God’s Daily Reboot

When a computer malfunctions, how often is the answer as simple as turning the computer off, and then turning it back on?

In my experience, usually the computer starts right back up again, working just fine. Whatever went wrong before disappears.

Our lives have a God-designed reboot button as well. It’s called night.

As I drove to work this morning, I noticed the marked difference between the landscape in the early morning sun on a clear day, and how it looks in the evening as I’m driving home. The clean and bright baby blue and yellow hues of morning give way to the muted oranges and reds of the evening. Even though the sun is at the same angle, just in the west instead of the east, the evening sun’s light strikes the landscape differently. The day just feels older.

In fact, on a clear day I’m confident that I could still tell whether it was morning or evening, even if I didn’t know the time or what direction the sun was coming from, just by stepping outside.

Jeremiah, the likely author of the book of Lamentations in the Old Testament, knew just what I’m talking about:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. — Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

Like the sun striking the countryside after dawn, life’s struggles look a little different in the newness of each day. I’ve heard it said that God‘s economy allows for “do overs,” which Jesus Christ made possible through His death on the cross and His resurrection. Whatever happened in the past is irrelevant, if our faith is in Him. No, lost time won’t magically reappear. The consequences of past sin remain very real. And the coming day won’t be perfect. But the opportunity to make the best of life, by living for Jesus, starts anew each morning.

The morning light is a picture of God‘s daily renewal. The Bible’s description of Jesus as “the bright and morning star” takes on a whole new meaning. Now comes the hard part:

I have to choose it.

Electing to view the problems and sorrows of life the same way as before follows that old saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Others might even think of the definition of “insanity:” Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results each time.

Accepting Jesus Christ’s free offer of salvation and renewal can break the cycle of despair, and allow God to renew your life as he promises to do. Someone very close to me once said that he thought he was too far gone for this life-changing grace to reach him. What better time than in the morning, when minds are fresh, to meet with God and let his Word show you how Jesus Christ makes all things new, including you, and that no one is out of reach of His grace and mercy.

And I’ll never look at rebooting a computer the same way.

 

 

 

 

 

On a Cross Beside Jesus (Luke 24:32-43)

I’m thankful every minute of my life that Jesus died for me on that cross.  I know that if God had chosen, he could have punished me for my sins instead of punishing Jesus.  But Christ’s atoning death satisfied my sin debt, and the debt of everyone else in the world who believes in Him.  Because Jesus chose to do it, I don’t have to take my place on a cross.

Nevertheless, someone like me was on a cross, that very day, at “the place of the skull.”  In fact, someone like each and every one of us was there. You may think I’m referring to Jesus himself — he took on human flesh and form, was tempted as we are, and suffered as a man.  But I’m not.  No, as Luke the physician points out in his Gospel, there were two others on the hill that day.  Two criminals, condemned to die, hanging on crosses to Jesus’ left and right.

Am I calling each of us a criminal?  Not per se, in that most of us have done nothing to warrant punishment under man’s law, especially a death sentence.  Still, we each share something with one, or the other, of the criminals who like Jesus drew their last breaths on that hill.  But what?  I’ll answer that question with another question: What is your approach to Jesus?  Or, as Jesus asked Peter, who do you say he is?

One of the criminals (I’ll call him the “first criminal”) joined the crowd and the soldiers, mocking Jesus and calling on Him to save Himself, if He was indeed the Christ.  The second criminal recognized that Jesus had done nothing wrong and didn’t deserve to die.  And in recognition of his Kingship, that criminal asked the creator of the universe simply to remember him when Jesus came into His kingdom.  He was not disappointed with Jesus’ answer.

You see, there’s just no middle ground with Jesus.  Either you join the second criminal in proclaiming Him to be who He said He was, or you will join the first criminal in questioning and doubting Him.  Riding the fence is just not possible — Jesus said so Himself.

Here’s the amazing thing:  Yes, Christ could have easily taken Himself off that cross and chosen to save Himself, just as the first criminal suggested. But, by staying on that cross, He chose to save…you.  And me.  And the rest of us.

Yes, it may indeed have been a Friday on Golgotha…..but Sunday’s coming.

Shiny Bumpers

In the overcast pre-dawn of a recent cool fall morning, I was sitting at a stoplight behind a pickup truck with a shiny chrome bumper. In the yellow-white reflection from my headlights, the condensation from the truck’s exhaust drifted across the face of the bumper in ghostly wisps. A computer programmer spending hours writing code still couldn’t replicate the random but stunning patterns that danced across the face of the chrome, constantly changing shape and size, unpredictable and yet bounded.

I certainly did not expect to find such a beautiful picture of reflecting God’s glory in the bumper of a pickup truck. But there it was.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like for others to see God at work in my life. While it’s not the only way, and I’m certainly not great at it yet, one of the ways that God’s love can show through me is if I live my life for Him. That way, like our breath on a mirror, others can see when God “breathes” on me.

I’m clearly not alone when thinking about God breathing on his people. Scripture, in 2 Timothy 3:16, describes itself as “God-breathed.” For almost 150 years, one of the most beloved hymns in the church has been “Breathe on Me Breath of God.” More recently, musicians have written and sang beautifully and poignantly about Mary’s plea for the “breath of heaven” to help her with the enormous task of bearing and raising the Savior. Singer John Waller simply asks God to “breathe on me” to lead him in daily life. So, my challenge to all believers is to allow the world to see God’s breath on our lives. But how?

Let’s shine our bumpers.

You don’t need a pickup truck. And if your truck (or car) doesn’t have chrome bumpers, that’s OK, too.  It doesn’t involve Windex, or rags, or any kind of soap or wax. And the only elbow grease it calls for is the kind you use when you open your Bible, or you fold your hands in prayer.

In fact, you don’t even do the work.

God takes lives tarnished by years of sin and shame and makes them shine when surrendered to Him. Hearts given to Jesus Christ, time spent in His Word and in prayer, and obedience to his commands – God works through all of these to give lives a glow that attracts the world to Him.

So today, surrender your life to Jesus Christ – let your bumper shine. And watch the amazing patterns that God will work into your life.

 

 

 

 

 

Working Out

Though God in his threefold revelation has provided answers to our questions concerning Him, the answers by no means lie on the surface. They must be sought by prayer, by long meditation on the written Word, and by earnest and well-disciplined labor. However brightly the light may shine, it can be seen only by those who are spiritually prepared to receive it.

A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy

This is not just another rant on how people should slow down, simplify their lives, etc. Those things are probably true, at least for most people. But my message on this Sunday morning is for the church.

Attending Sunday morning worship is imperative. It’s specifically mentioned in Scripture, it’s transformative, and it keeps you connected as a member of the Body of Christ.

But if you leave the church feeling empty, or if the rest of your week isn’t filled with joy, don’t blame the preacher, elders, deacons, worship team, the guy running the videos, or your teen’s youth pastor.

It’s not their fault.

When A.W. Tozer wrote these words toward the end of his life more than 50 years ago, he wasn’t saying anything new. Paul called it “working out your salvation” (Philipians 2:12), which is ironic in 2016 given our society’s obsession with personal fitness. (I wonder if there’s an Aramaic or Latin translation for “working out?”)

Here’s another 2016 metaphor for the same thing: Investing. People invest in things they believe in, things they care about. Jesus even told parables about servants investing their masters’ money (Matthew 25:14 and following is a great example).

Tozer’s point? God has given each of us a priceless gift, the gift of time on this Earth. If you’re reading these words today, you are a recipient of that gift, as I am. But if your desire is to know God in this lifetime, and not just in the next, then give that gift of time back to God, invest it, in study of His Word, in community with fellow Christians, in worship, and in service to others.

C’mon, man, time to work out.

Together, With a Capital “T”

While we’re on the theme of grandparents…..

What does a seven-year-old like better then a ride around town with Grandpa in his pickup truck on a Saturday afternoon? Not much, especially when that drive includes a stop at Dairy Queen for ice cream or McDonald’s for some fries. So it was for me on a chilly, overcast day in the fall of 1969. There wasn’t a lot of foot traffic in that small southern Illinois town that day, but just at the intersection of Sloan St. and Webster St., we passed a man walking on the sidewalk who was about my grandpa’s age at the time (mid-60s). At just that moment, Grandpa made several funny gestures with his left hand. And, to my seven-year-old amazement, the man on the sidewalk did exactly the same thing with his left hand!

I was scared to death to ask my grandpa what had just happened, so I waited until my Mom  (his daughter) was with us. Turns out that Grandpa and the gentleman were both members of the local chapter of a national fraternal organization. Those secret hand signs helped members feel the bond of belonging to a common group.

The need to belong is universal to mankind. “Belonging” leads to feeling accepted, valued and loved. The times of the greatest unhappiness in my life, whether in a job, with my family, or in any circumstance, came when I’ve felt like I’m on the outside.

My son Stephen is the undisputed family leader when it comes to bringing others into our lives. Anytime we’re planning an event or activity, regardless of what it is, Stephen suggests that we invite our friends to join us. To him, it’s not about what we’re doing. Chances are he’s been to that restaurant, movie theater, baseball game, etc. countless times before. No, it’s about enjoying the experience with them. Stephen longs for the experience of togetherness.

As is often the case, Stephen has it right.

God’s design for the Church is the we do life together. But that’s “Together,” with a capital “T.” You see, the Bible tells us that it’s not God’s will that anyone should perish, but that all should repent and be saved through Jesus Christ. John 3:16, that famous passage, says that God so loved the world that he gave his Son, that whoever believes in him would not die but have everlasting life. It doesn’t say that God so loved only part of the world, or that he loved only those who loved him back. Christ’s Great Commission? Go to the ends of the earth and make disciples of all nations.

Satan would like nothing better than for Christians to treat their faith like an exclusive club. Keep it to yourself, he says. Speak only in terms that other Christians understand.

Because I know Jesus and want to show him my love by obeying His commands, I can’t keep His story to myself. But how do I share Him? For starters, wouldn’t it be great for those who follow Jesus Christ not to speak only in “Christianese” and have secret handshakes? Shouldn’t I bring the message of Jesus’ love and redemption for our sins to those who haven’t heard of Him using terms and cultural context that they understand? Shouldn’t I want to help others see how Jesus is meaningful to them in their lives, right where they are, not just how he is meaningful to me in mine?

It might take more time to share Jesus this way. I might have to listen more to learn about the lives of those who don’t yet know Him. But like Stephen, I long to experience the love and redemptive power of Jesus Christ with them.

Lessons From a Broken Gas Gauge

In the early 1980s, summers in Kansas City were wonderful. More fountains than Paris, beautiful flowers and foliage, and at the time, pretty good baseball too (we had this guy on the Royals named George Brett — you might want to look him up). One of the oldest and largest parks in Kansas City, Swope Park, housed a beautiful outdoor theater known as Starlight Theater. On a glorious Saturday night in July 1984, my fiance and I decided to take in a show there. I don’t know what we saw, but I can guarantee it was excellent.

I was just 21, about to graduate from college, and engaged to my high school sweetheart. At the time, I drove a school-bus yellow Oldsmobile Omega, and even though the car was only three years old, it already had a broken gas gauge. At any given time, I really didn’t have any idea how much gas I had in the tank. So we dressed up, me in a nice suit and my fiance in a dress, and we took off in the Omega for Starlight. I chose not to put gas in the car that night, believing I had enough to make it to the park and get her home.

I was very wrong.

When the car finally ran out of gas, it was on a street in a relatively safe area of Kansas City Missouri, and thankfully just a couple of blocks from a gas station. Knowing my issues with the gas gauge, at least I had the forethought to keep an empty gas can in the car. So, my fiance and I walked to the gas station, filled the can, and began the three-block walk back to the car.

About a block away from the car, a older man pulled up alongside us as we walked on the sidewalk. He drove the car slowly beside us, matching the pace of our walk, watching us intently the entire time. I looked over at him once, but I didn’t acknowledge his stare.  I told my fiance to just keep walking. After about 20 seconds of tracking us step for step, he pulled away.

I don’t know what his intentions were. I’m hoping that he just wanted to help, but, seeing that I was carrying a gas can and walking away from the station, he assumed we were fine. Still, the very real possibility exists that his thoughts were far from honorable.

As I write this on Mother’s Day almost 32 years after that night, I am so thankful that God didn’t allow the consequences of my poor choices to have tragic effects. Because of his mercy toward us, my then fiance (now my wife) can celebrate this Mother’s Day as the mom of four grown children, the mother-in-law of one (so far), and the daughter of one of the finest mothers on the planet.

We will make bad choices. We’re human, there’s no way around it. And while Jesus chose to die on the cross so that we can be forgiven of our bad choices (sin) and not have to endure eternal consequences, the fact remains that our bad choices have consequences here on earth that can’t always be avoided.

My real problem on that Saturday in July 1984 was that I allowed one bad choice to be followed by another.  First, I had chosen not to have the gas gauge repaired.  I followed the first bad choice with a second one, choosing not to top off the gas tank before we left. Those choices, compounded together, could have led my life, and the life of my fiance, to places we definitely didn’t want to go.

There is a way to avoid compounding bad choices.  First, take advantage of the free gift of forgiveness of sins that Jesus Christ offers.  Then, learn from Him how to see where choices made today will lead in the future. It takes only a small correction to get back on the right path after just one bad choice. But after several unwise choices in a row, well, it’s a much longer and more difficult road.

It was a hot, humid, muggy Kansas City Monday morning in July 1984, as I was driving my yellow Omega to the service department at our local Oldsmobile dealer…..

The Smile Said It All

It’s funny, the little things that bring to mind God’s love for us. Like today, for example, at the ice cream shop. A gentleman in his 80s was buying ice cream for his lovely bride. I didn’t eavesdrop for the entire transaction (that would be rude – fun, but rude), but I did look his way just in time to see the server hand him two huge strawberry shortcake sundaes. Judging from the ear-to-ear smile on his face as he picked up those sundaes, I’m guessing this 80-year-old gentleman was feeling around seven years old right about then. He didn’t know I was looking at him, or that anyone was. No, this genuine shortcake-eatin’ grin came from deep inside, most likely from a love of ice cream dating back to the 1930s. It also didn’t hurt that the server had made a couple of the best looking strawberry shortcake sundaes that I have ever seen (and I’m 52, so I’ve seen, and eaten, a few).

As I turned away, the very first thing that came to my mind was how God loves to delight His people.  Malachi 3:12 (ESV):  “Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” But, as I thought about it more, it seemed to me an even better picture of how He delights in us, and if we choose to, how we can delight in Him. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 34:7) (Does that include strawberry shortcake sundaes?)

You know, I can’t wait to get to heaven for a whole host of reasons.  But….I bet they make some pretty awesome strawberry shortcake sundaes there.  Yep, can’t wait.

On a Cross Beside Jesus (Luke 24:32-43)

I’m thankful every minute of my life that Jesus died for me on that cross.  I know that if God had chosen, he could have punished me for my sins instead of punishing Jesus.  But Christ’s atoning death satisfied my sin debt, and the debt of everyone else in the world who believes in Him.  Because Jesus chose to do it, I don’t have to take my place on a cross.

Nevertheless, someone like me was on a cross, that very day, at “the place of the skull.”  In fact, someone like each and every one of us was there. You may think I’m referring to Jesus himself — he took on human flesh and form, was tempted as we are, and suffered as a man.  But I’m not.  No, as Luke the physician points out in his Gospel, there were two others on the hill that day.  Two criminals, condemned to die, hanging on crosses to Jesus’ left and right.

Am I calling each of us a criminal?  Not per se, in that most of us have done nothing to warrant punishment under man’s law, especially a death sentence.  Still, we each share something with one, or the other, of the criminals who like Jesus drew their last breaths on that hill.  But what?  I’ll answer that question with another question: What is your approach to Jesus?  Or, as Jesus asked Peter, who do you say he is?

One of the criminals (I’ll call him the “first criminal”) joined the crowd and the soldiers, mocking Jesus and calling on Him to save Himself, if He was indeed the Christ.  The second criminal recognized that Jesus had done nothing wrong and didn’t deserve to die.  And in recognition of his Kingship, that criminal asked the creator of the universe simply to remember him when Jesus came into His kingdom.  He was not disappointed with Jesus’ answer.

You see, there’s just no middle ground with Jesus.  Either you join the second criminal in proclaiming Him to be who He said He was, or you will join the first criminal in questioning and doubting Him.  Riding the fence is just not possible — Jesus said so Himself.

Here’s the amazing thing:  Yes, Christ could have easily taken Himself off that cross and chosen to save Himself, just as the first criminal suggested. But, by staying on that cross, He chose to save…you.  And me.  And the rest of us.

Yes, it may indeed have been a Friday on Golgotha…..but Sunday’s coming.