On this Good Friday evening in the city of Daejeon, South Korea I am thankful that there is more than just the moon lighting the way on this dark, beautiful, scandalous night.
"O Thou who indwellest in our poor and shabby human life, lifting it now and then above the dominance of animal passion and greed, allowing it to shine with the borrowed lights of love and joy and peace, and making it a mirror of the beauties of a world unseen, grant that my part in the world's life today may not be to obscure the splendor of Thy presence but rather to make it more plainly visible to the eyes of my fellow men." --John Baillie
The above quote is from A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie. This is a book of morning and evening prayers that I have recently incorporated into my devotional life. I am loving it. I want to do my part--so I share it with you.
Cry out for...
Proverbs 2:1-5 (NLT)
My child, listen to what I say,
and treasure my commands.
Tune your ears to wisdom,
and concentrate on understanding.
Cry out for insight,
and ask for understanding.
Search for them as you would for silver;
seek them like hidden treasures.
Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord,
and you will gain knowledge of God.
Everybody has doubts at one time or another…even John the Baptist.
Matthew 11:1-5 (NIV)
After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.
When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"
Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”
“God in Christ doesn’t come among us to meet our expectations, but to save us from our sins.”—Eugene Peterson
We all have a lot of questions and that is ok. John’s questions in Matthew 11 are spoken from a jail cell. He is hours away from losing his life and he knows it. Oftentimes our questions come with expectations of how they should be answered by God. We must be careful to not let our expectations supersede our faith and trust in the answer—Jesus Christ.
“Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." Matthew 11:6 (NIV)
Here are a few things to reflect upon this Good Friday. The cross of Christ and the empty tomb should not be considered independent of one another. In the cross of Christ and the Resurrection we find a God who truly knows the extent of our sufferings, who redeems us from the pit of our sins and makes us new, now and forever more.
“In the cross of his Son, God took upon himself not only death, so that man might be able to die comforted with the certainty that even death could not separate him from God, but still more, in order to make the crucified Christ the ground of his new creation, in which death itself is swallowed up in the victory of life and there will be ‘no sorrow, no crying, and no more tears’.” (The Crucified God by J. Moltmann)
Finally, please take a moment to listen to the song, "To a Broken God" by Michael Card. The lyrics are below. Have a Good Friday.
Didn’t see you there, didn’t know you were weeping too;
I think of tears as a human wound.
Though of course you care, you have shown you were human too;
They say you cried at Lazarus’ tomb.
I was unaware how it is with a broken God;
I thought of you as above my pain.
Lost in my despair, so it is with a broken heart;
I never dreamed you could feel the same.
In a magazine I saw a face,
Wrinkled up in grief and travailed grace.
I kept looking to that face,
Some sad refugee in some sad place;
And in his eyes the sorrow of our race.
And then I saw, it was the face of God,
the face of God, your face dear God.
Some say you’re not there, just a myth for a lazy life;
An artifact from an ancient scroll.
But I have known you near in the gift of a weary sigh;
Lord of the lost and the lonesome soul.
I was unaware how it is with a broken God;
I never dreamed you could feel the same.
It just doesn't get much better than the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Charlie and that tree of his will forever hold a special and formative place in my heart and life. I love Linus's simple and heartfelt recitation of Luke 2 in response to Charlie Brown's exasperated cry, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" If you haven't watched this classic cartoon yet this year, you should.
I wonder...what would God say in response to the question: "What is Christmas all about?"
I think that God would say that Christmas is all about His love for you and me.
"Imagination is the greatest gift God has given us and it ought to be devoted entirely to Him." --Oswald Chambers
Last Saturday I attended an International Festival (I-Fest) that was hosted and sponsored by the International Christian School that I work at here in South Korea. The weather for the event was perfect and the campus was filled with people that were enjoying themselves as they visited the various booths, games and activities that were featured at “I-Fest.”
There were lots of child focused events at the festival like face painting, a dunking booth, balloon animals, carnival games and even a rickshaw ride. In the midst of all of the festival activities I noticed two cute little kids playing in the dirt. I don’t know if they were building castles or making cakes, but it was evident to me that they had bypassed the alluring world of cotton candy and carnival rides and had entered the indescribable realm of imagination.
As I looked at the children and considered their obvious joy and contentment at playing “make-believe” in the dirt, I couldn’t help but think that they had something that I desperately needed in my own life—imagination.
Imagination is something that adults are all too quick to write off as a childish attribute. The world is too serious. It is a place where rational thinking is deemed reality, all things are explainable, and “pretending” is replaced by materialistic “things” and amusement. As the bells and whistles of “stuff” go off all around, the call of creativity is stifled and imagination is relegated to the realm of entertainment. This is not how it should be for a follower of Christ.
Jesus speaks of the necessity of having a childlike faith as it relates to following him. "Imagination" is a childlike trait that must be realized in the faith of a Christian believer. In Hebrews 11:1 it says, "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and confident of what we do not see." In other words, it says that Christians are to engage the world of reality around them with a strong dose of hope-filled imagination.
Throughout the New Testament, the Apostle Paul makes reference to the "mystery" of Christ and to the "mystery" of the Gospel. Words like "imagination" and "mystery" are not terms that are only reserved for fairy tales and fantasy. They are integral to the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. Eugene Peterson says, “For Christians, whose largest investment is in the invisible, the imagination is indispensable, for it is only by means of the imagination that we can see reality whole, in context.”
God is the giver of all good things and the element of "imagination" is a unique and treasured gift that He has given to humankind. Within the realm of "imagination" the unseen becomes visible, peace is realized in the clamor of the world around, and there is a conception of hope in the unknowing glance at the future.
Just like the little children at I-fest, Jesus played in the dirt too. Instead of making mud pies, he made mud and healed the blind. Imagine that...
Backward, turn backward, O time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for tonight.
--Elizabeth (Akers) Allen
I heard this poem in a sermon this morning and it got me thinking....
"The Merchant of Venice", William Shakespeare
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's,
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
Jude 1:20-23 (NIV)
But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
James 2:12-13 (NIV)
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
Matthew 5:7 (NIV)
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
As a kid, one of my favorite things to do at Christmas time was to take an evening drive with the family and look at the Christmas lights and decorations on the neighborhood houses in our town. I remember how the car windows would fog up with condensation and I remember how we would inch along with the rest of the traffic, taking a long look at the really “good” displays.
Now I have a family of my own. During the years that we lived in the United States we would load up the car and take a tour of the Christmas lights of the city. We knew where the really good subdivisions were and we “oohed” and “aahed” our way through the neighborhoods with the hundreds of other cars. In the days preceding Christmas my daughters would ask, “When are we going to go see the lights?” I loved driving them through the subdivisions, hearing them comment on the beautiful decorations and watching them doodle pictures on the fogged up side windows of the car.
These days we live in a large city in South Korea. We don’t have a car, we get around by taxi and subway and there are no subdivisions to drive through. The city is full of tall twenty story apartment buildings and there are very few Christmas lights on display as they would pale in comparison to the lights and signs of the stores, shops and businesses in the urban environment.
However, we have found one place where there are lots of cool Christmas lights. The downtown area of the city has an elaborate display of decorations and these combined with the thousands of people walking throughout the shopping area make it a very festive place to visit during the Christmas Season. Last year we enjoyed the lights of downtown and we looked forward to seeing them again this year.
As I reflect on my childhood memories of driving around and seeing the lights I realize that I can’t remember what a single light display looked like. As I think about my experience of taking my own children around the neighborhoods to look at the lights of Christmas I realize that it wasn’t about the lights—it was about the experience of being together.
When Jesus, the light of the world came upon the scene that first Christmas, the angel announced His coming by stating “peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Something very special happened on that evening in history. God came near to be together with us. God reached out to you and me with His son, Jesus Christ, to restore us unto Himself—so that we could be together with Him. The glitz, glamour and flashing lights of life fade quickly from our memories but the warmth of relationship creates a lasting impression.
Last night, my wife, my two daughters and I walked arm in arm through the spectacular Christmas lights, sounds and crowds of South Korea. I loved it. It was a great memory most of all because we were….together.