Saturday, April 30, 2011

April 30 - Psalm 68:5-6

Father to the fatherless ...
God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free
and gives them joy.
Psalm 68:5-6
On Easter, I shared with the congregation that I believe that too many people -- maybe 90+% of us -- a having a major identity crisis. A handful of us are too proud, self-centered, and arrogant. But more of us are worried, fearful, insecure, beaten-down, discouraged, guilt-ridden, discouraged, depressed, and betrayed. Either way -- too sure or too unsure of ourselves -- too many of us have a major identity crisis. Indeed, what's the phrase that strikes you?
My heart is attuned to this again because I've already been working today with a friend who needs the truth of today's verse. Look at the key words. This individual is lonely and imprisoned. Family is a touchy subject -- a source of deep scars. And freedom and joy seem absolutely allusive.
The key to our identity is that God is our Father -- indeed, Father to the fatherless. Notice the capitalization. God is the uppercase ideal, while all earthly fathers -- even the good ones -- sin and fall short. God is the one who will never hurt, betray, abandon, or abuse. He loves, guides, forgives, and blesses.
And because our heavenly papa is also the king, he also gives us the kingdom and authority and power and privilege. God wants to bless you and me, but when we let the earth ... and our past ... and our shortcomings ... and lies ... and pride ... and depression define us, we'll never achieve the blessings assured in this Psalm -- freedom and joy.
To what degree is your heart bound by any of these negative words? The uppercase, always gracious Father wants to unleash your true identity -- child of God -- and give you the kingdom of joy.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wears a big S on his chest 
(my true identity is son of god) 

Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29 - 2 Samuel 6:16

as the Ark of the Lord entered the City of David,
Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window.
When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord,
she was filled with contempt for [her husband]
2 Samuel 6:16
I love watching teenagers. 
Indeed, I delight in seeing how frequently they are embarrassed by their parents! Their reactions are probably a lot Michal's when her husband David danced into town -- embarrassment, horror, and even "contempt."
But what I love more than watching red-faced teens is watching confident parents!
They know that their teens are appalled, but they are confident enough in who they are that they joyfully refuse to be cowed by their son or daughter's misplaced coolness. In other words, I love watching parents who are a lot like an exhuberant David!
Do you remember the song based on this passage. It sings, "When the Spirit of Lord moves in my heart, I'll dance, like David danced"?
"O Lord, may I be so exhuberant about my joy in your presence, that I never care about what others -- including teens -- think about my expressions of faith."
In Christ's Love,
a guy who needs
a plaid shirt and a bandana
(get it? I'm an old square
who needs to learn to do
a more public dance of faith)

April 28 - 2 Samuel 6:6-7

the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand
and steadied the Ark of God.
Then the Lord's anger was aroused against Uzzah,
and God struck him down because of this
2 Samuel 6:6-7
Stange story, huh?
The oxen stumbled. The Ark teetered. Most people assume that Uzzah did a noble thing (catch the Ark) and that God did a callous thing (struck Uzzah down). No wonder people think that "the God of the Old Testament" is heartless, huh?
But our question should be, Why do we so callously ignore God's holiness?
Do you remember the old Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer stop-animation film? Do you remember the Abominable Snow Man? For 95% of the movie, this monster was fierce, fanged, and independent ... but as we are told at the end, the poor fellow just had a toothache. Now "the Bumble" was the friendly giant who put the star on top of the Christmas tree.
That's how David and his people (and too many of us) treat God.
On top of the Ark of the Covenant was God's mercy seat. God said, until you build a temple, I will meet with you here. When the Ark moved, the blessing was that God and His presence moved with them. Therefore, God made it abundantly clear to Israel how to treat the Ark -- and his presence. But David and his crew, including Uzzah, treated God as if he were the toothless Bumble being paraded into town. Essentially, the humans were the victors, and God was their big furry protector.
No! Holiness!
God in his grace was pleased to dwell with his people! He showed that grace again when the Son of God came in person to dwell with us in flesh! However, in both stories, humanity treated the presence of God with flagrant irreverence. The message of this story is that we must never forget our place ...
  • God is creator. We are clay.
  • He is holy. We are human.
  • He is awesome. We need to fall down in worship.
  • He is eternal. We are mortal.
  • He is God. We are not.
As Mr. Beaver said to Lucy about the Lion, Aslan -- the Christ Figure -- in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, "He is not a tame lion ... but he is good."
In Christ's Love,
a guy who doesn't want to try
to turn a lion into a house cat
(in the long run, it won't be good for either of us)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April 27 - Psalm 78:1-8

O my people ... open your ears to what I am saying ...
for ... I will teach you hidden lessons from our past
stories we have heard and know,
stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children
but will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord ... 
so the next generation might know them ...
So each generation can set its hope anew on God ...
Then they will not be like their ancestors --
stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful,
refusing to give their hearts to God.
Psalm 78:1-8
Do you know the two most famous cliches about history?
  1. The victors get to write the history.
  2. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
Psalm 78 tells the history of God's people, Israel.
Obviously, God is the victor. But why do I say that? Because history is written from the perspective of our Lord's long-suffering victory and grace: "32 Despite [God's] wonders ... the people kept sinning ... 40 they rebelled against him ...  41 they tested God's patience ... 19 they even spoke against God himself." 
Yes, God is the victor. But the Psalmist wants us to be victorious too! Therefore, he offers us two simple paths to strength:
  1. This whole Psalm is a list of mistakes that we are advised to never repeat -- i.e. Repeatable history doesn't have to doom our future.
  2. We will be victors who get to write the next pages of history if and when we teach our children the truths about God. Therefore, as the Psalmist says, "4 [Do] not hide these truths from our children ... 7 so that each generation can set its hope anew on God."
In Christ's Love,
a guy who intentionally spends a lot time
with the next generation
(... because that's how to change the future)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April 26 - 2 Samuel 2:1

After this, David asked the Lord,
"Should I move back to one of the towns of Judah?"
"Yes," the Lord replied.
2 Samuel 2:1
The first few chapters of 2 Samuel are full of political intrigue. Who would succeed Saul?
  • Normal rights of succession, of course, went to Saul's son, Ishbosheth.
  • Ishbosheth's cause was furthered when an army general, Abner, lent him his muscle. 
  • The succession was cemented when a segment of the population -- the northern tribes, called Israel -- choose to support Ishbosheth. 
This line succession sounds normal and natural, right?
Well, lines of human power are always complicated. Pride, arrogance, and sin almost always enter in.
  • Ishbosheth, for example, offended his general.
  • Therefore, General Abner gave his alliegence to other side -- King David who was reigning down in Judah.
  • There were battles and bloodshed.
  • Abner died.
  • Ishbosheth "4:1 lost all courage and all Israel became paralyzed with fear."
  • Two men murdered Ishbosheth, thinking David would reward them. 
  • But their murdering was repaid with their own death. 
  • Finally, a chaotic Israel bowed to David, and ultimately the kingdom was united under David as king.
Yes, the lines of human power are always complicated.
Let me say that more simply, human ways are always complicated.
And here's the one, holy, and only wise solution: Be like David. Everyone else operated on their own desires and assumptions. David -- from our very first verse in today's reading -- "asked the Lord" and listen for God's "repl[y]."
When we do things on our own, we'll get inconsistent results at best. It's better to wait on the Lord.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to keep
first things first
(in this case, the first verse first)

Monday, April 25, 2011

April 25 - 1 Samuel 28:7-8

[Saul's] advisers replied,
"There is a medium at Endor."
So Saul disguised himself by wearing
ordinary clothing instead of his royal robes.
Then he went to the woman's home at night,
accompanied by two of his men.
"I have to talk to a man who has died," he said.
"Will you call up his spirit for me?"
1 Samuel 28:7-8
Most Christians aren't sure what to do with the supernatural.
We know that earth is real. We trust that heaven is real. And most of us are inclined to take Jesus and the scriptures at their word -- that the demonic is real too. But what about ghosts and witchcraft and seances and the like?
First, there is definitely evil and trickery. Indeed, if we can acknowledge that Satan and the demonic exist, then we shouldn't be surprised that some "mediums" can communicate with dark forces. 
With this in mind, "mediums" -- through a network of evil spirits -- could legitimately appear clairvoyant. The cosmic forces of this present darkness -- including Satan -- are not omnipresent or omniscient (simultaneously dwelling all places and knowing all things); however, because the demonic is part of a world-wide-web of evil in the spiritual realms ... and since this sinister network has paid attention to more information than a human could not have been party too ... they could conceivable seem clairvoyant.
But make no mistake, IF this is real, it is absolutely messing with evil.
For Saul, God made one, strange, odd, weird exception to his strict no-seances rule. He allowed the medium of Endor to "call back" Samuel. Notice, however, the witch's shriek. Something different happened than she was accustomed to in her normal dark dabblings. God literally dropped the veil between heaven and earth and showed her (and Saul) the prophet Samuel. And notice that the results of God's intervention here weren't favorable! Total defeat was forecast.
Here, therefore, are today's spiritual principals: Don't dabble with darkness. Whether God or his dark imposter shows up, it always ends in total defeat. (Indeed, Saul died just a chapter or two later.)
In Christ's Love,
a guy who refuses
to be paralyzed
by the paranormal

Sunday, April 24, 2011

April 24 - Psalm 69:1, 3

Christ is Risen!
Save me, O God ...
My eyes are swollen with weeping,
waiting for my God to help me
Psalm 69:1,3
"20:1 Early on the first day of the week," recounts the Gospel of John, "Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed ... 11 As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb ..."
Have you ever had a "Save me, O God" moment? Have your "eyes [ever been] swollen with weeping"? Before Mary ever reached the tomb, she was probably "waiting for [her] God to help [her]."
  • And then the unexpected happened -- the grave stone was rolled away (v 1).
  • And then the unexpected happened again -- two angels were sitting where the body of Jesus should have been (v 12). 
  • And then the unexpected happened one more time -- Mary had an encounter with the risen Lord! (v 16)
How good are you when the unexpected happens? Are you light on your feet, go with the flow? Or does the unexpected wreak havoc with your preferred sense of order?
Here's the point: Whichever you normally are, I'll bet you're worse at adapting when you're under stress ... and Mary Magdalene was definitely under stress! Her Lord, Savior, and friend had just died (major grief) ... her "eyes [we]re swollen with weeping" ... she "waiting for [her] God to help [her]" ... now the unexplainable was erupting all around her.
A funny thing happens when we pray for the Lord to help us. We ask for the unexpected to happen -- a supernatural healing, for example, when illness is the worldly fact. But do we really expect to receive a supernatural answer?
I'll bet that a million more prayers are answered than we ever realize! We expect an answer in the form we expect, but we pass God's grace by because sometimes God answers in glorious and unexpected ways. 
Mary Magdalene, for example, would have been content with an answer of a little more hope on a very sad day. But the unexpected happened -- Jesus rose from the dead! And guess what ... She nearly passed him by, thinking he was the gardener.
Here's the point: Pray ... Pray ... Pray, pray, pray. Pray: "God save me." And start watching for the unexpected. The solution may not come in the form we expected, but the Power who raised Christ from the dead can answer you in powerful and surprising ways too.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to be
surprised by Easter!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 23 - 1 Samuel 27:12

Achish [the Philistine king] thought to himself,
"By now the people of Israel must hate [David] bitterly.
Now he will have to stay here and serve me forever."
1 Samuel 27:12
Tired of being pursued by Saul, David sought refuge among the Philistines. The foreign king, Achish, gave the city of Ziklag to David as his home. And David kept running raids into Israelite territory.
Yes, the Israelites -- especially Saul -- were probably frustrated indeed. But Achish leapt to a wrong conclusion. And like yesterday, it was a math error. 1+ 1 + 1 did not equal 3. Yes, David was among the Philistines (1). Yes, the Hebrews were frustrated with David (another 1). But no ... David would not serve an earthly king. David's formula was 1 + 1 + infinity equals ... the King that David would serve forever is eternal.
At the end of the book of Joshua -- 24:15 -- Joshua gives us some words of advice to all people that sound a lot like the choice that David would make: "Choose this day whom you will serve."
David would never serve a temporary king eternally. How about you? Will you serve temporary priorities that lead to their own eternity? Or will you be like Joshua -- still 24:15 -- proclaiming, "As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's house regularly serves the Lord
(our front door is open regularly to Bibles and studies
and all those people and their faith bless us)

Friday, April 22, 2011

April 22 - 1 Samuel 26:9

NOTE: I was working on these a week ahead.
And I didn't even think about Apr 22 being Good Friday.
How appropriate a verse for God to choose ...
"No!" David said. "Don't kill him.
For who can remain innocent after
attacking the LORD's anointed one?"
1 Samuel 26:9
Temptations are alluring.
And revenge is sweet.
David had opportunities for both in 1 Samuel 26. His murderous pursuer had fallen helplessly into David's hands. David could have killed the poisonous King Saul. And he could have easily justified it -- "I don't believe there are any coincidences. Therefore, the only way these circumstances could have possibly occurred was God's miraculous intervention. Therefore, God has handed Saul into my hands. Therefore, I can kill him and end Saul obscene jealosy and murderous pursuit."
That would have been easy. Indeed, that's what David's comrades were encouraging him to do.
But sometimes 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 don't equal 5. Sometimes when God arranges an encounter, we must not be too quick to assume God's purpose for the "coincidence."
David's men leapt to the wrong conclusion: Kill Saul! But they should have been spiritually wise enough to know that two wrongs don't make a right.
David listened for God's deeper intent. While the temptation was surely alluring and while the revenge might have been momentarily sweet, David followed two higher callings: 
When God wants Saul dead, "10 surely the Lord will strike Saul down ... or he will die of old age or in battle." (In other words, I as a human do not decide life or death.)
David's second calling was this: "11 The Lord forbid that I should kill the one [God] has annointed." We may not always like our leaders, but there must be a limit to our anger, temptations, and revenge. Indeed, even gossip is a form of killing.
Today is Good Friday: "The Lord forbid that I should kill the one [God] has annointed."
In Christ's Love,
a guy who needs to
keep rechecking his math
(especilly if I start assigning the value of X
as "that means I can kill" ... or lie ... or cheat ...
or gossip ... or steal ... as David's men wanted to do)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 21 - 1 Samuel 25:17

Nabal's servants said to Abigail,
"You need to ... figure out what to do,
for there is going to be trouble ...
[Your husband / our master] is so ill-tempered
that no one can even talk to him."
1 Samuel 25:17
One time, David's men had provided a service for Nabal's shepherds -- "16 day and night they were like a wall of protection for [them] and the[ir] sheep." David, in turn, had humbly requested a kindness in response, "8 Please share any provisions you might have on hand with us."
But Nabal was ill-tempered. Indeed, he was so hard-headed and prideful "that no one c[ould] talk to him." Therefore, this wealthy cad "sneered" at David and his request.
And that's where Abigail comes in. In the days of arranged marriages, Abigail got the short end of the stick. While Nabal was "3 crude and mean," Abigail was "3 sensible and beautiful." She interceded on behalf of her husband, forestalled David's anger, and won both peace and a blessing from the servant of the Lord.
Now, I could easily talk about several things ...
  • Learn the beatitude: Blessed are the peace-makers (see the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5).
  • Grab hold of the intended blessing of marriage -- that together we're stronger, making up for the shortcomings of one another.
  • Show hospitality -- what does scripture say about entertaining angels unaware? (Heb 13:2)
  • Be willing to turn from your pride and anger -- that's what Abigail's kindness got David to do.  
  • And maybe the most important piece of advice is ... Don't be like Nabal! Don't be so hard-headed and so hard-hearted that "no one can even talk to you." Listen. Be humble.
By the way, there's one more reason not to be like Nabal ... When Abigail returned home, Nabal, proud over rebuffing David, was celebrating like a drunken pig. (It almost says just that in verse 36). And when Abigail told him what she'd done, the bloated fool had a stroke and soon died.
The moral of the story is: Don't be so hard-headed that your brain explodes and your beautiful, sensible wife marries the future king -- as Abigail did with David.
In Christ's Love,
Abigail's husband
(a guy who's thankful to be married
to one who's "sensible and beautiful,"
and has rescued me from many troubles)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 20 - Psalm 7:3, 5, 6

O Lord my God ... if there is wrong in my hands ... 
then let the enemy pursue and overtake me
Psalm 7:3,5
Awake, O my God
lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies
Psalm 7:6
David is being chased again.
And even though these two petitions are right next to each other in the Psalm, I separated them for a reason.
Whenever we're being chased, pressed, stressed, challenged ... whenever we worry and fear ... whenever perceived circumstances or real people seem aligned against us ... we're quite willing and ready to cry -- verse 6 -- "Wake up, God! Aren't you paying attention. I'm suffering down here. Lift your finger and bind the fury that's causing me worry" (my translation from personal experience). 
But how many of us -- when the storm is pounding us with thunder, hail, and lightning -- stop and pray David's first words first?!
David's first words are not "rescue me," but "search me." He admits that he's right to be oppressed if he is sinful in any way. A sin of lust, for example, might not justify a king chasing him because of jealousy. Nevertheless, David is admitting that sometimes we need to be chased for something, and our trials ought to cause us to stop and evaluate every corner of our life, come clean, and only then ask for help with trials related or unrelated.
In other words, our lives are interconnected. We can't sin in one area and expect blessing in all other areas. Sin is sin and it's effects ripple in ways we don't want to imagine.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's canoe has been shaken
by ripples in another area of the pond

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 19 - Psalm 22:1

My God, my God!
Why have you forsaken me?
Psalm 22:1
Today's Psalm -- at least in the Bible in a Year reading -- is paired with David's flight from a murderous king. Indeed, in today's story, David, who surely felt forsaken, could have stopped the persecution. In this case, he could have killed Saul when the king stepped into David's cave of hiding to literally "relieve himself." But David understood right from wrong and God's will instead of human expedience. Saul lived, and David continued to suffer.
Today we are in the midst of Holy Week, pointing passionately toward a dark Friday when Jesus cried out, "Psalm 22, My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?" Like David, Jesus could have stopped the persecution; he could have called down angels to guard him. But Jesus, like David, understood right from wrong and God's will instead of human expedience. On that dark Friday, evil laughed, and Jesus continued to suffer.
In the midst of this holy week, let us pray today pieces of Psalm 22, remembering both David and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ ...
1 My God, my God!
Why have you forsaken me?
Why do you remain so distant?
Why do you ignore my cries for help?
2 Every day I call to you, my God,
but you do not answer. ...
3 Yet you are holy.
The praises of Israel surround your throne.
4 Our ancestors trusted in you,
and you rescued them.
5 ... They put their trust in you
and were never disappointed.
6 I am a worm and not a man.
I am scorned and despised by all!
7 Everyone who sees me mocks me.
They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
8 "Is this the one who relies on the LORD?
Then let the LORD save him!
If the LORD loves him so much,
let the LORD rescue him!"
9 Yet you brought me safely from my mother's womb
and led me to trust you when I was a nursing infant.
10 ... You have been my God from the moment I was born.
11 Do not stay so far from me, for trouble is near,
and no one else can help me.
12 My enemies surround me like a herd of bulls ... 
13 Like roaring lions attacking their prey ...
14 My life is poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart is like wax, melting within me.
15 My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay.
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.
16 My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; ... 
They have pierced my hands and feet.
17 I can count every bone in my body.
My enemies stare at me and gloat.
18 They divide my clothes among themselves
and throw dice for my garments.
19 O LORD, do not stay away!
You are my strength; come quickly to my aid! ...
22 Then I will declare the wonder of your name ...
I will praise you among all your people.
28 For the LORD is king!
31 His righteous acts will be told to those yet unborn.
They will hear about everything he has done.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who marvels at prophecy
... 1000 years before the cross
a haunting and accurate prefiguring

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 18 - Psalm 52:1-3

For the choir director: A psalm of David,
regarding the time Doeg the Edomite told Saul
that Ahimelech had given refuge to David.
You call yourself a hero, do you?
You love evil more than good
and lies more than truth.
Psalm 52:1-3
In my discipleship group, we follow a simple pattern to discover God's presence in the midst of our daily circumstances. We ...
  1. Observe (Me)
  2. Reflect (Me + God ... through prayer)
  3. Discuss (Me + God + Faithful Others)
  4. Plan (Me + God + Others + Me Again)
  5. Accountability (Me + God + Others + Me + Others Again)
  6. Act (Me + God + Others + Me + Others + God ... indeed action with God's power)
Makes sense, right? But here's the problem. I'm busy. So are you. Therefore how many of us simplify our decision making process to ...
  1. Observe (Me)
  2. Act (Me + Me)
Now, I'm a pretty faithful guy. I know pretty well God's revelation (his Word), our Lord's purposes (love God and neighbor), Biblical wisdom (general principals for faithful living). But when I'm in a hurry, I go on auto-pilot. I rely on past encounters with God to guide my present ... rather than seeking the fresh bread of a fresh revelation. (Indeed, I settle for the week-old bread from past encounters. Ever done that?)
That's the sad story of Ahimelech. He knew two things: First, he knew that helping the poor and hungry was godly and noble; therefore, Ahimelech helped David when David came to him in a time of trial. (Indeed, Ahimelech gave David bread.) Ahimelech also knew David's prominence in the court of King Saul; therefore, Ahimelech acted in a politically wise and expedient way by helping David. In other words, Ahimelech acted on autopilot. He observed and acted without reflecting with God and others.
And catastrophe struck. David was a wanted man, and Saul -- by the sword of Doeg the Edomite -- killed Ahimelech and eighty-five other priests.
Now, I don't want to pin that all on Ahimelech!!! Saul and Doeg were the evil ones with blood on their hands. And even David deceived Ahimelech by lying about why he was there. But the priest -- and you and me -- should not have gone so much on autopilot. We should all pause long enough to check for a fresh revelation -- a revelation as warm and wonderful as fresh bread.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who loves fresh bread
(so why don't I always stop to
look for a fresh revelation)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

April 17 - Psalm 59:1, 17, 16

For the choir director: A psalm of David,
regarding the time Saul sent soldiers
to watch David's house in order to kill him.
To be sung to the tune "Do Not Destroy!"

Rescue me from my enemies, O God.
Protect me from those
who have come to destroy me ...
for you, O God, are my refuge,
the God who shows me unfailing love.
[Therefore,] I will sing about your power.
I will shout with joy each morning
because of your unfailing love.

Psalm 59:1,17,16
Whenever I quickly tell the story 1 Samuel, I tell in great detail the story Eli, Samuel, and Saul. And I tell in great detail how all of this pointed to young David's annointing and defeat of Goliath. It's a long and delicious tale.
But then I generally do an injustice to the end of the story. I usually brush it off with two quick sentences: "After David defeated Goliath, Israel gave young David -- rather than King Saul -- credit for delivering them. Saul got jealous and spent the rest of 1 Samuel chasing David all over the Middle East.
The chase starts in earnest today -- 1 Samuel 21. But what I want to focus on is not the chase, but David's heart during the pursuit. And over and over again, the Psalms tell the story of David's heart. These are prayers written by the once and future king.
If you're like me, your tendency will be to skip over the "footnote" at the beginning of the Psalm. Don't! Make this a part of your reading. And then apply his circumstances to your life and your prayers.
For example, what are you feeling chased by and what are you hiding from? Try adding these words to your daily petitions: "You, O God, are my refuge."
In Christ's Love,
a refugee
who's found his place in him