Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Reflections on Mother's Day (Pt 3)

Proverbs 31:13-19
[13] She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
[14] She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
[15] She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
[16] She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
[17] She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
[18] She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
[19] She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.

With Mother’s Day coming up in a week and a half it is appropriate to talk about some of the characteristics of a mother found in the Bible. Naomi, from the book of Ruth, appears to be a woman who lived her faith despite difficulties and loss. It is in the dark times that true character shows its face. Naomi followed her husband to a foreign land. There she lost her husband and her two sons. Ruth’s grieving mother-in-law exemplified selflessness, industriousness, and faith.

I wrote earlier about selflessness. Today I would like to reflect on industrious. Naomi repeatedly took initiative in her decisions. She didn’t wait for someone to tell her to go home. She announced to her daughters-in-law that she was going. She didn’t wait for Ruth to come up with a plan for providing food once she arrived back home. She sent Ruth out to glean. She didn’t wait for a kinsman-redeemer to come asking for Ruth’s hand, she came up with a plan to approach Boaz.

Industriousness seems to be a lost character quality in our day. When troubles arise we wait for someone to bail us out, and when they are too slow, we complain. When I was going to seminary I was washing windows. I started working for a small company that had been started by a seminary student. When he graduated he sold his business to an employee. I went to work for him. Eventually I ended up buying part of his business. I still did some work for him while working to expand my business in another part of the city. I had dreams of growing my window cleaning business to the point where I could have several guys working for me. I quickly discovered that lots of people wanted a paid position, but few wanted to actually work. Yet God created us to work. Work is not a bad word. Work reflects the God who created us. Six days he worked. The seventh he rested. In fact, in John 5:17 Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” We were created to be industrious.

2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 reminds us that if we are not willing to work, then we do not deserve the fruits of labor.
[10] For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. [11] For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. [12] Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
If people are unable to work, then we have the responsibility to care for them, but we must be careful how we help. Help should always elevate the value of a person, not dehumanize them. It should be a boost up whenever possible. It is hard to accept help. Our pride gets in the way. Sometimes we need to learn to accept help graciously. But more often we need to learn to step up and work. That is how we were designed. When we find ourselves struggling, like Naomi, don’t just wait around for help. Pray for wisdom and insight, and then step out and do what you can. Proverbs warns,
Proverbs 26:13-15 (ESV)
[13] The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road!
There is a lion in the streets!”
[14] As a door turns on its hinges,
so does a sluggard on his bed.
[15] The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.

Two chapters later it reminds us “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity
than a rich man who is crooked in his ways” (Prov 28:6). During this time of quarantine and isolation we might be tempted to get lazy. Rather, may we follow the example of Naomi. By the grace of God, may we demonstrate the character quality of industriousness no matter what the world throws at us. Work is not a bad word.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Reflections on Mother's Day (Pt 2)

Proverbs 31:10-12, 20-21

[10] An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
[11] The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
[12] She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.

[20] She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
[21] She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.

Philippians 2:3-8
[3] Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. [4] Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [5] Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Yesterday I wrote, “‘The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world,’ yet it is often an invisible hand. Thinking about the quiet presence of Naomi in the background of the book of Ruth, what godly characteristics does she portray that we would all do well to emulate?” One primary characteristic that Naomi lived out is selflessness. That selflessness was demonstrated in at least three ways.

 The first is kindness. Naomi selflessly followed her husband to a foreign land away from friends, family, and support systems. While there she lost her husband and her two sons. Yet in her grief she thought first of others. She encouraged her daughters-in-law to go back to their families. She had nothing to offer them and she knew that they would be better off with their birth families. Ruth begged to stay with Naomi, who acquiesced and let her stay. Throughout the rest of the book of Ruth Naomi treated Ruth kindly. She gently guided and counseled her. Kindness was a constant value in Naomi’s life.

 Selflessness was demonstrated not only in kindness, but in blessing others. In Ruth 1:8 Naomi blessed her two daughters-in-law with these words, “May the LORD deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” In Ruth 2:19 Naomi said, “Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” Naomi was constantly thinking and acting in the best interest of others.
Naomi was kind, blessing others. She was also patient. When she realized that a close relative had taken an interest in Ruth she did not rush to seek help. She patiently allowed the process to develop. When Ruth spent the night on the threshing floor at the feet of Boaz, she counseled Ruth, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out” (Ruth 3:18). She knew how to wait patiently.

Selflessness is demonstrated in patient kindness and is focused on blessing others rather than oneself. That was the character of Naomi throughout the book of Ruth. It is graduation season. High schools, colleges and universities, even kindergartens are graduating a fresh group of students. With the Corona Virus restrictions most graduation ceremonies have been cancelled. Still, school officials are working to find ways to honor the graduates in this unique time. In all the graduation events students are honored, and it is not uncommon to hear teachers honored for their investment in the lives of the students. Do you know who are never honored? The janitors. Yet they are the ones who clean up after us, mop up grotesque stuff we don’t like to think about, clean the toilets, and make sure that the teachers and the students can do their thing without distraction. In these days of quarantine teachers are continuing to teach online and from a distance. Students are supposed to be continuing their studies. Where does that leave the janitors?

Even in church it is pastors, teachers, and musicians who get attention, while the janitors go unnoticed. It is an unappreciated, but vitally important job. Now, I know that some just do it for the paycheck, but many who clean churches do it solely for the glory of God. It is a selfless service. If Naomi was in your church today she would be the janitor, or the nursery attendant, or organizing the kitchen. She would be doing service that doesn’t attract attention, but is vital to the ministry.

Mothers, for the most part, are selfless. They sacrifice their time, their energy, even their health for the good of their children. Their first thought is not for their own safety, but for the safety of their child. If only that selflessness was more evident in our churches, our communities, and our world. It was selflessness that took Jesus to the cross. It was selflessness that characterized Naomi’s life. Let us make it our prayer today that God would open our eyes to our own selfishness, and grow in us the selflessness of Christ.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Reflections on Mother's Day (Pt 1)

Ruth 1:1-2; 4:16-17
[1] In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. [2] The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there.
[16] Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. [17] And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Mother’s Day is coming up May 10. Typically in church we make a big deal about Mother’s Day. We often have flowers, or some little gift. We will sometimes have mothers stand up and acknowledge them. We pray for them and we often preach sermons extolling the virtues of mothers. But other than on Mother’s Day, mothers are often not the center of our accolades. Still mothers are often the foundation of our greatest achievements.

The book of Ruth in the Old Testament starts with Elimelech. His name means God is King, but the story starts with Elimelech making a poor choice by moving to Moab. The book ends with God’s blessing. It is a story of incredible grace. At the center of the story is a quiet individual that we almost forget about, Naomi. Naomi first shows up in the second verse of Ruth, and plays a part in every chapter. She is the center of the story again in the last paragraph just before the final, short genealogy. When we think of the book of Ruth we think about Ruth. We think about Boaz, the redeemer who is a picture of Christ. We think about their great grandson, David. We sometimes forget Naomi. That is a lot like motherhood. William Ross Wallace wrote a poem entitled, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle Is The Hand That Rules The World. You can find the full text of his poem here It extolls the power of the woman behind the scenes.

“The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world,” yet it is often an invisible hand. Thinking about the quiet presence of Naomi in the background of the book of Ruth, what godly characteristics does she portray that we would all do well to emulate? Throughout this week I intend to reflect on three characteristics of mother-in-law Naomi that often get forgotten when we focus on Ruth and Boaz. Naomi was selfless, she was industrious, and she was a woman of faith. Whether you are a mother or not, whether you are a woman, a man, or a child, you would do well to develop the character of Naomi. Selflessness, industriousness, and faith not only characterized Naomi, they were evident in the life of Christ as well. May they be evident in the life of every believer in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Why did God let this happen? (Pt 3)

Throughout this week I have written about two of three biblical mandates that I believe give order, purpose, and direction to our lives. The first was the command given to mankind to oversee and care for God’s creation. The second was the command to love people. The third is often called the Great Commission. It is found in some form in each of the four gospels and in the first chapter of Acts (see Mt 28:18-20; Mk 16:16; Lk 24:45-49; Jn 20:21-23; Acts 1:8).

As believers in Jesus Christ we are called to make disciples. We use a variety of terms for this. Share the gospel. Evangelize the world. Reach people for Christ. Jesus’ words were, “make disciples.” Making disciples is a process of helping people move from unbeliever to pre-believer to believer to growing believer to mature, reproducing believer. It is a process more than an event. Certainly a key part of the process is the event or point in time when an individual decides to trust Christ as their personal savior, but it is important to understand the process. We have not done our job when we get people to pray a prayer of faith. To use the words of a good friend, “Effective evangelism is helping a person take one step closer to faith in Christ.” I would add, effective discipleship is helping a person take one step further in their relationship with Christ.

Often we have considered the Great Commission as primary. The other commands or mandates from God have become secondary. We reason that stewardship of the earth is not important because it will all burn one day anyway. Loving others is important, but primarily so that we can share the gospel with them. If we love them but never share the gospel then we have only helped them temporarily. The Great Commission, we reason, is primary because it has to do with eternal destiny and eternal life or death. That sounds reasonable, but I think it is faulty reasoning.

Jesus took the first two mandates seriously as well. In Matthew 25:41-46 Jesus has harsh words for those who fail to love people by helping the needy.
[41] “Then [God] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. [42] For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, [43] I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ [44] Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ [45] Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ [46] And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Don’t misunderstand. Jesus is not preaching here a gospel of works. Righteousness is a gift received by faith (see Eph 2:8-9). But he is saying that there are eternal consequences to how we treat other people. If we make the Great Commission primary to the neglect of the other two mandates then we tend toward manipulation in our evangelism. The only thing important is that people hear the gospel and believe, so we shout at them, we badger them, we use manipulative means in evangelistic meetings to get them to respond. In so doing, we fail to love people. And I fear that sometimes we manipulate people into praying a prayer they do not really believe resulting in still-born Christians.

If we over-emphasize the creation mandate we risk becoming radical environmentalists that put creation above people. If we over-emphasize the mandate to love people, we can get wishy-washy in our morality and move toward a theology where God becomes more like a kindly Santa Claus that winks at our indiscretions and lets almost everybody into Heaven. If we over-emphasize the Great Commission then we often love people only if it gives us an opportunity to share the gospel with them. Helping others become simply a manipulative tool rather than genuine love. All three mandates must be held together with equal emphasis.

When they are held in balance, work is understood as a form of worship. People are loved and cared for whether they are willing to listen to the gospel or not. We care for creation, love people, and pray for open hearts to hear the gospel. We are never ashamed of the gospel for, as Paul wrote, “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). But Paul also wrote that when the other Apostles agreed with him concerning the gospel, and acknowledged God’s hand and God’s call on Paul, they also “asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Gal 2:10). They understood that the Great Commission did not stand alone.

In a time of world-wide crisis and high anxiety it is important that we keep this balance. We should do all we can to fight this virus. We should do all we can to love, help, and care for people whether they are believers or not. We should be ready to share the gospel with any who will hear. We should pray for the sick and those serving the sick. We should pray for those who are out of work, out of food, and out of hope, and help them if we are able. We should pray for those who are lost, and share the gospel with them as we are able. It is my privilege to work with a group of pastors who seem to understand this balance. May that be true of all of us as believers in Jesus Christ. Oversee creation, love people, make disciples.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Why did God let this happen? (Pt 2)

There are three biblical mandates that I believe give order, purpose, and direction to our lives. As we wrestle with the inequities and injustices, challenges and difficulties over which we have no control, these mandates from God give context to our lives. I wrote about the first mandate in a previous blog. We were commanded to oversee God’s creation. It was the first command given to mankind in the Bible and gives purpose and focus to our lives. It brings meaning to every form of work that we do.

The second mandate is found in several forms throughout the gospels. In Matthew 22:36 Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 22:37-40). Love God and love your neighbor are the two greatest commands. They summarize everything given in the Law of God. In John 13:34-35 Jesus said to his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” As believers in Jesus Christ we are called to love people.

Sometimes I fear that we, as believers in Jesus Christ, love truth more than we love people. I recall a time when the elders of a church I served were debating what tagline to put on the bottom of our new church sign. I suggested “Speaking the truth in love” from Ephesians 4:15. One elder immediately reacted to the idea saying, “Every time I hear that verse quoted it is followed by a criticism.” Unfortunately he was probably right. The problem is that people overemphasize the truth part of the verse to the neglect of the love part. Truth is more than criticism.

As a young pastor I had to learn that lesson. I was passionately praying for every person in the church I was serving. I was telling God what was wrong with each of them and asking him to fix them. As I was praying I sensed God saying, “Why don’t you thank me for them?” To which I replied, “Because there is nothing to thank you for.” I was angry and frustrated. I had forgotten to love those whom God had called me to serve. As I began to thank God for each member of the church God changed me. I was learning to love.

The current Covid-19 quarantine has filled many with anxiety, fear, loneliness, and frustration. We react against the government taking away our rights. We chafe under the limits imposed on us. We react against what we consider inequities in the rules. In doing so, we forget that life is not about us. It is about serving God and serving others. Physical distancing is about loving one another. Personal hygiene like washing our hands, covering our cough, and staying away from people when we are sick is about loving people. As believers we ought to be more concerned about how to love one another and our communities than about our own personal rights. Romans 5:5 reminds us that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” May God grant us grace to live out that love in a way that truly demonstrates love.

Truth must never be compromised, but neither must love. We cannot speak truth without love or we distort the truth. We cannot love without truth or we distort love. We serve a God of hope who was not taken by surprise by this pandemic. Pray for those serving on the front lines, those who have lost their jobs, and those whose businesses are at risk. Serve and help wherever possible without putting yourself or others at risk. Ephesians 5:2 instructs us to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Not everyone responded to his love, but he loved the world enough to die for it. In a time of high anxiety may we love like God.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Why did God let this happen? (Pt 1)

Recently I heard the accusation, “If there is a God then why didn’t he stop this virus?” If one assumes that God is good, people are good, and a good God exists to make good people healthy and happy, then it is a valid question. There are, of course, some problems with those assumptions. They neglect to take into consideration that God is holy. They assume that people are basically good, which is debatable. For perspective let me reflect on three biblical mandates that I believe give order, purpose, and direction to our lives, and context to the question. The very first command or mandate given to people in the Bible is found in Genesis 1:28,
[28] And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

We can debate whether the first part of the command regarding being fruitful and filling the earth has been fulfilled, but the second part of the command certainly stands, “have dominion.” We were created to oversee and care for God’s creation. That command is repeated or implied throughout scripture. In Genesis 2:15 God put man in the Garden “to work it and keep it.” After the Fall in Genesis 3 the command became more difficult to keep as Genesis 3:17b-19 indicate.
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
[18] thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
[19] By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
After the Flood the command became even more difficult according to Genesis 9:1-3
[1] And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. [2] The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. [3] Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.
The command to oversee creation was never lifted, but it became increasingly difficult because of mankind’s sin, rebellion, and violence. Every disease and every natural disaster can be traced back to mankind’s sin. I would be hesitant to say that the Corona Virus Covid-19 is a direct judgment against a nation or the world for a particular sin. I would not hesitate to say that the virus exists because we live in a broken world resulting from the fact that we are a rebellious and sinful people.

The assumption that people are basically good makes us feel better about ourselves, but a quick review of history tells a different story. “If there is a God then why didn’t he stop this virus?” Because we invited the virus into our world through our own brokenness. A good and holy God would never let a rebellious people get away with destroying his creation while at the same time protecting them from the consequences of their actions. We made our bed. Now we lie in it. The virus exists not because there is no God, but because we, a rebellious and sinful people, live in a world we broke.

Still, God is good. That leads us to the second and third biblical mandates. I will reflect on them in coming blogs, but they involve loving others and bringing Good News to a broken world. The God of creation is a God of grace and mercy. He may allow us to live with the direct and indirect consequences of our sin for a time, but through his Son he has offered an eternal solution. That being said, perhaps we should carefully consider Isaiah 55:6-7
[6] “Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
[7] let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Serving in the Love of Christ

Last night Billie Jean and I watched Hope Rising, an online time of worship designed to raise funds for Samaritan’s Purse. I enjoyed the music, and appreciated the fact that all the artists involved were giving their time for a good purpose. It was fun to see bands creatively performing from their homes. But the thing that was most moving was to see and hear from those serving in Samaritan’s Purse temporary hospitals in Central Park. This is the church in action.

I have heard some say that we need to serve our communities in order to share the gospel with them. Certainly we want to share the gospel. It was expressed in the program last night, but we must be careful that serving does not become a manipulation. If we will only serve as long as people allow us to preach to them or share the gospel with them, then we have turned service into manipulation. So why do we serve?

There are at least 3 good reasons why we serve whether we are allowed to share the gospel or not. First, every person is created in God’s image and therefore has value whether they trust God or not. It is hypocritical to call ourselves pro-life and not care for people. Pro-life means not only that we care for the unborn, but that we care for the mother carrying the unborn. We care for the father who doesn’t know how to deal with the fact that his girlfriend is pregnant. We care for the prisoner sitting on death row. We care for the immigrant camped at our borders. We care for the unbeliever overtaken with a virus in New York. We are either pro-life or we are not. We cannot be selectively pro-life. Every person is created in the image of God and therefore has value.

Second, Romans 5:5 says that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” John 3:16 reminds us that God loved the world so much that he gave his only son. The love of God that caused him to send Jesus to the cross is the same love that is shed abroad in our hearts. Mark 6:34 says that when Jesus saw the crowds, “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” His compassion led him to both teach them and feed them. But notice, Jesus did not feed them in order to teach them. In fact, he taught first. He fed them not because they had an agreement that if they listened to him teach then he would feed them, but because they were hungry and tired. The disciples argued that because it was getting late, they should send the people away. Jesus insisted that they feed them. That is the love of God that is shed abroad in our hearts. We do not serve in order to preach, we serve because we genuinely love people. I fear that sometimes in the midst of “ministry” we actually forget to love those to whom we are ministering.

Third, We serve because it is what Jesus did. He went everywhere teaching and preaching. He also healed people, wept over people, and cared for people. Reading the gospels, you see him naturally speaking truth into the lives of those he touches, but nowhere do you see Jesus manipulate people into listening. Nowhere do you find Jesus healing on the condition that people sit through a teaching session. When we make sitting through a gospel presentation a prerequisite to service, we have moved from ministry to manipulation. Jesus never made listening to his teaching a prerequisite to healing or ministry. Just one example is the man Jesus healed in John 5.
John 5:5-9 (ESV)
[5] One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. [6] When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” [7] The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” [8] Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” [9] And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Notice that Jesus approached the man, the man did not approach Jesus or call out to him. Secondly, Jesus’ words were simple, “Do you want to be healed?” and “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” That’s it. No gospel presentation. No teaching connected to the act. No, “Go and sin no more.” No requirement to sit and listen to him. Jesus simply healed the man.

As believers in Jesus Christ we are called to serve and minister to others. Certainly an important part of our ministry is sharing the gospel with people. If we heal them only to let them go to Hell, we have done them no favor. I get that. Still, we must be careful not to turn ministry into manipulation. We serve because every life is of value. We serve because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We serve because that is what Jesus did. When we serve like that we have become the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken world. We are the church in action. Service without manipulation is what actually draws people to the God we serve. Brothers and sisters, let us serve with the love of God.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Dealing with Trouble (Pt 5)

Psalms 23:4 begins, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” In past blogs I wrote about the fact that we all walk through these valleys. It is inevitable, but there is value to the valley. God has a way of turning grief and pain into endurance, character, and hope that leaves us unashamed of Christ and looking longingly for his return. Because there is value in walking through the valley, we are called to “be patient in tribulation [troubles]” (Rom 12:12). But beyond acknowledging that the darkness has value, how do we face troubles with patience?

The last phrase quoted above from Ps 23 holds the secret. “For you are with me.” When Peter tried walking on water and found himself overcome with fear, Jesus was with him. He “reached out his hand and took hold of [Peter]” (Mt 14:31). When Jesus gave the disciples the great commission he ended it with these words, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). Jesus taught his disciples that it was to their advantage that he go away, “for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7). God promised in Hebrews 13:5-6 “‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”

I wrote yesterday that we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We do that by remembering that he is not a distant God who we hope will ride in to deliver us at the last moment. He is a very present God who is here with us in the dark. No step is taken alone. In the midst of the chaos, in the anxiety of the current conditions in our world, he is right here.

If you have ever been deep in a cave you will know the sense of darkness so thick that you can touch it, darkness so murky you cannot see your hand at the tip of your own nose. Caves seem to have a way of eating light. The darkness feels overwhelming. Sometimes life feels like that, but we have the assurance that God is right there, holding us, guiding us, guarding us, and he can see through the darkness. Psalm 139:12 says of God, “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”

How can we be patient and at peace as we walk through the darkness of the shadowy valley of death? By knowing, by reminding ourselves, by believing that the God to whom even the darkness is not dark, that God is walking with us. He is there guiding us with his unseen hand, keeping us, guarding us, and leading us to the light. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1). Trust him.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Dealing with Trouble (Pt 4)

Psalm 23:4 reads, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. . . ,” but it does not stop there. It goes on, “I will fear no evil.” In Matthew 14 Peter and the other disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when a storm came up. As they were being “beaten by the waves” (Mt 14:24) Jesus “came to them, walking on the sea” (Mt 14:26). When they saw this figure out over the water the disciples assumed it was a ghost and cried out in fear, but “Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; is it I. Do not be afraid’” (Mt 14:27). They were in the valley of the shadow of death and Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid.” You may remember the story, Peter asked to walk on water with Jesus. At Jesus’ invitation, Peter “got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me’” (Mt 14:29-30). Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid,” but Peter was filled with fear.

In John 14:27 Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” In John 16 Jesus warns his disciples that a time is coming when anyone who kills them will think they are doing God a favor, but he assured them that they were not alone. He then concluded, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). In Romans 15:13 the Apostle Paul prayed that the Roman believers would be filled “with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Why is it that we so often know these truths yet are filled with fear? Why is it that we talk about the peace of God, yet experience anxiety?

Perhaps it is for the very same reason Peter began to sink when he was walking on the water. Matthew 14:30 says that when Peter “saw the wind, he was afraid.” Walking through the valley of the shadow of death is inevitable. The question is: Where are our eyes as we walk through the valley? Are we looking at the shadows, the darkness, the unknown, and uncertainty, or are our eyes fixed on “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2)?

When Peter took his eyes off Jesus and fixated on the wind he was filled with fear. Too often our thoughts are filled with that which we don’t know, what we imagine might happen, or what we cannot control. Those things fill us with fear and anxiety. As believers, we need to learn to fix our eyes on Jesus. Psalms 121 starts out, “I lift up my eyes to the hills” (Ps 121:1). What is in the hills? When the Psalmist lifts his eyes to the hills he could imagine them filled with thieves and renegades, in which case he would be filled with fear. The hills were where the criminals and roving gangs hid out. But that is not what the Psalmist saw. The Psalm goes on, “From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Ps 121:1-2). When he looked to the hills he saw the creator of the hills rather than the thieves hiding in the hills. We too can look at the shadows and darkness as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, or we can look to the creator whose light is greater than the darkness.

The valley that causes us fear is dependent on the creator for its very existence. With a single word from the creator the valley would cease to exist. With a simple rebuke Jesus calmed the very sea that caused Peter so much fear (see Mt 8:26). We can fear evil, circumstances, people, situations, isolation, or a virus, or we can fear God. But we cannot fear both at the same time. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom 15:13). “May the God of peace be with you all. Amen” (Rom 15:33).

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Dealing with Trouble (Pt 3)

1 Peter 1:5-7 (ESV)
[5] who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [6] In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, [7] so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

In my previous two blogs I was reflecting on Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. . .”  It is inevitable that life includes walking through these valleys. The question is: How do we walk through the valley safely? To do so we must understand the value of trouble and the necessity of being patient as we walk through it. These are the principles I addressed in the earlier blogs, but there is a third principle. We must accept the necessity of walking through trouble.

1 Peter 1:6 says that we rejoice in our salvation and in the truth that we are being guarded by the power of God “though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” Sometimes the trials are necessary. Why? “so that the tested genuineness of your faith . . . may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:7).

God does not test our faith to see if it is genuine. He tests our faith to prove that it is genuine. In the Gold Rush days there were assayers whose job it was to test the gold. The assayers tested the quality of the gold. The better quality, the purer the gold, the more valuable it was. God, however, does not test our faith to see if it is real, but to prove that it is real.

Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” If it is seen there is not need for faith. If my neighbor invites me to dinner I come hungry, believing that there will be food when I arrive. That is faith. Once I see the table set, the food on the table, and am invited to sit down to the meal there is no longer faith. Similarly, it does not take much faith to live a “holy” life when everything is going well. It is when we are in the midst of trouble, loss, pain, and difficulty that faith is demonstrated.

Job 1:9-11 makes that point.
[9] Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? [10] Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. [11] But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”

In church we often talk about being a witness to the world. They need to see our faith. We are taught to not drink or to not get drunk, to not gamble, to not go to certain establishments because that would hurt our testimony. But let’s be honest, most unbelievers are not drawn to Christ by the things we don’t do. They are drawn to Christ when they see the peace of Christ in the midst of pain. They are drawn to Christ when they see us serving others when it is not convenient. They are drawn to Christ when the see our faith in action at a time when the world is filled with anxiety and fear.

This pandemic is a perfect time for the world to see the genuine character of our faith, if it is in fact genuine. Do we really believe that God is in control even when everything seems out of control? Do we really believe that we can trust God when we cannot see him or feel his presence? Do we really believe that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28)? God allowed Satan to take everything away from Job. “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped” (Job 1:20). His faith was real. How real is our faith?

There is value in walking through dark valleys. There our faith is tested and proved genuine. There we are molded into the image of Christ. So we walk patiently by faith trusting that God knows what he is doing. It is in the darkest times that we truly learn what it means to trust God. We can trust that “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Sometimes the way of escape is found by walking through the darkness of the valley trusting God. An old hymn begins with these words,
Simply trusting every day;
Trusting through a stormy way;
Even when my faith is small,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.
May that be our prayer and the song in our hearts today.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Dealing with Trouble (Pt 2)

I began yesterday’s blog with these words: “Psalm 23:4 reads, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. . .’ One of the undeniable truths of this world in which we live is the certainty of trouble.” In responding to grief and trouble in life we need understand how to respond to trouble by being patient in the midst of trouble. Additionally, we need to understand the value of trouble.

Romans 12.9-13 calls us to be patient in trouble by learning to rejoice in our hope in Christ, being constant in prayer, and seeking to serve others however we are able. Romans 5:1-5 tells us why this is so important.
[1] Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. [2] Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. [3] Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, [5] and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
“We rejoice in our sufferings” for one simple reason that has four clear benefits in our lives. The reason is that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). This is a sermon in itself, but because God’s love has been poured into us. Because the Holy Spirit who dwells in every believer is the one who has poured God’s love into us, we recognize that there is value in suffering.

The first value to suffering is endurance. Every athlete knows this. Endurance is not built up by sitting on the couch eating donuts. It is built up by hard, sweaty work. The heart is made stronger when we force it to beat faster during exercise. The legs and arms are made stronger when they are used and pushed beyond normal use. Exercise is not done for the sake of exercise. It is done to build endurance. Similarly, God knows that for us to build endurance as believers we need to be tested, stretched, and pushed. The process is not fun, but it is a vital part of our growth.

The second value of suffering is character.” Endurance produces character” (Rom 5:4). Everyone is trustworthy if they never actually have to be trusted. Everyone is moral if they are never tempted. But it is in the difficult times of life as God builds endurance in us that character is fashioned. Character is formed and developed as we go through trials and difficulties.

The third value of suffering is hope. As God builds character in us through developing endurance in the face of difficulty, our eyes begin to look upward. When we are comfortable, when everything is going well and life is on cruise-control, we tend to think of now as forever. We lose our eternal perspective. Our hope and expectation of Jesus’ return loses its power. We want to go to Heaven, but not just yet. Country-Western artist George Strait sang, “Everybody wanna go to heaven, But nobody wanna go now.” Too often that is how we live. Suffering develops hope.

The fourth value of suffering is that “hope does not put us to shame” (Rom 5:5). I have to be honest, I do not appreciate those Facebook posts where somebody says, “I’m not ashamed of Jesus so I posted this. Let’s see how many others are not ashamed.” That is coercion. If I don’t repost it, then it is assumed that I am ashamed. If I do post it, then I am forcing others into the same dilemma. I am not ashamed of Jesus, but not because I post something on Facebook where people I don’t know will see it. I am not ashamed of Jesus because he has seen me through difficult times. I am not ashamed of Jesus because he has never failed me. I am not ashamed of Jesus because he was not ashamed of me (see Heb 2:11). It is when we have walked through the fire with Jesus that we come out unashamed.

We need to be patient in suffering because there is value in suffering. Grief affects every aspect of our lives, and right now we are a grieving people. If nothing else, we are grieving the loss of our normal routine. But many are grieving much more than that. Grief and pain are not comfortable, that is why they are called grief and pain. But God has a way of turning ashes into beauty (see Isa 61:3). He has a way of turning grief and pain into endurance, character, and hope that leaves us unashamed of Christ and looking longingly for his return. There is value in the pain if we will trust God in the dark.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Dealing with Trouble (Pt 1)

Psalm 23:4 reads, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. . .” One of the undeniable truths of this world in which we live is the certainty of trouble. Most of history has been characterized by trouble whether war, famine, disease, or oppression. Believers are no exception. In 1Thessalonians 3.4 the Apostle Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that “we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction.” Jesus told his disciples, in John 16.33 “In the world you will have tribulation.” The New International Version translates tribulation as troubles. Other version use trials or sorrows. The relative peace and prosperity of American Christianity has lulled us into believing that God wants us to be happy, healthy, and well to do. But there are often several valleys of the shadow of death that we all face.

Yesterday we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. We rejoiced over the empty tomb, and reveled in the reality of eternal life in Christ. But today, where I sit, the sky is cloudy, snow is falling again, and we are all sequestered in our homes because of a virus that has brought the world to its knees. After the celebration we still have to live life, and life has pain.

The truth is, we are all living with some form of grief. Grief sneaks in and robs us of our joy, it blinds us to our blessings, and it causes us to lash out at those closest to us. We are grieving the loss of seeing our friends and family. We are grieving the loss of freedom to move about as we like. We are grieving the ability to find the products we want on the grocery store shelves because people are hoarding. We grieve the loss of our rights when we comply with government regulations for safety while others seem to go on as normal. Grief makes us angry. It makes us depressed and discouraged. Grief makes us anxious and irritable. Right now our whole nation is grieving but we often fail to recognize it or realize it.

So how should we respond to our grief and troubles in life. There are at least three truths that we need to understand. I’ll write about the second two truths in coming blogs. The first is that we must understand how to respond to trouble. Romans 12.9-13 says,
[9] Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. [10] Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. [11] Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. [12] Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. [13] Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

In verse 12 we find this little statement, “be patient in tribulation.” That’s easier said than done. How does one practice patience in tribulation. I believe the rest of the passage shows us how to do that, but let me focus on three statements that surround “be patient in tribulation.” First is “Rejoice in hope.” The Apostle Paul wrote, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Php 3:8). When we fix our eyes on that which we gain in Christ, the troubles of this world fade in their significance. As believers facing unprecedented times, we need to learn to rejoice in our hope in Christ.

Second, Romans 12:12 says, “Be constant in prayer.” I fear that in our busyness and desire for quick results and fast responses, we have lost our heart for prayer. Yet when we learn to be still before God (Ps 4:10), when we learn to wait in his presence (Ps 27:14), when we learn that we do not know how to pray but that the Spirit “intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words . . . according to the will of God” (Rom 8:26-27), that is when we have begun to learn to pray. In the face if trouble we need to learn to be constant in prayer.

Third, Romans 12 tells us to, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom 12:13). Showing hospitality is what we do to outsiders. The saints are insiders, brothers in Christ. Therefore, we are called to serve others, believers and unbelievers. Giving pulls us out of our own self-focus. Giving turns our hearts to others to consider their plight. Giving turns our hearts outward rather than inward. When we are facing troubles we need to resist the temptation to draw inward, circle the wagons, hoard all we have, and wait it out. Rather we need to learn to turn outward, see the pain and need of others, and open our hearts to them.

How can we be patient in midst of overwhelming trouble? Rejoice in our hope in Christ, be constant in prayer, and seek to serve others however you are able. Grief, pain, and loss are indeed difficult for us to face, but God has called us to look up and to look out in hope, prayer, and loving service. May that be true of me today.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Easter Meditation (Pt 5)

2 Corinthians 4:14-18 (ESV)
[14] knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. [15] For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
[16] So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. [17] For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, [18] as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Today is Good Friday. It is the day that we remember the death of our Lord. It is the day that we recall the horror of the crucifixion. There is nothing good about what happened that day, and yet—in hindsight it is a good day because it is the day our salvation was purchased. Because we know the end of the story, it is the day that we look forward to the resurrection. Because we know the end of the story, it is a day that we do not lose heart as Jesus friends and family did. Because we know the end of the story, it is a day that we call good.

Jesus died and rose again for our salvation. In light of the resurrection he is calling us to face daily death that others may come to know him as well. “as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:15-16). Americans are obsessed with staying young, with staving off death as long as possible. Yet, the church is called to die so that others might hear that Good Friday is indeed a good day. Who have you shared the Good News with? For whom are you dying to serve with the love of Christ?

Our salvation is not for our personal comfort any more that Jesus life on this earth was for his. He came for us. Now he calls us to die for others that they too might live. Because the resurrection follows death, we don’t give up hope. Because his death bought our life, and our death brings the message of life to those around us, we don’t give up hope. The Apostle Paul understood this. He was willing to give his life that the Corinthians might know Christ. He was now calling them to give their lives that others might come to know the life of Christ as well. He understood what Jesus meant when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Easter Meditations (Pt 4)

2 Corinthians 4:14 (ESV)
Knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.

Knowing! The Apostles did not upend their lives for something they imagined, or for something the made up. Today is Maundy Thursday. The word maundy is likely derived from the Latin word mandatum, from which we get our word mandate. Maundy Thursday is the day we remember when Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples and mandated that we, as believers, eat the Lord’s Supper to remember. It is what we do every time we take communion.

The disciples, sitting around that table with Jesus could hardly have imagined what was going to happen over the next few days. They would see Jesus arrested that night, put on trial, and crucified within 24 hours. They never saw it coming even though they had been warned. On the third day Jesus would rise from the dead. That was unbelievable. Sitting around the table with Jesus on Thursday evening all these events never crossed their minds. What was it that moved these men from being unschooled followers of Jesus to being the leaders of a world changing faith who were willing to give their lives for what they taught?

Peter would have preferred fishing. Paul would have preferred following his Jewish mentor. James would have preferred fishing with his buddy Peter over being killed by Herod. They would never have chosen the life they followed unless they knew for certain that Jesus was raised from the dead. They never would have chosen the life they followed unless they were certain that God would raise them as well. They were there. They saw him. They talked with him. They ate with him. They touched him. They never would have chosen the life they followed without the certainty that there was eternal value to what they were doing. They knew that Jesus had risen from the dead. It is what gave them purpose, meaning, and motivation. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Easter Meditations (Pt 3)

2 Corinthians 4:1 (ESV)
[1] Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

Twice in 2 Corinthians 4 Paul writes, “We do not lose heart.” Twice in chapter 5 he declares, “We are of good courage.” He writes this even as he is experiencing personal suffering and personal attacks. His courage was not based on his experiences. His faith was not based on what he could see. He was of good courage and took heart because he served a risen Lord that was using everything he was going through to expand the influence of the gospel. Paul knew that Paul’s life was not about Paul. He knew that the church was not started in Corinth because of his great powers of persuasion. He knew that even his suffering was being used by God to build and strengthen the church.

Paul would write to the Philippians, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). If Jesus was still in the grave, then that would not be true. If Jesus had not risen, then Paul’s work was meaningless, and his death useless. It is the resurrection that changes everything. Thus Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:14, “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” Paul’s hope, his courage, his taking heart was rooted in the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

The Saturday after Jesus’ crucifixion was a dark day for Jesus disciples. They woke on the Sabbath with heavy hearts believing that their friend, teacher, and master was dead for good. They had no idea that in a few short hours everything would change. With the Apostle Paul, we have the advantage of looking back to the resurrection. We already know what happened. With the Apostle, we can take heart and good courage, no matter what the circumstances of life, because by faith we too can serve a risen Lord. Trust him!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Easter Meditations (Pt 2)

2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)
[21] For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

In Jesus’ death he became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. In doing so, he further gave us the ministry of reconciliation (1 Cor 5:18). That ministry is not given to make us feel important. It is given for the sake of others.

We cannot separate the death of Jesus from his resurrection. If he died without raising from the dead, then we have a dead founder of a religion without life. We have a dead example without living power. We have a dead faith without hope. The death of Jesus apart from his resurrection is meaningless. Likewise, the resurrection without the death of a sinless life is meaningless. Resurrection can’t happen without death. Without death there is no way to rise from the dead. The death and the resurrection cannot be separated. Neither can they be separated from the miraculous virgin birth. Without the death of a sinless life there is no significance to the death, or the resurrection. Jesus showed us what life looks like. Jesus died that we might live. Jesus rose to impart his life and empower us to live a life eternal. But living eternal life in the present, faithless, and twisted world is not convenient.

The resurrection is not just a myth told to motivate us to try again, or to start fresh. It is not about Spring cleaning, or turning over a new leaf. The resurrection is about new life that flourishes even as this body dies. The resurrection is about a radically different way to live. It is about the life of Christ flowing through us to take Good News to a lost and broken world that desperately needs to know the living God. In Christ we have the Good News. In Christ we have eternal life. In Christ we have the power of the risen Lord dwelling in us by his Spirit. But God didn’t give us that life for us. He gave it for others. It is time we stop being so concerned about how God makes me feel, or whether he can fix my problems. It is time we heed Jesus words, “If you want to be my disciples you need to take up your cross daily and follow me.” It is time that we say with the Apostle Paul, “I die so that others may live.”  It is time that we stop doing church for us and realize that we are the church for the benefit of those outside. It is not about us.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Easter Meditations (Pt 1)

Luke 22:31 (ESV)
[31] “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, [32] but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Failure does not mean disqualification from ministry. What matters is what follows the failure. Jesus says to Simon Peter, “You are going to fail me. Then you are going to strengthen your brothers.” How is that possible? Shouldn’t a failure be strengthened by his brothers rather than the failure strengthening his brothers? Shouldn’t the failure be chastised, convicted, or corrected by his brothers? Shouldn’t the failure be taught a lesson about abandoning his faith? How can Jesus possibly mean that after Peter fails Jesus he will be given a responsibility of ministry? Failure does not mean disqualification from ministry. What matters is what follows the failure.

When hardness of heart, rebellion, or an unwillingness to acknowledge one’s sin follows failure then the failure leads to more failure. When brokenness and transparent honesty with God follows the failure then ministry can follow. That is why John wrote, “If we confess (agree with God) our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Agreeing with God about our sin leads to ministry.

How can that be? In John 21 Peter meets Jesus after the resurrection. He is happy to see Jesus, but he is uncertain about his own faith and future. Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Jesus. Three times Peter hedges his answer. Three times Jesus gives him a ministry. Earlier Peter has confidently said, “I’ll follow you to death.” Now Peter knows himself better. He knows his own failure. He can’t say, “I love you with unfailing, self-sacrificing love.” He doesn’t trust himself. That is the very kind of person God wants to use. He is not looking for the cocky, self-confident, “Just show me the task and I’ll do it” kind of people. He is looking for the one who in weakness and humility trusts not himself, but Jesus alone.

That is what the cross is about. That is what the resurrection is about. That is what grace is about. The problem is that we give those words and concepts lip service, but we don’t really believe them. We somehow believe that one failure disqualifies us or others from service. We wallow in self-pity and regret rather than running to Jesus. We insist on proof of dependability and faithfulness before entrusting someone with ministry. We give lip service to the cross and the resurrection, but we fail to understand their power to transform broken lives.

The resurrection is about new life. Romans 6 says that we are raised with Christ to newness of life. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” What is interesting is the verse that follows. Verse 18 goes on to say, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” The resurrection makes all things new and equips, empowers, and employs us for ministry. Failure is not a disqualification to ministry, it is a prerequisite. A person cannot be made new in Christ until they have first recognized that they are failures. Failing is a prerequisite to ministry. Trust God to do in and through you what you are totally incapable of doing yourself. That is the power of the resurrection. God is looking for people who in weakness and humility trust not themselves, but Jesus alone.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday

Our community is made up of broken and shattered people, an unbelieving and twisted generation blind to the majesty of God. But Jesus… The unclean spirit shattered the boy, but Jesus healed him. The people standing and watching were an unbelieving and twisted generation, but Jesus went to Jerusalem to heal them. The people of Jerusalem were a people blind to the majesty of God, but Jesus died to reveal the majesty of God and give them life. He gave his life to give them and us life. Mac Powell’s contemporary worship song By His Wounds reflects on this truth using the words of Isaiah 53:5:
By His Wounds 
Mac Powell
He was pierced for our transgressions 
He was crushed for our sins 
The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him 
And by His wounds, by His wounds we are healed

By His wounds we are healed! This is the song of life that we have for a broken world as we approach this coming Resurrection Sunday.
The day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey he was chastised by the Pharisees, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples” (Luke 19:39). He responded, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). They failed to see the power and authority of the One and Only Son of the Father. They looked to religious activity, law, and self-discipline to bring about spiritual life. They failed to understand that they were as broken, battered, and oppressed as the boy with the unclean spirit. It is not religion that will brings us freedom. It is not spirituality that brings us freedom. It is not a pastor, or the church that brings us freedom. It is the power of God revealed in the Son of God that brings freedom. All we need to do is believe.
Jesus rode into town being worshiped and praised, yet the townspeople said, “Who is this?” God was in their midst and they were clueless. God is at work in our community. Are you aware that he is here and that he is at work? Who are you praying for as he works in our midst? Not everyone who sees, believes, and not everyone who believes saw something that left them speechless. Salvation is not about the power of God to WOW people. It is about the power of God to open people’s eyes, and transform their hearts. That is why evangelism starts, not with means and methods, but with prayer. As we approach Resurrection Sunday, who are you praying for? May God open their eyes to see and believe.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Triumphal Entry (Pt 5)

John 12:18-19 (ESV)
[18] The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign [i.e. raising Lazarus from the dead]. [19] So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

In earlier blogs I wrote about three reasons why the People of God rejected their King when he rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, the event we celebrate on Palm Sunday. Previous choices, externalism, and pride kept them from believing Jesus, but there is a fourth reason: Greed. The Pharisees saw that a large crowd was following Jesus. They had lost their position of influence. Luke 16:14 says that the Pharisees were lovers of money. Mark 11:18 says that the chief priests and scribes feared Jesus, “because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.” They not only loved money, they loved attention.

Jesus was not rejected because they found fault with his teaching, but because he took away their crowds. It was a day when all of Israel was to come together at Jerusalem for worship. The Pharisees had likely been planning for this day, anticipating it. Here were crowds thinking about spiritual things. It was their day to shine as they explained the Law and showed off their own “holiness.” But Jesus took their crowds.

The Pharisees were greedy. They loved money and they loved attention. But brokenness, not greed brings us to the foot of the cross. Brokenness causes us to fall on our faces at Jesus’ feet and plead for healing and wholeness. Greed and self-concern keep us from faith. The crowds, having heard about Lazarus resurrection, celebrated Jesus, but they would eventually be the same crowds shouting “Crucify him!” They too were greedy. They were greedy to see something amazing. They wanted to be wowed.

Due to the greed of the crowd, they were easily manipulated into calling for Jesus’ death. Due to the greed of the Pharisees and Scribes, they rejected Jesus and plotted his death. Greed, self-focus, and self-interest will keep us from seeing and admitting our need for Christ. In Matthew 21:31 the chief priests and elders challenged Jesus authority. In response he told them a story, and then concluded, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” What!? Why? Because they knew their brokenness. They knew they needed God’s forgiveness and grace.

The crowds and the spiritual leaders of the people, blind to their own brokenness, continued to pursue experience and excitement, glory, greatness, and gold. In doing so, they missed their king.  What is the pursuit of your life? Has your greed and selfishness blinded you to Christ, or do you understand your brokenness? In a time of high anxiety, like we are facing today with the Covid-19 pandemic, we can maintain a demeanor of self-sufficiency, self-dependency, and even denial. We can get discouraged and depressed over our loss of freedom and movement. Or, we can find healing and hope in the one who took our brokenness to the cross. What is the pursuit of your life? Trust Him.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...