything at all for which to be thankful.  We may feel irritable, depressed, anxious, disappointed, angry…anything but the gratitude that would be a healing balm for our sore hearts.

Last weekend, while staying at a cabin with some wonderful friends, I watched my children building a fire.  They have learned a few things in that department and have surpassed my wealth of knowledge on the subject, which could be summed up: 1. Stick a Firestarter log in the fireplace, and 2. Turn on the gas.  But that was BEFORE last week – I know MUCH more now.  🙂  Mainly, that you have to start with little stuff, and you have to feed what you want to grow.

Somehow, that applies to cultivating a “Thanksgiving Every Day” mentality as well.

Start small.  

Thank you, Lord, that I have eyes to watch my children play, to see the sun shining on red hair, to watch when they think no one is looking and catch them giggling together.

Thank you, Lord, that I have ears to hear the birds in the trees, the laughter of friends, the kind voice of a loving husband.

See the smoke curling up out of the fire ring?  We must carefully blow on the glowing sparks…

Thank you, Lord, for a weekend carved out of the busyness of life and a chance to reconnect with nature and people I love.

A tiny flame!  Time to feed the baby fire…

Thank you, Lord, that I was able to get myself out of bed today, to dress, and to walk everywhere I wanted to go.  

Now the small sticks have caught!

Thank you, Lord, for the incredible patience you show me on a daily basis, for the kindness you shower on me, and for the evidence of your hand in my life.

The merry crackling cheers the night air around us, and we are warmed by the glow.  So it is with gratitude…it warms, it cheers, it is contagious.

How can we feed the spirit of thanksgiving in our hearts?  Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances…”

We feed the fire, and then it grows.  We give thanks, and the spirit of thankfulness grows.  It might take a little practice, but it comes with a money-back guarantee!  The end of the verse reads “…for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  He wants us to have the ability to give thanks in every circumstance – yes, even that one. So He will be delighted to help us get there!  Why does He want us to be thankful in every crummy circumstance?  Because He wants to hear people saying “Thank you” to Him 8 billion times per day?  I think not.  As a Father, He knows we are the happiest when we are grateful.  He also knows we are going to encounter a lot of unpleasantness down here.  Thanksgiving (not the turkey and dressing kind) can shield our hearts from the corrosion of the world.

There’s a three-part harmony going on in that verse.  The entire verse reads:

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

The pieces fall into place when we link being joyful, remaining in constant communication with the Father, and perpetual thanksgiving.  Remove one from the equation, and it no longer works.  But all together, it’s a circle that keeps going.  We are joyful when we are thankful and are in communion with Him, and on and on and on.  It’s His heart for you and me – thanksgiving every day.  It can transform “one of THOSE days” into a victory.

So when the last of the leftover turkey is gone, the fall decor is being put away and the Christmas boxes are coming down from the attic, let’s remember to feed our fires and keep them going.

If we do, we can have Thanksgiving every day, all year long.

With a thankful heart,

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The Justice of God – Does it Exist?

It’s been an interesting morning.  I just finished reading Jeremiah’s surprisingly bold words in Jeremiah 12:1, “You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you.  Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper?  Why do all the faithless live at ease?”

A flea shakes its fist at a category 5 hurricane.

Initially, I wanted to be shocked at Jeremiah’s taking God to task on His style and timing of meting out justice until I began to hear the faint echoes of every time I’ve ever cried, “WHY God??  WHY??  Why him?  Why her?  Why ME?  How could you let that happen??”

While still musing over this striking passage, I noticed an email had come in from Biblica.com, with an utterly horrifying story of persecution and a request for help to send Bibles and aid to those believers suffering unspeakably in Muslim countries (go here to see the story). The base depravity of the story sickened me, and I began to imagine my own special brew of particularly fitting justice for the perpetrators.  It actually made me smile.  Then I heard the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit asking me if I have ever used my tongue to hurt another person.  Hmmm.  We both know the answer to that question.   Based on my new prescription for justice which I had freshly concocted, I should now be going through life without a tongue or a brain.

Oh.

But God – be reasonable!!

Actually, He was.  Justice is so very reasonable.  I recalled the rest of Jeremiah 12 – God answers Jeremiah’s complaint, but interestingly, He begins to talk about Jeremiah’s own household first.  “Your brothers, your own family – ” (vs. 6).  Then He talks about His own people, and THEN He addresses the wicked.  We want Him to START with the wicked, not expose our sinfulness when we demand a pound of flesh from someone else, right?

Didn’t Jesus say something similar?  Something about a log in my eye and a speck in someone else’s?  We tend to want mercy for our cherished logs (if we even acknowledge their existence) but unwaveringly insist on justice for the unacceptable specks of others.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be quite so quick to demand that justice be dispensed and be quicker to ask for mercy, since every one of us would suffer alike if we all received what we deserved.

In the meantime, we can pray for this world, for the suffering, and also for those so ensnared by the power of darkness that they have become instruments of evil.  Oh, there will be justice done, God will see to that.  His incredible mercy and His unapologetic justice are perfectly balanced in the perfection of His nature.  One day soon, EVERY knee will bow before the Risen Lord, and evil will be vanquished forever.  We can rest in that.  The great news is, we aren’t in charge of making that happen.  That job is too big for you or for me.  We can leave it in God’s capable hands, and trust that at the end of the story, there really IS a happily ever after for those who have given and received mercy.  Thank God for that!!

With love,

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Extraordinary People Series – Byron Porritt

 

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many posts on Extraordinary People from all over the world – people who are somehow making the world a better place, people who inspire and encourage us, or otherwise have special stories that need to be shared.  Do you know a truly extraordinary person?  If so and you would like to nominate them, there is a contact form at the end of this post for that very purpose!  Send me a bit of information about them, how you know them, and why you feel they should be featured.  I can’t wait to read those nominations!  There is enough bad news out there, right?  Just like we want to expose our children to great stories of heroes to build character in them and to give them the fortitude and faith to make it through their own trials, we grown-ups need heroes too.  And I believe there are many everyday heroes out there whose stories will impart courage to us to stand a little longer, to fight the good fight, and to finish well.

On that note, I want to introduce you to the first person selected to be featured, Byron Porritt of Alberta, Canada.  We did not know when Byron agreed to be interviewed for this post that his story would be published posthumously, but God did.  Byron went home to be with the Lord on September 4th, 2015.  He was in the final stage of brain cancer and had outlived the estimates by several months. For the final stage of his journey, Byron was paralyzed from the waist down, and suffering considerably.

He and his wife Caroline (children’s pastor at their local church) had been married for 16 years and after a long battle with infertility, were blessed with two children, a boy and a girl.  Their lives were turned upside down 5 1/2 years ago by Byron’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment schedule which changed the daily reality of their lives.

I choose Byron not just because he was courageously battling cancer – each of you probably knows someone who is also doing that right now.  Byron was chosen because of the choices he made in the midst of his fight.  Byron did what I hope I would do in his place, and his wife Caroline and his two precious children, Jack and Katie, can always remember that their husband and Daddy finished well. His struggle was real, not theoretical.  He lived through the grief of knowing he was leaving his wife and children, would never play catch with Jack again, never see Katie off on her first date, never teach them to drive, or see them graduate, or just be there to navigate the uncharted waters of the teen years with Caroline and to grow old with her. He lived through pain, trauma, exhaustion, and the extreme frustration and helplessness of paralysis.  But up to the very end, Byron continued to share the message of his life, and that is one of “gaining God in the moments of life”. 

 

Byron weddingByron and Caroline Byron and familly

 

Byron spent his last weeks encouraging others, speaking life to his friends and family, and with the help of some amazing people, seeing his lifelong dream of a children’s book about thankfulness turned into reality.  Byron did not use his last days to complain about his sufferings, to rail at God about the unjustness of his fate, or to indulge in the insidious self-pity that is more lethal than cancer.  Byron had grabbed hold of the life-changing truth that every experience – every moment, no matter what it holds – is an opportunity to gain more of Christ.  He held firmly to this message, and combined it with the power of gratitude.  That is a combination for victory over our circumstances, and an example of how to suffer with grace.

Byron is gone, but he still speaks to us today through the message he left behind for each one of us.  These are the words of a man who from a hospital bed is looking into eternity and sees with the crystalline clarity of one about to leave this earth:

This is my moment and I want to leave you with words from my heart:  Life is not about accomplishments, success, job title, money or recognition; it is a journey.  Gaining God in all of life’s moments is the success of life.”

“See Jesus in all of life’s situations.  See His character and His nature in all circumstances….gain Christ, know Him.  He is worth it all in this journey of life.”

Did you catch that?  “See Jesus in ALL of life’s situations”.  “…in ALL circumstances…”  Even the hard ones?  Even when our bodies are racked with pain and even the escape of sleep is elusive?  Even when life is falling apart around us and we don’t know where to turn?  Even in grief?  Even when dying?

YES, my friends.  Jesus is there.  And there is more of Him to be known, to be gained, THROUGH those moments than ever would be gotten without them.  He doesn’t leave us in the hard times, but invites us to seek the treasure of His presence in the dark, though we may stumble, blinded by tears.  He is there.  He is always there.  Byron met Him there.  He knew more of God through cancer and grief than he was able to know in ease and health.  And he says without a doubt, Jesus is worth it all.  Some people would say that on September 4th, Byron “lost his battle” with cancer.   I suggest instead, Byron won his battle.  Byron wins, because Byron died knowing that knowing Jesus is really all that matters.

The Sovereign God said through the prophet Isaiah, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”.  Are you in the darkness today?  Do you need to know more of Him?  If so, take courage.  There is treasure to be mined in the depths, and the One who has summoned you by name is with you every step of the way.

Take courage today from Byron, who tells us, “Don’t fear tomorrow, God is already there.”  What a comforting thought for Caroline, Jack, and Katie, and for each of us who are reading this.

Byron’s hope and prayer was that his simple book for young children would help to support his wife and children after he is gone.  If you would like to purchase a copy of his book, please follow the link to this site’s Paypal account  and leave your payment of $10 per book, and your mailing address.  All payments will be gratefully forwarded to Caroline and your books will be sent with love as soon as possible!  I personally think it would make a great baby shower gift!  If you have any problems with this process, please shoot me a comment and I will attempt to remedy the issue immediately – never done this before.  🙂  When I tried to walk through it myself to be sure you could leave me your address, etc., Paypal informed me that I was trying to send money to myself and that is against policy.  Really, I wasn’t!!  I promise!  And wouldn’t that be sort of pointless anyway…?

Byron's book

Blessings to each of you today,

Christine

P.S. – here’s that contact form you can use to nominate the Extraordinary Person you know!