Acorns From Oakes

Seeing With Our Father's Eyes

Coming? Or Going?

I know you’ve had those days when life was so busy that, as we say, you could hardly tell whether you were coming or going. You were so busy that it wouldn’t have surprised you to meet yourself on the way out. There are so many comings and goings in our lives that revolve around people. And some of these moments are absolutely life-shaking. They are so significant that after they occur nothing will ever be the same again. For example, think of the day you first met that special someone, and you somehow knew that this was the person you wanted to build a life with. What an amazing life-altering experience!

Now think back with me to the time when Jesus walked upon the earth. Think of the many comings and goings there were of people in His life. Think of the lonely, the guilty, the outcasts, the sick, the bereaved, the blind, the weary, and all the despairing people, the shepherd-less crowds, who came to Him. Think of the change that characterized them by the time they left Jesus’ presence. They came to Him sad but left glad.

However there is one encounter pointed out in Mark 10 which, unfortunately, has a different outcome. Sinners come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. They could be as recognizable as temple-prostitutes, tax-collectors and drunkards, or they could come disguised as successful, young political-types. Just such a young man was so eager to see Jesus that he ran to meet Him and knelt before Him. In spite of his success and advantages in life, he seems obviously aware that something is missing. He asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” After agreeing on the law’s helpfulness to this end, the Master gives His insightful spiritual diagnosis. “Go, sell everything. Give all the proceeds to the poor. Then come and follow Me.”

He had run to Jesus in eagerness but departs in sadness. It seems clear that he didn’t expect the radical spiritual surgery Jesus prescribed.
Living as we do in rich America…and being in so many ways a rich American…this story troubles me. I want to believe that if Jesus required the same of me as He did of that young man, that I would do it. But would I? Would you? Jesus was not one to play with people’s minds or emotions. It was never His goal to make salvation more difficult for anyone. He requires this extreme action of the young man, because the young man was in extreme danger. Though he had come in eagerness, though he asked the right question, and though Jesus loved Him sincerely, he leaves the Lord’s presence in quiet sadness. So many others came to Jesus sad and left glad. But this one came to Jesus glad and left sad. He was unwilling to exchange his treasure on earth for treasure in heaven. He decided that he would keep doing life on those terms with which he was familiar. Jesus was fine and all that, but He would not be his Lord.

Listen, beloved, no matter what we get or have or keep in exchange for life, we end up going away from Jesus with chronic sadness. Don’t settle for that. Come with the sadness of your sins and leave glad that you have a new Lord. Come hungry and be filled. (Isaiah 55:1-2)

So…are you coming or going? Please come to Jesus!

 

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Between His Shoulders

“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long,

and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.

Deuteronomy 33:12

 

Such Scriptures surely speak tenderly to our hearts. There are so many, many people whose lives are one tough struggle from sun-up to sundown, week after weary weak just to keep soul and body together. Maybe it’s the fight for physical necessities…maybe it’s the war that rages within due to a troubled mind…maybe it’s the wounds they have received from another’s evil…maybe they’ve never been accepted and loved by those who were supposed to do this for them…maybe they suffer terribly from memories of irreversible errors they have made…maybe someone they care for deeply is hurting, and they can’t help them…maybe…well, you fill in the blank.

 

So many, many people…people Jesus saw as sheep having no loving shepherd who would watch over them, protect them, love them and feed them. Jesus’ heart for others wouldn’t permit Him to remain in Heaven. He came to His own though He knew His own wouldn’t receive Him. He came to seek and save the lost, though He knew the task was immense. He came to serve though He knew that many, far too many, wouldn’t allow Him to touch them. He came to suffer, because that’s how it is with holiness in our sin-cursed world. He came to die…offering those who had completely given up on themselves Someone who believed in them when they themselves no longer could.

 

And all those who turn aside to see this great wonder, a Man hanging on the cross for them, telling them…showing them in words written in blood…that He thought them well worth the trouble and that they mustn’t give up on themselves or settle for too little. In their hearts, chords that were broken begin to vibrate once more. They leave with a new song on their lips. Someone loves me after all. Someone thinks me worth all the trouble. Someone won’t give up on me. Someone wants me…welcomes me…accepts me. Someone Who is Worthy wants me!

 

     He makes room for me. Wonder of wonders! I am not just here to visit. He intends for me to stay! What is that strange feeling in my chest? I had thought it long since extinct. Love?! And I know I am secure. He sings me to my first untroubled rest in years with this song…“Nothing can come between us now…not death or life, not angels or principalities, not things present nor things to come, nor powers, not height nor depth…not anything comes between us now…ever.”

 

Can’t you hear Him telling you softly, “Go to sleep then, beloved. You are Mine. Nothing can harm you now! I’ve got you. It’s alright. Sleep on. Take your rest. It’s not a dream. I’ll be here when you wake.” So off to sleep we go, resting secure between His strong shoulders. Sleep well tonight, sisters and brothers. And live secure in His loving care tomorrow!

 

 

My Heroes

Once upon a time my heroes lived far away from me. They were great baseball players, and, without exception, they wore the red and white of the Cincinnati Reds…like Vada Pinson, Wally Post, or Frank Robinson. I only saw those men play once or twice in person. They were my heroes.

Then there came a day when a hero was defined for me by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ literary character of Tarzan. But, of course, Tarzan only existed in my imagination, and I moved on.

As I grew up in the church I saw that preachers commanded a lot of attention. Those who were particularly talented speakers rose to the level of hero for me. I only got to be near them at various lectureships, and they became my heroes.

However my ideas about heroes have changed as I have aged. I have discovered that it is my privilege to live among heroes. Oh no, the world does not acknowledge them as such. I used to be among that number. Not anymore.

Let me describe some of them to you. There was the widow lady who drove thirty miles alone, in all kinds of weather, day or night, to worship her Lord for as many years as physical health would permit. She is my hero.

Another was the frail old brother whose hands and legs were severely crippled and distorted by arthritis. Pain was his constant companion. Every night he lay down with it, and every morning he arose, slowly, with it. Yet he never lost his smile, nor his faith. He always asked me to read Scripture and lead prayer. He was the same until the day he went Home . Now he lives painfree. His portrait hangs in the hall of heroes in my heart.

Then let me tell you about the finest evangelist I ever knew personally. He is not a paid staff member. He is not a pro. He didn’t attend any schools except that of Jesus Christ. He always has a kind and loving eye out for others with whom to share the Story. He keeps the dream alive in me and many others. He is a hero to me.

Another story involves a once young mother, who brought her children regularly to church without the help of a believing spouse. In spite of all her efforts, prayers, and hopes, as the children grew, they didn’t share her faith. Now…alone…she still goes regularly to the house of worship. She won’t quit believing. She won’t quit hoping and praying for her family. She won’t quit being one of my heroes either.

Another case is that of a teenager who isn’t afraid to let others know, without a show, that he is a Christian. And that fact determines his behavior in and out of school. I see the courage of a hero in him.

My heroes, even though burdened with their own troubles, see to the needs of others…they pray without ceasing…they look with eyes of love, listen with ears of love and speak with tones of love. My heroes would be terribly embarrassed to have the word hero attached to them, but I can’t help it. You are my heroes, because your faith calls me onward toward our Lord.

 

Cold Righteousness

In Luke 18, Jesus has a word for some, who Luke tells us, were confident of their own righteousness. It seems there were two men praying in the temple. We are told first of the Pharisee. Now he either was standing by himself as he prayed, or he was praying about himself. The translations don’t seem to be real clear about that. It looks to me like the context would favor that he was standing by himself. As we listen to his prayer, his aloneness could be either that he preferred to be at a distance from people like the publican…or it could be that because of his attitude no one wanted to stand near him. His prayer is not about praising God. He didn’t ask God for anything for himself or for anyone else. He is very obviously enamored with himself. He proceeds to thank God for His wise work in producing one such as himself. He carefully lists his sterling character traits…“I am not a robber. I’m not unjust or an adulterer. And I’m very glad I’m nothing like this publican.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t accuse him of lying. He was telling the truth. He really wasn’t a thief or unjust or adulterous. And he was no tax collector either (his lips would have curled in disgust at the very mention of such a despised person). No…he was not like other men.

But let me ask you some questions, “Would you have wanted to meet this Pharisee? Would you want to spend time with him…maybe have a meal with him or invite him to your home to meet your family? If you were in some kind of trouble would you have called on him?” Me neither! Why? In a nutshell, he’s a liar. No, he didn’t lie about what he hadn’t done or about not being like the tax collector. That was true. But his whole life is a lie. He is a lie. He is a lie about what matters most. He is a lie about prayer. He is a lie about people. He is a lie about real relationship with God. He is a lie about salvation. And when he left the temple that day, he was still alone.

Now listen to the plea of the publican/tax collector. Don’t we tread lightly at this man’s prayer? Are you hushed into reverent meditation as you listen? “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And this man, far from being confident of his own righteousness, would not so much as lift his eyes heavenward, as he smites his own breast in penitence over his sins, which were many. This man’s prayer exalts God…the God of amazing grace Who abundantly pardons and devises ways for prodigals to come to their senses and return to Him. This man admits his sinfulness and his need to God. This man reveals his broken heart and his longing for better.

Now let me ask you, would you want to meet this man? Invite him home and spend time with him? Would you feel you could call on him if you needed help? Me too! Because his life is true. He has told the truth about God…the truth about his own sins…the truth about righteousness and salvation. He lights the way for other sinners who are willing to be honest also. When the tax collector left the temple that day, he wasn’t alone.

There is a form of “righteousness” that is very, very cold. It puts people off. It offers nothing warm…nothing helpful…nothing inviting. It builds walls, not bridges. It’s full of what one doesn’t do and empty of what one should do. In contrast to this, our Lord went about doing good (Acts 10:38a) and helping others. He was Light…not the glare of a spotlight, but the warmth of the candle in the window. May we go and do likewise in His Name and for His glory.

 

 

“…No Beauty…To Attract Us…” Isaiah 53:2

Do you remember about Whom the above words were written? Acts, chapter eight, makes crystal clear that they were written of Jesus. On this end of the story, I can’t imagine it being true. In every picture I saw of Him as I was growing up, He always stood out. He was central. Either His face was shining or there was a halo above His head. And for the last 55 years, I have worshiped Him as God’s only begotten Son. I have sung and led numerous hymns that praise His beauty and majesty…preached many a sermon about His loveliness. But as I think about Isaiah 53 again today…I wonder…if I had been there when the “unspectacular” Jesus was eking out His existence like a root out of dry ground…if I had passed this One Whose poverty and plainness was so apparent.. .could I have accepted Him as the Son of God?

He lived in the presence of God like other ordinary desert rabble. God didn’t grant Him special favors. He was not filled with charisma. By outward appearances He was just another Jew in the midst of many. And when it came to suffering, He shared in it like all the rest. He kept proclaiming that faith in God was the answer to all their troubles, but when trouble came, He suffered with the rest…more than the rest. God didn’t hide Him from grief. He was treated as no one special. The proof that He was just another dirty, little Jew (to foreigners) was the way they mistreated and mocked Him. And the proof that He was just another Jew (to Jews) was that He suffered with “all the other sinners.” So they esteemed Him not.

What of us? If we had been there, would we have given Him a chance? Or would we have written Him off in favor of some flashy, more successful looking rabbi who was respected by all the good, religious folks? I’m not at all sure I would have recognized Him then.

And, I wonder, if I recognize Him today. I am too enamored with the exciting to be bothered by the eternal. I am so preoccupied with success that I can’t even understand “surrender.” My heart is so filled with cares, there is no room for Christ. Unless, of course, He is willing to make Himself known to me dramatically…with flash and flair. But He doesn’t. He offers us a look at pierced hands and feet…the chance to see real BeautyHe provides us an opportunity to mourn our sins…to know His comfort…and to be like the unattractive Jesus.

What The Resurrection Means To Me

Because Jesus rose from the dead, I don’t have to wonder if life has meaning. It does. History has a point. A very important point. I am here for a reason. That reason centers in a resurrected Lord. So I am not here to simply do whatever I want. I am here to serve Him. The resurrection means I have good news to share with others. The grave is not our end. God has a destiny in mind for us. He wants us home with Him forever. But we can frustrate that purpose of God if we refuse to embrace the resurrection and its meaning. How do we embrace that meaning? The Bible tells us that when one is buried with Jesus in baptism, they are raised with Him in a new life (Romans 6:4). The resurrection of Christ means that we have an opportunity for a new spiritual life. Praise God, we can begin all over again! And we are not left to do this on our own. We have resurrection power at work within us (Ephesians 1:19). I don’t know everything that means, but it means we have a mighty power available to us in Christ to help us do His will. In a very real sense, Jesus’ resurrection day was His birthday (Acts 13:33). It was also the birthday of our help…our hope…our courage…our efforts to help others. We don’t have to fear sin, He has overcome it. We don’t have to fear suffering, He won’t leave us alone in it. We don’t have to fear death’s house, He has the keys to it.We don’t have to fear tomorrow, because we know it is in His hands. In the words of a Gaither hymn, “because He lives, I can face tomorrow.” Our hope, like our Lord, is living! If our Lord were not living, our hope would be dead. But because He lives, we live also.

”The stars shine over the ocean. The stars shine over the sea. The stars shine up to heaven. The stars shine down on me. The stars may shine for a million years, a million years and a day. But God and I will live and love, when all the stars have passed away.”

That’s what the resurrection means to me.

 

Do I Make Him Proud?

Brrrrrrr! It’s cold out there! Thank God for the sunshine in our souls today…and every day…winter, summer, spring or fall…cloudy or bright…hazy or clear…windy or calm…snow or rain. The constant of our lives is His love for us. He is the only, eternally unchangeable of our pilgrimage. We would rather count on Him than on our government or our finances or our careers or our homes or our health, wouldn’t we? And we do count on Him!

For what it’s worth, I am thinking of you…praying for you…friends and family…beloved of God (and me)…treasured by Him (and me). I don’t know why He gave me you in this life, but I’m glad He did. The blessings that you represent to me are way past numbering. I can’t figure out why He loves me (but I love to think of it…I know the reason lies within Him, certainly not me). Neither can I figure out why you have shown such love to me (but, again, I love to think of it…and in these cold days of lingering winter, I warm by the fires of your love and prayers and well-wishes on my behalf). I feel the same for you. May He richly bless you…every day!

In the movie, The Sixth Sense, the boy who is able to see dead people is speaking with his own mother. It seems she has been suffering in silence a long time (since her own mother had died). The boy is trying to convince his mother that he has been able to see and speak with his deceased grandma. He tells his mom, “Grandma told me that you come to her grave every day and ask a question. She said the answer is, ‘Every day!’ What is your question, mama.” His mother then replies through many tears that the question is, “Do I make her proud?”

Isn’t that what we really want to know? Is there anything we do for God that makes Him sit up and take notice…that makes Him feel proud?

Sisters and brothers, the answer is YES! He is proud of us for believing in Him…for wanting to do better…for refusing to make peace with our sins…for not quitting when the reasons to do so seem to abound…for every wish for good…every word for good…every unselfish impulse and deed. He is in our corner. He doesn’t want us to lose. In fact He is working around the clock to see to it that we don’t lose. No… we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us (and loves us still).

I really do believe these things…because the Bible teaches me so. Rely on His love for you. (1 John 4:16)

 

Jesus…Friend Of Sinners!

This was the ugly accusation made against Jesus by His self-righteous, religious critics. Implied in their assertion was the notion that Jesus was being soft on sin and sinners. They would have said He was walking a dangerous path and hanging with the wrong crowd. He was encouraging sin, you see, by not keeping Himself completely separate from all those wretches who came from the wrong side of the tracks. He was not avoiding every “appearance” of evil. He was making Himself an easy target for all those, who like them, might accuse Him of guilt by association. So their charge against Jesus had nothing good in it. They meant only evil of Him. Here, before their eyes, was the very Son of God, Who was love personified, Who was holiness incarnate, Who was spotless in life and in lip. Who went about thinking, doing and speaking only good. Yet these mere humans, flawed and wrong-headed, who were steeped in sin and error… these puny humans felt qualified to accuse Jesus of laxity in regard to sin. They were dead wrong in their thinking…but they were actually right on with their statement. The ugly accusation was a beautiful, hope-bringing truth. Jesus was with sinners. He could not have avoided them, could He? Every person He met was sin-stained. HOWEVER, Jesus was not with them in order to participate in or condone sinfulness. He was with them as a doctor with sick people. He accepted sinners where they were, just as they were, but was too good a “Friend” to leave them as He found them. No! He would bring them new and abundant life. He would free them from sin’s misery and mastery.

JESUS, FRIEND OF SINNERS! Ugly accusation by enemies. Unimaginably beautiful truth to all of us sinners who need Him so.

 

The Night Of Nights

The date of our Lord’s birth is unknown to us. It is highly unlikely that December 25th would be correct, and there are relatively few who actually believe it to be so. Once, in a Bible class I was conducting, we were discussing the “Christmas” traditions that many involve themselves in at this time of year. One dear brother spoke up and said, “Well, we don’t celebrate Christ’s birth!” I knew what he meant, and I responded as kindly as I could to him by saying that perhaps he did not celebrate Christ’s birth, but I did. He understood my meaning also and agreed with me. I do not limit my celebration of Jesus’ birth to one date on the calendar. I am grateful every day, and I regularly praise Him for His coming in the flesh to us and for us.

When Jesus was born, someone has said, it was like God came down the stairs holding His newborn Son, all wrapped in swaddling clothes, while heaven and earth looked on. There’s no Scripture that says the angels received any command to worship, but they did. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:13f) As far as I can read when the Savior’s birth was announced on that same night of nights to the nearby shepherds, they received no command to go find the baby, nor to offer praise, nor to spread the news to others. But with hearts full of wonder and joy they did just that anyway! When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this ChildThe shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:17, 20) I can’t see in the Bible any command for those wise men to make their pilgrimage to Bethlehem when they saw the star announcing Jesus’ arrival, nor for them to bring gifts and worship Him, but so they did. On coming to the house, they saw the Child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. (Matthew 2:11) It seems to me that if the angels, the shepherds and the wise men, without a specific command to do so, believed His birth to be worthy of worship…of singing…of joy…of gift-giving…and of sharing, then, perhaps, I may believe that too. The night of Jesus’ birth captures our imagination and inspires us to praise. With the birth of each of our children, Vicki and I decided to do what many other parents do. We decided to remember their birth dates and have an annual celebration for each of them. It was one of our ways of communicating to them how much we treasure them, and, yes, of saying to God, how grateful we were to Him for giving us our children. There is no command to do this. I wouldn’t force it upon anyone else. But it is right for us to do it! Now if I choose to say a special thank-you to God for sending us His only begotten Son, surely it’s alright for me to do so, on December 25th or on any other day of the year. On that night of nights, whatever date it was, God sent His Son, thus enabling Him to live, serve, suffer, die and be raised for the redemption of us all. I praise Him for that. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so anytime, all the time, with our lives and our mouths. Glory to God! And Merry Christmas!

 

“UNDESERVED BLESSINGS?”

Sometimes God’s bounty towards us is described as “undeserved blessings.”  One might wonder if implied in this terminology is the idea that some of the blessings flooding my way are deserved by me. You see, I’m capable of being easy on myself. But when you really think about it, “Are there any blessings in my life that I do deserve?”  And yet, I sometimes slip into an entitlement mentality. I know on a certain level that God’s forgiveness of me is undeserved by me…but then again I think, without saying it, that God must be pleased by the magnificent way I repent. My repentance is more noble…more complete…more satisfying to God than that of others. It’s all so subtle, isn’t it? I am even capable of priding myself on my repentance. But what is repentance? It’s a God-directed, God-enabled change of my heart about my sin through the wonderful story of love…our Savior’s sacrifice of Himself for us. The very definition of repentance eliminates all claims that there is anything in us that in any way deserves what Jesus did and what God freely offers us through Him.

Repeatedly, God warned His people, Israel, not to be lifted up with pride over His choice of them or over His blessings to them. Listen to His reminder to them in Deuteronomy 7:7-8a…“The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your forefathers that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery. Later God speaks to them about their going into the promised land with all of its richness and driving out their enemies before them. He instructs them not to reason within themselves that it was because of their “righteousness” that they were getting this new home. No! It was because of the sins of the land’s previous occupants that this came about. He concludes by telling them,  “Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people (Deuteronomy 9:6). But though they were so undeserving, Great God still set His love upon them…still delivered them…still intended to bring them home.

What about us? Do we wish to compare ourselves favorably with Israel? Wouldn’t it be better by far to get away from that kind of thinking? Aren’t you glad He doesn’t treat us as we deserve? Listen, every good thought…every act of kindness…every unselfish deed…every noble sacrifice…every comforting, encouraging word…every strong promise…every loving relationship…every good thing we look forward to with joy…every Word from Him…every protection…every beautiful song…every precious memory…every chance to say or hear, “I love you”…it’s all of grace…it’s all of Him…it’s all so wonderful. Maybe that’s something for which to offer your gratitude to God this Thanksgiving season and beyond.

“Dear Father, Thank You for the reminder. Thank You for setting Your love on us and for delivering us because You are Who You are. And thank You, Father God for every good, perfect, and undeserved gift!”

A Blessed Thanksgiving To You And Yours!

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