Help ! I’m Stuck

truck stuck rt 202

On Route 202, down the road from our house, there’s  an underpass under the New Jersey Transit tracks. (It’s a few miles south from the underpass you see in the picture.) Recently a truck got stuck right in the middle of rush hour. The unfortunate driver did not first compare the height of his vehicle versus the number on the overpass sign. The mortified driver caused a traffic tie-up until the police let some air out of his tires to free him.

This leads us to today’s quote from Jesus.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,  saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ (Luke 14:28-30)

Now, sometimes you hear people say that Jesus guarantees a life of health and prosperity.  But coming to Christ  is not costless. It’s false to say that believing in Jesus guarantees us our best life now.

The writer of Amazing Grace has it perfectly :

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

Contemplating the stanza, we see how Jesus’ cost is well worth paying. Yes, on life’s way we face dangers, toils, and snares. But Jesus safely sustains and guides us, giving us a final home with him.

Even though we have determined to do our best for Christ, we are not immune to bad choices and misjudgments. Too often we get stuck in our own life underpasses.

But each time that happens, our patient Lord loves us too much to leave us there. As we repent,  he lets the air out of our overinflated opinion of ourselves. Once more forgiven, we are able to roll on forward with Jesus again !

When Does Jesus contradict me?

I think Jesus likes to contradict me both when I think too highly of myself and when I think too lowly of myself.

First, I’ll give you an example of each from scripture and then explain how it might apply to us.

In John 4, Jesus meets a woman at the well who thinks  too lowly of herself. Due to her messed up personal life with multiple divorces,  she is viewed locally as a low life. Plus, being a member of an outcast ethnic group, she was shocked that Jesus would even bother talking to her.

 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) (John 4:9)

Jesus regards her as full of worth and dignity, and dialogs with her anyway.

Now meet the Pharisees, who thought too highly of themselves. When Jesus confronts them in John 8, their attitude is : How dare you challenge our beliefs ! We are always right ! Jesus  is not as mellow with them as he was with the woman at the well —  indeed in  John 8:44  he goes so far as to say they are listening to their  father, the devil.

Do you see yourself in either of these categories? I see how both of these can and do happen in my life. So when I sin or err and  beat myself up and feel like a worthless piece of filth, that’s the “too low.”  Jesus contradicts me :You are a new creation. You are a forgiven man who has life and worth from me.

It’s easy to cheer for Jesus  being especially stern to those  hard-heartedly closed Pharisees.  We may even pat ourselves on the back for not being like them.  But sometimes that hard-heartedness sneaks into us.

Here’s how : Someone confronts me  about something wrong I said or did and they are spot on— but my first reaction is to think: How dare they say that to me?  I know I am in the right ! Now I am thinking too highly of myself.

I’m glad we have a merciful God. I need to do one thing that the Pharisees refused to do : when I am in the wrong, I quickly need to grab on to Jesus’ offer of repentance and forgiveness.

Today’s takeaways :

  • When you are on a high horse – listen to Jesus and repent.
  • And when you are beating yourself up —-stop !— listen to Jesus and see your worth.

Do I Worship Jesus With Awe ?

The Jewish priests were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord. (1 Chronicles 23:30)

Recently, reading through the book of 1 Chronicles in my daily Bible time, I encountered descriptions of various worship services and rituals. It used to be that I’d read that old stuff and say it was not too meaningful —- after all,  now we have Jesus.

But this time through, I felt a sense of awe reading  these descriptions that I haven’t had before. For these worshipers knew that  the almighty God of the universe was present as they gave thanks and praise; this was far from being only a meaningless ritual for them !

And from our Christian perspective, as we look backwards at this Chronicles worship, we see that these  services were previews and tastes of what we would experience with Jesus Christ.

Today, we hear so much about Jesus being our friend, which is fine since he does walk with us as friend and brother.

But I want to ask :

Do we also experience Jesus as the almighty awesome God when we worship him ?

When we do, that has a real implication  for our daily lives. We experience Jesus as more than just our day-to-day buddy. We begin to get a taste of eternity in our worship. This taste of eternity reaches down to affect how we live during the day…the stuff that gets me riled up with petty feelings of annoyance somehow begins to seem less important.

Jesus is my friend but at the same time he is almighty awesome God. The more I enter into worshiping this Lord who is closer than a brother but also far above my daily life, the more what I think, feel, and do in my daily life begins to change .

Breathing in Bugs

Finally our long hot humid oppressive suffocating summer has ended, and fall has begun. Towards the end of summer I set an unpleasant, unofficial, new personal record. Running in Mountain Lakes early one morning, I sucked in yet another bug. Reminded me of when my wife and I went to a bluegrass concert in Overpeck Park in the Meadowlands back when we lived in Bergen County. One  band had to stop their set early—-the poor woman who was their lead vocalist had breathed in one bug too many !

My bug-breathing led me to reflect more generally on when things seem to just happen to us.  Where it is not our choice—and yet —stuff happens. Yes, my bug-sucking is  a picture of what it means to be living in a fallen world.  After all, when Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they didn’t have to worry about breathing in bugs on their morning runs.

My bug-sucking is an example of what economists calls a negative externality. It’s when someone else’s activities harm you and cost you and you’re not compensated — like a  nearby factory that creates stinky toxic smoke that you breathe in. Or someone doesn’t clear their yard of places where bugs breed.

When that happens, what are  our choices ?

Sue the bums? Call the EPA?

Or just put up with it?

You mean we can’t always fight it? Yes, sometimes we need to put up with certain crappy things that are out of our control.

At first glance that sounds pretty depressing, doesn’t it ? And it would stay so if we didn’t believe that things will be finally set right. I’m not advocating inert passivity when we should act — but sometimes there really is no action we can take. (I mean, should I have run with a netting over my face?)

But we believe that Christ will set all things right, if not in this life then in the next. We have cause for optimism in spite of the slop. That’s what Christian hope is all about !

Heart Transplant

new heart

Do you ever get caught in the trap of thinking that being a Christian mainly means following a list of rules and commands ? I know that I do ! Today, let’s look at how rule-keeping fails —- but how God, by grace, provides a wonderful alternative.

To show this grace of God in action, let’s start with the book of Deuteronomy. A common theme in Deuteronomy is that obedience brings blessing and disobedience brings curses. But if that kind of rule-keeping to stay on God’s good side worked, we all would obey, and the Bible could end right there.

But unfortunately, God’s people kept falling short of obedience, and got cursed instead.  You might think that God would say the heck with them and just let them be doomed.

But he doesn’t ! Why ? Because  God has made a promise that is irrevocable : he will always have a people no matter how badly his people screw up.

For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath (Deuteronomy 4:31)

Wow, what an amazing promise of grace !

Now, with a revelation to the prophet Ezekiel,  God goes even further beyond rule-keeping :

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)

Back in the sixties  we had the first human heart transplants. But much better than that is how God promises to give us a spiritual heart transplant.

The Holy Spirit empowers our new heart, allowing  Jesus to live in us. And it’s Jesus who provides our way of escape from falling under the curses. For when we do fall short we can repent and  turn to our advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ, who forgives us.

God remains faithful to his promise ! Freed from keeping rules and regulations, our new heart frees us to joyfully live God’s way.

Bountiful Harvest

blueberries_peaches photo credit emily wiley

“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (Matthew 13:8)

“But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”(Matthew 13:23)

We live in New Jersey.  Out-of-staters think of our state as being filled with factories, smokestacks, and refineries.  But we rank near the top of all  US states in growing peaches and blueberries. Yes, there can be much fruit even where it is not expected !

During this series we have been challenged to be good hearers. We’ve been encouraged to have a soft heart instead of a hard heart, to grow deeper roots, and to stay on course for godly contentment.

Today we get to celebrate what it means to be set free to be fruitful for Christ!  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23a)

We may think this wonderful fruit depends only on how hard we try. But let’s look at how it does not all depend on us. In the hymn “The Sower” William Cowper wrote:

“Let the same hand that gives the seed
Provide a fruitful place.”

Yes, it is God who prepares the ground — God sets it all up ahead of time —- then we move in it, all the while strengthened by his power.

Paul explains more about how this works  :

“So that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience” (Colossians 1:10-11)

If you’ve seen some of my other blog posts, you know there are ways I flail when trying  to do the Lord’s will– so today God  reminds us that the burden is not on our shoulders—-we will harvest our fruit  by his power !

I Need a Course Correction

thornz

“Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants”( Matthew 13:7)

 “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”(Matthew 13:22)

You are driving out of state. You are sure you know the right route ; you don’t really even need the GPS.  However, after a while: You have now reached a dead end in the middle of nowhere! And you have a grim realization : Now the clouds are so thick and the valley you are lost in is so steep that that you can’t even get a GPS signal. Now what ?

Today’s verses in the Parable of the Sower show how we can gradually wander off course in our Christian lives even when we think that everything is going OK .  First, the worries of life can sneak in: Will we be able to buy the things we need?  Will I lose my job? What if I get sick ? Will we lose our house?  Legitimate stewardship of our health and work can gradually morph into becoming a worrisome preoccupation or obsession.

Second, the deceitfulness of wealth can slink in too. Take Bob, who was earning well, providing and caring for his family and doing good ministry. But as he receives some very lucrative promotions, his job gobbles up increasing amounts of his family time and leaves almost no time for Jesus and ministry.

Overcome by worry, seduced by wealth. What do these have in common? Both of them block the guidance  from the Holy Spirit  just as the GPS signal was blocked.

Let’s hear what Paul says :

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12)

As the thorns in life grow, they start to choke our godly contentment.  We might think that we can use our own power to hack away at the thorns until they are all cut down. But that’s about as effective as depending on a GPS that does not get a signal. Here’s what we need to depend on :

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:13)

Our Lord gives us directions for a thorn-removing course correction. I need one. Do you?