Good for what???

This is a elusive question for me. What am I good for? It’s a difficult question because it’s one that I can never answer satisfactorily for myself. It’s twin brother, How do I fit in? recurs in my mind like a familiar dream that is meaningless. I find myself troubling over these questions, although it took me until today to actually name them as questions, or better, anxieties in my mind, heart and soul.

These questions manifest themselves in my life in ways that only recently have I been able to identify. Here is the familiar, tangible pattern in which they become flesh: I feel as though I need to get involved with something important. Next, being involved in something meaningful makes me happy and brings me contentment. The result is that I continue to search for meaningful things, missions, and challenges to take up. The result usually ends up being less than satisfaction for me… and always more searching for the next thing.

The assumption is that I will do something worthwhile by marrying my desire to work hard with my intention to do something that benefits others. Then, yes then, I will be content and fulfilled.

So, again I get involved with something out of a desire to seek to be of use in a group dynamic where I am valued. Then, the cycle is repeated and ultimately fulfilled, and I am disquieted. Without a doubt, I question the way in which I fit into the new “mission”, and I begin to doubt myself. Most recently, I have been able to identify times when for no other reason than my own anxiety about how I fit in, I sabotaged my position, filled myself with anxiety, and began to search for the next thing to throw myself into, again questioning what am I good for. The anxiety becomes such an obsession that I cannot speak. I become so caught up in myself that I can, at times, watch my hands shake. So, I end up in a group where I wanted to be, but debilitated by my own anxiety.

This is the tragedy of volunteerism. The idea that we find fulfillment in philanthropic ways is a sweet pill that turns sour when digested. The problem that I am finally beginning to understand (be patient with me because I am only wise enough to pick off the lowest hanging fruit of my behavior) is me. Volunteering for a cause is not iniquitous. Looking for ways to mix professional advancement with vocation is not wrong. The problem is me. I am not fulfilled with what I find here. I am not fulfilled with the very best that I can find in myself. I am not even satisfied with doing good for others. Even when I serve the Lord I find evil present in my thoughts and actions.

These kinds of revelations are a bit of a struggle for me. A few weekends ago, I commented off the cuff: how do I fit into this family? I said it because of the way that the men in my family are so very mechanically inclined. I am not. I am not helpless, but I admit that I am not built to understand and find contentment in mechanical pursuits. Since I am inclined to self-analyze, and most would tell you that many adult behaviors can be traced back to childhood and the family, I believe that my self-questioning came about because I didn’t know how I fit in my mechanically inclined family.

So, I look back on my life and see what kinds of things I did to try to fit in. Most were rife with insecurity. I believe most who did not fit in would admit the same privately.

To bring my thoughts full-circle, I believe that I struggle to fit in which bears the question of what am I good for. This iniquity presses me on to find different interests or groups to pursue in which I ultimately struggle to fit in, and then lose interest or sabotage myself in some way. Even “keeping in step with the spirit” I find sin intertwined. I cannot escape it. Even when I pursue righteousness wholeheartedly. In my heart there is always a slight bit of rot in the form of sin.

This is a conundrum for me, but words fail to express the turmoil that it produces. Thank God that Saint Paul wrote in Romans 7:21-25:So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

Thank God that the fact that we struggle like this is the normal Christian experience. We “have been crucified with Christ” in our baptism, but the old sinful nature refuses to stay dead. So thank God. Thank God that he “rescues” us from our own “body of death”. We are members of God’s family because Jesus bought us. We belong. We were purchased at a price. We are good for something. We are loved by God.

Remembering Slavery

One of the most interesting things about reading through the Old Testament is how repetitive the theme of slavery is. Over and over again, the inspired writers remind and recount the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt; the way that God split the sea so that they could walk through it; dashed the Egyptians who pursued them; fed them; led them; chose them.

Then the refrain. Israel sinned. They despised God. Over and over again. They were disobedient and tested God. The chosen people refused to honor the God that freed them from slavery.

Exodus 19:3-6 shows in clear words what God’s intentions were for his people: “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel:  ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

Yet, they didn’t. While Moses was on the mountain Sinai, the people decided to make a golden calf to worship. Even Aaron, their priest, leading Levite, and brother of Moses participated in the idolatry and revelry. Yet, God did not leave them or abandon them, but over and over again he forgave their sins.

Asaph wrote in Psalm 78:38: “Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath.”

As New Testament Christians, we have the same grace from Jesus, our God-king, who is the same “yesterday, today, and forever”. We sin daily; our leaders in churches that claim to be Christian veer to the left and right without maintaining each word of the inspired bible as “God-breathed.” Our homes and families turn into chaos and war-zones. We leave God and turn to our own ways over and over again. We do not forgive; and hold on to the pain of past hurts.

Yet, that is not where God leaves us. He switches our focus – asking our spirits to look back to Egypt, his unfaithful people, and the way in which God remained faithful to them. In many ways, we were those Old Testament slaves in Egypt without God. Miraculously, God chose us and enlightened us with his gospel through the words of the Bible. And now we are redeemed children of God. Yet, we each have Adam’s unfaithful bones in our bodies. We return to our former ways and leave God. Yet, just as God repeatedly turned the Old Testament descendants of Abraham back toward the wonders and unearned love of God for his chosen people, we remember a parting of a different Red Sea.

The sea that we Christians focus on now, is the sea of blood that poured forth for the forgiveness of the sins of the children born to Adam and Eve. God executed his only son, splitting apart his skin, banging nails in his flesh, and allowing his blood to flow red and warm down his arms. This was the ultimate act of love: God loved sinners, we his enemies, enough to die for us.

When we are plagued with sins and when we feel overwhelmed by how often we have been unfaithful to God, we have a miracle of God’s love to look to. We have the cross, where God died – defeating death and sin for us, and we have the resurrection, where God proved that because Jesus lives, we, too, shall live with him forever. God’s Old Testament miracle of freeing the Israelites from the bondage of slavery pales in comparison with the freedom that God has given us through Jesus’ death on the cross and our New Testament “Red Sea” of forgiveness.

Keep On

One of the things that I’ve noticed about myself is that I am a people pleaser. It is an unfortunate condition. Technically speaking, I believe that I may suffer from Adult Anxious Attachment. From what I’ve read, it is a disorder that affects you as an adult, primarily because of a lack of secure attachment forming in childhood. It’s not official, but it is my self-evaluation. I love self-diagnosing…

For the sake of saying that I’m accurate in my assessment, I will share with you some of the difficulty that this brings on me. It is an internal struggle with myself. Many times, I choose to be “nice” at the expense of my own self. In a strange way, it feels almost like self-preservation at the time. By being nice to other people, I avoid confrontation; at the same time, I downplay my own thoughts and internalize the struggle. It becomes like touching a hot stove, realizing it’s hot, removing your hand instinctively, then slowly placing it back over the heat to burn. The effects finally reach their way up and out in the form of an explosion.

So, another factor that I’ve found about myself is that this desire to be nice is strongly connected to my ego. I want people to like me and not be upset with me. Most, I guess, if you asked them would say that this is important to them. But, for me, it’s consuming. The way that this translates into my daily life can be selfish. In the end, I don’t serve others out of a desire to serve my Savior out of thankfulness. No, if I’m honest it becomes something of an addiction. “Being nice” can become idolatry. Its cousin “doing good works” is born.

So, the first step in resolving any problem is to identify what it is. Check. Next, you devise a plan of attack. Check. Then you carry that out. Check. The hiccups are frequent for me as I begin to itemize and select the thoughts that prompt the actions that I no longer want to see from myself. I have read that this kind of personal problem, if understood and addressed, can be conquered through vigilance. The person that emerges becomes more powerful, influential, and focused. The butterfly emerges from the chrysalis.

So, how does this relate to Jesus and faith. Well, clearly, I consider myself to be a good person. Then I catch myself going back to “sinning as usual”. I have pet sins, which we all have, and one of them is my desire to please. Everyone has their own version of inherited sin and gross sinfulness. I’m no exception. The best things of men are deplorable to God without faith (Hebrews 11:6).

The point? Well, to me the point is that I am struggling to be a better person and a better Christian. Each and every person with faith is trying to do that very thing. Yet, we fail; often we fail because we have the wrong focus. Collectively we as human beings have failed disastrously. Think of it in terms of preschool: when a young child builds something out of blocks, does he or she knock it down in the end? Sometimes. When the child is proud of what he or she built, then there is reluctance to knock it down. But, when they are not proud, they cast the blocks down without reservation. God plans on destroying the world; the very best that we have to offer isn’t good enough. He will throw down the blocks of creation and burn it all up to reveal the merits of every hidden thing.

Even our best attempts as Christians are not perfect in God’s eyes because of anything inherently good in us. And, there is where we must change our focus – away from ourself and our good deeds and onto Christ.

Jesus came into this world as true God and true man to reconcile the world to God. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

This crushing of our Savior is different than the crushing that we face daily because of sin; it is different than the crushing that human beings will experience at their death or at the end of world; it is different than the casting down of blocks that the child does in her childishness. The crushing that Jesus received was undeserved. He was perfect and he stood up for us, stood in our place to be killed by our ancestors. When God the Father looked at him during the time that he was suffering, he saw every sinner and every sin ever committed in the man Jesus.

It was finished. The perfection that we strive after and never fully acheive was credited to us as righteousness through that one man’s death. And God raised him from the dead so that we can be sure that this was no joke; God did this powerfully, and it is remarkable in our eyes.

Sometimes, we need to look at the building blocks in our lives. Sometimes there are blocks that need to be cast down or thrown away. In the end we all face trials and we each return to dust at our time of death. While we live, we focus our eyes on Jesus and his love. Forgiveness from Christ is a state of being that cannot be revoked; only God has the authority to forgive sins. And, we stand forgiven and await heaven through faith.

Being “nice” gets put into perspective. Whatever else we deal with gets the same treatment. Forgiveness from God gives us strength to keep on trying.

The Shepherd

I heard a story about a shepherd a while ago that has stuck with me. I have recounted the story a number of times, and recently recounted it to a brother of mine who is struggling. I believe that it is an accurate portrayal of the love that our Savior has shown to us – especially during times of struggling, trouble, and heartache.  If there is an author to this story, I don’t know. If you happen to read this and know who wrote it, please do let me know and I will give credit to the person. Here goes the best recollection that my faulty memory can afford:

There once was a shepherd of a flock with a very large number of sheep in his care. For the most part, this shepherd routinely managed his flock without incidence. However, there was one particular sheep that continually ran off and get into dangerous situations. One time, this sheep found himself on the edge of a very steep cliff. Should he have not been recalled so swiftly by the shepherd, he would most likely have fallen to his death.

The shepherd decided to break one of the hind legs of that sheep. For months, he carried the sheep as it bemoaned the agony of a severe injury along the bumpy paths that the shepherd took to lead his flock to pastures of food and water. Eventually, the sheep healed enough to walk, but would never again run away. He hobbled, but remained close to his shepherd’s side at all times. He relied on the shepherd to help him make it up steep hills and would sleep very near his side. He never left the shepherd, and the shepherd never pushed the sheep away from him.

Anyone who has suffered in this world can apply this story to himself. Anyone who is a sinner, too. We, who have struggled, are the sheep that have followed our own path. The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah records this: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6a). Just like the sheep that have gone too close to the edge, we touch the fire all to often. If you’re like me, sometimes you not only touch the fire, you hold your hand to the flame and are rewarded with serious burns.

But that’s only one side of this story in my mind, and only half of the verse from Isaiah. If we leave off there, we don’t get a chance to focus on what’s really important: the Shepherd.

Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:14-18).

When we focus only on the broken hind leg, we miss the fact that it is not up to us to decide what is good for us. God doesn’t treat us according to what we deserve. If that were the case, then all of us would be headed straight to hell without any turning back. Focus on the Shepherd, who “lays down his life” for his sheep. We have a Savior that loved us enough to live and die and rise again for us. He now lives to interact in every intersection of our life for our future security in heaven. We have been given salvation and already have all things through faith in him.

The broken bones heal. God gives us this time of grace where we will be hurt and injured. But in those times, God comes close to us and carries us. He puts us on his shoulders and gently carries us. He puts us on the same shoulders that bore the cross up the hill to die. His shoulders can bear us through anything. In all things, we are confident because we are so close to him.

Talents

A couple of things hit me when I re-read the parable of the talents. It was part of a devotion from Grace Moments, a ministry that has met with significant success out of downtown Milwaukee. The key point I have focused on is the reflective nature of talents, made out of fine metal, I believe silver. The single talent was worth quite a bit of money in ancient times. As Jesus pointed out in the parable included below, the talent was a gift from God to his people. Jesus used these earthly elements to point toward the heavenly principle, or reality.

Matthew 25:14-30 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

” ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The talent was shiny, but it didn’t shine on its own. Talents reflect the sun, or light source of something else. Therefore, the gift that Jesus refers to, was not something that in itself could shine. Something else had to give it light to reflect.

So, I think about the servants who were given talents. The Christian has, at various times in his or her life, acted much like each of these servants. The worst servant “buried” his talent. Underground, it could not reflect the light and others couldn’t see it’s worth. Underground, it corroded, or even could have been stolen. Buried, the servant was able to keep it hidden, but focus primarily on those other things that glitter in life.

It struck a cord with me that when I focus on the things of others, their blessings and abilities, I can’t find where I buried my own talent(s). When I open the Bible and spend time listening to God, his talents shine. The reaction is something that comes about and changes my focus back on to heavenly things. There is peace and joy when I focus on the reflection of my Savior and thankfulness for his talent given to me.

It keeps you humble, too. Knowing that the talents, as a gift and blessing from God, aren’t my own. They were given to me to use for my Savior. My Savior, whose light illuminates the talents he’s given me, is the one who makes us shine because he has died and risen from the dead to give worth to the talents that we have. Nothing about eternal life comes from within, it’s all from God; and we have the opportunity to reflect these things by killing our sinful nature each day, scrubbing the tarnish off our talents, and spending them in a way that will bring more glory to God.

Focusing on our sinfulness and inability to be perfect lands us in a sultry spot, but it’s necessary, even if it is a component part of Christianity. The better part, the part of the life of a Christian that gives hope, faith and life is found in the God-man, Jesus, who is compassionate on people who come to him for their every need. For each talent. Every day.

Inherent Worth

Christians defy all characterization. They also fit many molds. It is part of the dual-nature of those who have been called to Christ, enabled by the Father who planned before the creation of the universe to save them for heaven. Now, what does that mean??? Many times we are characterized especially when we are caught in sin. We are often viewed as hypocritical, liars, and false. Lots of times, this may be an accurate characterization; but it is definitely not the only attribute that we have.

Essentially, the bible has a God-focus with Christ coming through, as one theologian put it, “as the high note in the harmony.” John 3:16 clearly illustrates this point: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life”.

Well, first of all, what do we know about the world? Much and much more as we live here.

The world is full of horrible, terrible things. Our world is the very pit of depravity; the culmination of all things in this world is death, decay, and rot. Even our “best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley” (go wrong often). In the end, the grave welcomes us all; death never has its fill. Each of us dies and is forgotten.

Depressing, isn’t it? Now boil it down deeper. The world is full of these terrible, difficult people. Yet, it might be more appropriate to say that the world is full of individuals. Even closer to the mark: the world is full of “you’s” and “me’s”. The world is full of “others”, but each other is another “you” and me” in a different context. Each one of us is full of the total and entire depravity that we inherited, simply by being human. We, human beings, are full of the very stuff that makes the world such a rotten place. Even the best, most honest man harbours an inner sinfulness that can monentarily and fatally destroy his life.

Whew! That’s nuts. That’s such a grim way of looking at things. If you’re saying that, then you’re like me because I continually return to how difficult even the best of life can be. But, if you’re focusing on that alone, you’re listening to the wrong song and will never notice the high note in the harmony that has come to us all.

Jesus. Simply put, that name sounds and resounds the highest joys in our hearts as Christians. The focus shifts; we don’t look inside anymore; our shortcomings and failures are absorbed in the life, death and resurrection of the Messiah (Chosen One). No longer do we need to focus on our own inner and outer horrors; we can look at the saving grace of love in action. The very love that inspired God before the world began to save the you and me is the motivation that caused him to love every individual that lives on earth.

Inherent Worth. That is what I titled this entry, but it may be deceiving if you only read the title. The point is that we don’t have inherent worth apart from Jesus. After Jesus has worked trust in God through the Holy Spirit in the words of the bible, we have the highest value. We try not to be decieved in this when things are not going well. We are shining out “like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Phil. 2:16).

Our inherent worth depends nothing on us: not our job performance, work ethic, good deeds – not anything we do. It is a reflection of the love and grace that God shines down on us. In all things, God is glorified. We inherit worth, and become priceless to God because of how much he cares.

Now, most of these blogs have focused on me. If you are one of the two readers that actually read this, then you may have noticed that this post focuses less on me, and more on doctrine. While I may agree with you to some extent, I hope to be able to write more like this: about the grace of God outside of trials. The grace of God that reveals the end game; because in the end, Christianity and Grace are all about eternity and how much Jesus wants you and me to share it with him.

Symbols

Yesterday I was driving home and I was stopped at a traffic light behind a well-maintained Ford F-250. I looked at the truck and noticed a well-placed bumper sticker that read “Please pray for my son Gary Lee; he is serving his country in Afghanistan.” The bumper sticker hit close to home for me. I paused and found myself praying for the man’s son the entire way home.

The sticker took me back to a time when I was raised to believe in things greater than myself. Symbols. There was symbolic meaning in the message: pray for my son. There was a symbol in the fact that the man blessed his son’s service to his country in a time of war, when the majority of us neither pause, nor pray, daily for peace and the welfare of the righteous. Whether or not the father gave his blessing to his son for joining the military, I don’t know. But he was humble enough to realize that there are things in this life a man can control and those which are out of his hands. The welfare of his son, he placed in the Lord’s hands, soliciting the prayers of complete strangers. It was a symbol of utter humility that struck a chord, and likely strikes a similar note in other drivers – especially Christians.

There was symbolism in the idea that men will serve their country despite political misgivings – simply because it is right and honorable. While the father would be sad that his son may indeed come back to him without life, he is confronted with the reality only in terms of the grace of God – according to his plans, and for the cause of doing the right thing for a country that does the right things.

Now, I contrast that with the leading article in Newsweek for April, “The Comeback Country: How America pulled itself back from the brink—and why it’s destined to stay on top.” For a while, we citizens of the United States have been struck with some of the worst economic and financial hardships in recent memory. We suffered, and, if we didn’t personally face hardship, we knew of someone who was suffering. The crush of hard times leads many to repentance and the reinvigoration of faith in a God who is never far from the cries of those with faith in Jesus. Yet, when the end appears in sight, we credit ourselves with the victory, and like the lepers, a slim majority return to thank him for his blessings and provision.

The father may be one of the few. The humility and courage that led him to post such a solicitation for the safety of his son no doubt will factor into a staunch reliance on his Lord’s saving grace. If his son returns safely from war, will he be one who tells his son that he was able to do it because he had the ability to pull himself up by the bootstraps? I don’t think that will be the case.

What if our country is not yet through the worst disaster? What if there is something bubbling beneath the surface? an unseen disaster that could be avoided if we were to only accept our failures and turn back to the Lord? Don’t we serve a Lord that would take us  back? The answer to that final question is: yes. The same love that led our Savior to come to our world, die for the enemy combatants (you and me), and rise again to reconcile us with God, will embrace us when we humble ourselves and “lean not on our own understanding”.

The symbolism of the father with the bumper sticker is comparable to the symbol of the cross. The father loved his son to send him into battle for his country. Our heavenly Father has won the battle with sin and death. Be thankful in the love that is more than a symbol – the love that motivated Christ to the cross for our eternal safety. Enemy combatants we were, dear forgiven children are we now.

Crown of Life Kindergarten

Please see the link below. If you are a parent of a kindergarten aged child in the Fort Myers area, you may be interested in knowing that Crown of Life Lutheran Church is opening a Kindergarten classroom for the Fall 2010 school year. They have decided to pursue this option, based on the success of their preschool program.

Crown of Life Kindergarten

Crushing Change

On May 3, 2009, my father-in-law passed away after a nine month struggle with cancer. After I proposed to my wife, and we were engaged, we began discussing when we should get married. I wanted as soon as possible, while she hoped that we could delay for another year. We settled on December 2008. God had different plans.

Soon after we made the decision to get married in December in Florida, we found out that her father had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. This was devastating news, which changed many things, among which the date and location of our wedding. We decided to move the wedding to Michigan to accomodate her father who was beginning rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. And, we chose to get married in August.

Instead of the typical beautiful words of 1 Corinthians 13, which boast that “love is patient, love is kind…” We chose Jeremiah 29:11-14 “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.’” One of my best friends and former high school roomate recently graduated from the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wisconsin. We asked him to preach our sermon. I count his sermon among the chief blessings of my life, and don’t know how to thank God enough for what he gave us.

Before he preached, he called me to ask me about the sermon text. This was not the obvious choice of passages for a wedding, and he realized that we chose it because of the circumstances that surrounded our wedding and the imminent departure of my wife’s father to be with his Savior. He asked about the sharp edges. Did we choose this passage in hopes that he would directly address his future death, or only peripherally? Knowing that my wife and I saw this similarly, I responded that I wanted him to directly address death and plan changes and my father-in-law to be.

He did.

Looking back now on my father-in-law’s death, I can’t help to feel helpless. My wife and I realized that he would be leaving us soon. We thought that we were prepared, but we really had no understanding how sharp the knife is that God used to separate us from him was. Nor did his family, my mother-in-law and extended family on my wife’s side. Yet, we can’t help but praise God for his grace.

Her father was a humble man. He was kind and funny and self depracating, but not weak. No one would call him weak. He stood well over six feet tall and was an imposing man. The greatest thing about him, though, and this I learned in only my nine months of knowing him, was just how much he loved his Savior. What I am learning now, after his death, is just how deeply his Savior loved him.

The Savior that he knew is my own. His plans changed everything, but they are not mine. They are not similar. They forced me to change my plans. His plans force me to change me, the core of me.

Many of the authors that I love talk about how much they love suffering. The bible reflects the same encouragement, that suffering is good for the heart, it encourages perseverance, hope, and patience, and that God is the source of refuge during times of duress.

God must become more in the life of a Christian. That is what he is doing now, and though it pains me and I don’t comprehend his end result, through faith I can exclaim that his plans are magnificent

Grace in the words: “It is finished.”

This week is the last week in the church calendar year of Lent that culminates with Easter. The entire Bible hinges on what God planned for the world through the redemption of his Son, Jesus. God so loved us that he allowed our ancestors to kill his only Son so that through his death and resurrection we could become his children.

That kind of logic doesn’t make sense. When Abraham was commanded to take his child, Isaac, to kill his son as God had commanded him, he didn’t get the logic behind it (Genesis 22). He obeyed the orders he was given and would have given up his only child to follow his Lord’s wishes.

Yet, his God and ours is so much more than we could have asked for or imagined. Abraham was given an object lesson from God that never left his memory, and we have the benefit of learning from his trial. At just the right time, our Lord stopped short of demanding the life of Isaac.

The famous chapter 11 of the book to the Hebrews commends Abraham for his faith. God gave that faith to him and called him out of the land of Canaan to become the father of many nations. Paul calls those who have faith in the same Lord children of the promise, children of Abraham (Romans 4).

Now take that object lesson to heart. Imagine that you were asked to sacrifice your son, daughter, mother, or brother for the Lord. Could you do it? I don’t know that I could. God wouldn’t expect that from us. That’s not the point.

The point is that whether we understand, whether we feel that God loves us, does not matter. God provided for us assurance in simple terms: “It is finished” (John 19:30). With these words, God sacrificed his only Son, Jesus. On the cross, God viewed Jesus as the carrier of each and every human sin ever committed since the creation of time through the end of the world. We have peace with God, despite our struggles and misguided feelings that we harbor in our hearts. Through faith, God gives us more grace than we could ever need because our salvation, in his eyes, is truly “finished.”