For it is by grace you have been saved...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It's About Time

Time is the subject of so many little proverbs, sayings and catch phrases:
A stitch in time saves nine.
Once upon a time.
It's only a matter of time.
Time waits for no man.
I don't have the time.
Time heals all wounds.
Time marches on.
Time flies.
Time's up.
For the one generation, It's Howdy Doody Time.
Or for another generation, the old Steve Miller Band song, "Time keeps on tickin', tickin', tickin', into the future."

Our daughter even made an interesting observation about time a few years back. We were talking about the schedule of the church we served at the time, and she asked, "Why do we have an early service and a late service, but we don't have a service that starts right on time?" Never thought of it that way before.

Just a couple of weeks ago I did a bit of reflecting on the issue of time. But as we draw near to the end of another year, the issue just won’t get out of my mind. Even though in reality Friday night will pass into the next tomorrow in the very same way that hundreds of other days have passed into a hundred tomorrows, we tend to think of this day as different. It's about time. Time truly does march on. Time really does fly. It marks the passing of one year into the next. It causes us to consider the last 365 days and do a little evaluating.

And for each of us this realization can bring on different reactions. Our evaluation of the time we spent this year may bring us to different conclusions. But no matter what kind of year we had, there is at least one thing all of us have in common: As I said in that last time reflection, we all had the same amount of time in the last year.

We each have 365 days with 24 hours each. Each hour has 60 minutes. Each minute has 60 seconds. Have you ever stopped to figure that out? That means that in the last year we each had 8,760 hours; 525,000 minutes; 31,536,000 seconds in which to live and serve God. The question is how have we made use of those opportunities? One of the hardest things we need to do each day is to use God's gift of time wisely. Here are three simple suggestions.

I. RECOGNIZE THE TIME. Scripture tells us in Psalm 90 that the average life span is 70 - 80 years. I'm not trying to scare those of you in your 60s or 70s and tell you that you have less than 10 years to live. That's not the point. The point Moses is making in that Psalm is that no matter how long we live it is not long at all, and our time will be up. We were not designed primarily for this world, we were designed for eternity, and we need to view this life in light of that fact.

I think is this age of modern science and medicine we spend so much time trying to cheat death that we fail to recognize the time. We don't want to admit that our life in this world is extremely limited in its length. We don't like to think about it, we don't like to talk about it, we don't like to have anyone else talk about it. It hasn't always been like that though. I think past generations were more aware of life's brevity in this world.

Some of the old hymn books in my collection have lines like: "Time once gone is gone forever, Fast the minutes hasten by." (From Hymns for Sunday Schools, 1857, #249) Another says, "Time is winging us away to our eternal home; Life is but a winter's day, a journey to the tomb; Youth and vigor soon will flee, blooming beauty lose it's charms; All that's mortal soon shall be enclosed in death's cold arms." (Time is Winging Away by John Burton. From Songs of Praise, Baptist Edition, 1890)

Some might think that sounds morbid, especially for a church hymn. But I don't think it's morbid; it's just honest. It recognizes the time. Scripture says there is appointed a time for each of us to leave this world; our days are numbered, so to speak. We need to recognize that. And realizing that leads us to the second suggestion.

II. We need to REDEEM THE TIME. Again, I mentioned this before, but the idea is that once we recognize the brevity of time we'll understand the need to use that time wisely. Recognizing how short life is, we need to be sure that we are making the most of every opportunity God blesses us with to please Him. The single most important thing we can do with our time, bar none, is please God. How have we done this year? How much time have we wasted?

Someone once sat down and added up all the minutes and hours the average person does average things over the course of a lifetime. The study revealed that an average seventy year old man has spent the equivalent of 24 years sleeping, 14 years working, 8 years in amusements, 6 years at the diner table, 5 years in transportation, 4 years in conversation, 3 years in education, and 2 years in studying and reading.

His other four years were spent on miscellaneous things such as Six months siting at stoplights, Eight months opening junk mail, and One year looking for misplaced objects. Of those four years, he spent 45 minutes in church on Sundays, and five minutes were devoted to prayer each day. That adds up to a not very impressive total of five months that he gave to God over the seventy years of his life.

Even if this man had been a faithful churchgoer who attended Sunday school and three one-hour services per week, he would have spent only one year and nine months in church. If you question the arithmetic, sit down and figure out how you have been using your time. How large a portion of it is for the things related to God?

70 years may be too much to try and figure out, so start small. How many of the just over 10,000 minutes God gave you this week did you spend pleasing Him versus how many you spent pleasing yourself? Even smaller, on any given day, how many of the 1,400 minutes you had were spent in God honoring ways?

It doesn't matter who you are, what kind of job you have, whatever; we each have the same number of minutes and hours every day to work with. And it's up to us to choose whether we will redeem that time and gain a heart of wisdom, or whether we will waste those opportunities forever.

III. Suggestion three is simply that we REJOICE THROUGH TIME. Scripture tells us to sing for joy all our days. Stop for a second and consider God's unfailing love. Think of the words of Romans chapter 8 where Paul says, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Satisfy yourself with that thought every morning, and I can guarantee you'll end up singing for joy all your days. The point being that regardless of the days we have, regardless of the time we spend in this world, the more we satisfy ourselves with the mercy of God in Christ, the happier we will be.

This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. That's the attitude we should great each day with. Whether we're at home, at work, at school, wherever, our desire should be to live in such a way that pleases God and allows us to rejoice in Him. Every moment of every day. We don't have to be at church to praise God. We don't have to be in a particular building to serve Him. We should recognize the time we have, redeem it in a way pleasing to God, and rejoice in Him all the while.

Given that measuring stick, how was the year 2010? How much of your time was spent serving God and praising Him. The year is gone. The days will never be reclaimed. Were they put to good use, or were they wasted. I invite you today to commit to making 2011 even better. Understand now that the coming year will be gone before you know it as well. Commit with me today to make the most of every opportunity in the coming year. Let's decide today to commit this year more fully to the Lord and to His will, and to rejoicing in Him.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Wish

As we celebrate this joyous day, I simply want to wish you a very Merry Christmas. And I wish for you the joy of knowing the precious truth of the One who was born, and died, for you. To aid your thoughts in that direction, please consider these wonderful words from Pastor Charles Spurgeon, from the end of a sermon preached on Christmas day 1859:

Hark, yonder! What means the firing of the Tower guns? Why all this ringing of bells in the church steeples, as if all London were mad with joy? There is a prince born; therefore there is this salute, and therefore are the bells ringing. Ah, Christians, ring the bells of your hearts, tire the salute of your most joyous songs, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Dance, O my heart, and ring out peals of gladness! Ye drops of blood within my veins dance every one of you! Oh! all my nerves become harp strings, and let gratitude touch you with angelic fingers! And thou, my tongue, shout — shout to his praise who hath said to thee — “Unto thee a child is born, unto thee a Son is given.” Wipe that tear away! Come, stop that sighing! Hush yon murmuring. What matters your poverty? “Unto you a child is born.” What matters your sickness? “Unto you a Son is given.”What matters your sin? For this child shall take the sin away, and this Son shall wash and make you fit for heaven. I say, if it be so,
“Lift up the heart, lift up the voice,
Rejoice aloud! ye saints rejoice!”

But, once more, if it be so, what then? Why are our hearts so cold? And why is it that we do so little for him who has done so much for us? Jesus, art thou mine? Am I saved? How is it that I love thee so little? Why is it that when I preach I am not more in earnest, and when I pray I am not more intensely fervent? How is it that we give so little to Christ who gave himself for us? How is it that we serve him so sadly who served us so perfectly? He consecrated himself wholly; how is it that our consecration is marred and partial? We are continually sacrificing to self and not to him?

O beloved brethren, yield yourselves up this morning. What have you got in the world? “Oh,” saith one, “I have nothing; I am poor and penniless, and all but homeless.” Give thyself to Christ…

Oh! Master, help me to speak a word in season, now. I beseech thee, my hearer, if Christ is not thine this morning, may God the Spirit help thee to do what I now command thee to do.

First of all, confess thy sins; not into my ear, nor into the ear of any living man. Go to thy chamber and confess that thou art vile. Tell him thou art a wretch undone without his sovereign grace…

But next, when you have made a confession, I beseech you renounce yourself. You have been resting perhaps in some hope that you would make yourself better, and so save yourself. Give up that delusive fancy. You can do nothing by your best prayers, your best tears, or your best works, to merit eternal life…

Then, lastly, and I pray God help you here my dear hearers, when thou hast confessed thy sin and given up all hope of self-salvation, go to the place where Jesus died in agony. Go then in meditation to Calvary. There he hangs. It is the middle cross of these three. Methinks I see him now. I see his poor face emaciated, and his visage more marred than that of any man…

At last, hear him, sinner, for here is your hope. I see him bow his awful head. The King of heaven dies. The God who made the earth has become a man, and the man is about to expire. Hear him! He cries, “It is finished!” and he gives up the ghost. The atonement is finished, the price is paid, the bloody ransom counted down, the sacrifice is accepted. “It is finished!” Sinner, believe in Christ. Cast thyself on him. Sink or swim, take him to be thy all in all. Throw now thy trembling arms around that bleeding body. Sit now at the feet of that cross, and feel the dropping of the precious blood. And as you go out each one of you say in your hearts,
“A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On Christ’s kind arms I fall,
He is my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus, and my all.”

God grant you grace to do so for Jesus Christ’s sake. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with you all, for ever and ever. Amen and Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Coming Persecution?

At this time of year there are always those fights going on between those who say Merry Christmas and those who don’t; or rather those who forbid it. For years we’ve wrestled with the Christian celebration vs. the Secular. School districts have disallowed Christmas parties in favor of Winter Festivals, etc.

I’ve never gotten overly excited about that. It’s ridiculous in a land built on the ideas of free speech and religious freedom for Christian expressions to be so blatantly banned, but what do you expect out of an un-redeemed populace. They are entitled to their opinions and beliefs as well, I suppose.

In fact, although I find it repulsive, even this atheist billboard has a legal right to exist. However, this land of “tolerance” is becoming increasingly less so. Not to other faiths, or to secular humanism, or to atheism in general. Only to Christians. Think of that billboard… can you imagine the outcry if our church put up a billboard saying that Mohammed was a liar and Islam was a lie? Hmmm….

Mike Farris from the Home School Legal Defense Association recently presented a speech that was then printed in their periodical magazine. Being radical wacko conservative homeschoolers, our family is of course a member of the HSLDA and regularly reads their magazine. This latest one truly scares me.

I know this is addressed to homeschoolers. And in one sense, it doesn’t surprise or bother me. We’ve fought battles for years, as Farris points out, over a variety of issues brought up by those who oppose homeschooling. The liberal establishment has made no secret about their desire to control our lives and particularly the lives and education of our children. They know that the way to usher in their worldview is to teach that worldview to our children early and often.

However, the things said by those educators and legal “professionals” which Farris quotes in this article ought to send chills down the spine of every parent in America, and every Christian as well. Stop and consider the implications of statements like this:

“If a parent subscribes to an absolutist belief system premised on the notion that it was handed down by a creator, that it (like the Ten Commandments) is etched in stone and that all other systems are wrong, the essential lessons of a civic education (i.e., tolerance and mutual respect) often seem deeply challenging and suspect. If the core principle in a parent’s belief system is that there is only one immutable truth that cannot be questioned, many educational topics will be off limits. Such “private truths” have no place in the public arena, including the public schools.” ~Catherine Ross, a law professor from George Washington Law School

Do you get the meaning here? Again, her arguments are directed against homeschoolers who teach moral and biblical truth to their children, but do you understand the implication. Anyone who believes in absolute truth, such as…I don’t know…salvation is Christ alone…should not have the right to share those truths with their children, or even have them shared in the “public arena.”

She goes on to say that teaching such truths leads to intolerant attitudes and threatens the society at large. She says, “there are limits to tolerance. In order for the norm of tolerance to survive across generations, society need not and should not tolerate the inculcation of absolutist views that undermine toleration of difference.” In other words, we should only tolerate those who are open minded and will accept the post-modern idiocy of multiple truths all being true, not those who teach that one truth is actually true. (Interesting that she targets Christian homeschoolers and not those wonderfully tolerant Muslims who are slowly gaining control of the nation!)

Again, do you see the implications? This isn’t just about homeschooling. This is about Christianity in general. It’s about the freedom to declare the truth of Scripture. It’s about free speech for everyone except Christians. We must tolerate them, but they don’t have to tolerate us. This is scary.

Even for those who aren’t Christian, this should be frightening. It’s an attitude that suggests that parents don’t know what’s best for their own children. The state should decide what’s best. This is socialism at its finest, the end result of the “it takes a village to raise a child” mentality. And lest you think I’m overstating it, listen to this from Kimberly A. Yuracko, a professor from Northwestern University School of Law.

“Parental control over children’s basic education flows from the state (rather than vice versa). States delegate power over children’s basic education to parents.”

Do you see that? The state gives us the right to raise and educate our children? Really? How did they get the right and power over our children to begin with, in order to delegate that right then to us? This is frightening logic, but is becoming increasingly common and accepted.

I’m not an alarmist (for the most part!). But Christians everywhere need to wake up and start paying attention. Our freedoms may be on the line here. At the very least we need to get informed about issues like these and be vigilant.

Parents, I encourage you to read the HSLDA article in full. Get informed about the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and the threat it poses to parents worldwide. Furthermore, get informed about the proposed Parental Rights Amendment and urge your legislative representatives to support it.

And, Christians. Pay attention. Again, this isn’t an alarmist sort of thing. Not yet, anyway. But stay awake. Take notice. We’ve been blessed in this nation to the point of being spoiled. And if we’re not careful, those days may be on the way out. Persecution may come to this great land.

And if you are afraid to take a stand now, how will you stand when things really get difficult?

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Biblical Celebration of Christmas?

One of my pet peeves has always been the presence of the “wise men” in various Nativity scenes this time of year. There are many reasons. One, there always seem to be three of them, and though the Bible mentions three kinds of gifts, there is never a reference to their number. Two, they always appear royal, as in “We Three Kings”, but again the Biblical record never indicates any royalty. And of course, number three, THEY WEREN’T PRESENT AT THE BIRTH!

Sorry for shouting. I get a little worked up. Matthew chapter 2 clearly states that these magi, wise men, saw the star when Jesus was born, started off on a long journey to find him, and arrived to find the child and his mother in a “house.” Obviously some time had passed, the child is now older, they are in a house, etc.

Furthermore, based on their information, King Herod sets out to kill this newborn king, and since he doesn’t know the exact time, he kills all male children under two years old. Why two years if the wise men arrived immediately after the birth.

So anyway, this one little Biblical issue has always been a sore spot for me. Recently, however, I read a reposting of a satirical piece over at the Sacred Sandwich (it’s a great article, you need to read it; go here). It mentions all those other non-biblical fixtures of the holiday season, and set me to thinking about what it means to have a biblical celebration of Christmas.

Here’s the problem. Celebrating Christmas isn’t biblical. Now before you go crazy on me, stop and consider this from a reasonable, non-emotional perspective. I love Christmas. I love the trees and lights and presents and snow. I confessed to our church yesterday that I even love some of the totally non-Christian elements, many of the traditional movies, songs, etc. So I’m not trying to be a Scrooge or anything.

But here’s the truth of it. God never implies in Scripture that we are to celebrate the birth of Christ. In fact, the timing of the whole event is noticeably vague. We don’t know for sure when Christ was born; although it almost certainly wasn’t December 25th. I’ll spare you the arguments; you can google it and do the research yourself if you want.

Contrast that with the celebration of the Resurrection. We have more specific details of the timing of it all, in relation to Passover, etc. And we are told specifically in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that we are to commemorate that event through the celebration of Communion, the Lord’s Supper, if not necessarily with the setting aside of a specific day.

The early church didn’t celebrate Christ’s birth. It wasn’t until over 100 years later when the Pope decided it should be an official observance. In fact, the whole idea of a Christ-Mass drips with Catholic theology and imagery that should really raise some red flags for us Protestant types. (read a wonderful take on this over at the Gospel Driven Disciples site. It’s worth your time).

And as most of you know, many, if not most, of the traditional aspects of our Christmas holiday derive more from pagan sources than any sort of Biblical ones. Again, I’ll spare you the long drawn out details, but surely you know of the pagan “yule” celebrations, Santa Claus (despite the Christian saint at the heart of some of it), etc.

So, I’m left with the question again: Is there a “Biblical” celebration of Christmas? Well, maybe we can answer both “yes” and “no.” No, there are no Biblical mandates to celebrate Christ’s birth. No, much of our tradition has little if any Biblical basis at all. And yet…

Our primary task in this world, in seeking His will and glory, is to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. And that good news includes this wonderful thing we call the Incarnation; God becoming man; the Word made flesh. Oh what mind-blowing truth is caught up in that; truth which should drive us to our knees in worship and adoration of our great God of grace.

Understanding the need for the Incarnation; our sin. Understanding the purpose of the Incarnation; to accomplish atonement for our sin. Understanding the plan for the Incarnation; God’s eternal plan to save a people for Himself for His own glory. All of these things make this an event worth celebrating. And December 25th is just as good a day as any other.

So are Santa and reindeer Biblical? No. Are wise men in the manger scene Biblical? No. Are manger scenes in general mandated in Scripture? No. Is the very idea behind the word Christ-mas even Biblical? No.

However, is it Biblical to worship and adore our mighty God for sending His Son, for taking on flesh, for coming to die as a substitute for our sin? I would say Yes. So please, enjoy your Christmas. Enjoy your traditions (except maybe the wise men in the manger scene!). Enjoy the fun and family aspects of this season.

But as we’ve heard countless times before, let’s be sure that at the center of it all is the truth of the Incarnation and the reasons for it. I can guarantee that those who know Christ and His grace and mercy and forgiveness have more reason to celebrate than anyone else. Let’s be sure we use this opportunity to share that reality with those around us. And to God be the Glory.

Monday, December 13, 2010

On Finals and Final Days

Our oldest daughter is in the midst of experiencing her first “finals week.” College of the Ozarks does it a little differently than I remember college finals. They had a “dead day” last Friday (no classes) and then started finals on Saturday. LoriAnn’s introduction to college final exams came at 8am on a Saturday morning; and it happened to be her worst/toughest class. Almost seems cruel (and I almost feel guilty about giggling when I first heard!)

She’s a good student. Her momma trained her well. I know she works hard and will do well. But it is a bit traumatic the first time. It brings back a lot of memories; some good, some bad. Like the time in seminary where I walk into the classroom all prepared for my 1:00 final and find an empty room. I ran to the prof’s office to see which classroom the final had been moved to, and the kind lady in his office said, “Oh, that final was at 11:00 this morning.” Aahhhh! But I digress…

Thinking of final exams, along with the approaching end to another year, has caused me to be a bit reflective about endings in general. As in “end of the world” kind of stuff. No, I’m not going to tell you that the Mayan’s are right and it’s all ending a year from now, 12-21-2012. I actually just read of another group, I forget the name, that is shooting for next Spring some time. I remember the lengthy explanation one guy gave years ago regarding 88 reasons the world would end in ’88. Guess we missed that one.

No, I’m not really into the date setting crowd (although when you think about it; even though Jesus said no man would know the day or hour, with all this speculation out there, everyone picking this or that date, you figure someone might actually get lucky. Who knows?). I’m not overly concerned about exact timing (as my seminary final story should reveal!). We serve a Sovereign God who makes know the end from the beginning, who holds all things in His hand, who marks out the days and seasons, and will bring His plan to completion exactly as He has designed, in the time He has set. So it’s all good.

The issue is being prepared. That’s where thinking of LoriAnn’s finals got me to seeing some of the parallels. Let me just share a couple.

1. You know it’s coming. In college, they do give you a specific time and place (although I swear Dr. MacGorman said 1:00!) so you know the time and place. There is no excuse. You’ve known all semester long that this day would come.

God hasn’t given us the specifics in that regard, despite what the gloom and doom preachers tell you. He has given us “signs”, but someone as spiritually in tune as the Apostle Paul himself seemed convinced early on that it would be in his own lifetime.

I think God purposely built in that sense of uncertainty to keep us from being too complacent. Imagine if we all knew absolutely for sure, without a doubt that this or that date was “the day.” What if was a hundred years away? What would that do for our urgency in reaching the lost, pursuing holiness in hopes of His coming, etc? Uncertainty in that sense may be a good thing.

But of this we are certain. The end is near (I’ve always wanted to say that). Jesus is returning. He is coming in glory to establish His eternal kingdom. There are few things in the Biblical record that are presented with more certainty. He is coming; He is coming soon. All the earth will bow down before their Maker and exalt the name of Jesus; some to their joy; some to their judgment. No excuse, you know it’s coming.

2. The material has been presented. Again, in college, this is a “no excuse” kind of thing. Some prof’s are more lenient than others, but even the tough, impossible guys could at least say: hey, look, you had the material in front of you.

I remember one Church History guy who only gave one exam all semester: the final. Everything was on that one test: names, dates, events, etc. We would put together huge timelines to study. But as hard as that was, and as much as we complained, the truth was: the material was all right there. We knew what the test covered.

God has given us “the material.” He has preserved for us His perfect Word. He has spoken down through the years through His prophets and apostles, and most clearly through His Son. What a blessing.

I don’t think we appreciate the reality of this as much as we should. While millions of people over thousands of years have gone through all sorts of things trying to “discover” their god and their god’s will, our God has come to us; revealed Himself to us. What an amazing thing, to hold the very Word of God in our hand.

In His Word He has told us what is on the final, so to speak. He has told us that our sin will keep us from Him, but that in grace He sent His Son to solve that sin problem. Jesus died as a substitute, taking the sins of His people on Himself, suffering the penalty in our place, and offering us His righteousness instead. Only through Christ will we find salvation and eternal life. It’s all right there in the book. We have no excuse.

3. We need to be prepared. Again, knowing the final is coming, knowing the material is there, all any student has to do is just make a conscious effort to be prepared. Wasting the semester away and acting as if the final won’t happen doesn’t change the reality. It will come, whether you are ready or not.

Likewise, ignoring the reality of Christ’s return doesn’t change the reality of it. Deny all you want. Christ is coming. We will stand before His throne. He will render judgment on all the earth.
Here’s where the analogy of the college final takes a radical detour. In college, if you work hard, study hard, you can earn your grade on that final. In life, though we ought to work and study hard, ultimately it’s not our effort that prepares us. It’s the effort of Christ on the cross. It’s His work that saves us; for by grace you have been saved!

Being prepared isn’t about how hard we work, it’s about trusting in His work. It’s all about Who you know, as they say. But you must know Him. You must trust Him. If you don’t, I urge you to read or re-read the “material”, God’s Holy Word. Look again into the glorious truth of the Gospel. See your own sinful heart and your inability to do anything about it. Then turn to Christ in faith and repentance and begin serving for His glory in all things. Then you will be able to face that “final” with confidence, knowing you are prepared because Christ has prepared you by His blood.

I really hope LoriAnn does well this week. I hope she’s studied well, gotten plenty of rest, and double checked the schedule so she makes it there on time! (Hope you’re reading this, Sunshine!).

But more than that, I hope that you, dear reader, “do well” when the Day comes. You know it’s coming. You know the material. You must be prepared. Ready or not, here He comes!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Theology of Perspective

I’ve spent a lot of time in the hospital over the last 20+ years. Not for myself. I’ve been blessed as far as my personal health goes. But as a pastor, I’ve spent a lot of time in those places, under almost every imaginable situation. I make an effort to be there any time one of our church folks goes in, even if it’s for a “minor” procedure, just to pray with them beforehand and maybe keep a family member company while they wait. Sometimes schedules conflict, but I try.

Most of the time I pray together with the patient and the family in the room, or maybe even at the door to the surgery area, and then the magic doors open and off they wheel the patient into the land beyond (maybe land beyond isn’t a good phrase to use in this situation, but anyway). We then usually see the patient in their room afterward.

Last Friday, however, I got a little different view of those magic doors and the land beyond. The last time I was in the hospital for myself was when I was about 12 and had my tonsils out. Not much to remember. But recently I’ve had some issues with a kidney stone (you can read my thoughts about my first encounter with this little visitor here). Doc said that because of where it was lodged, he’d like to do a little “procedure” to take care of it. I’m not sure of the details, but it seems to involve large cables with laser canons and grappling hooks inserted into sensitive areas of my body. (I know that’s way too much information for some, but…)

So, anyway, now instead of stopping at the magic doors when they open, I have the opportunity to be wheeled through them. (For some reason the thought “walk toward the light!” kept coming into my mind). I now have a new understanding of the whole surgical process: the lying there in the “holding tank” with a dozen other folks, assembly line fashion, while they ask you the same questions you’ve already been asked a dozen times; getting the pre-op meds started; etc. Of course, thanks the miracle of modern medicine, whatever it is they gave me blocked out my memory of most everything after they started me down the hall to the actual surgery area, but still, these are all new experiences.

I’ll spare you the details of the suffering I experienced post-op (let’s just say I’m a big wimp and am very thankful for the invention of narcotics!), but again, this is my first time on “this side” of the bed rail, so to speak. And it gives me a whole new perspective on things. I now know, at least to some degree, how folks on the patient end of things are feeling/thinking during the process. And I’m hoping it will help me to be a bit more effective in my hospital visiting ministry in the future. Maybe make me more empathetic, knowing what they’re going through.

Now, there is point to all of this. I couldn’t help but think about all of this in relationship to the season we now find ourselves in. At Christmas we celebrate the grand miracle of God becoming flesh; the Incarnation. Now, let me be very careful to say that I’m not at all suggesting that God somehow needed a better perspective on things. Being God, being omniscient, He is fully aware of all things. But still, think of the magnitude of this. The omnipotent God of the universe, now seeing through the eyes of an infant as his mother feeds him and rocks him to sleep. To experience in his flesh the growing and expanding of his bones and sinews as he ages to adulthood.

The point is, this makes Jesus the perfect one to minister to us in every way. Jesus knows what it’s like. He knows what we’re going through. He’s been on this side of the bed rail. In fact, he’s gone beyond us in experience, having even tasted death. And He did it for us, so that we might have life.

I wish sometimes that I could trade places with that patient on the gurney, that I could take away their pain, but I can’t. Jesus can. He, in essence, took our place on the gurney and went through those doors in our place, suffered in our place in the ultimate surgery, the removal of our sin’s debt.

That’s the essence of the gospel. You and I are diseased with sin. Even more to the point, Scripture says we are dead in our sins. Yet, in His love and mercy and grace, God sent His Son to take on the penalty of our sins, to die in our place, to suffer wrath in our place, that we might have life and peace instead. This is, after all, what Christmas is all about. God becoming man, to live and die for our sin, to accomplish God’s eternal plan of salvation. My recent experience has given me a little more perspective on that.

And speaking of perspective, the angels in heaven who praise God continually, who announce His good news to man, who serve and glorify Him and His people as He works out this grand plan; they have no idea what this salvation is like from an experiential perspective. Having no need of salvation, they don’t know what it’s like to experience new life in Christ. And yet they sing about it, rejoice in it, and declare it at the top of their angelic lungs.

What about us? Having experienced it, having had our sins cleansed and our eternal salvation secured, how can we not sing even louder, rejoice even greater and declare it more enthusiastically? We’ve been there. We know what it’s like. We have a better perspective, in a sense. How can we not make it known with every ounce of our being?

This is all probably pretty much just a random rambling of ideas. (Maybe it’s still the lingering effects of the pain meds, who knows?) But I hope I’m making a point. Having experienced this little adventure, I’m hoping I will be more caring and sympathetic to others going through it; more effective in ministering to them.

And knowing that Christ has already endured all things on my behalf, I’m hoping that I will be more trusting in His plan and purposes for my life; knowing that He knows better than I do what it’s all about. I pray He gives me eyes of faith to see things as He would have me, from His perspective. His perspective is the clearest and best. And as we celebrate this Christmas season, I pray you find peace and hope in Christ as well.