The Gift

December 17, 2014

It is one of our funny, family Christmas stories. By funny, I mean awkward, painful, and only slightly humorous at the time. It has become funnier with time and retelling.

My wife and I purchased a Christmas gift for one of our nephews. The gift was a hardback copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, one of the books in The Narnia Chronicles. This C.S. Lewis children’s story is a favorite in our family. I had read it in college and had wished it had been read to me as a child (and yes, the books are old enough that it could have happened). Before our son was born, we had purchased a set of The Narnia Chronicles, so they were his first, earthly possession. I say this to indicate from our point of view, this was a precious gift.

Our nephew opened our gift and immediately his face fell with disappointment. He threw the book on the floor and stormed off nearly in tears. The adults experienced the laughter of awkward moments. As I said, it’s become funnier with the retelling.

To be fair, he later read the book and enjoyed it, and maybe he wasn’t old enough at the time we gave it. But I suspect that many of us have that awkward, painful, and only slightly humorous gift story to tell.

Gift giving involves the transaction between two parties: the giver and the recipient. What is precious to the giver may not be precious to the recipient. If in doubt on this point, please check the gift exchange line the day after Christmas at your nearest, busiest store.

This brings me to the most important gift. God gave his only son. God had no more precious gift to give. The gift was costly beyond measure. The price included the suffering of crucifixion and death. It was costly to be a sin offering for others, and our need for the gift couldn’t be greater.

So how have your responded to this precious gift? Have you headed to the exchange line for what the world can offer in its place? Or have you received with joy and learned how precious is the gift!


Angels Long to Look

May 2, 2014

Elizabeth was on her way to coffee in her Upper West Side neighborhood in New York City. She spotted it among the garbage bags set out for the morning collection. It was a canvas with red, purple, yellow, and grey. She walked past it at first.

But she would later tell that she just felt that she had to go back. It was a huge, powerful and beautiful painting. She believed it was wrong for it to be in the garbage, so she rescued it.

She hung the painting in her home. She appreciated it; it was not trash to her. But she was also curious. She did research on the Internet which led her to the truth. The painting was “Tres Personajes” by Mexican artist, Rufino Tamayo. It was a masterpiece stolen from a storage warehouse about decade and a half prior to Elizabeth finding it in the trash. Elizabeth returned the painting and was rewarded. The painting was expected to sell for a million dollars.

To someone it was trash. To Elizabeth it was a beautiful painting to hang on the wall. To the art experts at Southeby’s it was a very valuable piece of art. Sometimes it helps us to see something through another’s eyes. I suspect that is part of what Peter is doing in the following passage.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10–12 ESV)

The prophets searched and carefully inquired. They knew that what lay ahead was valuable, but it was not for their generation. Christ’s sufferings and subsequent glories are for those of us on this side of the cross. But will we value this salvation? Will we set this treasure out with the trash, or will we recognize its profound worth and risk everything to have it? Prophets wanted what we now have. Will we share this salvation with the world that desperately needs it?

Sometimes we become discouraged when someone treats this treasure as trash. Peter reminds us of its value through the eyes of others. Salvation is so precious that even angels long to look.


The Reverse of the Curse

January 17, 2014

In many ways, Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 21-22 serve as the bookends to the Bible. The new Jerusalem of Revelation has Garden of Eden imagery. The earthly paradise of the Garden of Eden is found in Genesis 2-3. In both places the Tree of Life is found. The curse because of sin (Genesis 3) finds its reverse in the making of all things new in Revelation 21. I used the phrase, the reverse of the curse, in a recent lesson, and someone asked me what I meant by the curse.

When sin entered the world, God’s punishment involved a curse. The pain of woman’s childbearing was increased. Men too would experience pain laboring by the sweat of their brow and finding thistles and thorns (see Genesis 3:16-19). The greatest curse, of course, is death: “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19 ESV).

Paul reflects on the problems sin has caused.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:18–23, ESV)

Creation is personified in this passage, which is also common in the Old Testament. The important thing to note is the creation was subjected to futility, and this subjection to futility has led to a lot of groaning.

Humanity was intended to have dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26), and there is still a sense in which we do. We are stewards of God’s creation. Yet, the point of these passages seems to be this: because humanity rebelled against God, God made the creation “rebel” against humanity. We experience thistles, thorns, and weeds. We experience droughts, storms, and calamities. We can only ponder how different life in the Garden of Eden would have been. But the frustrations, calamities, and the decay of death are our present experiences of this curse.
Because of the death of Christ, God will some day make all things new: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV) In hope, we look forward to the reverse of the curse.


The Titanic

August 9, 2013

April 14, 1912—a night to remember, the night the Titanic sank in the cold waters of the North Atlantic. As James Cameron’s movie has proved, the story of the Titanic still captures our imagination. Recently, my family visited the Titanic exhibit. Artifacts from the shipwreck were on display. Each of us received a boarding pass as we entered the exhibit. Mine was of course male, which didn’t give my person very good odds of survival even though he was a first class passenger. At the end of the exhibit, I was able to check the list of lost and survivors. The man with my boarding pass had died that fateful night. The impression of the exhibit is sobering.

It also brought reflections at the time of the tragedy as well. R. H. Boll was editor of the Gospel Advocate in 1912. Eleven days after the tragedy, in the April 25th issue, Boll reflected on the Titanic:

A catastrophe like this should not pass over the minds of the people of God without making its deep impression. It is, as it were, a miniature reproduction, and, like the destruction of the cities of the plain, a type forewarning and foreshadowing the goal of the world. Just as the Titanic sank, just so shall pass away the world and the lust thereof. So unexpectedly; so utterly beyond the reach of help; so irretrievably, shall it all perish, with its pomp and its glitter, its social distinctions, its pride, its folly, its wealth, its sins; and so shall it all be swallowed up in ruin.

“Salvation” was a great word that night on the Titanic. They may never have known the significance of it before. But they learned the meaning and the value of it that night in at least its temporal aspect; and possibly in its eternal import also. Most of them too late. Yet there was a remnant that escaped.

And was it not a privilege to each one of those that were called and permitted to enter the lifeboats, even if they did have to leave their things behind, and perhaps some friends and loved ones; even if they did have to endure discomfort and exposure on the small boats? But there are the many to-day, Christians, too, who “mind earthly things;” who count the salvations of God too difficult and inconvenient; who cleave to the world, and shall therefore be engulfed with it in its ruin and condemnation. “He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

Finally, if you or I had been before enlightened of God as to the fate that awaited the Titanic on this voyage, we should have felt bound by every consideration of honor and regard for human beings to warn them each and all; and we would have endured their skepticism, their jeers and ridiculing and scorn, insults even, if by any means we might dissuade some from the ill-fated ship. But God has told us what shall come and must come to the world and how “the end of all things is at hand.” If you know the Savior, if you know the Way of escape, will you not for His sake and for the sake of the perishing souls go tell it to-day?1

Today, high-tech explorers bring us artifacts from the sunken Titanic, and movie special effects vividly portray that fateful night. May these reflections from 1912 give us some additional spiritual insights from the tragedy of the Titanic.

1Gospel Advocate 54/17 (25 April 1912): 513-14


Directions for the Narrow Road

May 17, 2013

A recent article describes the disasters that have befallen people who followed their GPS even when it was wrong.*

  • A man in the Upper West Side of Manhattan followed the directions of his GPS to turn west. He suddenly found himself driving down the steps in Riverside Park.
  • Japanese tourists in Australia were attempting to get to North Stradbroke Island, which is actually nine miles off the coast from Brisbane. They followed the instructions of their GPS to drive down a gravel road, but ended up driving into the sea. The preferred method for getting to the island is by ferry boat. The car was a total loss.
  • A woman in Brussels was picking up friends at the train station. She continued to follow her GPS even when it required her to stop and refill her car up with gasoline twice. Finally when she arrived in Zagreb, Croatia, she decided there was a problem.

Some of these cases are humorous (as long as your not the one making the mistake), but faulty GPS directions can also be life threatening. A man in the UK followed his satellite navigation system even when the road became a path. His car finally bumped up against a thin wire fence — the only thing between him and a 100-foot drop. Cases have also occurred of people running out of gas in the desert because of faulty GPS information resulting in a search and rescue.

The old computer adage is garbage in, garbage out. It is still true even when it is a GPS giving you spoken, turn by turn directions. The problem with the machine is that humans make mistakes.

What about the spiritual directions in your life? Someone will say so-and-so told me this is the way to be saved. Are they right? How do you know for sure? Human beings make mistakes, and they sometimes give faulty directions even when well-intentioned. (By the way, this is why I frequently say: “I don’t want you to believe it because I said it, but because you found it in Scripture.”)

Jesus spoke of the narrow gate and the narrow road that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus says that few find it. It is worth checking your directions. After all, the Bible is the only infallible guide of directions for the narrow road.

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*http://news.yahoo.com/8-drivers-blindly-followed-gps-disaster-213900496.html


Marks of a Saved Person

November 10, 2012

The Apostle John states the purpose in writing 1 John: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13, ESV). So how do I know? What are the marks of a saved person? John’s letter provides answers.

What direction am I headed? Am I walking in the light? Read 1 John 1:5-10. It’s not that I bounce from the saved category to the lost category to the saved category with each sin and confession of sin, and I just hope that I die in the saved category. God is looking at my lifestyle–the general trend and direction of my life. This does not deny the possibility of going the wrong direction and being lost. Rather, it keeps us from going to the opposite extreme and losing any sense of Christian security.

Do I acknowledge sin in my life? Read 1 John 1:9. John is talking about a lifestyle that is willing to own up to sin–a lifestyle that listens to the correction given it by the Word.

Can I honestly characterize my life as obedient? Read 1 John 2:1-6, 2:29. We won’t be perfectly obedient, but there still ought to be a reality to our claim of obedience.

Do I love my brothers and sisters? Read 1 John 2:7-11, 3:16-24, 4:7-21. Certainly one important example of our obedience is loving our brothers and sisters.

Where are my priorities? Read 1 John 15-17. Does God come first or the world?

Do I acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, God’s incarnate Son in all I say and do? Read 1 John 2:18-24, 4:1-6, 5:1-12. The false teachers of John’s day were denying that the Son of God became flesh, dwelt among us, died on the cross, and was raised from the dead.

Do I abide in the apostolic teaching? Read 1 John 4:1-6. The “us” of this verse is the apostles. The false teachers of John’s day were not abiding by apostolic teaching. Note also the “we” of 1:1-4 and the “us” of 1:3.

Am I practicing sin or am I practicing righteousness? Read 1 John 3:1-12.

Is the Holy Spirit at work in my life? Read 1 John 2:25-29, 3:24, 4:1-6. Is the fruit of the Spirit being produced in my life (see Galatians 5:16-26)?

Note: the above questions come from a series of lessons by Mike Moss. See also his book: C. Michael Moss, Lord, Sometimes I Don’t Feel Saved! (21st Century Christian). He has recently started a blog. Dr. Mike is a dean and professor at Ohio Valley University.


The Needed Directions

January 20, 2012

I was putting an appointment in my calendar one day, and I had the name of the place where I was to go but lacked the address. I like to put address and information on directions with the appointment, so I did what many people would do. I googled the name of the place. Google brought up the web site for the place I wanted, and I clicked to a very professional looking web site. It had all kinds of information on it. It had a description of the place, a photo, and a very nice history. In fact, it had everything but what I wanted to know — the address. The web site told me everything but how to get there.

Occasionally, we will receive a flyer for some event that commits the same error. The flyer will have a nice layout. It will contain information about the event, for example, who is speaking or what singing group will perform. It will give date and time and other important information, but it will omit the address.

It’s a very human failing. I can certainly relate to it. I’ve put together a flyer or two through the years as well as a few web sites too. You have all these things that you want to say, and unless you organize your thoughts a bit, you can leave out something important. I’ve experienced a proofreader’s second set of eyes pointing out something that I had missed.

I’m glad that the Lord does not have this human failing. On the night of his betrayal, Jesus speaks of the place he will prepare for his followers (John 14:1-3). This naturally leads to Thomas wondering about the directions: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5, ESV) Jesus gives this tremendous answer: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. “(John 14:6, ESV) Yet, I must confess that we might still be perplexed if that was the only answer. This discussion leads to Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit. I think it contains a special promise to the apostles, the “you” of 14:26.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26, ESV)

I am thankful for the divine guidance given the apostles. They were spared the human failing of forgetting something when it came to the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints, so we have the assurance that we can be thoroughly equipped for every good work. God has provided everything we need for life and godliness. Since it is the most important destination, I’m thankful that we have the needed directions.