Monthly Archives: March 2013

Happiness Is . . .

“I just want to be happy” may well be the most commonly expressed desire of North Americans. What few people tell us though is that grasping for happiness is like one of our boys as an infant trying to grab the stream of water from the tap during his bath. He’d get wet but obviously never got a hold of it. We try everything we can to make ourselves happy, and while the effect of some things lasts a little longer than others, ultimately we’re disappointed.

It reminds me of the story I recently heard of a father’s potty training experience with his two year old daughter. She had been doing quite well but this particular afternoon while she was supposed to be napping he detected a foul smell. After tracking the smell to her bedroom he opened the door to find what had been a full diaper on the bed and what had been the contents spread in streaks on the bedding and the walls and the dresser. There were tiny brown footprints wandering around the carpet but no girl in sight.

Then he heard a whimpering, and hiding behind the door was his darling little girl, smudged and smeared and matted and tears making streaks down her face. His heart melted at the look of shame on her face. She had tried to clean it up but every move just made more of a mess. Her daddy picked her up and took her to the bath and cleaned her and then wrapped her in a fluffy towel and held her close, quieting her and assuring her he loved her and that he would clean up the mess. “I love you honey, it’s all right,” he said to her over and over as he rocked her in his arms.

The more we make happiness our goal in life, the more of a mess we are going to make of it. God never promised our lives would be happy but he did promise joy, and a peaceful heart and purpose in life regardless of what circumstances come. Had Jesus’ goal been happiness he never would have died for us. But his goal was to do the will of the Father and so he laid down his life. Counter intuitively, much of what we were hoping happiness would bring us we find when we give up our desperate grasping for happiness and instead make Jesus our focus and primary desire.


Isaiah 53

In preparation for Easter I’d like to give you a paraphrase of Isaiah 53 which, in my opinion, is the most concise, complete and profound description of who Jesus is, what he endured, what God’s plan was and what was accomplished:

Who has believed what we’ve been saying? Who of you recognizes the power of God’s salvation given to us in Jesus?  He grew up before God as a tender young plant, like a root coming up out of dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance. There wasn’t anything special about the way he looked that drew us to him. In fact He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We refused to acknowledge who he really was and even looked down our noses at him.

Yet he suffered the things we should have suffered. He took on himself the pain that should have been ours. We assumed that his suffering was a sentence from God, punishment for his own sins!  But he was wounded, pierced for our rebellion. He was bruised and crushed because we had sinned and done what was evil. The punishment that bought us peace was put on him. Because of His wounds we are healed.  He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.

All of us are like sheep. We have wandered away from God.  Every one of us has rebelled and gone our own way.  And the Lord has placed on him the wickedness of us all.

He was arrested, sentenced to death and taken away. And did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of all people; for my sins.  He had done no wrong, never said one word that wasn’t true, but he was buried like a criminal; put in a rich man’s tomb.

The Lord says “It was my plan to crush him and cause him to suffer.  I made his life a guilt offering to pay for sin.  But he will see all who are brought into the family of God because of him.  In fact, he will continue to live.  My plan will be brought about through him.  When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will know it was enough and will be fully satisfied.  And because of his experience, my righteous one will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.”


Count The Cost

I’ve had enough. For much of my life when I have talked to people about what Jesus has done for them I have unnecessarily felt like I need to convince them a) that they need a savior and b) how much better life is as a Jesus follower. It has only been relatively recently that I have begun to set aside my “sales pitch” and to simply and boldly present Jesus, including the cost. Jesus lived and died to offer you the inexpressible joy and pleasure that comes from being friends with God, now and forever. But it will cost you everything; it means that all that you are, all that you have, your dreams and ambitions, your leisure, your rights are all surrendered to God’s disposal for the privilege of knowing him.
Let me give you an example. I was working at a Bible Camp/retreat center north of Edmonton in charge of the horse program. In the off-season the camp was rented to various groups and I would help in food service. That’s just a fancy way of saying I did a lot of dishes. This was a two person job. One guy would rinse the dishes and load them onto racks that would be moved through a tunnel with the various stages of washing till they came out the other end where the second person unloaded and set them out to dry.
Our janitor worked with me on this. He didn’t do it right. He was slow getting things rinsed and then didn’t load the racks full, meaning we had to run many more racks than necessary. I’ve always disliked dishes anyway, so it drove me nuts doing dishes with him. To make it worse, he always took the front end job.
So I made a point of getting in first and then pushing racks through as fast I could. I’d let him have his turn on the front end but made a point of making it painfully obvious that I had to wait for him to get racks through. My rationale was that I was better, had been doing it longer, and had seniority at the camp. He should follow my lead. I was well within my rights.
I needed to learn to give up my rights to serve him as Jesus had for me. Philippians 2:3-4 says “Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. “(MSG)


I Admit It!

It’s been a long time since I have gotten a speeding ticket. Mostly that’s because I don’t speed much anymore. There was a time, though, when I was pushing the limits of allowable demerit points. But even then I didn’t complain or criticize the cops when I was pulled over; I knew the rules and I knew I was breaking them. But I have a young friend who, when he was apprehended for some misdemeanour, soundly cursed the authorities who caught him. Even when I challenged him on the fact that he was doing something illegal he still maintained that he had been unduly targeted.

In studying the book of Revelation one of the aspects of that book that many have trouble with is the wrath of God. I think that one of the primary reasons we may have such a hard time reconciling the wrath of God as expressed in Revelation is, much like my young friend, we have a skewed perception of our own rightness. We are, in essence, saying that it is God who has the problem not us, and so we dismiss or ignore Revelation or even God.

What we need is a better understanding of God’s rightness and our “wrongness” or shortcomings. The amazing thing about this, though, is that unlike the police officer, God does not demand that we measure up to his standard. He knows we can’t. Instead he offers, through Christ and by faith to impart to us Jesus’ own rightness as our own. That what Easter is all about: Jesus giving his perfect life and taking on himself our self-justifying “wrongness.”

Even in Revelation, in the middle of some of the worst things that are going to happen we find that God is giving us a warning, like a final plea, to acknowledge our wrongness and accept his grace. (See chapter 9 verses 20 & 21) But still people refuse and insist it is God who’s got the problem.

The heaven that God finally brings to earth at the end of Revelation is intended for everyone, but can only enjoyed by those who have admitted their wrongness and accepted God’s rightness that comes to us through faith in Jesus Christ. Have you admitted it yet?


Desperation

Do you know what it feels like to be desperate?

I was eleven or twelve and we were camping at Fish Lake, West of Nordegg. We kids discovered that the trail South out the back of our campsite led to a small, but much more fun lake. We had built a raft out of deadfall and were having a hoot. I don’t remember which of us came up with the idea that we could move the raft better if one of us got in the water with flippers on, but I was dispatched to run back to the campsite and retrieve them.

When I was dropped off on shore I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to put my shoes on for the few hundred yards to the campsite and back so I slipped my feet into my younger brother’s rubber boots which were two sizes too small and which my feet didn’t go all the way into. I ran, as best I could in the too small rubber boots and my red speedos (don’t laugh, all the kids were wearing them back then), back to our campsite and rushed in, breathlessly explaining to mom our plan as I grabbed the flippers and raced back down the trail.

In my hurry I missed the fork in the trail that stayed true and instead followed the one that gradually drifted away till I was headed much more west than south. When I hadn’t reached the lake in what I sensed should have been enough distance, my mind refused to believe it. I convincing myself that I recognized this tree or that bend in the trail and that any second I’d see the blue of the lake through the trees trying at the same time to ignore the growing hole in my gut that fear creates.

I finally saw blue but my relief turned to desperation when I broke into the clearing and realized I had come across nothing more than a large slough. I finally admitted to myself that I was lost. I even climbed a tree hoping to catch a glimpse of the lake I was trying to find, but all I saw was more trees. I think that was when I first yelled for help as loud as I could, “DAAAD!!”

Romans 8:15 encourages us to cry out to God. I don’t think most of us “cry” out to God. The original word is an onomatopoeic word imitating the loud cry of a raven. It means to scream, to loudly call out. If you haven’t ever cried out to God, in fact if you aren’t crying out to him daily, then you’re still on the trail convincing yourself you’ve got it under control and just around the next bend it will all come together.

When we get desperate we’ll quit relying on our own strength, cry out to God and allow his strength to work in us and then through us.

ps. I’m assuming you’ve figured out I was eventually found.