Resolve to Live Wisely

A few years ago, during an extremely stressful time in my life and ministry, I came across some old files in which I had written down topics for a series of future sermons. I must have done some research into Jonathan Edwards because my notes included a list of resolutions he had written as a teenager. (If you do not know Jonathan Edwards you can Google him.) My notes read as follows:

From 1722 to 1723, (ages 19 to 20) Jonathan Edwards wrote down seventy resolutions which he read every week for the rest of his life. The preface and the first of Edwards’ resolutions reveal him to be a very serious man from his youth:

“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly ask Him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ’s sake.”

“Resolved, that I will do whatever I think to be best for God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my lifetime, without any consideration of the time, . . . .

  1. Resolved that I will do whatever I think to be my duty and best for the good and advantage of mankind in general.
  2. Resolved that I will do this, whatever difficulties I meet with no matter how many and how great.”

Immediately after reading this, and given my circumstances at the time, I resolved to compose my own list of resolutions. While my list is not as extensive as Edwards, it is the fruit of time spent in prayer, Bible reading and deep contemplation of the nature and character of God. Using the preface borrowed from Jonathan Edwards, I wrote down the following five resolutions:

“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly ask him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”

  1. I resolve to live wisely (Proverbs 3.5-6; Philippians 3.12-16)
  2. I resolve to live humbly (Romans 12.1-2; Philippians 2.3, 7-11)
  3. I resolve to live repentantly (Philippians 2.1-16; 4-9)
  4. I resolve to live faithfully (Matthew 6.25-34; Philippians 2.19-29)
  5. I resolve to live fearlessly (Proverbs 1.7; 29.25; Philippians 1.27-28)

The inspiration for these resolutions comes from Paul’s words in Philippians 3, specifically verse 14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

You don’t need seventy resolutions to follow Jesus. You don’t even need five. According to Paul, you just need one: press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Living wisely starts with knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection.

We all have a past. The more closely we follow Jesus, the more we get to know Him, the better we are able to deal wisely with our past. People who live wisely put no confidence in who they are, where they came from, what they’ve accomplished, or what they’ve earned. In other words, people who live wisely find their identity in Jesus Christ and not in their past. They put their confidence in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross (Philippians 2.8).

Paul had a past. And while his past did much to shape him, Paul refused to let his past to define him. His identity is defined by three things:

  1. Knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection
  2. Gaining Christ by being found righteous through faith Christ
  3. Sharing in the sufferings of Christ becoming like Him in His death

 Rather than boast about his solid gold religious resume; or put any confidence in his outstanding Curriculum Vitae as a religious Jew, Paul says, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” [NB: Rubbish is a polite translation. The Greek word Paul uses is skubala meaning useless or undesirable material that is subject to disposal. Skubala is the stuff you scrape off the bottom of your shoe after you’ve stepped in it.]

 Compared to knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection everything else is skubala. The power of Christ’s resurrection is the power that comes to us through faith in Him. To know Christ and the power of His resurrection is to receive the power to follow Jesus wherever He leads us.

  • It’s the power to suffer the loss of all things; the power to consider them skubala compared to knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection.
  • It’s the power to walk away from your past by trusting Jesus for your future.
  • It’s the power to go wherever Jesus leads you and to do whatever Jesus commands you.
  • It’s the power to press on and persevere.
  • It’s the power to face the worst life can throw at you and follow Jesus nevertheless.
  • It’s the power to say, “Not my will but Your will be done.”
  • It’s the power to live wisely in the midst of a culture that lives foolishly.

Living wisely means knowing you have promises to keep and miles to go before you sleep.

Having declared his goal is to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, Paul is honest and humble enough to confess not even he has obtained it or has already become perfect. He has promises to keep and miles to go before he sleeps. Thus he makes it his aim to press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Despite his status as an apostle, despite all he has experienced and accomplished since his conversion, Paul has not yet obtained the full knowledge of Jesus and the power of His the resurrection. That happens on the other side of the veil. Having been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, Paul presses on to know as much as he can about Jesus and the power of His resurrection in this life.

The only way Paul could obtain this knowledge, the only way he was going to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection was to experience suffering for the sake of Christ. That’s the bad news.

Here is the good news. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ transformed suffering by making it a redemptive experience. Most cultures, including our own (especially our own), try to avoid suffering at all costs. However, the Bible teaches us to regard suffering as an opportunity for deepening our faith. The biblical view of suffering is to see it as the means by which God the Father conforms us into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, God the Son, under the caring supervision of God the Holy Spirit. That. Is. Radical.

But do not worry if you’re not there yet. You are in good company.

Living wisely means keeping your eyes fixed firmly on Christ and practicing a long obedience in the same direction.

There is such a thing as wise forgetting—the ability to forget what lies behind. Wise forgetting refuses to let our past define us. Wise forgetting is the fruit of finding our identity in Jesus Christ. Wise forgetting trusts in the promise of future grace. It forgets what lies behind and strains forward to what lies ahead. People who practice wise forgetting press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul is straining forward like a runner leaning forward and stretching out to break the tape at the finish line. His goal is to run as much as it is to run in order to receive the prize. When Paul says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” he means “I press on toward the thing I prize most in life. I press on toward the thing that has the most value to me – to know Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection.”

  • Paul does not press on out of a sense of guilt.
  • Paul does not press on out of the sense of regret.
  • Paul does not press on out of a sense of remorse.

 Paul presses on because of the joy he has in knowing that Christ has taken hold of his life. His life’s passion to make this knowledge His own because that is why Jesus Christ made Him His own. He is driven by the desire to know Jesus. He forgets ignores any distraction so that he can follow Christ so that he can press on to know Jesus

Paul presses on for the same reason Jesus pressed on and endured the cross scorning its shame: for the joy that was set before Him. For the joy of hearing the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. For the complete, overwhelming, soul-captivating, heart-motivating, breath-taking moment when God looks at us and says, “Well done you good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of Your Master.”

 There is as much virtue in running the race as there is in winning the prize.

 The prize of the upward call of God is an eternity spent knowing Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection. People who live wisely trust God when He says, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” The future belongs to those who press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

 It’s been said that golf is a game of recovery. The honest golfer who hits a bad shot cannot improve his lie. He accepts that he hit a bad shot and plays the ball where it lies. He tries to recover. By the grace of God, life can also be a game of recovery. We can neither change nor undo the events that make up our past. But we can resolve to play the ball where it lies. We can recover by resolving to live wisely. Let us resolve to forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead. Let us resolve to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

You think about that.

All That Is Not Eternal

In the last chapter of The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes about Charity. He begins the chapter with this statement: “The natural loves are not self-sufficient. Something else…must come to the help of the mere feeling if the feeling is to be kept sweet” (116). At first this Something else is “vaguely described as ‘decency and common sense,’ but later revealed as goodness, and finally as the whole Christian life in one particular relation” (116). This “something else” is Charity—the love of God which, according to Lewis, shines brightest when contrasted against its rivals—the natural loves of Affection, Friendship and Eros.

Love means risk. Lewis is both grave and joyful when he declares: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken” (121). Charity loves despite the risk of injury. It cannot go about insulated. It must be vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Charity dares to let its future depend on something that may be lost. In a memorable phrase, Lewis observes that, “The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love is Hell” (121). Surely the life and work of Jesus Christ exemplifies a love that does not play it safe. Says Lewis, “Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become, even in the natural loves, more careful of our own happiness.” Rather Christ taught us to love our “earthly beloveds” … without calculation (122). In this way we are prepared to love God, whom we cannot see with the same lack of calculation. “We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in our lives, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armor” (122).

If Charity makes any calculation at all it is this: if by loving without calculation we can approach (by practice) the love of God and by loving so He ordains that our heart needs to be wrung and possibly broken, then let so be it. All the natural loves are rivals to Charity in the sense they are all capable of being excessive. Here Lewis observes, “it is the smallness of our love for God, not the greatness of our love for the man, that constitutes the inordinacy” (122). So the issue is not so much that we love God or our earthly Beloved “more,” as much as it is “which do you serve, or choose, or put first?” (122-23).

This leads to Lewis’ exposition of Luke 14.26 where Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Lewis’ interest lies in an analysis of the word “hate.” “To hate,” states Lewis, “is to reject, to set one’s face against, to make no concession to, the Beloved when the Beloved utters, however sweetly and however pitiably, the suggestions of the Devil” (123). Jesus himself declared no one can serve two masters for she will hate the one and love the other. There is no middle ground for equivocation. It is either “adhere to, consent to, work for” God or work for money. To love God requires that we “turn down or disqualify our nearest and dearest when they come between us and our obedience to God” (124).

However, the difficulty here lies not so much in making the choice between “our nearest and dearest” and “our obedience to God,” as it is to know when such a choice must be made. It is here where the natural loves interfere. They meddle, partly out of sentiment, partly out of concern not to offend, and partly out of the fear of loss. Whatever the reason, it is when cast in the light of Charity’s glory, that we see flaws heretofore unseen in the natural loves.

The following statement is the clearest expression of Lewis’s theology of love:

“We begin at the real beginning, with love as the Divine energy. This primal love is Gift-love. In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give. The doctrine that God was under no necessity to create is not a piece of dry scholastic speculation. It is essential.” (126)

The self-sufficiency of God is what sets His love apart from the natural loves. “God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them” (127). One characteristic of God’s love is grace.

When He created us, God gave us the capacity to love Him, to exploit Him, and even to reject Him. This is grace. Yet create us He did and in creating us, God implanted in us “both Gift-loves and Need-loves.” The Gift-loves are natural images of Himself. By possessing them we reveal the likeness of God whether or not we make any approach toward Him. The Need-loves, by contrast bear no resemblance at all to the Love which is God. They are rather opposites; not as evil is the opposite of good, but as that which is formed is the opposite of the mold from which it is made.

However, God does more than implant within us Gift-loves. He also implants within us a bit of His own Gift-love. This “Divine Gift-love…is wholly disinterested and desires what is simply best for the beloved” (128).

“ … natural Gift-love is always directed to objects which the lover finds in some way intrinsically lovable—objects to which Affection or Eros or a shared point of view attracts him, or, failing that, to the grateful and the deserving, or perhaps to those whose helplessness is of a winning and appealing kind. But Divine Gift-love in the man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable.” (128)

Divine Gift-love is indiscriminate as to what and whom it loves. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it loves without regard for personal gain. In the very best sense of the phrase, Divine Gift-love loves for love’s sake. The lover loves because it is the nature of the lover to do so.

There is one more characteristic of Divine Gift-love God bestows upon us. It is that He enables us to express Gift-love toward God the giver. This must be so or how else can we answer the call to obey the greatest commandment, “love God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and with all your strength.” It is when we yield ourselves entirely to God that we present to Him our whole self.

More importantly, when we love God with everything we have, we are enabled and empowered to love the unlovable, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and visit the prisoner. To love “the least of these” requires the Divine Gift-love that comes from God by grace. It is not surprising that this form of Divine Gift-love should be called Charity. For when Charity bids us to love in this manner we love God by loving others.

The premise by which Lewis wrote The Four Loves is best summed up in the oft quoted statement, “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date” (137). This statement, often taken out of context, applies first to the natural loves – Affection, Friendship, and Eros – before it applies to anything else. The natural loves, since they are natural, are not eternal. Therefore, they are eternally out of date. They are destined for decay unless they are transformed into expressions of Charity.

Separated from Charity, the Love which is Eternal, the natural loves promise what they cannot deliver. They create a desire which they cannot ultimately satisfy. Thus to pursue them is to chase after that which is eternally out of date. Given his knowledge of mythology, Lewis compares the natural loves to gods run amok. When the gods run amok they meddle in human affairs unconcerned about the consequences their meddling will have. Thus when Affection, Friendship, and Eros become gods they become demons. There is too much of the mortal in them, but just enough of the divine to masquerade as gods, not to bless, but to tempt, deceive and mislead into ruin.

By contrast, Charity is unnatural and therefore is, in the best sense, super-human. Charity is love not of this earth. Charity comes to us from God. It intrudes into our lives for the sole purpose of making us aware that the longings, the cravings created by the natural loves can be satisfied, but not by any love that is natural.

In the end, The Four Loves is a philosophical proof of the inadequacy of the natural loves to bring us near to God. Only Charity can do that. It was not Affection, not Friendship, and not Eros that John, the gospel-writer and Beloved Apostle, says motivated God to send His Son to earth to die. It was Love. It was Charity.

Here Lewis must have the last word: “There is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved. It is no one’s fault if they do not so love it. Only the lovable can be naturally loved. You might as well ask people to like the taste of rotten bread or the sound of a mechanical drill. We can be forgiven, and pitied, and loved in spite of it, with Charity; no other way. All who have good parents, wives, husband, or children, may be sure that at some times—and perhaps at all time in respect of some one particular trait or habit—they are receiving Charity, are loved not because they are lovable but because Love Himself is in those who love them” (140).

You think about that.

Through and Forward

The humble soul endeavors more how to glorify God in afflictions than how to get out of them.

Thomas Brooks

To seek how I may glorify God in afflictions kills pride. It kills every anti-God, every anti-trust idea I may conceive and nurture and contemplate. When I look back from now to the times when I have experienced affliction, I see how God led me through those difficult days. At first, I tried to escape. I tried to get out of them. I could not. He would not permit it. I had to pass through the furnace; had to feel its heat, be burned by its intensity.

Pride had to die. Anxiety too had to perish. All of it had to be removed – gold to refine, dross to consume. This is God’s design for affliction. Grief came upon me and with it more fear. Still God upheld he. He sent me back out to the battle line daily. He walked with me through many painful conversations. He helped me endure comments both critical and pejorative. Even so, He would not let me run. He used each negative comment like a chisel strike chipping away the unnecessary bits. The furnace heat consumed more dross. None of this was painless. My heart broke. My spirit grew more contrite. The more I tried to run, the more often did God close, no – shut the door.

The storm had come. The sea rose in  anger. The waves threatened to drown my soul. I looked for safe harbor. I found none. Each failed escape, each shut door made the voice of the Spirit more audible, more resoundingly clear. The path to safe harbor lay direct and through the violent storm. As in Thompson’s hound of heaven, the Spirit spoke to my spirit: “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

So through the storm I ventured forth. And the further out to sea the Spirit led me, the more emphatic His exhortation: “Trust in the Lord. The way of escape is found through the storm.”

Through. Not over. Not under. Not around. No escape except through. God before me. God beside me. God behind me. He leads through the valley of the shadow of death. Grace there is for such a passage; mercy and provision. Through and forward is the way home.

Today, I stand on the other side. The storm is passed. Safe harbor found. The valley is passed through; its narrowness now replaced by a broad plain through which quiet waters flow and pleasant pasture enjoyed. The sun shines anew revealing hills and mountains – and more valleys – to cross. But they are still some distance away. I will meet them soon enough. Today the ground is level and lush. There is water here in abundance.

Even so, I will not rest here long. The journey is long and –as the poet has said, “I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.” So I will rest for the moment, but only a moment. The ground is soft here. The pastures serene.

I will pass through this pleasant place with gratitude. And while I will not linger here neither will I walk quickly through it. I will journey on with steady pace through this pleasant land. And I will be grateful for the company goodness and mercy will provide. They are silent companions, whom I welcome as constant friends for they remind me daily that through and forward is the way home.

Because Every House Needs a Strong Foundation


Some years ago, while searching for a house that would accommodate our family of five, we looked at a lot of houses. Early in our search we found a house we liked very much. It was on a quiet street and had the right number of bedrooms and bathrooms. It had a nice backyard. It had a large living room, a big, well-lit kitchen and a full and dry unfinished basement. Most importantly, we could afford it. The more we walked through the house the more we liked it. Then we looked in the basement. Good thing. We saw three large cracks in the foundation: ceiling to the floor. So we moved on.

Every house, no matter how beautiful, or affordable, needs a strong foundation. It’s an absolute must. A strong foundation ensures the overall integrity, stability and durability of the house.

And, yet for most of us, the only time we pay attention to the foundation is when it needs repair. This explains why Paul wrote most of his letters including Colossians. When a church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, it must do everything it can to uphold the supremacy of Jesus Christ. He is the cornerstone of our faith, love, and hope.

The situation at Colossae required immediate attention. False teachers were preaching a different gospel than the one they’d learned from Epaphras. Clues in the letter indicate this false gospel downplayed the supremacy of Jesus; placing, instead, a higher value on an unholy trinity of folkloric philosophy, human tradition, and mysticism. Whereas the gospel preached by Paul and Epaphras promoted Jesus as the hope at the heart of our salvation and kinship, this false gospel emphasized the pursuit of a philosophic wisdom as the pathway to a deeper spirituality. Realizing the danger this false gospel posed to the foundation of the Colossian church, Epaphras traveled to Rome to seek Paul’s help.

Just as every house needs a strong foundation, so too, every church (and every follower of Jesus) needs a strong foundation of knowledge with respect to the person and work of Jesus. Students of the Bible use the word Christology to describe this knowledge. Strictly speaking, Christology focuses on knowing what we believe about Jesus Christ and why. Just as every house needs a strong foundation, every Christ-follower needs a strong Christology. A strong Christology builds a strong church.

And that brings us to Paul’s majestic hymn in Colossians 1.15-20 ~ 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.


A strong Christology is built on the confession that Jesus is the image of the invisible God.

If you want to know what God is like then look at Jesus. He is “the radiance of the glory of God, the exact imprint of His nature,” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is the genuine article. He is not pretending to be God. Jesus is God. And as such both the nature and being of God are perfectly revealed in Him, by Him and through Him. If you want to know what God is like, study Jesus Christ.

 During World War 2, C. S. Lewis, did a series of broadcasts about Christianity on the BBC. These messages appeared years later in the book, Mere Christianity. In 1942, Lewis, speaking about Jesus, made the following, memorable statement:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Jesus: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. (Mere Christianity, 55-56)

Eight years later, Lewis wrote an essay titled, What Are We to Make of Jesus? Working through some of Jesus’s startling claims about himself, Lewis repeated his earlier point: you can’t conclude Jesus was simply a “great moral teacher.” For if what He said is true, they are the sayings of a megalomaniac.

In my opinion, the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion, which undermines the whole mind of man. If you think you are a poached egg, when you are not looking for a piece of toast to suit you you may be sane, but if you think you are God, there is no chance for you. We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects — Hatred — Terror — Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.

A famous theologian once said, “Tell me your Christology and I will know your theology.” What we believe about Jesus affects what we believe about God. If you believe Jesus was a good man, perhaps even a prophet for social justice, or a great moral teacher, then you’re likely to create a god made in your image. That is idolatry.

A strong Christology is grounded in the firm conviction Jesus is the image of the invisible God. All the evidence leads to that conclusion. Since He is the image of the invisible God, Jesus makes God knowable. God wants us to know Him. And He wants us to know Him through knowing and trusting in Jesus Christ as the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

When the Bible was written, the custom of the day gave the firstborn son certain rights and privileges above his siblings. The firstborn was his father’s representative and heir. He had authority to manage his father’s household, and he was entitled to inherit a double share of his father’s estate.

As the firstborn of all creation, Jesus is His Father’s representative and heir. He holds the higher rank because He is the eternal, only begotten Son of God. He is the eternal “older brother” with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereunto. He has authority both to manage as well as to rule all creation including, and especially, the church. Just as important, Jesus is the firstborn because through Him all things were created through Him and for Him. A strong Christology builds a strong church. 

A strong Christology helps us do what we were created for.

The first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism are as follows:

Question: What is the chief end of man?

Answer: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

We are created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Until we realize this to be true, our hearts are restless – constantly seeking something to give us rest. And when we think we have found the thing that will give us rest, we are disappointed to discover the rest does not last. Created things cannot grant eternal rest. One of Augustine’s more famous statements is, “O God, You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until it finds its rest in You.” Created things are subject to moth and rust, dust and decay. Created things can be stolen, lost or overtaken by something newer, faster and slicker in appearance. Created things cannot grant eternal rest.

Are you restless? Do you know why you are restless?

  • Is it possible that you’re restless because you have looked for rest in things that do not last?
  • Is it possible that you’re restless because you don’t know that God created you to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever?
  • Is it possible that you’re restless because you have not yet put your trust in Jesus Christ as the One through Whom “all things were created” including you?
  • Is it possible that you’re restless because you have yet confessed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior for your sins?

Just as a strong Christology builds a strong church, it also builds a strong life of faith, love and hope in Jesus.

Paul goes on to say, “He (i.e., Jesus) is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” God knows life can be hard for those who trust in Jesus. So when life is difficult; when we are left befuddled and perplexed as things fall apart, the One who is before all things and in Whom all things hold together will hold us together. He will not let us fall apart. He created us not to fall apart. In the beginning, God created all things by the word of His power. However, when He created Adam and Eve, He dug His hands into the earth and formed them from the dust of the ground. God made us for Himself and our hearts are restless until it finds its rest in Jesus Christ. And when our heart is at rest, we can do what we were created to do: glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

However, God did not create us to glorify Him alone. We were created to worship Him in community and in kinship with others who have found their rest in Jesus. This is why Paul adds the following description about Jesus: “He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.”

We were created to worship Jesus as part of the church of which He is the Head. And yet, Jesus is more than just the of the Head, or Leader of the church. He is its origin and source of life.

He is its sovereign Lord, its Founder, President and CEO. He guides and governs it. The church has one Head; one Leader. He is Jesus Christ. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.

That phrase, the firstborn from the dead, points to Jesus as the first person to come back from the dead. By the power of His resurrection, Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. His resurrection powerfully confirms His supremacy over all things—including death! The supremacy of Jesus means He is Lord of our past. He is Lord our present. He is Lord of our future. He is the same Lord yesterday, today and forever. He is the first to experience true resurrection life. As such, He will never die again. He is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Him even though they die, yet shall they live, and everyone who lives and believes in Him shall never die, (John 11.25, 26).

A strong Christology keeps Jesus at the heart the Gospel.

The gospel is the announcement of the good news that redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and salvation, the rescue from God’s judgment against our sin, is found in Jesus Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone.

As for why this is so is stated by Paul in verses 19-20, For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross.”

Now, if all Paul wanted to say was that in Jesus, the totality of God’s righteousness, wisdom, power and holiness was pleased to dwell, the word fullness would get the message across. But this is Paul. And He is talking about Jesus. And when Paul talks about Jesus, he is rarely content to use just one superlative to describe Jesus. So in describing the character of Jesus, Paul does not say, “in Him (i.e., Jesus) some of the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” but rather in Jesus ALL the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Everything that belonged to the nature, character and personality of God dwelled in Jesus when He came to dwell among us. And because of His resurrection, all the fullness of God continues to be pleased to dwell in Jesus!

Let’s think about what the fullness of God refers to for a moment.

  • The fullness of God refers to the fullness of His grace.
  • The fullness of God refers to His mercy.
  • The fullness of God refers to His compassion.
  • The fullness of God refers to His love that is unconditional and of such quality that He never gives up on us.
  • The fullness of God refers to His promise to forgive us our sins and guarantee the hope we have in Jesus.
  • The fullness of God refers to His joy when He receives our worship as the expression of our faith, love and hope in His Son.

All the fullness of God sets Jesus apart as unique. He is not one god among many. He is not an angel. He is not a man who became a god through an act of great sacrifice or flash of insight. He is not one of many paths to God. Jesus is the only path. He and He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the Lord who is the Savior. He is the one and only Peacemaker between God and humanity.

It is also significant that in being pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Jesus, God ordained Jesus to take on human flesh. God who is Spirit, chose to make Himself known in bodily form through the Person of Jesus Christ.

God willed that in Christ all fullness of deity would dwell in bodily form. The incarnation of Jesus confers dignity upon our humanity. God chose to dwell among us. It pleased God to have all the fullness of deity dwell in a human being: Jesus Christ.

 It pleased God to make things right between Himself and us through the death of Jesus on the cross. The death of Jesus on the cross is the means by which God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son. We have peace with God because all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in the body of Jesus Christ—the same body that was nailed to the cross for our redemption, the forgiveness of sins; the same body which three days later rose from the dead; and the same body, the same Jesus, who one will return to establish forever His eternal kingdom.

On that day, the day Jesus comes back a second time, all things will finally be made to yield to God’s will and serve His purposes. His enemies—and ours—will be defeated and His people will enjoy Him forever. Until then, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” That name is Jesus Christ. Redemption, the forgiveness of sins, happens one way and one way only: we must confess our trust in Jesus Christ as the Peacemaker between us and God by the blood of His cross.

The first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism is:

Question: What is your only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death,  to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.  He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,  and has set me free from all the power of the devil.  He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life  and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

 A strong Christology builds a strong church. A strong Christology builds a strong life of faith, love and hope in Jesus.

On Whom will you build? Jesus is the image of the invisible God.

A strong Christology is built on the confession that Jesus is the image of the invisible God.

In Whom will you trust? Jesus is the sovereign Lord of the universe.

A strong Christology helps us do what we were created for.

By Whom will you be saved? Jesus is the sovereign Savior of all who trust in Him.

 A strong Christology keeps Jesus at the heart the Gospel.

You think about that.



Jesus’ Name is His Mission

How did you choose your child’s name?

We named our first son, Matthew, for several reasons: (1) Matthew means Gift of God; (2) we like the name and, (3) Matthew flows nicely with Malanga. We named our daughter Lizabeth (no “E”) because of a high school girl my wife worked with when we lived in Beverly, Massachusetts. High School Liz wore a cheerleader jacket with her name embroidered on it in script. She was sweet and kind, and Jill thought if we ever had a daughter we would name her Liz. Only later did we discover that Lizabeth means Oath of God, or God is satisfaction. We gave our third child, the name Jeffrey. I wanted to name him Geoffrey with a “G,” but my wife thought—and correctly so, that Jeffrey with a “J” looked less pretentious. Jeffrey means, God’s peace. (I did get to choose Jeff’s middle name: Garrett, a Norse name meaning Defender; in Old English, he who rules by the spear.)

When all is said and done, we name our children for a variety of reasons. We may choose a name because we like the way it sounds. We may choose a name from the family tree as a way to honor a loved one. Or, we may choose a name from the Bible. Whatever name we choose, we seldom name our children with the intent they will become or do what their name means. Such is not the case with names in the Bible.

For example, the angel who appeared Joseph told him to give the child Mary carried a name which would define, as well as determine His destiny. The angel said— “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel.” (Matthew 1.21)

Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name, Joshua. It means God is salvation. And although some have used Immanuel as a name, it’s more a title than a name. In Hebrew, Immanuel means God with us. Put the two together, God is salvation and God with us, and one thing becomes clear: Jesus’ name is His mission. He is God with us come to save us His people from their sins. Jesus’ name tells us what He came here to do. Jesus is God incarnate sent to rescue His people from the judgment of God against their sin. Jesus’ name is His calling. Jesus is God in human flesh sent to deliver His people from the guilt of their sin. Jesus’ name is His mission.

And that…is a problem.

When it comes to the birth of Jesus, our cultural hard drive has deleted the file containing the reason Jesus was born. Who wants to think about Jesus saving us from our sins, when it’s much more fun to sing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Why ponder the meaning of “God and sinners reconciled,” when singing “chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at your nose” just makes you feel warm all over. Now, I’m no Scrooge when it comes to the songs of the season, it’s just that the songs our culture sings this time of year are sung in the wrong key. This is likely due to the fact that the songs they should sing, the ones which really matter, are songs which the Bible consistently plays in the minor key.

There is a reason the angel tells Joseph, “you shall call His name Jesus.” However, the reason is one many do not want to hear. Not at Christmas: “you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” There’s that word again. Sin. Let’s save that “sin stuff” for Good Friday. It’s Christmas. Let’s sing songs about peace on earth, goodwill to men. That’s the major key. And yet the minor key carries the tune to which is attached to the essential lyric: Peace on earth and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled.

Jesus’ name is His mission: He will save His people from their sins.

We call Jesus Immanuel because He is God with us. In Jesus Christ, God came down to where we live in order to save us from His judgment against our sin. This was God’s plan from the moment He formed Adam from the dust of the ground. The instant God breathed into Adam and he became a living soul—and at that moment—a unique relationship was established between God and man. This relationship was broken when Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The guilt of Adam’s sin drove him to flee from God. And we’ve been running away from God ever since. That’s the bad news.

The Good News is that the Bible is one continuous story about God coming down to earth to search for those whom He created in His image and likeness. Adam ran from the presence of the Lord, but God searched for him. God searched for Noah. He searched for Abraham. He searched for Moses. He searched for David, going so far as to call the shepherd-king “a man after My own heart.” He searched for Solomon whom He allowed to build the tabernacle, even though no earthly dwelling could contain His glory. Ultimately, God chose the perfect venue for how He would dwell on the earth: His Son. “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” (John 1.14). Clothed in our flesh, Jesus came to seek and to save those who were lost.

Let’s go back to Genesis for a moment. When God created the earth and everything in it, He did so by speaking it into existence; God said and it was so. Every mountain and valley, every stream and river, every lake and ocean, every bit of sky and cloud, and every living creature; God spoke them into existence. However, there is one creature which God did not speak into existence. When it came to creating man, the Bible says God formed Adam out of the dust of the ground. Think about that. God spoke into existence everything in the universe and on earth, yet when it came to creating humanity, God stooped down from heaven, scooped up a handful of dirt and made us in His image and likeness. Of all the things He spoke into being, of all the creatures God created, only Adam is created by the hand of God.

But that’s not all. There is more.

After God formed Adam from the dust of the ground, He did something amazing! He breathed into Adam. And Adam became a living soul. God spoke the universe into existence, but only into Adam did God breathe His life-giving word. God created us. He made us in His own image and likeness. We rebelled against Him. We ran away from Him, and in our flight from Him we became lost. We are lost. So God came searching for us. He sent His Son to seek and to find the lost. Jesus put on our humanity so that He might find us and breathe His grace into our heart.

Here is something else that is wonderful about Jesus: He took a name that was familiar and ordinary and transformed it into something extraordinary. He made His name the very definition His mission. Jesus took a common name and made it forever holy. He is THE Yeshua; THE Jesus. He is THE Savior. Now in the same way Jesus transformed a common name and makes it forever holy, so too He takes common people, people like you and me, people formed out of the dust of the ground and He makes us holy on this condition: we must put our trust in Him as the Savior.

Jesus’ name is His mission: He will came to save His people from their sins.

Sometimes when we read the Bible, we can overlook certain phrases because the context in which they appear is so familiar. Here’s what I mean: the angel tells Joseph, “Mary will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Did you catch it? Read it again. “Mary will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

We assume His people refers to all those who belong to Israel and Judah. However, the angel doesn’t say Jesus will save Israel; doesn’t say Jesus will save Judah; doesn’t say Jesus will save Jewish people only. The angel says Jesus will save His people from their sins. Now, when we read further into the New Testament, we discover that His people refers to all those who confess faith in Jesus’ Name. So then, His people are Jews and Greeks, slave and free, rich and poor, men and women, young and old, the healthy and the sick. His people are all those who trust Jesus to save them from their sins by dying in their place on the cross.

Every Christmas is another opportunity to experience Jesus as the Word become flesh full of grace and truth. It is another opportunity to share the Good News that others can become His people by confessing faith in Him. People don’t like to think about sin at Christmastime. And yet sin—our sin—is why Jesus is born. He came to save us from the results of sin, the power of sin, the penalty of sin, and the guilt of our sin. This is why the angel says the people call His name Immanuel. Jesus is God with us. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. As Immanuel, Jesus experienced the full extent of human emotions.

  • He felt pain, isolation, loneliness and grief.
  • He tasted joy, happiness, laughter and fellowship.
  • He enjoyed the delightful silliness of little children.
  • He wrestled with the complex dynamics of family relationships – Remember that at one time his brothers and his mother thought He was insane. There was even a matter of sibling rivalry when in John 7, Jesus’ brothers, including James who would later pen a letter and become a leader of the church in Jerusalem – teased Him about not going up to the feast so He would be known as the Messiah.
  • He worked for a living. He labored as a carpenter until He began His ministry preaching the Kingdom of God. Until then, He ran a business. He dealt with customers; customers who didn’t pay their bills; customers who tried to pay him less than what His work was worth. He dealt with suppliers and middle men. He paid taxes.

Jesus experienced everything we experience, yet without committing sin. Since Jesus did not break God’s laws, He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice by which, on the cross, He made full atonement, full satisfaction for our sin. (Hebrews 2.14-16; 4.15)

Jesus’ name is His mission: He will save His people from their sins.

Jesus did not come to save us from a foreign enemy, or the juggernaut of an oppressive government; a bad self image, a bad marriage, a bad job, unemployment, depression, or being too young or too old. Jesus came to save us from our sins. He died for our sins. And to be clear: sin is the problem; sin being the bold-faced, high-handed, hard-hearted rebellion against what God says is right and good and just.

Sin breaks our relationship with God. And in breaking our relationship with God, sin spreads out this brokenness to affect all our other relationships as well. The only way we can repair these relationships is to repair our relationship with God. And that’s a problem because no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, we cannot repair our relationship with God. We need Someone else to put us right with God. We need Someone else to repair what we have broken.

Enter Jesus.

  • Only Jesus can repair what our sin has broken: our relationship with God.
  • Only the holiness of Jesus can reconcile us with a holy God.
  • Only the righteousness of Jesus can put us right with God.
  • Only the faithfulness of Jesus can reconnect us with a faithful God. Jesus’ name is His mission.

Jesus is the only One who can save us from our sins. It’s what He does.

Have you seen the insurance commercials? You know the ones that say, “If you’re Peter Pan, you don’t grow old. It’s what you do,” or “If you’re a cat, you ignore people. It’s what you do.”

Well, in the same way, and meaning no disrespect, “If you’re Jesus Christ, You save people from their sins. It’s what You do.”

You think about that and have a Merry Christmas!

To Read the Bible is to Learn Faithfulness

The more I read the Bible, especially during Advent, the more I continue to sense one consistent, persistent, and insistent message from it: faithfulness.

God is faithful to pursue the delight of His own glory. The proof of His faithfulness is the sending of His Son. The evidence of our faithfulness is a stubborn, steadfast trust in His future grace.

  • Faithfulness to God is to be wholly His.
  • Faithfulness to God is strengthened by not thinking lightly of sin.
  • Faithfulness to God teaches me to forgive as I am/have been forgiven.
  • Faithfulness to God is Word-driven trust in future grace.
  • Faithfulness to God is Spirit-fueled courage to press on when I would prefer to stay put.

But God would not have me neither stuck nor paralyzed. He would have me move. Forward! If not with my feet, then certainly with my heart and mind. In truth, I can move forward in my heart and mind, then will my feet follow. Surely this is the aim of Paul’s exhortation at the beginning of Colossians 3. A key ingredient in the life of faithfulness is to keep my heart and mind focused on Christ who reigns above.

The caveat says beware being too heavenly minded so as to be no earthly good. The caveat is – with all due respect – wrong! If I am to be any earthly good, then I must be heavenly minded. I must set my affections on the things that are above.

The things here below are too fickle, too ephemeral, too untrustworthy. There is only One in Whom I can trust. As the poet said, they who trust Him wholly, find Him wholly true. No, I will direct my heart and my mind heavenward.

Our fault is not thinking too much of heaven but too little! It is from thence comes my help, does it not? From whence comes my help if not from heaven? I cannot forgive unless I lift my eyes to the heavens – the throne of God – there to see Christ Jesus, the great High Priest, my High Priest interceding for me in light of His death for my sin.

This is wondrous grace; amazing grace! This is Good News: God with us. His faithfulness is the source of my faithfulness. His faithfulness makes it possible to be wholly His and thus, not to think lightly of sin – my sin, our sin.

Jesus is Immanuel. For He will save His people from their sins.

You think about that.




Luke 2.25-32

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,

according to your word;

30for my eyes have seen your salvation

31that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

                        and for glory to your people Israel.”

When our children were young, they couldn’t wait for Christmas. Now while impatience may be the peculiar privilege of children, it is not a virtue—especially during Advent. One year, in an effort to temper their impatience, we gave them each an Advent calendar. It didn’t work: the calendars only increased their impatience. And the chocolate didn’t help either.

Since Advent is a season of waiting and preparation, it makes sense that if we are to celebrate Advent properly, patience is a necessary virtue. However, given the proximity of Thanksgiving to Christmas, life gets very busy very quickly—especially around the holidays. Things get hectic and with so much needing to be done, patience is in short supply. Besides all that, just how does one celebrate waiting? It’s counter-intuitive—especially given the culture in which we live.

  • Why wait when you can act?
  • Why practice patience when busy people who get busy get things done?
  • Why slow down when life moves at hyperspeed?

On the other hand, given the lightning pace at which life moves, why not take the time to wait? Why not practice patience? Why not slow down?

Advent is designed to slow us down. Advent teaches the importance of patience by showing us the patience of God. Advent teaches the virtue of waiting with the familiar stories of those, like Simeon, who waited for God to keep His promise. The story of Simeon illustrates why Advent slows us down: it is a season of waiting and preparation. Waiting and preparation require time. They also require faithfulness and hope. Faithfulness is learned by waiting. So is hope. And yet, our faithfulness and hope must have an object—something, Someone, worthy of our faithfulness as well as our hope. Advent points us to God as worthy of our faithfulness and hope. Advent tells us God is true to His Word; that He keeps His promise; that He follows through on the things He says He will do. Simeon’s patience is a lesson: we learn faithfulness by waiting for God to keep His promise.

In all likelihood, Simeon’s faithfulness stemmed from the fact that the Holy Spirit was upon him; and that the Spirit revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Simeon waited faithfully and patiently because the Holy Spirit empowered him to be faithful and patient. He came in the Spirit into the temple on the very day Joseph and Mary brought Jesus there according to the Law of Moses. When we learn faithfulness God has a way of leading to the right place at the right time for the right reason.

God kept His promise to Simeon. However, sometimes God keeps His promises in ways we do not expect. Think for a moment: was Simeon surprised when the Spirit revealed to him that the Messiah was the infant in Mary’s arms? All the Spirit revealed to him was that he would see the Messiah before he died. Not until Simeon saw the infant Jesus, and the Spirit prompted him to take him in his arms, did he know this baby was the Messiah. Sometimes God keeps His promises in ways we do not expect.

If I were to summarize the story of Simeon, I would quote Proverbs 13.12 which says,

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

How many days did Simeon go into the temple hoping to see the Messiah only to have his hope deferred and return home heartsick? How many times did he have keep his faith in God from wavering into unbelief? How many times have we experience a similar heartsickness while waiting for God to keep His promise?

This will sound strange, but I believe Advent is designed to make us heartsick. Ever since Jesus ascended into heaven, we have been waiting and hoping for His return; His second Advent. Yet rather than make us waver in our faith, God intends this heartsickness to strengthen our faith, encourage our hope, and deepen our love for the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

During Advent we prepare our hearts for the One who will lift every valley and make low every mountain. We wait for the One through we are put right with God and through Whom the Spirit is given to help us as we wait. Advent is a reminder that while Jesus has already put things right, He has not yet put all things right nor has He yet made all things new. Advent reminds us that faithfulness is not for the faint of heart. For this reason God has given us the Spirit and the Word. These two witnesses testify to the faithfulness of God. He keeps His promises. Therefore we are to wait with a patient hope. Jesus has come. Jesus will come again.

Simeon was told he would not die before he had seen the Messiah. He looked forward to the first advent of Jesus. Unlike Simeon, we have no such guarantee while we await the second Advent of Jesus. We live and we die in the hope God will keep His promise. Until then we are waiting, always waiting for the day God will follow through.

I composed the following poem during a particularly dark period of my life. I was waiting in the dark for God to keep His promise. Seasons of darkness intensify the pain of the heartsick. Dark times teach us to wait with a patient hope. Here now is the poem:

Outside—It’s morning but it’s still dark

Perhaps the sun has overslept

                                                Tucked in and cozy beneath the horizon

Inside—I yawn while waiting for the coffee to be done

 Outside—The sun has begun to yawn lazily still reluctant to begin its daily circuit

It’s still dark

Inside—The coffee is done. With a cup in one hand and my Bible in the other

                                    I sit at my desk.

Outside my window a cardinal is singing

                                    His song reminds me

                                                That it’s possible

                                                            To sing in the darkness

                                                While waiting for the dawn

So—Here am I                       

In the dark                             



The song of the heartsick soul expresses a resilient, joyous, and patient trust in the faithfulness of God. Simeon knew that. He also knew that while the dark may be deep, and the time of darkness long, hope believes the Light will dawn.

Sing on! Our hope is not in vain.

Sing on! The Light has dawned and the darkness has not overcome it.

Sing on! The Light that has dawned will vanquish the darkness forever with the glorious Sonrise of God’s eternal day.

You think about that.

Not Your Typical Advent Post

The celebration of Advent took root early in the history of the church. Even so, many Christians are unfamiliar with the origin as well as the significance of Advent. Some years ago, I came across an article by Chris Armstong about the historical worth of Advent. It was posted online at Here is an excerpt:

Once upon a time, in fourth- and fifth-century Gaul and Spain, Advent was a preparation not for Christmas but for Epiphany. That’s the early-January celebration of such diverse events in Jesus’ life as his Baptism, the miracle at Cana, and the visit of the Magi. In those days, Epiphany was set aside as an opportunity for new Christians to be baptized and welcomed into the church. So believers spent Advent’s forty days examining their hearts and doing penance. It was not until the sixth century that Christians in Rome began linking this season explicitly to the coming of Christ. But at that time, and for centuries after, the ‘coming’ that was celebrated was not the birth of Jesus, but his Second Coming. It was not until the Middle Ages that the church began using the Advent season to prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth. And even then, this newer sense of the Lord’s advent or coming did not supplant the older sense—the Second Coming. And the muted, Lent-like mood of penitential preparation remained alongside the joyous anticipation of Jesus’ birthday.

Advent is a joyous yet contemplative celebration of present and future grace. As such it acknowledges two certainties: Jesus Christ has come (John 1.14; 2 Timothy 3.16); Jesus Christ will come again (Acts 1.11; 1 Thessalonians 5.2). The first Advent of Jesus was attested to by a library of Old Testament passages beginning with Moses, and all the Prophets including the Psalms. The second Advent of Jesus Christ is also attested to by numerous passages in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15.22-23; 2 Corinthians 5.10; 2 Peter 3.10; Revelation 22.20). As does the Word of God, current celebration of Advent is double-edged: it is grounded in the joy that accompanied Jesus’ birth in the past; it is a hope-filled, future-focused anticipation of His return. Advent invites us to be joyous yet contemplative.

Advent has also inspired a treasury of hymns appropriate to the season. Some joyously exhort every heart to prepare Him room, while others bid us happily to hearken to herald angels. Still others have us sing about shepherds watching over their flocks by night. And then there are the contemplative hymns such as, “O Come, O Come Immanuel,” “Lo How a Rose ‘Ere Blooming,” and “In the Bleak Midwinter.” When we sing these hymns, we add our voices to an ever growing chorus of witnesses who, for centuries, have celebrated Advent with merry hearts and pensive souls.

Advent is a season given to rememberance and celebration. Advent is about readiness; with readiness comes a sense of anticipation; with anticipation comes reflection. Given that Advent is about readiness, anticipation, and preparation, the most pressing question is not “What are we getting ready for?” but rather “For Whom are we getting ready?”

You think about that.

~ In Memoriam ~

Bruce Lee Edwards, Jr.

5 September 1952 ~ 28 October 2015

On Wednesday, October 28, 2015, my best friend, Bruce Edwards, died while he and his wife were visiting friends in Houston, Texas. The shock and dismay caused by his death, sudden as it was, saddens my heart still these two weeks on. In time, the shock and dismay will lessen. Certainly this is the prayer and hope of his wife and children. More certain to last is the enduring memory of Bruce as a husband captivated by his wife, Joan; an affectionate father who lavished love and praise upon his children, their spouses; an unbashful, doting grandfather.

The last time I saw Bruce was December 2012. I drove him from Bowling Green, Ohio to Detroit Metro Airport. He boarded a plane that would take him to Alaska and his beloved Joan. On the way we talked about our continuing our friendship. We wept as we discussed our mutual love of Jesus and baseball. At the airport we cried like children leaving their mothers to endure their first day of school. We hugged each other. We said, “I love you,” (for background read the chapter on Phileo in C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves). We promised to visit. We promised to stay in touch. Texting was our primary means of communication. Most of our texts were exchanged while watching baseball in the summer and football in the fall. To the outsider most of what we said was coded silliness. For Bruce and me it was fellowship: a kinship grown deep despite the distance.

The last time I spoke with Bruce was October 19, 2015. Jill and I had just moved into our new home on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. We spoke for 53 minutes. We talked about transitioning to life on “the Cape.” We talked baseball. We talked football. He wished us well in our new church. We wept. We said, “I love.” Plans were made to visit him and Joan in Alaska next summer. When there, we would make plans for Bruce to come to the Cape in the Fall to lead a seminar on C.S. Lewis. We envisioned a future built on plans to visit and time spent together. A week later, Joan sent us a text, “Call me.” We did and then we learned the tragic news. Bruce had passed. Our friend, my best friend, my brother from another mother has passed from the Shadowlands into the Real World. He was gone from our presence. Jill and I wept bitter tears at the news.

In many ways, Bruce was closer to me than my own brother. My biggest regret is that twelve years is too short a time to have known him. And yet, in those twelve years, the Lord forged a bond of friendship between us so strong, not even death itself can sever it.

Bruce and I bonded over a common love of Jesus Christ. This common love of Jesus spilled over into love for our families. Bruce’s love of Jesus is evident through his love for Joan, for his children and his grandchildren. Here is a man unashamed and unapologetic to express his love and pride in his wife and family. Read his Facebook posts, his blog entries, listen to his podcasts and you will hear a man captivated by his wife, enthralled with his children and delighting in his grandchildren.

Bruce and I bonded over a mutual love of baseball. In some ways, loving – not merely liking baseball – was a litmus test for Bruce. To be an adherent of Reformed theology was good. To like C.S. Lewis was good. To enjoy a good craft beer was also good. And yet, for Bruce that list is not complete – you were not complete as a person, if not a Christian (forgive the hyperbole) – unless you possessed an ardent love of baseball. [Side note: Bruce, was born in Akron, Ohio. He was a lifelong, longsuffering Cleveland Indians fan. I am from Long Island, New York, and a lifelong New York Yankees fan. Despite this, we became fast friends!]

Bruce and I also bonded over words. Bruce was a superb writer. He loved to play with words – especially obscure words. The more obscure the better. He also liked using Latin phrases. The first memo he sent me after I became pastor of Covenant Church was entitled In Media Res. He would later translate this for me as In the Middle of Things. (Even now, this strikes me as appropriate. Bruce was always in media res.) Given his love of obscure words, Bruce would often dare me to use them in a sermon. In fact, as I wrote this, I could sense him saying, “I dare you to use in media res and hyperbole in your eulogy.” So there you are Bruce! As obsequious as it seems you are ubiquitous even in your absence.

Bruce also owned an impish sense of humor. Like Mal Reynolds, he aimed to misbehave. Never to be crass, nor be rebellious. It was Bruce’s way of prodding you to seeing things along the beam not merely at what the beam revealed. For example, Bruce led a brief series of monthly services titled, Phlashlight which he promoted as decidedly seeker un-friendly. (Why was it spelled with a Ph? Because according to Bruce, “The Goths and the post-moderns really dig that stuff.”) Bruce practiced a witty irreverence which he wasn’t afraid to use. He was mischievous anarchist against the status quo. This result of this irreverence formed the foundation of another bond: beer, and in particular obscure craft beer. I never knew anyone with such an avid interest in little known, obscure, craft beer. If you knew Bruce, you learned to appreciate, and imbibe beer. Never to excess, but always to enhance.

Finally, there is Bruce’s love of C.S. Lewis. A few years ago, Bruce – a renowned C.S. Lewis scholar was kind enough to ask me, an amateur Lewis fan, to contribute an article on The Four Loves to be included in a four-volume set he edited on Lewis’s life and legacy. It was not very good, but you would never know from Bruce. He always saw and always aimed to bring out the best in people, especially when it concerned C.S. Lewis. Without apology, Bruce was an evangelist for C.S. Lewis. The man’s car bore a license plate reading Narnia 1. His blog and an email handle are Aslandad. In fact, reading Bruce is a lot like reading Lewis. There is a connection there which is the fruit of a lifelong study of Lewis and his works. When I think of Bruce, I think of C.S. Lewis. And when I think of C.S. Lewis, I think of The Chronicles of Narnia.

At the end of The Last Battle, the last book in Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan informs Lucy, that she, her brother and her parents were all in a real railway accident: “Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

A few lines down, Lewis finishes with this: “All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (228)

With great sadness, I must reckon with the reality that my friend, Bruce, is – as we call it in the Shadowlands – dead. And I miss him – very much. I mourn his passing and grieve his absence. Even so, in this is comfort: for Bruce, the term is ended. The holidays have begun. He has begun Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Oh how I look forward to the day when we will read the Great Story together.

There is Deep Hope for Those in Deep Places

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive to my pleas for mercy!
If You, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O LORD, who could stand?
But with You there is forgiveness that You may be feared.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than the watchman for the morning,
more than the watchman for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with Him is plentiful redemption.
And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Psalm 130 belongs to a group of Psalms known as the Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134).These musical poems were sung by pilgrims making their ascent to Jerusalem to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Some of the Songs of Ascents begin and end with a sense of joyous expectation. Psalm 130 begins with a desperate cry for help.

1Out of the depths I cry to You, O LORD!
2O Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

The psalmist is in a deep place. His cry is that of a man who’s just been told he has cancer. This is the cry of a single young woman exhausted by the well-intentioned counsel of married friends telling her she will not find fulfillment until she’s found a husband, settled down and starts having children. This is the cry of the person struggling with same-sex attraction – wondering why did God make them this way. This is the cry of a recent university graduate shouldering a mountain of debt and no job prospects. This is the cry of a woman who has kept a past abortion secret from her husband and wonders if her recent miscarriage is punishment from God.

This is the cry of a man who has fallen into a deep place. The inscape of his soul is barren, cold and desolate. In this deep place he discovers there is no grace and no mercy to be found by looking inward. There is no help found by seeking strength from within. His only hope, his only help is to cry out to God for both. “O Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!”

Deep places give birth to a deep hope in God.

Rather than bemoan how he ended up in a deep place, the psalmist seeks help from the only One who can lift him out. His cry is desperate yet it is catalyzed by trust. You do not cry out for God to help unless you truly believe He can help. Whoever said, “God helps those who help themselves,” missed the mark. “God helps those who cannot help themselves.” God helps those desperate enough to trust Him to rescue them from the deep places.

Our hope of deliverance is grounded in something more than God’s able willingness to rescue us. At the same time the deep places give birth to a deep hope in God, they also intensify our trust in His fearsome mercy.

3If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

Where we would carve our past sins into granite God erases them. Where we would write our past iniquities in indelible ink, God washes them out. Where we would tattoo our past mistakes upon our soul, God bleaches them away – forever! God does not mark our iniquities so we will fear Him more than the failures of our past.

God’s forgiveness means we do not have to carry the weight of past sins. We are free to follow and serve him without guilt or shame. There is forgiveness for the recovering addict who stumbles. There is forgiveness for the father who exasperates his child. There is forgiveness for the young woman who’s had the abortion. There is forgiveness for the person caught in the tension of same-sex attraction. There is forgiveness for people like you and me – people who fall into deep places because try as we might, we do not always resist temptation. We fall. The good news this: the LORD does not mark iniquities because there is forgiveness with Him so that He may be feared, so that He may be trusted, and so that He may be followed.

Once again, the psalmist does not waste time bemoaning what led him to fall off the edge into the deep place he was in. To the contrary, the past is the past. His only hope is to look to God to help him move forward. His only hope is to cry out for grace, mercy and forgiveness. His only hope is to spend the rest of his life living in the fear of the LORD because the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. And once the decision is made to fear the LORD, He increases our passion for His presence.

5I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

 The deep places increase our passion for God’s presence.

There is a relationship between waiting and the word of God. The patience to wait is accompanied by time spent contemplating the hope found in the promises of God. To wait for the LORD is to be active. It is to be active in reading, studying, memorizing and contemplating the Scripture. While prayer is an excellent way to pursue the presence of God; prayer that arises from the active study and contemplation of God’s word intensifies the experience of His presence. There is great value in focusing our heart and mind on the fact there is forgiveness with God. There is great value in concentrating our attention on the able willingness of God to listen to our plea for help.

 Those who hunger and thirst for God will be satisfied. And when they are, when God rescues us from the deep places we will have the able willingness to help others who have fallen off the edge into deep places. Psalm 130 begins with a desperate cry for help. It ends with an authentic exhortation:

7O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
8And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

The steadfast love of God inspires a steadfast hope in Him. Therefore there is always deep hope for those in deep places

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