Monday, August 31, 2015

the pride of Babylon

 King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me.
Daniel 4:1-2

While the Jews were in exile in Babylon, God began stirring the pagan nation, starting most convincingly with the king. In this short section of the book of Daniel, written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew, the story shifts with this "letter" from Nebuchadnezzar to the components of his empire and beyond. And in this royal decree/letter there is an admission of God's greatness and the king's own humiliation before God.

It is the story of Nebuchadnezzar's own devastating fall from the throne. He was a proud monarch. As absolute emperor of a vast military dictatorship, he was proud of the monuments he was prone to build celebrating himself. Like most men, he wrapped his identity around his work. In this case, his work was a kingdom. The capital city of Babylon was his own personal exercise in vanity. But one day from his palace rooftop as he exulted in his own glory and took credit for an empire all to himself, God caused his mind to slip. He just fell into insanity at a moment of self-congratulatory vanity. He turned into a raving madman, living like a wild animal in the gardens he once built for his own ego.

Years went by with Nebuchadnezzar in this state of irrational lunacy. Until, one day, his reason returned, and he immediately knew that the God of heaven had both taken his sanity away and restored it again. He gave God the glory that he had once only exclusively held for himself. It is a powerful, if not disturbing, story of how important it is for us not to think too highly of our achievements. Human achievement is not the pinnacle of our existence. It calls us to worship in all we do because every bit of it is a gift from God.

The real insanity in Nebuchadnezzar's story is not his animal existence as a wild man. The real insanity started when he took credit for what God had made of him. When in a right mind, he glorified God. And so we should always see the events of our days as gifts from a holy sovereign God and worship Him for that truth.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

my plans, God's blessing

Commit your work to the Lord,
and your plans will be established.
Proverbs 16:3

I want things to go a certain way
a downhill stroll
no pain
easy street

But Adam was put unfallen in a garden to work
It would seen that the easy way is not God's design

So I want to pray a certain way
God help me
Lead me
Show me Your way

So that as I put some plans to work
I would live by Your blessing for Your glory

That means that to the Lord I will commit my way
Knowing His Word
Constant prayer
Trusting in faith

And God can thus bless my work as His work
so that my life will submit to His designs

The heart of a man plans his way
but the LORD establishes his steps.
Proverbs 16:9

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

advocate for those with no voice

They kill the widow and the sojourner,
and murder the fatherless;
and they say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob does not perceive.”
Psalm 94:6-7

This is more than just a complaint against the sins that people do. This is a cry for God to act. This is a plea for God's justice to right wrongs. This is a call for a holy God to judge wicked people where evil acts are destroying lives at every level. This destruction was evidenced in the way that most powerless people were treated.

In ancient Israel there were three classes of people at the bottom of the social structure: widows, orphans, and foreignors. And in this plea, the psalmist intercedes for all three groups who are being "killed" by oppression. Was murder really happening? Were the poorest people rounded up and executed? If we take the text at face value (and nothing else in the text is hyperbole) then we must say in some way that arrogant leaders were deliberately destroying the poor. Wicked actions were taking their innocent lives. The oppressors are called "dull" and "foolish" because their actions are in direct violation to God's clear scriptural commands that Israel care for the neediest among them (see Deuteronomy 10:18; 14:29; 24:17-19; and 27:19).

That this psalm of petition asking God to avenge the murder of the innocent was part of the worship hymnbook of Israel makes us a little uncomfortable today. I mean this song would not chart on CCM radio! But our societal evil will and MUST be judged. God cares for those who have no voice. He wants us to cry out for them and identify with their plight. And Christian faith that knows that Jesus died at the hands of oppressors must do the same. We are told to have a true religion that cares for widows and orphans. We cannot stay aloof from murderous injustices. And so when our society turns a blind eye to it, we must see it, cry out to God to find strength and justice, and demand that evil end.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

brief mention

these mentioned by name were princes in their clans, and their fathers' houses increased greatly.
1 Chronicles 4:38

Admittedly the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles are not the most motivating sections of scripture. The first part of chapter four was marketed beyond belief a few years back when publishing houses discovered a couple verses about Jabez, but for the most part this section of the Old Testament is quick reading that is soon forgotten. For modern Westerners genealogies are boring. It is the biblical equivalent of morbidly strolling through a cemetary, and nobody normal wants to spend a lot of time doing that.

Except for a few standout characters who serve as bookmarks in the genealogies, these sections are simply lists of names. They are people important enough to be listed, but virtually no other details about their entire lifetimes is available about them. They are names only. They provided genetic material to a line of people. They are in scripture solely because they successfully reproduced offspring before they died. That sort of thing is still going on by the way.

Since generations are always in the making on planet earth, the genealogies serve as a somber reminder. I am taught by them that after my life, the most likely legacy that I will probably have to hand off will be my name on a list of ancestors. I will leave some memories for my kids. And maybe they will pass them on positively to another generation. But more than likely, a few decades after I have left earth for the presence of my Lord, my life here will be forgotten... like these names on Chronicled lists. That puts perspective on the importance of right now!

My life is a vapor. Over a half century of it has gone by and soon this wisp of a soul will be with You forever. May I be on a list remembered for faithfulness to You and to Your Word. May I contribute to the increase of Your kingdom until You choose to write my last sentence in this book of my life.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Worshiping God must also lead to caring for people.

You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 25:17

A natural outcome of loving, respecting, worshiping, and obeying God is that our human relationships are marked by fairness, concern, and proper respect for other people. This principle was meant to govern the social lives of ancient Israel. At issue in this Leviticus passage were the sabbath years and the celebration known as Jubilee. Every seventh year the agricultural practice was to let the ground lay fallow. God would supply abundantly the year before this so that the land and the people could worship Him with an entire year of sabbath rest. Every seventh sabbath year (a 49 year cycle) was to be a year of Jubliee, a once in a lifetime event in which all land debts were cancelled. Slaves were released from bondage. Contracts ended in celebration of God's liberation of Israel.

God warned Israel not to humanly negotiate around these standards. As Jubilee approached, it would be tempting not to loan money to a needy person, or to make a sale of property, or it might be easy to raise interest rates in preparation for the year of "losing" everything. But God wanted this principle of fairness and social justice to flow from His people. Jubilee was a way of keeping materialism at bay. It was a form of worship. It said, in a way, "God is so much greater than our stuff!" But if we use people to keep our stuff, we aren't really fearing God.

There are no social mechanisms in my culture to create this awareness like the year of Jubilee did. We are just the opposite. We are all taught to be selfish with our stuff. We applaud greedy real estate moguls while homelessness is a growing issue in cities all around the world. We open new restaurants while some people never get a decent nutritious meal their entire lives. We worry over banks and retirement planning thinking money is what takes care of us. And we miss truly worshiping God and really caring for people. Jesus was right: You can't worship both God and money. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

gospel conversations

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
John 3:9

There is no better person from whom to learn how to share the gospel than Jesus. He is the gospel! And from His encounter with Nicodemus we can learn evangelistic conversation. I see Jesus carefully guiding this ruler of the Jews, gently starting where Nicodemus was, and then leading him to the gospel.

I notice several things of importance. First, look at all the questions old Nic asks! He is full of questions. They are two-thirds of the interaction that he has with Jesus. Questions like... "How can a man be born when he is old? (vs 4)" and "How can these things be? (vs 9). Jesus has rocked his worldview and the questions show he is reeling from the blow of a completely different understanding of God and what it takes to know Him. His questions come in response to what Jesus says to him. And Jesus is perfectly fine that most of the conversation with Nicodemus consists of dealing with his questions. Sometimes questions ARE the conversation. That's OK. In fact, it's very good. That is what the heart needs... it needs to get the questions out to come to terms with the facts as God leads it to faith.

Some of what happened in the conversation needed correction. And Jesus did this from the very beginning. He challenged Nicodemus' flattering introduction. He challenged the understanding of Torah that Nic displayed. Wherever Nicodemus was not in line with Jesus being trusted by faith, his previous undersanding was challenged with the gospel.

I want to love the lost like You do. And in order for me to be faithful to share the gospel, I must lovingly answer questions, help the skeptic and challenge the notions that keep people from accepting the gospel. I want You to love people through me as I am on this life's mission.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Politics: God's got this.

For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
1 Thessalonians 5:2

The day is coming when Jesus will return. The day is coming when God will judge the world of humanity and no one will hide from Him. It will catch us all off guard like a sneak thief who robs us unsuspecting in the dark of night. A big part of our urgency with the gospel is the call to be ready for that day.

It's summer of 2015 and in America that means political candidates are oozing up zombie-like out of the political swamp to run for the highest office in the land next year. Yes, its another presidential circus. And along with it shall inevitably come a shrill, out of step voice from certain elements of the American evangelical community declaring which one of these fine candidates is more than likely the Antichrist. It will happen because these people ignore 1 Thessalonians 5 and even Jesus' own declaration that the Son does not know "the day nor the hour".

I see it as a sign of idolatry. Many Americans put their trust more in politics than the God Who is working all human history for HIS glory. This is a God who chose to bring the gospel into blazing power under Nero who set Christians on fire in his gardens to stroll through them at night! I think God knows how to deal with evil and beat it every time! Yet these "moral" Christians will push legal and political agendas that will fail to save society. They will fail because God plans through Jesus to transform people one by one so that His kingdom changes us. We don't change the world. The Lord changes us... do we get that? Thus, we should share the gospel and live as salt and light. We should have nothing to do with the unprofitable works of darkness. Yet anything we do will never surpass the power of the gospel. And even then God has appointed a day to judge the world that will just keep getting worse and worse. He knows that. He's told us that in the scriptures. He has a purpose to deal with it. It's as good as done. It is all under His love and sovereign control.

Ultimately, the future day of the Lord is a comfort. It is why the Thessalonians could encourage one another even though the day was coming like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We should do the same thing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The River

And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?”
Then he led me back to the bank of the river.
Ezekiel 47:6

Find Me in the River
lyrics by Deliriou5?

Find me in the River
Find me on my knees
I've walked against the water
Now I'm waiting if you please
We've longed to see the roses
But never felt the thorns
And bought our pretty crowns
But never paid the price

Find me in the River
Find me there
Find me on my knees with my soul laid bare
Even though you're gone
And I'm cracked and dry
Find me in the River
I'm waiting here

Find me in the River
Find me on my knees
I've walked against the water
Now I'm waiting if you please
We didn't count on suffering
We didn't count on pain
But if there are blessings in the valley
Then in the River I will wait

Find me in the River
Find me there
Find me on my knees with my soul laid bare
Even though you're gone
And I'm cracked and dry
Find me in the River
I'm waiting here

Find me in the river
Find me there
Find me on my knees with my soul laid bare
Even though you're gone
And I'm cracked and dry
Find me in the river
I'm waiting here for you

Come find me here...

Find me in the River...

Find me here for you...

Oh wash over me...

Find me here

Monday, August 17, 2015

multiple leadership

Without counsel plans fail,
but with many advisers they succeed.
Proverbs 15:22

I am suspicious of anything run by one person. If I drive by a church that features one pastor's name prominently on the sign, I wonder just what goes on there. Only one man is magnified in the church and that is Jesus! But strangely we Christians (nearly universally) love celebrity. We create it. We will celebrate it over Jesus if we don't keep our hearts in check.

A popular bible study curriculum sends me an email inviting me to tour Israel for several thousand dollars with its leader. A Christian publishing house sends me advertising "guaranteeing" certain results because their latest video series is endorsed by a "famous" pastor. And on it goes. We American Evangelicals fail to listen to the words our scriptures plainly teach: leadership never happens alone. Effective leadership brings multiple people together under one leader --- Jesus Christ!

This verse reminds us that a real understanding of spiritual leadership must embrace multiplicity. Many advisors make plans that succeed. Only pig-headed egotists insist on running the church or their ministry solo. Their plans will fail... maybe not from a financial standpoint... I am sure those Israel tours will fill up and that video series will be positioned as a "best seller" by the publisher... but from a spiritual perspective they are bound to fail because they ignore God's wisdom.

I am blessed to serve the Lord in a church that insists on multiple leadership. It drew me here. I would storm the gates of hell with a wet sponge knowing the elders that co-lead with me are beside me! We operate synergistically with many spiritual gifts blended together by many people. Our church staff is blessed to be a true team... not individuals fighting for ministry turf and attention. And I believe it allows Jesus to be the Head of His church.

There are two things that I know for certain about leadership directly from Jesus. 1) He turned leadership upside-down by insisting that true leaders are always the "servant of all". He set that example vividly with His disciples. 2) True leaders work to become expendable. The test of their effective leadership is their departure. Things go on well without them because they worked hard to disciple a team. Jesus could leave the building of His church in the hands of 12 men and He still entrusts people today because He led well. Jesus still leads us even as we wait for His return and work together to advance the gospel into the world. Muliple leadership committed to scripture and the Holy Spirit's work among us is what accomplishes this.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

numbering our days

So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12

This is a prayer that Moses prayed. It is literally timeless. It begins with an acknowledgement of God's love for humanity that spans generations and lifetimes (Psalm 90:1). It then acknowledges God's own timeless eternality (Psalm 90:2-4). And very quickly our own short mortality is a theme of the Psalm (Psalm 90:3, 5-6). The reason this is our lot is because of the consequences of our sin (Psalm 90:7-8).

Since our lives are limited with a beginning and an end, HOW we live is the most important thing. Moses prayed that we might number our days to gain wisdom. We might live 80 years... but eventually we all must answer to our Maker (Psalm 90:10-11).

What matters in our lives is God. He has pity on us (Psalm 90:13). God's faithful love satisfies us for every one of our all too brief days (Psalm 90:14). God brings us joy and gladness (Psalm 90:14-15). God's power and favor mark the lives of those who have learned to number their days for His glory (Psalm 90:16-17), and that is the best way to live.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.
2 Kings 22:2

Young prince
now king
at 8 years he reigned
brought awakening

to Jerusalem
he led alone
revival's fire fed
love for God

a boy king
led a nation
to again bring
God's salvation

The Law was read
to him one day
torn by the guilt of sin
he led the way

renewal came
by devotion
sincerely he prayed
putting holiness in action

man... not boy now
in God's sight
repaired temple
was God's delight

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

God deserves the simplest stuff in our lives.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil from beaten olives for the lamp, that a light may be kept burning regularly.
Leviticus 24:1-2

A lamp was kept burning before the Lord in the tabernacle. It was kept by the priests. This lamp burned olive oil that was provided by the people of Israel. Their simplest gift was this household oil. They used it for cooking, and for lamplight as well. I find it particularly meaningful that God chose to keep that same household source of light burning before Him.

The oil was given by people who could have used it in their own home, but instead dedicated it to God. It is so emblemic of their lives. One of the basics of their existence was burning before God. Olives were hand picked and then crushed by hand to turn them into household oil. This staple of life required effort and hard work to produce. The labor of the children of Israel lit the tabernacle, constantly burning in the presence of the LORD there. He chose to be blessed by their hands and their hard work. The gift of oil was the gift of the labor of their hands.

And so God wants to be worshiped in the stuff of our lives. The labor of our lives is always before Him. The oil of our day to day existence is where He wants to be known. He wants to share in it. He wants our daily labor to burn in offering before Him. He longs for the simplest stuff of our lives to give Him glory. And that is what we must give Him... not just 10%. Not the "only if I was rich" dream of signing stock options over to the church. Not just a check or an electronic withdrawal (both are just sterile and transactional unless our hearts are in the gift). Real giving comes with the olive oil poured into the lamp. What daily things will I dedicate to God for His glory?

Monday, August 10, 2015

rejected love

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.
John 1:9-10

Jesus lived as the ultimate irony in many ways. The Creator became a creation. The God of the universe put Himself into the world that He made... into the lives of the people He made... living at their whim by His will. And the world failed to recognize God. He came as a light into a dark place and could have not been more visible. And that dark place did not see Him for the most part.

God knows a rejection that every jilted lover feels. But God knows it much greater... His love in the sending of His Son was thrown back in His face as His Son was nailed up to a cross and hung there to die. He was despised and rejected. He was mocked and beaten. He was ridiculed by the people who claimed to be "right" with God. Yet His love was most dramatically given when they chose to kill Him. His love beat all human hate. But it took rejection for that to happen.

Jesus was prophesied to be a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. We esteemed Him not as He was smitten of God and afflicted. But this is how God loved the world. And He always will.

Friday, August 7, 2015


For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.
1 Thessalonians 1:8

Salvation can't help but be celebrated. The result of the gospel coming into Thessalonica was that the whole city spilled over with the good news of Jesus Christ. And the word of God kept spreading. The gospel landed with a big splash there, and the ripples spread across Achaia and Macedonia. Greece was being evangelized and Thessalonica was a big reason why.

That is the way that God wants the world to know the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thessalonica became a strategic center from which the gospel kept rolling out. From its ports and highways, the gospel traveled on in changed lives who told their stories wherever they went. It sounded forth. It never stopped there with the founding of a church. It spread from their lives to reach out to an entire ethnic group.

The gospel should ripple out of my life. Each Christian is a stone thrown in the pond and our stories combine in ripples that turn into waves of gospel change.... if we will just be faithful to let it go forth, to share the good news and let God take the wave where He wants it to go.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

eschatology is about the knowledge of God

And my holy name I will make known in the midst of my people Israel, and I will not let my holy name be profaned anymore. And the nations shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel. Behold, it is coming and it will be brought about, declares the Lord God. That is the day of which I have spoken.
Ezekiel 39:7-8

In the middle of some end times prophecy, God gives this reminder of His purposes for setting Israel aright and moving the world to know Him as the God Who lives in covenant with Israel. The purpose of eschatology is the knowledge of God. The reason that God has pulled back the veil on the future in limited ways throughout the scripture is to make Himself known to the world. It isn't to scare us. It isn't to make us purveyors of doom and gloom. It isn't to turn us into prophecy aficionados. It is to make the world clearly aware of Who God is and to show His holiness, strength, and love.

The certainty with which God reveals this is clear. There will be future enemies of Israel that will nearly succeed in forming a crushing military alliance against God's people. But God will end their aggression. And Israel will emerge delivered yet again by God. God will keep His covenant in a way in which all the world will know His holy name. And it will lead to worship of His holy name.

You know the future. And You control the future. You will lead me right now as You have in the past. History is in Your hands, as is every destiny. I will trust You and not worry about my future. It all leads to You being glorified!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

poverty's complexity

The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food,
but it is swept away through injustice.
Proverbs 13:23

Poverty is a complex social problem. I wouldn't begin to say that I know its roots or solutions. Though never wealthy by my own estimation (a poor person might say differently), I've never experienced prolonged hunger, homelessness, or social neglect personally. But as a member of America's middle class I have seen it somewhat from a comfortable distance. I have seen it in the inner city slum. I have known it visiting people in the shacks of rural poverty. It isn't pretty, and it drives other social problems such as crime, welfare dependence, disease, and educational inequities.

This proverb describes one of the more incidious contributors to a deep cycle of poverty: social injustice. It is when the impoverished do not have a level playing field because that opportunity is kept from them either deliberately or more likely because of apathy to their plight. This is most often seen today in any American city in a distance of a short drive of a few miles. Wealthy suburbanites have access to amenities, more housing than they need, more transportation than they need, disposable income, and best-in-class education. Meanwhile, urban homes (most of them single parent moms) struggle with inadequate housing, slim income potentials, and barely supplied educational resources. Kids growing up in this environment are constantly exposed to criminal activity. The mostly white suburbs overflow with conspicuous consumerism. The mainly minority urban core oozes with injustice and a poverty of truth, of faith, of economy, of family, and of hope that steals opportunity from bright potential every day. 

Christians know this, but for the most part, we don't act on it. Most church-planters target wealthy box-store suburbs more with marketing strategies than the hope of the gospel... because that what suburbanites like. And, I wonder if subconsciously, its also because that's where the money is... after all, a pastor has to support his family. Few, if any, seminarians head to the urban core to bring the gospel's light in the dim and grim world where injustice screams with every siren for the redemption Jesus brings. Why not? Why aren't we training more young people to care in this way? Why isn't the urban core our mission field at home? Right now I am filled with these questions... I'm not sure of the answers yet. I know that God loves ALL people, regardless of class, color, or location.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Covenant Keeper

I will not violate my covenant
or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
Psalm 89:34

You made us
You spoke countless galaxies of stars into being
but You carefully formed people from dust
Your breath gave us life
Your hands formed us

You gave us
a garden in which to live and play and create
and walking with us there
You began to let us know You
You lived among us

We sinned
against one simple command You gave us to keep
and we distanced ourselves, hiding,
now cast out of Your garden
yet You still love us

You gave Your word
to guide a people You created from one faithful struggling old man
and You carefully made a covenant with his children
You were their God
they were Your people

They too failed
the covenant You made had blessing and curses from You
and the people You made and called
suffered in their sin
broken by the Fall

You saved us
You sent Your Son into the world to condemn sin in us
and to resurrect our sin-dead selves 
to new life in Christ
His death and life remade us!

Monday, August 3, 2015

God in a blender, or sycretism is a bad idea

They also feared the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.
2 Kings 17:32-33

The northern kingdom of Israel was scattered brutally into exile by Assyria. They were subject to Assyrian relocation practices which involved destroying families, indigeneous culture, and normality by forced intermarriage, relocation to the invading culture, and eventual resettlement. The Assyrian experience led to Jew/Gentile intermarriage on a vast scale and an adoption of a new mixed culture. It led to cultural and religious changes as a result over generations.

The semi-Jewish resettlers that Assyria eventually returned to Samaria were comfortable with a mixed culture, including the worship of multiple deities that included Yahweh in the mix. They set up priests in Yahweh shrines. They mixed the cultic practices of Assyria with levitical sacrifices from their Jewish past. They had a knowledge of God, but not a true obedient knowledge lived out in obedient practices. Their culture claimed to worship God among other gods. And it was not true worship, for God requires no other gods before Him.

2 Kings gives this account to warn us of the dangers of syncretism. We cannot blend the worship of God with other nonbiblical religious affections and actions. This is the "spiritual culture" of the millennial generation and it can be found right here in this ancient historical account. Millennials may seek to define their own spirituality through the use of personal investigation (ie the internet), but the are just doing what has already been tried and failed. Israel worhiped "after the manner of the nations among whom they had been carried away" and lost the distinctions of worship God had commanded. They did not really worship God any longer as He said to do. The human heart will always seek to soften God's commands, seeking the popular idols of culture. We must guard against the blending of truth with error both in doctrine and in practice. Syncretistic religion is simply idolatry and boldly turns against God.