always before me

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“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me…” (Psalm 51:1-3).

King David.  The man “after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22; cf. 1 Samuel 13:14).  The David of David and Goliath.  Confesses, “My sin is always before me.”

My sin is always before me.

My sin is always before me.

“I can’t get away from it.”  “It consumes me.”  “I am overwhelmed by it.”

And yet, over time and by God’s grace, he does get away from it.  And it ceases to consume him.  The burden is removed.  David becomes overwhelmed not by his sin but by God’s grace.  And finally, finally, he breathes a cleansing sigh of relief, as his sin is no longer always before him.

When we consider Psalm 51 in it’s entirety, we witness God doing for us that which we cannot accomplish for ourselves.  Taking away that which positions us in conflict with Him and with ourselves and with others.  And allowing us to not be defined by our sin, but rather, to be defined as men and women after His own heart.

“Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled.  O you who hear prayer, to you all humanity will come.  When we were overwhelmed by our sins, you forgave our transgressions” (Psalm 65:1-3).

“My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.”

Glory to God!

Jason

A Wretch Like Me

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“Where would I be without Christ?”

If I were to pose the question, and have you ask it of yourself, what thoughts immediately come to mind?

(I’ll wait a few moments for you to think and carry this through a bit).

“Where would I be without Christ?”

We all approach a question like this from differing perspectives. From varying backgrounds. Some were raised with a Christian worldview. Others come to Christ much later in life. But regardless of the journey, surely we’ve come to a maturity of faith that recognizes our reality in Jesus. And in our understanding of who we are in Christ, do we ever consider who we would be were it not for the Lord in our lives?

Without Christ we are lost. Lost. Lost to ourselves. Lost in ourselves. In our sin. In our own depravity. Perhaps a sober consideration of past failings brings us to an inkling of who we would be were it not for the Spirit of Christ. And I believe it can be extremely healthy to recognize who you and I would be without Him. The reality that without Him we would be morally ruined. Spiritually bankrupt. When we come to this conclusion, we in turn are better enabled to minister to those who are indeed outside of Christ.

The Apostle Paul opens our eyes to who we are outside of covenant with God when he writes, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were…” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). However, praise God his pen continues, “But, you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v11).

The wonderful question that comes out of Paul’s message to these Christians is: “Who can be saved?” And the answer that wonderfully springs to life in verse 11 is: “Anybody!”

Do we see those who are outside of Christ for their lostness? Are we aware that they are who they are and do the things that they do and live the way that they live because they’re lost? How else do we expect them to live? They’re lost! Do we see them in and for and through their lostness?

If so, does it elicit compassion or disdain on our part? In our heart of hearts, are we filled with the loving kindness of God for them? Or is there a slight (or not so slight) hint of contempt?

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.

Glory to God!

Jason

top 5 books of 2017

cs_lewis_writing

It amazes me how quickly this year has passed by. For whatever reason, for me, 2017 has absolutely flown by! That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it really has.

Practically everything I’ve read this year has been from CS Lewis. Everything. I’ve always been a CS Lewis fan but wanted to be intentional in reading books from his pen this year, as well as what others have said about his life and work.

If you’re looking for a place to start with CS Lewis, start with The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape is a fictional work in which Lewis, through his vivid, brilliant imagination, allows us to peer into the spiritual realm of darkness. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis grants us access into the “correspondence” between the “elder devil” Screwtape as he communicates to the novice Wormwood on how to best derail his “patient” (his assigned human) and turn him against “the Enemy” (God). I’ve read Screwtape a number of times over the years. Over a decade ago I told my friend Kevin that I was not interested in reading anything fiction: “I’m an academic I don’t have time for that nonsense.” Kevin replied, “But surely you’ve read The Screwtape Letters?” He was appalled when I said that I had not and immediately sent me a copy in the mail. I read it in two days. And I was hooked! Each and every time I’ve read it since it draws me in. What a concept! Since reading Screwtape, I’ve ventured in to the lands of Lewis’ Narnia, as well as Tolkien’s Shire and Middle Earth. These adventures are dear to me.

The next stop should be Lewis’ Mere ChristianityBringing together Lewis’ legendary broadcast talks during World War 2 Mere Christianity provides an unequaled opportunity for believers and nonbelievers alike to hear this powerful apologetic for the Christian faith.

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life is Jack Lewis’ autobiography. And when you read it you’ll find out why family and friends called him “Jack.” In Surprised by Joy, Lewis takes readers on a spiritual journey through his early life and eventual embrace of the Christian faith. He begins with his childhood in Belfast, surveys his boarding school years and his eventual atheism in England, reflects on his experience in World War I, introduces us to his friend and colleague JRR Tolkien, and then concludes with Oxford where he became “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” As he recounts his lifelong search for joy, Lewis demonstrates its role in guiding him to find God.

Another book that I thoroughly enjoyed this year was A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War by Joseph Laconte. I read this book just a couple of years ago but reread it anew recently. The subtitle of the work is: How JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918. One commentator writes, “The First World War laid waste to a continent and permanently altered the political and religious landscape of the West. For a generation of men and women, it brought the end of innocence—and the end of faith. Yet for JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, the Great War deepened their spiritual quest. Both men served as soldiers on the Western Front, survived the trenches, and used the experience of that conflict to ignite their Christian imagination. Had there been no Great War, there would have been no Hobbit, no Lord of the Rings, no Narnia, and perhaps no conversion to Christianity by CS Lewis.” I will say that A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War is not for everyone, but if you are a CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien fan you won’t be disappointed.

Another biography that I’d recommend is The Narnain: The Life and Imagination of CS Lewis by Alan Jacobs (Humanities Professor at Baylor). Tiersa and I went to the play earlier this year, The Most Reluctant Convert at the Eisemann Center and the actor who portrayed Lewis recommended Jacobs’ biography. From the description on Amazon: “Alan Jacobs masterfully tells the story of the original Narnian. From Lewis’s childhood days in Ireland playing with his brother, Warnie, to his horrific experiences in the trenches during World War I, to his friendship with JRR Tolkien (and other members of the ‘Inklings’), and his remarkable late-life marriage to Joy Davidman, Jacobs traces the events and people that shaped Lewis’s philosophy, theology, and fiction. The result is much more than a conventional biography of Lewis: Jacobs tells the story of a profound and extraordinary imagination. For those who grew up with Narnia, or for those just discovering it, The Narnian tells a remarkable tale of a man who knew great loss and great delight, but who knew above all that the world holds far more richness and meaning than the average eye can see.”

There are so many books from CS Lewis you could read and not go wrong: Narnia, The Weight of Glory, Reflections on the Psalms, The Four Loves, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, God in the Dock, and on and on and on. All are challenging and inspiring and timeless. But if you’re interested, these first five that I’ve listed by or about Jack Lewis are a great place to start.

There you have it! 2017’s top five….

Glory to God!

Jason

a win/win

If at the end of the day I were to ask you to give me an itemized itinerary of the events of your day and how they unfolded, you’d readily be capable of describing how the day progressed. For me, most mornings the alarm clock goes off and off I go. By 830am my two youngest boys are sitting in their desks at school. By 930 several days a week Tiersa has our youngest girls are in class and she’s in her classroom. I’m either in the office or at a coffee shop depending upon the day. Now that’s only a short timeframe, a couple of hours from start to finish in the morning, but a whole lot more went into that time right? I failed to mention whether or not the kids were in a good mood by the time they walked out the door or if I had to referee. Whether or not we left in plenty of time to get where we were going or had to break several laws of man and a few laws of physics to get them to school before the tardy bell rang (not that I ever do that!). I haven’t told you about all the things on my mind during that morning timeframe. Concerns. Commitments. Complications. From the things on my to-do list that I just need to get done, to things that I have no idea what to do about and am still waiting to see how God works through them.

My reason behind this is to acknowledge to you that as much as we are striving to simplify, as much as we are striving to keep the main things the main things, we live lives that involve some degree of complication. Some complications we can actively do something about. But the reality is, for other complications, we’re in a holding pattern.

Process these words of the Apostle Paul, “But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silasand Timothy, was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No,’ but in Him it has always been ‘Yes.’  For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 1:18-20a

What Paul assures is that everything in life is a “Yes” when we’re in Christ. Everything is a “Yes!” That somehow amidst good and bad, calm and chaos, triumph and tragedy, when we are in Jesus, it’s all a “Yes.” It’s not that it’s all easy.  It’s not that it always makes sense. But somehow when we see life through eyes of faith everything is a “Yes” because God is God. And in Jesus, we are His people. And because we are His, everything is a “Yes.” So you got a promotion? It’s a “Yes” in Christ. So you lost you’re job today? It’s a “Yes” when you’re close to our Savior. The cancer is in remission? It’s a “Yes” in Jesus. Your counts are looking like the cancer has returned? It’s a “Yes” when in relationship with God.

Somehow when we are in Christ Jesus, everything is a “Yes.” If you are being faithful to God, it’s a win/win situation. No matter what complications you’re in the middle of. No matter how promising or how bleak a circumstance. In Him it has always been (and always will be) “Yes!”

Glory to God!

Jason

getting off the ladder

princess in front of mirrorWhen we are children, we think about what we will become.  Who we will become.  We dream of who we will be.  What we will do.  The things we will accomplish.

It’s doubtful that we’ve all become cowboys, astronauts, and racecar drivers.  We learn to adapt.  We change our minds.  We face setbacks.

ladderAll of this thinking, however, is on a physical level.  No matter how high we climb the ladder our view is seriously impeded until we begin to see life through spiritual eyes.  Only when we get off the ladder and begin to ascend the mountain of God does the view ever change.  Only when we ascend the mountain does our perspective change.

The Psalmist exclaims to God, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:13).

The Apostle Paul pens, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).

And in Ephesians 2:10 he affirms, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

mountainRegardless of vocation.  Regardless of situation.  Regardless of circumstance.  Regardless of victory or defeat.  To begin to see every moment of life as God-ordained.  Christ-centered.  Spirit-filled. And Kingdom-embracing.

God meets His people not at the top of the ladder, but upon the mountain (Hebrews 12:22).

Too often we assess our value as to where we are on the ladder (physical), rather than how we are living up to our calling as believers (spiritual).

When we get off the ladder and begin to climb the mountain of God it is then that we not only begin to become acutely aware of our calling in life, but it is then, and only then, that we begin to achieve the very things that our Father has created us and purposed us to do.

Glory to God!

Jason

humility and discipleship

crown of thorns

One quality that really impresses God (and it’s not a very long list) is humility.  Humility is one of those things that just when you think that you’ve got it, you don’t.  And it’s one of those qualities of Jesus that is most evidenced in the lives of those who are genuinely seeking to imitate Him.

Jesus is fully God.  He steps into the world as Immanuel “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).  In Colossians the Apostle Paul is writing to address issues that have arisen in the church in which some are questioning the deity of Christ.  He affirms, “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him (Christ), and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things” (Colossians 1:19-20a).

And yet he “emptied Himself” and became “obedient to death, even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7-8).  And for this reason we are called to have the very same attitude and mindset as that of Christ Jesus (v5).

Jesus always goes about being “God with us” from a position of humility.  It’s never a power play with Jesus.  The only One who actually has the right to demand everything from a position of power because of who He is, comes to serve and comes to show us what true love and humility look like.

Too often we’re not enough like Jesus.  We manipulate.  We force.  We coerce.  That’s not Jesus….

Jesus’ call upon our lives is if we want to be His disciples we must first deny ourselves.  And I believe humility plays a crucial role.

Jesus never forces Himself on anyone.  “Do you want to be my disciple?  Take up your cross and follow me,” He says.  “Do you want to come and learn and share and be a part of the bigger picture and the things that I am about in the Kingdom?  Good.  Follow me.”  Discipleship is a choice.  Following Jesus is a choice.  And humility is a choice.

When you are full of yourself, God cannot fill you.  Only when we empty ourselves can our God fill us.  Only when we empty ourselves of all pride and all arrogance and all selfishness… only when we “humble ourselves before the Lord” can He then lift us up (James 4:10).

Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit… (Matthew 5:3).”

Maybe that’s a good place for us to start as well.

Glory to God!

Jason

the secret to happiness

What would it take for you to be happy? I mean life-is-good, smile-on-your-face happy. What would it take? Most often our response comes out of wherever we are for the moment. Whatever our aspirations are. Our goals. Whatever we’re struggling with. Whatever we’re worried about. Whatever brass ring that’s just out of reach. Whatever dark cloud looms overhead.

For some it’s money. There’s a pawn shop in Garland, Tx that has a sign that reads, “Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure pays the bills.” For others it’s status or accomplishment or house or possession. And I don’t want to diminish the things that often concern us. Maybe it’s the house that sits on a hill that you’re striving for. Or maybe, it’s simply the house you’re living in that’s falling apart that you’d repair if you could afford it. Maybe you have a dream car in mind. Or maybe, you’d just like to not have to pray that the car you have will start every morning. For many the answer is relational. And this is the most difficult one of all. The perfect marriage. The perfect relationship. How many marriages have fallen apart because one or both have come to the conclusion: “I’m just not happy any more.” How many relationships are on the verge right now of breaking up because of the sadness and apathy of one or both in the marriage?

How many times have you said: “When I finally get this job, then I’ll be happy.” “When I finally finish this degree, then I’ll be happy.” “When I pay off this loan, then I’ll be happy.” “When I….  If I….”

Have you found that contentment is illusive? What does it mean to be content anyway?

We seek happiness, and I know that some would argue that happiness and contentment are two different realizations, but I can’t help but think that if we could come to the point in life that we were content, we’d then be happy.

Perhaps no Psalm is more loved and more quoted than Psalm 23. It brings comfort and solace because it draws us into the arms of a Father who is so very welcoming and so very sufficient. In verse 5 David pens, “…my cup overflows.” In Scripture one’s “cup” is one’s lot in life. There is abundance in his life attributed only to God. It’s not a situational concept. It’s an internal one. An emotional one. A state-of-being. The blessings of living near the Father. A Father who lavishes His love upon us. His grace upon us. His goodness. His strength. He saves us, and then, renews us. What a description of abundance and belonging. “My cup overflows.” “It is overfilled.” “Filled to overflowing.” Because I belong to God!

The Apostle Paul writes, “I have learned the secret of being content…” (Philippians 4:12).

The secret?  Jesus!

Glory to God!

Jason

too easily derailed

tracks-through-forest-worship-background

Imagine as Christ’s church our having to meet in secret because of persecution. We tend to trivialize the notion in our Western worldview but the reality is that much of the church of both the past and present was/is forced to gather together in secrecy for the valid fear of oppression and persecution (either by government or society and culture). The first century church and Christians today in Muslim and Communist countries have much in common.

Beneath the city of Rome lies hundreds of miles of “catacombs.” The catacombs are underground burial places where Christians often met for worship and fellowship. For the almost three hundred years after Christ, Christians sought asylum in this underground maze of tunnels beneath Rome seeking to worship God in community with one another and as they were in constant fear of Roman violence.

In these underground tunnels a common inscription has been repeatedly found. Many recognize the symbol as the Jesus or Christian fish (the Greek word ichthus means “fish”) but it served as an early acrostic, which stood for: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Savior.” (I avoid acrostics at all costs in preaching – but this one I have to let slide….) What we have as magnets on the back of our luxury SUV’s complete with seat warmers, originally served as a ray of hope in caverns of darkness (physically and spiritually) for the early church.

I wonder about our investment of the Christian life. If in our ease of worship and ease of faith we aren’t crippled in our commitment. Not that I’m praying for persecution. But in times of oppression in the church’s history valiant faith has abounded. Why? Because it forced our hand whether we were in with both feet or not.

Here’s my question: Are we? Are we all in? Are we completely, totally, whole-heartedly invested (heart, soul, and self) into the Christian life?

Luke records these words of our Savior: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to” (Luke 13:24).

We’re tempted to think that Jesus is talking about “them.”

I think it’s about us….

Steadfastness. Dedication. Investment. An investment of self. An investment of life.

We are too often too easily derailed.

We tend to take lightly the things we have not wholly invested in. The things we’re not completely committed to. Arenas in which no sacrifice has been required. The same is especially true of faith. For this reason Christ calls us to make every effort.

Glory to God!

Jason