Friday, April 30, 2010

"The World is Passing Away...

... and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever." -- 1 John 2:17, NASB

The two ads in this short video are sobering evidence for the truth of this verse of Scripture.  Don't squander your life on the allurements of today's advertisements. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Danger of Reformation without Regeneration

Last Friday, the men's Bible study at my church tackled this passage from 2 Peter 2:20-22.  I wanted to share with you what I learned because it turned out to be intensely interesting to me.
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, "A dog returns to its own vomit," and, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire."
This is describing a group of people who were in bondage to sin.  Then there was a great change in their lives and they began living righteously.  But then they fell back into sin even more heinous than what they were doing originally.  The most striking question these verses raise is whether the "they" were ever Christians.  There are three possibilities:
  1. They were Christians who fell back into a state of sin but did not cease being Christians.
  2. They were Christians who fell back into sin and ceased being Christians.  (They lost their salvation.)
  3. They were non-Christians who became even more debased.
At first glance, it seems they must have been Christians.  After all, the passage does say that they "have escaped the defilements of the world" and "have known the way of righteousness". 

But we know that possibility 1 is wrong because the text says that "the last state has become worse for them than the first".  In the beginning they were not Christians, but on their way to hell.  If their end state was merely "a Christian in sin", this would still be a better state.  So regardless of what their intermediate state was, we can conclusively say that their end state was non-Christian, going to hell.

Possibility two is a more plausible argument.  But this would conflict with other Bible passages that seem to teach that God keeps His true followers from falling back into sin.  For example, Romans 8 says that "these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified".  In other words, the people God has chosen to save, He will completely save.  He will not "drop" them part way through their rescue, somewhere between "justification" (being acquitted) and "glorification" (entering the full presence of Jesus in heaven).
When we start looking at related passages, the message of this passage becomes more clear.  For example, you remember Peter's statement that "the last state has become worse for them than the first"?  Peter actually got this from Jesus.  In Matthew 12 (and Luke 11), Jesus said:

"Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it.  Then it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came'; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.
Jesus is describing a man who has been under the overt control of Satan.  But the man undergoes a reformation of sorts.  From outward appearances, he's turned over a new leaf.  The demon leaves--for a while.  But the man has not been truly "regenerated" -- he has not experienced the new birth of John 3.  We know this because of the word "unoccupied".  He does not have the Spirit of God living in him, as is promised to all Christians.  He does not have the new heart of flesh with the law of God written on it, as promised in Hebrews 8.  He's still the same old rotten corpse with a new set of clothes.  So when the demon goes "house-shopping" again, he finds this man's soul without a defender.  He invites some other homeless demons to move into the vacant home with him.  And the man's life becomes even more sin-dominated than before.

So, when we use Matthew 12 as a commentary on "the last state has become worse for them than the first", it begins to appear that Peter is describing people who have merely experienced a temporary, external reformation, not the permanent change of being regenerated by God.  We find further evidence for this in Peter's own words about the dog who returns to his vomit and the pig who returns to the mud hole.  When the dog had expelled the vomit, it had not ceased being a dog.  When the pig was hosed off, it did not cease being a pig.  Their core natures had not been changed.  They had simply undergone a short-term improvement.  When they returned to their vomit and mud, they were merely following their natural instincts.

There are two important lessons we can take away from this.  

First, if you find yourself doing things you feel guilty about, attempting to reform yourself can be dangerous!  Sure, you may find a way to wash off the mud of an external habit.  But the core depravity that produced this habit will still be in your heart, and will reappear with time, in far more sinister and resistant forms. 

Second, when Christians meet people who are sinful, we need to be careful to share the gospel with them, and not mere moralisms.  If we simply urge them to clean the outside without first addressing the rottenness within, we can actually leave them in worse shape than they were before, with less chance of ever truly being saved.

Reformation without regeneration is dangerous!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

God's Goodness in Brain Cancer

For a guy who's only a few years older than me, Matt Chandler has a good grasp of God's sovereignty and mercies in the middle of suffering.  And the scars to prove it.  (Note: don't miss the end of this video, when the other speakers come and lay hands on Matt and pray for him.)

T4G 2010 -- Special Session -- Matt Chandler from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I'm now on BSecure's Dole! :)

In December I wrote an unbiased review praising BSecure, the internet porn filter that I use. At the end I joked that maybe BSecure would see my article and give me a free month of service. Much to my surprise, a few weeks later I received a phone call from BSecure. They saw my note and have given me two months of free service! So, I guess I am no longer unbiased!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

God's Might in China!

My mother received this heart-moving, unsolicited letter from a Christian friend in China. I give it to you exactly as it was written. The English mistakes only add to the charm and authenticity of this account of God's mighty power in rescuing an entire family from the futile way life inherited from their ancestors (1 Peter 1:18).-- Daniel

Dear Sister Ann,

I am excitied and thankful after listening to brother Kou's testimony. I would like to share with you.

One sister asked Pastor Kou to pray for her. She told him she had a dream that all her families believe in God. Her family is in the village. There are nine people in her family. Her parents, her 6 younger sisters. The youngest sister was given to others. Pastor Kou was happily to promise her to pray for her family. At the same time, he also asked other sisters and brothers pray together with him.

One day, one thing happen between her family and her neighbor. Her neighbor tried to fahk some of her home space. So they went to court. Brother Kou and other christians begun to pray for them to win the lawsuit. Also brother Kou thought it was a chance for God work in her family, If God let her family win the lawsuit, they may come to Jesus. They praied for about 5 years. Finally, brother Kou was a little depressed to know her family lost the lawsuit. He asked God, why let them lost the lawsuit, it is correct for them to win it. hehe, God's work is beyong our expection, her dad belive in God after lawsuit. He told brother Kou, he found relatives was indifferent, there was unfairness in this world. He just want to come to Jesus.

Her mom worshiped idols, also she suffered hemiplegy and was on the wheelchair for about 20 years. Brother Kou went to visit her, after he told Gospel to her, he asked her whether she would like to believe in Jesus, She said she would. He advise her to clear all the idols away from her home. But she told him she worship idol for many years, and she had feelings with them, she wouldn't like to clear them away immediately. Brother Kou said OK, if you would like to clear them away in the future, please let me know, I would like to help you. Brother Kou continue praying for her, and please God cure her, then she became true believer, and she might want to clear all the idols away.

But One day, brother Kou got a bad news from the sister, her mom went to the hospital and her illness was very very serious, brother Kou also ask God, my father, why not cure her, or make her illness lighter, but serious now. He went to the hospital and visit her mom. and he pray together with her. Suddenly her mom interruppted prayer, and told him excitedly; Pastor Kou, Jesus love me so much! I can't bear the machine they put on me, I pray please God remove it after 3 months. hehe, doctor just told me, it is OK to remove machine(used to help cure her) next wednesday. It is just about 3 months. At the same time, she asked brother Kou to clear all the idols away. Brother Kou was excited when heard of this, he asked other brothers together with him clear all the idols by two trucks.

All the villager in her village didn't belive in God, they knew brother Kou clear idols from her family, and her family belive in God. Brother Kou also continue pray for her urgently, please God cure her, and all the villagers know God. But after 3 days, he was very sad to know her mom was died. He was a little afraid of that. He thought maybe her family will complain him, or hit him.

But he decided to go to her family to visit her family, when he stoped his car before her home door, her dad run to the car, he was afraid that he may hit me. But her dad open the door, and hug brother Kou and told him excited: my wife went to the heaven. He said before she died: she told her brother: please don't embarras my daughter, all the funeral must be hold according to Church. Also he had a dream that his wife wore beautiful clothes and stand up, a men wore white clothes picked her up, she smiled and wave and say see you in heaven with him. He know his wife was in heaven now. Also he told brother Kou, her wifes final will come true: her youngest daugther come to the hospital and catch her hand talked with her for more than one hour. When she was tired, she closed her eyes and come to heaven home. All her daughters came to Jesus.

Brother Kou and about 2 hundred brother and sisters hold a memory in her home. It was the first gather to worship true God in her village, and they Sang many songs to praise our Lord.

Praise the Lord. His will is higher than our will. He is mighty. amen.

God bless you and your family.

Sister L

Friday, April 16, 2010

How to Support the Persecuted Church

This is the written version of the 5 minute presentation I delivered at last Saturday's VOM meeting.  It is an expanded version of an exposition of Ephesians 5:19-21 I first gave last fall.  Although my oral delivery of this message left much to be desired, perhaps the written version will help you marvel with me at how many treasures are packed into such a short passage!

How shall we respond to the persecuted church? We are not left to conjecture. The Bible contains an amazing amount of writings to persecuted believers and from persecuted believers. These writings provide wonderful guidance in how we should relate to them. Let me take you to just one passage, Ephesians 6:19 to 21.

19 … pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. 21 But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you.  (NASB)

Note carefully: where was Paul when he wrote these words? In prison chains! These chains make Paul’s prayer request amazing.

First, note that Paul needs prayer. Being a super apostle does not mean everything goes well for him just on “autopilot”. Even the greatest Christian must stay on his knees. Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking, “Oh, if only I were persecuted like these believers, I would have such a wonderful relationship with God.” Persecution is not the path to Godliness. Godliness is the path to persecution. And prayer is the path to Godliness.

Second, Paul asks others for prayer. He does not believe his own prayers for himself are sufficient. If a “superman” like Paul needs prayers of others, how much more do we need to open up and ask! In fact, we do find that the first request of persecuted believers—before Bibles or food or medical care—is always “Pray for us!”

Third, what does Paul ask for? Boldness! This is probably the last thing we would think Paul would need! Boldness is what got him into jail in the first place and now he’s asking for more? This is because boldness in sharing the gospel is always a gift from God, not a matter of temperament. Some personalities are naturally at ease in a crowd but no one is naturally at ease sharing the cross with unbelievers. Paul knows that he has no more strength without prayer, than Samson had without hair. It’s easy to assume that a believer who has shown great courage under pressure will never falter. But it’s the breath of our prayer that supplies oxygen to their spiritual muscles.

Fourth, notice that Paul requests boldness to proclaim a particular message. The gospel! The gospel is the most important message to proclaim, because only by it can rebels be reconciled to the God they have flaunted. The gospel is also the most dangerous message to proclaim. No one likes to hear that they deserve hell, much less that they cannot pull themselves out of hell by the bootstraps of good works. Our society still tolerates this talk—barely. Go to a society that is not a fading Christianity like ours but a vibrant Islam or Buddhism or atheism or Hinduism—and the reaction to the gospel will be violent. No wonder that Paul –and the persecuted church—want prayer!

Fifth, isn’t it amazing that Paul doesn’t ask them to pray for his release? He asks for the opening of his mouth, not the opening of his cell. What a proper sense of priorities he has! Indeed, our brothers and sisters around the world put us to shame in this respect. Unlike a health problem, the pain of which we usually cannot simply choose to cure, most of our brothers and sisters could instantly end the pain of their persecution by simply renouncing Jesus, or even by just ceasing their evangelism.

Sixth, look at that phrase “ambassador in chains”. It seems almost an oxymoron. When we think ambassador, we think 3 piece suit, nice haircut, handsome face. But God clothes His ambassadors in chains. We tend to wrestle against our chains, and tell God that we will be His ambassadors after He unshackles us. The persecuted church cannot wait for freedom to evangelize.

Seventh, notice that the gospel should be spoken in a particular way. “As I ought to speak”. What is the way? Boldly! Paul mentions boldness a second time here, this time to show that the way we share will either affirm or discredit the message of the gospel. By boldness he does not mean fearlessness, because Paul himself preached with weakness and fear and much trembling. Rather, he means the absence of politically correct, smooth words. It discredits the gospel when we sugar-coat it. The heroes of the church are not the men in soft clothing but the persecuted John the Baptists.

Lastly, did you notice how neither Paul nor the Holy Spirit thought the details of his physical situation were significant enough to be permanently recorded? He wrote a beautiful letter of encouragement to Ephesus, and never once tells them about the rats or the latrine or the musty chill. He does want them to know these details, but he leaves them for Tychicus to relate. The primary message we carry to you from the persecuted church is the message that they are being persecuted for, the good news of Jesus. And yet, I am secondarily also a Tychicus of sorts, to tell you of their physical needs.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Send Dmitry a Birthday Card

Two years ago on this day my grandfather died.  I miss him still. 

I am sure that Dmitry Shestakov's wife and three children miss him too.  Pastor Dmitry has been imprisoned in Uzbekistan since early 2007 for “operating an illegal religious organization and distributing materials promoting religious extremism”.  In other words, being a Biblical Christian!  For more details on his case, click here.

It turns out that his birthday is the same day as my grandfathers: April 19th. 

I can't send Grandpa a card, but I can (and will) send Dmitry one.  You can too.  You can even print out a pre-translated letter to include with it.  Click here for details.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

O Blessed Communion

Christian friends are a gift from God, even when there is conflict in the relationship.  God uses conflict to chip away the (many) ugly spots from our character.  Occasionally though God gives us a glimpse of the oneness of heart that we will not enjoy perfectly until heaven.

Saturday's VOM team meeting was such an event for me.  During the meeting, we also threw a surprise birthday party for two teammates.  They are probably the most scholarly of our group (one is a Yale graduate and the other is an E.R. doctor). But they didn't seem to mind being "roasted" by those of us who are less educated.

Here's a video with the highlights of the party. (Please pardon my poor filming!)

How good and pleasant it is
       when brothers live together in unity!
--Psalm 133:1 (NIV)

This kind of unity is one great need of the persecuted church.  The pressure of persecution can just as easily drive people apart as bond them together.  And there aren't many believers for them to choose from.  They can't just go down the street and join a different church (like we tend to do).  Lord Jesus, bless our brothers and sisters with good friendships.  And when no one is there to comfort them, may they know Your presence in a greater way.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Critique My Team's Presentations on Christian Persecution!

Last Saturday I met with other Arizona representatives for The Voice of the Martyrs.  VOM helps Christians around the world who suffer persecution for following Jesus.

During part of our meeting, we each gave a brief presentation segment (part of what we might say in a church) and then critiqued each other.  This was an immensely helpful exercise!  I learned so much from my fellow reps' presentations and feedback.  The Lord blessed us with good rapport so that we could accept correction from each other without becoming defensive. 

And now, I invite you to give us your own feedback on each of our presentations.  What do we need to improve at?  What did we do well?  You can watch the playlist embedded below, or click here to see it at YouTube.  Leave your comments either on YouTube or as a comment on this blog post.  Thanks for helping us improve even more!

Friday, April 9, 2010

How Jesus Rescued Jerry

The story below was sent to us by the author, a pastor whose ministry has been a blessing to my family.  I know it's long.  But I pray it causes you to rejoice in Jesus' power over sin! -- Daniel

The Testimony of Jerry Wells

My name is Jerry Wells. My parents were Wilbur and Opal Wells. I was born in December, 1954. I grew up in Oklahoma City. My Mom Opal died just before my 4th birthday. My Dad Wilbur was devastated by her death as was our whole family. He turned to alcohol to escape his pain. For the next 14 years of my life, I lived with an alcoholic.

Wilbur was a bad drunk. To his credit he maintained his job and only drank after work and on weekends. He attended clubs where he met various women and slept with them. I was five the first time I saw my Dad sleeping with another woman in our house.

Dad met a good woman at work and married her when I was six. But he did not stop drinking. His substance abuse eventually drove her away. One night he got mad at her, stripped her naked, and through her out in the front yard.

She made an excuse to leave. She said she was going to visit some relatives. She never came back. I never saw her again. Dad was served divorced papers by the courts and a restraining order. He had a nervous break down and checked into the mental ward of a local hospital. I was 8 years old.

By this time, my older brother Jim had been married for several years and my sister Sandy was a senior in high school ready to leave for college. By the fall of 1963, it was just Dad and me.

Dad rented a room from two ladies and we moved in with them. We lived there for about six months. We then moved into a one bedroom rent house that Dad owned in one of the poorest areas of Oklahoma City.

Dad met a woman at a club when I was 9 and married her. We moved into a nice home in Del City, Ok. But he did not stop drinking. She could not take the abuse. She and her teen age daughter moved out when I was 12.

My older sister and brother decided that I had been through enough. They took me from Dad. Dad begged them to change their minds. He told them I was his life. He promised to change. He did for two weeks. But one evening he started drinking. He locked me out of the house and made me set outside for hours. When he let me in he was in a drunken stupor. He told me that I was wrong for leaving him. He threatened me and told me to never leave him again.

Dad then started drinking even more. He would disappear on Friday nights and not come home until Sunday. He would normally call me from some girl friends house. To his credit he always made sure that I had money. He bought me a motor cycle when I was 15 so I would have my own transportation.

When I was 15, Dad married another woman that he met at a club and she moved in with us. It lasted six months. She divorced Dad and moved back to her home town. One night Dad got drunk and drove to see her. She called the police and they arrested him because he tried to break into her house. He called me with his one phone call from the local jail. I did not have a driver’s license but I drove a couple of hours and got him out of jail. I then drove him back to Del City. Dad had the shakes all the way home.

Then Dad’s driver’s license got suspended for drinking and driving. He was afraid to drive without a driver’s license so he made me drive even though I did not have a license.

By the time I was 15, I hated Dad. I had no respect for him as a man or as my father. I told him I was leaving one day when he was drunk. He tackled me in the living room and threatened me again.

Why didn’t I leave? I did not think I had anywhere to go. I didn’t think any of my friends parents knew about my Dad’s problem. My family did not talk with me about it anymore. Everyone has their own problems.

We went to church occasionally. Dad always wanted to be a member of a church and he always tithed as far as I know. But I was bitter at Wilbur and at God. I could not see any use for either one of them in my life. To express my anger at God, I would go to the cemetery where my Mom was buried and literally shake my fist at God.

Amazingly, I was good young man by the world’s standards. I was a very responsible student. I treated adults and peers with respect. I respected the law. I did not get in serious trouble. I did not drink. I was not promiscuous. I did not see a need for God in my life. I had the attitude that I did not need anyone and that I could succeed without God’s help or anyone else’s.

When I was 16, I met a young lady. We saw each other for more than a year. I cared a great deal for her and I also cared a great deal about her parents. But as time passed, I did not show her or her parents the respect they deserved. I was deceptive. I was not a good leader. I did not keep my word. I hurt her enough until she finally rejected me. She told me what an evil person I was. From that day forward, she would not have anything to do with me.

This hurt so much because I cared so much for her. I had hurt my Dad. But I had never hurt anyone that I really cared for. It was this experience that caused me to take an honest look at myself.

What I saw was not very pretty. Over time, I saw that I was selfish. I also saw I was proud. I saw I was deceitful. I saw how bitter I was at my Dad and at God. I saw that if I did not change I was going to hurt people just like Dad hurt me and so many others. I could see we both deserved to go to hell.

This scared me. I could see where I was headed and what kind of life I was going to experience if I did not change. I wanted to change but I did not know how. I also felt that I was powerless to change, especially my selfish motives.

This led me to start a spiritual journey. I started reading the bible. I started attending church more often and listening closer to sermons from the bible. It started making sense.

I was sinner. I was dead in my transgressions and sins. I was separated from God. I was powerless to change my heart, who I was, or who I would become.

God’s son Jesus was God. He loved me. He wanted to have an eternal relationship with me. He wanted to save me from my sin.

For that to occur, because God is just, Jesus had to suffer for my sin. He had to pay the debt I owed because of my sin and the sin of my forefathers. His death on the cross proved that He loved me and paid that debt in full. His resurrection was proof that He was God and that the debt was paid.

If I would accept that payment by faith in Jesus, I would be reconciled to God forever. He would change me. He would give me a genuine His love for others that was free from selfishness. He would live within me through His Spirit and give me power over sin.

It was a struggle to believe that God loved me. The circumstances of my life worked against this truth. By the time I graduated the sixth grade, we had moved six times and I had attended six different grades schools. I had witnessed things that my Dad did to me and others that no child should have to experience. How could God love me like the bible says and allow me to suffer so much? Why didn’t I have a good stable family with two parents that loved me? Why did God let my mother get sick and die when I was so young?

This struggle with faith lasted for six months, but God was faithful. Finally, on New Years Eve, 1971, just before midnight, I believed. The Lord spoke to my heart when I asked him why I had suffered so much. He said, “It was what I personally needed to see my need for Him.”

It was true. I was so proud of what I had achieved in spite of the circumstances in my family. I was self righteous.

My family suffered because of sin. But God let me be a part of it and then fail so that I would see my need for Him and His righteousness in my life.

I believed that night just before midnight and shortly thereafter I was baptized as a testimony to my faith in Jesus Christ.

Looking back, there have been so many blessings that are too numerous too recount. My life changed. My Dad died of lung cancer in the fall of 1977 when I was 22. He was 66. But before he died, we were reconciled. Jesus changed my heart toward my Dad so that I loved him and forgave him and did not hate him anymore. The last five years of his life we were able to talk openly about things for the first time.

Just six months before my Dad died, on August 12, 1977, I married a wonderful Godly Christian woman named Debbie Mills. We have six sons and two daughters. Jesus gave us His heart of love for one another. My relationship to Debbie and our ministry together gave me happiness that I did not know two people could share on this side of heaven.

But after more than 29 years of marriage Debbie died. She was 53. She was diagnosed with cancer in September of 2006. On May 3, 2007, Debbie left us for heaven.

Following Debbie’s death, I understood for the first time what my Dad felt when my Mom died. I struggled all over again with having faith in God’s love for me. But Jesus kept one of His promises. He says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” After Debbie’s death, Jesus kept assuring me of His love for me and my children. He hung on to me when I had no strength or little faith to hang on to Him.

My faith has grown deeper as a result of our loss. When I think that I cannot depend upon Jesus more, I discover a whole new dimension of trust that always changes me and sets me free.

I am not an alcoholic. Through the same circumstance in my life and my Dad’s life, Jesus has proved what a difference He can make if you know Him and trust Him.

My life verse is Psalms 40:1-3. It says…

I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.
2 He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.
3 And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.

Jesus can and will do for you what He has done for me. You will not be able to avoid all the horrible pits in your future. Life is so hard. But with each new trial your faith in Jesus Christ can grow as you learn to depend upon Him more. If you can find your way to the Rock, He will give you a new song. He will then use you to cause others to trust in Him.

To receive Jesus Christ as your savior from sin like I did, the scripture says…

  • You need to understand that you are a sinner separated from God and you are powerless to change your nature.
  • You need to understand that God’s penalty for sin is death and separation from God in a place of eternal torment the bible calls hell.
  • You need to understand that Jesus is God and that He died for your sins on a cross to pay your sin debt.
  • You need to understand that Jesus rose from the dead and that He is Lord of heaven and earth.
  • You need to put your faith in Jesus Christ to save you from sin and be willing to give testimony to your faith by following the Lord’s command to be baptized in water.

(Jerry Wells is currently the Pastor at Western Hills Church in Oklahoma City. Western Hills Church is located at 401 S.W. 44th in Oklahoma City. You can reach the church and Pastor Jerry by phone by calling 405-634-1454. Pastor Jerry is now married to Saundra Wells. They married in November of 2008. Saundra’s husband John Cobbs died in January of 2007. Pastor Jerry and Saundra have twelve children from their previous marriages to Debbie and John.)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mom Washed the Dishes!

Today was a banner day for the Bartsch home.  By God's grace, Mom washed the lunch dishes.  I haven't kept track of when she last washed any, but my guess is that it was at least 8 months ago.  She still suffers in her back and colon each day, but we praise God for giving her a little taste of a duty of homemaking again.  Thank you all for your continued prayers! 

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Real Joystick

Ask teenage boys what a joystick is, and you'll hear only one answer: a plastic shaft that interacts with a video gaming device.  Apparently their parents believe them, because Americans shelled out $11.7 billion for computer and video game software in 2008.  But all that this joystick does is temporarily alter blood chemistry with a cheap thrill.

Jesus tells us what a real joystick is:

Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23, NIV)

At first the cross doesn't sound like a joystick, but a pain stick.  Is Jesus simply telling us to "suck it up" because following Him is tough? Hebrews 12:2 answers:
"looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (ESV)
But wait!  Doesn't this simply mean that the cross was an obstacle on the path to joy?  No, actually the cross is the path to joy.  See the word "for"?  Jesus endured the cross "for the joy".  The joy was the goal, the cross was the means.  If you want joy (and Jesus did) then you have to endure the cross.

Notice also how the joy far outshines the pain.  He "despised the shame".  In other words, the weight of the shame was trivial compared with the magnitude of the joy.  The joy made the cross seem like a mere stick.

What was the joy that could make such an embarrassing and painful form of execution seem small?  It's at the end of the verse: Jesus is now "seated at the right hand of the throne of God".  As Psalm 16:11 reminds us, "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." (NIV)

God's presence is the epicenter of joy.  The cross is the path to get there, because the cross is what strips away the idols that pretend to be joys, but turn out, like salt water, to leave us more thirsty than we started.  So embrace your joystick and follow Jesus!