Wednesday, December 31, 2014

ending with grace and forgiveness

‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him.
Genesis 50:17

The book of Genesis ends on a note of grace and forgiveness. Joseph buries his father Jacob in one last return to Canaan. And after that the family chooses to return together to Egypt where they all continue to prosper under Joseph's leadership and care. But there is still one last matter to settle.

Joseph's brothers fear that now that their father is dead, Joseph will retaliate against them for selling him into slavery so long ago. They send a message begging forgiveness of Joseph and in one of the book's most poignant moments, Joseph both weeps and forgives with a perspective of worship.

Joseph was able to see the purposes of God even in his extreme hardships (Genesis 50:19-20) and thus was able to forgive. His forgiveness brought comfort and peace to the sons of Israel because God was magnified in it. If Joseph had chosen to selfishly nurse his wounds, such an ending may never have happened. But faith can and must forgive. And that is a great way to end the story.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

without honor

"Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”
Mark 6:3-4

The hardest people to love
may be in your own home
the ones who know you best
can misunderstand you so

Jesus had brothers and sisters,
neighbors, family, and friends
who all failed to get His message
and rejected Him in the end

His hometown made Him no hero
though the gospel He carefully preached
still did not convince Nazareth
as His own He did not seem to reach

So it is with Christians
at home, in friendships and family
we may be most challenged to show Jesus
to those whose love we most need

And Jesus could do no great work
where rejection filled each skeptical heart
but still He tried to convince them
the gospels show Him laboring hard

And work will attend our own witness
to hometown loved ones and friends
hard prayer and tears with brokeness
may be what saves them in the end

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, December 29, 2014

love trumps knowledge

If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
1 Corinthians 8:2-3

When it comes to most of the day to day experience of the Christian lifestyle, love trumps knowledge. If I am a Christian who truly loves God, the knowledge that I need will come as I love Him, pay attention to following His Word, obey His Spirit's leading, and follow my Savior in loving commitment. But most of my Christian "knowledge" has been reduced to rote learning. And that is not spiritually healthy. It is the worst way to see successful Christianity. It is a failure to really follow.

There is a need to know doctrine, but never outside of loving God first and foremost. The results of such a commitment seem impressive (see the Pharisees for the results), but love for God and for my neighbor is all the knowledge that I need (according to Jesus Himself) to see my world changed by Christ's kingdom. All the rest of doctrine is important detail... but knowledge is not the main focus of Christianity. Love is. Knowledge should never replace relationship.

So my entire life ministry and vocation has centered around "Christian Education" - a phrase found absolutely no where in scripture. I have used this term as shorthand for discipleship. I have used it to describe ministry training. But really it is a term that is knowledge based and might lack the "love commitment" that Paul encourages the Corinthians to pursue as supreme. It is better to minister to the heart while engaging the mind. If the container of knowledge is filled and the heart knows no love of God, our education has failed to be Christian.

I humbly ask for Your mercy to extend to me as I seek to show love with my knowledge of You. I want more than facts or mental assent. I want to love You because I know and see You. And most importantly, I want to help show Your people that to love You is to be in obedient relationship with You.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

God´s glory in judgment and restoration

I will bring forth offspring from Jacob,
and from Judah possessors of my mountains;
my chosen shall possess it,
and my servants shall dwell there.
Isaiah 65:9

God restores His people. This is a promise that comes to Judah as the destruction of the nation is upon them. God's inescapable judgment could not be withheld any longer. The people will suffer the consequences of their flagrant rejection of God. The curse of disobeying God's Law will fall upon them with all the devastating fury of God's wrath. Yet, even as that is inevitable, God pauses to reassure His people they will not be totally wiped out. The generation of survivors would give way to a restored generation to whom God would once again give a nation, a land, and the promises of His covenant.

It would be clear to God's people that the Lord Himself brought judgment. It would be equally clear that God would do the restoring of the nation with His chosen people who would serve Him in the land once again. God would get the glory both in judgment and in the blessing of restoration.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, December 22, 2014

seemingly nowhere

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
Job 23:8-10

Job is perplexed that He cannot seem to find God and hear anything definitive from God about his sufferings. But there are two clear convictions that Job's faith clings to at this time: 1) God is working despite His frustrating silence. 2) Job will be made better at the end of all this because of God's work. Job is trusting God even as he is perplexed at what God is doing. This is a faith that can only show its resolve in trial.

What Job is doing here is very, very hard. But it is a human response. I believe it is still a holy response. Job resolves to trust God without all the answers coming to him in the moment. He is willing to endure the continued pain and tears by faith, knowing that God is still working to do something wonderful in Job.

Even Jesus suffered in His trials. And Jesus was sinless. He faced Calvary with an agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane during which He asked His Father to keep the cup of suffering away. Yet He resigned Himself to God's will knowing what would occur would be greater than the season of suffering.

I know that there are seasons when I cannot find You. I get perplexed by it. I struggle with doubt as a result. Yet, You are not gone, but are instead asking me to trust by faith and not by sight. And so I will let You lead even in those foggy dark journeys where You don't seem to be anywhere yet are in fact everywhere around me.

Friday, December 19, 2014

God looks down

The LORD looks down from heaven;
he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all
and observes all their deeds.
Psalm 33:13-15

God is not a distant, impersonal creator. He is still "fashioning the hearts" of people. There are over seven billion of us on this globe, and still God looks down on each and every life, well aware of each human heart's musings and all the actions of every person. He knows my thoughts, my motivations, my desires, and every deed that I have done. He intimately knows the thoughts I just wrote and where each finger would hit the keys as I typed out this paragraph.

God is personally aware of my every thought. He knows when I really love Him and other people, and when I am just in it for personal reward and acclaim of others. Yes... He knows when my motives have been purely selfish and sinful. When I sin, I want to forget about that, but He does not forget! He guides me with His Word and leads me in my life circumstances, graciously receiving my repentance. He knows my wounds and heals my pains. He calms my fears and also shakes my soul when I have become too complacent or selfishly lazy. He does not just watch me. He loves me and guides me through His Word and His Holy Spirit.

You watch this world with the loving gaze of a Father over His children. Yet You rule this world. You know when the deeds of men need judgment or correction. You also offer salvation for us to find in Christ. You care for this world. You know my heart and my deeds and yet You still love me, save me, and direct me. Thank You for Your sovereign love and grace!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

be careful what you ask for

Now Samuel called the people together to the Lord at Mizpah. And he said to the people of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, ‘Set a king over us.’ Now therefore present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your thousands.”
1 Samuel 10:17-19

God let Israel have a king out of their own selfish, sinful demands. He knew they were asking with wrong reasons. He knew they were rejecting His rulership by such a request. Yet Saul came to rule Israel because of this demand. And the nation would get what they wanted. They would have a king like all the nations around them. Saul would be just what their selfish hearts craved and demanded.

It always amazes me that God gave in to Israel's demand for a human king. He was the true sovereign of the nation. But they could not accept that worship of God alone could lead the nation. And so God gave them a king and they became servants in a kingdom. And Saul, reluctantly at first, would represent Israel to the world, build defenses, and lead the people. And he was a flawed leader who clearly contrasted with the flawless, infinite wisdom of a holy God.

The lesson is simple: God may give us over to the things we want when we reject Him. And those things may please us for a short season. Yet brutal tyranny may overtake us when we reject God's rule. And the results of that can be tragic. Ultimately that will be the story of Saul. He started out a reluctant prince. He ended an insane, out of control, sad tyrant.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

how God makes a nation

And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.
Genesis 46:27

This little commentary about the number of descendants in Jacob's household is an important reminder about God's promise. God had told Abraham, who was childless at the time, that He would make of him a great nation. And so the promise made then has grown. Form Abraham came one promised heir, Isaac. And Isaac doubled the promise with twin sons, Esau and Jacob. From Jacob came 12 sons and multiple grand kids. By the time they all resettle to Egypt, there are 70 members of the household who directly descend from Abraham. God is keeping His promise a generation at a time.

What I see as the generations spring forth from the Genesis text is a story of the faithfulness of God. When Abraham is first introduced, we have no way of seeing how a nation could come to the old nomad. Yet by bringing one son, the story progresses as God blesses. And the blessing comes despite the character of the people God is blessing. Abraham lies. So does Isaac. Esau has his selfish faults, but we see even more in Jacob. Yet God gives Jacob 12 sons. Those sons become a nation, but not without difficulty, beginning as refugees and then slaves in Egypt. Yet God is faithful to His promise despite human sinful choices and less than ideal circumstances for nation-building.

When God wants to make a nation, He chooses a childless elderly couple to start the process. God uses jealous twin brothers to further the development of His promises. He sends seventy hungry refugees to Egypt to endure generations of slavery. Then He will call up a nation. The means that God uses to fulfill His promise will clearly bring all the praise to Himself. From our point of view, God does it the hard way. From His sovereign purpose, He does it so that He might clearly show His power and be praised.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

thoughts on discipleship

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.
Mark 3:13-15

Jesus made disciples. He chose twelve of His closest followers in whom He invested His most intense time and teaching. And He eventually left them, asking them to make disciples as He did. This is a life's task no matter what each Christian's individual vocation may be.

Discipleship involves teaching (doctrinal, practical, scriptural, and personal). It necessitates personal mentoring that models for the disciple the life that is expected of the disciple. It means coaching, encouraging followers when they get it right and improving their spiritual and personal skills. It calls us to admonish and correct when a disciple may be struggling or even sinning against another person and the Master. It is a multi-faceted personal commitment that is a big investment of our time and energy.

To make disciples we must be ready to spend time. Jesus devoted three full years of day and night intensive constant contact with His disciples. We should expect that only intensive commitment truly makes disciples today. Discipleship is also repetitive. His men kept making the same mistakes and needed constant reminders. He often taught the same concepts so the truth could sink in and change them. It is very demanding to do ministry at this level. And it is also very personal. Jesus taught and trained twelve and seemed to spend even more time with Peter, James, and John, developing particular leadership skills in particular followers.

Sadly, the history of the church has been to replace personal discipleship with programs. Systems are built to gather a crowd. Numbers become the measure of success and not necessarily personal spiritual growth. Jesus ended His ministry with a church of eleven... hardly any seminarian's dream.

We need to recapture Jesus' model of personal growth and discipleship. We certainly have challenges in the 21st century... little time for authentic relationship as it is replaced with electronically managed personal "images". There is little time for involvement in "programs", causing churches to falter or even become involved in a pseudo-discipleship as they build their systems around programs. There is little commitment to personal growth as people expect "one minute bibles" and twitter devotionals to sustain them.

It is time to make church gatherings about the people and not the programs. It is time to make disciples like Jesus did. It is always the right time to follow Jesus by investing life with each other as His followers.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Stay in the world

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
1 Corinthians 5:9-10

Stay in the world
and make friends here
so the gospel can advance
and relationships can bear
the truth and conviction
faith brings

Love the world
as God loves all
and sent His Son
into this world, a small
child, then a man,
then Savior

Redeem the world
be salt and light
so that the good news
message can burn bright
for others we love and know
to see Jesus

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Changing me AND the world

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Isaiah 58:6-7

Why do I discipline myself to "do" certain tasks as a Christian? There are special practices that I do to personally express my spiritual life and to grow in my knowledge and love of the Lord. I rise early to open the scriptures, to devote my thoughts to prayer, and to journal as I am doing right now. I seek solitude and silence to do these things knowing that outside distractions are far too many in my lifestyle. I give of my time and resources for the advance of the gospel in the local church and other Christian ministries. And yet somehow even though it is good for me, it cannot only benefit me. This passage warns that no spiritual discipline stops at me. It fails if it does not move me to care for others as God does.

The subject of Isaiah 58 is fasting. And Israel was great at social fasts for outward appearances. But the fasts and other spiritual disciplines that the law asked of the nation had failed to give them a heart like God had because they did not apply themselves to truly seek God in their disciplines. Fasts failed because they missed the greater call of God in the practice: to hate injustice, to break the yoke of slavery, to feed the hungry, to house the homeless, to clothe the cold, and to care for the needs of the poorest among them. Had they truly grown close to the heart of the Lord in their fasts, they would have done these sorts of things.

Too long I have deceived myself thinking spiritual disciplines were all about me. They benefit me ONLY as they draw me to You AND to the world that You love. You want my time, my talents, my resources, and my heart so that others may be helped through me by You. Forgive my short-sighted spirituality. Draw me to the need of others so that I can only care for people as You care for them. I want the love of God and the mercy of the cross and the new life of Christ's resurrection to make this world a better place now as I love and follow You.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

empty nothings

How then will you comfort me with empty nothings?
There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood.
Job 21:34

Job's observations and his reason combined with his theology to point out a gaping inconsistency in the "comfort" that his friends attempted to provide with their accusatory dissertations on suffering: the wicked sometimes flourish. Job has seen it. He knows they all know people who continue to prosper even as they ignore God. They die wealthy, seemingly happy, and without regard to God at all. Job's point is that the endless arguing his friends are making that Job's present pain is a result of his sin (because God always judges the wicked with temporal consequences) is totally worthless in the evidence he can point to the contrary. Basically, if the wicked prosper without divine interruption, wouldn't it also make sense that the righteous sometimes do suffer and not as a result of God's discipline?

Comfort is not found in an airtight black and white theology. I know this as I care for hurting people. I know this as I also hurt in my own life circumstances. Sometimes suffering is just a season meant to draw us to deep questions. Sometimes it is a season to simply trust God against our own pain, disillusionment, and the apparent disparity of suffering "for no reason". To attempt a simple theological answer is to create "empty nothings" as Job so poetically described it.

When distress attends the soul of the righteous, a time of testing will set the soul to potentially experience trust in God like never before. The false logic of "good = blessing / bad = judgment" is challenged and melts before the wisdom of trusting God at all times in everything. The greatness of God's love is known when He still is our heart's longing despite the hurting. And in that joy we can trust... even if people disappoint us with false empty nothings.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, December 8, 2014

rescued, redeemed, restored

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
Psalm 30:11-12

God will rescue, redeem, and restore. He will hear the cries of His people and answer them. This was what David knew when he wrote this song and it is worth some reflection right now.

God will rescue. He will reach down to us in our misery and help us to find joy again. He will bring singing from our sadness. He will turn our time of mourning into a time of dancing. He will pull us up and lead us out of our pains into joy inexpressible. He will save us from sin. He will save us from our selfishness and sadness. He will set us back up when we have fallen.

God will redeem. The Lord loves to buy back what we lost to sin's wager. He sees us at our worst and imagines for us the best when He saves us. He makes us His children when we were born enslaved to sin and at opposition to Him. He loves sinners and calls us to Himself, not because we deserve it by our own merits, but because He wills it.

God will restore. He will fix what is broken. He will make our lives better than they were. He will help each believer change so that what that person once was, lost in sin and darkened by individual blindness and disobedience, is changed into a life that is committed to being like He created it. He helps us to conform to the image of His Son. From there a new life in Christ totally changes our outlook and gives us hope.

Like David, I cannot help but sing Your praise, Lord! I will not be silent about Your great work in my rescue, Your redemption of my soul, and the way that You have restored my life! I will be thankful for this salvation and the life that You have given to me forever.

Friday, December 5, 2014

one person + God = impact

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.
1 Samuel 3:1

I think one of the saddest accounts of scripture is the early story of Samuel. The young boy who was a gift from God became a rare gift back to God. He was devoted to service at the tabernacle in Shiloh where Eli the high priest and his corrupt sons led Israel's worship. Eli's sons had turned the priesthood into a shameful money and sex scam that disgusted the Lord. And even after Eli was told it displeased God, he did nothing about it. And the Word of God had grown scarce in these conditions. Yet faithful young Samuel would be used by God in these moments to restore God's Word to prominence and reform the tabernacle worship.

God will work even in a culture that rejects Him and opposes His truth. He will still speak to those who seek Him, even in times when respect for His Word is very scarce. He will show Himself strong even in the leanest of spiritual stirrings. One woman cried out to Him in desperation for a son. He answered her prayer with a mighty gift to the entire nation. Samuel became Israel's leader, prophet, and priest.

I am not worried that Christianity will disappear from Western culture as it becomes more secularized and anti-"God" in its orientation. Neo-paganism will not stamp out the truth. I plan on proclaiming it until I die. The Word may grow scarce, but it will be as strong as ever in the impact of those who believe it, ready to spring forth again. Even one believer will be used mightily by the Lord to bring truth to the world. Samuel's story is of just that sort of thing happening in a dramatic way.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

God of famine

Now the famine was severe in the land. And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.”
Genesis 43:1-2

In plenty and in loss or pain
You are God
Who uses what we lose or gain
to show Your ways
to call us beyond
where we are
to You.

Withering winds or ruinous flood
point to You, Lord
so that we may trust You are good
in mercy's care
You grant us
daily bread
from You.

You will move an empire or nation
for Your will
and You will guide each situation
and individual
to sovereignly love
and care for
Your people.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

calling sinners

And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mark 2:15-17

Jesus calls sinners to come to Him for salvation. He does so today, but the way that He did so while in His earthly ministry was controversial. Jesus was with sinners. He ate with them. They traveled with Him. He lived His life and preached the good news of His kingdom and spent His time with tax collectors (liars, cheaters, extortionists) and sinners. And they were attracted to Him. A measure of His ministry was the crowd of sinners surrounding Jesus who were attracted to His message and His ministry.

Jesus confronted the self-righteous who took offense at this style of service. He was very straight forward with them. Jesus told them emphatically that He was deliberately calling these "sinners" to be with Him and to hear and respond to His message. He is a Savior Who loves sinners. He loved sinners and reached out to them like a doctor must reach out to the sick. Sinners need a Savior. Just as sick people are in a doctor's office, perhaps sinners need to be in church! Jesus is their Savior too!

Given that my Lord and Master based His public ministry on the call to many sinners, I have to look at my own efforts to serve Him. Why then is my ministry surrounded by "the righteous" more than "sinners"? I am ashamed to not be more like Jesus in this regard. I confess that I am more like a scribe of the Pharisees than Jesus. I pray to Jesus now, asking that He would appeal to sinners through me, that He would love sinners in my actions and speech as I serve Him. I am asking that He would help me not to be a Pharisee, but to be a friend of sinners as He is and call them to the gospel as He does.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

One Foundation

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:11

Jesus promised to build His church upon the confession that He is the Christ, the Son of God, our only salvation (Matthew 16:13-20). It is the saving work of Jesus that brings Christians together as Christ's Church. And it is His saving grace that sustains us with the gospel message that defines all of our efforts and proclamation to the world. We can only do good by the work of the cross. And the hope of the gospel changes lives. This is our foundation. From it all Christian ministry rises up in the kingdom of God.

Now in December we are in the season where we celebrate Advent and the birth of our Lord. During this time we must not only remember Jesus as a baby born in a manger to peasant parents. He came to save. The angels said He would be a Savior. And that precious truth, in the promise of an infant Lord, was seen in His powerful teaching, His perfect life, and His sacrificial death and resurrection. It is that reality that makes Christmas really meaningful, beyond the wrapping paper, decorations, ribbons, lights, and gifts to one another.

The church's only foundation is You. As a disciple of Yours, I have only one clear direction, and that is to follow You. I will let you lead me. I will use what You have given me, as I am, where I am, for Your glory. I will let You build me and build Your church through the gospel message.

Monday, December 1, 2014

free offer

Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Isaiah 55:1

God offers the greatest treasure at the most unheard-of price. He gives His peace away. He satisfies the thirsty soul with cool water flowing from His crystal river. He feeds heart hunger with a daily sustenance that He simply gives the one who will come to Him to take it. The only requirement to feed our souls or to quench our thirst? Have nothing. Be in need. Come to God penniless.

This is a tender mercy for sinners. And lest I forget it, I come to passages such as this one, where the good news just shines out of the pages to the depths of my need. I can't satisfy my own soul. What this world offers by itself still leaves my life malnourished and my soul disappointed and thirsty. But in God is found life-sustaining love, truth, grace, and wisdom. It is His perspective that sets my view back on the level. It is His love and truth that feed my desperate soul. It is this free offer that satisfies my heart.

People need the sustaining love You so freely offer to all who come to You. I need it. I am fed by You... not just by the stuff of this earth. You sovereignly supply. I need to drink of Your waters. I need to eat from Your table. I need to daily eat and drink by Your side. I thank You that Your grace is so generous. I thank You that Your Word gives me strength. I come to You begging for more because nothing could pay for what You have to offer. It only makes sense that You give it to people as destitute as I am. I receive all that You give with gratitude and joy.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

inscribed in a book

Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Job 19:23

This prayer of Job's, spoken in desperate pain as a wild wish is fulfilled as I read his story right now. One of Job's cries was for vindication from the attacks of his friends. A record of that is the impossible longing of his heart. And reading that story millennia later lets me know that God answered his prayer! His faith and confidence in God, even as his frustration mounted and he stumbled, was bold enough to make this request of God. And God answered with a powerful move of His Holy Spirit in divine inspiration, forever telling Job's story in holy writ. Wow! That's quite the answer to prayer.

When I am desperate, God hears me. He is writing my story. He may share it in some way with others. He can choose to write "my book" as He pleases. Because He did so with Job, I gain insights into a theology of suffering that I would never have had otherwise.

Thank You, Lord, that You are gracious, holy, sovereign, and just. You never fail. You give perspective and hope. You answer prayer. You come to our rescue. I am able to write these words in my journal now because You told Job's story inscribed in Your book. And all my life You have led me by the wisdom of Your ways in Your book. What a blessing! What a cause for my Thanksgiving today!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

a prayer for strength & peace

May the LORD give strength to his people!
May the LORD bless his people with peace!
Psalm 29:11

Oh Lord
I am weak
and powerless
Fill me with Your strength!

I cannot change myself.
I don't rule my world.
I am one among billions.
I need Your help.
Fill me with Your strength!

Dear God
I am afraid
and in conflict
Comfort me with Your peace!

I cannot be settled,
I am not in control.
I need real calm.
I long to know Your rest.
Comfort me with Your peace!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Stress & God's sovereign love

"The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
Ruth 2:12

Reading the entire story of the book of Ruth in one sitting is an interesting exercise. I don't know that I had ever done it before, and it is short enough to do in about 15 minutes time. Laying aside some of the cultural questions that come to the modern reader, nonetheless one can quickly see that this is a love story, but much more than a mere romance. It is a story of God's love and protection in the drama of loss and emptiness.

These words from Boaz (Ruth 2:12) bring the big theme (God's sovereign love) and the moving circumstances (a love story growing between Ruth and Boaz) together in the text. From this nexus of plot, we see the story grow towards resolution. Boaz is clearly attracted to Ruth by virtue of her character and commitment, and he is a godly man who knows that she and Naomi are under a greater care than his. God has led them back to Israel and into the care of the one man best suited to provide for them in their poverty and loss.

The timeliness and the authority of God found in His sovereign love and care for us will be known in His people. We may not see it immediately. Ruth and Naomi first lost everything. They were without home or income or family when they returned to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest (Ruth 1:22). But that was exactly the right time and place to bring them directly into God's care. Naomi was broken and bitter. Ruth was faithful to her mother-in-law though a complete stranger in a strange land. They were both widows with no family or means of support. Yet God moved immediately when they arrived.

I appreciate the timing of my reading of this story. Right now, the past few weeks have been a stress train wreck of sorts, with car after car careening off the tracks. I won't elaborate, but will use another metaphor: the dominoes are tumbling all around me in terms of family, ambitions, ministry dreams, and my own personal sense of fulfillment. It is not as bad as it could be, but it is extremely stressful. I am not depressed, but a little disillusioned, wondering what God is going to make out of this. I do not lose any hope. Sovereign love will lead me to the right barley field (Ruth 2:3) where I will be comforted knowing I too am in refuge under God's wings.

Monday, November 24, 2014

can't keep a good man down

But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
Genesis 39:21

The story of Joseph is an amazing account of how the worst turns in life don't have to result in our wounding. Joseph was the youngest son, and he never asked to be his father's favorite. But because of the bitterness that emerged from his special treatment, his family was bitter and divided over him. He was eliminated from his family by his heartless, jealous brothers.

Joseph was not born a slave. He was sold away by cruel hate and as a slave gained the favor of an influential Egyptian official. He was treated with respect and responsibility by Potiphar... until again he was manipulated, this time by a vengeful temptress who would not respect Joseph's faith and morality. He never asked to be so treated, but God would take care of him even as he resisted temptation.

Joseph never thought he would be a prisoner, suffering falsely for a slave's crime. But even in prison, God took care of him and rewarded his integrity. God was faithful even as people mistreated Joseph. And God rewarded Joseph with leadership and influence even as a prisoner. There was no turning back. Joseph's integrity and faithfulness to God made sure that no roadblock from sin and the world could stop what God wanted to do through him. His story encourages me to look to God in difficult situations.

Friday, November 21, 2014

hope in the Risen One

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”
Matthew 28:5-7

I can't imagine this moment without thrill and wonder seizing me. I have seen death... regularly. It attends vocational ministry. Death has come to my life personally and taken those I love. My first brutal awareness of its finality came as a child when my mother's father died. And as I grew, death claimed my mother in my teens. It claimed all my grandparents eventually. Aunts, uncles, in-law relations, even friends now. Most recently, my father died two years ago. In all cases, death is final. It is a parting... an end.

But with Jesus something changed. He died but He now lives again. He brought the hope of new life, of resurrection, of hope beyond death by dying and then rising from the dead. These women found an empty tomb that Sunday morning and a promise from an angel to go to Galilee and see the Savior alive again. How astonished they must have been. It all happened as Jesus said it would. He was led away by the authorities. He was crucified. But He rose from the dead on the third day. This is still so amazing two millennia later!

The gospel's good news centers on the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross. But the "good" in the news... the wildly exciting part of the gospel... is that Jesus beat back death's hold on humanity. He gives eternal life beyond death. We pass from death to life in His resurrection. We need not fear the grave. It is a bed from which Christians awaken to eternity with the Lord. It is the resurrection that gives us that confidence and hope. It is the new life in the Risen Savior that takes away the sting from death!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

a foolish power

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18

The gospel is simultaneously the most appreciated truth on the planet and the most misunderstood. It is loved by those to whom it is salvation. It is hated by the enemies of the cross. To those in the process of perishing it is a joke. To those who are seeing their lives redeemed by its amazing message on a daily basis, it is the undeniable, unstoppable power of God.

So how can the saving gospel of Jesus Christ be so paradoxically received? It has to do with two factors I think. The first is that it is offered to sinners. And sinners by definition do one thing: sinners sin. Sinners will sinfully evaluate the gospel, rejecting and/or mocking it in the process. The gospel offends our sinning ways. It calls us to repent. And sinners must first be humbled to do so. When they aren't, the gospel is pure folly.

Another reason it is paradoxically received is that the gospel is offered to all. It is not just preached in the assembly of the saints. If it were, it would never be seen as folly. When the gospel is proclaimed in the world, it will be rejected by the perishing philosophies of the day. It will be considered foolishness by the crowd. But that is the risk we must always take, because God is not willing that any should perish. And some will respond to His call in the good news. If the gospel is not being controversial in its proclamation to the world, then it is not being preached.

I am so glad that I am being saved by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The word of the cross is my most precious belief. It has founded my footsteps for life. It has given me peace in my turmoil. It has strengthened me to help others in their own turmoil. And I will always hold the folly of the message as my dearest hope and most precious treasure.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

confidently forgiven

Behold, the Lord God helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
Isaiah 50:9

The confidence that comes in the salvation that God brings is an amazing work of God's grace. It is the message that Isaiah is bringing to Israel in this passage. Although they would experience a time of judgment for their disbelief, God would restore them as they returned to Him. God would continue to keep His covenant. He would love them. He would help them. He would save them.

And when God saves us, helps us, and forgives us, who else could condemn us? The answer is clear: nobody. God removes our guilt and nobody else can bring it back. No person can declare guilty someone whom God has forgiven and set free. Their accusations are temporal while God's forgiveness is eternal. They will all wear out and fade away. They will crumble like moth eaten cloth.

The stuff of this world fades and falters. It degenerates. It may consume my thinking sometimes until I stop and contemplate Your great grace. Then I realize You have helped my soul at my greatest need. And that is really all I need to know. When You forgive me no other accusation can stand against me. I am thankful for such grace.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Job: broken man

My days are past; my plans are broken off,
the desires of my heart.
Job 17:11

In misery
and suffering
hope is distant
dreams are gone
good days memory

The mystery
of suffering
is that instant
answers are not known
in pain's loud cacophony

Being a broken man
with broken thoughts
is where pain is at its worst
and disappointment rules a heart

Joy gone
lost in the sound
of weeping's wail
wanting to hear God's voice

Vision blurred
streaking tears found
in the eyes like a veil
preventing hope as a choice

And when we find a broken man
with broken thoughts
whose pain is overwhelming
then love and care is where healing can start

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, November 17, 2014

believing that the earth is the Lord's

The earth is the LORD'S and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
Psalm 24:1-2

As I have lived upon this earth I know that is has kept me alive because God has made it to do so. The planet may be in the stewardship of humanity but it belongs to the Lord. He created it and all that is upon it. He blessed us with the abundant resources of this world so that those who dwell upon it may thrive here. And more than seven billion people on this globe are definitely creating a thriving mass of humanity.

The hand of God made the first of us, and the word of God brought the universe into being. Even as God framed us of this dusty earth, He give it over to us, first in His garden and then the entire planet. But He is the Creator and the Sustainer of our lives. In the wisdom of His ways He made this world to sustain us.

But sustaining humanity does come at a price in our times. We should be good and wise stewards. We should do this out of worship of the God Who made it all. I think that environmental concerns framed around honoring our Creator should come out of the knowledge this passage reminds us of in our stewardship of resources. The earth is God's. The people who dwell upon it belong to Him. The resources that sustain all human endeavor were made by God, ultimately all of it for His glory!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

degeneration and decline

The civil war that ends the book of Judges is harsh reading. It is one of the most jarring episodes in scripture. It shows the total degeneration of a culture. They are not being oppressed by an outside occupying foe. Israel is instead oppressed by their own abandonment of God. We notice a Danite priest with a huge following of idol worshippers. They assume this is somehow the worship of Yahweh. We find a Levite who chases down his own runaway concubine sex slave, showing the state of moral decline in the priestly class that was supposed to be leading the worship of the nation. We read about the lead city of Benjamin celebrating sinful sexuality of every kind in a large urban environment that is entertained by gang rape and murder. It is a tragic picture of a society characterized by abandonment of God and His Law.

Israel's "solution" to the decline as seen in Benjamin did not involve any return to God. Instead, it was vigilante justice, warfare, and the attempted genocide of an entire tribe of fellow Israelites. Benjamin was nearly eradicated by this civil war. Israel had become an absolutely chaotic culture. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Anarchy ruled.

The breakdown that unrepentant sin brings is costly, brutal, and gruesome to observe. Those caught in it have fallen so far, so gradually, that they may not even see the downfall. Only those who return to God and to understanding what He has said in His Word can be spared the further damage of the decline.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

humility brings peace

"Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.
Genesis 33:11

In this gift to Esau, Jacob acknowledges God. All his life he has used deceit, manipulation, and personal promotion to get what he wanted. But in this act of giving extravagantly to his brother, Jacob acknowledges that he has indeed been kept and blessed by God. It is a rare humility in his story. It shows that he is changing after wrestling with God. It shows that his heart is starting to commit to the worship of the Lord in word and in deed.

The Lord was honored in this gift. Jacob showed his brother Esau, whom he had robbed and cheated in the past, that he is now a very different man. The gift is something of restitution for what Jacob stole from his brother. His generosity goes a long way to bringing Esau back to Jacob with a desire to reconcile. The humility that Jacob revealed gave real peace as the gift that God brought for them both. Humility was a path to restoration.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

we neglect the weightier matters

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others."
Matthew 23:23

WARNING: I use the word "damn", in its truest sense, a lot in this post. Read on if you want.

The religious leadership of Jesus' day had lost sight of what really mattered. They had so focused on external ritual and outward appearance that they missed God and His work upon the heart. They had much knowledge of the Law. They had little passion for life change. They conformed outwardly with great public display. But inwardly they failed to be changed by God. And they were misleading Israelites to do the same thing.

Jesus stood up to their self-righteous showiness. He called it out every chance that He got. By pronouncing "woes", he damned their actions. He made the people well aware of the shams of self-righteousness. He warned them to beware and begged the leaders to repent from their damned attitudes. He loved the self-righteous enough to confront them with the truth. And He showed them a path to repentance even as He chastised their false piety.

It was for good reason that Jesus did this. Religion tends to get twisted by human pride. I am afraid that I have been guilty of nearly every one of Jesus' observations in these "woes" at one time or another. That damns my lack of obedience as well. Even today, Christianity can produce impressive Pharisees. I have been one occassionally. And I am so afraid that American Evangelicalism in particular has been doing just that: fostering an outward image while neglecting the weightier matters of justice and mercy and faithfulness. Jesus condemns this!

We make a bigger deal about elections changing culture than the Prince of Peace bringing an increase of His government to hearts around us. We create weird subcultures like Christian education, Christian music, Christian films, Christian fiction while not really engaging the hearts of artists, thinkers, and educators with the gospel by incarnating Christ in their world. We ape the world and don't imitate Christ. We snipe at our culture while withdrawing in a strange Christian bubble, neglecting the weight of the gospel's call to "GO" by staying safe in our holy enclave. Woe to us. We are damned Pharisees.

Monday, November 10, 2014

patron of many

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.
Romans 16:1-2

Phoebe is commended for her ministry service, her generosity, and her hospitality. She was evidently headed to Rome on some business and as a deaconess of the Cenchreaen church was entrusted by Paul with the delivery of this letter. What Paul says about her certainly destroys these "New Perspectives on Paul" people who think him to be bigoted against women.

Paul sees Phoebe as a ministry partner and servant of the gospel ministry. We can debate her official title, but I think the ESV wimps out by translating "diakonos" as "servant". I believe she officially served as many first century women did, as a female deacon in the church. And she did so with distinction, passion, and giftedness as evidenced by Paul's commendation. He entrusted the epistle of Ephesians to be delivered by his ministry protege Timothy. He similarly gave Romans to Phoebe's capable ministry hands to bring to Rome.

He expects Roman Christians to financially support Phoebe's ministry endeavors. Not only was she personally quite generous, but she clearly owned personal ministry obligations and responsibilities that were beyond even her personal wealth and resources. Multiple churches supported these efforts. She is clearly a ministry leader, part of Paul's team in some way, whom Paul partnered with and asked Rome to do the same.

Phoebe's ministry impact through generosity and willingness to serve was broad and far-reaching. Paul says she was a "patron of many". Her service was big because her heart was solely dedicated to the gospel and she gave all she had to it. Other churches came alongside her to broaden that impact. It is clear that generosity can create a "movement" bigger than any one person's commitment and ability. And Phoebe's life was proof of this.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, November 6, 2014

fading flower

The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Isaiah 40:7-8

A message about mortality is not a reminder that we willingly pursue. I know what it is for grass to wither. Here in the Midwest it has already begun with a few night frosts. And as the grass goes dormant, as flowers in the gardens wilt, all seems dead as winter will push against autumn's defiant final colors. And the seasons remind me of change. The passing of time is the passing of my life.

This cycle has been my life. It just occurs in a slower time scale, nearly imperceptible as I live it. The springs and summers of our lives are spent in learning and play as youth. But even then, the flower will start to fade in other lives, because as children we will eventually deal with the death of a loved one. And that is the first stern reminder of our own fragile mortality. We all wither, fade and die.

I know this now. In five decades my life has changed. I have the mental vibrancy of early summer, but now in the weather-beaten home of a mid-autumn body! It is my life. I can't change it. I accept the wilting grass and the fading flowers. And I can do so with grace because of one, unchanging, everlasting constant: The Word of God.

Humans fade but the Word of God stands forever. And anchoring my soul and my will in what God says will carry me beyond mortal decay and into eternity. My soul is safe even if my body weathers, fades, and falls. And I am strengthened in heart by what stands forever.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

4 ways to be a terrible comforter

“I have heard many such things;
miserable comforters are you all.
Shall windy words have an end?
Or what provokes you that you answer?
I also could speak as you do,
if you were in my place;
I could join words together against you
and shake my head at you."
Job 16:2-4

Job's assessment of the non-comfort given to him by his friends is worth examining. At all points they failed to be true friends to him at his deepest pain and loss. Job notices four problems with their attempts at comfort and counsel.

PROBLEM #1: They talked too much. He has had it with their speeches. And really, if they had learned to listen to Job, they would have been better comforters. Counsel is not found in speeches, lectures, diatribes, or sermons to sufferers. His word picture of "windy words" that never end shows the frustration that their constant speech-making was stirring in Job's soul.

PROBLEM #2: They counseled with "attitude". Job could tell that his friends were provoked by anger, outrage at his answers, emotional upset in his responses, etc. Their counsel was coming from the source of their frustrations with him, and not from caring hearts trying to understand him. Their counsel was easily degenerating into helpless argumentation because they had to be right in order to prove Job in the wrong. It simply was not the time for that kind of interaction.

PROBLEM #3: They said nothing new or of relevance to his situation. Job's way of putting it: "I'd easily do the same if I was in your shoes." His observation is that they were simply ganging up with easy answers, not thinking things through, not bothering to know his heart. It's easy to gang up on someone in this way when they complain. Shutting them down is not however solving their problem. It complicates things. Nothing helpful comes from this tactic.

PROBLEM #4: They judged him. Job complained that they were "against" him and by shaking their heads, body language showed that they judged him as clearly in the wrong. They were to be comforters and not judges. Criticism and judgment are not counsel and are never comforting.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

faith's history

In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
Psalm 22:4-5

Many before me
have trusted in You, Lord
and have not been ashamed.

They cried to You
and You delivered them
when they were afraid.

When enemies oppressed
or dangers were shown
they called out to Your name.

And You saved them
...brought them hope
by the greatness of Your fame.

I worship You, Lord
Whom I cannot see
embracing the mystery.

And You answer me
when I cry out,
continuing Your story.

Episodes from the past
show Your strength...
faith building in me.

And trust in this moment
builds confidence
from faith's history.

Monday, November 3, 2014

warnings from a weak man

After this he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.”
Judges 16:4-5

This is a sad story of the strongest weak man you'll ever get to know in scripture. Samson had so much potential. His birth was announced by an angel. His parents conceived him in their old age as their only child and raised him by the strictest requirements of the Law in order for him to be devoted to God from birth. His actions of physical strength are amazing, but accompanied by out of control passions and emotions. He is a character study in amazing ability fixed in a life that is a massive moral failure.

The oppressing Philistines knew that Samson was the strongest of weak men. They would never be able to beat him at his physical strength. This was the guy who pulled up city gates by the beams and carried them to the top of the mountain outside the city in order to escape their lockdown. Yet his enemies did observe very keenly his choices, and there they found his vulnerability. He was seducible. And Delilah would gladly do their dirty work to exploit the weakness of the strong man.

I look at Samson knowing that his human weakness, the strong pull of the flesh, is shared by me, and anyone else who ever will live. Watching him fall so epically is a picture of what happens to me in my own sin. I have so much potential when I am obediently trusting God... yet such colossal failure when I don't do so in my own sinful falling down. If Samson would have had more than just a yawning cultural commitment to God, he could have been amazing. And he warns us of casual disregard for what God wants of us in our dedication. His fall is a warning of what happens when we let our pleasures dominate our obedience to God.

Friday, October 31, 2014

a promise between thieves

But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”
Genesis 31:24

God intervened in this broken, dysfunctional, manipulative family relationship. He helped two highly dominant deceivers make peace. Jacob is the original slick salesman. He had a nickname: deceiver. But he met his match in his father-in-law Laban. Laban used Jacob and changed the rules of the relationship beginning with a bait-and-switch wedding night, and continuing for decades. Jacob was tired of the constant insecurity of being used.

When Jacob had seen enough of this treatment, his plan was to sneak away with his family and herds under the cover of night and return to his father Isaac in Canaan. But that deceit was discovered and by the time Laban confronts Jacob, God intervenes to cool down the irate father-in-law who himself does not like being deceived!

There are several lessons to be learned from this moment. One is that God will use our own sins to get our attention. The natural course of consequence of sin is a mechanism that can draw the conscience back to God. After Jacob had spent so much time being deceived and continuing to deceive, he was ready to abandon the practice. From here forward in his story he has abandoned his constant manipulative behaviors. It took being manipulated to understand his own need for repentance.

In the end, Jacob and Laban made a promise to not treat each other this way any longer. Yes, it was an uneasy covenant between thieves, but it did reset the relationship. Jacob moved on to live back in the Promised Land with a large family. After settling these sinful differences with his father-in-law, Jacob actually begins pursuing faith duties with his own family, worshiping God in a new and better way. The reconciliation of the horizontal relationship, abandoning selfish ways of living with people, enhanced Jacob's relationship with the Lord.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

new king and kingdom

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.
Matthew 21:43

Jesus' own prophecy predicting the direction of the kingdom of God is one explanation for how and why I am able to write this reflection today. The kingdom of God is a worldwide phenomenon. It was not localized just to Israel. His gospel changes the world. When the leaders of Israel rejected Jesus, it only served to expand the reach of the gospel. The kingdom grows in the lives of the people who produce its fruits.

This does not mean that God has abandoned Israel. He has not. If anything the prophetic promises to Israel are more clear with Jesus' words. The church knows there is a future role for Israel. Jesus is Messiah for the Jews. Jesus will return to rule in Jerusalem. The New Testament ends with clear teaching of future events occurring there. There are clear Old Testament predictions that must also occur in the Holy Land because God does not lie.

But the "mystery" of the church is still on God's primary agenda until the times are fulfilled. The kingdom must then move forward in fruitful living among the followers of Jesus. The world needs the good news. Jews and Gentiles are still one in the Body of Christ. And it is this kingdom that is our culture... not mega-church attendance to programs, not Christian publishing, not conservative politics, not hip Christian radio or evangelical entertainment that sadly defines my generation. I am called as a subject of King Jesus to live in His kingdom and proclaim the gospel so that He may rule in the hearts of His people.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

civil authority and the Christian

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
Romans 13:2

It is quite interesting that Paul wrote these admonitions to the church at the very center of an authoritarian empire. Rome was a military dictatorship to her conquered lands, even if she was a kind of republic to her own citizens. The government she enforced came to the people at the end of a powerful sharp sword. The citizens of the empire may have known unprecedented peace and a high degree of prosperity, but it came at a price. Caesar was worshiped as a god. The military was an oppressive force. Taxes were high and payment was enforced ruthlessly.

Yet Paul commanded the Roman church to respect the authority of the empire's rule. His reason seems shocking: God instituted the government over them by His sovereign hand. To be subject to Rome's system was to be obedient to the will of God. And to resist the civil authorities was to invite judgment from God Who set it up as His plan. Paul even elaborates the reasons specifically further in his explanation by demanding submission at every level: payment of taxes, handing over revenue, giving respect, and honoring leaders (Romans 13:7).

We are in an election cycle (again) in the United States. It discourages me to see the endless blame and attack strategy that is 21st century American politics. But it is the government that God has instituted over me, like it or not, so I must respect it. So when I vote this coming Tuesday morning, I will be respecting what God has made. I can participate in it as one voice with my own small contribution of one vote. And I must respect that outcome as the wisdom of God because "there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been instituted by God". Romans 13:1 is true right now even as it was true when it was written about a brutal pagan empire.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

God can handle rejection.

I know your sitting down
and your going out and coming in,
and your raging against me.
Isaiah 37:28

God is not surprised, diminished, depressed or incapacitated by anyone's rejection of Him. God can handle it quite well. He has a sovereign plan in place to deal with everyone justly, including those who fight against Him with active rejection.

When Sennacherib came up against Jerusalem with the brutal power of the Assyrian army as his threat, he came mocking God. He ridiculed king Hezekiah but worst of all, he dared Israel's God to save them, as no pagan god had ever turned back the Assyrian superpower. The pride and swagger in Sennacherib's boasts seemed all too true to the citizens of Jerusalem. A brutal army outside the city gates prepared to bring Jerusalem to ruin. But the king of Assyria had never encountered the true God of heaven and earth. In response to a passionate prayer from Judah's king, God would humiliate the boastful Assyrian dictator.

God was intimately familiar with the situation. It did not catch Him off guard. Sennacherib's every move was God's intimate knowledge. He was well aware not only of the mocking voice of the Assyrian king, but also of his greatest weakness. In one night the entire army died in its sleep. And the Assyrian king, spared with only his life, quietly returned home impotent, only to die by assassination by the hands of his own sons later that year. God knew the raging of this king. He knew how to stop it. And He justly saw an end that would assert the glory of the God of Israel.

So over every person, institution, or movement that rages against God, the Lord is absolutely sovereign. Even the rejection of God by those who falsely trust human autonomy is orchestrated by God's hand for the ends of His glory and praise. When I see it in my day, I will be reminded of the humiliation of an ancient Assyrian loudmouth.

Monday, October 27, 2014

change & decay

Man wastes away like a rotten thing,
like a garment that is moth-eaten.
Job 13:28

Let's just say that this week has been a season reminding me of this truth. Sometimes the decay of life accelerates for some reason. You watch cherished parts of life change and crumble. It isn't evil... it is just part of the way the world is ever since sin changed things from God's perfect design for us. God is above it, somehow, in ways my eyes don't always see in the splintering decay.

The words of this old hymn are an insightful comfort to my soul:

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, October 23, 2014


The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
Psalm 19:1-2

I have always really loved to study astronomy. I can sit outside under a night sky and marvel at the work of God. It amazes me to pull out my telescope and view the moon up close or to see Saturn's rings live with my own eyes. We live in a vast universe filled with the wonders of God's creative mind.

I believe that I have "scriptural" encounters with God. By that I mean that reading the Bible provides for me the opportunity (I believe the only opportunity that I should actively seek and promote) to "hear" the voice of God. But I also know that I can see God in creation. Some of my most life-stirring thoughts and confirmation about God have come just from such times. I vividly remember the summer of 1980, laying on my back in a mountain meadow and watching meteors streak across the Milky Way. I was in awe of God then. I know I celebrated God's creative power when I held my first wild brook trout in my hand. I've seen God's handiwork in the shimmer of the northern lights. I know God's power in the pounding cold of a mountain waterfall. I have been immersed in the depths of His love in the rolling ocean surf. I have been amazed at His diverse creativity snorkeling with colorful reef fish surrounding me. I have marveled at His greatness in the beauty of a desert canyon. I understood first in a way that I still cannot fully put into words what it is for God to be my Father when I held each of my newborn children close to my own beating heart. Creation confirms what His Word reveals.

I see You work in this world. I am astounded at the universe You simply muttered into meaning! I hold Your greatest thoughts in my hands when I open Your Word and listen to You there. Thank You for being such as accessible, meaningful, powerful Lord!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

people forget

And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side

Judges 8:34

I read these episodes in the Book of Judges and am incredulous. How could Israel so quickly forget what God had done for them? It seems crazy, as if mass amnesia affected them all. Exactly how does a nation forget its recent history?

This text has a clue. The reason Israel could so easily forget is that their hearts were idolatrous. They turned time and again to the worship of false gods. The text says they went after Baal with whorish hearts (Judges 8:33). A wild energy was devoted to the pursuit of false gods. They lusted after them like sex. And that misplaced affection led the nation to reinterpret their recent history, telling it without God present in it.

Spiritual decline begins not so much in absent-minded forgetfulness, but in deliberate fixing of the heart on an idol. And as that idol starts to direct the heart, God is further and further from the thoughts. Soon He is no longer even a memory as the new idol holds us in fascination and demands our worship as it controls us.

So this warning about the process of spiritual decline is personally instructive. It keeps us clear and aware of the dangers. We will worship something if we do not worship the Lord. That is the big repeated theme of the book of Judges.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

at home with God

From there he went up to Beersheba. And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham's sake.” So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac's servants dug a well.

Genesis 26:23-25

When Isaac conversed with God the impact of that meeting was so strong that he just moved into the place where it occurred. He simply wanted to live where he knew God was working in his life. He pitched his tent at the spot where God had encouraged him. He made it a habit to simply dwell with God. He lived there. It was beautiful.

After God encouraged Isaac with a renewed covenant commitment, Isaac seriously entered into the responsibilities of that relationship. He began to pray. He built an altar and offered sacrifices. He seriously committed to his relationship with God in a new and costly way. It was a powerful thing and God rewarded his willingness to stay there. A home was established in Beersheba. An altar was built for worship. A well was dug. His family settled in to life with God at Beersheba.

That picture is an encouragement to me right now. I did not sleep well last night. I haven't slept great for weeks. Worries of my own, the cares and burdens of the church, and the hurts of others that I dearly love kept me up. So I eventually gave in to the inevitability of short sleep. I sat up in the wee hours of the morning in a dark room in my favorite comfy chair and just prayed. It was both confusing at times and strangely clarifying. And after that I read my assigned passage and came upon this encouraging story from Isaac's life. God spoke loudly in His Word. I did not need a mystical voice. I did not have to do any weird twilight zone exercises or mental Jedi mind tricks to hear Him. He ALWAYS  speaks in His Word. The Bible is His voice. Just read it! And I did and am blessed. I am glad that I can live in my own home, Beersheba-like, and find God's peace.

Monday, October 20, 2014

we gain more than we give up

"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life."

Matthew 19:29

The promise of Jesus to His followers is of eternal satisfaction, not just temporary reward. Jesus gives His disciples this assurance: it is well worth any personal sacrifice to follow Him. And that promise extends to those who follow Him today.

There are sacrifices both material and relational that we must make to truly commit to following our Master.  Jesus mentions the physical cost of houses and lands. No material asset should keep our hearts from Him. In the immediate context, Jesus has just seen the wealthy young ruler walk away from Him because he could not turn from his possessions (Matthew 19:16-22). Peter remarks that Jesus' disciples have left it all on the gamble of Jesus' kingdom. And that was true. Love any earthly possession and you cannot truly love Jesus. You are blessed by Him when you possess only Him.

Relationships also change. We cannot love any person more than the Lord, for it would make that person an idol. And Jesus warns that even the closest of family relationships is "left" to follow Him. Jesus must have my heart in order for me to be His disciple. It is more than just "learning". Those who only define a disciple as a "learner" miss this. Discipleship is a commitment to the core of what I want or what I love. And it is rewarded by Jesus intensely if I truly commit to being His disciple.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Christianity is a culture of love.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

Romans 12:9-10

Love makes the culture of the church a pleasant place. It leads to unity, service, and honor holding the church together beautifully as the Body of Christ. We should be known by our love. Jesus said it was to be the way in which His disciples could be found in the world (John 13:35).

What these two verses say about that love helps us know what it looks like. It is genuine and from the heart. It is not fake or manufactured. We know this through the commitment we have to disdain what is evil and cultivate holiness with each other. You can't get any more "real" than when we keep each other accountable for godly lives... in love.

We are to love with a strong family loyalty. Brotherly affection is family love. You don't turn family down. You don't turn your back on them. You care BECAUSE they are family. You live together, share together, love together, struggle together, care for each other up or down together, and rejoice together in a family together. You share all the experiences of life as a family. Christian love is a family experience.

We must love with intense honor and respect. Each of us should seek to "out love" the others around us. We honor each other with our care, not out of duty, but out of the respect for God's kingdom that we see in His church. We honor King Jesus when we love each other as He loves us, respecting Him as we respect one another with His love.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

peace for anxious hearts

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;

in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

But you were unwilling,

Isaiah 30:15

God longed to restore Israel, but their own sinful choices had them frantically running away from Him in the opposite direction. He longed to give them peace. God longed to calm anxious hearts. But as long as they rejected Himm, they could not find that peace.

God loves to show us His grace and mercy. Even as Israel ran from God and right into the wall of His justice, God offered His grace for their return. He waited to be gracious (Isaiah 30:18). The Lord loves His people. He longs to bless them if they would but stop running from Him and come again to Him.

And so His promise of peace is there for our own anxious hearts. The rest that He promises is the best. The quietness of soul that comes in trusting in God is the source of an amazing joy and an inexplicable perspective on life. It is what our hearts need to feel and our minds need to know.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

sarcasm unleashed

Then Job answered and said:

“No doubt you are the people,

and wisdom will die with you."

Job 12:1-2

Sarcasm isn't always a good thing, but in this case with Job, it is a sign of his health. He is responding to yet another string of personal attacks disguised as "friendly advice". Sarcasm shows that Job has not been taken in by the cut-and-dried inadequate theology of the masses that his friends subscribe to vigorously. It shows he knows God better than they do.

This delicious dig at their counsel: "You ARE the people... wisdom dies with you..." shows that Job stills trusts God more than the people around him. He may be tired of their approach, but he can still make his case for the truth that God has revealed to him in his suffering.

So the right sprinkling of sarcastic humor punctuates and seasons Job at this point. It is an insight into his soul and though he is suffering, he refuses to change what he knows about God. It is a way to stand for the truth, maintain his perspective, and relieve some of the stress of the constant attacks coming from well-meaning but misguided counselors.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

always before me

I have set the LORD always before me;

because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Psalm 16:8

God is always present. We cannot run from His intimate involvement in our lives. But we must be more than just aware of this. We must incline our hearts toward God so that we personally apply ourselves to the advantage that comes with the accessibility of a God Who is near.

David kept God "always before" him. He preoccupied his thoughts and purposes around God. Not only was God always with David, but David made conscious choices to keep his awareness focused upon God. And that way in which David applied himself to the relationship he had with God made all the difference. God was near, and David did not have to succumb to his worst fears. He could trust God because God was his foremost life's thought and commitment.

There is a strength in personally committing to good theology. It is one thing thought to just know that the scriptures teach God's omnipresence. It is a much better thing to hold your heart close to the nearness of God and habituate your life's experiences around that fact. Personal disciplines that center my day around Bible reading and prayer help to focus me in this way. And my life has been blessed even in struggles when I do this. So I purpose to set the LORD always before me.

Monday, October 13, 2014

second generation says "meh".

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

Judges 2:10

This account of the history of Israel after the conquest of Canaan describes a culture that lost its spiritual roots. The story scares me because I see the same dangerous pattern happening today. The worship of God collapses when a new generation fails to appreciate where the old generation was saved by God's hand. In the case of Israel, once the land no longer needed to be fought for, the easy life lulled them from God. It got easier to adopt the idolatry of the pagans around them. They did not know the Lord nor His work for them.

I see it now. My parents came to Christ unchurched, making me a first generation Christian when I believed. The gospel was a new thing in our family. It saved us in every sense. I know the Lord and His works, even in tremendous pain and loss that visited my home. God is real and His word is true. I know what once was and I know how the gospel saved us. I am blessed.

But somewhere along the way I have watched the generation after me take this for granted. My kids did not experience the gospel change in quite the same way as I did. The "second generation" Christians don't see what the first generation ones do. It is thus easier for them to be lured away. Indeed, I have noticed evanglicals in their 30's and younger who have a disturbing casualness to orthodoxy and don't commit to a real engaging evangelism. We must encourage these young Christians to look for God at work lest they forget and the book of Judges become the epitaph of the church.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God. And Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines.

Genesis 21:33-34

A stranger there

faith's forefather

trusted God

and journeyed on

Flocks grazed

children played

in a land unowned

while they travelled on

Pitching tents

by faith living

pursuing the Lord

obeying God's Word

Content to believe

a land would one day be his

Abraham staked claim

and let God build his fame

Always a stranger

but a believer still

he wandered a land

seeing God's hand

A son now here

God's promise known

The old man believed

and good gifts received