Tuesday, March 31, 2015

dress and answer... like a man.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me."
Job 40:6-7

The LORD puts Job's objections to his pain to the holy scrutinty of God's wisdom, power, and justice. Job has already admitted he cannot answer God in argument (Job 40:3-5). He promises silence as God continues to reveal His power to Job. As God continues explaining Job's own weakness to him by describing even greater power over the natural world, Job can only stay silent and take in the truth of God's revelation in contemplative worship.

God warns Job that this is no easy take to "hear from God". It would require all of Job's strength, courage, and manly vigor to engage in this exercise. Just like Jacob wrestled with God in his tent throught the ngiht, God would now contend in conversation with Job. But he needed to "man up" and get ready for the effort. This was going to be quite a work out. God just asked Job to put on his big boy britches. Job had questions for God no more. But now God would take Job to school with questions of his own.

As God continued to pummel Job with hard hitting instances of the power of the natural world that the Lord had made, Job's own place in the scheme of God's created world became more apparent. Job's weakness was as woefully insufficient as God's creative and sustaining power was great. The God Who made and controlled the greatest beasts on earth and creatures of the deep sea vastly eclipsed Job's power. Job learned about the majesty of God's power as God kept questioning him with instances that showed Job's human frailty. And that faith that Job needed to maintain kept maturing to a repentance that acknowledged his own wrongs in demanding answers from the Almighty. GOD was the answer. GOD was all that Job needed. Like a man, he could not prevail against God, but was blessed in humble, submissive, repentant worship. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

worship motivations

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!
Psalm 57:9-11

David's longing was to lift up the greatness of God, to let God's glory be known all over the world. There were two ways David did this. FIrst, he gave thanks to God. This was a public acknowledgement of God's great care of him. This psalm was written while David was on the run. He was in hiding. His life was in peril. To publically thank God came at great risk. But nothing would keep David's heart from worship.

The second way in which David would lift up the worship of the Lord was through singing. David was a singer/songwriter at heart. Most of the book of Psalm is attributed to him. He worshiped through singing all his life. And he was always ready to praise God in this way. He was willing to do so publically because God deserved that kind of worship.

There were also two reasons behind this public worship of thanksgiving and song. First, David was motivated by God's steadfast love. It was greater than any human love. It was poured out to him time and again, particularly as he was on the run. It was a grace that literally kept David alive. Grace was the reason to sing.

David also was moved to worship because of God's faithfulness to him. He could not always trust any human being. He could ALWAYS trust God. God's faithfulness provided David with life, protection, and hope. David also knew God's faithfulness to Him promises. David had been anointed king. He was chosen by God and told he would be king. The Lord was faithful to keep and protect David as a result. So when David worshiped a faithful God, it was rooted in David's belief in the Word of God as true. God shows Himself always gracious and faithful. Our hearts should thus always long to see our God lifted up!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

leadership lessons from thrown stones

When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left.
2 Samuel 16:5-6

At the lowest point of David's experience as king in Jerusalem, as his throne is overtaken by Absalom his son and he must flee out of the city for safety, this strange little man named Shimei comes out of the city to curse David. He runs along the top of the ridge as David's retreating force marches below, vacating Jerusalem. And as he follows along he shouts curses at the king from above, pelting everyone with stones and kicking dirt down upon them in showers as they go. It makes the retreat that much harder. It is literally a case of adding insult to injury.

David's men are tired of it. Any one of David's warriors would gladly dispatch the annoyance! But David holds them back. Shimei is a distraction, and in David's humility at the moment, he accepts that God may have sent the weird raging dust kicker for a reason. The real issue was not a little dirt and rock. The kingdom was fallen. The tirade of one lone angry little crackpot was not significant in that light.

Drifting into putting energy on irritating distractions can pull leaders away from bigger issues. And this a leadership moment for David. He shows he is still kingly, even if he has lost a kingdom temporarily. His choice for mercy and for focus on the real issues proves that David is still the leader that Israel needs, even if the nation does not think that they want him anymore.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

holiness on my mind

“You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, Holy to the Lord.’ And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. It shall be on Aaron's forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord."
Exodus 28:36-38

The High Priest in ancient Israel wore a constant reminder of his task to intercede for Israel on His forehead. On his turban, tied with an azure cord, was the golden plate inscribed with a strong reminder: Holy to the LORD. When Aaron began his day at the tabernacle, this reminder jolted him as he carefully donned priestly vestments. And with each offering and sacrifice, he was deemed able to offer to God for the people only BECAUSE that holy reminder was on his forehead. The priests were to be hyper aware of God's holiness.

The symbolism of that holy reminder of God's holiness on the head of the high preist is instructive on how much we should value God's holiness. Holiness was literally on the head of the priest. Shouldn't God's holiness be always on our minds? Are we aware of the power, greatness, holiness and majesty of our God? If we are, it is impossible to yawn ourselves awake and go through just the dull motions of a lukewarm faith!

As I contemplate this, an old worship song comes to mind:
When I look into Your holiness
When I gaze into Your loveliness
When all things that surround
Become shadows in the light of You
When I've found the joy of reaching Your heart
When my will becomes enthralled in Your love
When all things that surround
become shadows in the light of You
I worship You, I worship You
The reason I live
Is to worship You.

Monday, March 23, 2015

generating controversy

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.
Luke 4:14-15

Jesus began His ministry as a teaching rabbi. He became something of a celebrity, preaching first in His home province of Galille where He traveled from town to town, teaching in the synagogues and being wildly accepted by all who heard Him teach. We can only speculate as to the content of this very early ministry, but Luke does record one "service" in Jesus' home town of Nazareth at the end of Luke Four. In this encounter Jesus proclaims Himself to be Isaiah's prophesied Messiah. Only this time, the home town crowd is volatile and violent, ushering Him outside the city in force in order to execute Him for blasphemy by tossing Him off the edge of a cliff. But His time had not come. Jesus calmly walked away through the midst of the angry mob. He was controversial from the very start.

I have an operating principle for Christian teaching... the truth generates controversy. It requires a response. Jesus gets a strong reaction both favorable or against. He is never just mildly received. He never received a casual handshake and head nodded "Nice sermon" as people exited the building. When a group of His followers are not moved by Him or the teaching of His gospel, something has to be wrong. That is my observation from the gospels. It is the story of the early church in the New Testament. And it is why in the book of Revelation Jesus warns His church that He would rather have His church be either hot or cold. Lukewarm Christians make Him nauseaus! 

Controversial Teacher and Lord,
Keep the scandal of the gospel burning in me. Keep me scorching in the scandal of Your cross. Never let me sink to the coolness of the status quo, content to just "be" a Christian going through the motions. I'm not one who needs to lay still and soak it in comfortable climates, though it is my temptation. I never want to create casual Christian comfort in Your assembled saints. I want to see Jesus glorified, even if it means the gospel sparks reaction against You.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

a family resemblance

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
2 Corinthians 7:1

Paul's reminder to the Corinthians is something to consider today. The promises of God are an encouragement to love God, obey Him, and fear Him properly, all in order to live holy lives. Paul quotes from the relational promises of the Law: "I will make my dwelling among them... I will be their God and they shall be my people" (see 2 Corinthians 6:16). He also pairs that with God's call to be holy as He is among Israel citing Isaiah 52:11. He ends his "promise list" with God's reminder of paternal care, liberally quoting principles found in Exodus 4:22 and possibly Jeremiah 31:9. Paul's point was that even the Old Testament Law promised intimate, family-like relationship within the context of obedience to god that sought to emulate His holiness. If we are indeed God's children, we must be like our Father.

The motivation for holiness is the love of our Father. We are His children and since God is holy and loves His children, we should be holy and love God our Father. That is our "family resemblance". It is what God longs to see in us. It pleases our God AND it brings happiness to us when we are actively bringing our bodies and spirits into holy compliance out of the respect we have for God's holiness.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Nothing Too Hard

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?"
Jeremiah 32:26-27

You spoke the universe into being,
a task so big we cannot
see the end.
Yet You stooped to form mankind
from dust, with tenderness You made
a friend.

You walked with them in the cool
of each day, content as Creator
with Adam and Eve.
Yet in that day when they hid from You,
You cared even in their sin,
You did not leave.

You raised a people from Abraham's
nearly dead seed, and blessed them
in covenant.
They took Your gifts ... Law, Land, and Love
yet turned away to
what they'd want.

You drove sinners out, first from Eden,
then from the Land, as lawbreakers
are always judged.
You brought them back, restored 
fortunes and families and covenant in
Your great love.

You sent Your Son to redeem us all
and set us free from all the damage
that sin can do.
He gives us life, and hope... and peace.
We are made new. Nothing is
too hard for You.

Monday, March 16, 2015

out of the whirlwind

Who has put wisdom in the inward parts
or given understanding to the mind?
Job 38:36

God speaks to Job and it is a relentless storm of questions to Job. God reiterates His sovereign control over Job's life by emphasizing His wisdom and power over the wildness of nature. It is thus significant that God comes to Job to speak to him out of the whirlwind. God chooses a dangerous tornado as His method of revelation. From the chaotic destruction of a spinning vortex, God confronts Job.

In all his laments, Job longed to question God, to get the "why" answered. But that never happens. Job gets to hear from God, but God wisely chooses to remind Job of His sovereign control of the great power of the natural world. This puts Job's own life circumstances in perspective. God begins talking from a storm about His control over the storms. Job could not make one raindrop fall. Job could not create one snowflake. Job could not protect his crops from even one hailstone. But God claimed absolute authority over all of these. The God of the storm, Who rode the whirlwind and spoke with the voice like thunder, had been in control of Job's circumstances the entire time.

Job could not even take credit for his own thoughts. God had made him. God had given him a brain with which to think. God was the source of wisdom. Job had no way to take credit for even his own soul's creation. The God of the whirlwind was the God Who gave Job life and thought. Our most personal expressions are our thoughts, and we are only using what God has made when we think them! And so we must trust the God of all creation with the minds that He has given us.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

that I may walk before God in the light of life

For you have delivered my soul from death,
yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.
Psalm 56:13

I can sit in the pre-dawn gray and remember the mercies of God because He has kept me going. It hasn't always been easy. God has helped me to walk before Him. He has delivered me from death both in the eternal sense and in that most tangible of senses: I am alive right now for His purposes. All my experience with God has been that He can be trusted to deliver me in my difficulties.

I am not running for my life. David wrote this psalm originally as Saul and government armed forces chased him in the Judean desert. As David lived on the run with several narrow escapes, and with the increasing responsibility of caring for and leading a ragtag group of fellow discontented fighting men, he found that God was his defense. Time and again Saul could have had him, but in each instance God clearly delivered David, many times in a fashion that also told Saul how wrong it was to seek to see David dead. This sort of sovereign deliverance became a regular feature of David's existence in the wilderness.

David's response to God's sovereign love and care was worship and commitment. He sang his praises to God even as he ran for his life. Many psalms were written during this phase of David's life, when he wondered to God if his enemies would kill him, yet he trusted God Who had always taken care of him with His powerful presence and protection. David also vowed to give back to God Who kept His servant safe and sound. The verse just previous (Psalm 56:12) is David's promise to bring sacrifices and offerings to the Lord along with his petitions. He gave to the God Who so graciously gave David life, salvation, and protection on all sides.

You know how cornered I feel at this moment. I have been powerless to change my circumstances and am trusting You. At times I feel trapped in a rock canyon with the enemy closing in. Yet I will trust in You. You know the impossibilities I face. You know the pain I am feeling. You know the sleepless nights and the sighing days. You hear my cry. You have kept me, and You will make Your presence and power known in Your time. Like David, I will keep giving, serving, sacrificing, and trusting.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.
2 Samuel 11:27

Sin has a way of compounding the misery of our attempts at keeping sin secret. David's sin with Bathsheba is a classic case study in how this works. What began as a sinful, lusting look ended in murder and government coverup at the highest level of political power. A long chain of sin followed in quick succession as David did all in his devious fallen mind to keep his sins "private". It is ironic that the detailed account of his sinful conspiracy is now recorded in the most widely circulated book in the world. At the time, he thought he had pulled it all off!

David's lust became coveting. He wanted that woman he saw bathing from the high rooftop of his palace. He sent for her with all the power of the palace, and though David knew that she was married to a high-ranking trusted military officer, he seduced her and committed adultery. But his one time affair soured when she sent David word that she was pregnant with his child. David tried to lure Uzziah back from battle to capture him in a web of lies, hoping he could create the circumstances for Uzziah to appear to be the child's father. When Uzziah's loyalties kept him from being used as David's pawn, David angrily enlisted his army's top leadership to endure Uzziah died in battle. David is an evil traitor at this point. So now there was conspiracy to murder and the actual murder of Uzziah solely placed on David's shoulders.

When David married Bathsheba as soon as culturally allowable after her husband's death, he slyly believed the whole coverup was a huge success. He did not count on God being displeased the entire time. And it is God's justice and judgment that will quickly lead to the unravelling of the conspiracy in one prophetic confrontation. We cannot hide from God. Our sins are before him like museum exhibits. As David found out, nothing is hidden from God's sight.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

heart of a sojourner

You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
Exodus 23:9

God cares for those who are displaced or disenfranchised. The Israelites in Egypt were foreign workers who were eventually held as slaves. But always they were strangers in a land and culture not their own. And God wanted them to remember that in their dealings with foreigners who might live among them. They needed to remember their roots as well as honor God in recognition of their own unique deliverance.

A sojourner is a person who is displaced. They might be refugees. They might be aliens from a foreign land. They might be fleeing hardship legally or illegally. God told Israel to care and help... not turning a blind eye to people in such hardship. They too had once been in the same situation. God saw their trouble and had mercy on the nation. They should feel the same way to sojourners.

And I too am a sojourner of sorts. This world is not my soul's home. I am delivered to a better place, bound to that destination by Jesus' love, but am still am passing through my world. And as a sojourner myself, I should identify and care for cultural sojourners I see. There is more than just immigrant care or concern for displaced people at work in this principle. This is an act of grace as God's grace changes my heart to share His grace to hurting people.

Monday, March 9, 2015

the history of Jesus

...it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
Luke 1:3-4

Luke's prologue to his gospel is a strong purpose statement. It is compelling. It informs us that those who penned the gospels had a certain frame of mind. Luke in particular took care in the compilation of his material. He writes not as a story teller nor as a collector of trivia. He writes as a historian with a purpose at getting to the facts. He has collected the pertinent facts for some time. His goal is accuracy and certainty. He did not collect hearsay evidence or dubious reports of rumors. He claims that his gospel can be known to be the clear, certain facts about Jesus.

So when the Jesus Seminar went on its liberal literary search for the "facts" about Jesus sifting through the gospels, they should have just stopped here at the prologue and read Luke's gospel. Their claim that the gospels are historically suspect reject's Luke's own method in the writing. To assume that the gospels cannot be trusted because they contain supernatural content ultimately turns away from Jesus Himself. Of course they contain miraculous content. Jesus is God and does the miraculous! That is sort of the point!

Luke was compelled to write out his gospel after much careful research into Jesus. He collected accounts from the apostles themselves. He knew the men that were closest to Jesus. And he gathered their insights into a gospel narrative that set out from the very beginning to be an accurate history of the things that were said and done by Jesus of Nazareth.

For thirty-five years now I have been regularly reading and reflecting on the gospels. I like to stay close to Jesus and the very best way that I know to do this is to study His life and teaching in the four gospels. I can confidently trust, as Theophilus could, that what I read in the gospel narratives are indeed the history of Jesus. And in that confidence I follow my Master.

Friday, March 6, 2015

hard to do

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
2 Corinthians 4:11-12

Truly loving and living
as Jesus did live
means serving and giving
all I am and have to give

It's giving my life
for His glory
and putting up with strife
in order to keep telling His story

I want a life journey
that is shady and breezy
but what Jesus has shown me
is that sacrifice isn't easy

Difficulty attends my serving hands
as Jesus shows the way
I know my Savior with me stands
if I suffer for Him today

I am given over to death
all for Jesus' sake
so that His life in every breath
might significance of me make

And as the suffering and pain
fills my message and pens me in
the immeasurable riches that I gain
will come to point the way to Him

Serving like Jesus is hard to do
but worth the personal sacrifice
His boundless graces fills me through
as I give Him all my heart and life

Thursday, March 5, 2015

confrontation and comfort

Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
and declare it in the coastlands far away;
say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him,
and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’
Jeremiah 31:10

These words were part of a deeper message of restoration that the Lord gave the prophet Jeremiah to share with His people. Even as they would spend a generation in exile in Babylon, God would lead them back out again like a shepherd leads his sheep. They would return to Jerusalem. Israel would again be its own nation. The blessings of the covenant would eventually be restored and enjoyed again. God would change their tears into laughter.

God's judgment is just and true at all times. And He is merciful even as He chastises His people. That is why He could offer these words of hope even as Israel languished in captivity. There were false prophets giving lying words of false hope. Jeremiah was instructed to confront the lying prophets, but then was given a true hope to share with the exiles. God never just confronts. He also comforts.

These facts instruct us at those times when we must confront others. Sin should be rebuked. Lies should be uncovered for their falsehood. Consequences should be explained. But comfort should never be missing. When we are wrong we need both confrontation and comfort. God often frames His message this way. We should as well.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

the trouble with theological zeal

Behold, God is mighty, and does not despise any;
he is mighty in strength of understanding.
He does not keep the wicked alive,
but gives the afflicted their right.
Job 36:5-6

Once again Elihu's theology is consistent with Who God is and generally how the justice of God operates in the world. Elihu magnifies God. The problem is that Elihu is theologizing from a limited perspective. He dares to explain why Job was afflicted using his theology to answer the questions. But Elihu has assumed too much about Job that only God can know. He can say that God punishes the wicked and never is capricious with people. But then to infer in his statements that Job's suffering is God's punishment assumes that the only other option is that God is being vindictive in a random or cruel way. Elihu is too black and white in his conclusions concerning suffering.

If anything can be learned from Job's young friend Elihu it is that although zeal and faith are both good, they do not always have the answers, no matter how worshipful and respectful we are of God in our theology. Elihu reminds me of a young and restless calvinist. His strong theology comes out of deep respect and love for God. It is manly and robust. But it is used forcefully and ultimately unwisely. Only God knows why Job is being tested. And Elihu's theology doesn't allow for the real underlying reason for Job's pain. He thus lets good theology lead him to the wrong conclusions.

Thirty years ago I obtained my first theological degree. I thought I was something. I figured I'd set the church on fire with the way I would teach what I knew! And now, with three sets of letters behind my name, I am realistically more humble. I don't know all that God knows and I never will. I am in awe of God and I think I only have a blurry moving photo of the fringes of His ways with which to frame my beliefs. It is enough. It is amazing. It is powerful, but God's ways are deeper than what I think I know about Him. It keeps me digging through scripture and worshiping my great God!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

confession of sin matters

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Psalm 51:10

This is the cry of every sinner that repents. Sin stains us. It dirties our existence. We cannot wash away the clinging filth of sin on our own. We need the purifying forgiveness of God to make us truly clean. And only in repentance and faith can this prayer be made to God.

David prayed this prayer struggling on his way back to God after a multitude of high magnitude sins dominated his life. The entire psalm is a confession throwing himself on the mercies and forgiveness that only God can give a murderer, adulterer, and conspirator. If David longed to get a clean heart again, his only hope of it was for God to create it within him. He knew that on his own he was incapable of that sort of renewal in his spirit. He wanted to be pure. He trusted God to do the cleansing of his sin.

Confession of our own sinfulness is good for us. It makes us humble. It keeps our perspective upon a holy God. It focuses our attention on the work that God can do in us as we repent, believe, receive His forgiveness, and let God change us to be holy as He is holy.

Monday, March 2, 2015

God of my past, present, and future

Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.'
2 Samuel 7:8-9

David's past (I took you), his present (I have been with you wherever), and his future (I will make for you) were all in God's control. The answer that God gives to David who longs to build a temple to the Lord in Jerusalem confirms God's love and his plans for the king. God took a shepherd boy who faithfully led and protected the sheep and made him king and leader in Israel over God's flock. He took David from the pasture to the palace. He directed David's steps, from slaying Goliath, to serving Saul, to running from the king's insane tirades, to destroying Philistine armies, to coronation by all of Israel as the nation's undisputed leader.

God had plans for David. He would eventually enter into a unique covenant with the king and his descendants that would bless the entire earth. From David's bloodline would come a Savior for all. And Jesus Himself was the Son of David forever fulfilling the promise of David's name being great in the earth. God controlled David's future.

O God of my past,
I thank You that You have taken me from all my humble past, from my fallen brokenness, from my sinful wandering, and You have saved me, blessing me in Your royal presence through Jesus every day.

O God of my present,
I know now that You lead my life, even as it turns in unseen directions, heads down paths that are blind to me, or calls me to difficulty in my journeys. You are leading and controlling my destiny for my good and for Your glory.

O God of my future,
You will lead me to You, which is all that I need. I only want to hear You say to me, "Well done, good and faithful one."