Adjusting Our Vision

I really like the way the New Testament depicts Old Testament characters. The book of Hebrews says this about the patriarch Abraham, “And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.” (Hebrews 6:15)

Do you remember the real story of Abraham? In Genesis 17 God has a lengthy interaction with Abraham. When this interaction took place Abraham was already 100 years old and without children. Yet, God promised Abraham land, offspring, and blessings untold. Abraham laughed. He found the idea ludicrous. He thought the best idea would be for the Lord to bless his illegitimate son, Ishmael. God had other ideas.

In spite of Abraham’s reaction, the New Testament paints a very different picture.

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead‑since he was about a hundred years old‑and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised (Romans 4:18‑21).

The difference between the original story and the New Testament version is seeing through the cross. The stain of sin has been eradicated by the cross of Christ. The wavering and doubting has been blotted out.

That’s what we need with one another—to see each other through the cross. Those other folks in your church are not simply selfish, nasty folks. They are holy and righteous in the sight of God. They’re blood-bought sons and daughters of the King.

Which perspective do you think is best for us to view one another?

Adapted from Tom’s book, Reflecting God’s Mercy in an Unmerciful World


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The Church

From the beginning of the Christian Church until now, major changes have occurred. I’m not talking about theological changes, although obviously those have also happened. I’m actually talking about geographical changes. The Church has grown and moved and expanded.

And the biggest shift occurred during the twentieth century. You can see on the map the slowly meandering arc that shows the first 1900 years of the geographic center of the Church. Then, from 1900 to 2000, there was a sudden 1700-mile gallop almost due south. Although, today, the Church in the West — Europe and America — seems to be languishing in many ways, the Church in the South is flourishing.

Christianity is growing dramatically in places like Africa, South America, and China. And just as the West sent missionaries to those places previously, now they are sending missionaries to us.

If you ever wonder whether the Church will still be intact when Jesus returns, you’re likely just looking at the Western Church. Take a look at the bigger picture. Jesus promised that He would build His Church. (see Matthew 16:18)

He is!

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Forgiveness at Auschwitz

Eva Mozes Kor was born in 1934. She and her twin sister, Miriam, were the third and fourth children in their Romanian family. When the girls were just nine years old, the entire family was taken to the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz.  Within minutes of being removed from the cattle car at Auschwitz, the girls were identified as twins and separated from the others. Eva’s last memory of her mother was her mother’s outstretched arms as she was pulled away from her girls. They never saw the rest of their family again.

The girls became part of an experimental group known as Mengele twins. Dr. Josef Mengele, often called the “Angel of Death,” performed experiments on twins. His goal was to try to increase the birthrate of an Aryan master race. The experiments included repeated injections of various types of drugs and careful measurement of the development of the twins. After injections one day, Eva became violently ill. Her fever spiked. Mengele declared that she would be dead in less than two weeks. Somehow, though, she survived.

It was nearly fifty years later that Eva had the opportunity to offer forgiveness to one of the Auschwitz doctors. When she openly and clearly pronounced forgiveness she said that she “felt free, free from Auschwitz, free from Mengele.” Decades of mental anguish and torment were apparently gone just that quickly.

Eva said others who survived the horrors of Nazi concentration camps couldn’t understand how she could do such a thing. They thought she was wrong for offering forgiveness. But Eva knew it was the right thing to do.

To us, that seems like a counterintuitive concept. It is completely backward from what out culture tries to tell us. Yet it is clearly what Jesus taught and demonstrated. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,  but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

Scripture declares plainly, “Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32) and “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)

Is there someone you need to forgive?

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Quiet You with Love

Not long ago I watched a video about a young girl, maybe six or seven years old. At one point she got upset. Really upset. She stomped and ran and yelled. Her dad ran after her. It took a few moments, but he finally caught her. He picked the little girl up and held her tightly. But his grip didn’t deter her. She continued her tantrum, shouting and kicking, pushing against him.

Through it all, though, he held tight. Finally, she settled down. Her body went limp for just a second. And then he whispered, “I love you,” into her ear. She broke into an ear-to-ear smile, reached her arms around his neck and squeezed him hard.

In the Old Testament book of Zephaniah, we read that God “will quiet you with His love.” (Zephaniah 3:17) He will quiet you with His love. What a great statement!

Do you ever feel as though sometimes He has to do that like the dad I just described?

I’m sure there have been times that God has held me close during my own temper tantrums. I kicked and fought, but He held on. And all the while He whispered, “I love you.”

Let Him quiet you with His love today.

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Anne, Abraham, and You

I am a big fan of Anne of Green Gables. My wife got me hooked on it years ago. In part, I’m so fascinated by Anne because she is such a memorable character. Her wide range of emotions – from “the depths of despair” to her giddy wonder at practically everything – reminds me immensely of someone I know well. Her never-say-die attitude is compelling.

One of the attributes that seems so much a part of Anne is her knack for naming – or should I say, renaming – things. On the way to Green Gables for the very first time, she renamed a lake to be “The Lake of Shining Waters” and a blossom-covered section of road as “The White Way of Delight.”

As I read Genesis 22 this morning, I thought of Anne. Abraham named something. It was right after God had provided a ram – stuck in the nearby thicket – in place of Abraham sacrificing his son. I’m sure that must have been a major relief for Abraham.

“So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide.’” (Genesis 22:14) Abraham knew that, indeed, God had provided. But I found this interesting because it was Abraham who named the place. Sometimes in Scripture God names things. But this time it was a person naming something – a place that may well have already had a name – to memorialize his encounter with God.

And think about this: Just because Abraham named it, that doesn’t mean that everyone for all time would use or even remember that name. Although in this case Scripture indicates that the name stuck, it is possible that it could have been just for the benefit of Abraham and his son.

Maybe there is something or someplace that you need to rename – if only for yourself – as a memorial of an event or an encounter with God in your own life.

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True Humility

I recently preached a sermon about humility at our congregation. More than one person has now told me that something specific I said was helpful for them.

What I said was simple: Humility is not thinking poorly of yourself. Real humility is thinking accurately about yourself.

See, most of us have the perception of being greater than we are. Numerous surveys indicate that the vast majority of people think they are above average. They have above average intelligence. They are above average in kindness. They are better than average drivers. On and on.

But, obviously, the majority of people cannot be above average, right?

Yet, that’s our perception. It’s what we think. We tend to think we’re better than we are.

So if that’s true, then the obvious answer is to think lowly of ourselves. And, although that might be good for many of us, that’s not really the answer.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3)

The real answer is to think accurately about ourselves.  Not too highly, but also not too lowly. Accurately.

The Apostle Paul, writing to Titus, said, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior…” (Titus 1:1-3)

If you don’t know Paul – or anything about Paul – this could sound haughty.

First, he calls himself an apostle. But then he goes on to say “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth.” In other words, he’s not just an apostle, he’s an apostle for your sake. He’s going to help you in your faith. Doesn’t that sound at least a bit … arrogant?

And then he goes on to say that the hope of eternal life manifested through his preaching is something he was entrusted with by God.

Again, if you don’t know Paul or anything about Paul, this could sound like, “I’m God’s great man of faith and power. I got something goin’ on here.”

But Paul isn’t being haughty and arrogant. He’s thinking accurately about himself. He knows what God has called and gifted him to do. He knows who he is in Christ.

See, if Paul denies those things – if he would say, “Don’t really think of me as an apostle, or that my preaching is going to make a difference in your life, or even that God entrusted me with the gift of preaching” – if he did that, that wouldn’t be humility. That would be lying. That would be an inaccurate assessment of how the Lord has called and wired and gifted him.

True humility is not thinking lowly of yourself. It’s thinking accurately about yourself.

(I should add that getting outside help with that is a REALLY good idea. Otherwise, we tend to think we’re far better than we are. Others who know us well can often give us a more accurate assessment than we can recognize on our own.)

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The Heavens Declare…

With the solar eclipse happening this coming Monday, I came across an interesting statistic.

Let me start by saying that it has seemed weird to me that the little tiny moon – relatively speaking – can completely (and nearly exactly!) obscure the sun.

The reason that the moon can cover the sun is because even though the sun is roughly 400 times bigger than the moon – in diameter – the moon is roughly 400 times closer to us than the sun. That’s why the eclipse can happen in such a spectacular fashion. It’s because those two numbers just happen to coincide so perfectly.

If the size or distance varied much from what they are, then the beautiful ring of fire wouldn’t appear around the moon during the eclipse.

But, of course, many people today would say that was just an odd and coincidental quirk of nature. It was all an accident.

How sad.

I began reading the book of Genesis this morning. The creation story is amazing. And, by the way, it wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t randomness. It was planned and calculated by the Creator Who loves us more than we will ever fully realize.

“The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

We happen to live in what is being called “the path of totality” – the very best spot for seeing the eclipse. I’m looking forward to having a great view of God’s handiwork.

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