Tuesday, January 31, 2017

homeless Master

And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Matthew 8:19-20

It is remarkable but true... Jesus lived His life the constant recipient of hospitality. He was a homeless man Who came to bring humanity back home to God. And this reminder to an excited scribe reiterated the cost of a disciple: "wild animals have homes... I don't". In order to emulate the Master, a disciple must be willing to live without a home. Disciples must be strangers to this world. We must be pilgrims on a journey, not content to be wrapped up in our earthly accomodations. We must live simply so we can be consumed with God's presence as our ultimate destination.

When a disciple follows a Master with no home in this world, the emphasis is on what a true home really is. It isn't a destination or a domicile, but a desire. It becomes about the relationship we have with the people we are with and the Savior we follow, not the maintenance of the things we have. And it is those relationships with God and fellow disciples who become family that make wherever we are truly home in our hearts.

Oh, You did not have a home
There were places You visited frequently
You took off Your shoes and scratched Your feet
'Cause You knew that the whole world belonged to the meek
But You did not have a home, no, You did not have a home

Birds have nests, foxes have dens
But the hope of the whole world rests
On the shoulders of a homeless man
You had the shoulders of a homeless man

And the world can't stand what it can't own
And it can't own You 'cause You did not have a home

-- Rich Mullins

Monday, January 30, 2017

refugee disciples

But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
Acts 11:20-21

The gospel advances through the church in unforeseen ways. That is the story woven through the book of Acts. Who could have guessed that the gentile city of Antioch would become "the next big thing" in church growth and missionary advancement of the Christian faith? But that is exactly what occurred. Right on the heels of two church history defining events (1. The persecution and scattering of the church after Stephen's martyrdom and 2. The conversion of the gentile Cornilius' household as God led Peter to bring the gospel to a Roman) the gospel goes wide after Christians flee Jerusalem. And in Antioch a gospel-driven church is born.

These scattered Christians had every earthly reason to keep quiet. The Jewish authorities were cracking down. Christian leaders were being hunted, imprisoned, and killed. Yet the refugee disciples kept the gospel alive, and in every city where they fled, churches flourished. Jesus was building His church with obedient, courageous disciples whose faith did not die when they did.

Thank God that Christians have been faithful to the gospel as courageous, refugee witnesses. They will not buckle under pressure. The gospel boldly lives even under the most oppressive efforts of those who hate the truth to suppress it. And courageous disciples who bravely make other courageous disciples will bring the gospel message around the globe. We are still called to live out this command with a refugee mindset! This world is not our permanent home. God's hand will build a thriving church from refugees who will abandon all except the love of their Savior.

Friday, January 27, 2017


He sent from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of many waters...
He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me.
Psalm 18:16, 19

Every relationship that God has with every person who trusts Him for salvation is a rescue. The world is imperiled by sin and rebellion against God and is doomed for hell. Each person is caught up in this conspiracy. But God reaches out in love and offers hope, forgiveness, and a new life with Him when He rescues.

This is vividly known in the gospel. Jesus came to save us from sin's peril, to forgive us, to give us His righteousness in exchange for our guilt, and to put us in the freedom of living as children of God. There is no more amazing way to live. We are rescued from the dominion of darkness and placed into the kingdom of the Son He loves.

O God,
That You would delight in me now as Your child is the greatest experience of all. Thank You for the rescue that You provided as such great cost. 
Lord Jesus,
You were sent from on high. You took my sin and forgave me. You drew me out of the floodwaters of my sin and saved me from eternal death and misery. Thank You, Lord, for giving me amazing new life in You, Jesus.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

from pit to palace

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
Genesis 37:23-24

The long story of Joseph and his brothers ends the book of Genesis. Joseph is a good kid with a jealous bunch of brothers. He is clearly his father's favorite, and though he never asked for that favor from his father, that paternal doting enraged his brothers. Although it seems Joseph was somewhat naive, his willingness to share his prophetic dreams unfortunately make him look better than the rest of his family and this was perceived as arrogant. His brothers turned their jealously to hate, and then hate to conspiracy.

Joseph's story also shows us a man whose life is testament to God's sovereign care. When the brothers are intent on murdering Joseph, the voice of Reuben spares his life. And then, quite "co-incidentally" a wandering trade caravan of Ishmaelites shows up at just the right time to provide Joseph's ticket to Egypt. There in God's directorial skill, Joseph would serve first as a slave, then live as a prisoner, and then rise to be prime minister of all of Egypt. This is not the typical career path. His wise administration would save a nation and his own family during a large-scale regional famine.

Of course none of this was known to Joseph as he sat stripped of his robe, vulnerable in a pit, listening to his brothers conspire to kill him, then sell him into slavery. It wasn't a great option to be a slave in the house of Potiphar, but Joseph made the best of it. It wasn't a grand ambition to be a prisoner in the king's dungeon. Yet a sovereign grace seems to be working and though the circumstances may make it look like God is far away, He is not. Joseph remained a faithful man of character and practiced an obedient faith. God rewarded that in ways that could never have been imagined. It had to be dreams coming true. Those insights can help Christians stay at the hard stuff of our lives, even if our present circumstances, like Joseph's, seem more pits than palaces.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

the thief of God's glory

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:34

Waking up from a restless sleep to this reminder from Jesus could be no more timely. I should have thought on these words before bed! My problem with anxiety is that I think I am sovereign over my life and actions. I think that I have to plan it, do it, solve it, fix it, be there for it all, and have it all together to be fulfilled. But every one of these self expectations is God's job. I worry becuase I try to do God's job. 

Jesus illustrates God's sovereign care with birds and flowers. God takes care of animals and fields and never misses one moment. Every bird on the wing and wildflower blooming knows the Creator's sovereign care... and they do not worry. They just live for the glory of the Creator. So should I.

I confess I have struggled against living for Your glory. I've let worry steal my peace and joy by usurping Your glory for myself. I am a glory thief. I've worried that recent circumstances will make me look bad, or make what I do look bad, and in doubling my efforts to take control, I've let worry rob Your glory as I've tried to look like the smooth controller of my life. I confess this as sinful anxiety and selfish worry. I want no part of them any longer because they do not bring Your peace. I ask Your forgiveness as I again seek to trust You to make Your beautiful, sovereign, redemptive plan work in my world.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Jesus: focus of hate

And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."
Acts 9:4-5

Jesus not only identifies with the persecuted church, but is Himself the real focus of persecution. When wicked people attack the church and individual Christians, they are in fact attacking only Jesus. He receives the pains of persecution. He is the focus of persecuting hate. When someone hates on the church, they attack Jesus Himself.

As seen with Saul, Jesus can easily end that persecution suddenly and powerfully. With a bright light, a voice from heaven, and a sudden crippling blindness, Saul was incapacitated in his agenda of hate and murder. With one powerful, probing question, Saul is led to acknowledge Jesus as Lord.

Jesus would turn Saul completely around. He would go from being a persecutor of the gospel to its most influential preacher. With that experience, he would turn from persecuting the church to instead suffering persecution himself. He would change from hating Jesus to being hated because He so passionately served Jesus. He would suffer for Jesus' name. And even as Saul suffered, it would be Jesus Who would endure that suffering with and for him.

Perhaps one reason Saul was so fearless and focused on the gospel was that from his very conversion he knew it was Jesus Who bore the pain of persecution. If it is Jesus who bears the hate and rejection, Who feels the wounds of persecution, Who prevails against attacks against His church, then we as Christians need not fear. Nothing will be successful in usurping the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And any pain we know in following Jesus is borne by Him.

Monday, January 23, 2017

secret power

You would shame the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is his refuge.
Psalm 14:6

God is bigger
than the worst oppression
He is stronger
than evil's affliction

We may suffer
for a time in persecution
but God delivers
bringing many to salvation

Men can impugn
the faithful for believing
but God is a refuge
to those who receive Him

Mockers hate faith
and plan to eradicate
God has grace
and easily moves to frustrate

The plans of the wicked fail
as God saves His dear ones
and righteousness prevails
In the kingdom of the Risen Son

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

a covenant between two thieves

Then Laban said to Jacob, “See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm."
Genesis 31:51-52

This part of the story of Jacob is sometimes misunderstood. This happens because God's name is invoked in the "Mizpah" in Genesis 31:49: "The LORD watch between you and me, when we are out of one another's sight.." I've often seen Christians use this as a sort of relational principle. I remember twenty and thirty years ago seeing Christian jewelry with this phrasing on it. Christian married couples have even had it engraved on their wedding rings, in total misunderstanding of the original intent of the words. Despite God's name being invoked, this is not a prayer or a holy moment. It is a thieve's deal between two men who have stolen from one another so much that they can't settle out who owes what. They totally distrust one another.

Basically Laban and Jacob have been scheming against each other for 14 long years in the context of family. Laban deceived his nephew Jacob in the rigged deal to marry Rachel that forced Jacob to marry both of Laban's daughter. Jacob deceived Laban in the deal for his wages taken from Laban's flocks. They outsmarted one another in "the art of the deal" like a couple of greasy, greedy businessmen operating on the dark side of ethics. They are now more mafia than family. And so, like the crime bosses they have become, they carve out boundaries for their territories of operation. The Mizpah stones are like gang graffiti, and the words of the "promise" they make are just a covenant between two thieves.

At this point in Jacob's story, God is more superstition to him than a substantive part of his life. That will change very soon in the text. But to read substantive spiritual growth into this criminal pact with Laban would be a huge mistake. Laban and Jacob are swearing by God, not surrendering to God. God will have to literally grapple with Jacob to change his heart. It should amaze us that God's grace would honor a thief like him. That's the real point of Jacob's story anyway. God blessed him despite his deceptive ways.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

two gates to guard

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Matthew 5:30

Sexual immorality is driven by strong lust, just like any sin. The issue with sexual lust is that it has strong ties to the impulses of our bodies. And Jesus knew this being tempted like we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus knew that a radical view of controlling lust was the best strategy to fight this kind of sin, so He recommended quick action with strong imagery. Tearing out eyes and chopping off hands though is not to be a literal response. If so, we'd all be one-eyed amputees. The issue is first a mindset and a strong resolve that is active and always ready to take real measures to fight sexual sin.

There are two gates that must be well controlled and guarded to keep sexual lust at bay. The first is the gate of our eyes (Matthew 5:29). Jesus is right to point out that we first often look and lust. For men, this can be true about a beautiful woman. It can also be true about a sleek sports car. Looking and wanting become gateways for all kinds of sin. To fight them well we must guard the eye gate and discipline ourselves not to feed what our eyes want to view in order to fuel sinful imaginations. In an age of pornified entertainment, this is a constant battle. This gate needs a big guard.

A second guard must be posted at the gate of our actions. Cutting off the right hand is the strong way of saying we must seriously assess what we do. We must avoid actions that bring us into sin. We may need to change places we go, things we do, or activities in which we participate if they lead us into sinful struggles. With sexual sins, we may need to cut off relationships that led us down bad roads. It is better to briefly live with a feeling of missing something, than to keep doing it and displease our Lord. We can learn to experience joy in holy actions by guarding this gate and doing better things.

Monday, January 16, 2017

love of God's truth can get you killed

And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” And Stephen said:
“Brothers and fathers, hear me..."
Acts 7:1-2a

Stephen's sermon in Acts 7 is a masterwork of historical narrative, theology, and knowledge of God's redemptive work through the centuries of Israel's unfolding story. Stephen really knew the scriptures. His words are a defense against false accusations of blasphemy (Acts 6:11) specifically accusing Stephen of speaking against the Law of Moses and against God. But not once does he talk about himself, just God, Israel, and the Law. False witnesses specifically lie about Stephen speaking against the temple and the Law. They manufacture false charges about him predicting Jesus destroying the temple and changing the Law. He is delivered before the religious council where these false charges are presented.

Stephen then responds to the high priest's question by unpacking the responsibility of the Jews to obey God starting at the call of Abraham. He reiterates a proper understanding of the Abrahamic covenant (the foundation of Jewish theology) placing emphasis upon God's promises and the curses for disobedience, strongly emphasizing how God led Abraham and the patriarchs.

He transitions to the story of Joseph and the Exodus, emphasizing how God kept His promises by raising up Moses. His emphasis by telling the Moses story is on how God's sovereign work over time took a man that the Israelites initially rejected and made him their deliverer. His emphasis through the Exodus story is God's sovereign work, despite Israel's resistance to what God did and who God used.

In the wilderness Israel's rejection of Moses became a rejection of God with the golden calf incident. The result was judgment even as the Law was brand new. Still, God was gracious giving them first a tabernacle to worship in, and later the temple in the Promised Land. Stephen quotes scripture to reiterate that even with localized worship, God was above any temple and wanted Israel to worship Him beyond any "place" of worship, making God the first voice to speak "against" the temple.

Stephen's conclusion, biblically grounded and proven, was that Israel rejected God routinely throughout history, working against God's work at nearly every turn. The received the Law but did not keep it. As revelation about God increased with each new moment in the Israel story, the nation still responded with some rejection of what God revealed. And Stephen's preaching of this truth go him killed, ironically proving his sermon's point in the most dramatic way.

Friday, January 13, 2017

waiting for terror no more

O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
Psalm 10:17-18

The Lord will hear the cries of injustice that come to Him from the oppressed. This Psalm brings clear perspective to those who suffer at the hands of oppressive human systems. God will bring justice. He will protect the weak ones who trust in Him even though at times it seems that the wicked prosper.

At issue is the way we experience injustice. From our timebound and broken experience of life sometimes it feels as if justice will not come and God is far away. But God works on a larger scale with eternity in His grasp. And He moves to bring justice perfectly and not in a reactionary way.

Thank You for Your wise care of the needy and oppressed. We will trust in You despite our feelings and our limited viewpoint. You are in control and Your ways are perfect.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

passing on faith is rewarding

The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master's kinsmen.”
Genesis 24:26-27

Abraham's servant (who is never named in this story) is an example of Abraham's faithfulness to God. Abraham sent his trusted household steward on a vital spiritual mission -- to find a wife for his son Isaac from among the clans of his own distant kin. Abraham wanted Isaac to avoid marrying any Canaanite woman. He sent the servant on a task crucial to the future of God's covenant with Abraham. Sot he servant was entrusted with a task not only from his earthly master, but from God Himself. And it is so great to see that this servant clearly worshiped the God of his master.

From start to finish the servant is a man of faith, asking God to do this task for him. And God rewards him with answered prayer that does indeed bring back to Abraham the best possible outcome as quickly as possible. God leads the servant to the very place he needed to go in order to meet Rebekah, who would become Isaac's wife.

Abraham was blessed by his faithfulness to worship God and to instruct all in his household in the same way. The legitimate and strong faith of his servant was blessed by God in the extraordinary way in which Isaac's wife Rebekah came into the household. She was a woman of character too. Faithfulness to God is rewarded. And the truth was able to continue to be passed on to the next generation as God faithfully kept His promises.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

dawn of a kingdom

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 4:17

Jesus preached a transforming message. He called people to repentance. He called them to a better kingdom than the one they were currently pursuing. Jesus called people to change, and that is exactly what He came to do... change the world, deliver us from sin, and make His kingdom our new home as repentance is obeyed one person at a time.

It began in Jesus' own preaching of repentance. There can be no change until we first know our need to change. We are on a headlong rush to a fiery hell because of our sin. We must recognize sin, confess it as wrong, want to turn from sin to our Savior, and then turn toward the forgiveness and righteousness only Jesus offers us. We have to turn away from sin and turn to our loving Savior.

And we must be serious about turning to Jesus. The gospel of Matthew deliberately takes us from Jesus preaching repentance to Jesus making disciples. The next words we hear from Jesus after "repent" are "follow me" (Matthew 4:19). And the ministry of Jesus began an explosive launch forward once His first disciples immediately left all they had and followed the Master (Matthew 4:22).

Jesus then took His disciples with Him and did three things everywhere they went: teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing diseases. Great crowds of people then amassed around them as Jesus modeled gospel ministry to His disciples. Jesus changed the world by creating this kingdom marked by repentant people who follow Him and who, like Jesus, began teaching, telling the good news, and caring for the afflicted in this world. His saving death and resurrection continue this kingdom work in believers still today.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

the church as a gospel habitat

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
Acts 4:32-33

Gospel centered living leads to clear gospel centered giving. The early church emerged from an official religious "crackdown" instituted by the Jerusalem authorities against Christianity by convening in prayer for a bold witness, and then the church demonstrated the practical differences the gospel makes. The changes occurred first in their hearts and souls, then were evidenced in unselfish giving to one another. The gospel led them to this experience. Belief in Jesus led them to be like Jesus.

The results of this sort of gospel living were profound. First, and most importantly, the gospel advanced. With great power the apostles kept preaching the good news, bearing witness to the resurrection of the Lord. The gospel was at the center of the proclamation of the church as believers unified around the life-changing truths of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Secondly, God's grace was the distinguishing church experience. It wasn't about a production on Sunday or a process for getting people involved, but all about God's grace being known through the gospel and in relationship with other believers. The gospel made a grace-filled church. Everyone experienced it.

A final observation from Acts 4: The gospel + grace created generosity (See Acts 4:34-37). No person among them was needy. The church graciously shared the gospel, shared life together, and shared resources and possessions so that no one was starving or in economic danger among them. People were so full of God's grace toward one another that they naturally shared their most treasured resources with the church for the sake of the gospel.

Monday, January 9, 2017

beyond feelings to faith

My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Lord—how long?
Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
Psalm 6:3-4

Sometimes it feels like God is taking His time with something that I think I need an answer on RIGHT NOW! My feelings can then lead me to questions about God. That seems to be where David is with this psalm. He is emotionally worked up. He is running His life on his feelings. So in desperation he cries out a two word question to God: "How long?"

Even in this difficult moment, David does not let emotion rule his heart completely. There is an immediate turn to faith in what he knows about God. Theology saves the day from emotional instability. David once again offers his request, this time appealing to the Lord's overwhelming grace: "save me for the sake of your steadfast love."

There is a shift going on here that needs to be clearly applied during times of emotional crisis. David deliberately shifts his thoughts away from his feelings and toward the character of God. He goes from "How long, O Lord?" to focusing on asking God to act for the sake of God's own grace and not David's feeling of need. He stops questioning God and instead trusts that God will be God. There is a big difference in those two attitudes. The first attitude flirts with unbelief and selfish thinking. The second attitude is real, gutsy faith.

I do love that this psalm shows us both sides of the struggle in two verses side by side. I find hope in that observation. God can handle our humanity, our struggles to believe Him, our falls into emotional selfishness. He hears our prayers even when we are struggling to work out faith. And God remains steadfast in His love even when we waver in ours.

Friday, January 6, 2017


From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.
Genesis 12:8

I wonder what this faith was like for Abram. He was a childless nomad, wandering a land that God said would one day swarm with his descendents. It had to feel like a crazy life. He lived in tents, he tended his flocks with his servants, he looked out at the night sky vividly filled with stars as the reminders from God of his promised future. He had his small household, as yet no children, and the promise of God filling the night sky looking right back down on him every night every where he went. God told Abram that his descendents would be numerous like the stars of the heavens. And he at that time was an old man with an old wife and no kids. It seemed ludicrous to believe that promise, let alone worship God in his infertility. Yet he had faith, because he built an altar and prayed to God at every campsite. Old Abram awaited that outrageous promise's fulfillment.

Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me
He was a stranger in this land
And I am that, no less than he
And on this road to righteousness
Sometimes the climb can be so steep
I may falter in my steps
But never beyond Your reach

Rich Mullins - Sometimes By Step Lyrics 

Every step on this journey of life is a chance to trust the promise of God. In between Bethel and Ai, I can have my heart's altar built, and I can call upon the name of the LORD. My life is a journey without tents, but a journey still the same. I am a nomad waiting for God's greatness to be fulfilled in His promises. And like Abram, I will pray... and trust... and wander forward.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Nazarene

And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Matthew 2:23

He was despised
He was rejected
He was hated
     by those He came to save
          Jesus the Nazarene

He was the Branch
out of Jesse
sprung up to lead
     those who cut Him off
          Jesus the Nazarene

He lived in Galilee
town of Nazareth
a place maligned
     no one expected good from
          Jesus the Nazarene

But out of Nazareth
came the Messiah
the Son of God
     Who died and rose again our Savior
          Jesus the Nazarene

And I love Him
though still despised
yet my Great Savior
     Conqueror of death and the grave
          Jesus the Nazarene

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Pentecost: map for gospel preaching

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.
Acts 2:36

This is the conclusion of Peter's first ever sermon on the day of Pentecost. It is a call to believe that Jesus is both God and Messiah. This appeal was made even as the crowd knew the recent history that had seen Jesus crucified, then His followers claimed Him risen from the dead and ascended to heaven. His disciples were left to proclaim this message to the world. And it started right here.

At least 3000 people were moved by Peter's words to do just what his short sermon asked of them (Acts 2:41). And they took the action steps Peter gave them. They repented and were baptized in the name of Jesus and received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). This was a powerful moment in history as this new thing known as the Church was born in one big explosive burst of evangelism.

No doubt that nearly all of the three thousand in Jerusalem that day converted on the day of Pentecost were familiar with Jesus firsthand. Their recent memories were able to utilize real experience to test the veracity of the claims of the gospel. Still, it took tying in Old Testament scriptures, the gospel preaching of Peter, and strong exhortations to repent and turn from a crooked generation (Acts 2:40) to see this sort of mass conversion happen.

I notice then for the gospel to have its full effect, it is vital that its presentation be linked to scripture, comparisons be made to current sinful culture, and strong urges be given to repent and believe. Too often we may dilute the gospel, perhaps removing the offense of sin and the cross in our attempts to show people that "God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives". We still live in a crooked generation. We must repent of evil that imperils us over the flames of hell. We must believe Jesus is both Lord and Christ and that His death and resurrection bring our only salvation. Only then can we be saved.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

when God laughs

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Psalm 2:4

It has always been the case that human systems rage against God and His purposes. The second psalm shows us how this happens and how it has no impact on God's sovereign rule. The nations rage and plot, but to comes to no result. The raging against God is ineffective (Psalm 2:1). Yet God is merciful to humanity even in these moments of absolute rebellion against Him.

Even if multiple human systems align together they cannot succeed against God (Psalm 2:2-3). Human institutions see God's rule as "restrictive", "controlling", and "enslaving" like ropes or chains binding the slave (Psalm 2:3). But sin is the real chainmaker and the world's systems are all about controlling the heart and mind against God. And so human beings cast God as the bully in sinful derision of His mercy, not knowing the freedom He longs to give them through the Son. Their derisive plan is a sad, stupid rebellion and that stupidity is one source of God's amusement.

God's response is to maintain His power and laugh at their meager efforts. They cannot succeed. The nations that rage against the Lord and His Anointed in Psalm 2:1-3 are the same nations God promises to give to His Son in Psalm 2:7-8. And He will destroy all vestiges of sinful rebellion in them when He does so (Psalm 2:9).

God offers mercy even as He laughs at human rebellion. Psalm 2 calls those who rage against God to instead repent and worship the Lord (Psalm 2:11). If they do so, they will be blessed rather than judged (Psalm 2:12). God may laugh at sinful rebellion, but He does so with grace in His heart, offering blessing, forgiveness, and favor to those who will repent and trust in Him.

You cannot rage against God. You will find ruin in that effort. But you can repent, serve Him, and rejoice in the blessing of His refuge. It is better to know His joy in salvation than His derision in judgment.

Monday, January 2, 2017

begin at the beginning

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Genesis 1:1-2

The Bible begins with this first description of God, the heavens, and the earth. It opens on the start of the universe, and before the universe begins, there is God as the Creator of all that there is. Scripture assumes there is a God and then moves to describe all else that He made.

The primal state of the heavens and the earth is much different than we now know it. God exists, but there is no light, just the earth as a formless empty expanse of water. But something is about to happen. God is hovering over it all. Something is going to come from nothing. God will speak "Let there be..." and all the elements of the universe will come into being by His plan.

Starting at the beginning at the start of a new year's beginning is a strategic opportunity I'm taking for 2017. I plan, as best as I can, to read through the entirety of the Bible this year, something I try to do regularly. And I will be reading through it at the beginning and ending of each day, starting with the Discipleship Journal Plan (available here) five mornings a week, and finishing with a chronological plan published by Mill Creek Community Church (available here) five evenings each week. I want to bookend my days with God's thoughts.

And like the very start of the book of Genesis, I assume God exists. I do believe that I know it well after 46 years of Christian teaching, lots of theological study, and the experience of following Christ. But it isn't the same kind of knowing as I have knowing the cup of coffee before me as I write at the moment. The coffee in the cup I can see, taste, smell, touch, even hear it brewing. I can quantify it physically. God, I must know intuitively and spiritually through the experiences of His providences in my life, the love of His Church, and the change that Christ has brought in my heart. I "hear" and "see" Him in the Word, and thus know my Creator's voice. With this kind of knowing, it is easy then to assume He is God and He is with me, from the very beginning.