He’s Not a Tame Lion

Revelation, chapter 4, begins with the disciple, John, being transported beyond spatial-temporal human existence into the throne room of heaven itself and the eternal presence of Almighty God.  For John, it’s an awe-inspiring, terrifying scene as he begins recording for us the drama that will unfold immediately before the terrible judgment of God on a sinful, rebellious world.

On John’s description of the “flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder” surrounding God’s throne, one scholar comments, “this is not a sign of nature but a firestorm of righteous fury from the awesome, powerful God upon a sinful world.”

What’s my point?  (Good question)

Modern culture tends to see the Jesus of the Bible as merely a “nice guy.”

The 20th century, British apologist, Dorothy Sayers, offers some insight:

“The people who crucified Christ never,… accused him of being a bore – on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations (us) to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild’…”

But, the “nice – Jesus is my homeboy – Jesus” our modern culture likes to envision doesn’t exist.

It never did.

“Nice guys” aren’t vilified by the religious leadership of the day.  And, further, “nice guys” certainly aren’t given over to Roman execution.

The Jesus of 1st century Judea was certainly loving, kind, and generous.  But he was also uncompromising in his gospel message to mankind, delivering, on one occasion, a blistering message to the Pharisees, and, on another occasion, a message so pointed and “uncomfortable” to his listeners most of those who had been following him told him to, in essence, “take a hike” and left for good.

Jesus had no patience for sin when he walked this earth – and nothing has changed since then.  After saving the woman caught in adultery from the death penalty, he made certain to give her a sobering command:  “Stop sinning against God.”

In Revelation, chapter 5, Jesus is described as the “Lion from the tribe (or bloodline) of Judah.”

And he’s not a tame lion.

In his Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis includes a conversation between his characters, Mr. Beaver, and the children who’ve recently stumbled into Narnia.  The “Christ representing” lion, Aslan, is the topic of discussion and Mr. Beaver is attempting to describe him:

Mr. Beaver said, “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you…  He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

The first time Jesus came was as a Suffering Servant.  The next time  – he’s coming as Reigning King and Righteous Judge.

In his book, Dangerous Wonder, Mike Yaconelli sums up what our modern culture has either forgotten, or lost altogether – our humble reverence and healthy fear of God:

No fear of God. No fear of Jesus. No fear of the Holy Spirit. As a result, we have ended up with a feelgood gospel that attracts thousands … but transforms no one.

It is time for Christianity to become a place of terror again; a place where God continually has to tell us, “Fear not”; a place where our relationship with God is not a simple belief or doctrine or theology, but the constant awareness of God’s terrifying presence in our lives.

The nice, nonthreatening God needs to be replaced by the God whose very presence smashes our egos into dust, burns our sin into ashes, and strips us naked to reveal the real person within. A healthy, childlike fear should make us more in awe of God than we are of our government, our problems, our beliefs about abortion, our doctrines and agendas, or any of our other earthly concerns.

Our God is perfectly capable of both calming the storm and putting us in the middle of one.

Either way, if it’s God, we will be speechless and trembling … and smiling, too.

It’s time to become people whose God is big and holy and frightening and gentle and tender and ours; a God whose love frightens us into His strong and powerful arms where He dares to hold us in His terrifying, loving presence. How did we end up so comfortable with God?

How did our awe of God get reduced to a lukewarm appreciation of God? How did God become a pal instead of a heart-stopping presence? How can we think of Jesus without remembering His ground-shaking, thunder-crashing, stormy death on the cross? Why aren’t we continually catching our breath and saying, “This is no ordinary God!”?

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

 

 

 

Drawing Near to God – And What It Cost Him

TempleVeil

Understanding what it means to be able to “draw near to God”…

There are people in important roles whose office I could call today and be told either it will be days or weeks before I can see them, or that I can’t see them at all.

Not so with the God who spoke the Cosmos into existence.

The Old Testament Law was given by God not to make us perfect but rather to show us how utterly imperfect we are in our sin.

An important part of that Law was the role of the Levitical Priests (Old Testament priests were members of the tribe of Levi). The priests were instructed by the Law to intercede for mankind. In other words, outside of God choosing to speak to an individual like Daniel or Gideon, or prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, regular people had no intimate access to God. Only priests had that privilege.

Think about that for a minute.  In Old Testament times you and I couldn’t talk to God. We had to wait our turn and go through a priest.

Additionally, only once a year, the high priest (the highest rank of all Levitical priests) – and only the high priest -had permission to enter the Holy of Holies (a designated inner room in the Old Testament tabernacle) to offer blood from an animal to atone for the sins of mankind. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin,” the author of Hebrews wrote.

This entering of the Holy of Holies was no casual or hurried experience.  Jewish tradition cites if the high priest did not keep every single required step in this process he did so at the risk of immediate death – this is how seriously God has always taken the atonement for the sin of mankind.

Bottom line: the Law kept mankind outside the intimate presence of God.

But God so loved the world…

The author of Hebrews wrote, “the Law made nothing perfect, but on the other hand, a better hope is (now) introduced through which we draw near to God.”

This was revolutionary news to first century people.

God introduced his new covenant. The need for human priests was fulfilled in the perfect life, death and resurrection of our true High Priest, Jesus Christ.

At his death, the veil in the Old Testament tabernacle that separated the designated human high priest from the Holy of Holies – which symbolized God’s intimate presence – was torn in two from top to bottom signifying the immediate arrival of the new covenant of God with man through Christ.

No longer did mankind need a human being to intercede to God on their behalf. “There is (now) one mediator between God and man,” Paul wrote, “the man, Jesus Christ.”

To the Ephesians believers, Paul encouraged them with this life-changing good news: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

Now, because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, you and I can approach the throne of God boldly. About anything. Anytime. Anywhere. No wait time. No line to see him.

Stop for a moment and visit with God today. He loved us so much he gave his only Son up to Roman execution so that we might have intimacy with him – and he with us.

Love you all, Nick

The Valley of Vision

The Valley of Vision: a collection of Puritan prayers is a book of prayers I have in my library. The Puritan Movement took place primarily during the 16th & 17th centuries.

As with any “religiosity” the corrupt heart of mankind can twist God’s Word to mean what they want it to mean – hence, the completely unbiblical actions of the religious leadership surrounding the Salem Witch trials during the Puritan era.

However, although the wicked events claim most of the press, most Puritans were just like us: broken people trying to navigate this sometimes painful and chaotic thing we call life. The prayers in the book mentioned above, and cited below, represent the fervent prayer-life of these precious, broken people. Enjoy and be inspired… nw

“O incomprehensible but prayer-hearing God,

I thank you for the riches to me in Jesus – for the unclouded revelation of him in your Word where I behold his person, character, grace, glory, humiliation, sufferings, death and resurrection.

I come to you with nothing of my own to offer – no works, nothing of worth, no promises. Just me.

Deliver me from the natural darkness of my own mind, from the corruptions of my heart, from the temptations to which I am exposed, from the daily snares that attend me.

O Lord, I am astonished at the difference between what I receive and what I deserve – the heaven I am bound for, the hell I deserve.

O God, it is amazing that we can talk so much about our mere human power and goodness when, if you did not hold us back at every moment, we would be devils incarnate.

Nothing exceeds your power. Your might is infinite, your grace limitless, your name glorious.

Let angels sing for sinners repenting, for prodigals restored, for Satan’s captives released, for blind eyes opened, for broken hearts healed, for giving us hope in a sometimes hopeless world.

Destroy in me every lofty thought. Break my pride to pieces and scatter it to the winds.

Let my words and actions be firmly rooted in your Word.

I ask great things of a great God.

Amen”

“Behold, he is coming…”

“Behold, he is coming…” (Revelation 1:7)

I read a post the other day written by a person vehemently lambasting those who hold to the promise of Jesus’ second coming.  They wrote,

“Never mind that every preacher has been peddling that ‘we’re now in the end times’ bull-[crap] for 2,000 years now. And tragically, several billion people still haven’t realized it’s a con.”

Frankly, I don’t fault this person for their reaction. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have predicted the return of Christ at least 8 times since 1874. Edgar Whisenant made a ton of money when gullible people (including many Christians) purchased his book, “88 Reasons the Rapture Will be in 1988.” When 1988 passed, he promptly came up with 89 reasons Christ would return in 1989. (Horrible theologian; great business man.) And, I’ve lost count of how many times, recently, groups have spent a great deal of time and resources posting huge billboards with silly messages like, “Save the date: Christ is returning [fill in the date].”

Satan is a brilliant strategist, using these types of futile and biblically illiterate predictions to create a “chicken little” effect on the populace. Simply put, Satan would like us to dismiss the imminence of Christ’s return altogether. And these relentless predictions certainly help achieve that purpose.

Scoffers will scoff (2 Peter 3:3-4). Haters will hate. They most certainly have every right to do so.

But, for me – I can’t get around the reliability of Scripture.

If God’s promises to us through the Old Testament prophets regarding Christ’s first coming were fulfilled so accurately, I am compelled to believe His promises regarding His second coming will come to pass in the same fashion. (Given God’s track record for fulfilling prophecy I sure wouldn’t bet against it.)

How and when this will take place is enveloped in mystery. If anyone claims they have it figured out – thank them for the visit and walk away

One responsible theologian wisely wrote,

“While scripture teaches repeatedly that Christ is returning, the specifics regarding how and when it will occur are, by the testimony of Scripture itself, set in the midst of incomprehensible mystery. This is by God’s own design… Remember, despite the wealth of detailed prophecies in the Old Testament concerning Jesus’ first coming, only a few people recognized it accurately. It could very well be that every one of the modern ‘experts’ in Bible Prophecy will turn out to be wrong about the timing and the details of Christ’s Second Coming as well.”

In a sermon preached in 1887, Charles Spurgeon, reminding his listeners of the present & future hope we have, confidently preached to a packed church in London,

“I have heard the chariot wheels of the Lord’s approach, and I have endeavored to set my house in order for his reception. I have felt the shadow of that great cloud that shall attend him, chilling the fervency of my worldliness. I hear even now in spirit the sound of the last trumpet, whose tremendous blast startles my soul to serious action and puts force into my life.”

Three times in the final chapter of Revelation, Jesus, in essence, says, “I’m on my way.”

The first time he came – he came as our Suffering Savior. The next time he comes – he comes as the Righteous Judge.

My friends, consider his love for you.

Maranatha, Nick

After Suicide: What We Needed; What They Need

My name is Nick Watts.  On May 13, 2013, my son, Jordan, took his own life.  He was 19.

NOTE: Should you be unfamiliar with my family’s history with suicide you can click here.

My public school presentation on Suicide Intervention lasts approximately 45 minutes and includes, among other points, everything from “becoming aware of the epidemic” and “myths about suicide” to clinical depression (the mental condition most associated with suicide) and general & specific steps to take when intervening with a suicidal person.  More information than I could share in a simple blog post.

That said, after speaking I am often asked by students and parents a number of  questions I don’t have time to address in my presentation.  I thought I would offer brief answers to a few of those questions here:

  1. When and how should I talk to my child about suicide?
  2. My child has a friend who is suicidal.  What do I tell my child?
  3. What do families need following the suicide of a loved one? (What do they not need?)
  4. What has most helped you and your family?

When and How Do I Talk to My Own Child About Suicide?

When: The topic of suicide normally doesn’t arise unless a family member, friend or celebrity takes their life.  When Netflix premiered their monster hit, 13 Reasons Why, in March 2017, much of the U.S. was talking about the show’s primary subject: teen suicide.  (You can read my blog on 13 Reasons Whyhere.)  While some choose to take advantage of such opportunities to talk about this difficult and uncomfortable topic, others choose to leave it alone – usually because they simply don’t know what to say.

In regard to our children, there are those things we like to call “teachable moments.”  Should an event prompt this particular topic, it would most definitely qualify as one of those moments.

The days of considering suicide a taboo topic are long gone.  Even the mainstream media has begun giving it quite a bit of press.  And for good reason.  From a 2016 article in the Houston Chronicle:

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for people ages 10 to 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control‘s data from 2014, and is the 10th leading cause of death overall.

And from the New York Times:

“Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found…”

How:  To borrow a slogan from Nike, just do it.  I tell students at every assembly, “We parents are deeply flawed.  We’re just ‘old teenagers.’  Just like you, we laugh and we cry; we have good days, and bad days.  Sometimes we mess up.  Sometimes we get things flat wrong.  But, no one on planet earth loves you more than your parents.”  My point is this: as a parent, you don’t need a degree in psychology our counseling to talk to your child about suicide.  Just talk to them.  If they refuse to talk about it, this is a clear sign that they desperately need to talk about it.  (Refusing to talk is different than your child saying something to effect of, “I’m so hurt and confused.  I need a couple of days to process this.  Can we talk then?”)  Never force the conversation, but don’t sweep it under the proverbial rug either.

The suicide of a loved one or friend leaves us with endless questions.  A student approached me following one of my talks.  They said, “My friend took his life.  I was told if you commit suicide you go to hell.  Is that true?”  (I address that question at length here.)

Amidst all the questions regarding suicide, a cornerstone of truth I learned at one of the conferences I’ve attended on suicide intervention is this:

99% of those who attempt suicide don’t want to die – they just want the pain to stop.

No one enjoys talking about suicide (including me.)  But, should an event bring the topic into the public square, take advantage of it.

My Child Has a Friend Who is Suicidal?  What Do I Tell My Child?

For obvious reasons, I counsel people to always err on the side of caution when suspicious of a friend or family member being suicidal.  In other words, intervene immediately.   If you intervene and you’re wrong, at least they know you care.  If you don’t intervene, and you were right, you might well be soon attending a funeral.

I tell students in no uncertain terms, “Should you suspect a friend of yours of being suicidal, talk to them immediately.  Then tell them, ‘We’re going right now to talk to an adult (if at school, the counselor who will, in turn, notify the parents; if off campus, the parents; if the relationship between the student-at-risk and their parent is estranged, take them to the nearest adult whether that be a school counselor, teacher, coach, youth pastor, etc.).

Mental health professionals agree that communication is a key to helping “talk a suicidal person off the edge of the cliff.”  The Houston Chronicle story I referenced above – written due to a cluster of teen suicides – asserts:

The key to managing grief, mental illness and suicidal thoughts is communication. Often times, those who are struggling tend to isolate instead of communicate… Through it all, communication is key to breaking out of the cycle of hopelessness and connecting to a support system. Sometimes, [the person at risk is] at a place where they can’t communicate.  It’s then we must be their voice.

Regarding the quote immediately above – rather than “sometimes,” I would offer that “most times” the person-at-risk can’t communicate what’s going on – at least this would apply to the vast majority.  Simply put, they are unable.  Since they’re brain is “broken”, unable to connect with logic, the ability to intelligently articulate their crippling pain is out of cognitive reach.  Gradually losing all sense of reality, the individual begins to believe lies common to those considering taking their own life i.e. “my family won’t have to worry about me anymore, ” “the world will be better without me/I don’t matter,” “I’m a burden to everyone,” “the pain is too much to bear,” “there is no hope, no help,” etc.

If you’re reading this – and are presently suicidal – understand that the statements cited immediately above are complete and total lies.  You are loved.  You do matter.  Your family and friends love you and would be devastated at your loss.  The familiar axiom is: Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  While your pain may seem to you beyond help, know that there is most certainly help and hope.  Should you not want to speak with a family member or friend, please call the Suicide Hotline at: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Lastly, a child who has a friend they suspect of being suicidal, may feel like they will be betraying their friend’s trust should they tell an adult; or, that it’s their responsibility to carry their friend through this crisis.  This is nonsense.  As a parent, tell them, “It is not your job or responsibility to carry a burden of this nature and weight on your own.  There are professionals who’ve gone to school and worked all their life for the sole purpose of helping hurting people just like your friend.”  Again, always err on the side of caution.

I encourage students, “Your friend may at first be very upset, even angry, with you for telling an adult.  Let them be angry.  You may well be saving their life, and saving their family from unspeakable grief.”

What Do Families Need After the Suicide of a Loved One?  What Do They Not Need?

Permit me to combine the answers to questions 3 & 4 in this one section since my response to “what families need and don’t need” is based on what my own family did and did not need.

I could write enough in response to this question to fill a book.  (My wife, Michelle, and I are planning on writing a book one day.)  But, let me offer just a few thoughts here.

I recently visited with a grieving parent who had lost their child to suicide. They said they felt like they were losing their mind.  (I know this to be true – I came very close to losing mine, ultimately having to be hospitalized.)  They continued, “My emotions are all over the place.”  I quoted to them the following statement Michelle had shared with me from one of the many resources she had since studied:

“Psychologists call grief associated with suicide ‘complicated grief.”

In short, grief associated with suicide is “all over the place.” It’s reckless.  Volatile. Unpredictable.  Explosive.  And exhausting.

There is a relentless search for answers that never come.  The endless, maddening, guilt-ridden, “If only I had (fill in the blank),” consumes you.

I read the following once and, from personal experience, testify that it is most certainly true:

“The death of a child is like losing your breath and never catching it again.  It’s a forever panic attack – feeling your heart dying as your soul is screaming for them.  No matter what you try to do you continue to lose your mind.”

Those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide don’t need cliches and trite comments i.e. “They’re in a better place,” or “God needed another angel,” etc.  What they need is someone to help them bear the metric-ton of pain that’s, at the moment, crushing their heart, soul and mind.  Don’t attempt to “fix” things.  There is no “fixing” it.  Don’t give in to the common temptation to provide “answers”.  They don’t exist.

Early on, a grieving family or individual doesn’t need advice.  Just your presence will do.

There is a type of love and compassion aptly called “the ministry of presence.”  A person who’s just lost a loved one to suicide may need to talk.  They may not.  Like Job’s three friends, (Job had just buried ten children) sitting quietly and sharing the person’s pain is often quite enough during those first days and weeks.  Interestingly, it was only when Job’s friends began talking that things went downhill quickly. 🙂

The default during that first year (at least for me) was to shut down, isolate myself, try to go to sleep and never wake up.  My family was paralyzed by grief.  Routine tasks such as cleaning, taking out the trash, yard work, etc., could’ve easily become monumental chores we simply didn’t have the strength to begin, much less accomplish.  What happened next was unexpected and extraordinary.

We had friends show up “out of the proverbial blue” to help.  They did our laundry.  They cleaned our house.  They brought us meals.  They mowed our lawn.  One person just showed up and cleaned every single window in our house.  For years, we’d been intending to take down the wallpaper in our kitchen and paint it.  Knowing that we would be unable to function for who knows how long, friends waited until we were gone one weekend, came over and completed the entire job.  Our first Christmas following Jordan’s death, friends came to our house and set up our tree for us and helped us decorate – something we could have never done on our own.

The family must be given as much time as necessary to process their grief.  We are all unique.  Hence, we all grieve uniquely, differently.  Some requiring more time than others.  Never should someone say – or even think – “You know, you should be over this by now.”  Only if you’ve walked in our shoes do you know how ignorant and arrogant a statement that is.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and John Kessler once wrote,

“The reality is that you will grieve forever.  You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it.  You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered.  You will be whole again but, you will never be the same.  Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to be.”

I spent eight months, alone, in shock.  I know this because I remember finally waking up one morning feeling somewhat different.  Somewhat less tormented.  A small piece of the burden had been lifted. I tried and tried to figure out what was different.  Then it hit me – this was the first morning I had awoken without trying to un-do Jordan’s death.  That  insanity had consumed my every waking moment for eight months.  It was exhausting.  It was maddening.  But, finally, my psychological bondage was loosening. Slowly.

A professional counselor told me, “As you probably know, the first year will be horrible.  But I must tell you – the second year will not be much better.”  I can’t thank that counselor enough.  Because he was exactly right.  For the first two years, we cried at least once every single day.  Moreover, it took my family 4 years to complete a full summer without at least one of us having a total emotional meltdown.

Note: I can’t/don’t share the following in public school contexts. But I can share it here.

Finally (please understand my answers here are based on a biblical worldview), over time, the family must be gently reminded of what is true:  because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb we have hope beyond this painful, messy life on planet earth.  The “complicated grief” associated with suicide is discombobulating.  The earth has shifted under your feet.  For us, God’s Word – the Bible – has served as our “true north” and helped us rediscover peace and hope.  After Jordan’s death, we hung Bible verses about pain and suffering and hope and peace and truth all over our house.  They were on the kitchen cabinets, every door, the walls.  It’s been well over four years and, still, a few are in the very location we placed them in May, 2013.

Some may write this off as silly, believing the Bible to be nothing more than fairy tales for the mentally weak.  But this I know (because I tried it): the only alternative – atheism – failed me in that it gave me no place to put my rage, my grief, my confusion, and my hopelessness.  It offered me no hope or peace or consolation. The God of the Bible provided all of that, and more.  (To read my blog, “Atheism Failed Me” click here.)

The Bible is neither sanitized nor white-washed.  It records life on planet earth as it really is:  painful.  Further, it tells us we have a Savior who, rather than being insulated from pain and suffering, is acutely acquainted with it, with the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, describing Christ as a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.”

If it ended there the Christian faith would be hollow and hopeless.  But it doesn’t end there.  Isaiah then writes, Surely he took up our painand bore our suffering.”

This is precisely why David of the Old Testament could confidently write, “[God] is close to the  brokenhearted; and he saves those who are crushed in spirit.”    

When Jordan was 9, during a very dark and painful period of our lives, with tears streaming down his cheeks, he came out of his room and said, “Dad, God told me to paint this for you.”  I just held him and wept.  After Jordan died, friends had it professionally framed with a small plaque at the bottom that reads, “When we hurt, God hurts.”  It has been displayed in our entrance hall ever since.

Every time I had a meltdown and felt like I was going to lose my mind I would begin quoting the 23rd Psalm.  Sometimes, my grief was so acute I was unable to mutter anything beyond the first few words: “The Lord is my shepherd.”  And that is one of two reasons I have that very phrase, in Hebrew, tattooed on my left forearm. (The other reason is because Jordan had a similar tattoo on his left forearm.)  Frequently, when I’m out and about, people will ask me, “What’s the story behind your tattoo?”  I tell them, “It says, ‘The Lord in my shepherd.’  My son died in 2013.  He was 19.  This Bible verse helped me not lose my mind.”

Here is truth:  because of Christ’s death and resurrection, our loved ones, in Christ, are more alive than we are – more alive than they’ve ever been.  Their suffering is not merely gone, it’s not even a memory.  Further, they are, at this moment, experiencing a level of joy and peace that is beyond mere human intellect, reason and logic.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”

A reunion is coming.

For Jordan.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

The Gospel According to Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”

“I wear the chain I forged in life…. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

Jacob Marley

The quote cited above, of course, is from Charles Dickens’ beloved story, A Christmas Carol – a story reassuring us that, regardless of how much we’ve messed up here on planet earth, there is hope still.  Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s business partner in life, now “dead these seven years,” returns to show the hateful, miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge the judgment that awaits him should he not change his ways.  The “chains” of bitterness Marley “forged in life” now imprison him for all eternity.

But, as the fates would have it, Scrooge was given a final chance to change his ways.  The opportunity given to Scrooge, offered via three benevolent spirits, to avoid altogether the judgment that had fallen upon his friend was completely unsolicited, unwanted and undeserved.

Yet it came.

We all know how the story ends.  Scrooge is changed.  The bitterness that filled his heart, like the heart of Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, was transformed, filled with love, kindness and graciousness.

Through Jeremiah the prophet (not the bullfrog), God warns mankind, “The heart (of mankind) is deceitful, and desperately sick…”     In other words, we, like Scrooge, have a fatal flaw (sin), and are in desperate need of help and hope.

That help and hope has come through Christ Jesus. 

In his powerful hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, the 16th century reformer, Martin Luther, wrote,

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.

Were the right man not on our side, the man of God’s own choosing.

You ask who that may be – Christ Jesus, it is he!

Like Scrooge, we have a chance for redemption.  Unlike Scrooge, that redemption is in no way dependent on our own human effort.  In short, the Bible says, regardless of how many “prize turkeys in the window we purchase for the Cratchit family,” we can never be “good enough” to merit redemption in Christ.  And this is why Christ came to earth to die by Roman execution and rise from the dead three days later.  It is faith in his life & death & resurrection that makes us “good/righteous enough” to stand blameless before a holy God.

Paul, author of most of the New Testament, knew a thing or two about feeling hopelessly lost.  “What a wretched man I am!” he wrote.  He continued,

Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Oh, the love of God in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Elsewhere, Paul wrote,

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins... [but] even though we were dead because of our sins, [God] gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)

Scrooge woke up on Christmas morning a brand new man.  A man redeemed.  A man saved from eternal judgment.

According to God, we have that same opportunity.  Except for real…

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

For those who may mistakenly think they are beyond redemption, or for those who’ve already professed faith in Christ but, because of some life error(s), feel as though God could never again love, restore & use them:

No matter where you are in life – there is no mistake God can’t correct, no mess God can’t clean up, no knot God can’t untie, no sin God can’t forgive.  The power of our mistakes pale in comparison to the redemptive power of the Cross.

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself.  “I haven’t missed it.  The Spirits have done it all in one night.  They can do anything they like.  Of course they can.  Of course they can!”

Christ came the first time as a humble Servant.  He’ll come next time as a righteous Judge.  For now, if you’ve never honestly investigated the claims of Christ, you haven’t “missed it.”  Christ settled our account before a Holy God not “all in one night,” but all in a single moment.

This is what Christ meant when, on the cross – just before his final breath, he said, “It is finished.”

What Christ finished – is our new beginning.

Soli Deo Gloria & Merry Christmas, Nick

 

Where Are the Other Nine?

Rembrandt – Jesus Healing the Leper

Recorded only in Luke’s gospel is the story of Jesus’ encounter with ten lepers while on His way to Jerusalem.  When they saw Him, the ostracized, disenfranchised lepers all cried, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  Jesus did just that.  And then He instructed them to follow through with the Law by showing themselves to the priests.

It’s a wonderful story that could’ve ended there – but it didn’t. 

We pick it up in verse 15 –

“One of [the lepers], when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”

Every time I read that passage my heart is filled with conviction.  Because I know, as I am constantly distracted by the cares of everyday life, I am not nearly as grateful as I ought to be – as I am commanded to be.

Basing his comments on Psalm 100:4, one author stated that “thanksgiving is the gateway to worshiping God” – the very entrance into holy fellowship with the King.

Soon, we celebrate that North American holiday we call “Thanksgiving.” May thanksgiving be a daily characteristic of who we are – of Whose we are.

And, like the one leper in Luke 17, may we never, ever forget to simply stop and tell the Lord “thank you.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick