Celebrating Christmas in a Season of Economic Crisis

I don’t know if you have noticed (of course you have), but our country continues to be in a pretty serious economic recession. This financial crisis has affected every area of American society and culture. Over the past several months, I have talked with a number of families and individuals who are feeling the impact – retired couples who have lost more than half of their retirement nest egg, craftsmen who have nothing left to build, real estate agents who have no buyers or sellers, and small business owners who have gone belly up. There are a good number who are facing the reality of losing their home, losing their automobiles, and to be sure, some are even having a difficult time putting food on the table.

In the midst of these challenges, we approach Christmas – the season of buying and selling and giving gifts. I think it is safe to assume that this is not good news for most of us. In fact, instead of a time of celebration and cheer, the Christmas Season may feel like a swift kick to the head of a guy who is already down.  If you identify with what I’m saying, allow me to offer a word of spiritual encouragement.

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An Easter Meditation – John 2:13-19

You Will Tear It Down, But I Will Raise it Up Again
(I wrote this meditation on John 2:13-19 for Surfside PCA’s
Maundy Thursday Service this past week)

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
You will tear it down, but I will raise it up again.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here!
How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
…Then the Jews demanded of him,
“What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

How do we understand these words of Jesus?  What does He mean,
“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

You will tear it down, but I will raise it up again.”

 To understand, we have go back to that ancient Garden, the Garden of Paradise, the very home of God, where the Lord dwelt together with Adam and Eve in peace and harmony.  This is the setting of our original design. This was our home.  Our Temple and God’s Temple. God dwelling with man.  Indeed, all the world was a temple of the Holy Spirit.  All the world was the Holy Place.  All the world was where man reclined himself in the arms of God.  And so we rested safe in Him, delighting in His Love, resting in His Grace, until that fate filled moment.  That moment when the Serpent of old cast doubt in our hearts…and we ate of that forbidden knowledge.  We swallowed darkness.  We kissed the mouth of shame.  And thus we were cast from the bosom of our God, cast away from the Garden, cast away from the Temple, the dwelling place of God. But in Genesis 3:15 is the whisper…”

“You will tear it down, but I will raise it up again.”

And all men after dwelt on the face of the earth in pain, in darkness, and in death.  But then, the Lord appeared to Abraham and a promise came.  A promise of the Garden, A Land, A People.  God would dwell with man once more.  God would not leave us forsaken.  He would not leave us without hope.  Then with the Prophet Moses, the promise grew.  A people specially chosen to dwell with Christ.  A nation of blessed ones received the Garden once more.  And so, coming down from Holy Mountain Sinai, inside these people, inside their mobile city, inside their makeshift camp, inside a tent, deep inside…the Word of God rested within a tiny box.  Here was a tiny swatch of the Garden, a footprint of paradise, here was the Tabernacle. God dwelt with men once more.

“You will tear it down, but I will raise it up again.”

Yet, the Garden had no home.  No permanent place to rest.  So King Solomon, son of David, gave a stationary home to the Garden.  Still a swatch.  Still a patch.  Only a fingerprint of Eden. Only a fingernail of Glory. Yet, this tabernacle of wood and cloth came to rest upon a land of promise, and a cornerstone was laid in Zion, upon the Holy Hill of God.  Glory.  Glory.  Glory.  Bedecked with jewels and gold, this Holy structure blazed in the noon-day sun.  God dwelled among men.  The Temple was established.  The City set on a Hill.  The City of God.  The Garden now stood still and men poured forth from all four corners of the world to get a glimpse of the Holy Wall, around the City, around the Holy Place, around the Holy of Holies, the Word of God kept safe within a tiny box, the Ark of the Covenant, where a tiny patch of Eden housed the Glory of God.

“You will tear it down, but I will raise it up again.”

But just like before, the garden could not last.  The Kings of Israel and Judah sinned against God just like their Grandparents before them.  They bit the fruit of forbidden knowledge.  They swallowed darkness.  They kissed the mouth of shame.  In 786 B.C. the glory of God departed.  Walls: burned.  The Temple: torched.  The tiny box containing the Word of God was torn from the fingers of men.  And just like Adam and Eve before them, the people were cast out of the Garden in Shame, led away in tears.  Led away in chains.

“You have torn it down, but I will raise it up again.”

70 years later a second temple was built again by Zerubbabel.  This time.  No beauty.  No glory.  Just a shell really.  The tiny box of Eden was gone.  Without the Word of God inside the Ark of the Covenant, the temple was as hollow as old woman’s womb.  Like a barren wife, the people of God laid down and wept.  They wept for the Garden.  They wept for the Glory.  The wept for the Word.  They wept, longing to be held once again in the bosom of their God. But a promise came through the Prophet Haggai.  “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? It seems like nothing to you. But now be strong.  Be strong, for I am with you. I will keep my promise.  My Spirit remains among you.  I will take care of you.  I am with you. Do not fear.  The Desired One of all nations will come to you I will fill this house with His Glory. The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the one before it.”

“You have torn it down, but I will raise it up again.”

Then one night, underneath a Shepherd’s Star, the garden of Eden returned.  Inside a cursed city.  Inside a stable.  Inside a barn.  Lying in a manger.  Wrapped in swaddling clothes.  The Word of God, not in a box, but made one with a little boy.  The Word made flesh dwelt among us.  The tabernacle of God inside a baby’s chest.  The Garden of the Lord resting in a young girls’ arms.  And so He grew, the Word of God, and fulfilled Haggai’s promise.  As the very Glory of God, breezed into the temple and said “This is my Father’s House.  This house belongs to me.” And further he went.  Into the Holy Place, and behind the curtain, into the Holy of Holies.
The Word of God made Flesh said this is my Home.
And so the religious leaders demanded of him,
“What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.”

And they did. They tore the temple down.

They ripped him down.  Down.  Down.  Down. They reviled him.  They dismantled him.
They insulted him. They cursed Him.
They tore that Temple of Flesh and Blood down to the ground.
They Spit on the House of God.
They mocked and jeered the Word of God made flesh.
They stripped Him down in Shame.
They Defiled the Holy Garden.
In Bloody Sorrow, they ripped that Temple down.
And like an angry barren wife, the people of God laid down and wept.
They wept for the Garden.
They wept for the Glory.
The wept for the Word.
They wept…
But not for long.  Not long at all.

Because they did what He said they would do.
But He also did what He said He would do.

For three days later, never more to fall,
Glory came back to the World,
The Garden raised up from the ground,
Sin and Death and Shame were Slain.
The Stone rolled away.  The Curse was Cursed.
All the world became The Holy Place.
And all God’s People became an everlasting Temple of the Holy Spirit.
Because, now and forevermore, yes – Jesus tore it down.

But praise and glory to the living God, Jesus raised it up again.

Shame: My Constant Companion

I had some great time with Christ reading in the Psalms this morning, especially Psalm 25 which says:

….To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
………in you I trust, O my God.
……Do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
…….No one whose hope is in you
………will ever be put to shame,

…….Guard my life and rescue me;
…….do not let me be put to shame,
…………for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness protect me,
……because my hope, LORD, is in you.

………….(Psalm 25:1-3, 20-21)

I am coming to realize that one of my most besetting sins is my sense of shame.  It has been my constant companion since my childhood.  It hides in my heart like a dark stowaway, like a hidden wayfarer, whispering lies that confound my faith in Christ.  In double-minded doubt,  I depart from Christ and continually employ my gifts as a way to compensate for my shame.  Just like my first parents – I reach for the nearest fig leaf to cover myself in vain.  But gifts are not enough.  Indeed, nothing is enough.  Fig leaves fall apart in even the smallest storm.  A gentle brush of wind is enough to disrobe me.  Yet, though the wind of shame is greater than my feeble, fig-leaf vestments, thanks be to God, it is not greater than the Cross of My Redeemer.  Jesus died to cover my shame.  He has given me His name.  His righteousness robe cannot be removed.  In Him, the darkness cannot find me; for the cross of Christ will always hide me.  I know theses truths inside my head, but how quickly my heart forgets.

Lord, help us who rest in you to repent of the shame that undermines our faith.
Help us to put our trust in you.
Help us to place our hope in you.  Guide our lives and rescue us.
Do not let us be put to open shame…
for we hide ourselves in you.

Making Sense Out of Suffering (Part 3)

Yesterday I received a comment from someone named Emily concerning my recent post Making Sense Out of Suffering” (You can read that post by clicking here).

Emily said…

“I appreciate your perspective as well as your mind, but (I’m not sure that your argument) is biblical. Read Job 1 & 2. Satan is indeed the author of Job’s suffering, yet God is sovereign and Satan can’t do anything without God’s permission. God also sets limits on what Satan can do. Yes, Satan’s goal is to cause Job disbelief.  But Spiritual warfare ceases to make sense if it is “God against God”, clearly it is “God against Satan” and man must make a choice. I am not attempting to start an argument, but simply hope to receive more understanding.”

Here is my response:

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“I asked the Lord that I might Grow” – John Newton

As many of you know, I have been suffering with a kidney stone for over three weeks now.  However, last Friday was my last day of significant pain, so I feel that I am over the worst of it.  Thanks to all of you have been in prayer for me during this time.  I first began my travail with this tiny stone the day before Easter.  I was fasting on that Saturday and I had asked the Lord to help me to identify with Him in his sufferings.  The Lord answered my prayer, but not in the way that I imagined.  I remember, at one point last week, weeping in the middle of the night.  I asked the Lord, “Is this really what it takes to humble me?  Am I so calloused that I need such pain to buffet me?”  I sat in the dark whispering. Defeated.  “You know best, Lord.  You know exactly what I need.  I am yours.  You know best.”

Yesterday, I was eating lunch with a friend – Iain Boyd – an episcopal priest who serves at Trinity Episcopal in downtown Myrtle Beach.  He’s a really great guy whom God had been prodding me to get together with.  As we sat in Cracker Barrel, Iain began to share with me a hymn written by John Newton called “I asked the Lord that I might grow.”  I had never heard it before.  Iain recited it to me by heart – and as he spoke the words across the table, God’s Spirit impressed me with the magnitude of this hymn.  It was my experience.  I had asked the Lord for something – thinking that I knew best how to receive it.   I asked the Lord to help me grow.  I wanted a deeper intimacy.  My plan was a day of fasting in exchange for a closer identification with Christ.  But that was not Christ’s plan.  He chose another, significantly more painful way.  Yet, I am learning to  thank God for his way over mine.  He knows exactly what I need.  Only he truly knows how to pour contempt on all my pride.  Only he knows how to arrest my wandering heart and press his ancient love into my soul.

Much thanks to my friend Iain who pastored me yesterday.  Also, thanks also to John Newton for writing such a powerful and true hymn.  I would like to share that hymn with you now.  Again, John Newton wrote “I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow” and published it in the Olney Hymnbook in 1879.  It is sung below by Indelible Grace.  Please take the time to listen to it prayerfully.  It is wonderfully dark, beautifully rich, and absolutely true to the Gospel.  It is a spiritual steak set to music.  I encourage you to contemplate its deep meaning so that it feeds your soul the way that it has fed mine this morning.

Lyrics – “I asked the Lord”

1. I asked the Lord that I might grow, In faith and love and every grace. Might more of His salvation know, and seek more earnestly His face
2. Twas He who taught me thus to pray, And He I trust has answered prayer. But it has been in such a way as almost drove me to despair
3. I hoped that in some favored hour, at once He’d answer my request, And by His love’s constraining power, subdue my sins and give me rest
4. Instead of this He made me feel The hidden evils of my heart And let the angry powers of Hell Assault my soul in every part
5. Yea more with His own hand He seemed Intent to aggravate my woe crossed all the fair designs I schemed, cast out my feelings, laid me low
6. “Lord why is this?”, I trembling cried “Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?” “Tis in this way” The Lord replied, “I answer prayer for grace and faith”
7. “These inward trials I employ From self and pride to set thee free And break thy schemes of earthly joy That thou mayest seek thy all in me, That thou mayest seek thy all in me.”

Making Sense Out of Suffering – God’s Megaphone (Part 2)

(I wrote this post early Sunday morning.  I finished it at 5am, while sitting in the dark, still suffering with a Kidney Stone.  I am presently at 18 days.)

The reality of suffering measured against God’s goodness is one of the foundational problems that unbeliever’s use to disprove the existence of God.  The line of thinking usually follows this pattern:  There is, without question, a great amount of suffering in the world.  If God is all-powerful and he is all loving, then why does he allow such suffering and death to take place?  In order to reconcile this problem, it is argued, a logical person must take one of only four positions: (1) that God is not all-powerful and therefore cannot stop our suffering, (2) that God is not all-loving and therefore does not care about our suffering, or (3) that God is neither all-powerful nor all-loving and therefore cannot stop our suffering nor does he care to, or (4) that there is no God at all.  The most likely of these four, says the atheist, is choice number four.

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My God, My God, Why have you Forsaken Me.

Last evening at Surfside Pres we had a wonderful communion service.  We focused on “The Seven Sayings of Christ from the Cross.”  After each saying was read, a pastor reflected on the meaning of the phrase, then that thought was closed with the leader saying, “We adore you O Christ and bless you.”  The congregation responded, “By your cross, you have redeemed the world.”  I especially focused on the fourth saying of Christ found in Matthew 27:45-46. This is where Christ screams out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”

My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?
Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

At about the ninth hour, Jesus cried these words from the cross.  In the recorded history of Christ that we have in the gospels, the most common way that Jesus made reference to God was Father.  He called him Abba.  Dada. Papa.  The first words of a little child calling out to their Father.  Of his Father, Jesus said things like: Continue reading