Friday, January 30, 2015

when relationships hurt

But now they laugh at me,
men who are younger than I,
whose fathers I would have disdained
to set with the dogs of my flock.
Job 30:1

This is the evaluation Job concludes to all the "comfort" and "insight" his friends have offered to him in his suffering. In the end, it was a mockery and a disrespect. Job had higher regard for his stock-protecting sheep dogs than these men. These were not counselors who scored well with their client evaluations!

Why do people hurt us? It seems to me that the most difficult experience of suffering in the book of Job is the incredibly painful relationship Job has with his friends as they attack his character and imply that he is spiritually a failure before God. The real suffering of Job is in those strained relationships. When we care about people, whether they are friends or family, we invest emotionally with them. That gives them not only the power to add to our contentment, but also the ability to really hurt us. And that is Job's conclusion at the counsel he received. It is a mockery of him and a painful disappointment.

Relationships are worth the pain that they bring. But sometimes in order to make them better, with difficulty, we must address where they are wrong. God eventually healed Job's friendships. By having Job intercede with sacrifices for his friends, the redeeming of this pain began. When a relationship hurts, God can heal it.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

God of my life

By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
Psalm 42:8

I find the forty-second psalm to be one of the richest spiritual sources for personal reflection in all of scripture. It grabs my attention in my intense life moments... just like right now. It is the cry of a thirsty heart, wounded, wondering, yet eager to see God. There is a fervent desire for God throughout this song, beginning in Psalm 42:1-2. But there is a deep pain as well. The longing for God is coming from tears of sorrow (Psalm 42:3-4). Yet even in the pain, the hope of the worship of God provides perspective (Psalm 42:4, 8, 11).

There is a refrain repeated twice in the Psalm... first halfway through and again at the very end. It is a consoling choice for self-talk that acknowledges life's pains, but still chooses hope (Psalm 42:5, 11). "Why are you cast down, o my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God..." The psalmist wills himself to consider hope even as he also wonders if God even sees his suffering (42:9-10). By faith comfort is found in choosing hope and love for God despite feeling as if God is absent.

I acknowledge I need the strength and comfort that this song brings me right now. I pray to the "God of my life". The culture around me is increasingly apathetic, growing in antagonism against the truth of God. And in my hardest, painful moments, I sometimes feel as if God is absent. I feel foolish for believing. But the word to describe what is happening is feel. It is a feeling. It is not my soul's reality. It is a feeling. So is nausea. And nausea signals that I am sick. After nausea empties my gut, I get better and life goes on. After the feeling of God's absence is released, a cool fact that calms my soul can enter in. It is the reality that I know God is the God of my life. I have no reason to doubt His love and leading. I have 90 devotional journals penned in my own hand from my teenage years onward that record my reflections upon His Word and His work in my simple, average life. God may seem elusive at times, yet He is always showing His faithful love, as dear to me as a song that cheers my soul in the darkest night.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let's hear it for the losers.

And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.
1 Samuel 22:2

This is David's life on the run from a hateful, enraged King Saul. David has found refuge in the wilderness cave of Adullam. And as God prepares him to lead a nation, He sends in a trickling stream of Israel's most desperate people to join David... the kind of guys who have nothing to lose by aiding a fugitive. These are men who look to an outlaw for help. This will be a part of the story that shows God's grace. This ragtag band of scoundrels would become David's "mighty men" on whom he would rely in battle. They would eventually lead armies and forge a safe nation. But for now, they are pathetic rejects.

Adullam held a gathering of life's losers. Three circumstances are used in the text to describe them. They are in distress. Their lives are torn up for various reasons. Nothing is normal for them. They have no inkling of normality in their day to day existence. Homeless and hopeless, they find refuge with David. They are OK with living in a cave. They are in debt. This isn't the plastic consumer debt of the 21st century. This is hardcore indebtedness in a system that hunted down those who shirked repayment and either enslaved them or imprisoned them. These guys were resourceless. They were also discontented. The marginal notes in the ESV translation offers that as the explanation of the more literal reading of "bitter in soul". This was an unhappy bunch. They were mad at the structure in which they lived, upset by Saul's tyranny and the unrest it created, oppressed by Philistine threats, and generally a grumpy bunch.

It was out of this loose collection of life's biggest losers that David built an army. From this assorted collection of misfits, oddballs, miscreants, troublemakers, and poor decision makers God taught David to lead, and to lead with precision and excellence. I'd think any day in that cave could have had the potential to be an experience just short of a full-blown prison riot. Yet somehow David kept this group of testosterone soaked, angry at the world revolutionaries together. And a lot of losers became a band of brothers. Grace forges new hope when God remakes us.

Monday, January 26, 2015

God did as He said; Moses & Aaron did as God commanded.

The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them. Moses and Aaron did so; they did just as the Lord commanded them.
Exodus 7:5-6

God pretty much sketched out the process of the Exodus to Moses and Aaron before it all happened. He explained to them that they would make multiple appeals to Pharaoh. They would deliver God's demands to the Egyptian king. But Pharaoh would respond with a hard heart, unwilling to let Israel go even though God's miraculous power would be demonstrated throughout the land of Egypt. Eventually God's monumental judgment on Egypt would lead Israel out of their slavery.

The reason that God told Moses this in advance was to demonstrate His sovereign purposes. This is the encouragement Moses and Aaron needed just before they entered Pharaoh's court for the first time. And even though the king refused them, he knew they were talking for God. And even though Pharaoh did not know or acknowledge God, he could not deny that supernatural events were occurring right before his eyes... events over which he had no control.

Two things stand out here. First, God did exactly as He said. The events of the book play out exactly as we expect given this prophetic outline. And God is shown to be true not only in the events themselves, but in His exact statement of them beforehand. Secondly, Moses and Aaron did just as God commanded them. They were leaders who were obedient to the command and the demand of God. Yes, it was a process for them and God was patient with their struggle. But they obeyed God and God used that obedience to deliver many.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

like a child

"Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Mark 10:15

she comes to me
only trusting
just knowing
her father loves her

she asks a question
faith showing
she's knowing
I will answer

my child
will trust me
asking believingly

Jesus said to have a child's capacity
to trust implicitly will take us to eternity

I come to You
sometimes with doubt
trying to figure out
if You're even there for me

I am filled with questions
unbelief is showing
hardly knowing
if You will answer

not a child...
I struggle
not on faith relying

Jesus said to humble myself childlike
so the kingdom could be found in my life

it begins with... "Father?"...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

unity & variety

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
1 Corinthians 12:4-7

God takes each individual believer as a unique personal creation and molds them into a special place in the larger artistry of His church. There is a wild, mosaic beauty to the Body of Christ. Each person as themselves is a work of art, but when placed into the Church, an even larger work of greater art can be known. God creates unity from the variety. It's beautifull!

Having lived my life within the church, both as member, and as a supportive, serving leader to the Body of Christ, I have seen this firsthand. And as my viewpoint broadens, the observation increases! I travel to a new spot on the globe, meet Christians there, worship together, and see yet another scene in the mosaic God is making come together. The variety displays a certain God-designed unity. We exist and worship and shine the light of God's glory in the gospel of Jesus Christ to this world together. It is amazing.

Perhaps, just perhaps, one reason so many denominations of Christians exist is so that this picture can be seen in its individual pixelization. We are not cookie-cutter people who are all identical. But with One Savior, we have the ability to group around a common bond that lets the unity of our common salvation be known. And God knows the world needs to see the beauty of Christ's Bride. But will we see it in ourselves? Only if we stop narrowly focusing on individuals and our own favorite groups.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

idols: delusion and death

Every man is stupid and without knowledge;
every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
and there is no breath in them.
Jeremiah 10:14

Our idols make us stupid. They betray to the world our lack of real wisdom and knowledge. Idols will shame us for they are ultimately unsustainable. They will let us down... hard... in a ruinous crash of lies and the death of our dreams. Such is our lot when we abandon God for the delusions we make with our own hands and worship with all our hearts.

Jeremiah had to watch the citizens of Jerusalem neglect the worship of God. In a rush to try the "latest and the greatest" they turned to the worship of every false god and goddess of the pagan nations around them. Now Jerusalem was filled with idols while God's temple was abandoned. Families invested their worship energies on the maintenance of household Baals. But very soon the impending curses of the covenant that they had forsaken would bring their lives all to a collapsing heap of rubble. And when the dust settled, all that would be left would be the numbing experience of death and delusion.

This is still the end of anything we put in the place of God. We may deceive ourselves with a false sense of pride or the appearance of joy, but when the lies catch up to us, our idols will fall. You cannot live a life of delusion and find any kind of blessing. In mercy, God crashes through our paper deities and brings us to an awareness of Him. And in that frightful moment, hope also can come. Worship can be found coming out of the ashes of our burned idols as we walk away from the lies and embrace the grace and truth found in Jesus.

Monday, January 19, 2015

not without hope

For what is the hope of the godless when God cuts him off,
when God takes away his life?
Job 27:8

Job's question burns in his constant dialogue with his accusing friends. It is based on his insistence that he is committed to righteousness and the love of God. He knows that he has real hope. But what about the person who does not believe in, trust, and follow the Lord? Job sees such a person of devoid of any hope. They come to a sad realization and a life of ruin and pain.

Part of Job's comfort in all his loss and sorrow is that despite his intense physical and emotional suffering, he still has hope in God. That is the kind of thing only a righteous man can find. Job is clear that his integrity has kept him. And he will hold to what he knows about God. He has hope and comfort because he is not a godless man. Even if his circumstances led to his death, he would die in confident hope.

And yet he suffered with questions. He did not question God's righteous ways or integrity. He just wanted to know "WHY"! And really, Job never got that answer, eventually being fine with the fact that God was bigger and wiser and more holy than any human ever could be. He just kept trusting God, fearing God, and believing God. And that hope kept him going. It is one of the ways a righteous man will thrive, even in many troubles. Trust in God delivers us from ultimate despair. Not even death can take it from us! Amen! That is hope!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tell the good news!

I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O LORD.
I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
Psalm 40:9-10

When God does great things, His people must tell it and the world must know it. God is not a quiet presence hiding behind the working of natural forces in our world. He is not the unseen neglectful watchmaker. He is engaged with His world. He works by His grace to save humanity. He loves us. We know it and should proclaim it every chance that we get.

This was the motive that pushed David to praise the Lord when the nation was convened for worship. Any time that God's people gathered for worship, David made a point of telling about God's deliverance. It was part of what it meant to properly serve the Lord. He did not hide his story of salvation by God from the people around him. He let it be known. It was a wonderful and powerful story. It defined him. He was quick to praise and tell the good news to all.

Worship should attend our telling of our testimonies. And testimonies should attend our times of worship. When I feel "dry" coming to God in worship, how can I stay complacent and unmoved if I consider His great love in saving a sinner like me? Contemplate Calvary's love, and my soul must repent of its hardness and sing a song of thankful praise! Praise God for the deliverance Christ has brought to me! Tell the good news in worship and praise!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

sling and stone

So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David.
1 Samuel 17:50

With a sling and a stone
the weapon of a shepherd boy
God delivered His people
continuing redemption's story

With a sling and a stone
David ran near
to the giant who mocked
fighting with faith, not fear

With a sling and a stone
David faced an enemy
without even a sword
or a strong army

With a sling and a stone
God's deliverance was done
as David felled Goliath
the victory was won

With a sling and a stone
and a faith undeterred
David fought for Israel
and heeded God's Word

With a sling and a stone
in my own life
unpleasant circumstances
need not cause me strife

With a sling and a stone
and the power of God here
I can trust God to work
and always be near

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Moses: beyond fear

"Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”
Exodus 4:12-13

Moses should not have been a man with as much insecurity as he evidenced in his first encounter with God. He had been supernaturally and sovereignly rescued as an infant, raised in the highest Egyptian household as a privileged young prince, and trained to be a ruler among men. Yet one day he realized the plight of his ethnic brothers. In a rash moment he killed an Egyptian and fled for his life to become a nomadic shepherd far from Egypt and his Hebrew roots. And there God called him to deliver Israel from her bonds.

But Moses was afraid. He now had a comfortable life outside of Egypt, He cringed to go back to being either an Egyptian or a Hebrew, let alone a leader. As God revealed more of His call, Moses stressed out and gave more reservation. He let his fear override His worship and it began to anger God.

God gave Moses the ability to perform miraculous signs in order to convince Israel of the authenticity of his commissioning by God. Yet Moses resists, claiming that his stammering speech would keep him from being effective in Egyptian courts. He begs off the assignment, daring to ask God to send someone else. It is then that God promises that Moses can team up with his brother Aaron to speak and lead the nation out of Egypt.

Fear will lead us to potentially miss God's greatness. God wants to show Himself to us and work through us, but our fears can impede us. The story of Moses dramatically shows us how God will use us despite our fears and move beyond us. His strength is bigger than our sense of insecurity. Our fears can be overcome by God's power. He will be angry at our willful disobedience, but pleased when we let Him work in us, fears and all, for His purpose.

Monday, January 12, 2015

the unbelief of seeking signs

And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
Mark 8:12

Mark places this episode with the Pharisees in the context of a mighty miracle. Jesus has just provided food for four thousand people. Using seven loaves of bread and a few small fish, miraculous provision comes at His hands. It seems these demanding Pharisees were part of that crowd. With bread crumbs on their hands, they demand something "miraculous" in order for Jesus to prove His claims! They had the unbelieving gall to ask for this sign.

Then, immediately after this confrontation with the Pharisees, the text recalls a later episode where the disciples argued over a lack of food, forgetting Jesus' past miraculous intervention. And Jesus calls their self-absorbed lack of faith "the leaven of the Pharisees". Needing a sign from God is absolute unbelief. It is not in keeping with the life of a disciple. This chapter in Mark makes that absolutely and undeniably clear.

Due to a large extent to the past 100 years of American Pentecostalism, most Christians today are saturated with this awful, sinful, unbelieving leaven of the Pharisees. Most everyone seems to want a personal "word from God" as if scripture is insufficient, and signs and wonders are demanded. Christians believe the rambling story of a 4 year old boy about heaven, more than Jesus' own promises -- the One Who died, rose again, and ascended into heaven to make us a dwelling place there! We are fouled with the leaven of faithlessness as we revel in and drool over false "signs and wonders".

Is there faith to be found yet on earth when You return? Purge Your church of this idolatrous love of the leaven of the Pharisees. Keep our eyes on You alone as we read the gospels, obey the scripture, and may we stop testing Your patience with our awful unbelief! May we look only for the signs of Your return.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

on liberty and community

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24

Christian liberty is a great thing. But I fear that I am guilty, along with my "i-Generation" of abusing it. We have created such a consumer culture in modern evangelicalism in America that the highest value gets placed on personal expressions. That is why churches that may preach the gospel quite well are shirked for ones that instead have lots of activities custom designed for personal desires to be met. I have heard more than one believer rationalize their choice with this sort of thinking. It is so unbiblical.

My personal liberty is not what Jesus came to affirm. He set me free from sin, but He called me to service as His slave. That's what a Lord is... a controller of someone else's destiny. This is supposed to be true of every Christian. But celebrating my "likes" is not what this kind of discipleship is about. It should be about worship within in a community of people redeemed from the world into the service of their King! This is why even our liberty must seek the good of others around us, and not be wasted on our own pleasures.

God made each of us unique. That is something that celebrates the wondrous creativity of our Maker. But it does not follow that all my preferences are holy. I am corrupted by a sin nature and have to look out for its influence even on the good way God made me. In fact, if I make my preferences the standard for another person, I am not being holy at all, but selfishly sinful. For instance, I love pecan pie. But if I insist that you only serve it to me, and that when you are with me, you must eat it, I have become insanely selfish. If I refuse to taste the vanilla pudding that you love, I am not acting like a redeemed child of God.

And so, I must balance my "likes" and liberties with your likes and liberties. And together God makes us into something that He is building up for His glory. Together we hold our personal desires up to Christ, repent of any sinful, selfish taints in them, and rejoice as God blends us into His holy church.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Thus says the Lord:
“What wrong did your fathers find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?"
Jeremiah 2:5

What I value creates my worth
if I follow the Lord
treasure His Word
obey His voice
I have riches beyond measure

What is important to me
will mark my life
accumulate around me
visible to others
as where I know my pleasure

... the pursuit of worthlessness
will make a person worthless

When I value You, Lord
Your pleasures are my joys
Your will my path
Your love my heart
There is purpose in my direction

If I love You, Lord
my heart will always sing
of Your power and salvation
to anyone I meet
and my heart will be led by Your intention me from worthlessness
so that I may never be worthless

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

dominion, fear & peace

Dominion and fear are with God;
he makes peace in his high heaven.
Job 25:2

For all their faults as counselors, Job's friends do have a robust theology. They know Who God is and what He does. They occasionally misapply some aspects of God's judgment and righteous indignation to Job, but they do understand the right things about God. Their mistakes are usually found in trying to understand Job. Bildad's comments here are worth some reflection.

In this short statement he declares some deep theological conviction. Three things about God are clear. The first is that God rules everything. He has all dominion. He is the King and the Controller of the universe. He does not just look out over the world; He has power to wield it as He wills. That is what dominion means. He can do with us and this world as He pleases. Because God is also holy and just, His pleasure to do anything is always good.

The second word Bildad uses to describe God is "fear". This attends His rulership of everything. It summarizes our first response when considering His greatness. This is not fear before Someone Who wishes to hurt us. Rather, it is fear before Someone Who has absolute power over us. We are nothing in the face of that kind of greatness.

The third and final word is "peace". God makes peace. And in that reality is all of our hope. The Almighty sovereign God of the universe Who can do anything and has all authority in all ways... the God Who is fearful to contemplate... this God makes peace with us. He reconciles and redeems. He seeks to be at one with us and not to strive against us even as we are His enemies. He is a loving king. His love for us to make peace with Him casts out all fear. And this insight leads us to trust God all the more.

Monday, January 5, 2015

though I fall

The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the LORD upholds his hand.
Psalm 37:23-24

A relationship with God is the best assurance in life. God promises to uphold us even in the most difficult of life circumstances. I may stumble. I may fall. I may fail in faith. But God's got me in His strong grip and will never lose me. God "establishes" my very steps when I trust in Him.

I notice that this is not a promise for an easy life. It is assumed that there will be difficulties. We are not promised endless sunshine or painless living as God's people. But when there is difficulty, when we do fall down, we won't "wipe out". We aren't destroyed by life's adverse circumstances. God still has a hold of us and will not let go. We may still hurt. We may still cry out. But God is right there and He will not let us come to ruin. God delights in people who delight in Him. He will keep them close in His sovereign care, forever.

Lord God,
I thank You that You are not only with me, but holding tight to my hand. You will not let me go. Lord Jesus, You will not leave me nor forsake me. Forgive my heart wanderings. It is easy to trust only in me or my life's physical circumstances. Yet Your unseen hand is on me and You will not let me come to ruin. Please, keep me aware of Your constant care. Though I fall, You never fail!

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Friday, January 2, 2015

be careful how you define success...

When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the Ammonites, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines. Wherever he turned he routed them. And he did valiantly and struck the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them.
1 Samuel 14:47-48

From a political and military viewpoint Saul was a wildly successful leader. He managed to wage war against every enemy of Israel and to defeat them as they rose against the young kingdom. He built a strong army using every political alliance and popular strategy to build rapport with the people. If anyone started getting a reputation for success in any leadership field, Saul recruited them to his organization (see 1 Samuel 14:52). By this means he achieved credit for every remarkable success in his kingdom.

But Saul neglected the Lord. He had low regard for honoring God in his choices. And that became his downfall. God had chosen him, but Saul forgot that fact in the heady giddiness of success. Power and battle highs kept him from seeing that God's honor should have come first. God would eventually be disappointed with Saul to a point of no return (1 Samuel 15:11).

Saul began a slow and deliberately pain-filled descent into madness as a result. His power went to his head and corrupted his soul. He rejected God altogether and as a result, God moved sovereignly to take the kingship away from Saul (1 Samuel 15:22-23). His success would ultimately not be what Saul would leave for a legacy. He would end up drunk on power, a moody temperamental tyrant who obsessed over maintaining control. He ultimately would die by his own hand in battle, overrun by the enemy and helpless as Israel fell before the foe. He would die the opposite of his pinnacle of success.

Yet, from the tragedy of Saul's demise, God would raise David to be king. Israel would reunite under him to find more success and national security as David expanded the nation's borders. David would do more than Saul ever did. And David would lead Israel to bronze age Middle East dominance as the leader who was a man after God's own heart.