Archives For Devotional

December 29, 2014

Your Tombstone This Year

by Clint Archer

A sagacious life-coach would urge us all to occasionally zoom out and put our lives in perspective. A written assignment might include, “What would you want the epitaph on your tombstone to say?” A percipient piece of advice for looking ahead. But there is a far less lugubrious genus of tombstone on the market that commemorates accomplishments as they occur. And the best part: you don’t need to die to get one!

deal toyIn 1931 the DuPont corporation developed a material called Lucite, a type of tough glass used for fighter plane windshields. Half a generation later the corporate world annexed the material to fashion paper-weight sized trophies as mementos that mark milestones and reward deal makers for a noteworthy coup. Lehman Brothers apparently employed a full time tombstone designer at $85k per annum to keep the offerings fresh (that was before a real tombstone was raised over its belly-up corpse).

The diminutive size of the Lucite tombstone (or “deal toy”) matches its import—as your gravestone will encompass the impression your lifespan left, these translucent trinkets announce lesser accomplishments, but can still act as little goal markers for which to strive throughout life.

The epitaph visualization is intended to calibrate our lives for the inevitability of eternity. I am a sucker for this type of long-range planning. When Jesse Johnson was my roommate in seminary, he discovered (read: pried in my stuff and stole…) my planning tools; he still teases me about the timeline that has targets and goals for every year from age one (acquire teeth) to age one hundred (remember to pull rip cord while skydiving). Yes, some of those were penned in retrospectively, and the future milestones are all in pencil as per Proverbs 16:9.

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Christmas eveIt’s Christmas Eve. It’s a time to celebrate what God did. He brought everything together to do what we could not. He brought salvation to undeserving humanity in the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ. Like a perfect conductor, God orchestrated all things for the arrival of heaven’s King.

That night, some 2000 years ago, God pulled off a jaw-dropping display of sovereignty. He demonstrated himself the hero as he conducted his plan that he made before creation for the arrival of the God-man. The arrival of the long-ago-promised, long-awaited-Messiah was a stunning demonstration of God’s sovereign love for sinful humanity. Despite the obstacles of humanity’s sin and contrary historical events, God was moved by his own mercy to sovereignly orchestrate history in order to bring us the Christmas Gift; the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

That first Christmas night, God displayed several loving demonstrations of his sovereignty in bringing us the Person of salvation:

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And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
– John 1:14 -

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been considering Christmas according to John, as John gives us a fresh, theological look into the significance of Christmas in the opening of his Gospel. My goal has been to fight against the familiarity of Christmas and cause us to be properly affected by the glory of the incarnation as John presents it, particularly in John 1:14.

Two weeks ago, we looked at how Yahweh dwelt among His people in His tabernacle. Then, last Friday, we considered how the dwelling place of Yahweh is inseparable from His glory. We saw that first in the tabernacle, then in the temple, and finally in Jesus. And so John is proclaiming to his audience that in the same way that the glory which filled the tabernacle and temple were Yahweh’s own self-expression and the manifestation of His presence, so this Jesus is Yahweh’s own self-expression and the manifestation of His presence.

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depressionDepression and discouragement are not respecters of the holidays. For many reasons, the normal sorrow of life can reach a highpoint this time of year for some.

It may be a reminder that we are without a loved one. It may be financial stress, or loss, in a time where the pressure is to purchase. It might be emotional pressure of getting together with broken family. We just may not have a clue why we are discouraged, which can be discouraging itself. We can, even unintentionally, place big demands on this time of year to deliver and fulfill us in impossible ways, apart from God.

And Christmas time or not, many of us experience the normal, heavy weight of discouragement and depression as a regular thing; dejection, confusion, frustration, sadness, hopelessness, anxiousness, anger, darkness, despair.

But God has answers and real hope from his word for the battle.

Here are 11 truths for strength in sorrow:

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This year for my church’s Christmas concert, we didn’t do what we traditionally have done–in years past we would do music with a gospel presentation from a pastor. This year instead of a pastor presenting the gospel, we chose four people from different backgrounds that are all faithfully involved at Immanuel. We asked them to describe their lives when they were in darkness, how they heard about the light of Jesus, and what their life is like now that they are living in the light.

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And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory
– John 1:14 -

Last Friday, we looked at the significance of John’s use of the word “dwelt” in John 1:14. I argued that by using the peculiar word for to pitch a tent, John was calling our attention to the Tabernacle of Israel, where God condescended to reveal Himself to Israel for worship and communion. The climax of the story of the Tabernacle comes in Exodus 40:34–38, where Yahweh’s glory fills the Tabernacle, signifying that He will dwell—that He will take up residence—with His people.

That scene sheds light on the relationship between the two phrases in John 1:14: “and [He] dwelt among us,” fits perfectly with “and we saw His glory.” There is an inseparable connection between the (a) dwelling place of God, and (b) His glory that fills that place. The dwelling of God is inseparable from the glory of God.

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And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…
– John 1:14 -

If we’re reading through this verse in our daily Bible reading, we’re likely to zip right by it with little fanfare. We read, simply, that Jesus “dwelt” among us. And when we think of the idea of “dwelling” we just think of “hanging out.” But there’s much more going on in what John is saying than it sounds to us English-speakers. He uses a peculiar word here. There are more common Greek words for “to dwell,” but he chooses skēnoō. Now, the word skēnē in Greek means “tent,” and skēnoō is the verb form. So we could render it, “to pitch a tent.” John tells us that this Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.

That’s a weird way to talk, isn’t it? Especially since we don’t have any Scripture that tells us that Jesus actually pitched any literal tent during his time on Earth. Why say it this way? He’s got at least two other words that he could use here. But John uses this particular word because he wants his readers—who would be familiar with the history of Israel—to recall the tabernacle, the tent of meeting (Ex 27:21), where God met with the Israelites in the Old Testament.

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I usually run this post around every Thanksgiving, because as I stop and reflect on what we should be stopping and reflecting on for Thanksgiving, my mind comes to these thoughts in particular. I hope this post serves to orient your thinking this Thanksgiving.

Thankfulness is a funny thing.

By its very nature the giving of thanks cuts straight across the grain of the pride and self-focus of the natural human heart. When we are thankful for something, we acknowledge that we are in someone else’s debt—that there are good things in our lives for which it just doesn’t seem appropriate to pat ourselves on the back. We pause for a few days over Thanksgiving break to think about the blessings we enjoy—the way our lives, with all their challenges, trials, and disappointments, are actually much better than we could have accomplished for ourselves in our own strength, and much better than we know we deserve.

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John Owen Portrait 2In recent years, many Christians have become increasingly familiar with Jonathan Edwards. As a result, many know that in addition to Edwards’ many theological masterpieces (like The End for Which God Created the World, The Freedom of the Will, and Original Sin), he also wrote what he called Miscellanies. These were reflections of various lengths on miscellaneous theological and practical topics. In other words, they were 18th-century Puritan blog posts.

Well, Edwards wasn’t the only one to do that. John Owen, perhaps the greatest theological mind of Puritanism, also penned these short, blog-post-like, reflections—though he called them “Discourses” instead of “Miscellanies.” A number of Owen’s Discourses are contained in Volume 9 of his Works, under the heading, “Several Practical Cases of Conscience Resolved.” There, he answers numerous practical questions within the span of 3 to 5 pages or so. Some examples include: “How does a Christian recover from neglect of the spiritual disciplines?” and “What does it mean for a sin to be ‘habitual’?” and “How are we to prepare for the coming of Christ?”

The tenth discourse in this collection answers the question: “What shall a person do who finds himself under the power of a prevailing corruption, sin, or temptation?” I don’t know about you, but I’d sure jump at the chance to read John Owen’s blog, and especially his answer on how to mortify a particular besetting sin. You’ll need to read it a bit more slowly and carefully than perhaps you would a contemporary blog post, but my experience with Owen’s writing has been that it’s worth the effort. Here’s John Owen, the blogger.

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Question. What shall a person do who finds himself under the power of a prevailing corruption, sin, or temptation?

[…]

I answer,—

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2013-04-16_16-28-38_187I grew up in a home without Christ, but with parents who cared for me. All I knew of Christianity was an emotionally stirring, but very confusing Roman mass at Christmas now and then. And if I ever heard the true gospel in detail prior to my conversion at 23, I do not recall it.

Besides skiing and getting good enough grades to be applauded, I did not care about much. And it showed in my life. I was a very arrogant person who pursued pleasure at just about any expense. I hurt quite a few people along the way, to my great shame, and wish I could undo so many things.

During my college years, I dove deeper into alcohol and drug abuse and was out of control. Somehow, I graduated from college in the sciences. And I was restless and looking for another, bigger adventure. So, I decided to take a year off before graduate school and be a ski bum. I packed up my truck and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. When I pulled into town 15 years ago, I was homeless, had no money, no job, no friends, and, worst of all, no eternal life. And I didn’t care.

For the most part, my days were spent skiing, and nights, intoxicated. And I loved it. I threw away the graduate school application. The skiing was just too amazing. And the intensity with which everyone pursued outdoor sports was amazing. The only thing I could liken it to was a fierce, religious devotion, and one which surpasses many Christians in their devotion. I was all in.

I was also a hardcore evolutionist. I had the hominid family tree memorized and could narrate how things came to be on earth over the past 4.5 billion years. Then God brought along a girl (my wife, now) who challenged me to check out the scientific evidence for a Creator. I had never heard of such an idea. But the more I studied, the more I saw that the universe, macro and micro, yelled loudly of its Creator.

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