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“Where Else Can We Go?”

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Christian, are you thinking about “throwing in the towel”?

Things haven’t gone the way you thought they would. You can’t seem to discern what God  is doing in your life. Your heartfelt prayers are rarely answered with a “yes,” but far more often with a “no” or a “wait.” You wonder if it’s all worth it. You may even think you’d be better off without it – you “tried Jesus” and it just didn’t work.

Don’t! Pick yourself up, shake it off, and remember the words of Peter in John 6:66-69: As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

Where else can we, or would we, go? To whom would we go? The Lord Jesus Christ is the only One who can save, sanctify, and keep us. Without Him, we have nothing. There is nowhere else to go.

Stay with Him even if you don’t understand; even if your image of your life is different from His; and even if you think you’re His forgotten child.

Honestly, what’s the alternative?

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Amazed and Surprised

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(From Matthew 28, Mark 16; Luke 24; and John 20)

I am amazed that Jesus’ disciples were surprised when they discovered Jesus had risen from the dead.

I’m also amazed that I was surprised they were surprised.

Jesus predicted His death and resurrection at least three times, and He regularly alluded to it in many other passages. So how could they not expect it or, at least, be ready for it? It’s hard to get inside of their heads, but consider the fact that in their worldview, dead people stayed that way – they didn’t come back to life and walk around and eat and be seen by other people. On a deeper level, when Jesus made His statements about rising from the dead, what did He talk about first? His death. The disciples heard that, and it’s possible that nothing else was really heard after that point. “Death? Wait a minute! That can’t happen to You, Lord.” They heard Him say He would be raised from the dead, but it probably went in one ear and out the other. I shouldn’t be surprised – they didn’t know the rest of the story.

I shouldn’t be surprised by their response, but I am by mine. I find myself (and I’m certain you do, too) reading God’s Word and asking, “Why didn’t the Israelites get it? Why did they blow it so many times?” “Boy, those disciples sure were thick-headed.” All the while, we see ourselves as superior – “If I would have been there, I would have believed (or wouldn’t have fallen into that particular sin).” Here’s a news flash: If I would have “been there,” I would have done the same thing, and you would have, too. Our sinful and fallen nature is the same as ours.

Look at it this way: Are we surprised when God fulfills one of His promises? We shouldn’t be! He promises He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5), but we’re surprised when He actually is pres. He promises to meet all of our needs (Matt. 6:25-34), and we think it’s unusual when He does. He promises to forgive our sins if we confess them to Him (1 John 1:9), but think we’re too sinful for that to really happen.

The disciples were surprised and amazed, but we shouldn’t be – for the glory of God!

 

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I read Matthew 27 today in my yearly Bible read-through. Matthew records, among other things, the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Shortly after I started reading, I knew I needed to slow down and think about what happened. As I meditated on Jesus’ death, several thoughts came to the fore.

The death of Jesus was voluntary. He chose to undergo horrific suffering, physical punishment, and death for the salvation of His people. He laid down His life because He wanted to do so. That’s amazing!

Even though it didn’t look like it, Jesus was in control of every single circumstance surrounding His suffering and death. Events did not “spiral out of control.” and make Him a victim of circumstances.

While the physical pain of death (in this case crucifixion) can be somewhat understood, the spiritual agony He experienced by taking all of the sins of all of His people upon Himself cannot. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (verse 46) is exponentially more painful than anything else that happened that day.

The rejection and hostility toward the sinless Savior – the embodiment of love – is real and strong. It was then, and it is now. Even in the act of ultimate self-sacrifice, He was mocked, ridiculed, beaten, and rejected.

All of this leads to praise: “Jesus paid it all! All to Him I owe! Sin had left a crimson stain; He washed it white as snow!”

5 Good Baseball Movies

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The announcement by Major League Baseball that the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox will play a regular season game next season on the site in Iowa where the movie Field of Dreams was filmed got me thinking about baseball movies. (By the way, the game will not be played on the actual field. An 8,000 seat temporary stadium will be built next to it by Major League Baseball.)

In general, sports movies are the best movies made, in my opinion. Sports are a ready-made vehicle for telling good stories, and baseball movies just may tell them the best of any. I know people will disagree with that, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Here are 5 good baseball movies, in no particular order:

  1. Pride of the Yankees – The story of the rise to stardom with the Yankees of Lou Gehrig, “the Iron Horse,” and his losing battle with ALS, the disease that would come to be named after him.
  2. The Natural – An adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s novel by the same name about a “wonder boy” whose career is derailed, then put back on track.
  3. Field of Dreams – W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe is the basis for this movie about family, dreams, and yes, baseball. If I run across this movie on television, I’ll watch the rest of it if I can. There must be a lot of dust in the air when I watch it, though, because my eyes water a lot.
  4. Eight Men Out – The story of the Chicago White Sox (nicknamed “Black Sox”) scandal. Eight White Sox players agreed to purposely lose the World Series after being paid off by gamblers. All eight were banned from baseball for life. One of them was “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who always proclaimed his innocence.
  5. Major League – A comedy built around the Cleveland Indians, whose owner is preparing to move the team and needs ticket sales to go beneath a certain level in order to break the stadium lease. Once they find out about it, the team has other ideas and has one of its best seasons ever. (This isn’t really a kid-friendly movie. It earned its R rating.)

Because there are so many good baseball movies, here are a few more:

A League of Their Own – A women’s professional baseball league existed in the United States for several years shortly after the start of World War II, when a number of Major League players were serving in the military. This movie tells a bit of the story. The cast is very good.

The Rookie – Jim Morris, a promising young pitcher, injured his shoulder early in his career. Teaching and coaching a high school team in Texas, he promises his team he’ll try out for a Major League team if they win their league championship (which is a long shot). I won’t spoil it, but the rest is good.

 

On Suffering – Part 3

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The anonymous author of Embracing Obscurity writes this about suffering:

There’s a startling trend in Christian thinking about suffering. Though subtle, this misconception is no less dangerous than many other of Satan’s lies. I call it the “Joseph Principle,” and it goes like this:

If I am suffering in obscurity today, God must be preparing me for something greater, better, or more prominent later in life.

You can probably guess why I call it the Joseph Principle. I can only assume this faulty way of thinking gets its roots in a misunderstanding of Joseph’s unlikely story, found in Genesis 37; 39-50. In a nutshell, Joseph is betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of attempted rape, and then endured years of prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Yet – and this is the part that excites our ambition – God used all of Joseph’s suffering to prepare him for greatness (and I mean greatness). In a startling turn of events, Joseph becomes the second most powerful man in Egypt, ultimately saving the family that first betrayed him. In the end he gets it all: fame, power, justice, and even the girl.

Though Joseph’s story is one of my favorites, there are others like it. Abraham waited twenty-five years but in the end had the child he’d been waiting for. Moses had to spend forty years as a shepherd, but he eventually went back to Egypt and was God’s instrument to deliver the Israelites. Hannah put up with years of taunting and disillusionment before God gave her Samuel. David endured fourteen years of wondering, waiting, and dodging Saul, but in the end he became the greatest king Israel ever knew (notwithstanding Christ).

Why do we love these stories? Lots of reasons, to be sure. There’s action, adventure, hidden identities, wrongs made right, God’s faithfulness and fulfilled prophecies – but there’s also something about the underdog making it to the top that resonates within. Maybe because we hope it will be us.

If you’ve ever been fired, come up second (or tenth), been broken up with, or had any hope deferred, you’ve likely heard the well-meaning encouragement: “Don’t worry – God just has something even better in store for you” or “All things work together for good!” or maybe even, “You just keep working hard, and you’ll get whatever you want in the end.” I guess we give one another these platitudes for one of two reasons: (1) we really believe that suffering inevitably leads to bigger and better, or (2) we hate to kick someone when they’re down by telling them the hard truth: sometimes suffering only leads to our greater obscurity, God’s greater glory.

the Bible is wrought with examples of God’s doing things for His own glory. Refining our hearts is no exception: “I have refined you in the furnace of suffering…yes, for my own sake!” (Isa. 48:10-11 NLT). He goes on to say that Isaiah doesn’t want his reputation tarnished by idols; He refuses to let the recognition due Him to go to them. It was true in how we dealt with Israel, and it is true in his He deals with us. God more often allows us to suffer to refine our own hearts and purge us from idols than to prepare us for “greatness.”

This isn’t an easy pill to swallow…

All of God’s ways are good and true. Although His plans may not look like ours, we can trust that God is in fact “for us.”

I’ve had these thoughts many times, and this author (whomever it may be) has expressed and explained them well. Something to think about as we live coram Deo (before the face of God).

On Suffering – Part 2

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Elisabeth Elliot described suffering as wanting what you don’t have and having what you don’t want.

When that happens (and it will if it hasn’t yet), there are two possible responses. Only two. We can say with Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Or we can say with Job’s wife, “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9).

One response is based on submission and obedience to God. The other response is based on rebellion and disobedience to Him. Job sums up his response to suffering in 2:10 as he answers his wife. He says, in part, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” 

The only reasonable and faithful response to suffering is to trust the God who is there, sovereign, loving, just, and the One who knows exactly what He’s doing. The alternative is too horrific to consider.

On Suffering

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In a book titled “Embracing Obscurity,” the unnamed author (which is appropriate for a book about obscurity) quotes Elisabeth Elliot on the subject of suffering. She says suffering is

Having what you don’t want, or wanting what you don’t have. (A Path Through Suffering, p. 56)

There are some things I have that I don’t want. I want some things that I don’t have. I know, without a doubt, that you do, too. In God’s sovereignty and love, He’s given us precisely what we need, but there are times when it conflicts with our own wants and desires. That causes tension and turmoil in our souls for a simple reason – we’re far too focused on ourselves.

After quoting Elliot, the anonymous author then says

This is the perfect definition of suffering for our discussion about embracing obscurity because it’s in the little “sufferings” of demotions, hard breaks, layoffs, out-of-state moves, and menial jobs that we learn to defer to God our dreams of being well-known, respected, and admired. It’s in these trenches that we realize God is big and we are small, where we exchange our will – our dreams, desires, and plans – for the opportunity to make much of Him and less of ourselves.

God calls us to trust Him, whether our suffering is large or small. He knows what He’s doing.