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Rest at the Cross

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I was planning to write a blog about faithfulness. How it is important to be faithful in the small things. How impact is not found in quantity but in quality. How sometimes the day-to-day feels monotonous, one day melting in to the next, with nothing extraordinary to show for it when the clock ticks 12:00am. How change oftentimes happens in slow, incremental shifts that go unnoticed; unseen until hindsight sharpens to 20/20. How seemingly insignificant words and actions have far reaching impact.

It’s funny how the best laid plans can go awry.  

Because these words have been wiped from the slate of my brain, which feels uncharacteristically empty; a reflection of a heart that is broken, battered, and bruised.  

A heart that is aching for all things to be made right.

It’s easy to think of Haiti as a place of never-ending summer, beaches, and sunshine. Sometimes, believe it or not, it’s easy to forget how broken Haiti is; how broken humanity is. After living here for just over a year, the things that were initially shocking have become normal life. The sights, the smells, the experiences; I find myself on autopilot more often than not. I settle into my daily routine, content and happy in the sphere God has placed me in, forgetting the messiness of life. And then something happens to bring the neat, self-constructed scaffolding of my falsely secure world crashing down around my feet. I am reminded afresh of the ugly nature of sin and the brokenness of this world.

And my heart breaks.

Two weeks ago, a bridge in Port Au Prince collapsed, causing a chain of events to unfold that resulted in the brutal, senseless murder of three Deaf women.  

Murder.  

The word feels as ugly as it is. Three beautiful, vibrant, precious women gone, who just days before were laughing, loving, and living. When I was in their village that Monday after the bridge collapsed, the worry was palpable. No one had seen or heard from Monique, Vanessa, or Sophonie since Friday when they left for Port Au Prince. One of Sophonie’s sons grabbed my hand to tag along as I visited friends to catch up on life. And life was okay. Relatively speaking. There were, of course, the normal concerns of clean water, jobs, and night-time lights for a community of people whose language is visual. But the underlying current of concern pulled and tugged at conversation, was seen in the way my friends looked at Sophonie’s little boy, and was felt in the way they grasped my hands to say goodbye. And then the call came Monday night.

Those three women would not be returning home.

Shock. Anger. Confusion. Fear. Doubt. Sorrow. Weariness. My heart felt like it had imploded. And as I looked across the table into the eyes of a dear friend and one of the leaders of the Deaf community, I saw my own emotions magnified and amplified. The tenuous blanket of security felt by the Deaf community had been cruelly and suddenly stripped away. The grief leaked out of the corners of my eyes, tracing a hot path through the sweat and grime on my face.  

Six children now without a mother. A community that lost a skilled artisan and entrepreneur. A church that will miss the joy and grace of one of their song leaders and members. A tightly knit community of people who will keenly feel the loss of three beloved women. This is the raw reality of life, the ugly, savage nature of sin. And it’s horrible.  

How does one even begin to process this? How do I quiet the tumult of questions in my mind? And how can my broken heart and the shattered hearts of a community of people find healing and rest?

The answer is the cross.

The past two weeks have been wrought with heaviness, hurt, and darkness. But in the midst of the oppressive weight, I can feel the Spirit drawing the eyes of my heart to the cross. And I know the truth that is there. But sometimes what I know to be true is overwhelmed by the lies and deceit of my sinful heart. And that is why I must let truth dictate thoughts and emotions. Not the other way around.

I know that at the cross the One who said He would never forsake me was forsaken by His Father. The One who had lived in perfect unity with the Father and Spirit was suddenly bereft of that unity and experienced the agony of utter abandonment. He underwent hell so we wouldn’t have to.

I know that at the cross the perfect, sinless One willingly chose to drink the full cup of God’s wrath for me. He emptied it.  The furious anger meant for me was absorbed instead by the Spotless Lamb. He knows suffering that we cannot begin to fathom.

I know that the cross is indisputably the best and most perfect picture of God’s love for me. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16).  “He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all…” (Romans 8:32).  “Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely…" (Isaiah 53:10)  All this for us. There is no doubt of God’s love. The cross persuades us of this.

I know that at the cross there is victory. Because sin and death did not overcome. It is at the cross we find hope for future restoration, hope for a King who will rule and reign with justice and goodness.   for a day when He will right all wrongs.

In Matthew 11, Jesus beckons those of us who are weary and burdened to come and learn from Him. And every single one of God’s promises finds their “yes” in Him (1 Corinthians 1:20).

So, when I am doubting the promised goodness of God, I look to Christ and remember that He is unspeakably good and loves me and this community of hurting people beyond measure.  

When I am feeling lost and broken, I look to Christ and remember that He was forsaken so that we never will be.  

When I am feeling the crushing weight of sin and despair, I look to Christ and remember that His power is greater and that He has already overcome.  

When I am feeling suffocated by hopelessness, I look to Christ and remember that He is our hope.  

When I worry for these six children, I look to Christ and remember that He is a father for the fatherless.  

When sorrow threatens to overwhelm my soul, I look to Christ and remember that that He intimately knows our sorrows and tears.  

When I falter in my weakness, I look to Christ who is my strength.  For it is in Christ that we find healing. He is the mender of broken hearts, and the giver of hope. It’s simple really; just a rehearsal of God’s promises, but, oh, the life-giving power that is found in God’s words to us. It is here, as my heart settles on these truths, that I find rest; rest at the foot of the cross. And it is here I want to stay.

in Hope

Reversed Prognosis

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Like everyone, I hate death.

We should.

It's a result of the Fall, and is due to my, and your, rebellion against a Holy God. However, how glorious it is that God used the Fall, which brought death to all, and turned it upside down to bring life back to His children!

After working as a nurse on a cardiac unit for over a year now, God has assured me that my own death is a healthy reality to think about. Being mindful about my own dying one day leads me to remember Christ's death which brought me life and humbles my soul as an undeserving sinner who daily receives grace upon grace from her Savior.

In the medical world, I have observed many patients who assume that doctors and medicine in our first world country can cure anything.

In America, we have the tendency to avoid thinking about dying because of the abundance of opportunities and resources in our culture and society which give us things to look forward to constantly. The danger in this is that we long for things of the world more than we long for Christ's return and being in Heaven.

I am convicted when I find myself desiring marriage and having a kids more than I desire God. I believe this is a good, God-given desire, but when I start to think, "it would be nice to at least have a family and raise children before Jesus comes back or I pass on", I am not treasuring and longing for God as I should.

Caring for patients who have terminal illnesses has led me to question how I will respond one day if or when I hear similar news about myself. Several times I have been with a patient while they listen to the blunt, cold statements from their physician regarding a poor prognosis.

Driving home from work, I have asked myself, "If I were that patient, what would be going through my head after receiving similar news?" At 23 years old, I imagine I would be grieving all the milestones, future memories, and experiences I was planning on making throughout my life. This would not be a bad thing to grieve; it's to be expected. But eventually, I have confidence that the hope only God can give would set in, for my life on earth is a millisecond of grace in comparison to the fullness of life I will receive in eternity from my Creator.

Scriptural Backup

In Ecclesiastes 2 & 4, King Solomon shares his God-given wisdom to tell us that "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart." Way to be a Debbie downer, King Solomon! However, humility and longing for the Lord is gained more through trials and suffering than times of abundance and indulgence. Being mindful of how short life is, God heightens my desire to bring Him glory in how I spend my time and how I interact and converse with others.

Christ tells us in John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." This world is rubbish; Satan runs rampant, and satisfaction will never be found on this earth because of our rebellion against God. Yet out of His loving jealousy for us, The Good Shepherd laid down His life for our redemption. He wants us, knows us, and is pleased to give us His joy and life.

Revelation 21:4–5a "And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'" Maybe this is just me, but it's almost hard to imagine what it will be like without trials or pain. All we've ever known is a world where evil and sin exists, but I cannot wait until "death shall be no more!" Many of us will probably have passed on before Christ's return, and perhaps some of us will still be alive on Earth. Either way, our outcome as believers will all be standing, dancing, kneeling, faces planted, etc. (who knows?) before Yahweh in New Jerusalem.

Let us daily remember the complete reversal of the hopeless, and fatal prognosis of our souls which Jesus' death and resurrection provided for us. We, as believers, on this side of heaven, have not even tasted the infinite extent of life our Savior will drench us with in Heaven. I pray His Spirit gives us daily humility as undeserving sinners before our abundantly gracious Savior, to look forward to the continuation of eternal life with Him when we arrive Home!

Listen to John Mark Mcmillan’s song, Death in His Grave here.

in Hope

The Beauty and Meaning of the Cross

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This is the time of year when we as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ remember His death and subsequent resurrection 3 days later. As we approach Good Friday this year, the day Jesus was crucified, I would like to focus your attention on the cross.

For centuries, Christians have commemorated this event by adorning themselves, churches, and houses with the symbol of his crucifixion: the cross. We write and sing songs about the death of Christ. At First Family Church, we remember and celebrate it when we partake of communion every Sunday. It is a good thing that we place so much value on the death of Christ.

However, sometimes I wonder if we ever become so familiar with His death, that we forget to contemplate how significant and critical it really is. Some say that the church has domesticated the cross and forgotten not only its brutality, but its penetrating depth. I would agree. So this year during Holy Week, as we look at the death of Jesus the Christ, don’t let the fact that you are so familiar with it keep you from taking in how absolutely amazing it really is.

We never want to be too familiar with the death of our Savior.

With that said, I draw your attention to Luke’s account of the crucifixion (Luke 23:44-56). Luke informs us that from noon till 3 o’clock, there was darkness over the whole land. We know it was not an eclipse, because there was a full moon during the time of the Passover, and eclipses do not last 3 hours. Luke does not even tell us what the darkness means; however, I believe that if we look at other passages in the Bible, they will give us insight. We will consider them in a moment.

What is interesting is that none of the Gospel writers say much about the crucifixion other than that it took place. This is most likely because this form of death was so well known in the 1st century. However, there is something to be said of the physical aspects of the crucifixion. 

By this point in the account, Jesus had essentially been kept up all night as He was unjustly examined by the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin), King Herod Antipas, and Pontius Pilate. So, in essence, He had been sleep deprived. He would have been exhausted. He had been spit on, struck/slapped in the face, and then later scourged.

Roman scourging was a very brutal practice. It was meant to weaken the condemned so that they die quicker from crucifixion. The victim was first publically stripped, usually left with nothing more than a loincloth, and then tied to a post. The “whip” (flagellum) had at least 3 tails, which were each weighted with lead balls or bones. The weighted strands were not meant to merely welt the victim, but rather to lacerate and tear the flesh off of their bones. Jesus endured this before He was nailed to cross. It so weakened Him that He could not even carry His own cross.

What we know from literature that has survived is that crucifixion was a particularly cruel form of death. It was so brutal that no Roman citizen could ever be put to death by crucifixion unless the emperor himself commanded it. After being nailed to the cross through the feet and wrists, the cross was then hoisted upright and placed in a hole that had been dug; a lot like a fence post would. When this was done, the flesh where the nails were placed would be torn open, causing excruciating pain. 

The victim was then left on the cross to die. Death however would not come quickly. To die from crucifixion would mean to die from suffocation. The weight of your own body would put a great amount of strain on your lungs. Eventually, in order to breathe, you would have to push off your feet and pull with your arms, all the while feeling the pain from the nails. This would go on for hours. In Jesus’ case it went on for 6 hours (Mark 15:25 says it began at 9am). When you could no longer push and pull yourself up from being so exhausted, your lungs would collapse. The lack of oxygen to the brain would normally cause you to lose conscientiousness, and then you would die.

This suffering would be gruesome for any man. This is horrific! However, Jesus was not just any man. He was the God-Man, which means that He is the only man in history who did not deserve this type of death, but willingly endured it for our sake. These were the physical aspects of the crucifixion.

Then there are what I would call the spiritual aspects of the crucifixion. Luke tells us that it was dark for about 3 hours. This darkness is the first clue that informs us as to what was going on spiritually. Even though Luke, including Matthew and Mark, do not tell us why it was dark, I believe that there are other passages in Scripture that will inform us as to why it is dark. I believe that the darkness was supernatural and that it represented the presence of God, and I believe the Jews would have known this. 

Even though God is light (1 John 1:5), which means He is not in any way evil, does not mean that He cannot be represented by darkness. When God’s presence is represented by darkness it does not speak of evil, but judgment. In fact, this picture of darkness is connected to day of judgment known as the “day of the LORD” in the Old Testament (Joel 2:1-2; Zephaniah 1:14-15). 

The Jews would have been familiar with this picture. You can only imagine what they would have thought or felt. God, however, did not manifest Himself by the darkness in order to judge the Jews who had illegally condemned Him and then handed Him over to be crucified. Nor did God descend to judge the Romans who mocked Him and then nailed Him to the cross. To be sure, all of these acts were worthy of God’s wrath, for they had done this to God’s Son. The reason God was represented by darkness is because He had descended to pour out His wrath on His Son.

What was taking place for those 3 hours is that the Son was enduring the infinite wrath of God for us. This is why the night before in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was in such anguish that He sweat drops like blood. He knew what was coming. This is why He asked the Father 3 times for the cup to pass from Him. He knew He was going to endure the cup of wrath from the Father. This is also why, after He poured out His soul to the Father in the Garden, that the Father sent angels to strengthen Him (Luke 22:39-44).

Think of it this way, those who will go to Hell will forever be tormented by the wrath of God. The reason it lasts forever is because those in Hell will never be able to absorb the wrath of God and atone for their own sin. Yet, the perfect Son of God became a man for the purpose that He could be the acceptable sacrifice for the sins of His people. This is what is called propitiation (1 John 2:2). It means that He was the acceptable sacrifice. 

This is why Jesus plus anything is completely ridiculous. This is why salvation has to be an act of divine sovereign grace. There is no way anyone could ever accomplish what Jesus did! This is why God absolutely abhors man-made religion that attempts to prove man righteous before an infinitely holy God! In John’s Gospel, Jesus is recorded to have said, “it is finished!” The only reason He could say that is because He knew the wrath of God was satisfied for all who would believe in Him. John tells us that, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.”

This is what John meant. This is the love of God. This is the beauty of the cross. This is our amazing Savior. May we never forget the meaning of the cross!

 

Posted by Carlos Jerez with 0 Comments
in Love

Adoption: Where Love Is Not Dictated by DNA

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 I could never love an adopted child like I love my biological children.

This is the thought that would go through my head for 6 months as I wrestled with the question, “Should our family adopt a child?”.  

It was my wife, Laura’s, desire to grow our family through adoption, but she was certain that it was not God’s will for our family unless I affirmed her desire with my own.  

I committed to thinking about the idea, but I could not kick the thought that there would be an invisible barrier that would exist between myself and any child that Laura and I did not create together. It didn’t matter that I love kidsmy own kids, my extended family’s kids, kids from church, and even strangers’ kids that I meet in random placesif a child didn’t share my DNA, the hugs would be forced, the snuggles would be disingenuous, and my favor would always lie with my two biologicals.

Let me state right now that these thoughts that seemed so logical and true in my mind are categorically false for the follower of Christ.

As I was gaining different perspectives on adoption, I was reading a book by Russell Moore titled Adopted For Life. In the book, there is a chapter discussing this very topic; loving your biological children enough to die for them, but perhaps not feeling the same about your adopted children.  Russell Moore responds with this:

“This makes sense only for someone who’s never seen adopting love that is willing to die. You have. As we discussed earlier, your adoption in Christ came through a Father willing to sacrifice his only begotten Son, an older [soon to be] brother willing to bear the weight of the sins of the world, to bring you into the household. And once you arrived, you found you have the exact same standing as the children who were already there (Eph. 2:19). There is no reason why, through the Spirit, you would love or favor your children “according to the flesh” any differently than you love the children you’ve adopted. You are indeed designed to love “your own flesh and blood,” but your design is redeemed in Christ to see as your flesh and blood those whom you previously didn’t recognize as such.”

Does God instruct us to “look after orphans” (James 1:27) or "to defend the weak and fatherless” (Psalm 82:3), and then not provide us with the ability to do so? Has he not given us the Holy Spirit, which bears fruit that describes the characteristics of a loving parent (Galatians 5:22-23)?

I had to answer the question for myself, “Has a life of comfort trumped compassion for those who have no life or future?” While pondering those very thoughts, the Holy Spirit birthed in me the ability to love a child that I did not yet know.  

Believer, there are many reasons why you can’t or should not adopt; the ability to love is not one of them.

For the one who defines love has not only demonstrated the perfect adoption of you into His family, but He has literally given you Himself so that you know what love is, and how to give it.

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

 

To learn about the number of orphans in the world and how to advocate for them, start here: https://cafo.org/ovc/statistics/

 

Posted by Ben Robie with 0 Comments

Is Donald Trump part of God's judgment on America?

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There is an interesting phenomenon happening within the American political scene right now. It’s called Donald Trump. Understandably, Republicans are starting to panic as they face the growing possibility of Trump becoming the GOP nominee in 2016 for President of the United States.

Typically, as candidates gain a groundswell of popular support and delegates during the primaries, the party leaders coalesce around the frontrunner. Not this year. Last week, 2012 GOP Nominee Mitt Romney publicly denounced Donald Trump as unfit to lead. In a highly publicized speech, Romney described a Trump as dishonest, phony, greedy, a bully, and as a candidate who would destroy the modern conservative movement in America. Those are strong words for any candidate, but they are unbelievable coming from a candidate’s own party leaders!

The Republicans are not the only politicians concerned about a possible Trump nomination. The Democrats are sitting on the sideline nervously watching the Trump campaign gain momentum. Why should Democrats be concerned? Because exit polling in primary states where Trump has won shows he is attracting a broad cross section of the American voters…not just the typical Republican primary voter.

Donald Trump is reaching an entire block of the American electorate that has been disenfranchised by both parties over the last 15 years. These voters consist of white, older, mostly blue-collar Americans who have voted both Republican and Democrat in past elections. They are middle-of-the-road voters who are neither liberal or conservative.

In short, politicians and pundits from both sides are starting to cautiously acknowledge that Trump’s base represents voters from both parties who are not ideologically tethered to the policy platforms of either the Democratic agenda or the Republican agenda. And these voters are angry.

For many months, political observers considered Donald Trump an interesting aberration within the political landscape, one that would go away as quickly as it arose. This is no longer the case.

Concerned Americans are coming to grips with what could be the harbinger of a new political reality in America, and they do not like what they see.

Donald Trump has instinctively reached into the heart of America and he is openly and loudly channelling the anger of many Americans. He is described as crude, racist, hate filled, impractical, obscene, a misogynist. He has pulled the curtain back on the ugly side of the American public and is giving voice to the previously hidden thoughts of the silent majority.

Observers are pointing to an unavoidable and unfathomable conclusion–Donald Trump is a reflection of us.

There is always a danger of drawing historical comparisons with Germany of the 1920s. What’s important to note is that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party did not grow to become the dominant party in Germany in a vacuum. Germans were angry and felt betrayed by the political leaders of the 1920s. In his political genius, Hitler grasped the depth of anger within the German people and gave voice to it. In his speeches, he talked of a new Germany that was strong and vibrant. He pointed his finger at the cause of the shame Germans felt, and the cause was the Jews and the Communists. Adolf Hitler was elected through a democratic process.

Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. Trump is not a fascist, even though some of his detractors would like us to think he is. (One could argue, however, that Trump is authoritarian.) The danger with Donald Trump is that his political power is based in anger and bitterness, and this is the historic seedbed of revolutionary movements that can gain a life of their own and lead to unintended consequences.

The Judgement of Abandonment

As Christians, this is a time to be diligently praying for our country and for God’s mercy on our country. I believe Romans 1 teaches what is called the Judgment of Abandonment. When a people or nation who know God and have witnessed His grace, mercy, and blessing abandon God in favor of their own evil desires and preferences, God turns His back (or abandons) that nation. When God abandons a nation, He simply allows it to go its natural way, no longer restraining the natural forces of evil that rule within the heart of man.

This could be happening to America. We may look back on June 26, 2015 as the date when America once and for all abandoned God, and as a result He abandoned America. What happened on June 26, 2015? This was the Friday the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage as legal, moral, and as the law of the land. That night, in celebration of the decision (and open rebellion towards God), the White House was displayed with Rainbow Colors, the recognized symbol of the homosexual movement. Coincidentally, that same month (June 16, 2015) Donald Trump announced his candidacy.

Donald Trump may not be what America wants, but in God’s eyes, Donald Trump may be what America deserves.

God help us.

Posted by Chris Eller with 0 Comments

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