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.