Thursday, April 28, 2011

“You made your nest, now sleep in it!” - A lesson from the prairie in Christian compassion

I grew up on the prairie of Western Minnesota with other first and second generation Americans of German, Dutch, Czechoslovakian, and Scandinavian descent. The rules were simple: believe in the Lord, work hard, obey God and things will work out for you--most of the time.

Once in awhile someone would not play by the rules. Someone would marry outside their own church or ethnic group for example. It was said of them, and sometimes to them, “Well, you made your own nest, now sleep in it.”
We thought of ourselves as “good” people although hard headed. We felt like we believed in all the right stuff. One lesson of the prairie was this, you screw up, and you pay the price. The price paid was usually being isolated from the “good” people who hadn’t screwed up. People talked, sometimes ridiculed them behind their backs and sometimes ridiculed them to their face. Growing up and seeing this type of attitude kept us in line, for awhile, and we lived in fear of the day when we would “make our own nest.”

What if God would have “left us” in the nest we made? I mean we are all born sinners, right? God gave Adam a chance; he blew it. As a result of that, we blow it also. We were screwed before we started. But tough for us—God has His standards; we fall short and we honestly know that. We do suffer the consequences of our own sin. We made our nest now we must sleep in it.

Not so with God. He came and gave us a gift. He gave us the gift of forgiveness of our sins. He restores our relationship with Him through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. We did nothing but earn His wrath but the Lord sent His own Son to the cross to die for our sins. This is the good news for us.

I ask you a question: What right do we have as Christians to look down our noses at people “who made their own nest” and pass judgment on them?

I heard about a Christian who ended up in a wheel chair for life because of an accident. Yes, in some ways a stupid accident. He spends a lot of his life alone. He senses peoples unspoken “you made your own nest attitude.” This may be true but God has not left him alone. This is good news. In Psalm 103:13-18 it says: "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children--with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.”

We as fathers are to have compassion on our children. Yes, we are to have compassion on our children. Then it says the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him (those who have an awesome respect for who He is.) In verse 14 it says: “for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are but dust. We are fragile “crumbling dust” sinners in need of a Savior.

The Lord has compassion on us even when we show little, if any, to other people. We “good” people are good at justifying our lack of true Christian compassion because we have not fully realized the depth of our sin, the darkness of our own heart, and yes, we even squirm away from the calling of our God given conscience. If we would only stop and consider those “who have made their own nest.” If it were not for God’s grace, we could be in the same position. In a wheel chair for life…by the grace of God go I.

In Psalm 103 compassion is mentioned three times. It is mentioned in the same sentence with love and grace. We would do well to remember that. When we judge a brother or sister in trouble, we would do well to remember grace and love.

God help us. Amen

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter Art--The Cleaned up Cross

Isaiah 52:13-15: “See, my servant will act wisely, he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him, his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness, so will he sprinkle many nations and kings will shut their mouths because of him…(NIV).

When I was little, I remember the crucifix on the wall in the dining room at my Uncle Ben & Aunt Lillian’s. It always got my attention. One day when I was there, I got up on a chair and looked at it really close to realize it was the cross with the crucified Jesus upon it. At five or six years of age I didn’t understand what it all meant.

Fifty plus years later at Easter I’m reminded of Christ’s sacrifice for my sins, His suffering, His death, His resurrection, His victory. Hallelujah!!

But this week I saw a church bulletin with a picture of Jesus dead upon the cross. This type of picture concerns me. Even in the church we’ve slicked up and cleaned up the cross. Jesus was beaten beyond human recognition for your sin and mine (Isaiah 52:13-15) yet our crucifixes and church bulletins are all cleaned up showing a perfect face with a drop of blood on the cheek just for the proper effect.

We, the church, have cleaned up Christ on the cross, minimized His suffering and pain and surely never show His disfigured face and head. Jesus took the full and complete punishment for my sin. God forgive me when I tolerate this cleaned up, sanitized version of the cross. It minimizes my sin, my sin just doesn’t seem quite as bad as it should when I see it portrayed that way.

Isaiah 52:13-15 (Message version) says in part: “at first everyone was appalled. He didn’t even look human—a ruined face, disfigured past recognition.”

Thank you Father, thank you Lord Jesus for Easter morning…Isaiah continues: “nations all over the world will be in awe, taken aback, kings shocked into silence when they see Him. For what was unheard of they’ll see with their own eyes, what was unthinkable they’ll have right before them.” Amen.

Remember the cross is empty and “at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Never forget, never give up, and always hope. Jesus paid the full and complete price for us. What a thought to comprehend. We dare not minimize what he has done for us.

In Revelations 19:11-16 Jesus rides a white horse into battle, the armies of heaven (the angels and some think us) will follow the warrior King Jesus into battle and in the case the kings of the earth don’t know who He is…only have to look on His robe and thigh for written there is this name KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

May you have a Blessed Easter. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it. (I Thessalonians 5:23-24).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

We are all beggars

The following is a quote from Frederick S. Leahy’s book The Cross He Bore. I feel it says it better than anything I could have prepared for Easter.

“As in thought and experience we stand before the cross, we tremble as we consider the wrath of God which flames forth against his Son. We tremble, too, when we think of the sin which incurred such fearful judgment—our sin. Here the awakened soul can only cry out, ‘God be merciful to me the sinner.’ That is all we dare ask for. Here and nowhere else abundant mercy is found. Christina Rossetti had it right—
'None other Lamb, none other Name,
None other Hope in heaven or earth or sea,
None other Hiding-place from guilt and shame,

None beside Thee.”
“The proud, self-sufficient, modern humanist despises the whole idea of forgiveness. Like the blustering W.E. Henley, he sees himself as master of his fate and captain of his soul. ‘Forgiveness’, said George Bernard Shaw, ‘is a beggar’s refuge. We must pay our debts.’ About the time of Luther’s death, a piece of paper was found in his pocket on which he had written in Latin and German, ‘This is true. We are all beggars.’ There is the contrast between the stony heart of unbelief and the heart of flesh that weeps for sin and looks in faith to the crucified and risen Savior for mercy.”
“The forgiven, restored sinner willingly takes up his cross and follows the Lord Jesus Christ. That cross is whatever the Christian suffers for the sake of Christ and his truth. In bearing that cross there is peace and blessedness as the Christian experiences the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Not that we can share in the redemptive suffering of Christ, but rather that we seek by God’s grace to deny self, accept the anguish of the struggle against sin and bear meekly the scorn of a world that rejects Christ. ‘There are some’, said Samuel Rutherford, ‘who would have Christ cheap. They would have Him without the cross. But the price will not come down.’”
“The hand that reaches out for salvation must be empty. Everything of self must be disowned. We are debtors to mercy alone. We are all beggars.”

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


One Sunday I spoke in a church about three concerns people have when they have cancer. “A strange topic” you may say but when I preach, I pray about the topic I’m going to preach on and God’s hand was in this topic.

After the service I had the opportunity to visit with many people and learned this topic revealed deep loneliness, anguish, and isolation experienced by some believers who encounter cancer.

The second of my three concerns presented was this: most Christians are not afraid to die but none of us want to suffer. Suffering in and of itself means nothing. Suffering only has meaning when it has relationship. I will borrow a story from Joni Eareckson Tada in her book When God Weeps.

“You are walking down a street, minding your own business, when you are accosted and forced to carry a huge and heavy basket on your back. You’re ordered to walk three blocks, turn left, go two blocks, turn right, then proceed straight on. Staggering under the weight, you stumble on, bewildered and angry. The weight of the basket is crushing. Your back is breaking. The whole thing is meaningless and haphazard. You resent how the heavy burden consumes you, becoming the focal point of your entire existence.
“When you are halfway down the third block, reeling under the burden, you finally bellow, “What gives!”
“The truth is then revealed. The burden you are carrying is your child, injured and unconscious. “What?” On top of that, you discover you are not trudging through a meaningless rat-maze but the most direct route to a hospital emergency room.
“Immediately you straighten. You inhale new vigor. Your knees quit buckling. Adrenaline and fresh energy quicken your pace, and you move forward with a new attitude. Why the change? The suffering you’re going through involves a relationship. Not just any relationship, but one with your child. It is the love you have for your child that quickens your step and buoys up your heart. Your relationship gives your burden meaning. Even your twisted path makes sense. You know where you are going. Your journey has a positive end—the hospital—and this instills hope.
“Suffering has no meaning in itself. Left to its own, it is a frustrating and bewildering burden. But given the context of relationship, suffering suddenly has meaning.”
As Christians, we must share in each others suffering; it binds us together. In 2 Corinthians Chapter 1, Paul writes in part in verse 4, we have troubles so we can minister to those in any trouble and in verse 9 “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” It gets rid of our self reliance.

You will notice we have trials and tribulations so we can minister or comfort one another. What I heard from people after the service is this: some of us have been blessed by our Christian brothers and sisters (I have). Others are lonely and afraid, slowly being crushed under the weight of their trials.

Shared suffering helps those suffering and it helps us. It tenders our hearts towards one another, it binds us together.

I believe times for Christians will become harder. We think we don’t need one another now but we do, and the way to get to know one another is to share each other joys and yes, even each others sufferings.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Like Jesus, We Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley

Hebrews 11:5-6: “By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

I remember a song called “That Lonesome Valley” by Mississippi blues singer John Hurt.  I was 12 years old when I first heard that song; it was popular in the late 50’s. The song relayed the fact we all walk alone. The last verse says in part “Jesus had to walk that lonesome valley”…and yes, He did walk that lonesome valley. I thought this walk referred to our last days as we approached death. It does, I guess, we are always approaching death so that “lonesome valley walkin’” is life itself.

I thought about Bible characters and most, at some time, walked alone. But Enoch walked with God (Genesis 5:22-24). It then says, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more because God took him away.” That must have been something; God himself walking with you through life and not have to experience death.

God still walks with us. His Holy Spirit is with us. Yes, Jesus promised that He would never leave us or forsake us. Good news; but sometimes I really feel alone.

Christian author and pastor the late A. W. Tozer said somewhere that if we are a professing Christian and our life if full of back slapping buddies, does not necessarily mean we are not walking with God; it may mean we just have a lot of good friends.

God in His kindness allows us to be lonely, only then can we fully appreciate a deep personal relationship with God himself in the person of Jesus Christ. Yes, water tastes good when we are really thirsty.

The valley you are “a walkin’” may be long, dark and lonely. God promised He would be with us (Psalm 23). As we walk through life, remember one day the Son will return. He will come in radiant light; our dark lonely valley will no longer be lonesome or dark. There won’t even be shadows. In Romans 13:12 Paul says: “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Let’s armor up; shout praises from the well-lit valley floor. Look up to the Light. Walk on brother and sister; God Himself is with you.