Who Needs ‘Toys R’ Us’?

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The simplicity of playing with grandma’s kitchen utensils. No knives of course – that comes later with grandpa.

Many things come to mind when we watch our grandson, here’s one:

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life. . . .” – Matthew 6:27

Sovereign Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, give my heart the contentment and peace of a child who sits and plays free from anxiety and fear. Help me to believe that you care more about my day than I do for this child. This baby can no more fuss and fret his way into a longer life than I can – remind me today that I am just as helpless. Free me from worry and unbelief, in your name I pray, Amen.

Building a Fire in a Tree House is almost like . . . I say, almost!

I’ve always loved risk, danger, and a little coloring outside the lines when it comes to living life. When I was a young teen, with the help of some friends, we built a scrappy tree house from discarded lumber in a very large white oak tree in the last bend of the road before you get to my home; parts of that tree house are still there.

It was winter. I loved making fires in the winter – with snow falling, there’s nothing like sitting near an open fire cooking something – anything. So I thought to myself, logically of course: “I’ll build a fire in the tree house and roast hotdogs – now that will be exciting.” Again, with a little help from my friends, we put down a piece of sheet metal on the treehouse floor (we’re about 16 ft off the ground), and hauled up some kindling and logs for the fire. We cut some fresh sticks for roasting, lit the fire, and laughed our heads off. Now this was very cool to see smoke rising up through an oak tree as snow was falling. With a warm small fire and the smell of cheap hotdogs roasting on, literally speaking, an open fire – man we were living!

If you think this story ends with the floor of the tree burnt out and us falling to the ground like a bunch of acorns – nope, sorry – we did not earn the “Darwin Award of the Year” for the “Stupidest Ways People Die,” but we should have. Rather, we gorged ourselves on hotdogs and sat back in that tree house enjoying the warmth of the fire with a smile on our face as the snow continued to blanket the earth. The End.

Not so fast. Where’s the moral, the motto, the axiom of life? Ok – here it is: it’s the ability to live and tell true stories, the ones that have the aroma of risk, adventure and special mercies for not being the brightest bulb in the room. Good grief, haven’t you ever built a wooden boat in the desert, pack it with food and animals, and as the rain is falling and the flood is rising, and the earth is disappearing, then say to yourself over a warm fire for cooking and boiling?, “This is dangerous but safe – thank you God.”

Haven’t you ever done something in your life that was risky and pleasurable, you know, something “Huck & Finn” would be proud of? Now if we had built that fire on the wood floor itself – that would not be something to tell about – now would it:)? Duh.

Protect Your Joy Today!

David said,

“I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure” – Psalm 16:8,9

Here’s what I do to protect my Joy:

1. I Believe that getting my head and heart in the Word will keep me safe, not from trials, but from doubt, self-pity, and despair. David believes this or he would not have said, “I have set the LORD always before me . . . I shall not be shaken.”

2. I Ask myself, “Do I approve of what God has done for me in Christ and do I embrace his promises for my life?” This is what is meant by saying that the LORD is at David’s right hand. Standing at the right hand is a metaphor for saying, “You stand here because I trust in you and what you are.” David’s heart believes that the Lord is trustworthy to keep the promise of stability – David believes that his life will not be shaken apart.

3. I reject and fight against the lies of the world and my flesh that offer what my heart seeks. My heart naturally wants to know what is the best path of life to take and where are the best pleasures found (vs. 16). The world and my flesh make suggestions a hundred times a day that the best pleasurable life to live is in what money can buy, what porn can give, what selfish ambition can supply, what ego-driven, pride-pumping, and self-congratulation talking can do. I will not set the world and my flesh at my right hand.

4. I do not put my trust in my ability to make myself joyful. That’s a false hope that leaves you gazing at your navel. Here’s why: If I make myself the instrument of supplying and maintaining my joy, it will be short-lived because I can’t remember where I put my keys to the car. And that’s the point! I cannot out-manage my own mis-management of my life, not to mention, life’s mis-management of my life. Look at how many things you simply do not have any say or control in the matter. This is why it is a fool’s errand to think that you can control enough people and things to maintain your joy. I do not make a very good god for myself.

5. I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” – (vs. 1). That’s worship. That’s faith. That’s hope. That’s boasting in Jesus Christ that says, “If I had all that this life has to offer for entertainment and security and health, but did not have you, I would have no good thing to enjoy. There really is no good thing without you.”

New Mercies under the Sun where there is Nothing New

In one place God tells us there is nothing new under the sun – what is, is what shall be, been there done that, meaningless-ness all around, around the globe we go, where it stops nobody knows – same ol same ol (Ecc. 1-3).

In other places God tells us that his mercies are new to us each morning, the newness of Life has come in Christ, and that this new day is the day that the Lord has made – a new cause for hope and joy in God (Lam. 3:23, 2 Cor. 5:16-18, Psalm 118:24).

We live in tension of unending grasping for meaning and unending receiving of mercy. We live in tension with hum-drum, ho-hum days and the Lord’s making something new for us today. We live with one foot in this cynical, cyclical merry-go-round where deja vu is a normal abnormality, and one foot in the new heavens and new earth. For the follower of Jesus Christ, it’s a hybrid experience. The challenge is to keep setting your mind on things above and not upon the earth, under the sun, where there is no real hope. Your real hope is above the sun, where the origin of new things keep coming from, where the risen Christ is seated on the throne.

Cynicism, despair, and hopelessness permeates this life, and for three good reasons:

1. You’re still going to die and leave everything behind – no matter what (Ecc. 2:18).

2. You can do everything right and still end up holding the short end of the stick (Ecc. 6:1-12).

3. You can experience whatever is humanly possible and still feel unfulfilled (Ecc. 2:1-17).

Here is what Christ offers under the sun until he returns:

1. Mercy for monotonous days. He provides contentment in simplicity without providing any assurance that tomorrow will be any better or worse (Ecc. 3:9-15, 5:12; Heb. 13:5). You have to trust him.

2. Mercy for accepting poverty along with wealth. No one knows what tomorrow holds. But you can know the one who holds tomorrow (Ecc. 3:6, 22; James 4:13-17). You have to trust him.

3. Mercy for growing old. While the eyes keep dimming you can see that God is fitting your heart for never growing old (Ecc. 12:3b; 2 Cor. 4:16). You have to trust him.

The End of the Matter: God sent his Son under the sun to be crucified for your sins. He rose from the dead and ascended through the clouds and above the sun. Those who “love his appearing” when he returns will be ready to be ushered into eternity, where God promises to make all things new. You have to trust him.

It Is Not a Christian Right to Bear Arms

This raises the topic of identity. It also raises the topic of trust, or rather, who or what is your functional place of trust in the day-to-day parts of your heart. It is possible to say on Sunday morning, “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” but then by Friday most of your friends and family members have been convinced that your trust is really in being a right-wing conservative and 2nd amendment-defending American citizen. Here is an important question: Are you better at being an American than a Christian?

You might be, if you think that the present gun-control tactics by the President and his supporters causes you to think that it is a Christian Right to bear arms. You might be, if you spend more time fussing and fuming over the incremental loss of our political and human rights rather than saying like David, “He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psalm 62:2). But it is not a Christian Right to Bear Arms, though it is an American one. If you blur that line in your heart, then you will not be able to let your light shine before men because your identity as a Christian is an unbiblical one. Most Christians and most of Christianity has lived life with no political right to gun ownership and the Church has done just fine.

Those of you who know me know that I was raised as a hunter, a fire-arm owner, and a person whose family routinely enjoyed marksmanship competition. I’m thankful to have grown up where I did and how I did, dropping my first 8 point buck at age 13 with a .243 bolt-action Remington, in Clay County, WV.  Yum-Yum! But in the words of Erwin Lutzer, “Yes, we must fight, but we must fight like Christ, who never wavered from His message of spiritual redemption in the midst of depressing political and social abuses. We have a message that can do what politics can’t” (in Why The Cross Can Do What Politics Can’t, 1999, pgs. 28-29).

Let’s hear more from Pastor Lutzer – remember, he wrote this in 1999:

“. . . many of us want a civil religion because we fear that we might lose our creature comforts if our nation goes into decline. We can be glad that Americans have supported mission agencies around the world, but I fear that one reason we are so anxious that the economy remain strong is not because we want to continue to spread the gospel, but because we all enjoy the American way of life. Our tendency is to believe that a strong America always translates into a strong church. Many Christians today are concerned about corruption in government, the wasting of our taxes, the national debt, and funding of certain types of art projects. However, we are angry not because Christ is daily dishonored and the true God not worshiped, but because we fear that our taxes and family values are not being protected.”

He goes on:

“To put it clearly: for some Christians, lower taxes, a strong national defense, a rollback of government regulations, and a balanced budget amendment are more pressing issues than whether their neighbors and friends will spend eternity with God or be lost forever. Our creature comforts are the issues that really stir our ire . . . I’m convinced that many Christians who are angry today would become pacified if somehow we could return this country to the fifties . . . they would be satisfied with this change even if no one were converted to Christ in the process! They would be content if Christ were accepted as lawgiver to restore order to society even if He were not accepted as Savior to rescue society. In other words, it is not because people are going to hell that we are upset . . . rather, it is that our way of life is being disturbed (ibid, pgs. 43-44).

So if I have to one day surrender my American Right to own fire-arms, I will. And say to those who take them, “I will joyfully accept the plundering of my property, since I know that I have a better possession and an abiding one that will not be shaken – my citizenship is in heaven” (Hebrews 10:34, 12:27-28; Phil. 3:20).

Can you say, “Affliction is good for me”?

We sang this song for worship yesterday. It’s a poem written by John Newton in 1779 about how the Lord afflicts us that he might free us from our sin and drive us to himself. It describes what David said in Psalm 119 when he sang,

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word . . . It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (vss. 65-72).

Like David and John Newton, we have asked the Lord to grow us. Then he brought suffering as an answer to our prayer. Then we asked the Lord to take away the suffering. But the suffering does not go away but what comes is the design of the suffering – to “break thy schemes of earthly joy that thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

The song is sung by Sovereign Grace Ministries to the tune, “O Waly Waly.” The lyrics are below.

I asked the Lord that I might grow  

In faith and love and ev’ry grace,
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,                                                                           And He, I trust, has answered prayer,
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request                                                                                  And, by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in ev’ry part.

Yea, more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe,                                                                                        Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Humbled my heart and laid me low.

“Lord, why is this,” I trembling cried;
“Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”