From our family to yours! Merry Christmas!
I had the privilege of being part of a wedding at my church this past weekend, during the course of which I got to meet two families full of missionaries and pastors. And, in the midst I made a new friend. The father of the groom, Matt, and I had a great conversation during the rehearsal dinner (which, by the way, his entire family of 16 including him and his wife prepared…and I got some leftover cheesecake!). He is a fellow pastor who has apparently done lots of things right, judging from the character of his son that was married this past Saturday.
I’ve been reading his blog this morning, and it’s great, especially for us dads (whether you have 14 kids or not!). If you get a chance check it out!
Check out my son’s new blog!!
a sound, normally loud and causing disturbance
After reading the above definition, I instantly regretted my username decision. With it also being my Instagram name and my all around tag, I felt less confident of what I thought was a creative installment to my social status. TJ making noise. TJ making loud and disturbing sounds. Great start bro, great start.
Of course if you don’t know who I am, than all of this is probably making you super confused, so let’s take care of that.
My name is Timothy Judah Lawson, and no one ever calls me that unless I’m in trouble, but let us not dwell on such things. Timothy Judah is actually quite fitting since Timothy means honoring God, and Judah means worship, or praise…and it just so happens that God blessed me with this crazy gift of music with which I strive to use for his…
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Great words from a dear friend and man of God. “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” – 2Ti 2:2 NKJV.
Yesterday, my sons and I along with good friend, went to see “Creed.” Other than one scene that was way too provocative (Why do they always do that?) and a small number foul words, this was a genuinely uplifting movie. Without being a “spoiler,” I want to share an experience I had watching the film.
Toward its end, an old Rocky Balboa is giving a last minute pep talk to his young protege. Standing in front of a boxer at the genesis of his career, the sage speaks slowly sharing phrase after phrase of boxing wisdom, personal encouragement, and trustworthy advice.
The next scene shows Rocky and the younger man walking down a long hallway toward the film’s climax in the ring. With each step, Rocky continues to counsel, support, and instill faith all while his gnarled fingers stay firmly wrapped around the chiseled shoulder of his boxing disciple.
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I’m so excited about the holidays! Cold weather, maybe snow, hot drinks and baked confections, a break from the normal routine, maybe getting to sleep in at some point…yep! There’s plenty to love!
Of course, those aren’t the MAIN reasons I love the holidays. Holidays are opportunities to reminisce, looking back on GOOD things. Thanksgiving is one of those specific times we intentionally pause to give thanks. I find myself being thankful for my family, my health, a place I can call home that is happy and joy-filled. I’m thankful for my wonderful job where I am privileged to pastor the greatest group of people on the planet as we are all discovering the treasures of Christ together on a great adventure. If these things are the earmark of wealth, I’m filthy rich!
Thanksgiving should lead us into the season of Advent; of expectation for the coming of Christ; a time filled with hope; joy; peace. Yet, for most of us, Thanksgiving, in an ironic way, can lead us into a season of frustration with a lack of gratitude.
Of course, we’ve all seen this Facebook graphic:
Isn’t it such a dichotomy that in a culture where we have so much, we can hardly get around to enjoying any of our stuff because we are scheming ways to get more? How easy it is to become dissatisfied with what we DO have, thinking it’s not enough. And, our desire to be thankful is overshadowed by angst over what we do not have.
Add to this seasonal equation the millions of people reminded of great loss during the holidays(family members, physical health, finances, jobs, homes), and Paul’s words to the Thessalonians become even harder to grasp: “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”(1Th 5:18 NKJV)
How can I give thanks in everything when my culture is always reminding me of what I DON’T have? How do I escape from the poisonous snake of thanklessness that seems to be nipping at my heels at every turn during the holidays?
Thousands of years ago, there was a group of people in the Middle East that also struggled with the snakebite of thanklessness. Israel had been in slavery for 400 years when God sent a deliverer to bring them out of Egypt into the Wilderness to worship Him. Their eventual destination was the Promised Land, a prosperous land that was promised to their forefather Abraham. God used Moses to bring Israel out of slavery with many signs and wonders. Israel watched the Red Sea part as they crossed over on dry land. They watched as the Pharaoh and his armies were destroyed before their very eyes as the Red Sea swallowed them into a watery grave. They journeyed to Mt. Sinai where they heard God’s voice, saw thunder, lightening, and smoke. They watched as rivers of water flowed from dry rocks at Moses’ command to satisfy their thirst. They collected manna 6 days a week to grind into flour to make bread. They saw God’s glory in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, leading them on their way. It was as if God had literally led them by the hand out of their bondage towards freedom.
But, when they arrived at the border of the Promised Land, they refused to enter the land. They didn’t enter the land because they didn’t believe that God would help them take possession. Even though He had practically carried them to the border. They suffered the consequences of their own actions by having to wander in the wilderness for 40 years as an entire generation of complainers would have to die without inheriting the promise they refused to believe was theirs, and a new generation would be given the chance to inherit the Promised Land.
In Numbers 21, Israel neared the end of their 40-year sentence. They had just spent 30 days mourning the death of Aaron their high priest, and now they were having to travel a longer way because the Edomites wouldn’t allow them to pass through their land. And, yet again Israel complained.
Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For [there is] no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” – Num 21:4-5 NKJV
Israel was mad at God and Moses because they were no longer in slavery! They were mad because they drank water from miraculous rivers in the desert and ate bread from the manna that fell from heaven! They were mad because their clothes never wore out and their feet never swelled in their shoes. Numbers 21 is one of the most blatant pictures of thanklessness in the scriptures.
Their lack of thanks brought judgment in the form of fiery serpents; poisonous snakes that bit the complaining Israelites, bringing burning, searing pain and death to many. Israel confessed their sin of complaining and asked Moses to pray that God would take the serpents away from them. But, God’s plan for relief didn’t include driving away the serpents.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery [serpent], and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” – Num 21:8 NKJV
God’s method of dealing with their sin was a metallic serpent lifted up on a pole, a reminder to all victims of the judgment they had brought upon themselves. But, with that reminder was also the good news of a promise that if the victims would simply look they would live. The cure would require faith in looking, not effort in spending time trying to drive out the snakes. It would require them to believe that simply looking at that pole would bring healing. God didn’t drive the snakes away, but he did render their bite ineffective for those who would by faith look at the snake on the pole.
Moses’ instructions (my paraphrase): “Got a snake problem? Look at the pole where brazen serpents and brazen sin are met with brazen grace.
Fast forward thousands of years later. A prominent man among the Jews, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, came to see Jesus one evening, trying to figure out if Jesus was THE One they had been looking for, the Messiah. And in the course of that conversation Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God; things Nicodemus didn’t understand. Jesus spoke of physical impossibilities, like being “born again.” “How can these things be?” Nicodemus asked? Jesus’ response:
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever BELIEVES in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, THAT WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM SHOULD NOT PERISH BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE.” John 3:13 – 16 NKJV (emphasis added)
Jesus took the story of the fiery serpent and revealed to Nicodemus that the story was about Him and God’s plan to cure the sin of the world. Numbers 21 was setting the stage for a new Intercessor, better than Moses, that would intercede for the people, not just over a physical snake bite, but a spiritual snake bite. Humanity’s problem was far worse than a physical snake bite; it was SIN. And, the effects of our sin was not only torment, searing pain, and physical death, but also spiritual death. The fiery serpent on the pole that was a vehicle for physical healing for the Israelites was a shadow of One who would come and be lifted up on a pole. On that pole (the cross), Jesus would bear our sin and judgment, wearing them like a garment so that those bitten by the snakes of sin (all of us) could in faith turn to gaze upon the source of our pain: the ugliness of our rebellion and sin, and the judgment that was poured out without mercy. Yet in that reminder was the Good News of a promise to be saved from destruction by faith. All who by the faith turn in repentance to gaze upon the Son will find that the snakes have no effect; they will experience not only physical life, but EVERLASTING, ETERNAL, ABUNDANT LIFE.
In many ways, we still have to deal with snakes, and are tempted to complain; to gripe; to grumble. But, the Good News is that the snake of thanklessness is ineffective against those who keep their eyes on the Son of Man, lifted up on the pole we call the cross. If you have a problem with thanklessness, the cure is the same as every other sin: Turn to the Son; look at the cross where brazen serpents and brazen sin were extinguished with brazen grace so that none have to perish but can receive everlasting life!
Prayers for a Happy Thanksgiving as we all remember the Son.
As I observed Veteran’s Day yesterday, I was reminded that exactly two months ago I had received the news that my dear friend, Jeff Cole, a war veteran and lieutenant colonel, had been released from this world and entered eternity. Not even 38 years old, he had courageously fought a battle with acute myeloid leukemia for 2 years and 4 months. I had been privileged to walk alongside Jeff, his wife Christi, and their two little girls through those 16 months. It was gut wrenching; awe-inspiring; and literally life changing for River of Life Church where I pastor and for me.
Jeff had gotten a bone marrow transplant in early 2014 sending the cancer into remission. However, this past summer, he learned that the cancer had returned with a vengeance. When they told me the prognosis…that without a miracle, he had months to live….I immediately went over to be with the family. All I could do was cry with Jeff…just be present. This was terrible; this was not what we had prayed for; this is not what we had been believing would happen. But, it was happening. And, I didn’t understand it at all. Jeff didn’t either. We sat in silence for some time, and when he spoke again, he asked me to preach his funeral. He gave specific instructions: preach his funeral; sing at his funeral; and make it happy…celebrate.
Of course, you don’t say “no” to a Army Lieutenant Colonel like Jeff Cole, so through tears, I agreed. But, I was almost sick at the thought of having to sing, preach, or “make it happy.” I was frustrated with how the situation was unfolding, I was overcome with dread and already grieving for Jeff, for his wife who was going to be a widow, and for his two girls that would grow up without him by their side. During the drive home, I just couldn’t comprehend how Jeff through IV tubes, excruciating physical weakness, and impending death without a miracle would be able to say, “Celebrate at my funeral.”
At a loss for words, I asked Jesus, “Lord, how am I going to keep THAT promise? How in the world can we possibly celebrate when this is all over?” And, in the silence, the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart, “Because My people don’t grieve like those who have no hope.”
When I got home, I realized that Apostle Paul had said those words to the believers in Thessalonica in the First Century. Paul had established a church there, but had to leave hurriedly without the necessary time he would have liked to disciple them. Naturally, they had many questions and misunderstandings about basic truths from the Gospel. One concern was about the afterlife. Some had loved ones that had died, and there seemed to be some worry and confusion about how or even if the dead could benefit from the return of Christ. So, Paul settled their heart in I Thessalonians 4:13 with the same words that God whispered to me: “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” [1Th 4:13 NKJV]
For Paul, Christian grief had everything to do with understanding one very important detail: hope.
This “hope” is not defined by our modern standards. We use the word “hope” a bunch of different ways. When we don’t know what’s going to happen, we hope for something good. We might say, “Even though we’re supposed to get rain today, I hope the weather holds out long enough to get through the soccer game.” We “hope” for something, but, it’s from a place of uncertainty; from a place where we aren’t sure of what’s going to happen. And, that’s not biblical hope. In fact biblical hope is almost the opposite!
Biblical hope desires a good outcome in the future, but it is based on confident expectation. Not from a place of doubt, but assurance…blessed assurance! John Piper says that biblical hope is based on “moral certainty,” not mathematical or logical certainty (if you have two apples and I give you two more apples, you can be mathematically certain that you have 4 apples). And, moral certainty comes from observing the actions of someone over time and being convinced of that person’s character based on actions of their will.
My wife and I have been married for 17 years. We’ve been through two houses, more cars than I can count, 4 churches, and the raising of three children. We are best friends. And, I’m convinced that we are going to be together so long as we both are alive because of moral certainty. We’ve seen each other at our best, we’ve seen each other at our worst, yet we have still chosen each other every day of our married lives. So, there’s no reason to believe that one day, one of us will decide NOT to choose the other. If I say, “I hope we stay together ’til death do us part,” it’s not from a finger-crossing hope that watches the basketball sailing towards the basket at the last second buzzer when the game is tied and we aren’t sure if it’s going to go in or not. My hope for our marriage is based on the moral certainty of 17 years of action; of friendship; of love. I have no reason to doubt. My hope is sure.
Christian hope is from a place of full assurance because it’s based on what God has done. A hope that finds its basis for certainty in the person of Jesus Christ. It’s rooted in the story of how mankind needed a hero to come to rescue us from Adam’s fall; a fall that crippled him and all his descendants with sin and, ultimately, death. So not only did God not LEAVE us in that condition, He came personally to secure our rescue. Jesus Christ Himself assumed the role of human and demonstrated for us what life could be like as a fully loved, fully accepted human son of God the Father. Then, He died on the cross to suffer the punishment we all deserved for our sin, was buried, and then rose again! His resurrection is like the receipt for our rescue; it’s proof that His sacrifice was accepted by God for all humanity! And, it’s the evidence that we have the ability to live as fully accepted, fully loved children of God by faith in what Jesus did, not by faith in what we do.
As sons and daughters of God, our mourning looks different because we have hope. Not a shallow hope of a life free from harm, danger, or trouble. Not a finger crossing, lip biting hope that everything will turn out the way we want in this life. But, a hope that this life is not the main event; it’s the introduction to an eternal saga where God is reconciling all creation to Himself through Jesus. Our lives are only a small part of a very large story that is unfolding.
That’s why Jeff could say, even in the throes of pain and suffering that I could never imagine, “Celebrate at my funeral; make it happy!” Because he had hope of eternal life based on what God has already done through Christ. He knew where he was going; he knew that death wasn’t the end.
And, at that funeral service, after my message (summarized in this blog post), I went to the piano with our worship team and began to sing the song Forever by Kari Jobe. After the first two verses, we sang the bridge and chorus:
The ground began to shake! The stone was rolled away!
His perfect love could not be overcome!
Now Death, where is your sting?
Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated!
Forever He is glorified!
Forever He is lifted high!
Forever He is risen!
He is alive! He is alive!
As I glanced at the congregation I saw Jeff’s wife, Christi, stand to her feet with hands raised in worship to God, followed by the rest of the room. There was clapping; there was shouting; there was rejoicing. We made it happy. Because we didn’t have to grieve as if we had no hope.
I just received word yesterday that a dear ministry friend of mine who is dying with lung cancer is now in Hospice care. Without a miracle, he will not survive much longer. But, whether he lives or dies, he and I have hope because our resurrected King has defeated death!
And, that’s good news!
Elizabeth Sullivan, Texas resident who just turned 104, told the world that the secret to her long life is Dr. Pepper. She says that doctors have told her repeatedly that Dr. Pepper would end up killing her…but, they keep dying while she has remained, can of pop in her hand. I finally have some justification for my love of drinking Dr. Pepper!!! Of course, I’m not 104…and according to MY doctor I won’t live to be 80 if I drink Dr. Pepper all the time! However, during my sabbatical, drinking Dr. Pepper has helped me at least once….in a very life-giving way.
One night in early March, mainly due to a large Dr. Pepper I had consumed at lunch, I was wide awake after just one hour of sleep. Usually I get out of bed if I can’t sleep. But, that night was cold and my bed was warm. So, I stayed in bed…and my brain kicked into gear. The thoughts came…about a gazillion of them all at once! Well…, they were more like accusations. First, that I was a failure as a husband and father (Anne deserves a real man, not a wannabe; you don’t spend enough time with the kids; etc). Then, that I am a failure as a mature adult (I’m not taking care of myself like I need to, my diet is out of control, exercise is barely happening). Then, how I am failing as a home owner over things around the house that either I can’t repair (like the drainpipe that is loose from the gutter that I’m not tall enough to reach, even with my extension ladder), or things I can repair if I had the money (like a new kitchen faucet which costs more than we usually have in our monthly budget for home repairs). Of course, a lack of resources leads me to think of all the ways I am failing as a provider (if I was a good provider, if I was a REAL man, I would have enough for what I need).
The lack of money made me think of how I’m failing as my father’s guardian. He’s in a personal care home back in Eastern Kentucky and it breaks my heart because it’s not a very happy place to live out his final years. But, with his finances and his health, it’s the only option for him. If I only I had more resources I could help get him to a nicer place. But, I’m not a wealthy business man….I’m a pastor. And, contrary to what many see in the media, the majority of us senior pastors aren’t just raking in the cash!
Oh, yeah, pastoring! I rehearse every hard conversation, every embarrassing moment, every sermon flop, every relationships I’ve lost or is now strained because of being a pastor; Shouldn’t I be burdened more for the lost than I am? Shouldn’t I have more vision for our future than I have? Am I really called? I wish I could be a better husband and a better father. I wish I was a better provider. I wish I could find a better place for daddy to live. I wish I was a better pastor.
(Disclaimer: this is not an attempt to solicit sympathy or words of affirmation. Just trying to provide common ground with those who, like me, deal with feelings of inadequacy and accusations in our weakest moments.)
That night, my ramblings were interrupted by a simple revelation…one that silenced the random assault on my mind that had been going on for at least an hour. This still, small voice that I have come to know over the past 26 years as the Spirit of God pierced through the cacophony of accusations and said one sentence to me that arrested every other voice:
“Son, you are troubled about many things.”
Believe it or not, that never dawned on me that I was “troubled about many things.” If you had asked me, “Tim, how are you?”, it’s doubtful that I would answer, “Well…I’m troubled about many things!” But, wow, was it true. I WAS troubled about many things. Kind of like someone else I read about in the Gospels.
In the tenth chapter of Luke’s gospel, Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. She busied herself making His visit comfortable and pleasant. But, her frustration with her sister Mary overshadowed the joy of having Jesus in her house! Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, just listening to His words. Martha was amazed, not only that Mary had left her to serve alone, but that Jesus was apparently allowing it! (My own personal interpretation: Martha was a workaholic who would have kept Mary so busy she would have never heard a word Jesus was saying. I believe Mary would have chosen to forego preparing the turkey dinner Martha wanted to prepare and just had sandwiches and chips if it mean she and Martha could listen to Jesus. But, Martha wouldn’t have that…so Mary let her do her thing!) With a tone of accusation, Martha tells Jesus to make Mary help her. And as always, Jesus looks past all the activity and sizes up the situation accurately:
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 41, 42
It wasn’t Martha’s service that was the issue but the fact that she had become distracted by her serving (vs 40) and wound up getting aggravated, frustrated at Mary, and even tense towards Jesus. How often my busyness and activity in serving Jesus actually distracts me from Him…and even makes me irritated sometimes if I’m being honest (Jesus, can’t you see all that I’m doing for you? Don’t you care?) I have been Martha; I have been Mary; so, how exactly do I read these little five verses in Luke 10?
Well, if I read Luke 10 with Martha as the focus, my only option is either to try to be like Martha, working myself into a frenzy and judging everyone that isn’t doing what I’m doing or to add yet another activity to my list of things to do to try to keep Jesus happy. If I read Luke 10 and focus on Mary, than I can either get the impression that I’m supposed to abandon ALL work and just sit at Jesus’ feet doing nothing, or, become a victim, wounded by the judgements of overbearing people who are upset that I am sitting at Jesus’ feet.
But, neither focus is correct .
Which is why I can’t read Luke 10 with my focus on Martha or Mary, because they’re not the object of the story; JESUS is! Actually, the WHOLE BIBLE is about Him. Jesus Christ is the center of what was going on afternoon, and His presence among them was the ONLY THING anyone in the house should have been concerned about that day. What no one really understood that day was that Jesus was actually passing through Galilee on a journey to Jerusalem where He would eventually be arrested, murdered on a cross, buried in a borrowed tomb, only to rise from the dead!
– So that Martha could be delivered from anxiety and worry, and serve Jesus from a place of rest.
-So that Mary could be free from the voices of overbearing people trying to get her to work harder, and could be secure in the knowledge that she was a daughter of God.
And, praise God, Jesus went to the cross and rose form the dead to release me from the accusations that try to convince me that I’m not “measuring up,” while at the same time giving me the grace to take responsibility for what God has given me to steward. Because of the cross, we aren’t employees of God’s kingdom. We’re not even primarily just citizens of God’s kingdom. We’re SONS of the kingdom…and that’s GOOD NEWS! This was God’s way of introducing me to rethinking stewardship, THE constant theme throughout my sabbatical.
And, I owe it all to a sleepless night…caused by Dr. Pepper. Humm….maybe Elizabeth Sullivan knows more than people think!