GOSPEL TRUTH

GOSPEL TRUTH

John 7:37-38–“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

I ran across an interesting message on a piece of mail.

It said, and I quote: “Good news about your credit!”

It wasn’t hard to imagine the rest.

“Yes,” the inside of the letter probably said, “we have really great news about your credit. As of today, we are cutting you off. You heard us! Not one red penny more. Yes sir, your skinny carcass has been expelled from the trough.

“But wait! We have one more line of credit available to people like you, at an exorbitant rate of interest.

“In fact, it is so out of line that you will likely be paying us money for the rest of your life. Through the nose, as they say. But that’s all right! We don’t give half an anorexic rat’s left hind paw about your welfare. We need profits! Did you hear me, boy? I said, profits. That’s profits, son. With an “f”, not a “ph.”

Well, that’s what it should say.

How about some other truth-in-advertising messages? Try these from porn catalogs.

“Millions of addicted customers! All willing to pay eight thousand percent over cost of production!”

“See our cheaply made-up, crack-addicted teenagers…and their pain-filled eyes!”

“Sizzling, red hot ripoffs!”

Seems to me there’s only one place where the truth doesn’t need to be camouflaged; where it really is good news.

And that’s the gospel.

What a relief!

JOY FOR THE TAKING

JOY FOR THE TAKING

Life can be hard. Relationships curdle, jobs go south. Confusion, frustration, anger, refuse to leave us alone. We have good impulses, but for all of that, there is a downward pull to life.”

Yes there is, for sure. Whoever conned you into thinking otherwise was a dreamer.

But amidst all the junk, there is joy for the taking. Do you know who you are? Your sin will frighten you, big time. But the gospel will give you life, will give you hope.

And then, once you have found him, dig into Jesus! Talk to him! Dig into his Word, his people, service to the people he loves, i.e., to the least of these—homeless, incarcerated—broken, hurting, lonely. And what you find will surprise you–real human beings, in need of the same gospel that set you free—and even believers, true believers, who have experienced incredibly more grace than you have ever begun to know.

Yes, dig into messy situations, your own included, with courage. The God who called you, who has redeemed you, who is sanctifying and glorifying you, will most assuredly not let you go in the middle of the river. He will get you to the other side.

Life with and for Christ has a purpose, and though we don’t always see it, we know that purpose is building a huge weight of glory on the other side, for us, for others, and ultimately, for Christ.

He never said it would be easy. He never said the sun would not sometimes be obscured. He never promised health, wealth, and prosperity, as some TV preachers say he has.

He just said he would never leave us.

And that, friends, as John Wayne used to say, is a promise you can bank on in Denver.

AND THEN

AND THEN THERE IS LIFE

Genesis 22:2–“Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering…”

I’ve read some difficult Bible stories, but this one takes the cake.

A number of rather eminent folk have just plain fallen out with God over this narrative. And it is pretty hard to swallow. I think of my daughter stretched out with my hand scheming to kill her–but I don’t think of it for long.

“Well,” you say, “God stayed the knife at the last moment. Doesn’t that count for something?”

I suppose it does, but people have been scarred for life by similar experiences. Think of the fellows the Czarists led out to be shot with Dostoyevsky. The last-minute reprieve they were given did not prevent some of them from, shall we say, rowing the rest of their race with one oar.

And even if Abraham’s boat didn’t slip its anchor, what about Isaac’s? The horror this youngster suffered seems almost too much to bear.

Yes, the anthropocentric take on this story, properly considered, will separate you from your faith. If you really can’t put anyone at the helm of the universe besides yourself, you have to scream at this God.

But there is another angle to this account. Think of it as a metaphor, if you will, or better yet, as a rehearsal, minus the knife stroke, of what would transpire at Golgotha.

“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…” So says Isaiah.

Which, of course, begs a question: “How could God murder his own son?” We know the answer–because of our sin.

This world view simply does not play in your average theater. A soul this depraved is not something most people think they possess.

But for those who see themselves like I see myself, there is only one answer.

The knife must fall.

And then there is life, profound, priceless, perpetual–for the Godhead, and for us.

I AM A FARMER TOO

I AM A FARMER TOO

My father planted Eggerth hybrid corn on fields of black Minnesota loam,

cleaned it with an F20 Farmall and a front-mount cultivator,

watched the sun and the rain drive it to the tall sky,

then brought the crop from the field himself and called it good.

There he raised me also,

there in a gray farmhouse the winter wind whistled through.

I remember him; I remember corn and black soil.

Though I have flown, like thistledown, far from home,

I yet am sower of seed, supplicant for the grace of sunshine and

rain.

I drop prayers into swiftly fading years,

bury deeds in ripening seasons,

sow love and truth in aching, hungry hearts.

Someday I also will come from the field with a shining harvest.

Father, I too am a farmer.

CLARENCE EVERHART

Clarence Everhart died of cancer on the 27th of February, 2002. He was 88 years old. Three people attended his funeral, not counting his wife and the preacher.

I first saw Clarence when I took over High Point mail route twelve in September of 1999–a frail, white-haired man sweeping leaves with a battered old broom, loose skin hanging from his sides and chest.

I soon learned that Clarence and his 61-year old wife, Betty, were living in grinding poverty. They had a mattress, but no bed to put it on; a back room with assorted unused pieces of furniture; and piles of garbage bags filled with clothes and belongings. The kitchen was lousy with roaches.

Clarence was quite obviously well into Alzheimer’s. He asked the same questions over and over, cursed considerably, always sounded apologetic when corrected. Sometimes Betty and I would talk to him about Jesus. And when I came to leave, he always asked me, “Chuck, when you going to come back? You know I get so doggone lonesome when you’re gone.”

In the autumn of 2000 Clarence was diagnosed with prostate cancer, as well as several related tumors. Fifteen months later he went into High Point Regional for a double operation–repair of a massive rupture, and an orchiectomy to stop the spread of the cancer.

He wound up in a nursing home, where I visited him two or three times. Even in his semi-comatose condition, I could feel him grasping my prayers for dear life.

The last time I saw him there he was in a bad way–racked with pain, writhing naked on his bed. That night he went back to the hospital, for the last time.

I saw him the evening before he died. He was pretty obviously swimming the last river, forearms extended, stroking through the air as though it were water. I grasped his right hand, talked to him, read Psalms, prayed.

Before I left, I asked, “Clarence, do you know Jesus?” I didn’t think he was conscious, but he answered me–“Yes.”

Jesus came for him early the next morning. Sechrest Funeral Home buried his body five days later.

Other than serving in the U.S. Army, Clarence did not accomplish much, humanly speaking. Didn’t leave much either, besides a wife, impoverished and grieving. His only child, a daughter, died in infancy.

And he was a sinner, too. But check this out–he repented! Mind-boggling! And now he’s home with Jesus.

Kind of reminds you of Lazarus, doesn’t he?

CITY OF DAVID

All is not what first it seems–

Beastly presence, cattle stall,

Infant sleeping, darkness all:

No mere star through doorway gleams,

No common child in burlap dreams!

Mary, at your breast you feed

Creator of Light, Author of Days,

Resplendent in glory, pavilioned in praise–

Renown abandoned, delivered to bleed,

In fiery pain, for Adam’s seed.

Joseph, carpenter, can you see

The ghoulish hill this child will climb–

Interred in flesh, fettered by time–

Carrying there on staggering knee

A hand-carved shaft, a rough-planed tree?

Pilgrim, now the work is done.

You grasp it here, by time removed,

Yet coupled still through out poured blood–

Defeat so bitter, victory won;

Nadir of night, morning sun!

WHO HE SAYS YOU ALREADY ARE

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.–Colossians 3:12

Paul here is exhorting his readers to love each other in a way that is quite extraordinary. And this exhortation he bases squarely on God’s election and unconditional love. “All prima facie evidence notwithstanding,” he is saying, “you have been chosen to be holy (see Ephesians 1:4). God loves you profoundly and unconditionally. Believe this and walk in it.”

Talk about your wildly unconventional strategies! Our appeals for good behavior always invoke the law and some form of moral coercion. “Look, Jack,” we say in essence, “you really need to get your stuff together. Memorize the Ten Commandments. Sweat some bullets, man. Maybe someday you’ll be like me.”

Truth be told, we don’t have our stuff together, and never will using this method. Our appeals are fundamentally Romans seven enterprises, and as such, are doomed to failure from the get-go.

To achieve Romans eight results, we need to ruminate on what Paul is saying here. Is it possible that we could simply “put on” a righteousness that is at once broad as the horizon and deeper than the Indian Ocean? Where would this righteousness come from? What would it mean to just…put it on? And if we could put it on, what would this say about our own righteousness?

Concerning the last item, some divine comments have already been made, and they do not flatter us. You could look it up, as James Thurber used to say.

As to the source of this righteousness that we so desperately need, check out Romans 3:21 and 22. “But now a righteousness from God…has been made known. This righteousness…comes through faith to all who believe.”

Through faith to all who believe–what? That Jesus paid for their sin, and more. That they are God’s chosen people. That they are dearly loved. That they have been set apart for holiness in a world of lust and degradation.

Let this settle into your heart; let this clear the fog, remove the cobwebs, run off the demons.

Let your conniving little self, wicked to the core, start seeing itself as someone God has chosen to sanctify and love.

You’ll become who he says you already are.

AGAIN

Psalm 38:9,10–All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart pounds, my strength fails; even the light has gone from my eyes.

This is the cry of a man who’s had about all the pain he can handle; a man ready to quit; a man on the verge of insanity.

The word “longings” could better be translated “anguish,” which reinforces our image of a human pushed nearly to the point of death by physical and emotional suffering.

In fact, after begging the Lord not to rebuke him in anger (38:1), David spends the rest of the Psalm recounting how the Lord has done just that. Wrath, disease, guilt, loathsome wounds, groaning, estrangement, persecution, pain, iniquity–he gets splattered with the whole slop bucket. We would almost say the man exaggerates, had we not, on occasion, stood under the same window ourselves.

But David never gets totally unglued from faith in the character God has infused in him. “I am slandered,” he says in verse twenty, “when I pursue what is good.” This slander may have been grounded on solid external evidence. Yet David trusts implicitly the work of God in his own sinful heart.

And, of course, David never gets separated from trust in God, period. “I wait for you, O Lord,” he says in verse fifteen. “You will answer, O Lord my God.” His faith almost puslates.

Brothers, let me put it to you straight. I got hit by the slop bucket this week. And it came pretty close to discombobulating me. I sat down with this psalm before I went to church this morning, and I still came away groaning the words of our communion song: “Oh Lord, have mercy on me.”

But he is a very big God, bigger than we ever could need him to be. And ugly as my sin is, the stream from Calvary really does make me whole.

Again.

FIND JOY

God does not give his children free passes from pain just because they are his children.   If that were the case, everyone would be signing up to be a Christian, and for the wrong reason, obviously.

If you take Colossians 1:24 seriously, there is something purposely lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his church, something that we, his believing children, are destined to fill up as we become more and more like Christ.

“Now hold on a minute,” you say.  “That’s not what the TV preacher said.”

I understand that Americans revere TV preachers, but if you just get your Bible and any concordance and start looking up the word suffering,  you will see that not all televangelists are telling the truth.  Is it possible that the financial prosperity of their own ministry means more to them than the Word of God?  I’ll let you ponder that while I continue.

My sister, whose husband was a pastor before his death from cancer a few years ago, tells about not one, but two couples from their church, both of whom had a child with a terminal illness.

“Your child can be healed if you only have enough faith,” they were told.  And they believed that schlock.

And then, of course, their child died.  Leaving them to struggle with this unanswerable question:  why, oh why, oh why did I not have more faith?

This viewpoint sees God as a servant who must obey our direct orders.

In point of fact, God will not be ordered around by anyone.  He knows all, including the glorious realities of the other side, and he knows what is best for his children in this schizophrenic universe.  If we had our way, no-one would ever die.

In actuality, one God/man did die, so that we could  could live forever.

Our calling in this life is simple:  to surrender everything to that God/man.  And find joy in the process.