Category Archives: Encouragment

Life Is Growing

I have not written a post in a while, and my lame excuse is that I have been too busy. I often find myself dreaming about the day when I will have finished some of my long-term goals. And then time forces me to return to the present, where everyday life seems to have turned stale, where time, along with my goals, keep rushing ahead of me. Now and then a change occurs, and life is fresh for a little while before my mind makes things look bland again. I hate it when I make things look bland.

The following is my advice and encouragement to others who have this problem.

At times when life seems to blur together into a bundle of emotions, we need to stop and breathe. We need to look at our lives as God looks at our lives—with eternity in mind. We need to see the bigger picture of God’s story, to look beyond our personal lives. Seriously, when we think that life is stale, it’s actually we who are stale.

One day everything will have changed. It sounds obvious, but we often lose sight of it. Everything won’t change in one day, but it will change—slowly and steadily. It will change meal by meal and smile by smile.

So let’s keep these things in mind as we go through each day. Life is growing. The sun is rising, and noon day is coming. Death has an end; eternity does not. God is good, and is worthy of all our praise. He is our Father and we our His children. Let us pray for strength to continue steadfast in Christ, steadfast in love and hope, steadfast in suffering, steadfast in rejoicing, steadfast in prayer, steadfast in our battle against the moral corruption of the world, steadfast in the Word, steadfast in every good thing. We have been called. So may we be faithful.

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Seven Point Five and Climbing

An American flag lay draped over a black casket that held the lifeless body of a Korean War veteran. The mausoleum was quiet until people started to cry. I saw tears puddle around eyes and heard the mourning of aching hearts. As we sang “Amazing Grace” I began to cry. I felt death’s sting, and I knew that a loved one cannot be replaced. Reflecting on many memories of the man in the casket, I know I would have acted differently had I truly acknowledged that a day was coming for my grandpa that would be his last on this earth.

I was in my bedroom sleeping when I felt a hand press against my shoulder. As my eyes lazily rolled open I turned over on my mattress to see my mother standing beside my bed.

“Joe,” she said softly, “Grandpa died.”

“He did? When?” I mumbled, still waking from sleep.

“This morning. I am going over to Grandma’s house right now.”

“Okay,” I muttered as she walked out of my room.

After hearing those words, even though all of my family expected to hear them sooner or later, I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep again, so I sat up, opened the window blinds beside my bed and looked outside. The sun was rising; the world was slowly awakening. When I first sat up I didn’t cry. We had prepared for this moment; his health had been declining steadily over the past couple of months. But as I started to reflect on my memories of him, my eyes filled with tears.

Some memories can never be forgotten, either because they are so terrifying or so beautiful. Most of my memories of Grandpa are beautiful. We used to go to his lakeside cabin in Apple Canyon in the summer, and he would take us to the beach where we would bury ourselves in sand and build sand castles to conquer the tide. When he flipped us off inner tubes attached to his speed boat, we would fly for a moment before gravity hurled us into the lake water. One night we sat in his boat and watched fireworks explode above the lake, the water serving as a mirror, doubling the colorful array. Grandpa had a big fire pit in the woods that we used to sit around in the cool of night and roast countless marshmallows. Sometimes he would take us on motorcycle rides as we sat in his side car. I smile when I remember my hand shakes with him where we would squeeze each other’s hand as hard as we possibly could before letting go. Whenever asked how he was doing, Grandpa would reply with a number on a scale of one to ten. One meant that you were doing terribly, and if you were ten it meant that you were in Heaven. Usually he was around seven or eight; his son said the lowest he’d ever heard was a two.

I remember that the last time I saw him at our family party he was happier than usual, and I still remember my conversation with him.

“Hey, Grandpa! How are you?” I asked.

“Hey, Joe! I am a seven,” he said cheerfully.

“Well I’m a seven point one,” I stated, always picking a number higher than he did.

“I am seven point five,” he quickly replied, smiling.

I don’t ever remember him rebutting with another number before as he did that day. He was steadily climbing to ten. I never said goodbye to my grandparents that night, and that conversation was the last I had with him. What if I had known that night would be the last time I would see him? Would I have loved harder? Would I have spent more time with him and thanked him for the glorious adventures we shared? Yes, I would have, had I known. But I didn’t know, and I took his life and smile for granted. I acted like life would never change, even though I knew deep down that it would. After his death I cried bitterly, not just because of the memories, but also because he was gone, and I wouldn’t be able to tell him thanks.

It’s too late to go back and alter past events. What happened cannot be changed. However, his death and every death remind me that we don’t have forever here. One day death will meet us and stretch out its gnarly hands to grab us. But this fact makes our fragile lives beautiful and worth living. When we truly realize that death is coming to us all, our souls are stirred to love deeper, to give more, and to make the most of our transient lives here.

I never really took these things to heart before Grandpa died. His death drove me to reflect on life. Now his soul has found eternal refuge, and though his body has returned to dust, his legacy lives on. He came to this earth empty-handed, and though he left it the same way, he filled so many hearts with love. Our family and many others have a blessed heritage from his life. The body in the casket is not only an ending, but also a beginning. A planted seed has to die before new life can spring up. I know I’ll see him some day, and then I’ll tell him thanks. For now, it’s up to us who still remain to build upon his exemplary life. He lives on, and if we could ask him how he is, I’m sure he’d say “Ten.”

 

A Letter to the Citizens of Earth

From an aching heart to aching hearts

Dear Citizens,

We’re all aching from and for various things, and you know that already. We’re all made in the same image, and you know that, too, even if we don’t always act like it. We’re all sinners, but sadly, all of us seem to forget that now and then, and some of us refuse to believe it. Why am I writing? Because I love you all so very much, though at times this love is hidden beneath a veil of hate. I’m sorry for that hate. Please bear with me in those dark moments, because I’m not done learning yet.

We’ve all fallen into bad habits of sinning, and I want to remind you, though many of you already know, that they can be broken. How? Through blood shed 2000 years ago on a Roman cross. How could blood save us? By working in the opposite way that sin corrupted us. (Romans 5:12-14) A perfect man disobeyed, and death was the consequence of his actions. A perfect Man obeyed, and his perfect blood dripped on a world full of sin, and so He became the propitiation for our sins, reconciling us to the Father. (1 John 2:1-2, 2 Corinthians 5:17-18) And then our Father, who spoke the curse, commanded the curse to die. And it is dying now. Let it die. Don’t hold onto it. Let it go. (1 Corinthians 15:54-55, Isaiah 25:8) The scriptures are extremely clear about these things.

I know the curse still stings. We’ve all felt it, some of us more, some of us less. We are all angry, to some extent, for having felt it at all, and in one sense we are right to feel anger. We are right to hate the pain and sorrow that our countless sins have caused. That is righteous anger, and it spurs us on to fight harder and love deeper. But we must be careful to not let this anger boil into the anger of man. (James 1:19-21, Ephesians 4:25-27, Ecclesiastes 7:9)

There is a clear dividing line between righteous anger and unrighteous anger. The former motivates us to throw off the “sin which clings so closely,” (Hebrews 12:1). The latter promotes sin. We are wrong to hold onto the angers of man because these are the angers that cause sin. These are the angers that we loved when we nailed Jesus to the cross. We are wrong to feel these angers because Christ told us to rejoice, because the Father sent His Son into the heart of these angers, and then joy sprang up in the midst of them. This joy is only leaven right now, and that is why we still feel the sting of sin. But when the whole lump of bread is leaven the sting will be gone, and none of us will remember it. But all of us who live our whole lives holding onto unrighteous anger, thinking that pain is better than joy, will feel the overwhelming pierce of joy when it has grown full, and will ache for more of it, but will never be satisfied.

And now I would like to address some of you specifically.

To those who are faithful in Christ: Thank you so much for loving God, spreading the joy of his salvation and for using your gifts to build the body of Christ. And thanks for all the other lovely things you do. Without you all, I’d be a total wreck. God is so good! Please continue steadfast in the LORD, committing all your ways to him. (Proverbs 3:5-12) I’ll try to do the same.

To those who hate God or think he doesn’t exist: I am sure you have your reasons for what you believe. I would encourage you to reflect on life as a whole, if you haven’t already. Life is miraculous, and our hands can’t prove and explain everything. If you can find meaning in living your whole life rejecting God or hating Him, then go ahead and live your life that way, so long as you love your neighbor as yourself. I am angry that you live the way you do, and I wish you would believe in God, but I won’t, and can’t force you to do so. Only God can change your heart. Always remember that you have been loved from the beginning of the world, and will be loved for eternity. And know that you are commanded, called, and invited to come and join the body of Christ. If you’re thirsty, we’ll give you a drink. Keep in mind, though, that there is a date set for the wedding feast, and one day it will be too late to join us, even if you want to.

To those who aren’t sure which road to take: Choose life, cherish it, and live accordingly. True joy is found in Christ, and He spoke His Word so that you could take hold of it and share it with others.

God gives us all a taste of Heaven here on this earth. It is only a taste because there are goodbyes. Good must have been put at the beginning of the word goodbye as a reminder that God works for good even through a bye, because a bye is a sharp word. Often we cry when we say goodbye, and it seems that the only true comfort is to remember that separation is only for a time. This world is the only taste of Heaven the unbeliever will ever know, but for us who believe, it is just the beginning. This world is the only taste of Heaven that an unbeliever desires, but for us who believe, we ache for the day when we will stand at Christ’s feet and cast our crowns before him, and we will be satisfied.

God’s Kingdom may seem small at times, but it is growing. So be a part of it, or you’ll die an old miser who refuses all the love bestowed upon him.

Finally, enjoy every laugh and don’t forget to sing and smile. Love every person you meet and stare with grace at all the eyes you see. If you don’t do this, you will be filled with regrets that will walk with you all the way to death. Soon things will change. Familiar faces will have moved away. A loved one will have died. And every opportunity that you don’t take hold of now will soon be gone. Forget the frowns that will soon be no more, and reflect on Christ’s wisdom. You have a choice. Choose life and cherish it. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Love,

Your fellow citizen

Greater Things Are Coming

As N.D. Wilson (2013) said in his book Death By Living, “Life is here. Life is now.” (p. 185) Of course life is here right now, we might think. No big deal. But these words are profound, and we should consider them. We so often get lost in looking at the future with worldly eyes, thinking that things will be better if and when we get more. But things will only be better with Christ, and when we leave Christ out of the picture things will only get worse.

If only I were married, then my life would be so much better. If only I had more money or a better job. If only I had a nicer house and more bookshelves filled with more books. If only I could . . . STOP. Seriously, take a step back and look at the big picture. God made a canvas, and he is breathing life into it. He created light to spread across the heavens and the earth. He made you and me. In his infinite love he died for the whole world. He rose so that death would swallow itself. He ascended and is reigning at God’s right hand to subdue all his enemies. We, his friends, are called to reign with him. He is our father, and we are his heirs.

We are often lured into the trap of materialism, especially in America. More. More. More. This is the world’s way of thinking, and if we are wearing it, then we need to throw it off. Die for others, don’t live for yourself. That is the only way to truly live. Give what you have so that you have less, because then, and only then, you will receive more. We are called to look to Christ and be about our Father’s business. Well, Jesus’ life is our Father’s business. And the reward for serving God is Christ himself. Is that not enough?

We should wait expectantly for Christ, but we must not think that somehow a year from now, even if Christ has not returned, everything is going to be perfect. Even though I have a hard time loving my brothers and sisters, when I get married I will definitely be able to love my wife without difficulty. No. The cross is hard for us to follow now, and it will be difficult for us to follow then. But there is hope. We can be encouraged.

Christ is sanctifying us to be like himself. Every day we sin less and less. We are growing stronger every second. And every second death consumes more of itself. Next year, if we continue steadfast in Christ, we will be stronger over sin than we are now. That is something to be thankful for. Jesus’ yoke is light, and the only reason we are struggling is because we are stilling wearing parts of our old yokes, yokes of sin. But as we throw off these weighty yokes and put on the yoke of life that is Christ, the path of life is easier for us to follow. So even though following Christ a year or two from now will still be difficult, it will be easier.

Be realistic about the future. Life is not going all downhill from here as some would have us think; rather it is traveling steadily uphill towards Christ for us who believe in Christ. Uphill is hard, but sore muscles are stronger muscles in the end. And when our legs can’t take us any farther, then we have finished the race. We will be richly rewarded if we finish the race because Christ has promised that everyone who runs this race gets a beautiful reward. Christ has promised.

Our father sets life and death before us every day to test our hearts. Choose life. Choose the furnace that will burn your dross away. Choose to run uphill. I warn you. If you choose life, then you will experience tribulation, and the fiery furnace will sting, and all of your muscles will ache, but all these things are momentary. They will pass away because a greater weight of glory is coming. So choose life, and remember that you don’t have to do all these things by yourself. You couldn’t if you tried. Lean with all your weight on Christ, and know that the body of Christ is here to suffer and rejoice with one another. Live now with these things in mind, and look ahead to greater things to come. Greater things are here now, and more are coming second by second.

So . . . serve God and he will grant your desires. Buy books and read them. Enjoy life with your wife. Make your home a fortress of life. Build on rocks, not sand. Trust in Christ, our rock fountain of living water. Build a sand castle next to the ocean and watch the waves topple it. Build your life on Christ and watch the devil flee.

“And God said, ‘Let There be Light.’”

“Where are we? From where have we come? Is there purpose in all that we see?” asks the wondering heart.

If you will, join me in contemplation. I will attempt to give satisfactory answers to these questions. You are free to disagree. You are free to criticize. And Christ has set you free to believe.

As I am sure you are already quite aware and sure of, we are all (except the NASA monkeys) on a swirling mass called earth. This earth was created by God, who made us, shaped us, and called us his sons and daughters.

“The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” (Proverbs 16:4)

This purpose is only made clear through Christ Jesus’ Spirit in our lives, and though our sin blinds us from full visibility, God is sanctifying his people to be perfect like himself.

If a man does not accept the truths mentioned above, then where does his hope lie? Does he have an eternal, never-fading hope? If he rejects God and blasphemes the Holy Spirit, it would be better for him if he had never been born, for God’s judgement is severe. Yet God is merciful, gracious, and patient. He gave us now so that we might turn from our sin, and our sin, no matter how great, is not too big for God.

If we are to begin to at least faintly understand our purpose here and the purpose God had for creating us and the grand universe in which we exist, then we need to accept the absolute that God is I AM, and that His Word is truth. We must know and believe that God sent his one and only son to die for us and reverse the curse of sin. Through his death and resurrection we are justified.

Surely, you may reason, that purpose can be found elsewhere – away from all of this religion. Yes, you are correct. For even the greatest tyrants have their purposes. Yet this begs the question, what purpose are we talking about here? We are talking about God’s purpose for us and this universe. Many have trouble getting past the fundamental truth of “an all good God who allows bad things,” and so refute Christianity as a religion for hypocrites. Yet at the same time they approach the “problem of evil” without a sure knowledge of what is good and what is evil. For those of you who enjoy math this is like trying to do Calculus without having learned Algebra – without ever having learned that 1+1 = 2. It’s like driving a car with no gas or oil. It’s like eating food with no mouth.

The LORD is a God of love, mercy, grace, faithfulness, truth, humility, and all virtue. In Ephesians it says, “But God being rich in mercy, because of his great love for us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive in Christ.” Who has heard of a man loving his evil neighbor to the point of death? Christ has done this for the whole world, though we despised and hated him fiercely. (Romans 5:6-8)

You might still be thinking, “But how could a good God who is sovereign over all things allow evil in the world?” This is a very reasonable question, and it’s not necessarily even caused by doubt. The answer in some ways is simple, but let me first ask another question. If you wrote a story with good and evil characters, how would you answer the same question one of your characters is asking you?

“Hey, author! Would you answer a question for me?” a hero of your story asks.

“Sure, I’d love to,” you say.

“Why did you have to create all these enemies that burn and pillage our farms? Life would be much better without them. Everlasting peace would be the permanent state of life.”

Do you then say, “Oh no! My character found out that I am really evil because I created barbarians and arsonists in my story!” Or do you tell your character this, “Well, if evil, grief and pain never existed in my story, then there would be no way to understand goodness, joy, and health. But listen, I have very good news for you, your wife, your little ones, and every hero like you. At the end of the story, I will destroy all the bad characters and give everlasting life to every hero. Also, every hero will be made perfect and their death will be the deliverance from this world of transient joy and seemingly never ending woes. I won’t even remember all the bad things you did. This will work very well because you will have experienced evil, and though you will not remember what you have been saved from, that is evil and sin, you will remember what you have been saved to, that is everlasting life. Do you like that? If you do, then keep on being righteous!”

We may not ever know why God didn’t make the night for light and the day for darkness, or why he drew shades of light and dark on the canvas of the world in ways that we cannot comprehend, but we may believe with total assurance that everything has had and will have a purpose, just as death was made to test life and then swallow itself, as it is presently doing. Although it is easy for us to add evil to a “very good” story, it would be impossible for us, in our sinful state to create a perfect story, as God does, using evil as one of the colors. In other words, it is easier for us to paint a big black streak on a white canvas than it is to complete a painting using that black, ugly streak as part of a glorious and beautiful painting. That is because we are sinners, but God, in his mercy, through His Spirit, is sanctifying those who believe in Him. He is helping us to see how he is drawing His story. It is important to realize that this painting is not yet completed. The paint has dried in certain areas, but in many places it is still wet, and we can’t even see how much is still left to be painted. (N.D. Wilson inspired some of these thoughts when he talked about the “wet concrete of time” in his book Death By Living) But we can trust in the LORD, because He is the Triune God who breathed a canvas from nothing, and is using darkness that will eventually be all dried to emphasize the beauty of light, which won’t stop growing brighter.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning the first day.” (Genesis 1: 1-5)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1: 1-5)

Thus, in the end and even if it doesn’t seem like it, God uses all things for his glory and, as Romans 8:28 declares, works out all things for good to them that love Him and are called according to His purpose. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that somehow understanding this makes all of the pain and sorrow go away. By no means! Trials are the fires of our sanctification. They are the embers which burn away our sinful dross. Yet knowing that God is sovereign over all things does make the pain bearable – just as the perishable wreath gives the runner motivation to finish the race. And we will receive a reward in due time. We have and are receiving the imperishable reward of eternal life with Christ. So keep on keeping on. As Josh Groban would say, “Don’t give up. Because you. Are. Loved.”

If you find your purpose in living to gain more money or more things or more happiness or more power, then I warn you that you will never find eternal fulfillment. Lust can never be satisfied, and Sheol will press on you until your soul is devoured. Think about the end of your actions. What is the end of your life’s grand plans and achievements? When your legs tremble beneath you and you struggle to take your final breaths, what will matter the most to you? Now is the time to seek and find. Ask and be given. Seek eternal peace. Ask for eternal life. As long as you are here, it’s not too late.

We may wonder why our lives have to be so long. I struggle with this question. How long, LORD? How long do we have to live here? But we should remember that there is purpose in every second that we live under the sun, and that we are truly blessed to be here. There is meaning in every breath. And just as living was for Paul the Apostle, it should be for us. To live is Christ. To die is gain. God knows how long we must remain, so we must trust him. And remember, life is short. Lay down your life for Christ, because then, and only then, you can pick it up and truly live.

Praise the LORD Almighty, for he is marvelous. All history past, present, and future, including the lives of you and me, whom He made to share with Him in His glory, is His story.