Never Alone

Lonely.

Everyone gets lonely. There are frequent moments when we feel unknown, forgotten, ignored, or even rejected. Feeling lonely is not about being isolated because you can be alone a crowded lunchroom, a full house, a birthday party, or even a packed church. Sometimes, the greater the number of people present, the more intense the feelings of loneliness can be.

In Psalm 143, David cries out to God in part because of the suffering of his own sin, “Do not bring Your servant into judgment” (vs. 2), and also because of an enemy who had ground David down so that he felt depressed and alone in the dark (vv. 3-4). He felt like no one understood the depth of his emotions. No one seemed to care what he felt or how he suffered. He was lonely.

That’s when he turned to the Lord. “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all You have done; I reflect on the work of Your hands” (vs. 5). David remembered, meditated, and reflected on the character of God, his relationship with Him, and what God had done in the past. “Let me experience Your faithful love in the morning, for I trust in You” (Psalm 143:8).

That’s it, isn’t it? During the inevitable times when we feel alone, worthless, and rejected, we remember who God is, meditate on what He has done, and reflect on His promises to always be with us.

“Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
“I will never leave you or abandon you (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5)

There are also many modern songs that reflect His promises to help carry us through the darkest of nights.

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside
Great is Thy faithfulness” 
Thomas Obediah Chisholm | William Marion Runyan

“Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes our hearts can say 
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful God You are faithful” 
Never Once | Jason Ingram | Matt Redman | Tim Wanstall

“I cried out with no reply and I can’t feel You by my side
So I’ll hold tight to what I know – You’re here and I”m never alone
And though I cannot see You and I can’t explain why
Such a deep, deep reassurance You’ve placed in my life” 
Never Alone | BarlowGirl

“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all You have done; I reflect on the work of Your hands. Let me experience Your faithful love in the morning, for I trust in You” (Psalm 143:3-5).

Because God is always faithfully present, you and I are never alone.

Follow me…. as I follow Jesus Christ.

Racism and Racialization

Most of the people I know are not guilty of racism, but many (whites) like me, and including me, are culpable of racialization – the collective misunderstanding of cultural position or unintentional misuse of power which causes racial division and results in diminished life opportunities for other racial groups.
Racialization is so embedded within our culture, it seems so normal, and it’s so difficult for some to see that the intentions our words or actions don’t have to be racist to contribute to racial division and inequality. Because our racialized society often both produces and reflects misunderstanding, hostility, disorder, unequal treatment, conflict, violence, compromised life opportunities, and other social problems, our nation has historically, with varying degrees of intensity, searched for ways to overcome it. And, yet, our nation still struggles with it.
Racial reconciliation with others will never happen by simply pursing love or unity – it will only come from pursuing Christ who reconciled us to God so that we can be reconciled with each other (2 Cor. 5:18-20).

That’s why I’m committed, as a white man by God’s creation and a follower of His Son, Jesus, by faith, to pursing multi-cultural relationships, multi-ethnic reconciliation among them, and multi-facited collaboration within and among local churches as a part of Threaded.

As we meet together and share our lives together (who we are), I’m constantly challenged in my thinking and perspectives, I’m continually encouraged by other fully-devoted followers of Jesus Christ, and I’m completely loved (when I ask stupid questions or same dumb things) by amazing men and women who by God’s design are different than me.

Follow me… not because I’m perfect… but because I’m following Christ.

 

Music and Memories

Music helps us connect life experiences with past memories. We need older songs to help us remember God’s Word and His faithfulness. At the same time, we also need new songs to make new connections. Words may challenge the mind, but music speaks to the heart.

This morning while reading through Psalm 9, I was reminded of a Keith Green song from years ago that helped me connect God’s Word during some difficult circumstances.

“I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders, I will be glad and exult in Thee.” 

I remember the verse because of a simple musical tune. I’m reminded of times as a much younger man when I was faced with decisions to either give in to doubt and become bitter OR trust the LORD and give thanks.
Now years later, I can rejoice in the God who delivered me and continues to lead me. The Keith Green song is definitely dated and probably wouldn’t mean much to my kids or a younger generation. They need new songs to remind them of God’s Word and His faithfulness.

And the reality is that I need new songs, too, to be reminded that God is still working in the world. He’s still making things new. And He’s still working in me.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Magnificent

O LORD, our God, how incredible is Your character and reputation throughout the heavens and the Earth.

When I slow down enough to really think about who You truly are – I’m in awe. It’s amazing to consider all that You’ve done so easily and completely, and yet, You love humanity (me) as Your creation unconditionally. Even though we are sinful, selfish, people, You give us both dignity and responsibility.

“O LORD, our Lord, how magnificent is Your Name throughout the Earth.” Psalm 8:1

Honesty

Sometimes truth is harder to find than love. There is often an inherent lack of complete honesty even in the closest of relationships.

Billy Joel sang about it,

If you search for tenderness
It isn’t hard to find
You can have the love you need to live
But if you look for truthfulness
You might just as well be blind
It always seems to be so hard to give

Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you

Honesty is not just telling a portion of the truth or what we think the other person wants to hear. Honesty doesn’t beat around the bush. Honesty is what another person needs to hear - about them. And about us. Honesty gives a straightforward answer without evasion, compromise, or deception.

The wisdom of Proverbs says it best.

An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” (Proverbs 24:26).

As a sincere kiss shows affection and tenderness, so an honest answer shows genuine care and concern for another. A kiss on the lips is intimate.  Close. In the same way, honesty requires invading someone’s personal space and allowing someone to invade yours. Honesty is the bedrock foundation of a solid friendship. Honesty makes good friendships great. Honesty makes close relationships closer.

175722974We need people in our lives who will be honest with us, telling us where we are wrong and where we need to change. We need friends that will tell us the truth about ourselves in loving ways. We need people who will accept us for who we are and not accept selfishness.

We also need people who are willing to be open and vulnerable about themselves. We need people, and need to be the people, who let their guard down and let others get to know them. We need people who are willing to be real. This kind of honesty from others helps us to feel that we’re not alone in the world. If we do not, we can experience isolation and loneliness, even if we are in some kind of relationship or around people all the time.

Honesty increases love because people who are free to be completely honest with each other are free to love each other completely.

Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what people need from you.

Raising Kids

“Train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

parentingThis verse about parenting, like many of the Proverbs, is a general principle, not a guaranteed promise. Raising kids, like any relationship, can’t be reduced to a rigid recipe. It requires grace.

Training children to become thriving adults requires constant exposure to the truth of God’s Word (loving boundaries) and consistent experiences of His grace (unconditional acceptance). And for better or worse, kids learn more from what they see in our actions than what they hear from our mouths.

The Hebrew word for “train” (noun, hanukkah) means “to dedicate.”  It carries the idea of “dedicate a child to God,” “prepare a child for future responsibilities,” or “equip a child for being an adult.” In the context of Proverbs, the verse encourages parents to direct a child in the way of wisdom to live in the fear of the LORD (trusting, worshiping, serving, obeying) and then trust the results to Him.

For our kids (and someday, future grandkids), I pray my words and actions will encourage them to follow me, as I follow Jesus Christ.

What is the Meaning of Christmas?

MangerCaveEvery year, millions of people around the world celebrate Christmas. But what does it all mean? What difference does it really make in our lives? Why should we care? Why do we need Christmas? What is the meaning of it all? 

Over the years, I’ve heard countless explanations for the meaning of Christmas and the reason for the season. “Christmas is about spending time with family and friends,” some say, and others “Christmas is about giving back to others.”  It’s been said that Christmas is about, “love for others” and “peace on earth.” It’s been sung that Christmas is about “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” The meaning of Christmas has been explained many times and many ways. While these are certainly some good things about Christmas, they fall well short of the true meaning of Christmas.

Our world has incredibly complex problems: wars, terrorism, famines, racism, loss, and catastrophes. People have complex problems: physical, emotional, and family problems. Sometimes we despair as we try to help others or to deal with our own problems. We fill our hearts with all kinds of choices, behaviors, stuff, or people only to find our lives empty of meaning.

Where do we go to find the meaning of Christmas? We go to the source of truth – God’s Word, the Bible. Listen to the angels as they announced Jesus’ birth:

“The angel said to the shepherds, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” Luke 2:10–11

StoneMangerChristmas is about a Savior who was born for you! The meaning of Christmas begins and ends with a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. In Jesus Christ, God provided the simplest solution for all of the complex problems we make and face in this world. In Jesus Christ, God sent a Savior whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

Some might scoff about the salvation of Jesus as a simplistic solution – one that really doesn’t work. Others might say that His incarnate birth a nice story, an interesting legend, harmless enough; but they would never consider it as a serious solution to any significant problems. But, God knows that the basic problem with the world is the sin of the human race. Sin, missing God’s standard for holiness and goodness in character and action, is what separates mankind from God and from each other. Any solutions that leave out dealing with our sin problem are the simplistic solutions. The only solution that offers true hope and real help to humanity’s complex problems is that which takes into account the sinful hearts of people and offers a practical solution to that universal, and yet, personal problem of sin.

The angels from heaven announced God’s provision of this Savior. The birth of Jesus is a fact of history: “Today…was born.” The birth of Jesus is a foundation for eternity: “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And, His birth is a fulfillment of prophecy: “in the city of David.”

The angels from heaven announced God’s purpose of a Savior (Luke 2:11)  The name, Savior, defines both His life and His death. If you’re simply looking for moral reformation or behavior modification, you might need a life coach, a cheerleading section, or a really good friend, but not a Savior. But if your life requires mortal resurrection (and it does because we are all sinners who sin), you’re going to need something beyond yourself. If your life of captivity to sin has resulted in spiritual death (which it has), you need someone who will raise dead people to life. If your sin has separated you from a Holy, Perfect God, then you need a Savior who died in your place to reconcile you to Him.

In Jesus, God provided what we needed the most, when we deserved it least, at the greatest personal cost to Him (see Isaiah 53). Jesus came to live as the perfect God-man who could die in our place for the forgiveness of our sin.

Jesus_candlesThe angels from heaven also introduced God’s promise of this Savior. The birth of Jesus was “good news of great joy for all the people.” Later, Jesus Himself clearly communicated the promise of His advent: “The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) He had come to seek us out. Jesus came to earth as a rescue mission. When we think of someone being lost we think of helicopters hovering in the night sky, overboard sailors clinging to the wreckage of a ship, coal miners trapped beneath the earth, or children who cannot be found. But these temporal situations are transcended by the eternal tragedy of people who are lost in the rubble of their own sin, buried in the darkness of self-sufficiency, suffocating by loneliness, and crushed by personal pain.

Sometimes the solutions to life’s problems are simpler than we think. With the birth of Jesus which we celebrate at Christmas, God sought us out, rescued us, and saved us by His grace, mercy, and love (Titus 3:4-7).

There was a man who traveled a great distance for an interview with a distinguished scholar. He was ushered into the man’s study, where he said, “Doctor, I notice that the walls of your study are lined with books from the ceiling to the floor. No doubt you have read them all. I know you have written many yourself. You have traveled extensively, and doubtless you’ve had the privilege of conversing with some of the world’s most intelligent and wisest men. I’ve come a long way to ask you just one question. Tell, me, of all you’ve learned, what is the one thing most worth knowing?” Putting his hand on his guest’s shoulder, the scholar replied with emotion in his voice, “My dear sir, of all the things I have learned, only two are really worth knowing. The first is, I am a great sinner, and the second, Jesus Christ is a great Savior!” If you know those two things personally, you know the meaning of Christmas – that a Savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord!

That’s what Christmas is all about. A Savior, Christ the Lord, who was born for you. It really is that simple.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas!