Friday, May 22, 2015

partying with the poorest

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.
Luke 14:13-14

Jesus calls us to help those in the most difficult situations. We must care for the needy. He wants us to party with the poor, give extravagantly so that the physically infirm and the ones who beg among us can be part of our lives. All the groups Jesus mentioned were on the thinnest margin of social survival. They never feasted. And Jesus told those around him to reverse that trend. To invite blind beggars, poor widows, handicapped homeless people into their lives and celebrate with them knowing God would reward such extravagance in eternity was to motivate them.

Why does Jesus not instruct those here to heal these people? Just earlier in Luke 10 at least 70 of His disciples were commissioned to do so. And they reported back to Him that they were able to preach the kingdom, cast out demons, and do His work. Other gospels record they duplicated nearly every aspect of Jesus' ministry. Yet here people are told to care for the poor in their poverty, to give to the needy in their need, to invest their time and money with the sick, the lame, and the blind.

The difference is the setting and the people being addressed. Jesus spoke these words to His host at a dinner... a pharisee had invited him to dine with other religious leaders... a very rare invitation in Jesus' ministry. He was more than likely in a well furnished home surrounded by socially conscious religious elitists (see Luke 14:7 to get the scene set in your mind). He is offering to these men a way out of their arrogance to show their repentance. 

Their religion was consumed with social standing. He wanted them to have God's heart for all people. It involved dissolving all thoughts of holier-than-thou elitism. It was a messy, happy mingling with the lowest poor in order to show that this Pharisees had truly found God's heart. Repentance humiliates my pride so that others may be satisfied with the actions of Jesus living in me.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Blessed Blessing

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
Ephesians 1:3

My soul blesses God my Father
Who sent His Son
for sin to atone
that I may know
His blessing

My blessing is from Jesus
Who gave His life for me
to set me forever free
and bring peace and joy eternally
in all His blessings

More blessings God has given
than I can truly know
as His grace will now show
everywhere that I go
is guided by God's blessing

My soul blesses my God and Savior
so that the joy He brings
makes my heart sing
until this life takes wing
to stay forever in God's blessing

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Believe it or not!

But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, Thus says the Lord God.’ He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house.
Ezekiel 3:27

Prophets had it rough, man! I think we Americanized christians in my culture would be really uncomfortable with their ministries. Ezekiel is a prime example of prophetic oddness. God had him prophesy by example... weird, odd behavior got the attention of his people. We'd think it psychotic today, and have him see a shrink! 

In chapter 3, the Holy Spirit informs Ezekiel he must go home, shut himself in his house, bind himself with rope, and stay there. God was also going to strike him mute for a season so that anyone who came to see him could only witness him bound and speechless. Then when his speech returned, his message was to simply state that the exiles were a rebellious house.

In chapter 4, the prophet is instructed to engrave Jerusalem's map on a brick, lay down and play "war" with it, building siege walls and placing battlements and battering rams against it. Then he was to place an iron pan between himself and the toy city. And for 390 days he was to lay there on his left side symbolizing Israel's punishment. He could then turn to his right for 40 days to symbolize the same for Judah. After that he was to shake his fist, arm bared, prophesying against this mini-Jerusalem. He was to bake bread on a fire of dung. It was weird stuff... all meant to get the attention of the exiles.

But Ezekiel obeyed God's commands despite the oddness of what he was being asked to do. He fulfilled this in every respect and God's Word went to His rebellious people. I can imagine the scoffing we'd hear today at such a message was even stronger for Ezekiel among the people he knew. But a prophet must always say: "Thus says the Lord", no matter what the means God insists that he say it. And by reading Ezekiel today, we know it was faithfully done.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Wisdom through God's Word

I have taught you the way of wisdom;
I have led you in the paths of uprightness.
When you walk, your step will not be hampered,
and if you run, you will not stumble.
Proverbs 4:11-12

God promises direction and protection with His wisdom. He will lead those who seek His wisdom. And the source of His wisdom is the truth of His Word. There are narrative storeis within the Old Testament for a reason. We can learn from the lives that interact with God in Holy Scripture. There are tales of how humanity came to know God. And those accounts make us wise. Scripture shows how the wisdom and knowledge of God has invaded human history.

God also gives instruction that can guide a life. The book of Proverbs is meant to be such a means to wisdom. It has within it these refined nuggets of life truth that bring a wisdom that if heeded protect and guide the person who pays attention to them. They warn, instruct, and encourage us to listen to God's wisdom and heed His instruction.

The prophets warn us of the dangers of turning from God's wisdom. They point out where false wisdom from false gods is ruining us. They call us to repent and turn our ears again to hear from God and our feet again to walk in His ways.

The gospels show us wisdom incarnate in Jesus. He is the Word of God made flesh. And Jesus is our master. He calls us to be His disciples and to follow Him in His wisdom so that in Him we may have life eternal and abundant.

And the epistles instruct Christians collectively as The Church, the Body of Christ, to bring the gospel and the wisdom of God in salvation to the world. We are called together to direct our steps in following Jesus and proclaiming His greatness. The epistles like the prophets warn us, call us to examination, and encourage us to walk in wisdom so that we do not stumble or fall.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Obedience AND worship

I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the LORD more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
Psalm 69:30-31

David knew that the Lord was most satisfied with us when we were fully satisfied in Him. And that sort of heart's satisfaction pours out in real, uncompromising praise. David would let his soul praise the Lord without any inhibition. This would please God more than any sacrifice. David does not think he should replace sacrifice with praise, but rather that his heart given over to praise and thanksgiving along with his sacrifice would be much more pleasing than a sacrifice by itself. God would be satisfied with the required sacrifice. He would delight in the sincere worship  that accompanied the gift at the altar.

Really there is a balance of obedience in the context of spontaneous, relational worship. God wants us to know Him in both ways. We don't pit them against one another. Worship cannot be real worship if we deny God's command. And rote obedience without worship is dry ritual that focuses on self-saving action. Dynamic faith is a mix of obedience and relational worship. It is both volitional (an act of my choice by my will) and emotional (an engagement at the heart level). It requires both commitments and it delights in the joy found in God.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

the last good words

Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.
1 Kings 10:9

This was one of the last good things that was said about Solomon. It comes from the lips of the gentile queen of Sheba as she picks Solomon's brain for answers to her questions. His fame, greatness, wisdom, and wealth were all greater than she imagined, and apparently she was herself a very wealthy and influential ruler. She praised God at the end of her Jerusalem tour, realizing Yahweh's blessing was creating the remarkable reign of Solomon. She knew Solomon's blessing by God called him to higher duties than just sitting on a throne. But alas, Solomon quickly fell from that call to administer justice and righteousness in Israel.

He fell morally, "loving many foreign women". His vast harem of concubines and politically arranged multiple marriages was in direct disobedience to God's clear command to the nation (1 Kings 11:1-2). This was instrumental in a spiritual decline as he first allowed his wives to worship foreign idols, and then joined them in their idolatrous worship and practices (1 Kings 11:3-8).

This led to national security issues. Enemies began to align against Solomon (1 Kings 11:14-25). This is ironic, because this was exactly what all those marriages were supposed to prevent! Political turmoil from outside the nation marked the ending years of Solomon's rule. Strife also arose internally as Jeroboam was divinely sent by God to lead a faction of Israelites who were dissatified with Solomon's cruel policies of forced labor among his own people. The kingdom crumbled as Solomon's character crumbled. It is a sad degeneration from what the queen of Sheba once praised God to witness.

As hard as it is to observe the last good words about Solomon, his decline is a warning to guard my own heart. Rusting out is a greater danger than just blatently turning away from God. Christians must watch out for the subtle erosions that our actions and choices may bring. God knows I could rust out and if I am not careful, I will do it without noticing. It is one reason why I begin my mornings looking to Him. It is more than a habit. It is corrosion inspection time.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

the blessing of sacrifice

When anyone brings a grain offering as an offering to the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour. He shall pour oil on it and put frankincense on it and bring it to Aaron's sons the priests. And he shall take from it a handful of the fine flour and oil, with all of its frankincense, and the priest shall burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.
Leviticus 2:1-2

The "poorest" offering brought to the Lord was still of the best quality. A grain offering was made from the finest flour. Olive oil was utilized as well as come costly frankincense. It was meant to allow the poorest people in the nation to offer something in sacrificial worship of the LORD. And God was pleased with the sacrifice of the person offering it as they truly met these conditions.

I am moved by the mercy of God in making sure that no person in Israel would be "locked out" of meaningful worship. Every person could give something. If he could not sacrifice a bull, he could give a goat. If there were no goat to be had, a turtledove could be sacrificed. If there were no funds to procure a dove, an offering of flour could be burned on the altar. Identical language is used to describe each offering: It is given to the priests, they offer it with fire on the altar. The aroma of sacrifice is pleasing to the Lord whether it be a bull, goat, dove, or flour.

Never think gifts offered to the Lord are too small. There have been past years when my wife and I could offer 30% of our income in charitable giving to God's work. But these days, that would be impossible. The "bull" years are past. And ministry life has given us humble yet adequate means. We tend to sacrifice on the flour, dove, and occassional goat level these days, figuratively speaking of course! But these gifts are true sacrifices, and I know God is pleased with them. If I compare my gift with what others give, however, I will definitely miss the blessing of sacrifice.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Christianity IS divisive... if Jesus is the reason.

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
Luke 12:51-53

Smug agnostics and unbelievers love to accuse Christianity of being divisive. But the division is created by Christianity's opponents and not us. It is, however, a division that Jesus warned would happen as a result of Him. People are divided over Who Jesus is and what He said and did. Those who know Him as God and Savior are on His side. Those who reject Him are opposed. And painful divisions are thus inevitable.

Jesus got to our most important earthly relationships to explain how deeply the truth will divide people. Even parents and children would find the strain of Christian commitment divisive. The love of Jesus runs deeper than family bonds. It was meant to strengthen them, but human will can choose to reject that. We should not be surprised if faith in Him causes division with non-believing family members. The issue to keep front and center is this: what do we do with the division?

I grew up in a sick fundamentalist legalism that willingly and sinfully cultivated division as a matter of pride. You "separated" from friends or family or acquantances who did not believe the gospel. You didn't smoke or chew or go with girls who do! It was pretty simple, almost binary in its view of the world, and it was infinitely WRONG! How can we believe Jesus saves sinners, is the friend of sinners, yet deliberately and with great smug pomposity remove ourselves from all contact with those who need Jesus most? No. Christians run TO sinners, not away from them. We are gospel light to them... even if they run from us!

If anyone does the separating, it is those who refuse Christ having seen Him in us. Let that be true. And even then, let us reach out to the ones who distance themselves. My heart breaks for those who leave the church in spiritual disillusionment. Even those who say the church makes Jesus unbelievable can still be saved if they repent and believe and trust Jesus and not the church. Let's bring the gospel, even if some divide from us, to those who need it, those with questions, those with accusations... let's love them like Jesus does. He died for His enemies. And Christians... that was us.

Monday, May 11, 2015


But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
Galatians 5:16-17

I have wrong desires.
Not everything I want to do
is what I should do,
It isn't that it isn't best
but rather that it is wrong from the rest
of what God has for me.
Sinful desires
desires of the flesh
are often my first instincts.

With my salvation
a change of heart was released
so that I can desire to do what God pleased
to make me anew in my Savior His Son
strength to win the race that I run
confident that His Spirit leads me.
So holy desires
desires of God's Spirit
can override my impulses.

Lord, may Your desires
lead me to follow You
through Your Spirit help me do
the things that holiness demands
so rich reward comes from Your hands.
Purge sinful desires
so that I hear "well done"
today, and in my final home.

Friday, May 8, 2015

sustaining hope

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
Lamentations 3:22-24

Written through an experience of unimagineable loss and pain, Jeremiah's poetic Lamentations at the fall of Judah and destruction of Jerusalem are more than just sad, emotional processing of the plight of the plundered, captive nation. Lamentations contains spiritual insight into the personal response of the righteous person to suffering. As such, it should be understood as a resource for caring for souls in crisis.

First, some clarifying caveats are in order. Jeremiah's thoughts must be understood within their covenantal context. The extreme sufferings that the book details were a curse upon the children of Israel for generations of flagrant disobedience to the covenant of the Law. God warned them it was coming. And Jeremiah's laments process the suffering with this understanding: we know we deserve this. One should thus be careful to weigh the descriptions of suffering in keeping with this understanding. I tend to find the extreme suffering and raw grief the hardest parts of the book to think about... until I place it in context. Then it makes sense as a unique experience for covenantal compliance.

However, the real high points of Lamentations come with the insights into the character and love of God... something you'd think would not be part of a book like this! God shows up even in the suffering. And His goodness is trusted by faith, even as the harsh pain of His judgment is acknowledged. His faithful love and unceasing mercy comes to the repentant heart. He knows the cries of sufferers. He loves them... even those who grieve in their painful loss. God brings new hope in the extreme pain. He is faithful. The soul that believes this by faith can then choose hope as God is the soul's sustaining possession. Faith is all that they have left, and it is a vast resource for all that they need to go on.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

prayer for wisdom

Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path;
for wisdom will come into your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
discretion will watch over you,
understanding will guard you,
Proverbs 2:9-11

Every day I need Your wisdom. As I look to Your Word, my hope is that You will provide the kind of insight and powerful truth that leads me to know You and Your wisdom. I am so foolish. I am prone to wander rather aimlessly and always selfishly. I am utterly foolish. I crave Your wisdom to sustain and empower my thoughts, choices, and actions.

I am steeped in sin right to the root of my thoughts, so to know Your righteousness requires committing to what Your Word reveals about You and what You say I should do. I make poor decisions that hurt myself and others. Yet Your wisdom is always just. Help me to be like You as I love and care for justice like You do. You are always right. May I always quickly yield to You so that I too will be right, no matter the outcome. I know You will lead me in a good path. I will follow where You lead, Lord.

Your knowledge will satisfy me. As I desire You and Your wisdom, my soul will be at its happiest. Forgive me for thinking anything else will truly satisfy my soul. You and the gifts that You give are more than enough for my ultimate joy.

And when I apply Your wisdom, the discretion and truth that You show me will keep me safe. You will guard me from sinful, destructive outcomes. You will keep me close to You. I wait and trust in Your wisdom, my Lord.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

God's heart for the neediest

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
God settles the solitary in a home;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.
Psalm 68:5-6

There are five groups of people mentioned in these two verses. Four of them are cared for by God's favor. One group is dealt God's justice. The four groups that find God's care are the lowest on the social struggle structure. Widows, orphans, homeless, and prisoners are all poetically pictured as cared for by a merciful God.

God is a Father to the fatherless. And He still is. I grew up in an inner-city church where fatherlessness was a common experience. I knew kids from what we used to call "broken homes" but now rather euphemistically refer to as "single parent families". I have seen God do just this sort of thing. Some of the kids in my church youth group who thrived the most spiritually were "fatherless". And even for a period of time in my own life I trusted in this promise. Absent dads, for any reason, leave a void that only God in His mercies and through the connections in the local church will fill. It is a wonderful expression of God's grace.

God is a protector of the widows. He provides for people in their losses, whether a widow by death, divorce, or desertion. Again, the early church quickly responded to the social tragedy of starving widows. And God still cares for those who lose their spouses. He longs to protect, strengthen, heal, and help them. The church should do this. God is closer to the widow then their spouse ever was.

God cares for those on the fringes. The Old Testament shows this as many of the social reminders of the Law were to protect and help those on the outskirts of society: the widow, orphan, homeless, sojourner, refugee, or prisoner. God is a home for the homeless. He wants to return prisoners to prosperity. And His heart should lead us to truly care for the neediest among us.

Those who defy God, however, will find His judgment. The one group not helped by God in this Psalm are the rebellious who turn from God. They may find there is an end to His mercy with them. But any poor and needy, broken and lost soul who truly seeks the Lord will not be turned away!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

failed covenant

Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon, “Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my rules and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel.”
1 Kings 6:11-13

This episode has always intrigued me as a unique opportunity in the life of Solomon. God was making a conditional covenant with the king. It is a covenant with bits of the Davidic covenant implied, but much like the Mosaic covenant, it is tied to an enormously difficult set of conditions. Solomon must obey the Law to its fullest. But if he was careful to seek God and do so with integrity according to the Law, God promised to abide with His people Israel in the new temple that king Solomon was building.

Of course, it did not take Solomon long to fail at the terms. By the time the temple was complete, he was already preoccupied with fame, wealth, sex, and idolatry. And so I have often wondered if God made this small covenant with Solomon as a way to warn the king. God was certainly within this covenantal frame when He so quickly judged the nation after Solomon's death. We have the clear understanding by reading the text... just so we could know that God was justified, even when His people were unfaithful.

Solomon (and the nation under him) failed at keeping this temple covenant. Yes, it was really a subset of the David and Mosaic covenants, but God was faithful the entire time, even as His people were not. By rights, He could have judged the nation with division during the latter part of Solomon's reign. Yet grace kept Him from doing so, even as Solomon and the nation became more tolerant and enamored with the worship of false gods. So this really is a lesson in the faithfulness and truthfulness of God to His Word and His grace.

Monday, May 4, 2015

ending in worship

Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve me as priest.
Exodus 40:12-13

The book of Exodus begins with the children of Israel suffering in slavery in Egypt seemingly forgotten by God. It ends with the glory of God filling the Tabernacle and Aaron and his sons beginning the ministry of the priesthood as all of Israel joins in covenantal worship of God. The journey that the Lord took them to in order to get them to this point was a lesson in leadership for Moses, and submission to God for the nation. And we find points of identity along the way.

Like newly freed slaves unsure of anything, we are insecure in life outside of what we once knew. We forget the pains of our past slavery to sin when we long for the food of our slave days. Even as God supplies for us, we may forget He is doing that. We may grumble against His leadership. We may turn to idols we have made rather than follow His Word. But in it all, God remains sovereign, loving, corrective, and amazing. It always astounds me when reading Exodus that as much as Israel fearfully grumbled and wavered in faith, God patiently kept providing for their every need, both in Egypt and in the desert.

And it all led to worship. That is how the book ends. The priests are anointed and clothed in holy garments. The tabernacle and its furnishings are prepared and engaged in the worship practices. God is front and center in Israel's camp and as they follow His Law, His glory fills their worship in the Tent of Meeting. It took the miracle of the plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the drowning of Egypt's army, the giving of the Law, several failures including the golden calf debacle, and the appointment of the Aaronic priesthood to get them there. But in the end they worshiped.