Monday, July 6, 2020

Daniel 6:25-28

Daniel 6:25-28 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  Remember what happened here -- Daniel prayed, was caught praying, and was thrown into the lions' den.  Not exactly revolutionary activities, but his simple commitment to faithfulness led to the king issuing a decree for all people to 'tremble and fear before the God of Daniel'.  God's ability to deliver and rescue were proclaimed throughout the kingdom because of Daniel's acts of prayer in the midst of chaotic times.
  Friends, we never know what God might do through our acts of faith, no matter how small they may be.  Daniel may have known that his time in prayer would have consequences, but did he realize they would extend far beyond himself?  Likewise, we're never completely sure of the consequences of our actions, and I doubt that we recognize that God is able to do mighty works that extend far beyond our reach through our faithfulness.  
  So may we be faithful in small and simple ways, spending time in prayer, and entrusting to God the spreading of the Gospel, for God can do far more than we can ask or imagine!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Daniel 6:19-24

Daniel 6:19-24 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  What do you believe that God might be able to do?
  Here, the king is overjoyed that the man he threw into a den of lions and left him there all night wasn't eaten by these lions.  My first though is that perhaps he needs better lions...  My second question is how often does he utilize this den of lions?  Does he keep them around just in case?  Who does this?  Anyway...  he goes to the lions' den with hope, which is an interesting contrast with the women who go to the tomb on that first Easter morning.
  Think about it -- they have gathered spices and are going to anoint the body.  Despite Jesus' proclamations that he would die and rise again, no one believed that his visit to the tomb was just a sojourn -- they'd watched him die, and that was the end.  They didn't show up at the tomb and shout questions into it to see if Jesus would answer.
  But the king in Daniel's story showed up at the den expecting for Daniel to be alive!  He didn't tiptoe around the tomb, wondering if there was some small chance that he might have survived.  There was anguish, but he shouts a question into the den with the expectation that there might be an answer.  The king had likely seen countless people enter this den, but none had survived yet, but there was something clearly possible through Daniel's God...
  God can do amazing things.  Even though they may not make sense to us, God is at work.  God has not and will not abandon us.  Sometimes, we're at the point in the story where we are getting thrown into the den of lions, and we can't see the end and we wonder where God is at.  Just because we don't have the whole story in front of us, this doesn't mean that God doesn't still do miracles, that God isn't still at work.  God loves you and cares for you and is at work in your life, transforming you, sanctifying you, loving you, providing for you.
  What do you believe that God might be able to do?

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Books of the Bible in Five Minutes: Ruth

The book of Ruth, only 4 chapter long, is a quick read.  Occurring during the time of the Judges, it's a story of faithfulness and devotion that can be helpful to us today.


Daniel 6:16-18

Daniel 6:16-18 
  I'll say upfront that I love the Bible.  I love the way it tells the story, weaving it through countless other smaller stories, each of which points to the one grand story.  The Bible teaches us about ourselves, about God and God's Kingdom.  It reveals things to us about humanity that we know to be true in the depths of our souls.  It reminds us about things that we all long for in the depths of our souls, longings that are evidence that we are created to inhabit a world beyond this one.
  In this story, the king is thought to be the most powerful person in it.  Who is more powerful than the king?  And yet does this power  bring him peace?  Does it bring ease?  No -- all of his money and all of his power cannot bring an easy night's sleep, while a man he has thrown into a den of lions will rest easy because the power of God is with him.  
  We see it written across the headlines of newspapers time and time again -- money, fame, and power do not bring the ease we would think it does.  Worldly riches are not often associated with peace.   There are greater riches, beyond what money can buy, that can secure true peace.  Only God can grant this peace, but if we spend our lives striving for the worldly kind, we can easily miss the riches and peace God wants to offer us.  
  So let be careful how we dream.  Money and fame can be very useful tools in the hands of those who are wise enough to see them for what they are and surround themselves with people who will hold them accountable.  Let us ensure we are setting our hopes on the riches that God  alone can give, recognizing all other kinds as merely tools to be used to spread the Good News of God's true wealth.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Daniel 6:10-15

Daniel 6:10-15 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  I never thought that vaccines would be controversial, but here we are.  Think about a vaccine -- it's a momentary pain that is paid to receive a much greater benefit -- the pain you accept is far, far greater than the pain you are avoiding.  With an effective vaccine, you receive far more than you give -- this is why we're all so eager for a COVID-19 vaccine.  Millions would line up for it, despite the temporary pain of the needed, because they know that the immunity from COVID-19 is well worth the cost of temporary pain.
  
  When you believe in God, truly believe in God, you are placing your allegiance in the most powerful being in the universe.  To believe in God is always to receive far more than you give, for if the most we can give is our lives while we receive eternity.  Daniel knows the rules and understands the punishment, but he is wholly committed to God, and he understands that what he is doing may cost him his life, but what does he care if he has already received more than that?  
  
  I won't presume that this was easy for Daniel.  We read that his prayers are thanksgivings, just as he had done previously.  If so, his faith is certainly stronger than mine -- I'd be praying for God to perhaps transport me back to a friendlier kingdom!  But Daniel's confidence in God was strong enough to know that God would sustain him, even through death.  There was nothing the King could do that could threaten his relationship with God.

  I don't know what threatens you today.  The pandemic certainly looms outside all of our doors.  There are economic and societal and political concerns.  Each of us worries a little differently.  What I do know is that we can have confidence in God to sustain us through each of these challenges, for even death is not an end for us, but rather a new beginning, a transformation, in which God is still on the throne and we still belong to God.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Daniel 6:1-5

Daniel 6:1-5 
  The world needs more Daniels.  
  There have always, and will always be, plenty of high officials and satraps, people who look at the success of others with hatred and jealously in their hearts, seeking any possible way to tear them down.  Too often, our leaders give them those reasons, in some ways validating the efforts of those who seek out the destruction of others.
  What we need are more Daniels -- more people who are faithful.  I don't expect anyone to be perfect.  I'm certainly in no position to guilt trip anyone.  But faithfulness, the daily effort to seek God and live out faith in everything one does, this is the goal we should strive towards.  The life's work of setting the Kingdom of God before your eyes and heart each and every morning and pursuing everything in light of that goal.  The opportunity to express one's love for God by selflessly serving others and using one's gifts to the fullest extent.  
  May we endeavor to be a people whose enemies struggle to find grounds for complaint due to our faithfulness.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Daniel 3:26-30

Daniel 3:26-30 
  If I sit too close to our fire pit, my clothes will smell like fire for days.  Singe some hair, and you'll know it by the smell.  However, these three walk out of a roaring furnace hot enough to kill the people throwing them into it and they don't even smell of fire.  They are miraculously unharmed, and Nebuchadnezzar takes this all in and praises God.  Not too long ago, he was willing to kill anyone not worshiping a false idol.  All of a sudden, through this dramatic act, Nebuchadnezzar is willing to fight to the death for anyone who speaks against the one true God.
  Our lives are transformed by God.  Hearts can change, minds can change.  We hear stories about dramatic transformations that still go on today -- I was listening to an old speech by Ravi Zacharias earlier and he was talking about a dramatic transformation at a chaotic prison due to the influence of one faithful disciple.  We love to hear these stories, and some people I talk to feel somewhat envious for not having a dramatic story.
  To answer that, I point to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  The King here undergoes a dramatic transformation, but it's only after seeing the steadfast faithfulness of these three.  They quite simply trusted God in every situation, and through their witness, others were brought to believe in God.
  There's a place for everyone in the story.  God never gives up on anyone, and God uses each of us to tell a dramatic story of grace and love.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Friday, June 26, 2020

Daniel 3:19-25

Daniel 3:19-25 
  Everything we see is not always the full picture.  This is certainly true today, especially in a world where videos are edited in order to support agendas and details are sometimes omitted. It takes work to determine the entire scope of events.
  King Nebuchadnezzar was accustomed to knowing everything he needed to know.  He was king, after all.  But he failed to grasp there was a greater power than himself.  Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, through their humility and faith, were vehicles through which God demonstrated a greater power.
  Prayers are not always answered in the way we want.  Events in the world are often beyond our understanding.  We usually have big questions for God.  Just because we don't see or grasp how God is at work, let us work to have a faith that trusts that God is present and at work in the world around us and in our lives and relationships, and may we pray for the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of our hearts to better see the world and God's actions within it.
  


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Daniel 3:16-18

Daniel 3:16-18 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  To whom does your life belong?

  Every day, I claim my life as my own.  I fight against forces that might try and influence me otherwise.  I resist outside control on my life, and I am building towards my dreams and my goals.  My life is a result of the choices I make, and I will influence myself towards the life I want.  

  That's what we often tell ourselves.  That's very true for me on many days, if I'm being honest.  I don't think of my life as belonging to God, as a gift from God, as the blessed opportunity to honor God.  I think about my goals and what I want....  

  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego deliver one of the greatest lines in the entire Bible.  Nebuchadnezzar is going to throw them into a fire, but they so thoroughly trust God that they are not afraid.  Their lives belong to God, and their goal is not to maximize the time they have for themselves, but rather the amount of honor they give to God.  And so they choose to honor God even though it is a virtual certainty that such an act will cut their lives very, very short in a very, very painful manner. I love the way they phrase this -- God is able to save them, but even if God doesn't, they're still not going to serve a false god.  They refuse to betray their principals.  They will not compromise their worship of the eternal God in exchange for an extended opportunity to work towards their goals.  It's not worth it to them.  Even if God doesn't save them, even if all that this means is a painful death for them, they're still ready to make the choice, because they have such a complete trust of God.  They know that God is on the throne, that God dwells in the heights of heavens, and just because God doesn't choose  to intervene in their situation, God is no less worthy of devotion and acclaim and worship.  

  We don't always understand  why God doesn't intervene.  For every story like this one where God dramatically intervenes, there are thousands of others where the miracle has not come, where the fire consumed, where the cancer didn't go away, where the disease didn't weaken, where the relationship remained broken, where the addiction didn't let go, where the children didn't come home, where the job didn't come through, where the pain didn't recede.  These are heartbreaking situations, reminders of the brokenness in society and in our homes and in our bodies and in our relationships and in our lives.  These are not evidence that God doesn't notice or care -- it's evidence that we don't see the full tapestry of grace that God is weaving, that we don't know the full story.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego -- they trusted in the God who sees the full story, who hung the stars in the sky and still cares for us individually.  Because they trusted, they knew that God had knit them together in their mothers' wombs, and if God does that, this God will not abandon them, even if it seems like death is about to prevail.  With a God like that on your side, why fear a king?  What can Nebuchadnezzar do against such a God?  Whose side would you rather bet on?

  So once again, to whom does your life belong?  And how does your life reflect that?

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Daniel 3:13-15

Daniel 3:13-15

  Jesus tells us in Matthew 10 not to fear the one who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul -- In Jesus, we are joined in his resurrection, although there is a great leap of faith necessary to get over that fear of death!  
  There is fear everywhere these days.  Many news networks major in fear.  Fear is available to all, spread freely.  No matter where you turn, there is likely a reason to fear.  I saw a notice yesterday that said there are hand sanitizers that are compromised and should be avoided -- even the stuff that's supposed to keep us safe can be a reason to fear!  Sometimes you just can't win...
  While there are plenty of fearful things in the world, fear is a choice.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had reason to fear -- they were about to be thrown into a fiery furnace for worshiping God.  It's a fearful situation, but they were not afraid.  They were confident in God's power, and they lived with integrity.  Trusting God in the face of fearful circumstances gave them the ability to remain faithful.
  We, too, can choose to trust in the face of fear.  We don't have to ignore fear, but we don't have to give in to it -- as a people who trust in the eternal kingdom of God and believe we are joined in God's victory over sin and death through grace, we can face our challenges with the full knowledge that the light of eternity awaits, and the challenges in this world are but passing shadows that will fade when compared to the light and love of God.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Daniel 3:8-12

Daniel 3:8-12 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  It's occasionally tempting to withdraw from the world, to find a quiet monastery and spend my days there, leaving behind so many of the conflicts of the world.  To be in the world means you're always coming up against differing values, some that challenge us, some that confront us.  It can be exhausting, but it's also an opportunity -- in every conflict, we have the opportunity to state what our values are.  As a people of faith, we live out what we believe, each and every day.  What does your life say about what you value?  When you find yourself in conflict, how do you choose what voice to follow?  Sometimes this will ask a lot of you.  The temptation to withdraw, to find a quiet way around, will always be there.  But the call to live out what you believe will also be there, and sometimes, when your values and the world's values come in the greatest conflict, you'll discover the greatest opportunity to make a statement about what you believe and why it matters.
  Shadrach, Mechach, and Abednego had been appointed over the affairs of Babylon.  They had a lot of responsibility, so they were clearly handling themselves well in a messy situation.  I'm guessing they were constantly trying to figure out where to draw the line and where they were comfortable following the predominant culture.  Here, though, at the worship of a false god -- they drew the line there, and they would go no further.
  Their principled stand has been recorded in the pages of history and made a bold statement to a number of people.  Where are places in your life, in our society, where you are called to do the same?

Monday, June 22, 2020

Daniel 1:12-16

Daniel 1:12-16 
  So Rachel had the kids fill out a brief survey for Fathers' Day, and there is a line on there about what they think my favorite food is.  Each of them said vegetables.  I don't think I would have expected that to be true 10 years ago!
  Daniel and his friends have been taken prisoner, and they refuse to eat food offered to false gods.  Instead, they propose a trial, where they will eat only vegetables for ten days.  The king expected them to be weaker than all the others, but instead they were stronger and better.  The lesson?  Eat more vegetables, I suppose.
  Also, never presume that we know exactly how God will work.  God is often doing the unexpected and unusual, working in sometimes strange ways to advance the Gospel.  God doesn't give up, and though resistance often surfaces, God continues forward, demonstrating the strength of God cannot be thwarted.  God is for you, so if we continue to show up, we can trust that God is at work, even in circumstances that may see unusual or unexpected.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Micah 6:6-8

Micah 6:6-8

  It's the question we're all asking -- what can we bring to the Lord?  As we grow in faith, we should be growing in knowledge -- which makes us even more aware of how much God has done for us.  As we learn about God's perfection and our own sinfulness, we realize how great and awesome God is, and how sinfully and selfishly we have acted.  Our knowledge of our debt becomes even greater. 
  The joyous news of Christianity is that as our knowledge of our debt grows, so, too, does our awareness that no material item or gift can possibly repay God.  It's impossible.  And God doesn't want us to repay.  The price has been paid, so God has no need to collect.  What we can do is live in gratitude of the gift, allowing the joy of what God has done guide our thoughts, words, and actions.  How we treat ourselves and one another is our response to God.
  Spend some time this weekend thinking about all that God has done for you, and then take some time to think about things you'd like to do in response.  How can you show love for your community?  How can you work to bring justice to your town, to your neighborhood?  How can you humbly serve those around you?  You have tremendous gifts, and there are countless small ways you can share them with others, to spread the love of God and the light in the darkness.  Be a part of spreading hope and joy in the world -- we need it more than ever.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

John 6:66-69

John 6:66-69
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  Jesus' words aren't always easy, but as Peter says, he alone has the words of eternal life.  The benefits of following Christ are eternal, and because God is love, we can trust the words of Christ, even when they're challenging.
  So don't be afraid to read the words of Christ, and pause at the challenges.  Think about the ways your faith is calling you to grow, to be transformed by the renewing of your minds.  God is at work in you, and the goal is not to leave you where you are, but to grow you up in faith.  
  Think of a place for you to grow in faith.  Lean into that.  Focus on it for the next week or two -- give God space to work in your life.  Where do you need to grow?  It's not easy, but it's important, vital work.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Ephesians 6:10-20

Ephesians 6:10-20 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  My primary thought is this:  the whole armor of God looks very, very different than the armor of the world.  Look to Jesus' life -- as the One who was draped more fully with the armor of God than anyone else, his life was so unexpected that the faith leaders of the day had him killed, and yet he won the battle!  He emerged victorious, and it is He that we worship to this day, not the ones who sought the armor of the world to have him killed.
  So when we clothe ourselves with the armor of God, we are fighting a different battle.  We don't need to look like a victorious army in this world does -- we can selflessly serve and humbly listen and sacrifice ourselves, because the tools we use to resist the devil aren't the same tools the army might use.  We act differently.  Our lives should look different.  We make different choices, because we have different values.  We rely on prayer and supplication and trust in God to carry us forward, and God will never, ever disappoint us.  In the long run, we are on the victorious side, and our confidence in God allows us to rely primarily on God's Kingdom, not our own.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Job 39:19-25

Job 39:19-25 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  In God's reply to Job's questions, the reader can sense the delight God takes in creation.  Creation isn't an accident, or some hastily thrown together ingredients.  This isn't an image of God as a clockmaker who sets things in motion and then steps back to see what happens. No, rather we have an image of a God who cares deeply for creation and finds joy in the creatures that have been made.  
  And if God cares this much for the horse, and we know God clothes the flowers of the field, how much more does God care for you?  Remember how deeply loved you are.  Today, as you go about your day, notice something beautiful in creation.  Watch the leaves play in the breeze, or the squirrels run about, or the flowers show beauty to the world.  Be in awe of the intent with which God has created, and then remember that God cares enough for you to send God's only Son into the world so that you might be saved.
  All that God has done, God does with great purpose, and that purpose is born out of a great love.  This side of heaven, we will never fully understand that love, but we can try and bask in moments of wonder here on earth.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Job 38:1-7

Job 38:1-7 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  When I think of how many questions I often have, I think of God, answering Job out of a whirlwind not with answers, but with questions, with a reminder, that there is much we do not know on this side of heaven.  God is the one who has crafted the earth, who has laid the foundation and taught those stars their song.  I am much smaller then this, but I also know that this God cares for me -- that I am the lost sheep, and the Good Shepherd searches for me.  Combine our knowledge of God's sovereignty with the awareness of God's unique love that we see in the Gospels, and know that you are loved by the most powerful being in existence.  Though we may not fully understand the hows and the whys, we can trust in the goodness of God.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Titus 1:1-4

Titus 1:1-4
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  After Paul met Christ on the road to Damascus, he knew who he was living for, and he knew his hope.  The remainder of his life was the unfolding of that purpose -- to declare the Gospel and to share his hope in Jesus Christ.  Everything he did was based on these things.
  So the question falls to us
  1 -- For whose sake are we living?  Are we building up our own Kingdom?  Or are we living for the sake of Christ's church, looking for options to serve.  There is so much that is unknown about the future, and there is currently so much uncertainty in the world, and all of this can make us want to save, to protect, to shelter.  We plan for every contingency, and we think about how to get and protect resources for ourselves.  It's the natural human tendency, and I've spent a lot of time thinking about these things lately.  The uncertainty makes me want to have a plan for every possibility -- if I'm honest with myself, I'm trying to shore up the walls on my own Kingdom, which will eventually topple, no matter what.  To step out of my Kingdom and invest my limited resources in God's Kingdom requires such a huge amount of trust, and it's hard.  It's faithful, but it's challenging.  But if I'm really living for God's Kingdom, for the sake of the faith of God's elect, I've got to be willing to put my resources on the line, right?  To risk, to serve, to love.
  2 -- What is your hope?  Paul is clear about his hope in eternal life.  This clear hope allowed him to ignore the threats to his own life, because he knew this life was just a beginning -- it's the prologue to the real story.  And when you're reading a book, you often skip over the prologue, because the best part of the story is still to come.  Paul's hope allowed him to go boldly without fear.  What is your hope, and how does it change your life?

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Ruth 1:16-17

Ruth 1:16-17 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  The book of Ruth is beautiful in a number of ways.  What I love most about it is the way that people from different places find themselves together, and the devotion they have is striking.  Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law, moved to Moab with her husband and sons, all of whom died, leaving her with two Moabite women.  Naomi was returning home and gave both women the chance to return to their homes and start over.  One does, but Ruth remains devoted to her mother-in-law, telling her that she will follow her wherever she will go, and she will worship whomever Naomi worships.  She doesn't have -- she chooses to.
  Wouldn't it be great if we had this type of devotion to one another?  We don't have to in today's culture -- it's easy to stay within our own lives, to not stray into unknown places.  It's too easy to miss out on building relationships with people different than we are.  It requires an active choice.  Ruth made that choice.  We, also, need to make that choice, to build relationships with people, to devote ourselves to people different than ourselves, who have walked a different path and see the world from a different angle.  It's easy to be insulated.  That's certainly the most comfortable route.  
  But what's it look like to make ourselves uncomfortable?  I think of Jesus, walking towards the Gerasene demoniac -- walking towards anyone labeled as a demoniac feels uncomfortable, right?  Or Jesus going up to lepers.  What about Peter in jail, staying there for the sake of the jailer?  How's that for comfort?  
  Following Christ where he leads is not always easy or comfortable.  We're called to love and serve one another.  Everyone you meet is someone you can serve, and they all have something to teach you.  May we approach one another with the attitude of Ruth, devoting ourselves to serving.  May we pray for Christ to bring people into our lives to teach us about service, to teach us about how diverse and beautiful the Gospel is.  May we look for ways, for authors, for public figures, for leader, to diversify our relationships that we may  serve in new ways, and the Gospel may spread, one person, one relationship at a time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

2 Corinthians 1:19-22

2 Corinthians 1:19-22 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  Sometimes, we all need to be reminded of core truth of the Gospel, that in Jesus Christ, the truest of all stories comes true -- that you, the beloved child of God, are benevolently rescued from mortal peril by the strongest force in the universe who does this not because you have earned it, but because God loves you.  Upon your rescue, hope and joy are offered to you, although there will be things in life that threaten to obscure your vision of them.  While life is often distracting you from the objects of your hope and joy, God is never distracted from you.  You are never forgotten, never forsaken, never alone.  All the promises of God have found their yes in Christ, and because God is completely good, we can trust those promises.  

  Remember that today.  God is for you.

If you have a second today, please stop and pray for Chuck's family, as well as for my Uncle Paul.  

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Joshua 24:14-15

Joshua 24:14-15 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Unfortunately, I'm not in control of a number of things today.  I cannot control what kind of mood my children will have when they wake up.  I cannot control the weather.  I cannot control how clients respond at work.  I cannot control global politics or many of the events happening on a large scale -- I can contribute, I can do my small part, but I have very little control.  Much of what other people do, I cannot control, and neither can you.
  However, we have a choice in how we respond  to the world.  We have a choice in how we respond to individuals and circumstances and outside actions -- we can respond faithfully, or we can lash out.  There are many people in the world, on every side of every issue, who see everything as a threat and respond in fear.  In Christ, however, we can be confidant rather than fearful, trusting that the God who claimed us in the waters of baptism and freely chooses to be for us, even when we were enemies of God, has prepared a place for us and will allow nothing to come between us.  We can choose, every day, to serve God, and trust that in doing our faithful part, we are making the wiser choice.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Nehemiah 1:1-4

Nehemiah 1:1-4 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  When in doubt, turn to Nehemiah.  There's always wisdom in this book that guides me.  Here, Nehemiah has heard of the devastation of his homeland, and his first response is to sit down and weep for days, fasting and praying.  
  There is much that is wrong in this world and in this country.  There is pain written on the streets of our towns.  Pain cries out in a loud chorus, demanding a future that can be written with hope and not fear.  Our first response is to listen to the pain, to hear it, and to sit and weep for the brokenness that exists in our society.  No matter your station, we can mourn for the things that are broken, we can sit and we can pray for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters. 
  Nehemiah is a bold leader who goes into a situation and demands change, and he leads by example.  But first, he sits and prays, orienting himself to God, ensuring he has heard and understands the situation.  Only then does he go.  
  So may we sit and pray as a nation, as a people, as a church.  May we weep where there is pain, and may we mourn where there is loss.  Having oriented ourselves properly, hearing what needs to be heard and listening where we need to listen, then we will be ready to move forward.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Books of the Bible in Five Minutes: Joshua

1 Peter 1:3-9

1 Peter 1:3-9 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  I could read this passage again and again and again.  You have a living hope that is imperishable and undefiled -- no matter what happens in this world or in this life, your hope cannot be taken from you.  We endure various trials now and again, but these are not the end of us.  No, we rejoice with inexpressable joy, for God is with us, and our souls have been saved.
  Friends, no matter what goes on outside your windows, or even within your walls, Christ has saved you and will guard that salvation for all of time.  Rest easy, lay down those burdens, and exhale -- God has handled the threats that stalk you in the middle of the night and whatever terror may loom.  Whatever shadows may come across your path, the light that shines in the darkness will never cease, and one day, that light will envelop us until that is all that is left.  Praise be to God!

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Hebrews 13:25

Hebrews 13:25 

  Grace, friends.

  Grace to loved ones as we support them in 2020, the year in which the world seems divided as to which particular way to tear itself apart.  Grace to loved ones as you are separated, using phones and zoom and various other means of reaching out to support them, offering grace for gatherings that did not happen and birthdays that will be celebrated as half-birthdays.
  Grace to strangers as we pass.  Lord, how we need this grace.  We need to extend it, to remind others that we are one community, dependent upon each other, learning from each other, working together to be the body of Christ.  We need to receive it, to be reminded that we are welcomed with all of our flaws, all of our warts, all of our imperfections.  We need not be perfect - there is grace for that.
  Grace to ourselves.  You are likely, in some way, shape, or form, busy.  You are busy with work or children or family or household things or job searching or doctor seeking or something else.  You are busy, and things will fall through the cracks.   You cannot hold the world up on its own.  You are imperfect.  Fortunately, there is grace for that.  There is grace that you do not earn but just receive -- God holds the world up, holds me up, holds you up.  There is grace, and each of us can receive a lifetime's worth -- all we have to do is open our lives, open our hearts, and let grace be with us, each of us, all of us.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Hebrews 13:18-21

Hebrews 13:18-21

  I desire to eat copious amounts of ice cream.  As a result, when there is ice cream in the house, my actions follow my desires.  Also, when I grocery shop.  I have yet to make one trip to the grocery store that didn't involve me at least walking halfway down the frozen food aisle to check out the ice cream sales.  I know my weakness, and I embrace it.  I can't even eat most ice creams any more because of how I feel afterwards and I still crave it.
  As Christians, I doubt we think about our desires much.  They control so much of what we do -- and yet we often don't think about crafting the discipline to resist or control them.  We allow them to control us.  We've seen how weakness to desires at the wrong moment can wreck marriages and careers.  In many smaller ways, our desires shape our days, which become our weeks, which turn into months and years and our lives.  So here, the writer is asking for people to pray that they have the desire to act honorably.  When the opportunity presents itself, that desire will turn into honorable action, and that glorifies God.
  So friends, spend some time thinking about your desires.  Pray for good desires, for honorable desires, for desires that elevate your friends and neighbors and community members.  Pray for desires to serve and to love.  Pray for desires to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed.  Pray for these desires, for if we do this consistently, those honorable desires will lead us into honorable lives.  
  

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Hebrews 13:5-8

Hebrews 13:5-8 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  Scripture does a fantastic job of consistently trying to open our eyes to how dangerous money can be.  Scripture doesn't tell us that we can't have it -- just warning us of its power, so whether we have a little or a lot, we know of its potential.  Here, the writer is encouraging us to let God alone be our ultimate source of strength and comfort.  God alone will never leave nor forsake us, from now through eternity.  Jesus Christ doesn't change, and the good news is that Christ is for you -- remember, he is the 'yes' to all of God's promises.  Because God has declared his love and devotion to us, we can be bold in the face of life's challenges.  
  Knowing that God will never leave you, knowing that your eternity is safe in God's hands, how will you act today?  Will you stand tall in the face of all the world's challenges, the violence and injustice and racism and hatred and division, and speak a word of truth and peace?  Will you boldly pray for unity and wisdom, for reconciliation and love and grace to win the day?  Will you pray for revival, that the church might proclaim a way forward for all people?  You need not fear.  So without fear, what will you do?

Monday, June 1, 2020

Hebrews 12:28-13:2

Hebrews 12:28-13:2
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  With so much going on in the world right now, we can rejoice that God's Kingdom is not shaken.  It exists unchanging and stable, unbuffeted by the winds that are rocking so much of what we do know.  There is turbulence caused by disease and racism and countless other reminders of the sin that will one day be destroyed.  Confidant in God's ability to ultimately triumph, we can worship with hope.  
  And then, because we don't have to be afraid, we can go forward in love, showing hospitality to all, even the stranger.  As the writer says, we may just be entertaining angels.  How much richer would the world be if we treated every person we met as though they were an angel....

Friday, May 29, 2020

Hebrews 12:1-2

Hebrews 12:1-2 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  Jesus didn't have to be on the cross.  He could have hopped off at any moment, leaving behind stunned guards and crowds.  He could have skipped town beforehand, catching the next bus to Joppa, following Jonah's example.  He could have disappeared in the midst of a crowd looking for him -- he'd slipped through a crowd before.
  But he had such a vision and passion for saving the people from their sins that he was willing to endure the pain and agony and humiliation of the cross.  He knew what the reward was, and so he endured the hardship.
  We, too, are called to endure.  We likely won't have to endure anything as horrific as the cross, but God sets before us a vision of the heavily kingdom, and as I mentioned yesterday, that should draw us forward.  In stepping towards God's Kingdom, there will be some potholes along the way.  We see the brokenness of humanity  on full display in events that lay bare the racism that still exists in American society.  We know the Kingdom of God is for all people of every nation and race and gender, but we're not there yet.  We're moving towards it, and so we try to lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely.  As Christians, we're called to lead society away from sins like racism, to be a part of the mending of society, to display selfless love for all people.  We can endure because there is joy set within us, and that should give us the courage to speak truth where it needs to be spoken and to display love and grace where that is needed.  Let us run with endurance, not giving up when the challenge seems too great, but staying the course, continuing to proclaim the truth of God's Kingdom for all people.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Books of the Bible in Five Minutes: Matthew

Hebrews 11:32-40

Hebrews 11:32-40
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  What's so extraordinary about the promises of Scripture is that no matter how good this life is, no matter how beautiful and captivating and striking life is, there is something better waiting for us.  
  We spend so much time longing for better things in this life -- some of these are material longings, while others are often relational longings.  We long to be closer with parents and friends and spouses and children.  We long for courage to live our faith and wisdom to discern the next best thing.  We see images of ideal lives that some people seem to live, often heavily filtered on social media or in magazines, and we long for the lives that other people live.  But no matter how good we have it here, no matter how much humility or peace we gain, there is something better that awaits.
  If I could snap my fingers and change one thing about myself, I'd wish for greater understanding of how wondrous the world that awaits truly is.  I'd want to catch a glimpse of God's Kingdom, that the allure of it might draw me forward, might transform the way I see this life and my time here.  The saints of the church that the writer of Hebrews is referencing -- these individuals had their faith fixed on the promise that was to come, and because of that, they were able to endure the destitution and affliction and mockery -- they knew that what was to come would contain such glory that the sufferings of this world would be so trivial, so minuscule, in comparison so as not even to be considered. As it was said by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” The saints of the church had this yearning for what God had in store, and so their ship, their faith, carried them forward, into whatever the seas of life held.  
  Some of my favorite passages from Scripture are found in the pages of Revelation.  In Chapter 4, John is given a vision of the heavenly throne, but it is clearly greater than the words we have been given to describe things.  John's language is failing him, so he uses metaphors: And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald (Rev. 4:3, ESV).  It's like a rainbow that's like an emerald, but it's not -- it's so much greater!  It's beyond what we can grasp, and John is searching for words but falling short, so he leaves us with a glimpse of how much greater that world is.
  The saints of the church did the same, albeit in their own flawed way.  They weren't perfect, but they demonstrated selfless love and a peace in the midst of adversity that is possible only in the confidence that the greatest sufferings in the world cannot take your greatest treasure from you.  How else could someone allow themselves to be sawn in two?  I remember in church history class when we read some of the accounts of the early church martyrs -- they were joyfully going to their deaths, because their hearts were beating for one purpose, for the glory of God, and the world's fiercest soldiers and the sharpest swords could never put a stop to what was coursing through their veins.  Eternal life grabbed hold of them, and they pursued it with everything they had, with a single-minded purpose that transformed  the way they acted in this world.  Their lives were demonstrations of God's grace, snapshots of what the Kingdom of God looks like.  Like the illustrations in a children's Bible, they didn't tell the whole story, but they showed us a part of it through their faith.
  That's the faith I long for.  We're all striving for it, growing towards it, praying for the Holy Spirit to give us the direction, the passion, the wisdom to live a live of faith that joins with the saints from every time and place.  A faith that knows that what is to come is worth sacrificing for, because the treasure that awaits is so much greater than any treasure on earth that it's an easy decision about where to invest your time and talent.
  And what's great is that this faith doesn't focus so much on heaven that it loses it's usefulness on earth.  Jesus uses this type of faith to encourage believers and proclaim the truth to non-believers.  Just as there's a place for all of us around the table in the Kingdom of God, there's a place for all of us in the church, sharing our stories while pointing to the greatest story of them all.  We can share our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, because as the writer of Hebrews says, we are made strong through our weakness.  
  Life beyond death.  Peace beyond affliction.  Freely given.  For all.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Hebrews 11:29-31

Hebrews 11:29-31

  God can do amazing things.  The Israelites can escape slavery and an onrushing army.  Joshua can conquer an impenetrable city.  Rahab can become a Biblical hero, her story still told thousands of years later, due to her bravery and courage.
  I'll freely admit that I don't know what God is going to do next.  The world certainly seems like it is in need of a miracle -- we need peace and we need love and we need healing.  There is economic and physical pain.  We're all a little scared and a bit uncertain.  
  Granted, the Israelites, standing on the shores of the sea, were also a little scared, wondering why Moses had dragged them out of Egypt to face death.  Rahab and Joshua weren't certain what came next either.  But God was at work then, and God is still at work.  I trust in God and that the ultimate future is in God's hands.  I don't know what future miracles will look like, but I'll be praying for them.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

A Sermon on Romans 5:1-11 for May 24, 2020

  Today's sermon focuses on Paul's idea in Romans 5 of Christ dying for us while we were still sinners.  


Friday, May 22, 2020

Hebrews 11:23-28

Hebrews 11:23-28 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  What's the greatest wealth to you?
  I saw a note the other day that Jeff Bezos may one day be a trillionaire.  I don't think most of us can really fathom how much a billion dollars could buy, but the answer to what a trillionaire could buy is easy:  everything.  
  To hear or read about such wealth easily stirs something in most people.  It's desirable.  It makes much of life easier -- it certainly makes enduring a pandemic easier.  
  There's a huge divide between working for wealth and desiring wealth.  When we work for wealth, it's something we obtain to use.  It's a tool that helps us pay rent and buy food.  When we desire it, wealth owns us and it captures our heartstrings and our attention.  When we desire it, we no longer use it, but it owns us.
  It takes great faith to desire the wealth Christ offers with all our hearts.  Christ's wealth isn't measured by bank statements, but rather by the peace that runs through the rivers of the soul and the love that passes between Christian hearts.  Christ's wealth isn't measured by purchasing power but rather by a willingness to serve that is borne out of a heart filled with gratitude.  Christ's wealth doesn't  expire, cannot be stolen, and will not be destroyed by moth or political empires -- it is eternal, always growing, and worthy of our pursuits, whatever it costs.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Hebrews 11:17-22

Hebrews 11:17-22 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  I am part of a much larger family.  When I was in school, I had a genealogy assignment that was fascinating -- I delved into the family archives, discovering some very interesting people that I was related to, including the first governor-general of Jamaica.  It's a helpful reminder that I stand in a long line of tradition, and there will (hopefully!) be a long line that comes after me -- it's not just all about me.  
  As Christians, we're also part of a much larger family of faith.  Many have come before us and paved the way, establishing church communities and building traditions that are still in place.  Whatever turbulence we experience now has likely been experienced before, and we are part of something that will stand the test of time.  Many will come after you, and by choosing to worship Jesus Christ, you are joining a family of faith that stretches across geographies and ages, adding your name to the long list of faithful servants.  This is why it's so important to invest in those older and younger than you -- for we all serve together and are one family of faith.
  If you ever get overwhelmed by the pressures of life, remember that you are part of something eternal.  The church's mission isn't only in the here and now -- it carries forward for generations to come, and our efforts are part of something much larger.  You are valued, individually and uniquely, and your life contributes to something wondrous that transcends this time and space.  Your faith, your life, points beyond you and joins a mighty chorus!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Hebrews 11:13-16

Hebrews 11:13-16 

  What's your greatest desire?
  I think it's very easy in this life to grow comfortable.  Even if you don't have everything you've ever wanted, over time we slowly put down roots.  I was talking with someone today who asked me how long I expected to be in my house.  I didn't buy it with the expectation that I'd necessarily live here for decades, but the longer I stay here, the more comfortable I am, and it's easier to imagine being here for a long time.  (Also, I hate moving).  Plus, staying in one place allows us to build relationships over the years, to build trust and learn the people around us.  I think there's a strong case for consistency.  I don't think there's a right or wrong way to do it -- just differences.
  What's important is that we keep the most important desire in front of us.  The more comfortable we grow, the less we stop yearning for what is to come.  Spiritually, we're called to always be growing, always stretching towards a better country, a heavenly one.  When our vision shifts downward, we forget to lift our eyes to the heavenly city, and our souls can easily become easily satisfied with what the world offers, much of which is wonderful, but it's not going to fill the ultimate desire of the human heart.  Ultimately, only God can do that, and as Christians, we should always be leaning forward, never completely comfortable, always knowing the best is yet to come.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Hebrews 11:8-12

Hebrews 11:8-12 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  I sometimes forget how miraculous Abraham's story really is.  Perhaps it is too familiar, too close.  Think of the risk that Abraham took in the beginning -- leaving behind what he knew to seek out something new, following a call that relied on faith to believe he would be supported.  He fixed his eyes on the promise, but it was a long way off, and his feet had many troublesome steps before he reached the fulfillment of the promise.  Sarah, too, had to believe, had to trust, had to have faith.  The two of them bore a child well past when they thought they might, and suddenly there was life in place of what had been barren.
  To look back on this, we can see the steps Abraham took, the affirmations along the way, and how his faithfulness led to descendants more numerous than the stars.
  In the midst of it, I'm sure it wasn't that easy.  Abraham on day 10 and day 110 probably had a lot of uncertainty as he waited, as he traveled, as he wondered.  Faith isn't easy, and Abraham's journey, though more public, was no easier than yours or mine.  He had to make an active choice every day to follow, to believe, to risk.  The promise was there, though sometimes seen at a distance through a haze.  The promise is there for us, too.  The same promise, offered by the same faithful God, is extended to us, and we can choose to follow, letting the Holy Spirit lead us.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Hebrews 11:4-7

Hebrews 11:4-7 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  By Abel's faith, he still speaks.  Now, Abel didn't do a lot in the Bible.  He didn't lead the people for decades like Moses or strike out boldly like Abraham or stand up to hostility like Elijah.  Abel was killed by his brother, the first victim of the first murder.  But his faith left a legacy, just as Enoch's and Noah's.  
  The Bible is filled with characters who lead boldly with integrity, and there are also a lot of individuals who, em, could have done better.  And there's a sea of people who pass briefly through the frame without leaving heavy footprints.  Each one, however, still speaks.
  Our faith leaves a legacy.  You interact with countless people (well, less these days, I suppose) throughout the days, weeks, and months, and you leave a legacy with each one.  Some will remember us better than others, and the question for us is this:  how does our faith lead us to leave a positive legacy?  What kind of impact will you have on the lives of those around you?  How will your life point to God's grace?  What words will you choose to convey grace and peace?
  We can choose every day how to conduct our lives.  How we interact with the people around us is the choice we make that will craft our legacies.  Even with those in our past, our lives still speak.  What will you say?

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sermon for May 17, 2020 -- Romans 3:21-26

Today's sermon is focused on some of the key terms Paul uses in Romans 3:21-26:  redemption, justification, righteousness, and propitiation.  


Friday, May 15, 2020

Books of the Bible in Five Minutes: Deuteronomy

Hebrews 11:1-3

Hebrews 11:1-3 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  One of the greatest chapters in the Bible, the Hebrews Hall of Fame!!  
  What I love about this chapter is it lists out the real examples of Biblical individuals who lived out their faith, and the point isn't that life was easy and clear sailing after they opted for a life of faith -- the very first example given (Abel) dies a violent death.  They're described as not having received the fulfillment of the promise, and it's quite the diversity of characters listed -- Rahab the prostitute is included.  But their faith is lifted up!  Faith is for everyone -- and there are no barriers to entry.  You don't have to have the right background or qualifications or popularity or resources -- and chapter 11 highlights that.  Faith is an equalizer, where Moses and David and Samson lived their lives based on the conviction of things not seen.  
  You and I are in the same boat.  We have hope, but no certainty.  We're building our lives, making our choices, with the same faith David had.  While we know more than Abraham, we don't have the full story, so we have to actively choose every day to worship, serve, and follow God wherever that path may lead.  You are called, no matter your position or background, and faith is a gift.  
  May you and I join hands in the long line of believers, stretching back thousands of years, basing our lives on the same faith and worshiping the same God.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Hebrews 10:19-25

Hebrews 10:19-25 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  This passage always makes me think of Indiana Jones, walking with trepidation into some undiscovered place, uncertain as to whether he's going to be able to walk back out.  He doesn't know what awaits, so there is fear upon entering, hoping he can escape with his life.
  In Jesus, we can approach the holiest place with confidence, because we are counted as worthy.  We don't have to be afraid that we're not good enough, or that there might be some surprise.  No, we are accepted as perfect because we have been sprinkled clean, washed through the love and grace of Christ.  
  Therefore, the writer says, we should stir one another up to love and good works, not simply saving up the grace for ourselves.  Our task is to spread the good news.  We who can approach God with confidence should then go to those around us with confidence and live out how the Gospel has transformed our lives.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Hebrews 9:15-22

Hebrews 9:15-22 

   There has been a great price paid to redeem you.  Following the Old Testament tradition, a sacrifice was required to atone for human sin.  There was a cost to pay the price -- and God was willing to pay whatever it took to buy you back from sin.  The Old Testament sacrifices of animals served to atone for certain, specific sins, but to atone for all of human sin was going to be a much greater cost.  Fortunately, in Jesus Christ, God came up with a solution to the problem we had created.  
  Thanks be to God for finding a way forward out of our mess!  God descends into our world, into our darkness, to show us the path back home, back into the light.  May we rejoice and not dwell in the darkness, rather focusing on the light, and sharing the hope we have in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Hebrews 6:13-20

Hebrews 6:13-20 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  We know the promises of God -- they're written throughout Scripture, and the promises Jesus makes for us about going ahead of us and preparing a place for us and always being with us and not allowing anything to separate us from his love, these promises are foundational.  As the writer of Hebrews says, they are anchors for us.  In turbulent and uncertain times, they prevent us from being destroyed on the rocks.  
  Now, an anchor doesn't prevent you from experiencing the tossing of the waves.  Anchors don't keep ships stationary  in a storm -- anchors allow boats to sway with the wind and to bounce with the motion of the sea.  We will still experience trouble in life.  Anchors prevent us from going too far, from straying too close to danger.  But as the currents shift and swirl, anchors allow movement and freedom, tethering us to a spot that keeps the rocks at bay.  So just because we experience grief and stress doesn't mean the anchor has let go.  The promises of God are still certain and reliable and trustworthy.  God is still on the throne, still in control, still holding you in the palm of his hand.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Hebrews 4:14-16

Hebrews 4:14-16 
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  It's been interesting to read some of the push back against celebrities complaining of quarantine.  Some live in houses three times the size of mine and have an entirely different experience than most of us -- while they're in the same storm, their boat is so much bigger and their financial cushion so much larger that they experience the waves in a very different manner.  I don't trust many of them to be able to relate to my experience, just as I can't relate to the experience of many others who are in more desperate circumstances.
 The great thing about Jesus is that his human experience enables him to be able to relate to all of us.  Born poor, he experienced a humble lifestyle.  He was tempted just like we are, and went through great suffering and embarrassment in his final moments.  Jesus knows what you are going through because Jesus endured similar circumstances.  When your boat is tossed in the waves of life's chaotic storms, Jesus can relate.  Not only does he promise to abide with you through everything in life, Jesus understand the emotions you are experiencing.  We can turn to Jesus as someone who knows us and our circumstances completely, and he is trustworthy.
  May we cast our cares upon him, in search of the mercy and grace that is always present.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Psalm 139:23-24

Psalm 139:23-24 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  When we have people over for dinner, there's always a random room in which a number of things get placed, in the effort to make the house look tidier than perhaps it usually is.  The hope is that the guests will never discover this room.
  Here, the Psalmist is expressing a tremendous amount of trust in God -- he's inviting God to explore all the extra rooms where the hidden things are placed, in the hopes of finding all those wayward thoughts so that they can be covered with grace, all because the Psalmist's goal is to be led in the way everlasting.
  Friends, we can trust God with all the secrets of our lives, even the darkest ones we try to hide.  May they be uncovered before the light of God's love, bathed in his mercy, and healed, that they may no longer hinder our progress on the way everlasting.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Psalm 139:17-22

Psalm 139:17-22 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Most things reduce in importance as you zoom out.  That scratch on the car door?  As you back up from the car, you can barely notice it eventually.  That mistake you made in high school?  As you zoom out in time, and it gets farther away, it becomes less and less important.  The money you spent on something frivolous?  As you compare it to all the money you spend over months and years, it becomes less impactful.
  However, when you think about individual people, it doesn't translate to how God views us.  Augustine tells us that God loves us as if there was only one to love.  When you zoom out from one person to one million people to seven billion people, each of us is still uniquely known and loved by God.  God's love doesn't shrink as you zoom out -- it remains as large as can be.  As God's thoughts are as vast as the universe, God is still able to concentrate such love upon you. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Books of the Bible in 5 Minutes: Numbers

Psalm 139:13-16

Psalm 139:13-16 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  I've always loved the idea of God knitting us together in the womb.  I've never knitted anything, but it's an investment in time and love.  Just as knitting a large blanket takes months, a child takes 40 weeks in the womb, a process during which God is crafting us with love -- you are fearfully and wonderfully made.  God knows you completely -- God is the only one who knows you this well.  Before you live out your days, God knows them.
  Again, as I've mentioned, it's a remarkable reminder of grace that God knows everything about you and loves you enough to die for you.  God knows every mistake and poor choice and still ascends the cross in Calvary, because God is invested in you, is willing to die for you, and wants to spend eternity with you.  God yearns for relationship with you.  God looks at you as a beloved child, holding you in God's hand while knowing every detail, every flaw and every highlight.  God will never leave nor forsake you, for God has never given up the claim on you that the artist has. 
  May you hold your head high today as a beloved creation of God.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Psalm 139:7-12

Psalm 139:7-12 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Here, we find one of the most comforting passages in all of Scripture.  In this section of the Psalm, David acknowledges that there is nowhere he can go where God is not already there.  In the heavens, where we expect to find God, God is there.  But then, David goes on -- in Sheol, the darkness of death, God is there.  In the depths of the sea, God is there.  In utter darkness, God is there, for in the darkest places of our lives, the light of God still shines, and John tells us that the darkness cannot overcome the light.
 David was a man who knew the darkness.  He had plenty of things in his life of which to be ashamed, and yet he developed an awareness that God met him in those dark places.  We cannot flee from God, and we need not flee from God -- even the darkest moments of our lives can be redeemed by the incredible grace and love of God, which is demonstrated by Christ on the cross.  We do not need to turn away from God, ashamed of who we are or what we've done -- if we try, we find that God is there, too, arms open wide in love. 
  So may we run to God, with the expectation of forgiveness, allowing us to have hope beyond measure, even in the worst of our moments, with the confidence that comes from Christ alone.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Psalm 139:1-6

Psalm 139:1-6
English Standard Version (ESV)

  It's easy to forget how intimately the Lord knows us -- we get wrapped up in what we are doing and easily overlook God's desire to be part of our lives.  God made us, crafted us, and has total knowledge of us. 
  For the moments when we redden with shame at the thought of God knowing our worst moments completely, we can rejoice in the knowledge that God sent Jesus Christ to die for humanity despite our failings and flaws -- a path forward was provided while we were still enemies of God due to sin. 
  For the moments when we turn away in guilt, knowing that we haven't glorified God as we ought, remember that Jesus Christ died for you before you were born.  God knew you, chose to make you despite your flaws, and seeks out a relationship with you.  You are treasured.
  To understand the depth of God's love is too wonderful -- we cannot grasp the fullness of such love.  What we can do is bask in what we do know -- that God made you and loves you and has redeemed you, willing to pay any price in order to prevent you from suffering eternally.  Like a parent who delights in their child, God delights in you.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Jonah 4:7-11

Jonah 4:7-11 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Speaking for myself, I can sometimes be very casual with the earth.  Maybe it's coming of age in an era of information overload -- it's hard to process all the tragedies around the world we've witnessed in the last twenty years.  When I was a kid, I remember watching the evening news at 6 and the world news at 6.30.  Even that had limited information -- much of the evening news was local, sports, and weather, and the world news, which we didn't always watch, could only cover so much.  We simply didn't know about many things going on around the world.  Now, a click of a mouse can bring you news from Africa or Asia.  Violence in a Brazil slum or rural India can be on your computer screen within hours of it occurring.  Natural  destruction or abuse of the planet is a constant background sound.  It's overwhelming and impossible to react emotionally to each event.
  But God made all of the people, and God made the world, so there's a sense of loss with all of it.  It all matters to God.  Each person who dies, be it from violence or illness or old age, is handcrafted by God.  They matter.  God made every tree in the rainforest that is cut down, and God made every species that we lose to extinction.  They matter.
 So how do we balance a sense stewardship of the earth and its people with the reality of our limited attention?  That's a great question.  I don't have all the answers, but I know that we don't have to fix the whole world.  God can handle that.   What we learn from Jonah is that we have a responsibility to care more for others than we do for ourselves, and that whenever we interact with the outside world and other people, our first responsibility is to remember that they are a beloved child of God.  As I read about the debates and interactions between people on different sides of debates (be it gun control/coronavirus lockdowns/politics/etc.), we would do well to think of those with whom we differ as handcrafted treasures made by the living God.
  We matter to God.  You matter to God.  'They' (whomever that might be to you) matter to God.  We're all in this together, walking each other home.  May we treat one another as made in the image of God, and embrace one another as people who are beloved by their Creator.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Jonah 4:1-6

Jonah 4:1-6 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Pretty basic distinction here -- Jonah is more concerned about himself and his reputation than the lives of those in Nineveh.  Jonah tells God that the reason Jonah fled was because he knew the Lord would repent and not destroy Nineveh.  Jonah was thinking about how great he would sound telling the story of how he warned Nineveh, but they didn't repent, and if only they had listened to the great Jonah...
  What Jonah should be doing is celebrating the salvation of thousands, but instead he's thinking about potential hits to his reputation.  Jonah finds joy in the plant God raised up to give him shade, but not in the lives of thousands who God just saved.
  There are a lot of lessons and warnings we can take from this.  I think the most important is to examine what brings us true joy.  May we pray for the wisdom to find joy in the things that bring God joy, and to watch carefully for the sins of selfishness and pride.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Jonah 3:6-10

Jonah 3:6-10 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Isn't it interesting that even the animals aren't supposed to eat?  I was reading a National Geographic article about how devastating the decline in insect populations is, and how troubling that is for humanity.  I think we forget that sin infests every part of our world -- it's not only limited to how we treat God.  Sin infects how we treat one another, how we treat the earth, how we treat ourselves, and so on.  Sin matters, and it gets into every part of society -- it happens on individual levels and how societal levels. 
  Fortunately, when Jesus dies for our sins, he dies for all of them -- for the big sins and the small ones, because even the smallest sin cannot be tolerated by God.  God is perfect, and the only way we can enter the throne room of grace is to be perfect, and Christ makes us perfect.  You have been washed clean, and so we are bold to hope.
  Now, may that hope infect every relationship, including the relationship we have with one another and with the earth and with the systems and the powers and principalities.  May we be bold in our living and bold in our prayers!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Jonah 3:1-5

Jonah 3:1-5 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Jonah doesn't even make it into the heart of the city, clearly doesn't have much of a speech prepared, and yet at his meager words, a city that takes three days to walk across converts, to the point that everyone in the entire city is wearing sackcloth and fasting.  How's that for effectiveness? 
  There is a very fine line between preaching as engaging and preaching as entertainment.  I think every preacher tries a balancing act on the line -- our desire is to direct hearts and minds to God, and there are countless communication tactics that help guide the listener to focus on what God is doing.  What's easy to forget in all of this is that it is God who converts hearts and minds.  It is God who speaks through the minister.  It is God who is responsible for the effectiveness of preaching -- it's not about the minister.  It's about the Word of God, active and alive in the world.  As with so many things in life, it's not about us -- it's about what God is doing.
  In Nineveh, God was clearly at work in the hearts and minds of the people there -- Jonah was the vessel through which the message came.  When you think about how God might use you, it's important that you not focus on yourself.  When you do that, you worry about your insecurities, and when things go well, you'll inevitably start to think you did a great job.  And perhaps you did, but it was God working in and through you.  Our goal is to let Christ's light shine through us, that they may see our good works and glorify God in heaven.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Jonah 2:10

Jonah 2:10 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Once again, Jonah describes 2020 in a sentence. 

  Would you agree that everything is relative? If you'd ask Jonah two weeks before this how he might feel about being vomited by a great fish onto dry land, he might  have felt less than enthusiastic about the concept.  But from the belly of that great fish, he was probably excited about the concept, although likely less so about the execution.  I can't imagine this process as very appealing or hygenic.  There would likely be a considerable stench emanating from Jonah after the process was complete.
  But Jonah emerged from the fish.  He had endured suffering and come through the trial.  We're never the same after the trials of life -- they always change us.  We carry physical scars as reminders of what we endured.  We carry emotional scars, wounds that are often much deeper than the physical ones.  Unseen by others, these can cause deep suffering. 
  But we always emerge.  This is what it means to be a Christian -- we emerge through the trials of life.  When Jesus appeared after the resurrection, he had a changed body that was often initially unrecognized by those he knew best.  But it still carried the scars. 
  You and I, we emerge through our trials, thanks to Jesus Christ.  Scripture teaches us that even when our trials end in death, we emerge through those, entering the eternal Kingdom of God, where light and life reign.  For the trials that do not end in death, we still emerge, always called and sent by God.  Often the scars still torment us, the memory of what we endured stays with us.  This can sometimes we used in ministry, to reach out to a fellow traveler along the way, to connect with another scarred individual, and share our common humanity, and perhaps share what hope looks like when one walks with such scars.
  I will admit that I don't welcome challenges.  I don't like the thought of the belly of the great fish, and the process of being vomited onto dry land, however welcome it may be, makes me somewhat queasy.  But I pray for the courage to hope in the midst of challenges, for God's steadfast presence to comfort me in the dark nights of the soul, and for the wisdom to recognize opportunities to share my experiences, in joy and weeping, with others who are in search of hope in this often chaotic world.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Books of the Bible in 5 Minutes: Leviticus

Jonah 2:1-9

Jonah 2:1-9
English Standard Version (ESV)

  For all of Jonah's failures, this is a beautiful prayer.  Remember where we've been -- Jonah was called by God, fled in the exact opposite direction, was caught in a storm and thrown overboard, and he's just been swallowed and is in the belly of a great fish.
  And in the dark chaos, the cesspool that is his life, he calls out to God, out of his distress, and God hears Jonah's voice.  Despite the waves thundering and the despair circling, Jonah has confidence that he will, one day, look upon the holy temple of God.  Though Jonah's life seemed lost, he remembered the Lord, and hope gripped his soul, and he recalled that salvation belonged to the Lord, and no one else.
  This is the great news of the Gospel.  Salvation belongs to God, and God gives it freely.  God pours it out upon us as a gift, so that we might be blessed.  Salvation belongs to God, but God comes to us, descending from heaven, searching us out like the Good Shepherd that God is, and bringing us home, blessing us with every blessing, beyond what we can ask or imagine. 
  We all have a choice of what we can hope in.  Everyone makes that choice, some consciously, others on autopilot.  Some choose to hope in money or reputation or youth, none of which can bring salvation.  May we choose, everyday, to hope in the Lord, who alone can bring salvation, even in this current chaos, no matter how dark it may seem, God brings the light to us.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Jonah 1:17

Jonah 1:17 
English Standard Version (ESV)

  2020 in a sentence, right?  When do we get out of the fish?
 
  Just a few short notes here.  First, we all end up in the fish sometimes.  At times, maybe it's due to a bad choice you made.  Other times, life just happens.  It's terrible.  Here, the fish actually saves Jonah from drowning, as he certainly would have otherwise, but I'm not going to say that everything bad in life translates into good things.  Scripture tells us that everything works together for good, but that doesn't mean everything is good.  Sometimes, life just feels like you're in the belly of a fish, and it's rotten.
  Second, this is not the end for Jonah, and it's not the end for you or I, either.  Life continues after the valley of the shadow of death.  We move through these things.  A very wise woman in Chattnooga would tell me, after the death of her husband, that these things come to pass -- they don't come to stay.  We mourn and grieve in the belly of the fish, and sometimes those scars stay with, occasionally forever, but the darkness cannot overcome the light, and death cannot overwhelm life. 
  Jonah was in a fish for three days, before he emerged back into the light.  Jesus was in the tomb for three days before he burst forth into life.  You and I will, on occasion, end up in the belly of a fish.  There is life on the other side.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Jonah 1:7-16

Jonah 1:7-16
English Standard Version (ESV)

  What is so fascinating to me about this passage is that everyone else in the story appears to be more religious than Jonah.  Remember -- Jonah is the prophet, and Jonah is going to end up being wildly successful in his prophecy to Nineveh -- but not by his own brilliance or might. 
  Who is it that recognizes the sin in Jonah's life and fears the repercussions?  The sailors.  When Jonah is ready to end his life in the watery chaos, who prays for forgiveness?  The sailors.  In the midst of watery chaos, threatening death to all, who is it that fights for life?  The sailors.  They're the ones who offer a sacrifice.  When all is said and done at the end of the story, they're the ones that come out looking the best in this chapter. 
  Through Jonah's presence on the boat, the men all learn to fear the Lord.  He gets everything wrong, and yet somehow has successful ministry.  So let's not pretend we have to be perfect in our ministry.  Hopefully, we can come with a better approach than Jonah, but God can use our mistakes, even our worst moments, and show the world the grace and love of God.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Jonah 1:4-6

Jonah 1:4-6 
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Apathy is a dangerous thing.  It's the stage of a relationship where things fall apart because people have stopped fighting for the relationship -- they've accepted that's over and stopped caring what happens.  This is what Jonah experiences here -- he is burdened with guilt, but when the storm comes, he believes himself fated to a watery grave, and so he gives up on life, gives up on God, and can sleep, having nothing left to strive for.
  Little does Jonah realize that God doesn't give up on people, even those who run from him.  It's interesting that the captain is the one urging people to pray, while Jonah, the would-be prophet, is fast asleep in a time of calamity.  You'd think a storm like this would be the easiest time to be a prophet, as everyone is already crying out to their gods, but instead Jonah retreats.  Not exactly a great resume-builder for his eventual journey to Nineveh, is it?
  Just goes to show how amazing and powerful God is, and how God can do anything through anyone at any time, whether we are prepared or not!