Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hosea 10:13 + Harvest

Hosea 10:13 You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice, you have eaten the fruit of lies.

It's harvest time. The pumpkins are plump and available at many roadside stands. We think of the harvest as good because that's the way God intended it.

But as the old saying goes -- Galatians 6:7,8 -- "we reap whatever [we] sow. If [we] sow to []our own flesh, [we] will reap corruption from the flesh."

That, of course, is the negative side. It's harvest time. Let us "sow to the Spirit!" and let us "reap eternal life from the Spirit" (Gal. 6:8).

God, I want to harvest the fruits of Galatians 6 -- love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness. Therefore, help me sow today faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.


Hosea 8:1 + Remembering

Hosea 8:1 Set the trumpet to your lips! One like a vulture is over the house of the Lord, because they have broken my covenant, and transgressed my law.

I don't know how we got on the subject -- and it's not pleasant -- but yesterday someone told me about driving a long country road to work. In the morning he'd often spot a dead deer along the side of the road. Returning in the evening, he said, "the deer would be picked clean by vultures. How did they do it so fast?"

Through Hosea we are told to "set the trumpet to []our lips." This isn't time for music; it's time to sound the alarm -- "1 one like a vulture is over the house of the Lord." It might be tempting to think that the judgment here is pronounced about the vulture ... but no. Vultures do what vultures do. The judgment is against God's own people "1 because they have broken my covenant." God takes it seriously when we "1 transgress[] [His] law."

Do we ever ...
+ "3 Spurn the good"?
+ "4 Ma[k]e kings [and priorities], but not through [God]"?
+ Do we ever make "4 idols [of] silver and gold," or plastic and self-centered desires?
+ Do we ever "7 sow [in] the wind" and wonder why we "4 reap the whirlwind"?

Conclusion ... "14 Israel has forgotten his Maker."

O Lord, you are holy and mighty and just and ... and ... hmmm ... I forgot what I saying ... I forget whom I am praising ... I forget who I truly am ... humble me ... and remind me that I am yours.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hosea 7:8,9 + Integrity

Hosea 7:8 ... Ephraim is a cake not turned. 9 Foreigners devour his strength, but he does not know it ...

There are two kinds of cooks -- artists and scientists. Scientists are precise and measure. Artists are creative -- a little of this, a little of that. Can you guess which I am? Well, let's just say that the creative side of me doesn't bake well. Baking requires, of course, a little precision. So maybe I'm not the best person to talk about today's repeated baking images; nevertheless, that's how God speaks to his people today. Their "4 adulter[y] [is] like a heated oven." So is their "6 anger [which] smolders." These two characteristics -- "7 hot as an oven" -- ultimately "devour[s] their [own] rulers."

But there's also a deeper warning here. Today's verse tells us that overheated infidelity and the flames of anger are ultimately cannibalistic. "8 Ephraim" -- one of Israel's twelve provinces / tribes -- has become in this oven "8 a cake not turned." The result "9 foreigners devour his strength." In a sense that's not cannibalism -- a foreigner is devouring him. But here's the point for today, when our anger and unfaithfulness burn, aren't we devouring our integrity from the inside out? We're destroying our structural integrity, and it's not hard, then, for the world to finish the job.

Dear Lord, General Electric, KitchenAid, Maytag, and Jenn-Air are some of the best known brands of ovens. Don't add my name -- Ed -- to the list of toasters. Help my heart burn only for you.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hosea 6:1 + Repentance

Hosea 6:1 "Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up.

In this passage, God tells us plainly what he "6 desire[s --] steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than [what Israel assumed he wanted, the famous old] burnt offerings." Unfortunately, God says that instead of steadfast, "4 [our] love [ought to be compared to] a morning cloud, [to] dew that goes away early." Therefore, God "1 t[ears] ... and heal[s]; ... str[ikes] down ... and ... bind[s] us up."

What does that mean? We like the image of healing and binding up and bandaging, but many of us refuse to picture as contradictory a good god who might also tear up and strike down. My simple response is that I sometimes need to be brought to my knees.

Here's a way to picture this:
+ Imagine a plus mark in the center of a page.
+ Imagine, then, an infinity symbol -- a sideways 8 -- intersecting all four of the plus-mark's quadrants.
+ Below the horizontal line is negative and painful. Above the line is positive and freeing.
+ Have you ever fallen on your knees in guilt and shame? I hope so.
+ But what rescues us from that negative quadrant? God's grace ought to make us stand up and cheer as we follow the path of the infinity symbol upward to a positive quadrant.
+ Grace, then, is wonderful and freeing, but we humans often turn the freedom of grace into permissiveness and sin (dipping into the negative quadrant).
+ That's when we need to fall on our knees in repentance -- which in a healing way draws us along the infinity symbol to the other positive quadrant.
+ There are magnificent benefits to the fear (and respect) of our Lord -- the healing, for example, that comes from forgiveness -- but when we dwell too long on this side of the plus mark, the fear of the Lord can often become fear and guilt sinking us downward into shame.
+ As soon as the health of repentance turns negative, we need to rise to our feet in the light of God's grace.
+ And then when the freedom of grace becomes too permissive, we need to fall to our knees in repentance.
+ And journeying along the lines of infinity, we need to constantly fall into the repentance whenever grace turns into permissiveness, and then rise in freedom whenever repentance turns into guilt.

Gracious Lord, you have told us that "on the third day [you] will raise us up." Join my life to Christ's and to the pattern of third day resurrections. In fact, Lord, every three days is not a bad cycle for me to fall in repentance and leap for joy at your amazing grace. Maybe I ought to do it every three hours! Repenting, rejoicing, remembering you. 1 o'clock, 2 o'clock, 3 o'clock, rock.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hosea 5:1-2 + Leadership

Hosea 5:1 Hear this, O priests! Give heed, O house of Israel! Listen, O house of the king! For the judgment pertains to you ... 2 ... but I will punish all of them.

What happens when our leaders go astray? That's the question from today's reading.

The judgment pertains to the "1 priests" and the "1 house of the king," "but [the] punish[ment will effect] all of them." I obviously added the word "will effect." "Trickles down to" might be even more accurate.

In every kingdom ... church ... or family, don't you know that there are faithful souls who are led down darkened paths by their leaders. It wasn't their idea. It wasn't their plan. But we brought along nonetheless. We are called, therefore, to be very wary of the values, morals, and priorities of those we salute too. Why? Because they're likely to draw us down their path ... whether we like it or not.

Why? An even more important answer is that we're called to only and ultimately salute to God.

Lord, steer all the leaders in our lives toward your path. Steer us too.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

+ Hosea 3:1 + False Gods + Priorities

Hosea 3:1 The Lord said to me again, "Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes."

That's one of my all-time favorite verses.

I howled with laughter the first time I read it.

How in the world is "1 lov[ing] raisin cakes" somehow comparable to "1 turn[ing] to other gods"?

It seemed so odd that for many years I intentionally tried to NOT find out what raisin cakes meant!

What it does mean, however, makes a rather important point: Grapes -- and thus raisins -- were a symbol of the fertility of the earth. The "1 other gods" that Israel chased like an "1 adulterous" were pagan fertility gods. "1 Lov[ing] raisin cakes" was essentially the pagan version of desiring holy communion.

Raisin cakes represent a false and dangerous priority.

What is your raisin cake? What priorities do you desire in life that take you even one degree away from God?

Lord, help me not be a spiritual adulterer ... and steer my diet away from raisins and cake.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

+ Hosea 2:9 + Discipline

Hosea 2:9 Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season; and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness.

Nakedness ...

Before the Fall -- Genesis 2 and 3 -- Adam and Eve were "naked and not ashamed." The first thing they realized after their first sin, however, was both their nakedness and their shame. Fortunately, by the end of Genesis 3, God in his mercy does what? He covers both! And that's a powerful picture of God.

By the middle of Hosea 2, however, God is reversing this grace again. Therefore, the question for today is, why does the generous God who gives "9 grain" and "9 wine" and "9 wool" and "flax," also and occasionally choose to "10 uncover [our] shame"?

Why? The answer is love and discipline.

The history books of the Old Testament are a roller coaster ride of up and down, faithfulness and unfaithfulness. So is Hosea. The bride in Hosea -- which is clearly Israel -- is guilty of "2 adultery" and "2 whoring." How will God respond? Anyway he can in order to try us draw us wanderers to himself!

Sometimes God will woo and "14 allure her (us)." Other times he will "9 take back" and discipline. He will "9 cover" and "10 uncover." His whole passion is to draw us to himself. The question is: Which one do you need in to draw you right now?

Lord, when I am broken, woo me gently. When I am proud, discipline me. Mainly, just don't give up on me.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hosea 1:2 + Faithfulness

Hosea 1:2 When the LORD first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, he said to him, "Go and marry a prostitute, so some of her children will be born to you from other men. This will illustrate the way my people have been untrue to me, openly committing adultery against the LORD by worshiping other gods."

Hosea is one of my favorite prophetic books ... but not because it's pleasant and easy. I like Hosea because it's message is sharp, clear, and chilling.

First point ... being a prophet is a crummy job. God asks his servant to marry a prostitute.

Why a prostitute? Second point ... because God wants Hosea's life to be a living picture of Israel's (humanity's) infidelity to the Lord.

Third point ... God wants to use every aspect of our lives. For example, the names of every one of Hosea's children with Gomer has a purpose.

Three names and fourth point ... "Jezreel" is the valley where Israel will be crushed; "Lo-ruhamah" means "not loved," and "Lo-ammi" means "not my people." Harsh names. Hard truth: the God who protects can also remove his hand of protection. Or in other words, our fidelity and faithfulness matter.

Fifth point ... "But" is often the most wonderful word in scripture. Yes, God can remove his hand of protection; "10 but the time will come when Israel will prosper and become a great nation ... 11 the people ... will return from exile together. What a day that will be ... when God will again plant his people in his land. Yes, "but" is one of the most wonderful words in scriptures because God's overwhelming grace, salvation, and victory is the ultimate and final word!

Gracious Lord, don't let me prostitute myself in big ways or small.


Friday, September 18, 2009

+ Daniel 11 + King + False gods + Priorities

Daniel 11:36 "The king shall act as he pleases. He shall exalt himself and consider himself greater than any god, and shall speak horrendous things against the God of gods. ... 37 He shall pay no respect to the gods of his ancestors ... 38 He shall honor the god of fortresses instead ...

Daniel 11 is talking about the Antichrist again. It's understandable to think he will "36 exalt himself ... and ... speak horrendous things against the God of gods." He's evil, right?

But how about us? In what ways do we "37 pay no respect to the [G]od of [our] ancestors"? In what ways do we "36 act as [w]e please[]"?

I'm surely not suggesting a moral equivalence between us and the antichrist! And yet, in what ways do we act like our own god -- following our own path, doing as we please, and subtly ignoring God in the way we live our lives?

O God, you are my God. Help me to always praise you.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Daniel 10:12-14a + Angels

Daniel 10:12 ... "Do not fear, Daniel, ... I have come because of your words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me twenty-one days. So Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, and I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia, 14 and have come to help you understand what is to happen to your people at the end of days.

Four points ...

1. "The end of days": That's what this passage -- and much of the apocalyptic book of Daniel -- is ultimately about.

2. Angels must be awe-inspiring enough to evoke a little human terror because, again, "Do not fear" is the first word. (I'm glad their on our side!)

3. If we admit that there are angels, the angel tells us to be aware that there are forces that opposed the angels and aligned against each of us. The apostle Paul puts it like this: "For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12).

4. The angel came to Daniel "because of [his] [prayer]." Think of it like this. We live in the material world. But scripture tells us that the atmosphere is alive with unseen "spiritual forces ... in the heavenly places." Prayer is a bridge between these two worlds.

Lord, thank you for the gifts of this material world, but make me less blind of the other world around me. And help me grow in prayer as bridge to see more of you.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Daniel 9:19a + Prayer

Daniel 9:19a O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay.

Which of these petitions do you need most in your life? Do you need God to ... hear you ... forgive you ... listen to you (which is more active than just hearing) ... act on your behalf ... or act without delay?

Actually for me, instead of pondering which one I might need, I need to admit that I desire them all ... and in this order. In fact, this could be a wonderful order for your prayers.

"O Lord, hear," is like a knock on the door. "I'm just letting you know that I'm here again, Father."

"O Lord, forgive," is then our first approach. "I don't deserve for you to open the door and to be in your presence, so I need you to start by washing me clean."

And then we pray for God to hear again -- but not just hear, not just notice the knock on the door -- what we're really asking is for God to pull up a chair and give us his undivided attention. That sound presumptuous; except, God repeatedly invites us to take him up on this offer of friendship and care.

And then we ask for God to act on our behalf. Like a child asks for breakfasts and trusts that mom will act, we are invited to ask for things big and small. There's the old saying that sometimes God says yes ... and sometimes God says no ... and sometimes he says wait. But it's faith that asks because in asking we are believing that God is who he says he is and we are therefore trusting that he will act.

And furthermore, we're invited to pray with a little passion and urgency. "Do not delay!" Faith is not afraid to be bold! And yet faith is bold enough sometimes to endure a little patience.

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Daniel 8:12 + End Times

Daniel 8:12b ... it cast truth to the ground, and kept prospering in what it did.

The first words of the first commentary I read today were: "Daniel chapter 8 is a preacher’s nightmare." The summation was that if even the dream interpreter himself -- Daniel -- didn't have the foggiest notion of the vision’s meaning, what prayer does the average preacher have!

One common intrepretation is that Alexander the Great became the eventual great goat horn who defeated the two rams horns -- the Medes and the Persians. But those aren't really the primary focus. It's the little horn that really matters. And a common interpretation is that the little horn -- after the four smaller horns -- was Antiochus IV (who nicknamed himself "Epiphanes," the illustrious one) who, about 200 years before the birth of Christ, persecuted Israel and blamsphemed God.

But that's only part one of the prophecy. Gabriel tells Daniel that what will factually play out in history will repeat itself at "17 the time of the end." In this view, history gives us a little horn named Antiochus Epiphanus. The end times gives us the same pattern and the same horn known as the Antichrist. Both, we are told, will "12 cast truth to the ground" and will "12 k[eep] prospering" in its evil.

Our reflection always needs to be: how is truth cast the ground in our generation and what are we doing to keep it from prospering in our midst?

Gracious Lord, make me a brave and grace-filled defender of your truth.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Daniel 7:9,10,15 + Prophecy

Daniel 7:15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me.

How many of us -- when reading chapters like Daniel 7 -- feel troubled, terrified, or at least confused?

Many readers find a powerful symmetry when reading Daniel. Many find links between the first and last chapters, and then between the chapters 4 and 5 (proud rulers humbled), 3 and 6 (faith saves from lions and furnaces), and 2 and 7 (the four kingdoms). In chapter two, the four kingdoms predicted four key eras of human history (clay, iron, bronze, and more precious metals). In chapter seven, the four kingdoms predicted the beastly character of four coming empires -- Babylon, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman (or possibly others).

Now ... it takes a much, much, much longer analysis to discuss the apocalyptic visions and writings of Daniel! So let's simply focus on this: Daniel had an overwhelming vision, and in it, he glimpses God. Troubled? Terrified? Let's leave today with AWE!!! And let's turn verses 9 and 10 into a prayer ...

Lord, "I watch[]", I wait, I want to know you.
Your "throne[ is] set in place."
You are "Ancient of Days."
"White as snow," your purity is beyond my comprehension.
"Pure [as] wool," your holiness is as comforting as a blanket.
And yet, there are "fiery flames"
to remind me that I must bow before your majesty.
Allow me to join the "thousand thousands [who] serve" you today.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Daniel 6:26,27 + Resurrection

Daniel 6:26 [King Darius said,] "I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: For he is the living God, enduring forever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. 27 He delivers and rescues ..."

King Darius was tricked. "Make a law against praying," he was told. Daniel, refusing to bow down to the gods of the world, continued to pray to God. The penalty? King Darius was required to throw his top governor, Daniel, into a lion's den.

You probably know the rest of the story: Sleep "18 fled" from Darius. An angel shut the lion's mouths. Daniel was saved. And those who schemed had their evil plots turned back on them.

But do you know what? That's not really the rest of the story! The key to the rest of this story is that all "people should tremble and fear before ... God."

"Fear of God" has fallen out of favor. We are told that God is loving -- true, True, TRUE! -- but somehow we've been seduced into not fearing, honoring, or respecting. Though God is awesome, we've ceased to bow.

So fear of God is the key to this story, but -- and here's the best part -- what does a key do? It unlocks the door! It rolls away the "17 stone [that] sealed" the would-be tomb. It discovers life where there was supposed to be devouring. It discovers the God who "27 delivers and rescues."

Eternal Father, "26 [you are] the living God, [your] kingdom shall never be destroyed, and [your] dominion has no end. 27 [You] deliver and rescue." Lord, open my door, open my eyes, open my heart. Let me tremble, worship, honor ... and then see you.


Friday, September 11, 2009

+ Daniel 5:4-6 + Pride

Daniel 5:4 They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. 5 Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the wall of the royal palace, next to the lampstand. The king was watching the hand as it wrote. 6 Then the king's face turned pale ...

Yes, the expression "the handwriting on the wall" comes from this chapter.

A reveling King Belshazzar drank from the holy vessels which had been stolen from God's holy temple in Jerusalem ... until a mysterious hand appeared! Only Daniel could interpret the words from God: Belshazzar's kingdom would be "28 divided and given to the Medes and Persians." In fact, "30 that very night Belshazzar ... was killed."

There are at least three powerful lessons in this chapter ...

+ First, very few stories in life begin well when they start with these words: "2 under the influence of wine."

+ Second, stories quickly turn from bad to worse when we mock God as Belshazzar did -- "3 they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of ... the house of God in Jerusalem ... drank from them .... 4 and praised [instead] the gods of gold and silver ..."

+ Third, Daniel reminds Belshazzar of the humbling that his father, Nebuchadnezzar, endured -- "18 the most high God gave your father ... kingship ... 19 He killed those he wanted to kill ... 21 [So] he was driven from human society and made like that of an animal ..." And then comes the key verse: "22 You knew all this ... and [yet] have not humbled your heart." The question for us is this: What do you know is godly or ungodly and yet have refused to humble your heart and obey?

O God, let this be the handwriting on my wall. Let me see the hardness of my heart and turn from my sin.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Daniel 4:25 + Pride

Daniel 4:25 [King Nebuchadnezzar,] you shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the wild animals. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, you shall be bathed with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and gives it to whom he will.

King Nebuchadnezzar stood on the roof of a tall building, surveyed his kingdom, and said, "30 Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built ...?" Do you hear the pride? God's surely hears that kind of pride frequently from successful people.

Therefore, God sent Nebuchadnezzar a dream that all proud people would do well to remember. Imagine it like this: What would you do if God "25 dr[ove you] from society ... [made] your dwelling ... with wild animals ... and made [you] eat grass like oxen"?

It happened to Nebuchadnezzar. For seven years, he was stripped of more than his kingly glory. He was stripped of his humanity. He was a long-haired cow. And his response? Humbled, Nebuchadnezzar praised the real king -- "I blessed the Most High ... for his sovereignty is [the real and] everlasting sovereignty."

Lord, humble my pride before I need to be turned into a cow! Help me "27 atone from [my] sins with righteousness, and [atone for my] iniquities with mercy to the oppressed," and help me "37 praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all [your] works are truth ..."


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Daniel 3:17, 18 + Faith

Daniel 3:17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn't, Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up."

You probably know the story ... King Nebucchadnezzer set up a golden statue and under the threat of a fiery execution, demanded that all fall down and worship the statue (i.e. him). Three godly men -- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego --refused, and their response (our verse for today) is wonderful and instructive.

Point 1: When they state that God is "able" to save us, they proclaim that God is powerful, mighty, holy, and omnipotent.

Point 2: "Able ... rescue[r]" also proclaims that God is truly active in our world. He cares about his children and often chooses to act powerfully and directly in human lives.

Point 3 (and this is the best part): "God is ... able ... but even if he doesn't ..." Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are just like each of us. When times are tough, we hope and pray for a miracle. Sometimes it comes (and even better if it comes just when we want it). But even if the miracle doesn't appear, they are saying, "That's okay. It's not going to change my faith. God is strong, able, and present, and I trust in him no matter what!"

Lord, help me be more like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego ... to trust you through thick and thin ... and even when earthly things seem at their worst to realize that "neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the incredible love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!" (Romans 8:38-39)


Leviticus 23:42,43 + Remember

A second reflection for today because in my reading from Leviticus, I couldn't pass it up!

Leviticus 23:42 You shall live in booths for seven days; all that are citizens in Israel shall live in booths, 43 so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Some people like to camp. Others feel like a three star hotel is as close as they ever want to get to camping. God, however, tells his people, Israel, to spend a week camping each year. Why? To help us remember. This was the Festival of Booths.

When God was leading Israel to the promised land, they lived in tents. To help you reflect on your regular, daily comforts and to help you remember how I am able to deliver you, God was saying, "Spend a week in a tent."

Lord, help me reflect on my comforts and blessings before I have to "rough it." And help me remember daily and always how you delivered me -- especially through the cross of your Son.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Daniel 2:26,27 + Mysteries

Daniel 2:27 Daniel answered the king, "No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries ...

King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about a huge statue. Since it haunted him, he called for his "2 magicians ... enchanters ... [and] sorcerers." Threatening to tear them "5 limb from limb," he asked them to interpret his dream BEFORE he told them what his dream was. Why would he ask anything so ridiculous? Because if they could tell him the dream, he knew their interpretation would be true.

Just before telling the king the dream -- and God's message through it -- Daniel answered the king, "No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries."

Lord, I don't want to rely on human wisdom. Help me trust more in you -- the God in heaven who reveals mysteries and unfolds for us all truth!


Monday, September 7, 2009

Daniel 1:20 + Temptation

Daniel 1:20 + In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, [King Nebuchadnezzer] found [Shadrach, Mesach, Abednego, and Daniel] ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

When King Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem in about 600 AD, he took some of brightest young people home to Babylon and into his palace court. He trained them in the best of Babylonian wisdom and literature and fed them the best Babylonian food and drink. Four of these young men, however, refused the fat of Babylon. Their names, you may recall, were Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel. "17 To these four young men," it says, "God gave knowledge and skill."

Notice the pattern here: Avoid the fat and temptations of the world -- for godly reasons -- and God will pour knowledge and blessing into your life.

On a personal level, don't we all want God's blessing? But there's still a more important reason for undertaking this course. When we avoid the world's fat and temptations, that's often the first step we can take in helping transform our culture!

Therefore, notice the fuller pattern: 1) Avoid the fat and temptations of the world -- for godly reasons -- and 2) God will pour knowledge and blessing into your life. 3) Others will notice the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness -- "20 [King Nebuchadnezzar, for example] found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom" -- and 4) they'll begin to place their trust in you. And that's where the transformation of culture begins!

Lord, I want to help influence the hurting culture around me. Therefore, help me turn from fat and temptation and turn toward you.


Friday, August 21, 2009

John 14:6 + Amnesia

John 14:6 - Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"

A boy wakes up and finds himself in the middle of a city that he doesn't recognize. Amnesia. In this city, there are a million houses with a million fences and a million gates. Which house is home? If he makes his way through the wrong gate, the life in which he finds himself will be a lie. There's only one gate - one way - to his true life, his true destiny, his heart's true home. We live in a world of amnesia and lies, and Jesus is saying, "I am the only true gate to your heart's true home. Come home to the Father through me."

Lord Jesus, my heart longs to discover my true destiny by coming home.


Restarting Devotions!!!

I woke up this morning with a hunger. I've missed writing and some of that time with God in faith. It's truly one of my best ways of devotion. But as cancer and recovery and exhaustion have filled our summer - and as surgery will more than fill our next week (please pray for Mary Louise next Tuesday) - I haven't been able to spend my personal life-giving hour writing. Time's too precious. But not spending time has left me a little empty.

What to do?


Not a whole Psalm, but one simple verse.

I can read a verse in the morning. I can turn it in my head as I go through my morning routine. (That by the way is what "meditation" is - turning a godly thought over and over in your head, letting it seep into and fill and change your being.) Then I can write. No more than 100 words (which was about 30 words ago . so quick, simple).

I haven't made it through the Psalms. That'll be for another day, another season of life. And that's okay. Today's season for me is . meditate . shorter . sweeter . forgive not reaching an old goal . set a new one.

My source for the verse of the day: Sometimes I'll go in order. Sometimes I'll pull from what I'm preaching on this fall. For example, this fall our theme is: The five preachers - Jesus (Sermon on the Mount), James (James), John (1 John), Peter (2 Peter), and Paul (Titus). I might start with the top verses from our first book: Titus.

When will I start? I'll give you a taste today. I woke up meditating on John 14:6 - Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (which, by the way, is top verse 3 - it deserves to be up there . I wonder who ranks them!).

But I won't start until after the surgery. Let's say the day after Labor Day - the unofficial start to fall.

Again, please pray for Mary Louise.

In Christ's Love,

Pastor Ed

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Psalm 94

"Holy Superheroes!"

I can't help but read this Psalm through the window of the book I've just been reading. Greg Garrett's Holy Superheroes is a Christian examination of the "theology" behind our most popular comic books. For the most part, these "comics" and graphic novels emphasize two truths: First, evil exists. Second, good must have a code of justice.

Superman is this code's fabled ideal. At the time when the Nazi party was beginning it's dark march across Europe, Superman was first drawn by two Jewish teenagers as, in part, a symbol of truth, justice, and "the American Way."
America, like its superheroes, used, essentially, the old Jewish code of justice: We are compelled to stand up against evil, but we must not cross the ethical line. Jewish justice, for example, did not allow the vengeful taking two eyes in exchange for the loss of one. It drew an ethical line against disproportionate revenge.

That, however, is not the only American story. America also had its wild west and vigilante justice. And Batman is the symbol of this edge of justice. The Caped Crusader has always walked a tightrope on the darker edges of that ethical line. Avenging the murder of his parents is what propels the Batman. In general, then, Batman always flirted with that line ... but stayed just. Newer comic creations, however, have flirted with that line and crossed it in terms of revenge.

Today's Psalm reflects pieces of this comic code. "3 The wicked ... gloat." "4 Evildoers boast." And "6 widows [and] orphans 5 [are] oppress[ed]." Faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive, it's natural to want "1 the God of vengeance [to] 2 arise." We send up "the Bat Signal." We pray fervently. But when "13 relief" doesn't come immediately, do we think that "7 the God of Israel doesn't care"? We wonder, "20 can unjust leaders claim that God is on their side?"

The Psalmist says, "8 Think again, you fools! 9 Is the one who made your ears deaf? Is the one who formed your eyes blind? 10 He knows everything."

There is no easy answer to the problem of evil.
As long as there is sin, there will be evil. And as long as there are people, there'll be sin. Eliminating people, therefore, wouldn't be my first choice for eliminating evil ... because I'd be eliminated along with it ... and so would you.

What's our hope, therefore, in times of trial?

A simple prayer: "22 the Lord is my fortress."

God answers our deepest concerns in several ways:

+ The first is emotional comfort. When we ally ourselves with God, "19 your comfort [O God, will] g[i]ve me renewed hope and cheer." When God is our fortress, we will never be alone, and hope will cheer us.

+ The second is intellectual comfort. The last sentence started with, "19 when doubts filled my mind." How many of us find that the worst part of any trial is the doubts and worries that constantly assail us. We don't want just our hearts to be less troubled, we want our minds to be freed from worry and fear.

+ The third answer to our concerns is discipline. That's usually not our favorite answer; nevertheless, it's one of the most helpful. Evil wants to tempt us toward revenge. Evil wants us to join evil by joining in the dismemberment. The problem is that what we're dismembering is our own souls. Therefore, "12 happy are those whom you discipline, Lord." Being guided back to God's path -- truth, justice and the American, no, Godly way -- is a powerful answer to our concern about evil.

+ The fourth and final answer to evil found in this Psalm is justice. The Psalmist says, "23 God will make the sins of evil people fall back on them." In other words, although it's tempting to have a short-term perspective, faith calls for a long-term view. Why? Because God traffics in the eternal, and good will absolutely and always triumph in the end. "23 Sins ... [will] fall back on ... [the] evil," and grace will abound for the good.

I don't understand evil.
But I do understand
[and trust]
that you are good.
Let me let you
be my fortress
instead of anger
and revenge.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Psalm 93

Do you know what I was hoping for today? One of the many Psalms that had us "crying to God in worry and in hope." In fact, I wanted an excuse this morning to apologize for not being more prompt with these devotions.

It's been a long summer ... and much longer for Mary Louise than for me. Healing takes a toll on the body, setbacks take a toll on the psyche, and all the options and decisions take a toll on the mind. We've been blessed. We've received mostly good news (including and especially "no need for chemo"). But it's tiring. Therefore, yes, I was looking forward to one of the many Psalms that had us crying to God in worry and in hope. It would have been easy to write on today.

What did I get instead?

Something better.

Psalm 93 is a wonderful reminder that 1) I don't have to be in change and 2) the one who is in charge is "4 might[y]," "5 hol[y]," and "2 everlasting." Chris Tomlin's song "How Great is Our God" begins with echoes of this Psalm's beginning. When Chris Tomlin and the Psalmist sing essentially, "The splendor of a King, '1 [Clothed] in majesty.' Let all the earth rejoice, All the earth rejoice," I am reminded that cancer is small and "the world ... cannot be shaken" and I need to rejoice.

Let me say that again. When I says that "I need to rejoice," I don't mean that I simply "ought" to rejoice -- even though I surely ought to. But I NEED to. I need to focus above the cancer, above "3 the mighty oceans," above the "4 raging of the seas," above the "3 thunder" in the skies, and discover ... again ... daily ... "4 the Lord who is mightier than these."

In last Sunday's sermon we recalled a recurrent New Testament theme that led to our old Lutheran Confession: "We confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean." This Psalm reminds us of the antidote to our brokeness: "5 The nature of your reign, O LORD, is holiness forever"

(For our nature see Joh 2:25 - Ro 1:20 - Ro 7:5 - Ro 7:18 - Ro 7:25 - Rom 8:1-9 [Show Context] - Ro 8:12 - Ro 9:5 - Ro 11:24 - 1Co 5:5 - Gal 5:13-19 [Show Context] - Ga 5:24 - Eph 2:3 - Eph 4:22-24 [Show Context] - Col 2:11-13 [Show Context] - Col 3:9-10 [Show Context] -- for God's nature see also Ro 1:20 - Show Context)

Our nature is broken and sinful, cancer-ridden and sick, angry and addicted, prideful and judgmental. If there is to be any hope, we must look up! "5 The nature of your reign, O LORD, is holiness forever." "Let all the earth rejoice, All the earth rejoice!"

Gracious Lord,
thank you for taking care of me, my wife, and my family
through this journey of illness and uncertainty.
I thank you for a wife that constantly looks up.
Her spirit buoys mine.
Keep me ever pointed upward
and save me from any worries, brokenness, or sin.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Psalm 92

Hard times ... then glimpses of grace ... and victory ... and hope.

That's how I envision today's Psalm.

"11 Enemies" and "9 evildoers" reflect the hard times, but "12 with my own eyes I have seen the downfall of my enemies."

What's the fruit of victory and hope? "1 Sing ... 1 thanks[giving] ... 2 unfailing love ... 4 thrills [and chills] ... and 4 joy!"

Perspective is another fruit. After the victory, the Psalmist cheers, "15 The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is nothing but goodness in him!" But what's the perspective before the victory?

How many of us suffer hard times, hard times, hard times, and see very little grace. It doesn't take too much imagination to know that some people's lives are filled with one enemy after another. Sometimes the enemies are people (think oppressive governments), sometimes the enemies are vile sins (torture and rape), sometimes the enemies are systemic (hunger in a world of plenty), sometimes the enemies are demonic (it wouldn't serve us well to miss the root cause of so much suffering).

What hope do such people have?

Some days their only hope is a bigger truth. If "15 there is nothing but goodness in [God]," then hope is a longer term perspective -- "7 although the wicked flourish like weeds, and evildoers blossom with success, there is only eternal destruction ahead of them."

Hope is not in the day to day.

Hope is at the finish line.

Hope is in the stories of others who've seen seasons of oppression and moments of hope ... and still somehow "1 sing praises."

None of us is alone in our trials. But we'll feel even more alone if we don't find some angle in which to gain a little more perspective on the God of grace and his "13 goodness."

Lord, I pray today in the midst of my trials.
"13 [T]ransplant [me] into [your] own house.":
Help me "13 flourish in the courts" of your hope
Give me perspective that surpasses circumstances.
Give me patience that transcends the suffering.
Give me a long-term trust that reminds me
of the finish line and of your eternal blessings,
instead of the momentary crises.
Indeed, help me "1 sing ... thank ...
4 thrill [and chill]...
[and discover your] 4 joy"
... daily!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Psalm 91

Nine years ago, a massive forest fire swept through the town I lived in. 400 of the 6000 homes in town were destroyed. Stress!That was one of the biggest consequences of the fire. Stress, stress, stress!

Everyone said, "Wasn't it wonderful that no one died in the fire?" It was a blessing, indeed. But the next year -- in a church that averaged three funerals a year -- we did a dozen funerals. And it wasn't until nine months out that I did a funeral for someone who was in their eighties instead of someone in their teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties.

Stress, stress, stress. It pulls marriages apart, sends kids to counseling, plunges good people into depression, spurs addictions, and increases the rates of illness and death.

We noticed something in that town over the next few years. In general, the people who truly "1 live[d] in the shelter of the Most High [found] rest" in the days and months and years to come. In general, the people who did not have a vibrant faith, spent the next few years angry and bitter and looking for someone to sue.

Why do I bring this up? Because a few months ago the economy crashed, and there's been a lot of stress in our world lately, and it pulls marriages apart, sends kids to counseling, plunges good people into depression, spurs addictions, and increases the rates of illness and death.

Having faith doesn't make us immune to the trials of the world, but "1 t
hose who live in the shelter of the Most High [are more likely to] find rest in the shadow of the Almighty." Bad things happen to good people, but for those who choose God as their 1 refuge, ... 4 he will shield [them] with his wings." The "5 terrors of the night [and the] fear [of] dangers" is real, but "14 the Lord says ... 'I will protect those who trust in my name."

My two favorite words in this whole passage are two of the shortest -- "am" and "if." Verse 5 doesn't just say, "I trust in the Lord"; it says, "I am trusting him." "Am trusting!" It's active. It's daily. It's a conscious decision. Every moment something else says, "Trust in me." We want to trust in our money, our jobs, our spouse, the government, and social security. But "am trusting" is a conscious decision. Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, I "am trusting" in the one who "15 will be with [us] in trouble, [who] will rescue [us] and [even] honor [us]."

My second favorite word is "if" -- "9 If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter." Again, our temptation is to focus on money, jobs, spouses, people, governments, and social security, and we put a few eggs in each of those baskets, including a few eggs with God. We spread our trust along with the risk. But God says essentially, put all your eggs here, trust only in me, because "9 if you" do, "4 he will shield you ... shelter you ... protect [and] rescue you," and in the end, he will "give [you his] salvation." This world will pass away. That promise won't. But we leave it all to chance and fallible human being if choose any path other than that "if."

Lord, all of us have stress.
I give you mine. I hand it over.
Starting now, no more "ifs,"
I "am trusting" in you.
But Lord, help me! I can't do it alone!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Psalm 90

What is the difference between a house and a home?

A house is wood and nails. A home is wood and nails AND family and memories.

"Home is where the heart is," as the old saying goes. Therefore, when we pray, "1 Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!" we are saying that we entrust our hearts to God. Just like we recline and rest in our home, we are saying that we find rest and peace in the presence of the Lord. In his kitchens, we are nourished. In his gardens, we are blessed. In his presence, we are whole.

As children, home is a place of comfort and protection. But as children, it is also a place of teaching. No wonder the child of God who wrote this Psalm prayed, "12 Teach us ..." Indeed, "12 Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom."

Good parents also discipline, and the Psalmist reflects that too. Like the mother who seems to have eyes in the back of her head, "8 You spread out our sins before you, [O Lord,] ... you see them all. 7 We wither beneath your anger." Though all of us surely and often prayed that we'd never get caught, getting caught and withering beneath a good parent's discipline is actually -- if we're honest -- what helped us grow.

"1 Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!" The first word that struck me was obviously the nurturing of "home." But another series of words also strikes me in that verse -- "through all the generations." In one sense, "through all the generations" reflects the sweep of time that is in God's hands -- "2 Before the mountains were created ... you are God. [You] are without beginning or end. [And at our end,] you turn [us fragile and temporary] people back to dust."

From God's side, "through all the generations" is but a moment and a twinkling of an eye. "4 For you, a thousand years are as yesterday!"

But let's talk about our side. "1 Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!" But what about in this generation? In every generation, faith in God is in jeopardy. In every generation, people choose to follow themselves or the ways of the world. In every generation, people want their ears tickled, their consciences placates, and their selfish desires met. "10 Seventy years are given to us! Some may even reach eighty. But even the best of these years are filled with pain and trouble." Pain and trouble and blaming God for pain and trouble cause millions in every generation to doubt and slip.

Think of it: We make our homes on this earth. We give our hearts to the ways of the world. We reject pain and suffering and discipline. Therefore, the church is always one generation away from extinction.

Therefore, when the Psalmist prays, "1 Lord, through all the generations you have been our home," he's really prompting a question: "Is God your home ... today?"

As children, we like to turn to the Lord for comfort, but do we turn to him for discipline? A good parent loves ... and challenges ... and teaches ... and encourages ... and judges ... and nurtures ... and protects ... and pushes. Do we let God be our Father ... or not? Indeed, is God your home ... today?

Lord be my home.
Do not let be comfortable anywhere else
but in your hands.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Psalm 89

Long Psalm. Two parts ... plus what I'd call an unexpected ending.

The first part is praise. "1 I will sing of the ... mercies of the Lord forever!" is the most famous refrain. Those words, in fact, are the basis for a famous '80s praise song. Praise song, indeed! "5 All heaven will praise your miracles ... 6 for who ... can compare with the Lord? 7 [Even] the highest angelic powers stand in awe of God ..."

But the heart of this Psalm is this wonderful beatitude:
"15 Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship." True worship is truly stirred by a joyful call and holy desire. And the fruit is happiness, blessedness, "7 awe," and joy.

I want those words -- happiness, worship, and joy -- therefore, the question that needs to be my constant companion is: How do I weave these blessings more fully into my life?!

The second part of this Psalm is the celebration of the reign of King David.
"19 [God has] selected him from the common people to be king ... 20 anointed him with holy oil ... 21 and ... ma[d]e him strong." God in his grace "25 extend[ed David's] rule from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the east." And the joyful question is: Which came first: David's joyful cry, "26 You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation" and then God's blessing ... or ... God's blessing and then David's cry? Like the chicken and the egg, it doesn't really matter does it? God's blessing and David's praise were intimately intertwined.

The key phrase for me in this second section is in verse 24: "[David, King David] will rise to power because of me." "Because of God" ... that's it! Happiness, worship, joy, and blessing are the hearts of sections one and two because "15 happy are those" -- including you me and David -- "who hear the joyful call to worship."

And then comes part three. Then comes the surprise.
Then comes the opposite of happy blessings -- "38 ang[er]," "39 renounce[ment]," "40 ruins," "41 mock[ing]," "45 disgrace[]," and "47 futil[ity]."

The blessed King David faced two humiliations in life. Both of them were caused by sin. (See if either of these describe the greatest hurts and humiliations in your life.)

The first sin was his own. Don't David's adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murderous tactics he employed to cover it up deserve a little "38 ang[er]" and "45 disgrace[]". Sometimes, we bring "40 ruin[]" on ourselves.

The second was the sin of another.
In David's case, David's own son, Absalom, rebelled against him. The great king had to flee his own city. In the end, Absalom is caught and killed by David's general, but there is no victory or rejoicing in the face of sin and rebellion. There's only a tears, "O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I could have died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son."

God blesses. Sin kills. That's the reality of our world. And in the end, I hear this as the point of this Psalm: "15 Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship," and cursed are those who give in to the siren call of sin.

Lord, draw me from sin
and draw me to you.
Help worship be
the joy of my heart.

Psalm 88

"My life is full of troubles, and death draws near."

That's verse 3.

More importantly, both halves of that verse are all too frequent cries in our world today.

I heard a wonderful scholar recently talking about "3 li[ves] full of trouble" and the "problem" of evil. Doubters and skeptics throw the problem of evil at believers like they're throwing down a trump card. "If your God is a just God and all-powerful God, how can there be evil. Ta-DAH!" And Christians all too often go on the defensive, trying to justify "the problem of evil."

"Why?" asks this man of faith. It's Christians who do have clear answers to the evil in this world, and the world and its philosophies that really have no answer. We ought to be saying, "I'd be glad to explain. But first, let's hear you explain evil within your worldly, philosophical framework."

Scratch them very deep, and the dominant philosophies of the world say that "man is essentially good." "Fine," we ought to say, "Turn on the news. Where do the daily, horrible, violent, abusive, and corrupt headlines come from?" "Individuals are basically good," will come the answer, "but systems and cultures (and religions) are bad." "Fine," we ought to say again, "but who makes up the systems and cultures and religions? People! From us flows all kinds of corruption!"

Our answer is simpler and clearer and explains the world much better: "people sin." Think about it ... each day's unpleasant headlines come from what? People. And sin.

The world doesn't want to hear about sin. The world wants to justify itself by saying "I am 'basically good'; therefore, I can do what I want." The celebrating the self leads to a blaming of systems and cultures ... and eventually God himself. Therefore, if "3 my life is full of troubles, and death draws near," the rational, worldly solution is to blame God.

Ultimately, it's a hopeless ideology ... and yet it's so pervasive of a worldview that we're all conditioned to buy into it a little bit.

Fortunately, the Psalmist doesn't.

Yes, he is hurting badly. He feels "4 dismissed" and "5 abandoned." He'll even throw much of his frustration straight at feet of God -- "7 your anger lies heavy on me" and "6 you have thrust me down to the lowest pit." But what is he really saying when he says, "15 I stand helpless and desperate before your terrors"? Isn't he saying, "I stand helpless before YOU"? Isn't that a statement of faith ... even in the face of life's trials.

As a pastor, I watch that every day. People stand before a grave. On the one hand they're crying "9 [O Lord,] my eyes are blinded by my tears. 2 Listen to my cry [because] 15 I stand helpless and desperate before [You]." On the other hand, they sing praises of hope along with Job: "19:25 For I know that my Redeemer lives ... 26 And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God."

This psalm is a prayer of both frustration ... and faith.

It's a prayer that acknowledges that there is sin and hurt and tragedy in this world.
And yet, it's a prayer that celebrates that on the other side of feelings of forsakeness (see verse 5) and in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death (see verses 6, 10, and 11), there is God's enduring "5 care," "10 miracles," "11 faithfulness," "12 righteousness," and "11 unfailing love."

It's a prayer that responds forcefully to the problem of evil. When "3 life is full of troubles and death draws near" -- and it will -- we can turn to the philosophies of the world (which can only blame and can ultimately offer nothing more than an acknowledgement of troubles and the reality of death), or we can turn to God who hated sin enough that he sent his only son to die to conquer it and promises an eternal solution on the other side of death.

Gracious heavenly father,
full of "10 miracles," "5 care,"
"11 faithfulness," and "11 unfailing love,"
I ask the question along with the psalmist:
"10 do the dead get up and praise you?"
My answer / my prayer is this:
"Let me not be dead like the world
and let me simply praise you.
Help me find the answers to life
-- abundant life -- within you.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Psalm 87

Home. One of my "homes" over the years was my grandfather's farm. My mom was literally born IN the house. When an old car died, grandpa would park them behind the barn. By the time I became a young man, a big tree grew out of the windows of an old Plymouth.

In today's Psalm, "7 the people ... sing, 'The source of my life is in Jerusalem.'" Like the old tree growing out of the Plymouth, I had some of my roots grounded on that old Ohio farm. But what if I said that the source of my life is there? Grandpa's been buried in the earth for about ten years now. A tornado has since demolished all but the old house. If I had determined that the source of my life was in that ground, then where would I be?

What does it mean when the people of God proclaim that the source of our life is in Jerusalem? Well, c
onsider the time when this Psalm was written. It was either written during the time of King David -- when God was showing up in mighty ways -- or it was written a few generations later by people who yearned for God to show up again. They weren't worshiping a particular patch of earth, they were celebrating a God who has, will, can, and does show up.

When it says, "2 [God] loves the city of Jerusalem more than any other city in Israel," more than any other city in the world, I don't think it means God loves area more or any people less. Rather, I think that God has declared Jerusalem as a place of intersection. God has proclaimed -- and subsequently shown -- that heaven and earth and the divine story will keep intersecting on this particular patch of ground.

We know that is true because when the Son of God came to this earth, more than half the Gospel occurred after "[Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). The place where the life of the Messiah would culminate was in "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it" (Luke 13:34 and Matthew 23:37 which continue with Jesus saying,) "How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"

Jerusalem also plays a crucial role in the final showdowns of Revelation, and even more important, Jerusalem is the Revelation 21 intersecting point for "1 a new heaven and a new earth." As John recorded, "2 [Then] I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them."

That's why the Psalmist cries, "7 The source of my life is in Jerusalem." It's not because God loves people more or less based on their proximity to this hillside town, it's that they were hungry for a point of intersection -- like Jerusalem -- with God. We want to claim the promise that "God himself will be with them ... indeed, with us.

Just as I look for points of intersection where I can feel the earthly ties of family like I once experienced them on my grandfather's farm. We are invited to look for points of intersection with God -- maybe even daily points of intersection. Fortunately, we don't have to go looking for distant city or a blessed patch of earthly ground. Jesus tells us -- Matthew 18:20 -- that wherever two or three are gathered in his name he is there among us.

Gathering in Jesus' name -- small groups, worship, prayers with a spouse or a friend -- that's holy ground.

Jesus, I give you thanks
for those Jerusalem moments in my life.
The times where I have gathered with others
in your name, and known your presence.
Draw me closer to those who love you
and in so doing, draw me closer to you.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Psalm 86

"I tend to work the nightshift." Those were the words of a man who said he stayed awake too many nights worrying. Those long nights, he said, were his laboratory. It was there he learned to trust all things to God.

Tonight, I too am working the nightshift. Five feet away is my wife who is peacefully asleep. Surgery for her went well today.

Therefore, the nightshift tonight (4:39am) is not worrying ... but thankgiving!

"10 [O Lord,] you are great and perform great miracles ... 12 With all my heart I will praise you ... I will give glory to your name forever."

That's the thanksgiving report from today's nightshift! Thank God for his graciousness. Thank YOU, dear friends in Christ, for your prayers ... and hugs ... and cards ... and flowers ... and food ... and heartfelt offers of support. And thanks be to God for the care of our surgeon. Yes, this night, the report is thanksgiving.

But tomorrow might be different, mightn't it?

Tomorrow, the pain medication may wear off and a new dose of reality may set it. Next month chemo may exact a steeper toll than even a surgery. Instead of "Thank you, Lord!" what can you imagine us crying on other nights?

+ 1 Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need your help.

+ 2 Protect me, for I am devoted to you.

+ 3 Be merciful, O Lord, for I am calling on you constantly.

+ 4 Give me happiness, O Lord, for my life depends on you.

+ 6 Listen closely to my prayer, O LORD; hear my urgent cry.

+ 16 Look down and have mercy on me. Give strength to your servant ...

+ 17 Send me a sign of your favor ... O Lord, help and comfort me.

Throughout the Psalms, King David constantly oscilates between hope and fear ... trust and doubt ... pleading and thanksgiving. A directory of human emotions plays out on every page of the Psalms -- just like it plays out on every page of our lives. Today, for my family, the morning's concern has given way to this evening's thanksgiving. Tomorrow, our thanksgiving may just as likely give way to a new round of concerns.

And suddenly, I'm truly beginning to understand the full weight of Jesus words, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today" (Matthew 6:34).

In fact, suddenly, I'm beginning to understand the full meaning of the verse right before that too: "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).

When God is sought and when God is first ...

hope is mingled in with our fears ...
joy is sprinkled alongside our tears ...
love is stirred into our lonliness ...
healing battles earthly illness ...
light conquers darkness ...
forgiveness defeats sin ...
and life doesn't have to be
the sum of our worries.
Thank you God for the healing of today.
Please continue to pour upon us
hope and joy, healing and light.
And thank you, Lord, for dear friends in faith
to walk this journey with.