More Than You Can Handle

On one of the last days of the Olympics last week, the US Women's 4x100 team incurred an awful gaffe at the hands of an opponent. A runner from another lane bumped into a US runner during the all-important hand-off. The US team was initially disqualified because of the bad pass, and had to wait all day for the results of an appeal. After they found the appeal had been heard and the disqualification overturned, allowing them to run independently and qualify with their time, a reporter from NBC asked the runners about their anxious wait. 

"I know that God never gives us more than we can handle," said the runner, "so I was confident that it would be overturned." 

The call from the judges had been an easy one after seeing the video replay, so it makes sense that they would be given their opportunity, not because God withheld giving them some troublesome news. This idea that "God will not give me more than I can handle" comes from a bad interpretation of this verse: 

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Also commonly quoted is Romans 8:28, "that all things work out for good for those who were called according to his purpose." Notice first that the 1 Corinthians passage is about temptation, and about temptation solely, so that we know that when we are tempted, by the help of the Holy Spirit, we can resist. There is always a way out, so we have no excuse for sin. The Romans passage is in the context of our greater salvation, in fact one the best chapters on salvation and assurance of perseverance, so that in the Lord even death can result in life eternal with God. That is good, that does work out for good. 

But let's not miss all the times in God's Word that people were given far more than they could handle emotionally. Joseph is an example, Job is an example - David chased by his own son and by Saul; David grieving his Son's death - Abraham was asked to kill his own Son - that is too much, far too much. They are called to faithfulness while enduring "this momentary affliction, preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor.4:17). Trusting in God amidst the storms that swirl o'er our heads is part of the Christian life, in fact, we need not forget that by following Christ we are called to suffer for him (Phil. 1; 1 Peter 3; Mt. 10:38). 

There will be moments of pain beyond comprehension in this world, but it is not only helpful to know, but necessary to know, what awaits the believer who trusts in the Lord. We do not have empty suffering without ultimate answers, but weighty suffering, where we acknowledge that the very pains we feel he felt also; he suffered for our sake. It is helpful to be clear about this "more than you can handle" stuff when we sit with someone who is suffering greatly: because of the loss of a loved on, a frightening diagnosis, or a trial that threatens all that they know. We should cry with them, be a shoulder to lean on, without answer or cliche. Why did this happen? I don't know. I do know it isn't because he doesn't love you. He loves you so much he would send his own Son to incur his mighty wrath in your place. That sin and that punishment was far more than I could handle - so he took it for me.  

Mark RobertsonComment
Use Your Words

This is a popular refrain amongst parents: "Use Your Words." We are asking our children to do the thing that is most biologically distinctive about us: we're asking you to put your thoughts into creative expression. As creatures made in the image of God, we not only are capable of an abundant love of one another, we are made capable of expressing ourselves and those abstract emotions in words. God's Word is not negligent of this idea, but instead makes the subject of good speech of primary importance. The book of Proverbs speaks of speech more than anything else, marking the tongue as a weapon that can build up and destroy. 

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
    but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

Like any good thing, it can be used for ill. We can use words to propel children into a confident trust in their God and the potential to tackle the world, or we can make them feel that they are nothing, a hidden poison from which they will likely never recover. Our speech reflects our hearts, as those who have a massive capacity for hate and for flourishing:

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. Matthew 15:18

Jesus' words are convicting. Our speech not only mirrors what we have truly in our hearts, but is also a muscle worth shaping towards the will of our Creator. It is alarming that in our national discourse words have been handled as if they don't matter. We have in our midst an "I'm just sayin'" attitude which seeks to eliminate personal responsibility and the truth that the Bible speaks to here: that our speech reflects our hearts. 

It's a reminder to Christians to seek pure speech (Eph. 4:25-5:2), but also that we see in others real heart orientations based on how they speak. Now, don't get me wrong, we humans are great at covering all sorts of things with false speech and flattery (Proverbs warns against flattery too), but ultimately, it doesn't hold, talk is a measure of one's character and it does have wide-ranging impact. 

Remember that when God made the Earth, in that great quiet of creativity there is also speech. It is decreed, and it is described. Then we humans, made in his image, with our dominion over the creation, are given words to describe it, restrain it, to make it flourish. Add beauty to the earth today: use your words. 

Mark RobertsonComment
O Savior Hear Our Cry

Heal us, Emmanuel, here we are

We long to feel thy touch

Deep wounded souls to thee we fly

O Savior Hear Our Cry. 

What a week it has been. It began on the heels of terror attacks in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, and Turkey. It has ended with men killed in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas. Today another officer was shot in Ballwin, Missouri. I do want us to resist our all-too-common first inclination: to have an answer. Your Facebook feed and your news outlet of choice may be full of people with explanations, criticisms, and directions, Be not idle or apathetic, but do be slow to speak. Stillness before God is not idleness, but humility regarding your own influence and submission to a God who can bring healing.

"Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.' James 1:19-20

My quick answers do not admit my own failure to listen to people who are in pain. I speak as a white man who doesn't know what it is like to experience racism. I do not know what it is like to be held in suspicion by others because of the color of my skin. I have always been part of the privileged class. I do know others who have seen the world so differently from me, and what I can do, what ability I possess, is to be a listener. Black friends of ours, after the news a few days ago, confessed that they could not sleep. Why do their hearts ache like this? I want to sit with you and listen. Let's cry together. 

Take the time to weep with those who weep, and there are many who weep this week all over our world. Go know someone who is different from you and just listen, not so that you can respond, in all your wisdom, but just to listen. Remember that when Jesus encountered the woman at the well in John 4, it was because he had to go through Samaria. He could have gone around Samaria, like everyone else did, to avoid those people, but he went there to sit and be with those people. 

Oh, and yes, let us not forget, that you, no matter who you are, are those people. He sat with you in all your self-inflicted misery, in your sin, in all those ways they hate you, and heard your heart. He has given you a picture of a glory that is to come that is not yours by having all the answers, but by being a little crying baby in the arms of a great and mighty king. What do we do now? Go and do likewise. 

 

Mark RobertsonComment
This Liturgical Dance

John 4:23, "The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." 

Hebrews 12:28-29, "Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." 

Watching good ballroom dance is mesmerizing. And perhaps the key (if I knew the key to dancing, you would think it would be more self-evident in my so-called “dancing”) is tension between two parties. Marriage has been described as a dance, not as one party rolling over the other in a mosh pit, but two loving participants pushing gently against the other, not out of self-interest, but in leaning in to be braced against the other, supporting the other, and not relying just on self.

 

In our worship service we do a bit of a dance. In this space we explore the vertical relationship between God and man, in the context of our horizontal fellowship, us together. And while in this space, fueled by the Holy Spirit, we hear from God in Word and in sacrament, and we respond. We dance. This is not quite the same as two people dancing, two who are equal, but in this dance we are invited by one who is in every way greater. He leans down to us and asks us to dance. And in his grace we should respond, not only in our words, but with our whole selves.

 

As we then prepare worship services, we do want the service to be a drama, incorporating the whole story of our sin and our redemption, acknowledging our weakness in confession and celebrating our liberation. We also incorporate the Old and New Testaments, showing that God has spoken as part of one story his very character in Scripture, revealing himself to us and inviting us into his family. We are directed in worship by The Bible itself, God revealing to us how we should worship him. This means that our worship will make sense, it (we hope) will not feel arbitrary, but will invite you instead to participate in this dance. As a function of this reality we will be incorporating more responsive readings in our worship, allow more time for freedom of response in worship, and be even more bodily engaged. God’s Word instructs us as to the elements of worship that are absolutely crucial, but the way they are expressed in local vernaculars will vary, and should vary, depending on where they are implemented. In other words, the Argentine tango may not fly in Poland, but there is still dance in Poland. God’s Word is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and some will preach truth in Spanish and others in Mandarin.  Further, to be open in this way is an expression of love, of invitation, to learn how to dance like our neighbors have been dancing for years. 

 

It was pointed out yesterday in a seminar I attended that it is too often the case that those who want to just celebrate in worship are reluctant to get on their knees in humble submission to God, and those who are willing to be introspective are reluctant to shout for joy. Both of these attitudes are integral in worship, that we are quiet before our God, and exuberant before the grace that he has shown. I will be a better leader in this area as we continue to grow as a worshiping body. But I do invite you too to stretch yourself (not physically stretch before worship, that would be weird), but do be ready to be engaged in worship. Get ready for the dance. 

Mark RobertsonComment
The Long View

In Jeremiah 32, the Lord instructed the prophet Jeremiah to buy a field at a fair price. But how could this be! Jeremiah had also been told of the destruction that was to come to Jerusalem, and how God's people would be given into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. What, then, is the purpose? Jeremiah prays for clarification: I don't see it, God, what's the logic here? 

It's a matter of trust. God's Word is always true; and what he says did come to pass. The exile in Babylon would last 70 years, a lifetime. What would that look like for us if we were told, your prosperity will end, your control will end, and you will given into the care of those who are enemies of God. That is chaos! 

Our feathers become ruffled when the slightest of antagonisms come our way. We want to be culture shapers, and hate when are not. We want to be respected, and hate when we are not. We are not fans of taking the long view. 

Violence is real and ever present, hatred still exists among people from every corner of the globe. And in our nation there is little hope in these political figures to be able to make changes for good. There is so much that is just messy. And we are to pursue righteousness, justice, and truth in these times (Micah 6:8; Jeremiah 29); they are not lost as a phantom in the wind, but they concern people made in God's image and a world that he created in splendor! Love it, care for it, love your neighbor, and when they reject you, do not despair! They rejected our Lord, do you recall? 

We, like Jeremiah, can pray for understanding, and yet may be kept in the dark as to what's going on. We are called to faithfulness, despite external circumstances: in fact, dying to self and our comforts is as prevalent a New Testament theme as anything else. And it isn't just, see through the rainy day and making something good of it: it's rather, always take the long view. God is doing something, and is in control. Our need to explain it may be assuming prophetic knowledge that isn't ours, while our need to smooth it over may reflect a need for comfort that isn't ours either. Instead, o believer, rise from the dead. And know that's God promises are never null and void, but that you too, have been redeemed, and he is gathering his people to live in that heavenly city whose king is the Lord forever. 

Jeremiah went and bought that field, put the deed in an earthenware vessel, and buried it. He would never see its fruits, and didn't need to, but he knew that someone would, by the absolute grace of God. For God had promised this concerning his people sent into exile: 

"I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and soul." Jeremiah 32:37-41

 

Mark RobertsonComment
From Death to Life

In the famous Greek drama The Odyssey, Achilleus, who has been doomed to the Underworld, makes this stark statement: 

By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man . . . 
than rule down here over all the breathless dead.

I think this points to a couple of things that are really true: we're made for life (that sounds like the most obvious statement ever made, but follow me on this one). So often we conceive of Heaven as being lifeless: souls floating around in some sort of primordial ether that will be so foreign that it can't possibly be enjoyable. But the description of our glorified bodies, perfected ethics, and worship of God in community are so so human. Not fallen human, but human. We were made in the image of God, we're told, why would not our glory be expressive in ways that we really do understand? Like the prodigal son who returns home, we, as Achilleus too recognizes, life is what we're searching for - and in Christ, life we have. Continual, unending life that will not only echo in eternity, but we will fulfill all hopes in life that we share in present reality. 

Our ambitions will be clear of all death as well - we won't say, "I wish I could just be invisible so that I could take whatever I want, or do dastardly things." Because if you've done them, you know even experientially in the present, they end in death, in emptiness. 

In Ephesians 2:1-10, we find a kind of before and after. We were once dead, even those who believe - our condition is dire! Not only are we dead in our sins, but we in the least metaphorical way possible, do actually die. Centuries past got this far better than we do now, look at the gravestones: skulls and crossbones - you're dead, that's it. You either have life in God or you are still dead in your sins - and that means punishment, eternally separated from God. 

And yet, the story for the Christian finds a different end, not because of our own worthiness (vss. 8-10), but because of Christ's righteousness: we're given life.  What we aren't proclaiming here is a new way to live - do this, and you'll feel better. But rather we saying something far more dramatic but far more accurate: you're a flatliner without God. And in Adam we're flatliners, all mankind. We share this in common. But there is a way to life: and it's by the one who gave his life for us.

I had someone say to me recently, "I should go to church more, because I could learn more about what kind of morals I should have, and I want my kids to know about morals too." I assured him, you most likely won't hear something morally you don't already know. Don't cheat, don't steal, don't murder. You know that somehow. Come and receive life in his name.  

Mark RobertsonComment
One Great Big Story

I don't know why it is that we miss the continuity of the Old and New Testaments; we tend to apply different attribute to Gods, neglect God's people pre-Christ, and pretend as if God's plan has been altered due to worldly circumstances. But one crucial truth remains; it has always been God's plan to rescue sinners by the blood of Jesus. Even from within the pain of the Fall, we see a promise (Gen. 3:15), and then shortly a plan to bless the world, to grow a great big church through one man Abraham (Gen. 12). The book of Galatians, and Romans, and Hebrews, and everywhere else, shows that we are part of Abraham's family, not a new family because Plan A didn't work out. The seed of Isaac would bring the Messiah Jesus, and at his coming the Gentiles are included into that people, now the family we call the church. 

Further, now that all barriers have been broken down, just as we saw in the curtain being removed, we have God the Spirit amongst us in the church, just as God dwelt with his people in the tabernacle, then the temple. But we have full access to him as now, at the great pinnacle of the story, the Son of God paid the price for us and was raised from the dead, promising that we will follow after him in glory. Our sin (the great seperator between God and man) has been eliminated as a chasm; we're accepted, all God's people, because of the righteousness of Christ and his once-for-all offering of himself as a sacrifice for us.  In some ways, this isn't new: God has always desired to be amongst his people, he's allows made a way for sacrifices as atonement, which meant God could dwell there - but now we have a greater sacrifice (Hebrews), and one that can permanently pay for sins. 

We see the remembrance of Passover in the Old, God's passing over of sinners in destruction by the blood of the Lamb, and the Lord's Supper in the New, the meal where re remember God's passing over us in judgment because of the blood of the Lamb, Jesus. We have circumcision in the Old, God's covenant sign with his people in the Old, baptism in the New: and prayer, worship of him, meditating on God's law, looking forward to the redeemer in the Old, looking back on him in the New. 

You fit somewhere in this story, in fact, all people do, believers or unbelievers, whether those who will inherit life eternal, or those who will face judgment, still bearing the guilt of their sin. We celebrate this great mission of God, and his grace to us that while we are still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). He knew you would sin, he knew you would be lost, and he put you in his sights anyway, that you would be brought into his family. And that is a tale we could tell again and again before we drift off to sleep, and it would never get old. 

Mark RobertsonComment
I Will Praise Him Still

When the morning falls on the farthest hill
I will sing His name, I will praise Him, still.
When dark trials come and my heart is filled
With the weight of doubt, I will praise Him, still.

For the Lord, our God, He is strong to save
From the arms of death, from the deepest grave,
And He gave us life in His perfect will,
And by His good grace, I will praise Him, still. - Fernando Ortega

Mark RobertsonComment
The Joy of Singing

I was singing along to a hymn today - one of my favorites, and I was reminded of something my mother said to me a few years ago: your voice has really improved, she said, after we sang together in church. Now this is not tooting my own horn here - her compliment takes me from singing walrus to less-offensive singing walrus. I can carry a tune, but nobody's shelling out cash to hear me flex the golden pipes. 

But it is true that if you sing a lot - meaning you sing regularly in worship, at home as a family, or in your car, you do get better at it. My voice will sound better in ten years, but how will it sound after 100 years in glory? It will probably sound pretty nice. And if that's true - what about my ability to love my neighbor, or feel joy? Oh, glory, glory - come soon, Lord Jesus. We do a fine job today of minimizing both sin and glory - we like staying in the cold, grey middle, where we're not so offensive, but we strive for a bar that is more like less-offensive singing walrus. This is not good - our perfected selves and the community that we inherit because of our union with Christ - it is in a simple word, heavenly. But oh how non-Precious Moments that will be. On Jordan's stormy banks I do stand, and cast a wishful eye; To Canaan's fair and happy land - where my possessions lie. 

Mark RobertsonComment
The Handbook

We at Heights Pres. understand that the family is the first place a child must learn about Christ. The family is part of the church, the wider body of Christ, but parents have been given that responsibility of raising up their children in the fear of the Lord. The parents' connection to the wider body of Christ and to the Holy Spirit are then the necessary fuel in order to communicate the truths of the gospel to our children.

We as the church, then, are helping with this. We give you... The Handbook: Five Ways to Disciple our Children at Home. There are five categories to think through, recommendations, and biblical help. Use it any way you like and click on the 'We're In This Together' link to receive additional help or to provide your own suggestions to others. Check it out! 

Mark RobertsonComment
View from the Top

Marci and I got to spend a splendid few days in Castle Rock, Colorado with Stephen and Karen Baldwin. Stephen will be helping me along in this church planting journey and we were quite thankful for our introductory time with them and what better place to begin than in beautiful Colorado.

I am thankful for the way God calls us into relationship with others, that we might always be learning, growing, sharpening, and humbly addressing our weaknesses. Thanks be to God for his glorious provision! 

Mark RobertsonComment
Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices

"Lest Satan should get an advantage of us - for we are not ignorant of his devices" - 2 Corinthians 2:11

Puritan writer Thomas Brooks penned this classic book, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices, in the middle of the 17th century. Satan is the father of lies, so the Word tells us, and this is one of those schemes of his - to lie and plant seeds of doubt, like God doesn't really care, he doesn't value you, he doesn't truly love you. 

Satan would love to plant the doubting thought in our minds so that we might further rest in our accomplishments, and seek pleasure as a salve for pain when our own designs do not satisfy (a common condition). 

But this morning I woke to birds singing and a sun that is shining. And I know that I am not my own, but I was bought with a price, and further, that I can boast in nothing but Christ alone. Faithfulness is the goal here - even if it looks small and fragile; even though my name be rather small (and certainly feels small), we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Rom. 8:37). I thank you Lord for music to my ears, sun to my face, and the whispered kindness of my loving wife. Oh how he loves you and me! 

Mark RobertsonComment
The Long Silence

Matthew 26:60-63, ...many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, "this man said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.'" And the high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?" But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." 

Jesus' apparent blasphemy in response at this final question from the high priest Caiaphas caused the priest to tear his robe in anger. His responses, though short and almost always referential to the questioner, only incite the people further, and his long, slow, silence deafening in retrospect, as the eternal Son of God withstood injustice, mockery, and the pain of the cross. 

How quickly we mere humans are to correct a wrong about us: perhaps it's the thing that best exemplifies our self-centeredness. We find no more emotional pain than when we have been falsely accused, misunderstood, or shown to be in any negative light. We expend nuclear amounts of energy to correct these misapprehensions. This is Peter's sin, when confronted with the possibility of his connection to the criminal, he says, no not me. I will save face here, and save my life. Never could I stand, say I, for you to think less of me. And yet, we are so much less than we think, while we have a God who is perfect, and willing to be thrown to the wolves, so that we less-thans can be eternal everythings in the great family of God.

He would say, I will follow the will of my Father, and on doing so, will be reduced to a nothing. Yet by doing this, they will live; their voices will continue, their great clamor of praise to God in all their mighty churches will continue if I just be silent. You can imagine the leaders on the scene: the high priest, Pilate, and the like, thinking, careful, Jesus, you're going to get yourself killed. Only Jesus was thinking, they will be set free.

They said, 'crucify.' And he never said a mumblin' word.

The Roman soldiers played games with him. They joked about his ability to prophecy, about his royalty, and as would happen in us, he would know this injustice and want to destroy them. The difference is two-fold: he could have, and he didn't.  

He kept silent.

And yet then there is another silence that is deafening as we reflect on this Good Friday. We would have to endure the long, slow silence from the Father. Jesus carried with him our sins, and by doing so, separated himself from the Father, as was God's plan, taking the wrath of God on himself, which included a Father, whose intimacy with Son far outshines any relationship imaginable, who would not answer. There was that long and loud, painful silence. 

And on that third day, as he had predicted, the women and the disciples who would see that tomb, their silent paces turned to a thundering herd of joyful noise. And now we run, not as those escaping, but as children who run with noise, without a care in the world. 

Mark RobertsonComment
Jesus, the Church Planter

Matthew 16:18, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." 

 

Jesus told his disciples not to despair after he left them, because he was sending a comforter, the Holy Spirit, and that even then they would be better off, they would do works “greater than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). The Holy Spirit that was promised would indeed come after Jesus ascended into Heaven, and it is the Holy Spirit that drives the evangelistic work of the early church and the growth of churches all over the ancient world, to Jerusalem, Judea, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). That same Holy Spirit, that same Spirit of Christ (1 Peter 1:11), does propel the growth of the church all over the world today. Jesus is head of the church (Eph. 1&2), and we are the body. For all our efforts, it is the Lord who grows his church. And that church just isn’t going anywhere.

 

There are many alarmists ringing unnecessary alarm bells about the decline of the church, when what we’re really seeing is a decline of nominal Christianity in America. According to researcher Ed Stetzer, “The truth is that, yes, there is decline among self-identified Christians in America. According to the latest American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), the number of self-professing Christians is down 11 percent over two decades. But, that same ARIS study also revealed an actual rise in the number of evangelicals.” Evangelical churches continue to thrive in the United States, and look at the rise of the Christian faith in China, Africa, and South America. Jesus continues to grow his church. We have within us the most powerful multiplication app the world has ever seen: The Holy Spirit.

 

A winnowing is not the same as a willowing, and for the church, we see this as a positive: we don’t need to assume that our culture will sustain its Christianese, or that our civil institutions will reflect the values of the church – they haven’t done so in a long time. The church will continue to be the church, because Christ is at its head, whose powers make kings of the earth look infantile.

 

But what that means for us, the church, is that a recognition is necessary also: don’t fall into this malaise about the church, but be zealous for the church. We want your commitment to it, not for the purpose of filling buildings, but rather for the fulfilling of the great commission: to be the church universal, making disciples, whose impact changes cultures and communities. Be active. Be a toe in the body because we need a toe. Just like anything we do as the church, be fervent in the church, work hard at it, and then step back and praise God for what he has done. We are never spiritual robots, but the living, breathing, being of God’s body for the life of the world. Jesus loves church planting. He’s been doing it for a few thousand years. 

Mark RobertsonComment
Real Life

 

In 1983, the Australian synth-pop band Real Life released their hit song, “Send Me an Angel.” The song failed to gain traction outside of Australia until it was featured in the BMX racing movie Rad, which failed to receive Oscar consideration, though every teen or pre-teen male in the United States at that time knew that this was the greatest film ever made.  The movie played out on screen all of our dreams: racing glory, winning the girl, and foiling the villainous pimply bad guy.

 

Every person wants glory, everyone wants true love, and we want justice to be done: these are the hallmarks of every good story, and can be found in the greatest of novels to the simplest of movies.  But our sights are often limited by the glories introduced to us in our season of life: as we get older, these desires expand, but far too often we settle for short-sighted pleasures and self-centered comforts. If we have these, then we will be fulfilled, so we think. Consider this quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory:

 

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

 

In the short story The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the protagonist tells the tale of his change from a melancholy that would end his life to a life of purpose and selflessness. The turning point was a dream he had where he is whisked away to a faraway planet. The world looks in every way like our own, with one major difference: it’s a world without sin. The man sees their love for one another, their desire for justice, and the happiness which reigns in a world without error. He introduces to them sin, and it seems so attractive, they fall into this pit and quickly their world dominoes into the very world in which we live. The man was transformed by the dream because he had an encounter with real life. By real life I don’t mean he saw people falling into temptation and sin, but rather real life as a world without it. For if Jesus is real and the story he gives is absolutely true, then real life is that world, not quite the one we know now. It’s the one we were made for. All this sin here has taken a palace at Versailles and plastered it with cheap wallpaper. At dinner they serve chili dogs.

 

Hebrews 4:14-16

 

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 

Jesus is alive and well friends. And his ascension into heaven and sending of the Holy Spirit confirms for us his ever-living presence with us and his church. We are to be a people most connected to real life, for it is the one we know now, fueled by the Spirit. Though we do see through a glass dimly, we will see God face to face, and he has promised his presence in his church in the right now, a power not to be ignored or minimized, but a power that we embrace in all that we do. For we are no longer dead to sin, but made alive in him; we are people not just “send me an angel,” though angels are recently part of this reality, we are a people who received God himself, and he will never let us go. 

Mark RobertsonComment
Our Union With Christ and the Giving of Ourselves

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained.”

2 Timothy 2: 8-9

 

Here in this text Paul points to an important dichotomy, that of being chained and being free. As the Word of God is unchained, so too our Lord reigns in Heaven, free from the chains of death, just as he was at the time Paul composed this letter to Timothy. Paul can endure the chains, suffer, and wait in eager anticipation, only if there is another reality at work in his life. In this life he is bound, but he is united with Jesus, as are all believers. So we suffer with him, even dying to ourselves (v.11), because we will be exalted with him in glory. Our union with Christ is so strong that if we deny Jesus, as Paul tells us, then God will deny us, and if we are faithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself (v.12-13).

 

The gospel writer Matthew tells us that “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many” (20:28). So too we follow him into serving others, not because it earns us favor with God, but because we know the riches of his mercy. It is the natural outpouring of a penniless beggar who has been given immeasurable wealth. And because we know the one who has given us this wealth, and know of his trustworthiness, the pains in service or suffering are but a “light, momentary affliction, preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). We give of ourselves because Christ gave all for us. This is how, to use more of Paul’s paradoxical language, how we who are poor can be infinitely rich. The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, but lest we forget how that impacts our world around us, we’re reminded to “love your neighbor as yourself.” We love not only neighbor, but love our enemies, and serve them not out of naiveté, but out of Christ’s love and wisdom, for when we were enemies of God, he loved us, and gave his Son to bring us into the family of God.  

 

The world knows this truth on some level of course. Psychologists will tell you that nothing is more satisfying than giving of yourself, and yet we find it so hard to do!  Perhaps this is because we are, as creatures made in God’s image, made to be in service of others, but corrupted by the Fall, we tend to be servants of ourselves. Remember that you are an eternal person with an eternal reward, and encourage one another to be in service of others, by helping a friend who is struggling or by working with your child in raking an elderly neighbors’ lawn. By doing so, we proclaim loudly Christ’s love to the watching world. 

Mark RobertsonComment
Angels Among Us

The presence of angels in our world is an oft-neglected reality in Christian circles today. We do not deny their presence, as certainly they are common in the Bible (34 of the 66 books in the Bible mention angels), but we do sometimes trivialize their existence. Angels in popular culture tend to be reflected as a Precious Moments, child-like fairy creature that might leave a mint on your pillow. True angels stop the mouths of lions (Dn. 6), and they bring about that graceful, terrible awe (Luke 1:29), that brings about not worship of them (Rev.22:8-9), but of the one true God. Angels are a further reminder of the continuity of this world and the next. The Lord is king of earth and Heaven, and his angels minister to his people, in service of the king. They are not wimps ready to offer a pat on the back or a “thumbs up,” but servants of the mighty Lord, equipped with boldness, power, and compassion that can make even the hardest of hearts weep. 

            We will find ourselves at times in despair, about the world and about our own lives. But we should remember that there are angels among us, and though we may be unaware (Heb. 13:2), they are protectors, comforters, and warriors. Martin Luther wrote, “that the entire world is not a mass of flames, that all towns and villages are not lying in a heap of ruins, we owe to the working and doing of good angels.” Bad news reaches our doorsteps in newspapers, televisions, and phone calls, but the world is not chaos. Goodness will reign as it does at the end of good stories, because this world, like the fantasy worlds that we read about, are under care of a good king, with good sentries who serve the people. Each of us has had the sense that this world is not our home, but like finding a memento in your luggage at camp from a parent that reminds you of that place, we too should find solace in knowing that the comforts of angels in this world is a foretaste set to explode into uncontrollable delight in the Lord when we reach our eternal rest.  

Mark RobertsonComment