"Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins." James 5:20
Confrontation, or conflict resolution, is a normal and necessary part of life. It's certainly not easy, but it's absolutely necessary if we are to help our brothers and sisters stay out of dangerous or potentially harmful situations. Think about it: if no one ever loved you enough to tell you the honest truth, what sort of person would any of us be? We are all flawed and frail. We all have blind spots, so part of the role of the body is to "turn us from the error of our way." 1 Samuel 25 provides a wonderful illustration of the right way to handle it. Abagail confronted David, and she did it in a way that kept him from a terrible problem. How? She led with honor and affirmation. Whenever we confront another, we begin with affirmation and signs of respect. Second, she came in humility. We don't come with anger or pride, but in humble awareness of our OWN sin. Only then can we confront another in ways that can be heard. Third, she spoke truth – not embellished or understated - but facts. Speak the truth in love. Finally, she did it under God's spiritual direction. She was convicted – led by God – to go to David. We're not called to confront everything, but we are called to go where God leads us – to be HIs instrument in the lives of others, thus we do so only when such a decision has been bathed in prayer. Agabail was aware that David was God's anointed King, so she set aside her own reservations and courageously said what needed to be said. She saved the day! As we face the inevitable conflicts in life, let's do so in ways that honor and glorify God.
"After that, he appeared to more than five hundred at the same time, most of whom are still living...then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and then to me..." 1 Corinthians 15:6
- As we continue in the season of Easter, I have thought much about the resurrection appearances of Jesus and the fact that many who saw Him were still living even as Paul wrote. Had he been making it up or telling it incorrectly, there would have been any number of people to refute what he was saying, but we have no such account. After He appeared to the apostles, they went from hiding in fear to boldly proclaiming Jesus raised from the dead. His appearance is the only thing that can explain the radical change in their behavior. There are many other such proofs and together they have formed the foundational elements of my faith in Christ. I find it somewhat amazing that so many people choose to ignore such evidence in favor of a cultural approach, one that serves self above all else. Regardless, when that evidence seeps in, transformation occurs. Easter makes even in the most hardened pause - and think. Easter changes us. Easter changes our perspective on our current circumstance as well as our future hope. Easter changes our purpose and our perspective. Easter alleviates our fears and multiplies our peace. Look at it. Reflect on it. Be changed by it. Live as Easter people!
"And Jesus appointed twelve that they might be with him and that He might send them out..." Mark 3:14
- We live in an entertainment-driven, entertainment-saturated culture, and that influence bleeds over into our experience of church and worship. We come to worship thinking we're an audience, but that is not at all what's true – or what God wants. God doesn't want His people to be an audience, but an army. We are called into worship to be in His presence so as to reorient our lives towards who He is and what He wants, but then we go out into the world as agents and builders of His kingdom. We go to fight the battle knowing that the war has been won. As Jesus did in Mark 3, we are called to be with Him, that He might SEND US OUT. This is where the Church – our church – must move away from the consumer mindset, seeing the church as only a place to consume what is wanted or needed, but instead as a place where we are nurtured and equipped to go build God's Kingdom wherever we may find ourselves. Don't fall into the trap of being an audience or you'll miss the joy of what it means to truly be a disciple of Jesus. Come in – be with Him – but then realize you're being sent to fight the battles and contend with the enemy in this world.
"None is righteous, no not one..." Romans 3:10
- WE'RE THE NAKED GUY. That's right. In Mark 14:51, an unidentified young man is grabbed by the mob that had come to arrest Jesus, and it says "He fled naked." Ran right out of his clothes. Why is that in the Bible? The man is a symbol – for ALL of us. We are exposed, naked in our sin before God which is why, deep down, we fear being "found out." We know there's something wrong, so we hide. We cover. It started with Adam and Eve. In their shame before God, they realized they were naked and so covered themselves. It was an external response to an internal reality. We fear that if others knew our flaws and imperfections, they wouldn't love or accept us, so we cover. Thus, the only way to find freedom is to stop pretending – stop the carefully crafted social media images - and admit it. Accept it. I'm not saying shout your troubles from the rooftops, but be real. Be authentic with others. Once you can live into and accept your own brokenness, it's amazingly freeing. You no longer have the burden of keeping the secret because people already know! If we can't do that, then like the naked guy, we'll flee from the only One who has what we need. We all do it. We run for safety when the cost gets too high. We want to follow Jesus, but only at a safe distance - one that won't cost us too much. We just don't trust that Jesus really is sufficient - able - to be Lord of our lives, but the reality is the entire Biblical story is about being clothed. God is constantly putting coverings on us – clothing us – from Genesis when He clothed Adam and Eve, to Revelation 21 when the Church is "adorned" as a bride. That's what a wedding dress is: the covering of the righteousness of Christ. Thus, God sees us the way grooms see their brides – He sees our beauty – our wholeness. It is the grand exchange made possible in this Holy Week. By his death and resurrection, He gets our ashes, and we get His beauty. Yes, we have a big problem, and we fear it's exposure. The good news is that our messy hearts have been redeemed – covered – in the gracious love of Christ.
"You shall have no other gods before me." Exodus 20:2
- John Calvin once wrote, "People are perpetual idol factories..." There is something in us, in spite of God's gracious care, that leads us to falsely think that the things of this world can somehow give us life in ways that God cannot. I struggle with it. You do, and Israel certainly did in Joshua 24. As they entered the Promised Land, God called them to "throw away the false gods of your forefathers...and serve the Lord." He then implored them to choose. "Choose this day whom you will serve..." Honestly, isn't that an obvious choice? If God is who He says He is if He has redeemed us in Christ by His death and resurrection, if He is King and Lord of all, then there should be no hesitation in our choice. Even so, like the Israelites, we slowly blend our lives into the values, beliefs, and morals of the surrounding culture. It's called syncretism, and sadly in the church, we see it happening all around us. We are more and more shaped by the voices of our times, our cultural gods, rather than the voice of He who is Lord of all. Thankfully, Joshua leads us to the answer: a renewal of our covenant vow. It takes four things: You re-engage the body, you invest in and receive the Word of God, you repent and recommit your life to God, and then you do something which reflects that commitment. If in your personal reflection, you find yourself swayed by our culture more than you were aware, then take those steps. Make a decision. CHOOSE THIS DAY WHOM YOU WILL SERVE. Joshua made his declaration as a part of minority culture, but he still had the courage to live as God had called him. We are once again minority culture, so I pray God will give us that same courage.
"For the Lord, your God is bringing you into a good land..." Deuteronomy 8:7
- It's more spiritually challenging to live in times of blessing and goodness than it is to live in the wilderness. In the wilderness, you know you need God. You know you're not in control. You know you need help, but when things are good, what happens? We have a tendency to forget God. Deuteronomy 8 is God's reminder to the Israelites - and to us - to REMEMBER what we've learned because He's bringing us "into a good land" - He wants us to be ready to live faithfully in times of BLESSING. I don't know about you, but sometimes in spite of all I know, I forget God, forget who I am, and become someone I hardly recognize. It happens to all of us, but it's especially true in times of ease or blessing. So, how can we avoid forgetting Him in those seasons? We have to remember His commands, and I don't know that we forget them so much as ignore them. We tune Him out. Maturity is remembering what God says and acting accordingly. We also need to remember our salvation history. Remember what God has done to redeem us. And we need to remember the lessons of the wilderness. God teaches us there - humbles us - shows us how much we need to depend on Him. He tells us to remember all that so we can live faithfully in times of plenty. He says, "when you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord…" We avoid spiritual amnesia in the good times by practicing spiritual disciplines – praising God (worship), prayer, community, service. They remind us and keep us grounded. If not, we start thinking we've created all the goodness. Sure we did! Remember the things of God so you can do happiness well.
“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. He goes on ahead of them and they follow him because they know his voice. They will never follow a stranger because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." John 10:3, 5
- As finite, limited people it is hard for us to comprehend things that are infinite. We want proof. In spite of God's revelations to us, the evidence of His grace and provision through Christ, we tend to forget – and instead want more proof. The Israelites were in the same situation in Numbers 11 – complaining, wanting proof, even pining for their old life in bondage. In spite of ALL the evidence from their redemption out of Egypt, it was not enough. "We're tired of manna. We want meat." Finally, God asked, "is my arm too short?" In other words, "Do you think I have been rendered powerless?" He then answers their prayer by sending enough quail to feed 600,000 people with the leftovers rotting on the ground as their punishment for lack of faith. Why did they somehow think God unable to meet their needs? Numbers 11:4 makes it pretty obvious. They listened to the "rabble", the non-Jews who existed on the edges of their community. They complained about the food and it spread like a virus. Who are we listening to? As John reminds us, are we listening to the Shepherd's voice, or are we lured by the countless voices of strangers making noise in our ears? When it's the latter, we start to yearn for past bondage. We won't risk that step of faith to move towards what gives us life but remain in our own chains, the very things which lead to death. So, what will we do? HIs arm is not too short. It can reach into any circumstance, any situation, even those which appear to be insurmountable. Step out. Risk faith. Follow the path of Life.
"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God…" Matthew 6:33
- You learn early on in life that the best things – the most important things – are the first things. You block time on your calendar FIRST for the most important things. You budget the priority of your money FIRST for the most important things. You don't go to a sale on the third day. You go on the first day, because the best things are out first. This challenges us to our core when we realize how it plays into our relationship with God. In our hyper-individualized culture, we have learned to put ourselves first. We work hard to build our own kingdom, but when we come to know Christ, we are called to lay that down in favor of HIs Kingdom. We become part of something larger than ourselves. We want what HE wants. Leviticus 23:9 reminds us that this applies to our generosity or lack thereof. We are called to bring God our "firstfruits" – the very first of what He provides for us - as a sign of our trust and thanks. The Hebrew word means literally "choicest, finest." When we do, He tells us that it will bring us "near to Him" while helping us maintain an attitude of thanksgiving. It makes sense. When our Creator commands that we give Him the firstfruits of our income – the very best tithe – then we become more deeply engaged in His Kingdom – and thus much closer to the One who is Savior and Lord. So as we gaze upon the buffet of God's blessings bestowed on us, where is He in the line? Do we serve Him first, honoring Him as we do, or is He the one left with the remnants – the dregs – the last fruits? And is that the message we want to send?
- This also has deep implications for how we understand the dynamics surrounding the Parkland, FL shooting last week. We grieve. We mourn. We pray. We seek God first. I have seen people diminish the phrase "our thoughts and prayers" as if it has no meaning. We can't say, "Well, we prayed after each tragedy and they are still happening, so prayer doesn't work." You can't hold God to promises He never made. He never said that if we believed in Him, there would be a protective bubble around us. He DID say "in this world you WILL have trouble." How can we not? It's filled with evil that still reigns, but that's precisely why Christ came. He came so that the pain and grief we experience now would never be the final word. He came to defeat sin and evil by HIs cross and resurrection, and we wait for the full consummation of that victory. Between now and then, we gain strength in his promised presence, the presence we experience through prayer. #GodFirst #prayfirst
- MY RESPONSE: I have had a significant number of people ask me to "speak out" or "say something" about this latest tragedy. I shared an initial post late last week, but here's the reality: each time such a tragedy occurs, our nation appropriately cries out for action in the wake of agony. Some say "gun control!" Some say "mental health!" Some say "better FBI/law enforcement!" All of that is true. We can't expect there is one solution. We desperately need sensible gun control laws that allow people the right to bear arms, but not arms designed for terror. No one needs an assault rifle. Naturally, people respond with "It's my right!" True, but let's go back to #1. When we enter God's Kingdom by faith, we are not merely living for ourselves any more. Individualism dies, and we now live for a greater good. We grow to want what God wants. We become willing to lay down our wants and desires for the greater good of the lives of others. So, maybe we don't get to shoot an assault rifle for fun. If that means that bad guys won't get them, then I'm willing to lay that down because there is a larger value at work: the value of ALL LIFE. Thus, I yield to His larger Kingdom purpose to protect life wherever I can.
- WHILE THAT IS TRUE, we can't act as if gun control is a panacea. It's not. If we enacted it tomorrow, it would still take years to get the 350 million guns currently in circulation off the streets. So, yes, start there, but at the SAME TIME, let's work on mental health deficiencies where Florida ranks dead last in spending. We need to look hard at our society and ask why anxiety and depression rates – as well as suicides – are soaring. There is a growing hopelessness that few seem to want to acknowledge. We have more material goods than ever before, but we are more unhappy than we have ever been before. The UK has even appointed a Cabinet Secretary with the title "Minister of Happiness" to try to understand the root cause. I think you'll find the answer rooted in our lack of faith in anything beyond ourselves. If we are depending on ourselves to satisfy us in life, we will be greatly disappointed. We must find purpose and meaning in something larger than ourselves. The things that need to change to fix our culture cannot be focused on one thing. We have to look at everything. It's not either/or; it's ALL of it.
- HERE'S THE HARD PART: We have to be consistent in our outrage and the issues we champion. My heart was broken, as I am sure yours was, to see parents and teens crying out to government leaders, "Protect us! Do something! You must protect our children!" Choked by that emotion, we concur. Absolutely, we must and I pray that we will. However, if we demand that life be protected, we can't stop at school children, can we? How can our government, our political leaders, or we as individuals, have any theological integrity if we only protect some lives but look away from countless others that are being lost? We can't cherrypick which lives matter. The life of a homeless man who wanders into Lake Eola and drowns because he is drunk and can't swim is just as valuable, but we look away. The life of a paranoid schizophrenic locked in the prison of his mind is just as valuable, but we look away. We spend our state funds elsewhere and hardly anyone blinks. The lives of unborn children are just as valuable. Do we protect them? We must SPEAK OUT for all life. Once again, it's not either/or; it's all life. We have to follow where our theology leads us and stand for life wherever it may be threatened.
- OLYMPICS: I love the winter Olympics because you see sports you never get to see. Skeleton? Luge? Snowboard cross? It's GREAT, but the really good things are all on too late. Come on! Why can't they show the good things in the early time slots? CRINGEWORTHY: USA Skating must have gulped when Adam Rippon was asked what he was thinking before his performance. Answer: "I wanted a drink and a Xanax." Whoops. NORTH KOREAN CHEER SQUADS: They have been ubiquitous, but according to the NYT, the selection process for these homogenous looking women was rigorous: early 20's, exactly 5'3", from the right political family, and deeply ingrained in the NK political system. Why do we keep showing them?
- OBAMA PORTRAITS: When it comes to art, I am no expert, but I do prefer traditional and historic. Did a two-term President sitting amongst a bunch of flowers, symbolic though they might be, seem a little strange to anyone else? While I like the First Lady's portrait design, it didn't seem to look much like her.
- RESTAURANT REVIEW: Lazy Moon Pizza. Wow. Just wow.
- To all of you who asked for one of the "When I get up, all I need is a little bit of coffee and a whole lot of Jesus" coffee mugs, we're working on it!!
"This is a profound mystery… but I am talking about Christ and the Church." Eph 5:32
- The FPCO Marriage Retreat was a rich encouragement to me. The presence of God was thick in such palpable ways - a wonderful sense of community and growing relationships, heartfelt testimony, hearty laughter, and the joy of seeing couples sitting together all over the property (Mission Inn) talking through the dynamics of Christian marriage. Paul alludes to the "mystery" in the Ephesian text above when after describing the Christ-like manner in which husbands and wives are to love each other, he says that he is actually talking about Christ and the Church. Marriage, then, has a far more significant purpose. It is not merely about the happiness of a husband or wife; it is about the larger purpose for which God brought them together. As husbands and wives love each sacrificially, they bear witness to the world of the way in which Christ loved His Bride, the Church, by laying down HIs life for her. It is quite a contrast to the cultural view of marriage, one based on consumerism – not convenient. As Stanley Hauerwas wrote, "We don't fall in love and then get married; instead we get married and then learn what love requires." Love is not a feeling to be felt; it is a commitment to be kept.
- The greatest blessing of the weekend was talking to couples who had never been to church or a church event. Their view of "the church" was completely built on what they had heard or read – all negative – which created tremendous anxiety beforehand, but they came nonetheless at the invitation of friends. It was such a joy to watch that melt away in mere hours as they found community and love and grace. "We thought it would be about shame and rigid rules. We had no idea that it would be FUN and that we would find such community and warmth – and a new understanding of God.
- Furious would be a good word to describe my feelings regarding the Florida House decision to sweep $182M from an affordable housing fund and use it for other purposes. Thankfully, the Senate has it fully funded, so I am praying the House does the right thing and restores the fund. The affordable housing crisis in this state is only going to get worse, so the last thing we need to be doing is taking money away in order to serve more self-serving interests.
- One of the great movies of all time is Sandlot. If you have not seen it, give yourself a gift and watch it. It's childhood and growing up and boyhood friendships and baseball – and the fabulous scene where Squints feigns drowning in order to steal a kiss from the oh so beautiful lifeguard, Wendy Peffercorn.
- Douglas McKinnon, former Pentagon official and now a consultant on space, shared that asteroids measuring 50 to 400 feet are not detectable and could strike our planet at any time, causing catastrophic loss of life depending on location.
- THE QUESTION: After watching the last two episodes of This Is Us, and also reflecting on the many funerals I have done, there is a question that people ask in those moments. It is the question that show has made me ask as Jack's children reflected on their father's life – and it is this: What will they say of me? I'll be standing at a post-funeral reception, and people invariably will ask, "Well, when you're doing my service, what will you say about me?" As I think about my own life – and what my children would say of me – I find my answer is still the same when people ask: "Well, that story is still being written, isn't it? It's never too late to do what God is calling you to do."
- As I spoke this weekend about the nature of love: "phileo", "storge", "agape" and "eros"… it was an "aha" moment to realize that eros – erotic, physical love based on attraction - a love that asks 'what can you do for me?'… the love of our culture… is actually one that never shows up in the Bible. Only the first three are used – but not eros. If we'll take time to learn the other three, eros will happen naturally with our spouses – for we have learned the art of love that is Christlike – and true.
- What I'm reading: A Lifelong Love, Gary Thomas
- What I'm listening to: The Rest of our Life, Tim McGraw/Faith Hill
"For He will be like a refiner's fire....and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have people who will offer themselves in righteousness." Malachi 3:2–3
- Fire is a fascinating thing. It attracts us by its beauty as it dances and moves, yet it is simultaneously dangerous. We cannot get too close. Interesting, then, that God often uses fire to describe… Himself. As Moses found in Exodus 3:3 at the burning bush, God is a fire. He draws us over to look - we are attracted - while at the same time He demands we remove our sandals. Moses gave all manner of reasons why he didn't like the way God was acting, but God ultimately says, "I am who I am." In other words, "I give the orders, Moses, not you." God will be who He will be. We don't shape him according to what we want or who we think He should be. He shapes us. If God always corresponds to what we think or believe, then we are not worshipping the Fire. We are in love with a god of our own creation, a god who looks just like us. The good news is that when we encounter God as Fire, as Moses did, He always sends us out to be burning bushes - to be those who, by His presence within us, draw people over to look at the hope of Christ. Moses became a burning bush to Pharaoh. He made Egypt's ruler consider the things of God. The disciples became burning bushes in the early church even to the point of their death. And remember: we can all do this. It wasn't a burning redwood. It was a burning bush. It's not about how fabulous we are. The power was not in the bush but in the fire. Are you trying to shape Him or is He shaping you? And once encountered, where is He calling you to be a burning bush in this world?
- The other thing about the burning bush (a nod to Tim Keller here) is what we often overlook: the presence of the pre-existent Christ in Exodus 3:2. It says, "The angel of the Lord called out to him...." And then in verse 4, God speaks. Two voices come from the bush, not one. Who is the angel? Like the fiery furnace and Lion's den of Daniel, the burning bush reveals the presence of Christ, our mediator. How do we know? Moses could never have gotten that close and lived. You could not come that near the fire of God's holiness and survive, but Moses did. How? The presence of our mediator, Christ. Remember, Jesus Christ didn't just pop into existence at Christmas. John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…"
- POWER OF TELEVISION: ("This is Us Spoiler" warning) Last week on one of America's most popular shows, This Is Us, a fire started in the family kitchen because of a faulty Crock Pot. The next day, Crock Pot stock fell TWENTY percent. Crock Pot's name was not visible, but the company was forced to go into damage control about the safety of their products.
- As our culture continues to search for answers in a faithless world, there is yet more evidence for the emptiness of that search. The most popular class at Yale EVER is taking place this semester. It is called unofficially "Happiness" or Psychology and The Good Life. 25% of the student body is taking it – 1,200 people - and the professor believes it will be the roots of "needed social change." The course basically teaches students how to find the things - and invest in the things – that make THEM happy. Sadly, if we think our happiness rests in ourselves, we'll always be lost. We have to understand the larger story we are part of and our purpose in it. That's when we find more than happiness, but true meaning. #youcantfinditinaclass
- PARENTAL STRUGGLE: The most pressing question for parents these days seems to be "when do I give my child a smartphone?" Children put enormous pressure on parents as their peers now receive them at far younger ages. Yet, those who make the technology - execs at Apple and Google – are admitting their addictive power and keeping their children from them. One parent said in the WSJ, "It's like trying to teach your kid to use cocaine, but in a balanced way." Parents readily admit, as soon as their child has one, it reshapes their lives. Said another, "You think you're buying technology, but now it's like oxygen to her." Children unable to use their phones show marked increases in anxiety. Half of the teens surveyed in 2016 said they felt addicted to their phones. Their exposure to both dangerous content and the scorn of others is beyond measure. And then there are parents like Felice Ahn who will not allow her children to have them. She says, "Maybe people are finally realizing and the pendulum will swing back. We are just fine being different." I think the right answer varies according to the child, but I would recommend reading Andy Crouch's, The Tech-Wise Family. Having a smartphone requires AT LEAST the same maturity as driving a car. Parents have to decide when their child has reached that point. Can they handle something that has the power not only to improve their lives, but destroy them?
- AIRPORT FUMBLE: I went to Dallas last week and flew out of MCO. I got all the way through security, but at 6:30am was not paying attention and got on the wrong train. I went to the wrong gate pod, realized my mistake, and caught the train back to the terminal. However, TSA agents would not let me simply walk around to the right train! They made me go through security all over again!! I don't get it... I had come from a secure area – why was I somehow contaminated? Anyone?
- I saw a tweet yesterday from someone stating that being a student at a seminary does not make you a theologian. I disagree. We are all doing theology every day. It reminded me of Martin Luther's comment: "You don't become a theologian by understanding, reading and speculating. You become a theologian by living. No, you become a theologian by dying and giving yourself up."
- IGGLES FOR THE WIN: Congrats to Nick Foles, a good Austin, TX boy, on a great game, great character and a great win for the Eagles. Especially for one without a dog in the fight, it was a fun game to watch.
- NEW FEATURE: I get asked quite often about what I am reading or listening to (not into podcasts, but music :), so I'll use my last item to share some of that most weeks.....
- WHAT I'M READING: Hope For a Cool Pillow, Margaret Overton. A deeply poignant yet witty reflection on the author's journey with her parents through aging to their eventual death, especially her struggles with her mother's dementia. If you are caring for aging parents, this is for you.
- WHAT I'M LISTENING TO: "Drunk Girl," Chris Janson (great country song on manhood) and the audio testimony of Rachael Denhollander at the Larry Nassar trial. Hers was one of the most mature, Biblically sound expressions of forgiveness I have ever heard. Truth with love and love with truth. Great counsel for the church today.
"He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay His hand or say to Him 'What have you done?" – Daniel 4:35
- Living with the realities of a broken, sinful world can leave us wondering, "Who's in charge around here?" Those without faith conclude that life is fate or chance because if God was truly loving and good, the world would not be the mess that it is. Since it is, God cannot possibly be real. Before we go wandering down that road let's remember: we can't hold God to promises He never made. He said that we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33), but that He has overcome that same trouble. Hebrews 2:8 is another good reminder: all things are subject to Christ, but we do not see them as such… yet. As Joseph found in Genesis 50, what others (our world) might intend for evil, God can – and does – use for good and the greater purpose of the "saving of many lives." If you look at the Bible, it is a story of great pain and suffering, but God is the One behind the scenes, sovereignly pulling the strings to bring about His purposes. Joseph was thrown into a pit and sold into slavery by his brothers, yet that evil act was used by God to ultimately save His people. And Jesus was thrown into the pit of evil and death, but God used it once more for the salvation of His people. No matter our circumstances, God is the One who is in charge, and He uses suffering and evil redemptively in our lives. It's never wasted. Further, ALL things are beneath His authority, including life and death, kings and rulers. There is no such thing as fate or chance. God reigns. He has shown that He is infinitely wise and perfectly loving; thus, we trust that while we may not see it, it is His purpose and plan that will always prevail, all to His glory.
"My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9
- Everyone reaches a point in life when they realize they are powerless. Perhaps its the struggle of watching a loved one with a terminal illness or a friend struggle with the power of addiction or an adult child in need yet far from home. Those moments throw us because we are not accustomed to being unable to provide what is needed. The only thing we can do is cry out to God, but even then, we wonder if 2 Cor 12:9 is actually true. Will God provide what is needed? The answer is found in the beauty of Genesis 22 as Abraham is called to sacrifice Issac. It is a command that makes no sense, yet Abraham is obedient to the end that God gloriously provides a substitutionary sacrifice for Issac. It is the foreshadowing of what God would do for us in Christ. Like Abraham, even in times of mystery or in the face of commands we think to make no sense, obedience is always the best path. Instead, we seem to think that if a command doesn't make sense to us, that God can't be any wiser than we are. Really? In so doing, we bail out on God. We blame him or get angry far too fast and thus deprive him of showing us the great provision He had waiting for us at the end. Don't do it! Persevere all the way to provision. Why? God will always provide for us because he provides in Christ the very thing He demands. Just as Issac willingly allowed himself to be bound and laid on the wood after carrying it, Christ carried his cross and laid on it willingly, trusting in the provision of the Father. Jesus then becomes the greater Issac for God did NOT spare his own son. Thus, we know we are loved – and we know we will always have what we need. When you have Jesus, everything else we need in life is thrown in. (Matthew 6:33).
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you…" John 14:27
- "Can't we all just get along?" That was the question posed by Rodney King following the LA Riots in 1992 and it seems to still be the yearning in all of us. It is, at its core, a quest for peace. In spite of humanity's best efforts – peace summits and peace rallies and peace prizes - we are decidedly NOT at peace. As our church launches The Year of the Book in 2018, I find the Bible delivers in that quest. It is the story of God's plan to redeem and save the world through Christ, His plan to usher in lasting, eternal peace. It goes back to Noah in Genesis 9 when, following the great flood, God put a rainbow in the sky and said, "From here on out, I'll always see the rainbow as a sign of my promise to RE-MEMBER you - a promise that the storms of life will never prevail again.." Thus, the rainbow is a sign of God's PEACE. It is a bow pointed AWAY from us, not at us. The just consequences of sin are now provided by the One who demands them. God took our punishment on Himself, and thus opened the path of peace to us eternally, reconciling us to God through Christ (Colossians 1:19-20). The key is found in the word remember, meaning "to make something a member again." Our desire to go our own way removed us from the heart of God, but now that Christ has taken our due, God has made us members of His heart – His presence – again, never to be cut off. The storms of sin and death – the storms of life – will not prevail, but remember: without the storm – the tears – there's no rainbow. The light of Christ shines through them, refracting through our storms and tears, to produce the rainbow – the very beauty and glory of God. So, the next time you see a rainbow – in the sky or maybe on a Skittles commercial – see it for what it is: a sign of God's path to peace for us and this world through the shed blood of Christ.
"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." Proverbs 16:18
"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates
- As always, the New Year leads people to moments of reflection and introspection as well it should. What I find, however, is that we spend far less time thinking about what's going on in us and far more time musing about what's wrong with others. Thus, we lack self-awareness. Jesus was quite frank about it in Luke 6 when he called his followers "hypocrites." Why? They were spending all their time working on the "speck" in the eye of their brother while ignoring the telephone pole in their own. Jesus was saying there is something pervasively wrong with you that impacts every dimension of your life, but all you want to do is talk about what's wrong with your brother. We're pulling the wool over our own eyes. People, there's a plank in our eye and we all have to deal with it. We can't be a good friend or love another well until we first deal with our own heart. The word in Greek means "the load bearing beam to a house." Until we deal with the beam, we will always be trying to cover the nagging sense that something is deeply wrong in us. And that beam is sin – our quest to be our own god. Freedom comes when we realize that God in Christ dealt with our beam…by dying on it. Only when we realize that we are eternally loved by God, warts and all, will we be able to humbly love and serve others regarding the specks which pain them.
"Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting…" –Ralph Waldo Emerson
- I have laughed a bit at the recent accounts of "baby Jesus being stolen from local nativity scene – news at 11!" In places near and far, people are lifting Jesus from his "crib", but the question is not why that is happening. The question is: why did God put him there in the first place? The answer is where we find the wonder. In my effort this Advent to help deliver us from our cynical, jaded ways, we find in the manger a God who pursues us – even to a messy, smelly, darkened space. This is exceedingly good news since we are a people who tend to run. We run from God for all manner of reasons, but don't you get tired of running? Even in our darkness, God is with us. Thus, we are never, ever alone. In an age when we are losing the ability to function in face to face relationships – losing the joy of what it is to look across the table at another human being – to listen and laugh and share – what I find is that God's presence is most often felt through the presence of others. As you are with me and I am with you, I find God present. As I serve you and you serve me, I find God to present. More even than these, however, is the wonder of a God who is willing to be humble, a God who is willing to sacrifice, to trade heaven for a manager. This was the model of Jesus' entire ministry, and so we who follow Him mimic the manager. We become less that He might become more. We go to the dark and shadowy places, the places of deep human need, the messy places, and there we serve and love without expectation or condition. Linger at the manager and recover its wonder.
"Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you…" Psalm 40:5
- Part of Swanson family Christmas tradition is reading The Polar Express just before bed on Christmas Eve. When the kids were little, I loved seeing their starry-eyed wonder as they lost themselves in the possibilities of Christmas, and we have kept reading it because I never want them – or me – to forget that sense of wonder. It is easy to get swept up in the ills of our world, to fade into a mindset of cynicism, skepticism, and negativity, but the incarnation reminds us that anything is possible in a world God inhabits. The magi had just enough "wonder" to follow a star, believing it was a sign from God that might lead them to the hope and promise of life. They followed it because, in spite of their wealth, power, education, and social status, something was still missing. It's why our churches swell this time of year. I think people realize that all they have is not enough, so they return to the story of Christmas, hoping against hope that perhaps it is true. Are you tired of being that person who is always negative? Are you nagged by the thought that there must be something more?
"I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith." 2 Timothy 4:7
- We all know that building on Interstate 4: "the eyesore on I-4." We know it because it has been sitting there for years, unfinished. It is the perfect analogy for our human tendency to start things, but not finish them. God, on the other hand, is complete in His nature. He has never started anything which He did not finish, which is why Jesus said from the cross, "it is finished." The work of salvation is complete. It is why Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." One day, we will be "finished" beings in Christ. Therefore, as God lives in us, we should reflect His nature by the manner in which we finish the commitments He calls us to make. In Nehemiah 6, he made a commitment to complete the rebuilding of the wall, but he faced many distractions and heavy opposition. Nonetheless, by depending on God's strength, he completed the project in 52 days. What's more, the surrounding community knew that GOD had done it. What has God called you to do that remains undone? And why? Are you afraid of what is next, perhaps afraid that God will not provide in the next season as He has in this one? Trust God as Nehemiah did, and glorify Him by learning to be a finisher – a closer. Take the steps necessary in whatever commitment you have made – personal, financial, physical, spiritual – and finish for the glory of God!
"The most disturbing thing about the fact that greed is idolatry is that hardly anyone owns up to being a worshipper." Brian Rosser
- Money is an interesting topic in life. We'll talk about almost anything OTHER than our money. We hold that information very closely. It's ours and it's no one else's business. Jesus blows that up in Luke 12 when he makes two statements: 1. "There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed" and 2. "To whom much is given, much will be required." We've been given the incredible privilege of serving as the stewards of God's good gifts – an incredible privilege and yet a daunting responsibility. He knows what we are doing with His things, and He asks us to be both faithful and wise. Our temptation, however, as Rosser suggests above, is to worship at the altar of greed: using the Master's things for OUR pleasure. I have certainly bowed down there many times. The antidote to that temptation is generosity. God leaves no ambiguity in regard to how we steward His things: if He gives us a lot, He has higher expectations - and make no mistake, if you are reading this, you most likely have more income and education than 99% of the rest of the world. He expects us to do what He asks, and to do so wisely. I pray we'll ENJOY God's good gifts while recognizing the responsibility they carry.
"Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." - 1 Timothy 6:11
- Right about this time of year, the materialism of our culture becomes almost overwhelming. It is not a stretch to say we are a money-obsessed society, and unfortunately, that easily bleeds over into dependence. We give our earthly treasures the power to make us feel secure, worthy or safe. In Matthew 6:19, Jesus is pretty clear that our earthly treasures don't last, and if we depend on them to give us what we hope for in life, that will be a fruitless, unsatisfying strategy. We wind up "piercing" ourselves with our own idolatry. Spiritual maturity happens when we get our hearts and desires aligned with God's. We want what He wants, and that's what Jesus says. "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." When our hearts want what God wants, then our treasure follows and we are freed from the earthly obsessions that get us pierced. As we get blasted for the next six weeks with all the items we should want, let's invest our treasures in the things that last: God's people and His Kingdom.
As I write these words today, I do so deeply grieving the horrific church shooting yesterday in Sutherland Springs, TX, taking the lives of at least 25 people gathered in worship. It is yet another sign of the inherent evil which still exists in our world and why Christ's Church matters more than ever before. May we endeavor to lift her always before God as His Bride, one without wrinkle or stain or blemish. "Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice." Psalm 130:1)
"For all the saints who from their labors rest, Who Thee by faith before the world confess, Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest, Alleluia! Alleluia!" For All the Saints, William How
- Reflecting on the past week, it always strikes me a bit odd the amount of time we spend celebrating, playing with, even mocking the specter of death. I realize it has become our culture's way of dealing with its deep-seated fears regarding the issue. If we can laugh at it a bit, somehow it seems less ominous. I get it, but death is not a game. It is our greatest enemy (1 Cor 15:26), but by faith, it is a vanquished foe! For that reason, I love the lyrics to the hymn often sung on All Saints Day (Nov 1) when we remember those who have gone before us, confessing the name of Jesus. If you forgot to reflect on this during your Halloween festivities last week, I hope you'll take some time this week to remember those you have loved and lost, those who shaped and molded your faith, the faith by which YOU will endure. As I attended the wedding of my niece in Memphis on Saturday, I thought of my grandmother, decreased nearly 20 years ago, who still remains fresh in my heart and mind. I thought of my friends Todd Mack and Lane Newsom and John Ellisor taken far too soon. I thought of Davis Harper and Bob Hewitt and Dick Bywaters and Barrett Burchak and Danny Fulford and David Heine and Mallory Blake. For all the saints, indeed.