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.