Monday, April 05, 2010


April 4, 2010

Friday was awful; Sunday was awesome. But in between there was Saturday. I was thinking today how absolutely brutal the day after the crucifixion must have been for Christ’s disciples. They were in between the death and the resurrection, in between the agony and the ecstasy, in between the horror of the cross and the glory of the empty tomb, in between the knowledge that all was lost and the realization that everything was gained, in between the sting of death and the victory of life, in between the curse of Adam and the blessing of Christ, in between the tyranny of the grave and the freedom of grace, in between the horror of hell and the hope of heaven.
Fortunately, Christ’s original followers only had to endure one day in between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Believers today all live on the other side of Sunday. We know about the glory of the empty tomb, the victory of life, the blessing of Christ, the freedom of grace, and the hope of heaven. We know that “…Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” – 1Corinthians 15:20. We know that God “…has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade…” – 1Peter 1:3-4. We know that “…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…” – Ephesians 2:4-5.
So if we know all this, why do we still live as though death was this all powerful enemy to be loathed and feared? Why do we still waste so much time and energy complaining about the state of the world, the state of our finances, the state of our health, and acting like we’re on our way to a funeral? Why do we so often find ourselves devoid of the joy of the Lord? Why do we so often act as though we were stuck in Saturday?
When Jesus gathered with His disciples on the night He was arrested He knew that their faith in Him was about to be shaken to its core. They were about to experience the worst two days of their lives. Not only would they witness the agony of His death on Friday, they would also experience the total absence of Christ on Saturday. For the first time in three years they would be completely removed from His presence. They were about to live through the “in between.” So He prayed to His Father on their behalf saying: “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” – John 17:13.
If Jesus’ final requests included an immeasurable amount of joy for His followers why do we so often allow the things of this world to rob us of His joy? Can financial stress, unemployment, poor health, sour relationships, failing businesses, political turmoil, or shattered dreams compare to the riches of eternity with Christ in heaven? “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” – Habakkuk 3:17-18. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – James 1:2-4. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” – Philippians 4:4.
The answer to the Saturday blues is to keep your focus on Sunday. Whenever you find yourself in between your dilemma and His solution, in between your defeat and His victory, in between your sorrow and His joy, in between Good Friday and Easter, imagine yourself among the women who went to a tomb early one morning to anoint death but were instead surprised by life. Listen as they were told by two angels, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” – Luke 24:5-6. Imagine what it was like to have one incredible dawn obliterate the worst day of your life. Imagine having the darkness of your Saturday eclipsed by the brightness of His Sunday. And then realize that we are already living in Sunday!

Bill, a child of God rejoicing in Sunday


March 28, 2010

“Never purchase a diamond after it has already been fixed in its setting,” explained the white-haired jeweler as he stared at me over his thick reading glasses. “You must examine it outside its setting, under a bright light, under a magnifying glass. Come; let me show you what to look for.”
The aged proprietor of the best known jewelry store in my hometown led me over to a counter and motioned for me to sit down on a high wooden stool. It was late summer and after several weeks of visiting my family and working summer jobs I would soon be returning to Arizona State University to resume my music studies. But before I made the trek back to school I had one monumental, life-changing task to accomplish. I had made the decision to pick up an engagement ring for my future bride. Because I knew almost nothing about purchasing a diamond ring I was advised to seek out the counsel of a certified gemologist.
The grizzled old gentleman sat down on a squeaky, well-worn stool on the opposite side of the counter from me. After unlocking a display case he reached in and produced several solitary diamonds placing them on top of the counter on a black velvet cloth. After schooling me about the color, the carat weight, and the clarity of the stones he talked about how the stones were cut.
“When a diamond is cut properly it will cast a perfect shadow; no light can penetrate,” he explained as he invited me to look through a large magnifying glass at a stone he was holding with a pair of locking tweezers. To emphasize his point he placed a clean sheet of white paper under the stone and slowly rotated the diamond under a bright light. The experienced jeweler was correct. At every angle the diamond cast a perfect shadow; no light was able to pass through it. “No matter which way I hold it this stone will perfectly reflect the light,” he proclaimed admiringly. “The many facets in the stone act like tiny mirrors bouncing the light back toward the source and radiating it in manifold directions. When a stone is cut right, its brilliance will be enhanced. Just look at how the lustrous beauty of this stone is brought to life and magnified under the light!”
I was hooked. The old man proved not only to be an experienced gemologist but a pretty good salesman as well. Forty years later my wife still wears the same diamond and all the wear and tear of four decades worth of washing dishes, sorting dirty laundry, changing diapers, cooking and cleaning, raising three kids and keeping a husband in line has not been able to dim its brilliance.
The distant memory of the time I bought that ring popped back into my mind the other day when I read this verse of Scripture. “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” – 1Peter 4:10. It was the phrase, “the manifold grace of God,” that triggered the memory of how a diamond is cut. Just like a multi-faceted diamond is cut to be a perfect reflection of the light, the Church is also designed to be a perfect reflection of Christ. But I wonder how well we live up to our design. Are we actually enhancing the brilliance of our Maker or do we cast imperfect shadows across the landscape of our neighborhoods?
We Christians have a habit of gathering together with those who look, think, and act just like ourselves. Not only does this lead to ethnic, economic, political, and philosophical segregation, but this tendency also gives rise to denominationalism. We usually prefer fellowshipping with those who possess the same ministering gifts we exhibit. Consequently we see churches who display an overabundance of one or two particular spiritual gifts. Those who are gifted as teachers will congregate in a church which emphasizes Bible study. Others possessing shepherding gifts will be drawn toward churches which have an emphasis on reaching out to the poor in their community. Others who have a passion for reaching the lost will search for a church with a strong evangelistic program. Those who employ the so called “charismatic gifts” will gather in charismatic churches.
It’s not that any of these emphases are wrong. Indeed they are all a part of the manifold grace of God. But that’s the problem; they’re just a part of His grace. By themselves these groups cast imperfect reflections of Christ. From one direction they may look terrific. But rotate them just a little and their luster fades. This is what happens when we allow imperfect stone-cutters (meaning human) to chisel away at the body of Christ and attempt to make it into our own image. Instead of mere humans doing the cutting, we need to place our trust in the Master Gemologist. Only He can cut the stone in such a way as to provide the greatest brilliance. Only He can bring together every facet of His manifold grace in a way that brings glory to Him no matter which way the stone is turned. Only He can place each stone in the proper setting in order to enhance the beauty of the whole piece of jewelry.
“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’” – 1Peter 2:4-6.
I am sickened by the fact that throughout the history of the church human stone-cutters have broken up the kingdom of God into thousands of imperfect stones none of which comes anywhere close to perfectly reflecting the glory of our Cornerstone. We may see tiny glimpses of His grace here and there, but just think how glorious it would be if we all surrendered our hammers and chisels and allowed Christ to do the cutting! How much of our human programs, pride, and prejudices would have to be cut away before we became a stone which perfectly reflected the brilliance of the source of our light? What would have to be chipped away before those outside the kingdom would be able to look at us, from any angle, and see a perfect reflection of the manifold grace of God?
I don’t believe the simple-church movement has all the answers to these questions, but I love the concept of simply following Christ into the harvest field and allowing Him to gather together the people He chooses, organically, rather than directing people into an already existing group which may or may not be the proper setting to display their gifting. I continue to marvel at the individuals God has gathered together in our various simple churches. The church at table number two amazes me the most right now. At a local coffee shop on Tuesday evenings in our home town you are likely to see around ten very different individuals crowding around a corner booth sharing food, reading Scripture, and praying for one another. Included in this group is an African American, an Asian, two older white men, two Hispanics (one of whom speaks almost no English), an older woman of mixed race, and two unwed mothers in their early twenties.
There is no way any human stone-cutter could have come up with such a gem. Only God could have brought together this diverse of a group. I am so glad we gave up trying to be just a men’s accountability group and allowed Christ to shape us into His own image. Because we gave over our hammer and chisel to the Master stone-cutter, the glory of God shines forth from that restaurant every Tuesday evening. All we do is show up and ask God who He wants us to shine upon that evening. To our amazement He keeps bringing us into contact with individuals we never would have imagined gathering together into a church. As God continues to polish this gem the light has begun to radiate outward. Additional gatherings have sprung up and more ministries are about to be birthed.
I have a feeling God isn’t finished shaping this gemstone. But after all we are a “living stone” and as long as we are willing our Master Gemologist will continue to cut away what doesn’t belong and polish what does. He does so in order that we might not absorb any of His glory but rather mirror it back to a world lost in darkness. He does so in order that the beauty of our stone might be enhanced and the light of Christ might be magnified. He does so in order to help us become a greater reflection of the manifold grace of God.

Bill, a child of God and a steward of His manifold grace