Category Archives: Life

Taxes

Taxes have always been a controversy for preachers. Some people get upset when you talk about money from the pulpit, how much more so if you talk about taxes? Which is exactly why the Pharisees ask Jesus this question. They want to get Him in trouble. It is a trap.

Julius-Caesar-coinMark 12:13-17, “Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial taxto Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.”

 Jesus doesn’t do what most of us do (that’s avoid the issue), He answers the question. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Well, the Lord’s answer leaves us to ask a few follow up questions. “What is Caesar’s? And what is God’s?”

Let’s start with easiest question, “What is God’s?” The answer is obviously, “everything.” Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” It is all God’s. We are just stewards of His creation. All the things we possess – from materials, talents, to the breath in our lungs and the beat in our hearts –  are really His and we will give an account of how we used them on judgment day. Did we use all of our resources to glorify Him and expand His kingdom or not? (For further reading see Matthew 25:14-30, Parable of the Talents.)

So what does God require of us with these resources? Jesus summed it up nicely, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31.)  In the Old Testament, the prophet Micah put it this way, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)  Easy to answer, difficult to do.

Now, what is Caesar’s? What is owed to the government? I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker, “If 10% good enough for God, good enough for the IRS.” This question is a bit trickier to answer.  In order to do so, we need to know what God has established government to do.

Romans 13:1-7. 1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.  6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

God establishes government for maintaining justice in society. Commend those who do what is right and punish those who do wrong. You see the Bible says that all of us are sinners. Left to ourselves we have a natural inclination to sin and do evil. We are not basically good. The Bible calls this condition of humanity original sin. (See Romans 7:14-25).

God gives us government for the benefit of society to bring order from chaos, provide the rule of law, and ensure justice is done among the people. We pay taxes to pay for the courts, police, prisons, salaries, maintain defense, roads, etc.   We must have structure to live together in peace and prosperity.  The preamble to the preamble constitutionUnited States Constitution gives us the reasons our founders established our government.  We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

God institutes government for these reasons and we owe Caesar for these services.  But that leaves me with this follow up question: Is that where our taxes are going?  In the next few posts I’m going to delve into the spiritual issue of taxes.  Jesus says to pay taxes, but what if our tax money is going for purposes that oppose God and limit liberty?  What if our tax money is going to things that are good, but God did not ordain government to do?  And more practically, what if some of those things just don’t work and bring harm rather than good?  Then what?

I’d love to hear your thoughts….

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A Case for “God, the Father”

God the FatherFather’s Day is coming up and I am thinking about what to preach.  Father’s Day should be a slam dunk considering God is our Father and all.  But it is actually tougher than I thought.  Father’s are not very politically correct.

I remember when I first heard that calling God, “Father” was offensive.  I was in seminary.  No, not offensive, that’s not right.  Calling God, “Father” was insensitive.  Yep, it was insensitive.  You see, so the logic goes, too many people have lousy, deadbeat, abusive (throw in your favorite negative adjective) fathers and if we refer to God as Father, they will be turned off.  They cannot relate to God that way.  Call Him Creator or Parent, but don’t use Father.  Too much pain associated with that name.

Now I’m all for helping people relate to God, but what if God has chosen to reveal Himself as Father?  You can’t read into the Gospels too far without noticing that Jesus constantly refers to God as Father.  (And rightly so, since He is God’s Son.)    But do we have the right to call God “Father” and if we do, can we refer to Him as Father without being insensitive?

Jesus refers to God as Father in the Sermon on the Mount seventeen times by a quick count.  Of the 17 times He uses the term Father, 1 is “my Father”, 1 is “our Father”, and 15 are “your Father”.  Jesus has no problem including us in the family of God.  Romans 8 is clear that we are adopted into God’s family and, in Christ, become His children.  Jesus teaches us to address God in prayer as “Father” so, yes, we have the right to call God, “Father.”

But should we?  Considering all the baggage in the world caused by bad dads, does God want to be associated with such a negative brand like “Father”?  Does it turn people away who have had a terrible father?  Can they, should they look to God as their heavenly Father or does the term create barriers and we should avoid it?

Jesus meets a women who clearly has issues with men in John 4. womanatwell Abandonment, abuse, immorality, manipulation, divorce, she has it all.  Statistics tell us that women like this generally have poor fathers and spend their lives seeking out affection from men to fill that gap.  Yet as Jesus talks to her about her past and confronts her present (how insensitive!), she begins a conversation about worshipping God.  And then it happens.  Jesus refers to God not once, not twice, but three times as “Father” in this conversation.

Here is a women that would be the poster child for people we’re afraid we might offend by calling God “Father” and yet Jesus has no problem doing it.  Why not?

One – because that is who God is.  Regardless of our experiences, God is our Father.  He wants to be known as our Father.  He instructs us to address Him as such when we pray.  Our experiences do not dictate who God is.  For a relativistic culture this is difficult to grasp.

Two – because that is who this woman needs.  She needs a father to love her.  Perhaps she never had one or never had a good one.  That doesn’t change the fact that she needs a good father.   She needs someone to protect her, provide for her, love her, spoil her, bless her, give her an identity, and claim her. 

The same is true today.  There are plenty of men and women who have had no fathers or terrible fathers.  And the results are devasting for them.  Bad dads are the most common denominator when it comes to poverty, crime, low education, drugs, and sexual promiscuity.  We need fathers.  We need good fathers. 

We have great news for those with no father.  We have great news for those whose picture of a father is lacking at best.  Psalm 68:5 says God is “a father to the fatherless.”  Romans 8:15-16 says, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption.  And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’.  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are the God’s children.”

What a great Father we have!  What a great Gospel we have to share with a world that desperately needs a great Father!  “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1

Far from offensive is it to proclaim God as He has revealed Himself.  Far from insensitive is it to hide this loving Father from hurting people.  Oh the healing, the joy, the life, the forgiveness that is forfeited by not calling God, Father! 

Who do you know that needs a good Father?  This Father’s Day, be insensitive.  Share your Heavenly Father with them.

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Called To Be Strangers We Are

star wars yodaWho wants to be Yoda?  Small in stature and green to boot.  He’s bald and got hobgoblin ears.  Powerful in the force is he, but English syntax is not his strong suit.  Let’s face it, Yoda is strange and nobody wants to be strange.

We really want to fit it.  As much as we might desire to be different from others and express ourselves, we generally express ourselves in the same manner.   I’ve spent most of my adult life working with teenagers.  Now I have two of my own and I can tell you –  standing out is not high on their priority list.  From the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, even what time they show up at an event is about not standing out.  And what is true of teenagers is true of adults.  Adults, though less concerned about their music, are more concerned with opinions and being thought us as “open-minded” and “intelligent”.  I’ve seen grown men and women deny their faith in order to fit in.  Truth be told, I’ve seen churches, even entire denominations give up their Biblical identity just to be part of the crowd.

I’ve read and heard people talk about America being “post-Christian” for about 10 years, but I didn’t really believe it until this past election.  I believe them now.  After watching several denominations take unbiblical stances on marriage and sexuality, remain silent on issues of right and wrong, give way to political correctness, and concede the authority of Scripture and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, it is no surprise the culture has moved in the direction of paganism in the name of tolerance.  And, unfortunately, many adult Christians have gone right along with the culture in order to fit in.

The time has come for the church to remember who we are and what we are called to be.  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

God has always made His people distinct so that they would be different from the culture around them.  The Bible has a word for being set apart for God.  The word is “holy.”  Fitting in with the world has never been an option.  In fact, a sure sign that you are missing it, is that you go right along with the world.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Jesus said his disciples were in the world, but not of it.  I am afraid we have forgotten who we are.  And by forgetting our set apart nature, Christians have failed to be salt and light in this world.  We have failed to declare the truth about who God is and live by His Holy Spirit.  That is why the culture around us is deteriorating exponentially. 

After Peter writes this resume for  Christians, in the next breath he says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world…”  He just called us Yoda.  People should be looking at Christians like we are from another planet.  They should see in us a holiness that is not from these parts.  Any concept of doing what the world does in order to fit in is at odds with being a Christian.  It’s time for each of us to examine ourselves.    Are we trying to fit in with the culture around us?  Are we, in order to fit in, sacrificing our identity and denying our Lord?  James, 4:4 asks, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God?”  Have we forgotten who God has called us to be?

I believe we are living in a time where the difference between following Christ and and fitting in with the norms of the culture will be stark.  Issues and life choices are going to be light and darkness.  Fitting in for Christians is not an option any longer.  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” 

Even in Star Wars, Yoda is strange.  Have you ever noticed another Yoda?  There are plenty of Ewoks, Wookies, humans, droids, but Yodas?  Aliens and strangers called to be we are.

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What Happens In December Stays In December

chrsitmas boxesI asked in my last post why our culture celebrates the birth of Jesus when the rest of the year it is so threatened by His existence?

I believe the answer is simple.  We do this because we live compartmentalized lives.  We have separate boxes for all the areas of our lives.  “This is my box for work, my box for home, friends, hobbies, church, etc.  We can move in and out of our boxes without any thought as to whether they are congruent.  There doesn’t need to be consistency from one sphere of life to another.  In fact, one box doesn’t even have to effect another.  We keep our lives divided up, nice and neat.  Much like the apps on a smart phone.  We’ll just open one when we need it and close it when we don’t.  To go one step further, we’ll take what we like of one compartment, and leave what we don’t like.  

We do that with Jesus.  We take Him out of the box for December, but as soon as January comes around – back in the box He goes.  What happens in December stays in December.

Reminds me of NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby when he says, Dear baby Jesus“I like the baby Jesus.  You can pray to the bearded Jesus or the teenage Jesus if you want.  But I prefer the baby Jesus.”  Our culture prefers the baby Jesus.  We bring Him out once a year and place Him in the manger.  The baby Jesus is a good reminder that we need peace on earth and good will toward men.  We light a few candles, sing some familiar hymns, and then we put Jesus back in the box so we can get on with our lives.  We’ve visited our Jesus compartment for the year, now we can put Him away.  Yep, Away In A Manager: the little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.  And we like it that way.

The culture likes Jesus that way because the baby Jesus does not require anything from us except a few oohs and awhhs and perhaps 60 minutes in a crowded church service on Christmas Eve.

The prophet Isaiah is one of the first to see who the Messiah is and he doesn’t compartmentalize Him.    In 9:6-7 he writes, For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulders.  And He will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end,  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

We like to hear that a child is born and a son is given.  And we love the names that He will be called.  They have a nice ring to them.  Especially when Handel sets them to music.  This is the Jesus we celebrate. 

But what’s this stuff about the government being on His shoulders?  Isn’t mentioning Jesus and government in the same sentence a violation of the constitution?  What’s the deal about His government increasing without end?  He is going to rule and establish justice and righteousness forever.  That sounds oppressive.  

Isaiah is letting us know there is no compartment box that is left untouched by Jesus.  No part of your life, my life, all of life that Jesus will not order and establish.  His rule and reign will continue to increase and spread.  He is King over the whole world.  Everything will be under His government and peace.  Jesus will order and establish judgment and justice in this world forever, without end.  God is zealous to make it so.

But the world and individuals in it are not so zealous.  We want His peace to increase without end, but not His government.  The problem with that is it’s a CH100000package deal.  The peace is a result of His government.  But the world does not want Jesus in charge.  A baby Jesus, no problem.  It’s very Hallmark. Wrap it up, put a bow on it, we’ll take it.  But a King increasing his reign without end, I’m sorry but that’s not going to work for us.  We like being in charge.

Have you ever had this thought: “I don’t want Jesus to be in charge of all my compartments.  He can have a few, but not all.  This is my kingdom, not His.  If I take Jesus out of the box and allow His government to increase with no end in my life, I will have to live differently.  I will have to surrender control.  He wants to be King over all of me without end?  That’s asking too much.”  And so, back in the box Jesus goes.

However, there are big problems with putting Jesus away with the Christmas decorations.  What do you think some might be?

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Christmas: Why the Big Deal?

christmas_christ_mangerAs a pastor, I have a confession.  I’ve been a bit confused about Christmas.  Why is this event such a big deal in our culture?  Why have stores been ready for this since mid-October?  Why are streets decorated with lights, houses have live trees inside, people are wearing tacky sweaters?  Why do kids get out of school for 2 weeks?  Why are radio stations playing that awful Paul McCartney song over and over?  What is all the fuss about?

I could understand if it was about a fat man in a red suit with flying reindeer breaking and entering all over the world in one night leaving gifts and eating cookies.  That would warrant a fuss in our culture for sure.  But even if it was, what would inspire that plump person to such activity? 

I get that we celebrate Christmas because it is the birth of Jesus.  But why is our culture so willing to celebrate the birth of a man they exclude, separate from, and ignore for the rest of the year?  That is what I’m confused about.  Why does our culture celebrate someone being born when the rest of the year it is so threatened by His existence?

We don’t mention him in public settings.  We don’t mention him at work.  We certainly don’t bring Him up in a school.  And God forbid, we talk about Him in the same breath as the government. 

I’d love to hear some answers if you have them.

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The Favor of God?

At the risk of sounding like Joel O’Steen, how would you like to have the favor of God?  Would you welcome an angel to show up and tell you, “You are highly favored of God.”  That’s what happens to Mary.

mary and angelLuke records it this way, “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (1:26-28)

Many of us think that if we had the favor of God, our lives would be great.  That’s how we interpret our circumstances. When things are working out for us we feel like God’s favorite.  Good circumstances and we feel loved and favored by God.  Bad circumstances and we think, “why doesn’t God love me?”  Can you relate?  But if we actually examine that thinking in light of Scripture, we will find that our circumstances and the love and favor of God don’t usually go together the way we think they should.  Let’s take a closer look at Mary. 

“Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:29-33)

That sounds pretty great.  But look at the circumstances she is put in because she has found favor with God.  Mary is maybe 15 yrs old and pregnant.  She is engaged to be married so this is going be very difficult to explain.  Can’t you hear her parents and friends, “Sure you’re still a virgin, right.”   But explaining it is the least of her worries because being unmarried and pregnant is a capital offense.  The law says to stone her to death. 

She has become the best bit of gossip in town.  Everyone will be yippin’ about her.  She will be an outcast and probably carry a stigma for the rest of her life.

Her fiance gets cold feet (for good reason) and wants to call the whole thing off and has to have an angel show up to convince him to still marry her.  Talk about a shotgun wedding.  And then no marital benefits until after the baby is born.  You don’t think that caused issues for these newly weds?

It’s no wonder Luke tells us that Mary “hurried” and got out of town.  She spent three months with her cousin Elizabeth. And here is some favored circumstances – 2 pregnant women under one roof.  (God may have done Zechariah a favor by shutting his mouth until John was born!)

christmas pictures 005Mary finally goes home but 6 months later, the govt orders a census.  She’s in no condition to travel, but can’t stay at home because of her stigma.  So she walks/rides a donkey to Bethlehem.  That trip is going to put you into labor.  The whole way she has got to be praying for a place to lie down, a place to have this baby.  (Have you ever prayed for a parking space?)  She has to be thinking “This is the Son of God, I don’t need the Ritz-Carlton, but come on Lord, I know You are going to provide.” They arrive in Bethlehem and there is no place for them except a cave that reeks with animals.

“Greetings, you who are highly favored.  The Lord is with you.”  Are you kidding?  After all of this you can understand v.29 “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”  When we look at her circumstances we might question whether God really loves and favors her or not. 

 And it’s not just Mary.  The Bible is full of this kind of thing.  In the Old Testament,  Joseph dreams of ruling over his brothers, but his brothers sell him into slavery and later he is thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  Moses thinks God is going to use him to deliver his people from slavery, but ends up spending 40 years as a shepherd on the backside of the desert before God calls him.  David is anointed King at the age of 12 or 13 but spends the next several years living in caves, running for his life.  And then in the New Testament, you’re not really doing your job unless you are thrown in jail.  Paul could give a prison tour of the Mediterranean.  And of course there is Jesus.  He suffered and died for our sins, while He was innocent. 

How many of you still want the favor of God?

I will be the first to admit I don’t like this.  I think the love and favor of God should mean that all my circumstances work out the way I think they should.  Isn’t there a verse in Romans, “And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him”?  Yes, yes there is 8:28.  But it seems my idea and God’s idea of “good” are two different things.

When my circumstances are not working for my good, I’m the first one to start praying, “I thought you loved me? I thought I was your favorite….ok, at least top ten.  Is this your favor? Lord, do me a favor.  Don’t do me anymore favors.”  We need to rethink what the love and favor of God look like in our lives, because it doesn’t seem that our circumstances give us an accurate view.

Maybe God has a bigger view of my life than I do.  Could it be that God sees a grander picture than I can imagine and is working for my good on that scale?  That He sees needs I am unaware of?  That He is working for my good because of circumstances I can’t or won’t acknowledge?  Isn’t that why Mary is pregnant to begin with?

Whenever we begin to doubt God’s love and favor for us because of our circumstances, whenever we don’t get the raise or promotion we deserve, or get into the college we dreamed about, or ride the bench for the season, we need to go to the Word of God.  I like Psalm 103 for such occasions.  JesusOnCross_011-219x300The Lord loves us and shows us His favor in ways we can’t possibly comprehend.  He sees our biggest need – to be freed from sin and all it’s consequences, especially death.  And so, in His love and favor for us, God gives us His only Son to die in our place and give us eternal life. 

But, this is where I have such a hard time because I feel and see my circumstances.  And it is so easy to let them determine my reality.  But the reality is my feelings and circumstances change like the weather.  They come and go.  They are a terrible guide for life.  In the midst of my feelings and circumstances, I have a choice:  Do I believe them or the Word of God?  Faith is choosing the Word of God over my feelings and circumstances.  In most cases, faith is choosing the Word of God in spite of my feelings and circumstances.

Gabriel declares the Word of God to Mary.  Jesus will be called “the Son of the Most High, He will reign forever, His kingdom will never end.”  “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  (Luke 1:34) She is saying, “I’m a poor girl in a nowhere town.  I’m not even married yet.  My circumstances don’t line up with what you are telling me.”

 “The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” (1:35-37).

“Nothing is impossible with God.”  Do you believe that Word of God in spite of your circumstances?  Will you believe that Jesus is the Lord reigning over the world right now in spite of the circumstances in the news?  Will you trust that God’s love and favor is upon you even when you don’t feel it? 

 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” (1:38).  Mary chooses faith over feelings.  She chooses to believe the Word of God in spite of her circumstances.  That’s why she is highly favored.    And because she does, we receive God’s love and favor in the Son she bore on Christmas.  Merry Christmas!

Do you still want the favor of God?  Believe the Word of God over your feelings.  Let the Word of God define your reality, not your circumstances.  Allow God to show you the bigger, grander picture of your life and His love in Jesus Christ.  And when you do, like Mary, you’ll be bringing Jesus into a dark and dying world that desperately needs to hear and see the love and favor of God.

Psalm 103

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass,
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.

19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will.
22 Praise the Lord, all his works
    everywhere in his dominion.

Praise the Lord, O my soul.

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“Daddy, Is Death a Cuss Word?”

My daughter asked me that question when she was five years old. My grandmother had just died and she could see the pain and grief in our family. “No, honey,” I replied, “but it should be.”

I was reminded of her question because this past weekend I buried a ten year old boy. He is the same age as my youngest son. In fact, they played on the same basketball team at the YMCA two years ago. His name was Ryan. He was a great kid from a great family. He was full of life and energy. He was killed in a tragic accident on a playground. One minute he was playing, the next minute he was gone.

His life was short, too short. The words tragic, senseless, unbelievable just don’t communicate the depth of loss that our entire community felt when we heard what happened. This isn’t the way a young, good life is supposed to end. And the void he leaves is too big to fill, even with all our tears.

We are left asking hard questions? How could God let something like this happen? Was this God’s will? Why didn’t God do something about it? In our gut we know this isn’t right. Something tells us in our hearts that this is not the way life is suppose to be. We want answers.

I don’t pretend to have answers to all of these questions. I don’t know why we suffer tragedies like this. I don’t know why some people get cancer or die in a car accident. The world is broken. We experience pain, sorrow, despair, and tragedy. And death is no respecter of persons – even little boys. I can’t answer why God allows a freak accident to take Ryan’s life.

But I do know this: Ryan’s life, not his death, was and remains God’s will. I can’t answer why God didn’t do something that day on the playground to save Ryan’s life. But I can tell you that God did do something to save Ryan’s life before Ryan was even born.

God sees the brokenness of this world. He understands the pain, hurt, and sorrow we experience in our lives. He knows what it is like to lose a son. God experienced how tragic, senseless, and unbelievable death is and He did something about it. He sent Jesus to pay the penalty of sin so that we might live forever. And when Jesus died, God raised Him back to life. Jesus has overcome death and because He lives, we will live to.

You see, God took the long view. Can you see it from His perspective? Do you hear His words to us, “I am the resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:25-26. That is and remains God’s will for Ryan, for you, for me, for everyone! Death does not have the final word on life. Jesus secures for us eternal life. This is the hope we have in the midst of our pain and sorrow.

But our hope is bigger yet. Revelation 21:1-7, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,for the old order of things has passed away.”

5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”

It has been said, Christianity is optimism with scars. We know that this world is broken and we are broken right along with it. We bear those scars. But the scripture we read speaks of the optimism, the hope we have. It tells us what God’s will is and what He is doing about it. He is going to take this broken world and start over. A day is coming when God, Himself, will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain are gone. He is going to make all things new.

Ryan’s mom told me of a dream she had the night he died where she saw Ryan and he told her, “I’m ok. They fixed me.” She asked, “How?” He didn’t give any answers. He just grinned.

I’ve got good news. God’s not going to stop with just Ryan. He is going to fix it all. He’s going to make all things new. And so with scars on our hearts, we can say with confidence, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting? But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

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