Saturday, December 31, 2011

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, & a New Baby

It's become our holiday tradition to have a baby in December. Last evening our newest Hutcheson came into the world! God has blessed our family with a healthy baby boy. I'm thankful for God's grace to my wife and all of my children.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Can I get a beat, Yo?

Merry Christmas! We celebrate the birth of our Lord not simply as a never ending baby shower but because of what the angel announced to Joseph, “and you shall call Him Jesus for He will save His people from their sins,” Matt. 1:25. Praise God for His acts to rescue us. There’s little question from the entire world that there is something wrong with the world. Jesus entrance into the world is a cosmic event that after His death and resurrection ushers in a new era. Things are broken, and no matter what we try through education, behavior modification, or spiritual enlightenment outside of Christ, we’re still left with a broken world. God has come to bring His Kingdom to us. It’s clear Christ’s Kingdom hasn’t fully come, but right now the offer to enter His Kingdom goes out to all people, everywhere. The blessing we receive through Christ is forgiveness, HIS righteousness, and adoption into God’s family. When God looks at the person who has faith in Jesus Christ, He sees the righteousness of His son; God sees His sons and daughters through Christ! Through faith alone in Christ alone we are united to Christ. GOD LOVES YOU! You aren’t a good Christian or a bad Christian because there’s no such thing. You are a child of God. This blessing is written throughout the New Testament for our encouragement and praise to God. Listen to Curtis Allen, The Voice, and Tom Schreiner, professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, discuss the great blessing of union with Christ. If you don’t care for rap music begin listening at the 3:18 mark. May you be encouraged with the truth of Scripture and praise our God for His great salvation.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Darkest Day

Tragedies happen all the time. It's common to hear the most horrific or heart wrenching stories on the news or an email. Those stories bring sorrow to the door, but it's abstract and ephemeral. While second hand stories dent our reality with a sense of heartache, it doesn't impact our lives with the consequences that tragedy brings.

When tragedy hits, it changes your life. As a pastor, I've dealt with the problem of suffering theologically, philosophically, and personally. No one can escape the problem of evil in the world, and everyone has to figure out an answer whether you believe in Jesus Christ or not. It's not a question I take lightly nor does it have a simple answer. However, I thought I was prepared to handle horrible news that impacted my life: terminal illness, car wrecks, physical pain, and even death. But I was wrong.

Two years ago, I received a call after 11 am that a close friend of mine killed himself, violently.

I could tell you a thousand memories of Mark Reckman, but I need him to tell the thousand that I can’t remember. That scar never leaves. I miss him; I miss my friend.

There’s no easy answer to suffering, and grieving Reckman’s death continues for me and so many other people that loved him. Even in the midst of sadness and grief, I know God wasn’t absent on December 19, 2009. That doesn’t mean I didn’t question God; not that I questioned His existence. Rather, why did this happen? Where was God? Anyone who says you’re not supposed to question God hasn’t read the Bible. People questioned God through their darkest days and worst moments. Even when people lacked faith and irreverently questioned God, God was gracious in His listening and His answer.

O LORD, God of my salvation;
I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!
But I, O LORD, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
they close in on me together.
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness.
(Psalm 88:13-18)

This psalm ends with little hope because Scripture shows us not only God’s truth but the experiences of the soul. This guy from Psalm 88 is hurting and questions where God is, His grace, and His intervention. At the end, there’s no answer. This Psalm shows us that people throughout history have experienced great pain and loss. In those dark times, God wants us to know that He is with us and hasn’t left us. The greatest hope that we have doesn’t come from a direct answer now, but from the answer that’s already come.

Jesus is our answer for God’s love. Through His life, death, and resurrection I have hope for a new day where God rights every wrong that ever happened. That’s redemption! Jesus experienced pain and suffering. When He was on the cross, Jesus felt abandoned, and He was abandoned. That’s not the end of the story. Through His pain and suffering, Jesus offers new life through the forgiveness of sins. Jesus brings hope to a hopeless situation. There may be many times that we don’t experience answers to our questions and cry through the night. God hasn’t left us without hope. This truth doesn’t remove my sadness for Mark, but I trust in the “Lord, the God of my salvation.” One day Jesus will remove the sadness from my life and heal the scar on my heart.

In May 2009, I visited Mark in Cincinnati. Mark thought it was a great opportunity to have a party, and he did not disappoint. When most everyone had gone home and a few people were left, the Phish song Prince Caspian came on. We always enjoyed a little karaoke, (not that people listening enjoyed it) and we let it out.

I love that memory, and I love my friend.

Oh to be Prince Caspian afloat upon the waves.

Oh to be Prince Caspian afloat upon the waves.

Oh to be Prince Caspian

so far away.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Oooh, Nice Bag!

NPR reported last week on China’s infamous reputation for producing knockoff fashion items. This time though the knockoffs aren’t designer clothes or accessories but shopping bags, not purses, shopping bags. Status is wrapped up in the outside of the package and not just what’s inside the package. Some people want to give the impression that they have the wealth and status to shop at expensive stores even if there’s only a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk in the bag. If I were given a present wrapped in a famous designer bag, most likely, I wouldn’t notice its significance. Regardless if fashion isn’t one of your preferences, we have certain styles or characteristics that are important for us to maintain in front of others whether it’s organization, looks, knowledge, wealth, or something else. After reading this story, you may want to find one of these cheap luxury shopping bags for yourself, and there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. However, we can get caught up seeking the approval of others or a false sense of identity for ourselves through a pursuit of stuff.
When we look to Scripture, we find that our identity through salvation is rooted in Christ. A few days from now we’re celebrating the time that God came into the world to redeem us from finding our identity in anything else besides Him. Take joy in the truth that God loved us so much He gave us His Son that whosever will may have eternal life. You can’t find that in shopping bag.

Friday, December 16, 2011

I'm Just so Busy

My family and I went to Barnes & Noble on Sunday night. For the record, I love going to bookstores and looking at all of the books waiting to pour out their words. When I leave bookstores, I don’t want more books to read, but more time to read books. Regardless of what you’re doing right now, I’m sure you feel busy. It’s easy to find ourselves wishing to be in another place or doing something other than where we are in our lives with our work, where we live, or even in some relationships.
In Scripture we’re given encouragement to be content where God has placed us. When the Jews world was turned upside down and the unthinkable happened – Jerusalem was taken over and the temple was destroyed, Jeremiah, the prophet instructs the wandering people to work, have families, invest in the city where they are (Jer. 29:1-9). Our devotion to the Lord is not singled out to something we do on Sundays during one hour. All of our work, recreation, and family life is part of being a disciple.
Paul’s life was spent making disciples and planting churches. While that’s not the life that God has called anyone at GracePointe to (yet), Paul’s words to the Philippian church are very important to us no matter what vocation or season of life: I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Phil 4:12-13).
You don’t have to be involved in sports to be impacted by Paul’s words. God’s hand is powerful enough to make me hit a homerun or run a four minute mile, but God’s desire isn’t that I’m a super athlete or even coordinated. God’s call in my life is to be satisfied in Him and in Him alone. The natural human tendency is to want what we don’t have or imagine that our lives would be better if we had someone else’s life. Scripture presents us with the divine reality that God places us in situations that aren’t how we would plan our lives or use our time. God directs our lives so that we experience contentment in Christ regardless of our situation.
I don’t have time that I would to dedicate to reading, but my prayer is that I depend on Christ during every minute of time I have.