Kicking on the Furnace

When the cold air comes on in,
it kicks the furnace on,
and the furnace overwhelms the cold.
As the sorrow comes into the heart of a Christian,
it kicks on more of the joy.
It gets you closer to him,
it helps you dig down deeper into him,
and the joy kicks up, you might say, like a furnace,
and overwhelms the sorrow.
That is a picture of a solid Christian.
Not a sorrow-less person who is
happy, happy, happy, all the time.
That’s not the picture.
A picture of a real Christian
is a person who has a furnace of joy in there
that kicks up as the sorrow comes in
and overwhelms the sorrow.
But the sorrow is there.
It is there.
~Pastor Tim Keller (1990)
, now in treatment for pancreatic cancer

The Cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to get near enough for its sparks to fall on us.
~John Stott

I have listened to criticism at times in my faith life that I don’t exhibit enough joy and happiness in my Christian walk. It is true that I tend toward lamenting the state of the world and the state of my own soul. I could use more balance in my expressions of gratitude. So what I hear from others is fair feedback.

My faith furnace thermostat is now set so high that it rarely kicks on and I dwell too much in the cold.

Especially in the last year of COVID-time, I have been especially feeling the chill as I watch so many dealing with immense sorrow and loss. So much has changed, particularly in how we can safely gather and worship together, resulting in finger pointing among Christians about who is showing more righteous dedication to the Word of God.

So the nit-picking begins.

If we don’t sing together in worship as commanded by our Lord but temporarily restricted by state regulations, do we lack conviction in our faith, allowing fear and earthly authorities to rule over us? If we sing outside, even in the cold dark rain and snow, is that sufficient compromise and does it truly “turn on” the furnace of our joy?

Or wearing a mask shows fear and a lack of faith that God is ultimately in charge as only He determines how many days we dwell on this earth. Yet by wearing a mask at all times when together we are showing compassion for others by loving them enough to try to protect them from any infection we may unknowingly harbor.

These feel like irreconcilable differences in perspective among people who purportedly love one another in the name of Christ. So we all end up in the cold, waiting on the furnace of our love and joy to kick on.

In my self-absorption, I tend to forget that the fire has always been there, lit by Christ’s sacrifice, despite His own mortal fear and hesitation and tears, yet fueled solely by His divine desire to save His children. I need to come closer to feel the heat of His love, and feel those sparks landing on my earthly skin to remind me there can be no love without pain.

Amen to that.

Thorns Will Never Overcome

Understanding the Difference

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…the essence of sin
is man substituting himself for God,
while the essence of salvation
is God substituting himself for man.

~John Stott from The Cross of Christ

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Try as we might
to make things in our image,
no matter what discontent we feel,
we fail to understand
we are not God
and never can be.

Try as we might
to pick ourselves up when we fall,
no matter the anguish we feel,
we struggle to understand
He fell to earth to catch us:
bled our blood,
shed our tears.

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Prepare for Joy: Substitution Allowed

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For the essence of sin is
man substituting himself for God,
while the essence of salvation is
God substituting Himself for man.

Man asserts himself against God and puts himself
where only God deserves to be;
God sacrifices Himself for man and puts Himself
where only man deserves to be.

Man claims prerogatives that belong to God alone;
God accepts penalties that belong to man alone.
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ

Our struggle with God, from our first breath,
is wanting to forget we are made from dust, molded from mud,
and will return to the ground, no matter what.
Between the womb and the tomb is the choice of acting
as though we own the earth and somehow it owes us everything because we exist,
or whether we tread lightly, knowing each breath, each morsel, each day
is an undeserved gift granted by Him taking our place.
When we acknowledge that His heart on earth bled
so that ours will continue to beat,
so that we may laugh, cry, love and worship–
only then we are right with God,
instead of insisting we be God.

His heart for ours. A substitution made perfect.

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Lenten Reflection–Substitutions Allowed

photo by Josh Scholten

For the essence of sin is
man substituting himself for God,
while the essence of salvation is
God substituting Himself for man.

Man asserts himself against God and puts himself
where only God deserves to be;
God sacrifices Himself for man and puts Himself
where only man deserves to be.

Man claims prerogatives that belong to God alone;
God accepts penalties that belong to man alone.

John Stott, The Cross of Christ

Our struggle with God, from our first breath, is wanting to forget we are made from dust, molded from mud, and will return to the ground, no matter what. Between the womb and the tomb is the choice of acting as though we own the earth and somehow it owes us everything because we exist, or whether we tread lightly, knowing each breath, each morsel, each day is an undeserved gift granted by Him taking our place. When we acknowledge that His heart on earth bled so that ours will continue to beat, so that we may laugh, cry, love and worship–only then we are right with God, instead of insisting we be God.

His heart for ours. A substitution made perfect.

Lenten Meditation–Hid Not From Shame

Rembrandt Head of Christ

I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.
Isaiah 50:6

So this is how humanity treats God.  Still.  He does not turn His face from us, but we continually turn from Him.  We only add to His suffering.

“In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?  He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death.  He suffered for us.” John Stott

“No matter how deep our darkness, he is deeper still.” Corrie ten Boom

“…even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139:12

Lenten Meditation: The God For Me!

The Crucified Christ by Rubens

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross… In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world.

But each time after a while I have to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness.

That is the God for me! He laid aside His immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of His.”

—John Stott, The Cross of Christ

It is interesting to read of Pastor Stott’s turning toward the image of the crucified Christ, away from the smiling but detached Buddha.  As I did not grow up with images of the crucified Christ, I find it very difficult to see paintings, statues, or watch movies depicting the Crucifixion.  I want to turn away in discomfort at the agony portrayed. It is too overwhelming to behold.

But I must turn back and face Him. I cannot look away in horror.

He is not detached.  He is completely and unutterably attached to me–by His grace–by His will–by His giving of Himself–indeed by the nails themselves.   That is my God hanging there.

Lenten Meditation: Naked Before God

Peter Paul Rubens 1597

Genesis 3:11

And (God) said: ‘who told you that you were naked?”
Those fig leaves really don’t cover up much.  It must have felt pretty ridiculous to be hiding in the bushes while God walked in the cool of  the day in the Garden looking for Adam and Eve.

Hide our nakedness from the Creator who formed and designed the body parts we are trying futilely to cover?  Hide our thoughts and deeds from the God who knows our hearts and minds better than we ourselves do?  We are still naked in every aspect of our beings, completely and utterly uncovered and transparent, especially when it comes to our sin.

So who told us we were naked?  Who instilled shame in our bodies, when we are designed in the image, in the likeness of God who loved us enough to walk with us in the Garden?

It was not God who did this.  He was not ashamed of what He had made.

In our fall, in our terrible disobedience, we could no longer bear (or bare) to stand naked before God.   So in our place,  God, in His ultimate love for us, became our  Savior hanging naked, exposed, and humiliated instead.

“The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself  for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.  Man claims prerogatives that belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone.”   John Stott