Friday, July 20, 2018

Showers of Blessing

A recent portion of our summer has been dry. Parts of Michigan are suffering “officially” under drought conditions (they have ways of measuring this sort of thing). The grass in the church yard is bright yellow.

And so as I write these words, the sounds of rain falling outside the window do indeed sound to me like “showers of blessing.” God is good.

I don’t understand a lot about meteorology. Sometimes I suspect that the meteorologists don’t either. But our faith informs our understanding of how things work. And yes, there are high and low pressure centers that affect the weather, fronts that carry along sweeping weather changes, jet streams that section off temperatures and storms, and ocean currents that steer larger weather patterns. But behind it all, above it all, there is the God who gives “showers of blessing.”

I do not believe that God is continually tweaking the weather, fiddling with this front or that current. He is bigger than that, older, in a sense. His purposes are not reactions to sudden situations, but rather eternal intentions that deeply shape our lives. We roil with the changes, but God is ever in control, never shocked or surprised.

But God does indeed give rain, or withhold, according to His mysterious purposes, that, at times, He reveals in His Word: “Who covers the heavens with clouds, Who provides rain for the earth, Who makes grass to grow on the mountains” (Psalm 147:8).

It seems that behind every physical and material thing, there is a spiritual truth as well. And while rain made of real water is really important, “showers of blessing” are certainly not restricted to water falling on thirsty fields. Just as “real,” and even more important, are the showers of blessing that fall on thirsty souls.

Are you dry inside? Is your soul shriveled? Has it been a long time since you have been refreshed by showers of blessing that produces endurance and resilience, that fosters growth and fruitfulness, that energizes in such as a way that you are glad to creatively serve? Has it been a long time since you have fallen in love with Jesus all over again, amazed at His kindness and grace, impressed with our triune God who, at the same time, is both majestic and merciful? May you experience showers of blessing today. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

There are Always More for Ministry

As a pastor waits weekly on a congregation to gather, we might be impressed with David’s ability to attract a crowd. Here he is, on the king’s hit list, running for his life, and he is joined by these, characterized as “distressed, indebted, and discontented.” You can always build a ministry if you don’t mind working with the three D’s: distressed, indebted, and discontented.

One of the praise songs goes:
All the poor and powerless, And the lost and lonely
And all the thieves will come confess
And know that you are holy.

Why is it this way? Well, perhaps because the rich are too busy building their bigger barns to enlist in ministry. Perhaps the powerful have empires to operate, and the weight of their responsibilities leaves precious little energy for worship and service. Perhaps those who are at ease have difficulty seriously considering difficult thoughts, and those who are comfortable and contented can hardly imagine the lives of those who aren’t.

Paul reminds the uppity church in Corinth of something similar. “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” 1Cor. 1:26-29

If ministries were to follow Hollywood’s advice, we might recall that all we need are “a few good men.” The Bible seems to indicate that God would rather employ a mess of not-so-good men and women; men and women who are a mess. Why? So that the glory produced from the required redemption and restoration of such characters would not go to heroic, human figures, but to God. 

Oh, and those distressed, indebted and discontented characters that surrounded David. It appears that they were the raw materials developed into those of whom stories were told and songs were sung - into David’s mighty men, who lived, not for their own glory, but for the glory of their King. As we share ministry with those who need mercy, we pray to see lives so changed and God so glorified.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Table Manners

Jesus uses three stories to teach us about life in and around His kingdom. I call it “Table Manners,” since all three stories have to do with a formal dinner.

I recall an old poem that went something like this: “Mabel, Mabel, bred and able, get your elbows off the table.” “Bred” refers to training. A “well-bred” person has been taught manners and decorum. An “ill-bred” person has not. Those who will fill the kingdom are being fitted for the kingdom. Am I? Are you?

The first story has to do with the behavior of those invited (Luke 14:7-11). They come into the room, prepared and beautiful, and they must decide how to situate themselves. Which table will get their food first? Can we go and sneak something off the dessert table before the best stuff is gone? Where are the best seats? Jesus would train us to attend such a dinner, not as a collection of barnyard animals, but as a company of the redeemed, willing to honor others, even at the risk of sacrifice to ourselves.

The second story (Luke 14:12-14) has to do with making up the guest list. Hey, this is going to be a classy event. We need to invite classy people. Plus, it is going to cost us a great deal. Let’s invite people who can at least bring a nice gift, or who may one day throw a party to which  they will no doubt invite us. But no, in the kingdom, we find that it is often the lowly who are invited, and entrance is not based on what a potential guest can contribute. 

The final dinner story in this trilogy (Luke 14:15-24) features unheeded invitations. Many are invited. Few show interest. Those who are first invited come up with a bushel of excuses. They are willing to trade common experiences for the high honor of attending the king’s banquet. Others are invited, and yet there is room. The king orders his servant to “compel” others to come. He wants his house to be full. 

Perhaps you have received an invitation to which you were to respond with your intention to attend. Perhaps you forgot. You showed up, and your name wasn’t on the list. Or worse, perhaps you said you would attend, but then, with place reserved and dinner provided, you didn’t show up. There sat your name on the table, but no participation, a loss of honor for you, but also a bit of a smear on the host. 

Too bad your mother didn’t teach you any table manners.

Friday, June 22, 2018

We Need Each Other

Our culture celebrates individuality. We are drawn to the guy or girl who pulls him/herself up by their own bootstraps. But there is usually more to the story, and God designed for us to work together. He created us in such a way that we need each other.

Psalm 145 demonstrates this need. I have been reflecting on psalms, looking for patterns of how we (individuals) engage with God. This psalm says that we don’t do it alone. We need each other. 

We need generations. The younger need to learn from the older, and the older certainly need the freshness and inspiration of the younger. Churches that continually segment the congregation by age work against this biblical principle.

We need testimony. We need to hear the stories that people tell, of how they got in trouble, and then how God them out of trouble. We need to hear what they learned about God during trials, that God always comes through, oftentimes just in the nick of time. 

We need to hear Scripture from one another, quoting those foundational verses that anchor our faith in something deeper and wiser than our own intuitions or trendy notions. All of these things happen in planned and unplanned settings, as believers fellowship and relate on a spiritual level with one another.

We need to challenge one another to share God’s glory and grace, not only in our own circle, but outside that circle as well, with those who do not know God or the Gospel. We are not called to judge them or to correct them, but to”make know to the sons of men Your mighty acts and the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom. They need to know.

We need each other to remind each other that this is not a human operation, but a divine one, and that any growth in grace, any victory, is due to Him, not us.
We need to pray with each other, to bend knee and bow head in this most counter-cultural of activities in which we “call upon” the Lord. As we see in the verses, it is the common activity of those who fear Him; of all who love Him. Our goal, as we all work together, all of us, is that “all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever.”

We need each other. Let’s work together.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Early Check-Out

We’ve stayed in hotel/motels a number of times. On several occasions we have asked for a late checkout. I don’t recall ever asking for an early one. 

You might want to stay late for any number of reasons. Maybe you have somewhere to go in the morning, and then want to come back and clean up or change clothes before checking out. Maybe you just want to sleep in a bit and avoid the long line at the waffle maker. 

I have a harder time justifying an early checkout. If the room (or the neighbors) are objectionable, one might choose to leave the hotel, but with a full refund in hand - not an early checkout. In fact, even if you have to leave for the airport and 3 a.m., you just get up and go (no waffle). There’s no early checkout. 

But in the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen a number of early checkouts, not from motels, but from life. We prayed for the family for whom I conducted a funeral for their 26-year-old son. We have read about the fashion accessories lady whose name will now outlive her life. And there is the chef/world traveler, who by all accounts, was the nicest guy you could hope to meet - he also took an early checkout. In fact, all of these, and so many more that we remember, were delightful people in so many ways. With some, there may have been indications of trouble, but with others, this was a surprise.

Early checkouts seem to indicate that, for the individual involved, they believe that the darkness of the night will only get darker, and that morning will never come. The pain of the moment will persist, and the hope of peace is too faint to, well, hope for. Those who would help have been found to be not near enough helpful, and the loneliness of this decision is made alone, solely for oneself, as though others were unaffected. 

What is lost in the early checkout is the chance to see a sunrise so beautiful that it would make the darkness worth it; to meet a person so gracious that it would make one almost forget the pain; to meet one so fascinating that you are more taken up with that person than with self. “Well, that’s unlikely to happen,” you might say. In response, consider that it is rendered impossible by the early checkout. 

And further, many have come to know Jesus, and have found in Him that darkness-destroying sunrise; the One with grace so contagious that it penetrates and heals; that One so interesting that you would not want to waste a single day of getting to know Him better.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

He Waits

On a plane of equals, one expects consideration. One expects courtesy. It is not one’s place to put to the test; to try one’s patience; to prolong one’s suffering. 

But we operate not on a plane of equals. We engage with God, and with His Son, Jesus. And that engagement is not between mere mortals. As God, His wisdom is of a different order. He has designs that are lost on us, though they may be designed for us. Our judgments concerning considerations and courtesies carry no weight. And so we should not be surprised, when He waits. 

John 20 shows Mary to be the first to arrive at the tomb where Jesus had been buried on that Sunday morn. This Mary, the one from whom Jesus had cast out the demons. This Mary, who loved Jesus much, for she had been forgiven much, from much delivered. And so she was first, to honor the life of Jesus by honoring him in his burial. It was early, still dark. But she had not slept all night, or the night before, fearful and fitful at the departure of her Lord. He, the holder of her hopes and dreams, her forgiveness and freedom - now dead, stolen away by hatred and unbelief. 

But it would be a difficult task, seeking to anoint his body through tear-filled eyes and grief-stricken soul. We do not know for sure, but even as she arrived, we suspect that the gardener watched. 

Mary enters the tomb and finds it empty. She runs, tells the disciples, and they come running. They stoop to enter the empty tomb, and then off they go, to tell the others that Jesus is missing. It seems quite possible that the gardener, unnoticed, stands and observes. 

Mary remains. She came as the undertaker. She has departed as a messenger. She now returns, and she is at a loss, heartbroken. She looks in the tomb and speaks with .. angels? But does she even know that they are angels? “Why are you weeping?” She cannot comprehend. 

Then she notices the gardener. Perhaps he knows. “If you have carried him away ...” And then he says, “Mary.” He reveals himself. Her eyes are opened. 

Why did Jesus wait so long? Why not reveal himself early, right away, and spare her the grief, the confusion? We do not know. But he waited until just the right time, that her discovery might be mature, complete. And perhaps that is why he waits in your case as well. 

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Lonely Bird

Our world is filled with troubled souls. The troubles come with many shapes and names, but certainly you know a number who are tormented. Psalm 102 is the testimony of one of these.

The personal lament of this psalmist extends, beginning at verse three, through nine verses. He uses vivid language, speaking of “a pelican of the wilderness,” far from his watery home; “an owl in waste places,” away from his forested home; and then this, “like a lonely bird on a housetop,” isolated and alone.

One mistake that troubled souls tend to make is that they do not read far enough. While the lament is long, the psalm goes on for another sixteen verses, offering perspective and hope. Paul Harvey had that radio spot in which he would recall a familiar story, and then provide more information, ending it all with, “and now you know “The Rest of the Story.” We need to see the whole picture, the rest of the story, rather than thinking that what we sense in the moment is all that there is, and all that is going to be. 

You may also notice that I began with verse three. Troubled souls are in trouble if they neglect the first two verses: “Hear my prayer, O LORD! .. Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my distress; .. answer me quickly.” Perhaps we skip these verses because we do not believe anyone is listening. We do not know that God is there, and that He cares. Perhaps there is just some deep-rooted stubbornness in us that keeps us from reaching out to the One whose mercy is deep enough to reach us in the depths, and wide enough to grab hold of that lonely bird on a housetop.

Over in the New Testament, Hebrews 12:2 we are invited to consider “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” See, he knew the rest of the story. That the present was dreadful, but the future would be glorious. And so we are later encouraged to “not grow weary and lose heart.” We are to follow him on that path, in that pattern.

Some troubled souls are difficult to deal with. They may be up and then down, pleasant and then perturbed. They may feel like we don’t understand, and, we probably don’t. Most of us are like drivers on the freeway, where we want the other drivers to be predictable. And troubled souls can be erratic. We regard them as dangerous. But Jesus, the one who knows both the Beginning and the End, is able to hold on to us and bring us home, safely; able to save us from our own troubled souls.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Robotic Repentance

This post is part 2 of what I began earlier, called “An Automated Apology.” This is intended to be a reminder that true religion can never be robotic; that faith is more than intellectual assent and that repentance is more than saying “sorry.” The heart of God has been shown to have moved us-ward, and the only proper response is that our hearts are to be found to moved God-ward.

Let me start with a story, from a different time and a different place. I was serving as a youth pastor, being pretty much a youth myself, and I found myself naively caught in a power play at the church board level. A deacon who ran the church and the pastor decimated me in a board meeting when I presented an idea that the pastor and I had discussed and agreed upon. We were coming to the board for approval, but this board member didn’t like it that he wasn’t given opportunity to veto the idea before the rest of the board heard it. I slunk away that night from that meeting to our apartment, licking my wounds. It was apparent that the offense toward me was real by the fact that another deacon stopped by the apartment that night, and I received a couple of phone calls from others. There was internal discussion, and it was agreed that I should meet with a small group in order for this man to apologize. This never happens. And, this never really happened. Because what he said to me that night was simply this: “I hope I didn’t say anything that you can’t get over.” That was it. No apology. No repentance.

The point of hearing about robotic repentance is that we might consider what true repentance is. It is certainly not a pious act by which we gain God’s favor. It is rather a grace (free gift) that can only be expressed as a grace - a sorriness for our own sin based on a God-given regard for Himself, and a discovery of how hateful that sin is to this holy God. True repentance is the grace by which we find ourselves more in love with Christ than with our sin. It is the side of faith associated with broken-heartedness and contrition. It is the condition by which we are properly humbled even as God, in our hearts and minds, is properly exalted.

Repentance is not merely saying ‘sorry.’ Any robot can be programmed to do that. Any graceless, guile-filled Pharisee can do that. Any 3-year old who wants to make the unpleasantness disappear can do that. We can all do that, and we all have done exactly that - treated our sin like it doesn’t matter, and we sincerely desire that we haven’t done anything that God can’t get over. But we are not to live like robots. Rather, like children of God.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

An Automated Apology

We have all had the experience of being on the phone with “someone” called “customer service.” A common experience would be for the person on the line to apologize for the wait which you are about to endure. In these days when we are becoming increasingly aware that machines are rapidly replacing people, we may come to the realization, as I did, that the apology you just received was automated. It very well have been a digitally produced sound spoken by “no one,” addressed to any old person on the other end of the line (that, by the way, is you), and there is absolutely nothing personal at all in the exchange. It is an automated apology, and the only person who is sorry is you.

We don’t know yet all of which robots may eventually be capable. I read that they are now being desired to provide company for elderly and lonely people. They are coded to respond properly with words of affection, care, and concern. They can offer a loving touch. Oh, except for one thing. They are incapable of affection, care, and concern. And their touch cannot be loving. They are designed to mimic was is truly human. But be sure of this. They are not truly human, and true humanity cannot be mimicked.

But the question that begs asking is this: Do you respond in less than human ways when you apologize? Do you fake your expressions of affection, care, and concern? Is your “loving touch” really something else, something less? In such a case, you are more like an automated machine than a human. But don’t miss this point: While that machine, as machine, is not morally responsible for its actions, you, as a human created in the image of God and thus accountable ultimately to Him, - you are morally responsible.

There may be many things at stake as we progress into our “Brave, New World” (a reference that Albert Mohler makes regularly on this podcast, and an important book to read as its prophetic viewpoint becomes reality in our own day). Even more prophetic would be these words from 2 Timothy: “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.” Automated apologies, and the like, are not the product of a powerful Spirit.

And one other note: Is it possible as we begin the act and talk and think like robots (mimicking the very machines that were designed to mimic us), that we think of God in that way as well? Note these verses, and notice the correction that we need: 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Stooped, but Straightened (Luke 13:10-17)

The little old lady comes into the church building and sits in her usual place. It is, after all, her usual place, because she is there just about every, single Sunday, and she has been there as long as anyone can remember. Young people cannot remember a time when she wasn’t there.

Nor can the young people remember a time when she was not stooped over (after all, she has been this way for eighteen years). If she wanted to look at you in the eye, she would have to turn her head sideways and force her chin up. On a clear night, there is no way that she could see the stars. But she sure knew where the weeds were .

Perhaps our lady in Luke 13:10-17 is even worse off than this. Maybe she is bent double in the shape of an inverted “L.” Our text uses a term for “bowed,” as when the disciples “bowed down” to look in the empty tomb at the resurrection of Jesus. But then this - it was not just arthritis; not just a physiological condition. This affliction was the result of a spirit - “a spirit of affliction."

We have no reason to believe she brought this on herself. She did not deserve this. But cast down she was. Stooped, not only physically, but spiritually as well. And was there more. Perhaps mentally? Emotionally? Many of us who stand up straight can resonate with her condition. 

The psalmist says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” I would guess this woman had prayed that prayer. Perhaps she sang this song as well: “When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,  beneath God’s righteous frown, - Christ laid aside His crown - for my soul, for my soul.”We tend to pray these prayers and sing these songs more when we are in a state of thlipsis, of anxiety; of trouble and turmoil; of distress and despair. We discover the depths of God’s love when we can’t look up, but we can only look down.

For this woman in Luke 13, this isn’t the end of the story. Unbidden by her, Jesus touches her, releasing her from this bondage to bent-ness. And then she does what she had always wanted to do. She does what she was created to do. She glorifies God. Not only that, but as the crowds look on, they also rejoice at this glorious thing, that Jesus has a heart for those in despair, bent over by the weight of spirits we do not understand. “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.”

Friday, May 04, 2018

The Abundance of God beats out the Abundance of Me

I recently read a book called “Abundance: The Future is Better than you Think” by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. They seek to make a case, in contrast to the “gloom and doom” crowd, that, largely due to technological advances, our best days are ahead of us, and we are up to meeting the challenges of poverty, climate, water, disease, etc. While many of the things that they describe are indeed exciting, their motto could be “In Technology We Trust.” 

I was drawn to their use of the word “abundance.” Some have said that you can quickly tell the difference between people who have an “abundance” mentality vs. those who have a “scarcity” mentality. The one is optimistic and opportunistic. The other is pessimistic and on guard against the worst. In that light, we should all have an “abundant” mindset. But not necessarily in the way they think.

From a Biblical point of view,  what is quite obvious to us is that sin abounds. There is corruption of all kinds all around us. It seems as though even the best things of our culture are now tainted with iniquity. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we find that same corruption in our own souls. Yet we read that great verse in Romans 5, “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Even though, as Chesterton said, sin “is the only part of Christian theology that can really be proved,” it is the grace of God in Christ that pays the penalty of our sin and breaks the power of sin, so much so, that one day even the practice of sin will be removed from us and we will be removed from the very presence of sin, - it is this abundance which most amazes us.

Once we have discovered that the God of the Bible is a God of abundant grace, then we quickly also realize that His abundance is not limited to His grace. He is also abundant in power. He is also abundant in wisdom and knowledge. He is also abundant in right judgment, but also abundant in mercy. He is the super-abounding God, so much so that the authors mentioned above should be ashamed that they did not have a chapter on this God in a book entitled “Abundance.” They missed the best part.

But let’s address our own selves. We live in great prosperity; in an abundant society. It affords us great security, and we are persistently  and  persuasively tempted to trust in our own abundance rather than in God’s. And when we do that, we are not much different than the authors above, because the abundance of God beats out the abundance of me. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Rich Dad, Poor Dad

I recently read the book “Rich Dad; Poor Dad,” by Robert Kiyosaki. It is a story and manual on how to follow “rich Dad’s” advice on securing true assets (rather than liabilities) that will act as money-making machines in the future. It is a book about worldly-wise investing. That’s not all bad. But it is also only half the story.

I’m not intending to say anything negative about the author. But when I read a book, I tend to want to “baptize” it. That is, I try to think through the story and advice from a Biblical point of view. Many others could weigh in on this, and may certainly come up with other observations or different conclusions.

The author honored his neighbor/friend’s father who mentored him. That would be “rich dad.” His own, biological father. Not so much. His own father was a university professor who advised his son to study hard, find a good company/employer, and stay put. “Work for your wage.” “Earn your retirement.” That is the slow, incremental approach. It also sounds Biblical. It is not that the Bible forbids making money and having wealth. But the Bible clearly honors hard work that lasts a lifetime. We are not to be like the man building bigger barns, saying to himself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy.”

While the author never expressly condemned his “poor dad” father, neither did he commend him. Measured in purely monetary terms, his dad did not do so well as others. But we know, don’t we, that there are other measures that are surely far more important? And so for all that Robert may have been able to communicate about his father, if we were to meet him based on our available information, he is simply “poor dad.” That’s poor honor.

Also, nobody gets rich alone. The author was coached and trained to ask the right questions and do the right things in order to make the most of opportunities. It was not merely given to him. He worked for it. He is smart and ambitious. Nothing wrong with those things. But as he advocates to his readers his own lifestyle, we need to realize that nobody gets rich alone. Those small-cap investments? There are lots of little people putting in long hours doing hard work to generate earnings. And they are earning daily wages. Those apartments he owns? There are plumbers and other maintenance specialists working daily/hourly toward their retirements. 

We are all put together a little differently - different gifts and life situations. Surely, to those who are given much, much is required.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Used to (Psalms 42 and 43, pt. 2)

It is not uncommon in the psalms to find that the psalmist begins at a low point. He then processes the problem, finds some perspective, and ends at a high point. Perhaps we should all be psalmists - people who thoughtfully, even slowly, process our problems in the light of our own sins; in awareness of our enemies; while engaging with God, and recognizing Who He is.

But the pattern of the psalmist, beginning low and ending high, is not always repeated in our lives. Sometimes we start high, and then muddle through lives of decline. The psalmist admits as much in 42: 4 - “I used to …”

What did you “used to” do that nourished your relationship with God, that you no longer do? Perhaps you “used to” serve, and you “used to” be enthused and energetic in that service. But for some reason that has faded away. Maybe you “used to” pray for unsaved friends, and seek opportunities to share Christ with them. But perhaps you were rebuffed, or didn’t see progress, and you pulled back, content to repeat old news about non-eternal issues.

The New Testament letter to the Hebrews (Jewish Christians scattered abroad) has a way of addressing this problem: “But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” (Hebrews 10:39 NAS95) This letter called “Hebrews” is full of warnings. And this is one of them. Don’t be a “used to” Christian. Avoid “shrinking back.”

If I’m correct in finding a progression in the psalmist’s thought, he later says “I shall again …” That is, someday I’ll get around to doing what I “used to” do. People say “I’m working on it” when they really aren’t doing anything. But there seems to be a bit more determination in a yet later statement, when he says “I shall yet …” There is hope, and perhaps a plan. 

It is only as we move from Psalm 42 to 43 that we see a clearer picture of a hopeful resolution. The psalmist says, “I will …” in 43:4. He is purposefully and openly proclaiming the prospect of engaging with God in positive ways, now referring to God as “my exceeding joy.” The psalm ends with a bold statement, “I shall again praise Him.” 

Is the story of your present state a case of “used to?” The proper pattern for the believer is not to “shrink back,” but to “see Christ more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly.”

Thursday, April 12, 2018

O my God (Psalms 42 and 43)

The psalmist is clearly struggling with himself. Perhaps you can relate. We could call these psalms “the case of the disturbed, despairing soul.” Have you been there? It affects your whole body.

The “my’s” of the psalm are striking. Regarding himself, the psalmist refers not only to his soul, but to his tears. He is breaking down. Not all of us respond the same way. Perhaps you are beset by bitterness. It affects your whole outlook. Or perhaps you are operating with a simmering anger, ready to boil over. You could substitute your undesirable state of mind here.

When our soul hurts, so do our bones. Our emotional or psychological state (the word “psyche” is a transliteration for the Greek word, “soul”) hurts physiologically. The psalmist says that his bones hurt, because of his enemies. And the disturbed soul sees enemies everywhere - not that they aren’t real. But he is not in a good place to discern real dangers from false.

The psalmist is in despair over “my case.” Of course, my situation is exceptional. And it is, because it is mine. Not that others’ cases are any less. But there is a feeling that no one understands what I’m going through - the case of the disturbed, despairing soul.
Finally, twice, the despairing soul expresses itself in the downcast countenance. Smiles have flipped to frowns. As Naomi retorted on her return to the homeland, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara (Bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Her neighbors could see the storm clouds coming all the way from Moab.

As we explore these linked psalms, then, we are exploring our own souls, because many of us have been there. But thankfully, it doesn’t end there. Are you willing to push further?

These psalms consistently refer to “God” rather than “LORD” (except for 42:8), which is unusual. But at the beginning, the psalmist refers to just “God,” until verse 6, where it then changes to “O my God.” We find the psalmist digging deeper, moving from God-in-the-abstract to engaging with “the living God” who is at the same time “my God.” This problem of whole-self disturbance will be addressed, and will be solved, not alone, and not through self-help, but with serious and respectful engagement with “my God.” Let’s dig deep. Let’s engage.  - O my God.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Transformations (Psalm 34)

What do you think of the person who is consistently boasting about his/her accomplishments? Some might admire. Some might envy. Most of us wish he/she would just go away. Sure, they may be telling the truth. But we suspect that their boasts are bigger than their accomplishments. It’s really tough to undersell yourself in the midst of a good boast. Or how about those who magnify themselves, always wanting to appear as someone bigger/better than they really are? Reality just isn’t good enough. They want to look larger. Or those who exalt themselves, most often by putting others down?

Strangely, these three words: boast; magnify; and, exalt - these three words are all used in a positive sense in Psalm 34:2,3. The difference is, they are not used in reference to self. The psalmist uses them in reference to the Lord. He boasts in the LORD. He magnifies the LORD. He seeks others who will exalt the name of the LORD with him. He was either humble to start with, or, he had experienced a transformation that turned him from self-promotion to God-praise.

What do you think of a person who is fearful? What are they so afraid of? Are they afraid of failure, so that they avoid risk? Our psalmist says in v. 4, “I sought the LORD, and He answered me, And delivered me from all my fears.” But then, the next four references to fear in the psalm are transformative. Now he is not so captivated by his fears, but bound by a proper fear of the LORD (vv. 7,9,11). It gives him a proper perspective on life and its perils, and he can stand firm and unashamed.

Let’s look at one more transformation. This psalm is addressed to those who “the brokenhearted” and “those who are crushed in spirit” (v. 18). We often think that when we are crushed by the boulders of life, it is a sign of our condemnation. But this psalmist is to realize that to be crushed is not to be condemned. Rather, “those who hate the righteous will be condemned,” and “none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned(vv. 21-22).

So have you experienced the transformation from haughty to humble? If not, then a change deeper than you can accomplish all by yourself needs to happen. You need to come to Christ. Is your life captivated by your fears? Could you imagine a life lived in the shelter of One so great and fearsome, that none of your little fears pose a real threat? Do you sometimes suspect, perhaps resent the fact that you might stand condemned? Come to Jesus. Receive from him the transformation that births you into a truly transformed world.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Seeing Jesus in the Psalms

As we read the psalms and ask how it is that we, like the psalmists, may properly engage with God in prayer - we try and climb into the mind of the psalmist. Many times, we are at a loss. I often look for repeated words or ideas. I try and discern an outline or a pattern. And sometimes it clicks. It makes sense. But other times…

Another way of reading the psalms is to see Jesus there. He is the fulfillment of what is written in the Old Testament. He is greater and better than any previous figure. And so, in the psalms, we find that the psalmist often struggles with his own self. And we can relate. But Jesus does not. So not every phrase pertains precisely to Jesus’ experience. But at least portions do. For instance, here is Psalm 30:2-3 - “O LORD my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me. O Lord, You have brought up my soul from Sheol; You have kept me alive, that I would not go down to the pit.” Here we can see Jesus in his passion, in the garden, in his trial and death. But God did not keep him alive. Jesus gave his life for us. And then God raised Jesus to new life. Jesus outstrips the original context, but we are able to see hints of him.

In Psalm 31:5, we are pressed to see Jesus, in that Jesus himself quotes the words of this psalm from his own mouth on the cross at the end of his earthly life: “Into Your hand I commit my spirit;” and then completing the verse, “You have ransomed me, O LORD, God of truth.” The first phrase certainly pertains, though in the second phrase, we understand that it was Jesus himself who, in dying on the cross, was himself the ransom for us. We are the ones ransomed by his sacrifice.

In this Easter Sunday edition of the newsletter, let me give you one more verse from Psalm 30, in which we try to work with a psalm by seeing Jesus in it. Psalm 30:5 says, “For his anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” Our understanding of this verse can only be enriched by thinking about the experience of Jesus on the cross and in his death, and then his resurrection on that third day. We can enter into the experience of the disciples and other followers of Jesus as they are beset by disappointment and disillusionment at the loss of their Lord. But then comes the angelic announcement from the tomb - He is not here; He is risen, just as He said. And we get it. It has become a psalm, a prayer, that we ourselves can pray.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Talking about God, and Talking to God (Psalm 19)

It’s not wrong to talk about God. In fact, it is essential. Also, it’s not wrong to talk about prayer. But there is the danger that in all of our talking, we often don’t get around to praying. Sometimes, we sit around and talk about God, but forget to talk to God.

Psalm 19 illustrates this for us, with an appropriate and happy ending. It is a beautiful psalm made up of two large parts. The first part (vv. 1-6) rejoices in the grandeur of God in creation. Here we see God bursting forth in His creative energy and power, and the psalmist is bursting right back in his enjoyment and praise. The second half (vv. 7-11) is a tender reflection on the value of “the law of the Lord.” It’s tone is much more restorative - “restoring the soul;” enlightening the eyes;” “making wise the simple.” The psalm confesses that we are a people with damaged souls, limited perception, and sometimes downright stupid. But God steps in and gives us a revelation of Himself and His character that can identify our sins and provide direction for recovery. (Remember, the Law does not save, only Jesus does. The power of salvation is in Christ, but the Law points us in that direction).

All of these verses (1-11) are talking about God. But in the end (vv. 12-14), the psalmist is compelled to talk to God. He prays.

There are four requests (commands) from the mouth of the psalmist in light of God’s grandeur and tenderness:
        a) Acquit me of hidden faults. 
        b) Keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; 
        c) Let them not rule over me; 
        d) Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight,  

In light of God’s creative and restorative powers, both His grandeur and His tenderness, the psalmist acknowledges his smallness and inability; his dirtiness and unworthiness.  Reading the psalm over and over will not cure the problem. In fact, it will indeed exacerbate it. But it leads him to prayer. And God, in grand and tender fashion, provides the solution.

The mechanism for redemption, - for a) acquittal, and  b) changing the heart’s desires, and c) breaking the yoke of sin, d) so fashioning our words and thoughts that they are actually welcome in the courts of heaven - this is all possible because of the Gospel - that God sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins and be raised as the Lord of glory; to then send His Spirit from heaven to inhabit the hearts of those who believe, so that, we can not only talk about God, but talk to God.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Staying Power (Psalm 15)

When David wrote the opening words to Psalm 15, “O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill?” - most people would assume that his question amounts to this: “Lord, how can I get in?” “What is the rite of passage?” Or, as we find in the New Testament, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

The question could indeed have to do with permission of entry. But I don’t think so. I think the question has more to do with ability to remain. How can I stay there? Or, as its reads, “who may abide..?” 

David had found fellowship with God. He had experienced what he says in Psalm 32:1,2 “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity.” He had not earned his way in, or worked himself into position. He was blessed with the gift of a right relationship with God through faith in His promises.

But now, having visited this fellowship, how does he remain there, since the temptations of life and flesh constantly tempt us to wander away? David now lays out 6 couplets which provide safeguards for abiding, for dwelling in fellowship with God.
  1. walk and work (v. 2). The one precedes the other. Practice walking with God, and only then let the proper works of love and service flow from that walk.
  2. watch your language (vv. 2b,3a). Do not indulge yourself in telling your own self lies. Self-deception is a huge problem. And then, don’t talk bad about others.
  3. Be the good neighbor that Jesus himself has been to us (3b), and then be the kind of friend that defends in public and tells the truth in private (3c).
  4. Know the difference between good and evil (4ab), and don’t allow those lines to become blurry. Make sure that the influential persons in your life are “those who fear the Lord,” and understand that “a reprobate,” though perhaps prosperous or popular, will only cause you trouble.
  5. Keep your promises (4c), even when it’s not convenient. Our promises are heard by humans, but witnessed by God.
  6. Don’t let money run your life (vv. 5ab), either by using it to leverage others, or allowing it to leverage you. You cannot dwell with God and serve and be mastered by money.
Finally, in the last phrase (5c), the psalm ends with the promise that, by observing these things, we will avoid the paths that lead us away from continued fellowship with God. We will not be shaken.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

A Less-Familiar God (Psalm 5)

I said that I would come back to this psalm, so here goes. I have shared in a devotion how, at the edges of this psalm, the psalmist shows us something about who God is (vv. 2,3 - my King; my God; LORD), and who we need to be before this God (vv. 11-12 - we take refuge in You; we love Your name; we are righteous). 1) We find refuge in the Shepherd-King; 2) we love the one, true God over against all other would-be gods; 3) we find our righteousness, not in ourselves, but in the covenant-keeping LORD who provides us with real righteousness through faith in Jesus. There’s that part.

But let’s not go on to a less-familiar aspect of who God is, found in vv. 4-6. Because we have heard over and over about how God is a God of love. And we do not want to take anything away from that. Except we cannot really understand the wonder of God’s love if we do not appreciate the tension that exists with God’s hate. Yes, that is what the text says. God hates.
Verses 4 and 5 seem to use an ABBA form, that is, the 1st line matches with the last, and the 2 middle lines correspond. 
A - you are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness;
B - No evil dwells with You
B’ - The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes
A’ - You hate all who do iniquity.

There are certain things that God takes no pleasure in, so much so that Scripture says, “God hates.” Further, the old saying that God hates the sin and loves the sinner … - this phrase seems to contradict that notion. “You hate all who do iniquity.” As we move into verse 6, we add the ideas that God, in this hate, is willing to “destroy," because he “abhors.”

Now just as we have said that we cannot fully understand God’s love without appreciating His hatred, neither can we understand this hatred if we neglect His purpose and nature to love. His love is such that it works through and past that which He abhors. He dives deeply into that in which He takes no pleasure. To put it plainly, He purposes to love what He hates. One thing that we simply cannot say about this God is that He doesn’t care. He cares so much, that He is moved to both hate, and love.

And this is born out in v. 7, where the psalmist testifies that, what he does, he does so “by Your abundant lovingkindness.” This sinner-psalmist, who himself, like us all, has “done iniquity,” is still the beneficiary of God’s lovingkindness, because that is what God does.


Friday, March 02, 2018

O LORD, our Lord (Psalm 8)

The psalmist is here speaking to God, not speaking merely for himself, but for a number of people: “O LORD, our Lord.” It is a psalm of praise. He is leading a number of people in the praise of their God, and, stretching across continents and centuries, he leads us as well.

But what do we mean by the phrase, “O LORD, our Lord,” a phrase which begins the psalm, and which ends the psalm. What are we saying? Careful observation will tell us that it is not mere repetition. First, we have the word LORD (all caps), which is a code word for the covenantal and revered name for God. In fact, over time, it was so revered by the Jewish people that they would no longer pronounce it aloud as written in the Hebrew text, in honor (or safekeeping) of the 3rd commandment, “Though shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” When reading the Old Testament text aloud, they would substitute the second name in our verse (Lord, with only the first letter capitalized), which translates Adonai. That is a term of honor, and denotes God’s authority and sovereignty. But the other term speaks of God in covenantal relationship with His people. It’s the name that covers both His mercy and His judgment; His holiness and His compassion. Older translations cover it as Jehovah. More modern translations go ahead and blurt it out: Yahweh. Our verse here renders it “LORD.”

This prayer addresses God in the wonder and breadth of His names, and proclaims His majesty, His splendor, and His strength. These are not just found in isolated spots on earth, but throughout all the earth, and indeed, over and above the earth. He is, in His Persons, majestic, and splendid, and exceedingly strong. Machen says, “a stupendous view of God.” And we, if following our psalmist/leader, are impressed.
This God is so great, He makes us feel small. That is, until we find out how much care and attention He showers on us as He calls us to Himself, and as we walk in restored relationship with Him. “What is man, that You take thought of him?” As David says earlier, “Who am I, …?” To think He shares His majesty with us.
But then, once more, we find that this psalm that includes us, is not all about us. This reference to “the son of man,” “that you care for him,” leads us, - no, forces us to think of Jesus, who indeed rules as God in creation, and under whose feet His and our enemies are being placed. It almost leads us to - praise. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Turning Inside Out: Psalm 6

Just a note: I did a “quick” read-through of the Bible, marking all references to men and women talking to God. I’ve written about a few of these, all from Genesis so far. Now I’m attempting to do more of a “deep dive” in the Psalms, which, of course, are full of prayers to the Lord. My goal is to have Biblical prayers shape our prayers.

I’ll come back to Psalm 5 in another post, but in Psalm 6, we find a person overcome by the grief or adversity, so much so that he is turning inside out. It’s a sickness, and an unpleasant illustration would be a person who has the stomach flu, when what is inside just cannot stay there, and bursts out. Sometimes, sadly, people’s grief and anxiety does likewise.

In the good old days, people were better at bottling this stuff up. Keep the sickness in. Now, I’m not serious about that. Bottling up is not good. But you also know the pendulum effect. We go from keeping too many secrets to keeping none. And so today we have people gushing on Facebook about all kinds of drivel, actually manufacturing crises so they have something to post. That’s not what is happening in this psalm. This is real pain, and it reveals itself in real prayer.

Wouldn’t it be better if our soul-sicknesses were published to God in prayer rather than on Facebook? 1 Peter 5:8 doesn’t say, “Casting all my cares on social media, because all these so-called “friends” care so much.” They don’t. But God does. The text actually says, “Casting all your anxieties (burdens, griefs) on Him (God), because He cares for you. The verses before says, “Humbling yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that, at the proper time, He may exalt you.” This kind of prayer to God is actually part of the process by which God brings grace into our lives.

I don’t know that there are any redemptive qualities to the stomach flu. But I know that there are from cares, anxieties and grief. These events in our lives are not the product of “dumb luck.” God, in His wisdom and providence, so orders that we are improved through this experience of tragedy. Now some tragedies are clearly the product of evil, but even there, God can use these for our good.

If nothing else (and I believe there are many other benefits), grief and despair drive us to prayer. And that seems to be something of what prayer is, a person turning inside out to God.

Friday, February 16, 2018

To be a G-man: Psalm 4

Psalms 3 and 4 are bedtime psalms, or songs in the night. They are the interactions of people with God in the throes of sleeplessness. And this sleeplessness, rather than being a curse, has turned out to be a blessing. Thoughts were straightened out. Fears laid to rest. Perspective restored. In simple manner, I’ve circled four “G”-words in my Bible: “Be gracious to me” (v.1); the LORD has set apart the godly man for Himself (v.3); “Many are saying, “Who will show us any good?”” (v.6); and, “You have put gladness in my heart” (v.7). Let’s think about these in turn.

This non-sleeper finds that he doesn’t fit well into the world in which he lives. He’s struck by his lack of acceptance, and finds himself offended at the behaviors of his neighbors. It’s a lonely life, and one often finds oneself questioning whether we have it right after all. The world seems so sure of itself. And we listen to them way too much.

But God is present, and kind. He pays attention to us. He knows our frame, that we are but dust, and he comes to the aid of the children who are His, who are down and doubting. He is gracious.

When God “sets apart” the godly for Himself, we find a word that is used back in the exodus account. As Moses brought plagues to bear upon the stubbornness of Pharaoh, God would often “make a distinction” between the Egyptians and the descendants of Abraham, between one’s cattle over against the other’s. God was able to carefully direct His punishments, as well as his protections. And so God has special distinctions for those who seeks a view of life shaped not by the world but by God and His Word and will.

The godly man who is the beneficiary of God’s graciousness knows that “good” is defined not merely by what makes me feel good at the moment, or what is popular by today’s notions, but by that which is in concert with God’s character and mission. What seems good for the world is not the good that I choose!

Just before he drops off the sleep, this journeyman of little faith, but nighttime prayer, is made glad by the assurances of God. Whether or not one has the blessings that go along with worldly favor, he is graced with the blessings that belong to the godly. “You have put gladness in my heart.” And that comes as we seek God’s graciousness; as we seek to embrace the life of the godly as opposed to the worldly; as we let God define what is good. Then we have gladness. And then, we can sleep. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Loyal and Truthful

Fear can be a wonderful tonic. And Jacob was now afraid. After years or daring, risking, scheming - in situations where ought to have been afraid, now he anticipates meeting his big brother, Esau, whom he had tricked and cheated years before. He is afraid for his personal safety and that of his family. And so, he prays.
I’ve been marking man’s verbal engagements with God recorded in the Bible - Biblical prayers. What is remarkable about Jacob, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, is that the many chapters recording his activities reveal no prayers until this late point in his life. Now we know that the Bible does not reveal every detail. But I find it remarkable, and wonder if the record were to reveal the patterns of our own lives, how prevalent prayer would be.

In this late-season prayer, Jacob is amazed at God’s loyalty and truth. Let’s take the latter quality first. To be sure, Jacob should be amazed at God’s tightness with the truth, given Jacob’s looseness with it. God keeps his promises, and Jacob has been the recipient of those promises, at least to this point. But whoever has dealt with Jacob has no assurance what he can count on after Jacob has spoken. Again, simple application, do we play fast and loose with the truth? Do we shade the truth, or leave out key details in order to be deceptive? It does not make sense that a person who truly values the God of Truth would de-value truth in his/her own life.
And then with regard to loyalty, we find Jacob again surprised. Jacob has lived a me-first type of life. That kind of person has a loyalty chiefly to himself, which is not really what the term means. True loyalty is a faithfulness to something or someone other than yourself - to wife and family; to a job or task; to a cause or mission; to God. Jacob has failed in all of these areas out of self-centeredness. But God, amazingly, has not given up on Jacob. He has not discarded him into the trash heap of history, though one would think it justified. But God’s Word determines His loyalty, and His loyalty directs His Word.

Jacob is at a crossroads. Will he cling to his loyal God, or will he continue in the path of a deceitful denier? And what about you?

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Psalm 3: More Impressed with God's Works than with My Enemies

In Psalm 3, David is overwhelmed by his enemies, and prays to God out of assurance and support. He cries aloud to the LORD (v. 4), and God answers, but there are no specific requests mentioned until near the end of the psalm, where we find two appeals: “Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God!" 

Most of the psalm, though, is a record of David’s engagement with God in prayer marked by assurance. He is shaken by the number of his enemies, but steadfastly assured of God’s support. It seems to me that he then prays “Arise” and “Save” not so much out of desperation but out of confidence that this is exactly what God intends to do. It is fitting that David would have this confidence, because he has seen God do this so many times before. This psalm, if the heading is correct, occurs later in life, with the usurpation of his son, Absalom, to the throne, and his fleeing of Jerusalem. But God has delivered David so many times before, especially with regard to the years of fleeing from Saul.

I only found one other verse in the OT that begins with the same Hebrew “How many.” 
Psa. 104:24 “How many are Your works!  In wisdom You have made them all; The earth is full of Your possessions.”
David is more deeply impressed with the magnitude of God’s works than he is with the multitude of his enemies.

And that’s where we will leave it today. How can we be more impressed with the magnitude of God’s works than with the multitude of our enemies? Read that verse, Ps 104:24, again. 

Saturday, February 03, 2018

The War Within

Isaac relates personally with God as he prays for his barren wife, having been married 20 years with no children, and she conceives. We will come again to these prayers for offspring. But we consider today Rebekah’s question of Isaac/God, “What is going on in there?”

I’m not sure at the time if she could have known that she was carrying twins. What she knew is that there was a war within. We could read the phrase, “they jostled one another,” though that would be mild. The word is used in other contexts to say that she experienced a “pulverizing,” two bulls in a china shop. Esau was delivered first, but the brothers were still hard at it, with Jacob emerging holding firmly to Esau’s heel.

The battle within Rebekah during the days of her pregnancy was a microcosm of other battles soon to follow. Isaac and Rebekah were not of the same mind, with Isaac determined to bless his older son, and Rebekah scheming to younger Jacob take his place, in accordance with God’s word, but probably not out of desire to do His will. She wanted what she wanted. Don’t we all.

And then of course, there would be the ongoing struggle between the cheated Esau and the opportunistic Jacob - death threats included. And there was the tug-of-war between Jacob and Laban, with one taking his daughters, but the other stealing his years.

But perhaps the most important war within was Jacob’s, and, by the way, your’s. Like Isaac, we are often weak-willed where we should be strong. Like Rebekah, we are strong-willed where we ought to be submissive. Like Laban, we take all that we can get, even if it means bending the truth. Like Esau, we are driven by our appetites, and like Jacob, we find ourselves skilled at deceit and manipulation. We all struggle at some level with the war within, helpless to solve it until we are delivered.

When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek, the Jewish scholars chose to use the word skirtaō, used only by Luke in the New Testament, a situation like Rebekah’s, except opposite. Elizabeth was carrying John the Baptist in her womb when Mary appeared, pregnant with Jesus. And Elizabeth felt John leap (skirtaō) as a calf in its stall, not in striving, but in gladness. And that’s what Jesus does, freeing us from our jostling desires, and replacing them with inexpressible joy. The war within will be replaced by peace within, and we look forward to that delivery date.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Make Something Good Happen for me Today

Abraham’s un-named servant had been given a difficult task. He was to go far away to who-knows-where in order to select and bring back a wife for Abraham’s son. It seems to be one of those tasks in which there are 1000 chances of failure, and little chance of success.

But this servant teaches us something important. When we don’t know what we are doing, it is best to pray. As we continue our reflection on Bible passages in which men and women engage with God, Genesis 24 is one of the best. This humble servant asks God for amazing help. While most translations read quite literally, “grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham,” CEB has this rather winsome rendering: “Lord, God of my master Abraham, make something good happen for me today and be loyal to my master Abraham.” I like that - make something good happen for me today. We could all pray that prayer often.

You’ll notice that the servant’s “good day” really wasn’t all about the servant. I’m not sure what would make a good day for you. Getting to do whatever you want? Going all day without anyone making you mad? Avoiding a certain person? Avoiding people in general? Most of these cases revolve right around our own selves. Not so with the servant. His “good day” or “success” has to do with fulfilling his mission for the sake of Abraham, his master.

As followers of Jesus, we are his servants, and He is our master. We are to do his bidding. And so, as with this Old Testament servant, our good days and successes are defined not so much by our individualistic sense of sell-being, but by our proper involvement in carrying out our designated aspect of His mission, not primarily for the sake of ourselves, but for the sake of Him.

Our mission may involve mundane service to family, to employer, and engaged in pursuits that seem on the surface to have little to do with God and church. The servant’s mission involved traveling on a dusty road and getting water from a well and negotiating a difficult proposal. But he never lost sight of the honor of his master. Nor should we.

And so even as you serve your employer or children, it is not primarily for their sake, but for the Lord’s honor. And if you don’t know quite how to do that - well, then our passage becomes ever more applicable. Pray, “Lord, God of my master Jesus, make something good happen for me today.”

Saturday, January 20, 2018


Twelve is a strange age. Are you a teen? Or not quite? When I was in school, you were in 6th grade, kings of the elementary school. But now, 12 year olds are the little fish in the big pond of Middle School. At Lake Ann, we run a special camp for 6th graders, for 12 year olds, called Jump Start, as though we understand that they need it. Or maybe it’s just to protect them from the 8th graders.

Luke makes generous use of the number 12. Jesus is 12 when he goes to Jerusalem and stays behind to engage with the teachers and “to be about my Father’s business.” He’s old enough and developed enough to function in an adult world. And yet back-to-back miracles in Luke 8 tragically reveal a woman who receives no help after 12 years of treatment from doctors, and a girl who is dying, and is not likely to make it past twelve. On the one hand it seems like a lot; but on the other, not nearly enough.

And so Jesus assembles a key group of disciples, and they are known as “the Twelve.” Who are these guys? The best and the brightest? The few and the proud? Well, not exactly.  Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “The Christ of God.” Way to go Peter. But you know that Peter and the others often follow their best performances with failures. And so Peter soon categorizes Jesus alongside Moses and Elijah, great men to be sure, but not by any means “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to Him.” And the others start a nice little discussion about which one of them would be the greatest. It would have been more helpful if they could have ferreted out the weakest (Judas Iscariot) just a little bit sooner.

Maybe that’s why it worked out (or, Jesus worked it out) that after the feeding of the 5000, the disciples - those disciples who had earlier complained bitterly to Jesus that there was no way all these people could be fed, and that the resources were simply not available - yes, those twelve disciples were instructed by Jesus to go around and collect all the leftovers. How many baskets filled with extra food? Twelve.

The point of this, then, is that as we follow the Twelve into mission, we must realize that the success of mission did not, and does not depend on us. Our words many times are unclear, and our conduct inconsistent. But God’s mission depends primarily, not on the Twelve - those who have just about arrived, but not really - nor on saints who are at the same time sinners. God’s mission depends primarily on … God.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Right Where I Need to Be

When God comes to give you and me instructions, where do we need to be? Front and center, available and attentive. That’s what we find in Abraham’s next interaction with God. The text tells us God’s purpose, to test Abraham. So God calls his name, “Abraham!” Abraham’s interaction - his prayer to God - “Here I am,” right where I need to be. 

In order to arrive at the desired end of a journey, there are many things that must happen first. If it is a road trip as we’ve grown accustomed to road trips, there needs to be a destination and a route planned; a path chosen, and a vehicle prepared. You estimate the time and the costs. God in His wisdom has planned out our lives, and He had a critical, distinctive purpose laid out for Abraham’s life. In fact, success in the fulfillment of Abraham’s journey has much to do with the coming of a Savior and our faith in Him! This testing, or proving of Abraham was an essential part of that journey. It’s a good thing Abraham was right where he needed to be.

Abraham’s journey included a test. Not a test that would provide God with more information. But a test that would actually develop Abraham in ways that could only be accomplished through the test. And it is excruciating. “Abraham, take your son, your only son, - you know, that son that you love so much - and sacrifice him to me.” Ethical dilemmas abound, but Abraham was to leave it up to God to solve the ethical dilemmas, and prove that he did not place love for son above love for God, that he had not exchanged the worship of the Giver for worship of the gift; that he was not in fact idolizing his son at the expense of properly worshipping the one, true God.

If Abraham had known what God was about to demand, would he still have responded “Here I am”? Would you? Which is why we decide the issue ahead to time - that we will be front and center, available and attentive, at all times, starting now, independent of whether the instruction is comfortable, or impossible.

But the more striking prayer is not the “Here I am” of the hearing (Genesis 22:1). It is rather the “Here I am” of the doing (Genesis 22:11). By this time, Abraham has saddled his donkey, gathered the firewood, taken his son and travelled to Mt. Moriah, built the altar, bound his son, and raised the knife. It is then that God once again calls “Abraham!” He says, “Here I am,” taking his son in his arms, with God firmly fixed in his heart, right where He needs to be.