Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

We are currently in a series on Psalm 23 at church, and this coming Sunday I am giving the communion reflection. I typically try to tie my reflection to both the text for the message and the explicit gospel message of the table. The phrase in the psalm we are focusing on this week is from v. 4, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." (KJV) (Side note: typically I am not a fan of the KJV for various reasons, but the poetry is captured so well in the old language) 

Here are some of my thoughts on what I would like to say:

One of the things I love most about Scripture is its honest portrayal of life. The Bible does not present lofty theological ideas that our disconnected from the reality of life. It does not present people who are superhuman. The Bible is God's story of his love for and redemption of fallen, broken, messy, yet beautiful people. The Bible presents life as it is - full of amazing triumph and horrific failure, bad news and good news, love and hate, beauty and messiness. We see this portrayal very clearly in Psalm 23. Life is filled with "green pastures" and "quiet waters," but we must also go through the "valley of the shadow of death." Maybe you have just been through, or are currently in, or may soon face a moment where you feel as though you are in the darkest valley. You have long forgotten the perspective of the peaks behind you and you can't see the ascent out of the valley ahead. And the temptation in these moments is to begin to question the character of God. Does he truly love me? Is he real? Is he truly present in this really dark place?

When we find ourselves in this dark place, questioning God's love and presence in our lives, there is one sure place we can look to regain perspective. When we wonder if God could truly understand the depths of our pain, the darkness of our situation, we must look up to the cross of Christ. This is the place where we see that God truly does understand our pain and he is willing to go with us to the darkest places. He enters into our pain, our brokenness and messiness...and promises us hope, peace, and redemption. He is redeeming the fallen broken world and working all things together for his good and holy purposes. 

We can know that Christ will lead and guide and comfort us even through the valley of the shadow of death and he proved it by enduring the suffering of the cross for our sake. He proved his willingness to be present with us in the messiness of life when we left heaven and came to earth. That is costly grace and that is what we remember, proclaim, and celebrate as we come to the table this morning to receive the grace of God through his broken body and shed blood.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Jesus: Example to Follow OR Righteous Life Graciously Shared?

Christmas is a time for celebrating the truly remarkable reality that God took on flesh and lived among us. Stop and think about that for a moment…God, who created the entire universe, is so gracious and loving that he left the perfection of heaven and entered into the reality of human messiness in a new way altogether. God was, of course, involved with his Creation from the beginning, but the Incarnation was unprecedented and remains the unique claim of historical Christianity…fully God and fully human.

Unfortunately many are quick to fast-forward the story from Christmas to Easter - Jesus was born and then he died on the cross to pay the penalty for sins. But this is not the complete story; this fact alone is not truly good news. If this were the complete account of the gospel, we would be left with a clean slate but still incapable of keeping the righteous standards of God’s law.

In between the birth and death of Jesus a lot happened. How we approach this in-between period is just as important as how we understand the significance of his death. Therefore, the essential question we must wrestle with is: Was Jesus’ life primarily our example to follow – OR – was it the fulfillment of a life we could never live?

Here is what it looks like to place the primary emphasis on his life as one to follow: We place our faith in his death to wipe the slate clean (reset button) but then we are left with the challenge of following Jesus’ example in fulfilling the law. Jesus gets us started – but we must run the race. Jesus cleaned the slate for you, now you just have to refill the ledger as best you can by following the “W.W.J.D.” principle. I would suggest that at a functional level this is the paradigm for many Christians. However, this is simply not good news at all!

The truly good news of the gospel is that Jesus not only died on the cross to pay the penalty for sins, but he also lived the perfect life – fulfilling all the righteous requirements of the law (something none of us could do). His perfect life of righteousness is credited to the account of all who place their faith in him. In other words, Jesus not only hit the rest button but he also filled in the ledger for us. Almost everyone believes that Jesus was a great moral example to follow – this is not scandalous and life-altering news at all. What makes the gospel so beautiful to those who believe, and so offensive to the pride of those who reject it, is that Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves – completely from beginning to end.

Does this mean there is no need for the law? Absolutely not. The law is still God’s blueprint for human flourishing. The law contains that which brings God the most glory- and therefore is for our good. But the law cannot save us – it only judges and condemns us. We cannot follow the law good enough to enter into, walk in, our complete our salvation. That entire process was fulfilled in the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Savior who came and is coming again! My prayer for you this Christmas is that the complete work of Christ will satisfy all your deepest hopes and longings, bring peace to all your worries and insecurities, and bring depth, love, and life to all your relationships.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Gospel Sword & Battle Prayer

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"The Gospel Sword and Battle Prayer"
Part 6 of 6 - The Armor of God
Ephesians 6:17-20
September 9th, 2012
South Suburban Christian Church

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Reflections on Waiting

Today is a day of waiting. I don’t like waiting.

In fact, I don’t think any of us like waiting very much. Just look around next time you are in line at the supermarket and observe how uncomfortable people are with waiting… incessantly checking their smart phones, fidgeting with items in their cart, glancing at pointless magazines.

Right now I am in a season of waiting. I finished seminary in May and enjoyed a nice summer of relaxing and visiting friends and family. Now I am waiting for the right opportunity to serve in pastoral ministry. It is certainly not an idle waiting, but waiting nonetheless. Did I mention I don’t like waiting? There are certainly more job boards to check, contacts to be made, emails to be sent, and lines of the resume and cover letter that could be tweaked. But today I pause for a moment to reflect on waiting.

Sometimes I wonder why it seems that we have to wait on God so much. If God is all-knowing and all-powerful and present everywhere, then it seems that He should be busy all the time and we should never feel bored because we are constantly trying to keep up with Him. Deep down I know that he is always acting redemptively in the world, and that he never slumbers nor sleeps (Ps. 121:4), but even in that he sometimes calls his people to a time of waiting. I think of the Israelites wondering in the wilderness for an entire generation, waiting for God to act on their behalf. I think of Israel waiting for hundreds of years of (relative) prophetic silence for the arrival of Messiah. I think of the disciples waiting for three long days, wondering what went wrong.

Throughout the Scriptures, the people of God have been called to seasons of waiting. I take comfort in the fact that many of them engaged that calling as poorly as I am. They wavered in their trust in God. They acted impulsively because they tried to take matters into their own hands. They struggled to find joy and were restless and discontent. I am like those people; I am one of those people.

The good news is that God is faithful even when his people are not. God has demonstrated his faithfulness time and time again. He is at work in the world and he is at work in my life. Again I resonate with a line from Scripture, “Lord I believe, but help my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

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This sermon was delivered at South Suburban Christian Church (Littleton, CO) on July 29, 2012.

"The Parable of the Wedding Banquet"
Kingdom Theology According to the Parable
Matthew 22:1-14

Friday, August 3, 2012

Morning Prayer


Teach me to know that grace precedes, accompanies,
and follows my salvation,
that it sustains the redeemed soul,
that not one link of its chain can ever break.

From Calvary's cross wave upon wave of grace
reaches me,
deals with my sin,
washes me clean,
renews my heart,
strengthens my will,
draws out my affection,
kindles a flame in my soul,
rules throughout my inner man,
consecrates my every thought, word, work,
teaches me thy immeasurable love.

from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers