You Will Be My People

Psalm 105:1-11, 37-45; Jeremiah 30:12-22; John 12:36-43

So you will be my people, and I will be your God. (Jeremiah 30:22, NIV)

This verse is couched in the midst of some of the harshest criticisms of the people of God in the whole Bible. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, pulls no punches.

As you’re reading the whole thing feels so hopeless.

Until you get to verse 22.

You will be my people. I will be your God.

This is the refrain that connects what happened before Jesus with what happens after the resurrection. This is the message of hope. To be claimed by God as God’s. There is not much more beautiful than this.

It strikes me as I ponder this beautiful refrain how often I find myself trying to undo this.

If I’m honest with myself there are so many Christians (I just deleted the quotes from around Christian) that I don’t want to include. I am guessing that I’m not alone in this.

But, here’s the thing, at one of the darkest times in the history of the people of God when they had gone astray and God was about to judge them, God ultimately states, “You will be my people and I will be your God.” If God can forgive and if God can welcome the people back, who do I think I am to say that certain people shouldn’t be included?

In my frustration with my family in Christ I must remember that they are indeed family. These are people created in God’s image that God has declared, “You will be my people and I will be your God.”

Today I’m asking this question, “Will I love well even the people who I would prefer to not include at the family dinner?”

a large group of people at a party

Faith and Trust

Psalm 105:1-11, 37-45; Genesis 22:1-19; Hebrews 11:1-3, 13-19

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. Hebrews 11:17-19, NIV

Reading these passages alongside one another I am reminded again that “faith” is not what we often think it is. Too often we equate “faith” with “belief.” But, when I read the stories of “faith” I am reminded that “faith” equates with “trust.”

Faith, the kind of faith that Abraham displayed is one that is about trusting the God of the Promise. He trusted that God would bring about his promise so then he knew that God would in some way bring Isaac back from the dead.

This is why we don’t need to worry about doubt concerning faith. I can doubt and wrestle and still fully trust.

As I think about these passages today I wonder am I really willing to trust the Divine? Or does my trust dissipate when things don’t make sense? The test of trust comes when things are not easy. It’s easy to trust when everything is easy.

Do I trust?

Scrabble pieces spelling out the word trust…

Psalm 105:1-11, 37-45; Genesis 21:1-7; Hebrews 1:8-12

He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac.

Reading all these passages together it strikes me this morning that I don’t necessarily have faith in any of this.

Do you?

Faith is “trust”.

When I take a deep look at much of how I live it is marked by lack of trust. I think, when I am honest with myself I live too much of my life as though God will not remember his covenant promises. If I did believe it, I think I would likely have a greater patience in prayer. I intellectually ascent to the things in these passages. I believe them. But, I don’t know if I faith in any of it.

There is critical distinction between faith and belief. Belief is something of the mind. Faith is rooted in trust which is displayed in action.

When was the last time that I prayed long and faithfully for something? Do I rest in the knowledge that God will work out all things for the good of those who believe? Too often I do not.

This morning I am wrestling with the following, “Do I have faith in any of this?”

A bible open on an a gray countertop
Scrabble tiles that spell out grace on a white background with blue flowers on the left side.

Psalm 22:23-31; Genesis 16:1-6; Romans 4:1-12

Genesis 16:1-6, which is the opening of the story of Hagar and Ishmael. This tells about how Abraham’s wife wanted a child so badly that she offered up her slave Hagar to Abraham and Hagar conceives. They took the promise God had offered in Genesis 15 into their own hands.

Romans 4:1-12 talks about Abraham’s faith being credited to him as righteousness.

When you read those two passages side by side it is shocking.

Abraham acts in a way that is anything but righteous. He impregnated a woman that is not his wife and he then leaves this woman to be abused by his wife.

Yet, Romans 4 reminds us that this righteousness that was credited to Abraham was not based on anything he did. It was based solely on the promise that God made. His righteousness was credited to him before this scene plays out.

Think about that.

Abraham is deeply flawed, deeply sinful, and in many ways pretty awful. So was his wife.

Yet, he is considered righteous in spite of this.

God’s grace is so overwhelming that even a man like Abraham can become the spiritual father of the nations. God’s faithfulness is greater than any man’s. God’s grace is beyond anything that we can ever imagine.

I am reminded by this passage that I don’t need to take things into my own hands. I can trust the God of grace to bring his plans to fruition. When I trust God there is rest.

A man's fist extended upright, signifying a sense of self-righteousness.

Psalm 22:23-31; Genesis 15:1-6, 12-18; Romans 3:21-31

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

All of these passages are remarkable.

I am amazed by the fact that in Genesis 15:12-18 Abram is told there will be a time of enslavement. This promise from God is not going to be simply roses and puppies. No, there would be hardship. There would be need of saving.

Then, this passage in Romans 3 is always one that leaves me shaking my head in awe and amazement. Why? Because it undoes so much of my self-righteousness. It is the great reminder that is Christ’s faithfulness and God’s action that sets people right with God. We don’t add a thing to it. There is nothing that we do.

God in God’s grace sets the world right by Christ’s faithfulness.

The grace that God lavishes on God’s creation is without limit. It is effective and unstoppable. God’s grace brings about its intended result.

I am recognizing again that I need to keep on killing off my ego. There is so much self-righteousness in me that has yet to be dealt with on so many levels.

Today, I’m wrestling with this question, “What do I trust more, my own self-righteousness or God’s grace in Christ?”

Psalm 77; Proverbs 30:1-9; Matthew 4:1-11

Photo by Juli Kosolapova on Unsplash

The tempting of Jesus in the wilderness by the enemy is one of those stories that I find to be quite insightful. It is also one of the stories that challenges me deeply. I’m not sure that I’d be able to pass the test.

As I think about this passage again this morning I am more and more aware that the interaction has a lot to do with power.

The first temptation is about food. I think I would call this the power to provide. Jesus has been fasting for forty days at this point and the enemy tells him to turn the rocks into bread (there are rocks in Palestine that look like loaves of bread). As a dad and a husband I feel a lot of pressure to provide. Not from anyone else, but from myself. I think if someone said, “Hey here’s this thing, just do this, and you’d have the power to provide forever,” I would probably do it and not think about it. Yet, Jesus in this moment determines to trust God to provide.

The second temptation is what I would call the power to protect. Jesus is tempted to throw himself off the top of the Temple to prove that God would protect him. Yet, Jesus determines not to put God to the test. Again, if I were offered the ability to have unlimited power to protect myself or my family what I do? I would fail the test. I want to say that I’d be willing to hold on to my principles and trust God but, I’m just not sure.

The final temptation is simply power for the sake of power. The enemy says all Jesus has to do is worship the enemy and all the world would be his. What would it take for me to de-center my worship of God? If I was offered the power over the kingdoms of the world would I take it? Again, I hope that I would choose to trust God. But, I just don’t know. In the Lord Of the Rings - Fellowship of the Ring, one of the key moments is when Gandalf refuses to take the Ring of Power from Frodo. He says that he would use it for good but it would corrupt him. When we are promised this kind of power it will inevitably corrupt us.

The upside down way of Jesus is sacrificial love. It is loving enemies and neighbors. It is choosing the cross over saving ourselves.

Vince-fleming-Vmr8bGURExo-unsplash (1).

Psalm 77; Job 5:8-27; 1 Peter 3:8-18a

Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.

No exceptions.

It seems that we live in a world where we try to make exceptions to living the way that Peter describes here all the time. To seek to be agreeable, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, and humble we are told simply do not work any more.

It’s a fascinating thing to me that many Christians will tell you that we ought not live by these principles because it means that “enemies” of the faith will win.

We have so lost our way that to live by these principles is something that is considered “weak.”

No exceptions.

There is not any wiggle room here. There’s no “…but politics” or “…but culture war.”

Nah, if I claim to follow Jesus I am to live this way, all the time, no exceptions.

If I am trying to make excuses or devise exceptions to live as one who is agreeable, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, and humble then I need to take a good long look in the mirror.

Psalm 77; Job 4:1-21; Ephesians 2:1-10

I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might, I yell at the top of my lungs. He listens.

I’m not sure that there is a more comforting phrase for me in all the Scriptures than, “He listens.”

“He listens,” is a complete sentence.

It is remarkable to me that when I cry out to the Divine the Divine listens. I am constantly on a quest to understand what amazing grace means. As I sit here this morning with many things on my heart and my mind, I am struck by the reality that it is amazing grace that God listens.

Why would God listen to me? What is it about me that God would take any notice? Why would God care about what I have to say?

Because God loves me.

I love my children with all of who I am. When they talk, I listen. Even when they were small and couldn’t speak coherently I took great joy in listening to their rambling and mumbling. I don’t know anyone who ignores a baby that is talking to them, particularly when it’s your own child.

I imagine this must be what it’s like for God. This Creator God, the holy one, the sustainer of the universe, loves his creation without condition. This love, apparently, leads God to this place of intimacy where God listens.

This morning I’m pondering this question, “Do I really believe that God listens because he loves me?”

Psalm 25:1-10; Psalm 32; Matthew 9:2-13

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and misfits?”

This story about what happened after the calling of Matthew resonates so deeply with me. I just love everything about it. First, the fact that Jesus calls Matthew, a tax collector, to join him as a disciple makes me smile. Tax Collectors were (and are) some of the most despised people in Palestine. He was considered a traitor to his people. Matthew was probably skimming and probably taxing the people a bit more than he ought to line his own pockets. Matthew was not a guy that anyone in Jesus' merry band would have chosen to associate with.

But, then it gets better.

Matthew throws Jesus a party and all kinds of disreputable characters show up. The Pharisees are nearly apoplectic.

Over the course of my years in ministry I have found myself associating less and less with church people. I find myself standing on the outside looking in at Christian subculture. My people are the ones at the pubs and cafes.

It’s pretty funny to receive the scorn of the modern day Pharisees.

I imagine Jesus just smirking and shaking his head as he responded to their critique, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

Too many of us are way too worried about being “above reproach” and not worried enough about loving well.

It’s just too easy to get focused on coddling insiders than it is to invite outsiders. For pastors, in particular, the insiders are our “customers.” We forget that our primary responsibility is not to the 99 but to the 1. What’s just as sad is that the 99 forget that they were at one time the 1.

This morning I’m pondering the reality that as a pastor I have this dual calling. The call to care for the insiders and those on the outside. How do I orient myself to this dual calling? How do I consistently hold a posture of loving well?

Psalm 25:1-10; Daniel 9:15-25a; 2 Timothy 4:1-5

But you—keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.

Every time I read this little passage from 2 Timothy 4 and Paul’s charge to his protege, I am reminded that there are always two kinds of times. There are good times and there are bad times.

I too often forget that reality.

I tend to be a bit of an optimist and assume that good times are the standard. I have friends who are a bit more on the pessimistic side of the coin and they assume that bad times are the standard. But, the reality is somewhere in between, both good and bad times. We should expect both.

Beyond that, I need to recognize that in anything, good or bad, that it is never all good or all bad. No, the good and the bad are intermingled together. Often times we cannot pull them apart. An honest assessment of any situation is the both/and not the either/or.

As I continue to grow and mature I find that understanding that in any situation there are both good and bad to it, I am able to find contentment.

Paul is famous for saying that he has learned to be content in any situation. I am beginning to believe that contentment is rooted in his understanding that good and bad are intertwined. In other words he expects to experience both. When the good comes, he rejoices. When the bad comes he is not surprised but is able to endure.

I think enduring the bad is able to be done because we are confident that the good is coming.

One of my favorite bands, The String Cheese Incident have a song called “Good Times Are Around The Bend”. It’s a joyful reminder that though we may face something hard, there will be good at some point.

Life is not dualistic. It’s a constant continuum. It’s not either/or but both/and. Not good or bad. But, good and bad inseparably mixed together so that we may rejoice and endure.

One Who Receives Grace

Psalm 25:1-10; Daniel 9:1-14; 1 John 1:3-10

I love that passage from 1 John that almost feels contradictory.

On the one hand, if we claim to be in the light but still bounce around in darkness we are liars. One the other hand, if we claim to be without sin then we are also liars.

It almost seems hopeless, doesn't it?

How can someone be in the light and still be struggling with sin? Aren't we supposed to be perfect and holy? Aren't we supposed to be free from the darkness?

This to me is the beauty of the Way of Christ. There is a standard that we are called to, a standard of holiness in the light. Yet, there is a reality that we will not be perfect and we will struggle with things. The Way of Christ simply says, “Own it. Embrace the reality that you need grace, forgiveness, and mercy.”

To be in the light is not to be perfect. To be in the light is to be honest. To live with integrity. To be one who acknowledges one's own imperfection.

To be one who receives grace.

What an overwhelming thought! To be in the way of Christ is to be one who receives grace. To be in the way of Christ is not to be perfect, it is not to have it all together, it is recognize that I don't have it all together and nobody else does either.

So, grace abounds!

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Push Comes to Shove

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 51:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash

Today is Ash Wednesday the beginning of Lent. For the next 40 days Christians around the world will fast in various ways to prepare for the coming of Resurrection Sunday. This is the high holy day where we celebrate the resurrection of Christ. It was this moment that sets Jesus apart from all other would-be messiahs. The empty tomb is the key moment of our faith.

Ash Wednesday is the stark reminder that get to the resurrection Christ first had to go to the cross.

Many will wear ashes on their foreheads today to remind them of their mortality. The ashes signify that from dust we came, to dust we return. Just as Christ died, so too will we die.

The passages for today's readings point us in the direction of why there was a cross. There was a cross because we through our hypocrisy had separated ourselves from God.

Even though we might act like we honor God, in our hearts there is something else going on.

What is it? What else is going on?

It is this desire to honor ourselves. It is humanity playing out the temptations in the wilderness between Jesus and The Accuser in each of our own lives. Sadly, if we're honest, many times when push comes to shove we fail the test. When we do, we create separation between us and God.

In our humanity we are frail. In our humanity we are often given to the path of least resistance, whatever is easiest or makes us “happy” in the moment. In our humanity we often care more about looking the part than being the part.

We are reminded on this Ash Wednesday that though there was separation there is no more. Resurrection is coming. Death has been defeated. Reconciliation is ours because of the victory won on the cross and displayed in the resurrection.

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The Mystery of Following

Psalm 110:1-4; Job 19:23-27; 1 Timothy 3:14-16

Photo by Mads Schmidt Rasmussen on Unsplash

I hope to visit you soon, but just in case I’m delayed, I’m writing this letter so you’ll know how things ought to go in God’s household, this God-alive church, bastion of truth. This Christian life is a great mystery, far exceeding our understanding, but some things are clear enough: He appeared in a human body, was proved right by the invisible Spirit, was seen by angels. He was proclaimed among all kinds of peoples, believed in all over the world, taken up into heavenly glory.

I am always and consistently struck by the both-and of Jesus. Both a human and taken up to glory.

As I consider again this great reality of the dual nature of Christ, fully man and fully God, I am left in awe.

What leaves in even greater awe is what the author of 1 Timothy says right before the creedal statement, “some things are clear enough.”

The nature of Christ is clear enough. I think it's because it is grounded in the humanity of Jesus. We don't consider the humanity of Jesus well enough. The reality of him being alive and living in this world is something that we just don't let our minds and hearts consider. We are so deeply caught up in the cosmic Christ, this divine being that does all the miracles and conquered death.

But, the humanity of Jesus is what grounds him in reality. He gets hungry, tired, annoyed, angry, has conflict with family, is accused of being a drunk and a glutton. He has friends who he teases. He gets betrayed.

This Jesus of history and time is the Jesus that I can look at and say to myself, “Yep, I know what he's going through.”

Isn't it interesting that the mystery is the life of following Jesus. The mystery is not Jesus himself.

This makes so much sense if we take the Christian life seriously. If we actually try to live the things of the Sermon on the Mount, we are left wondering if this even possible.

This way of Jesus is a great mystery. There is grace upon grace. The rules are left under the auspices of love. This often leaves us wondering, “what do I do now?” The way of Jesus responds, “what is the way of love? of grace? of mercy?”

So, we are left to ponder afresh the Jesus of time and history and to wade into the mystery of how to follow him.

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Dead End Drift

Psalm 110:1-4; Exodus 19:7-25; Hebrews 2:1-4

Photo by Everett Bartels on Unsplash

It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off.

In high school there as a class that I took called, Math Analysis. It was pre-Calculus. The teacher taught us through projects. We did a project with satellites and orbits that was super hard and really interesting.

I couldn't tell you any of the math. I don't even really remember much beyond what I've told already.

What I do remember is that if our calculations were off by even a fraction of a percent then our satellite would crash. You see, when you drift off course, even slightly, over thousands of miles the results are a significant deviation.

We experience this on a lesser scale all the time, don't we? I mean, how many banners have you made in your life where your kerning was off just a bit and you ran out of room? Oh, just about every single one? Me too!

The author of Hebrews reminds us that the same thing can happen with the gospel. We can begin to drift off and lose our way. We can end up down a dead end that leaves us confused and lost.

I'm reading The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey right now. He wrote this, “Goodness cannot be imposed externally, from the top down; it must grow internally, from the bottom up.”

As I look around our world today it seems that we Christians have perhaps lost the grip on the message of the Gospel. We clamor for a top down, externally imposed goodness. This loss has left us graceless, merciless, compassionless, and simply unkind.

I am reminded this morning that I must hold tight to the gospel message lest I drift. The drift though small can leave me lost in a dead end.

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Two Ditches

Psalm 50:1-6; 1 Kings 14:1-18; 1 Timothy 1:12-20

a road between ditches

I’m so grateful to Christ Jesus for making me adequate to do this work. He went out on a limb, you know, in trusting me with this ministry. The only credentials I brought to it were violence and witch hunts and arrogance. But I was treated mercifully because I didn’t know what I was doing—didn’t know Who I was doing it against! Grace mixed with faith and love poured over me and into me. And all because of Jesus.

For some of us pastors this is something we need to be reminded of regularly. I know I do.

There are two ditches that I find on either side of me as I consider my calling. On the one side is whining. Often, when I meet with colleagues there is a corporate time of whining about our calling and congregations. It's like Mr. Costanza's Festivus comes to church. There is a temptation to fall into a bit of despondency because our callings are related to people. People are never finished and people are always messy. When you never have closure you can get frustrated. This is part of the reason that Eugene Peterson would read The Brothers Karamazov every year. He needed a reminder that people's lives are fascinating.

The other ditch is one of arrogant power. We pastors can develop a bit of a god-complex. There is this sense that we speak for God to God's people and therefore the people ought to obey us. This, unchecked, will of course lead us to a place of spiritual abuse. We often hold our authority over people. When this happens it is ugly and causes serious harm.

Paul had the answer to staying between these two ditches. That is, in a word, gratitude.

Pastors, in my opinion, have the greatest job in the world. We get the opportunity to be part of the life of people. There is a presence we get to have as they learn to live the life of faith. We walk alongside them during the overwhelming joys of weddings and births. We also get to hold people's hands and put our arms around their shoulders during the painful times of their lives. We are always there in the background of their lives.

A simple presence during the good, the bad, and the mundane.

This is a beautiful thing that we are called to.

This calling is all grace.

None of us deserve it.

Each of us called to serve as ministers of the gospel do so by the gracious working of God through Christ.

What an honor! What a responsibility! What an absolute joy!

All by grace.

Oh, that I would consistently see my calling through the lens of gratitude. I need to continue learn this valuable lesson that Paul teaches Timothy here.

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Do You Stink?

Psalm 50:1-6; 1 Kings 11:26-40; 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

Photo by Casey Murphy on Unsplash

Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. >Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is >recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with >life.

I often wonder if this is true of me.

There are few things in this life that I desperately want. When I die, oh how I would love it to be said of me that because of Christ I gave off “an aroma redolent with life.”

So often I find myself staring into the mirror seeing my shortcomings and failings to love well. The lack of love is so easily apparent. Thankfully, there is a grace that knows no bounds that has been offered to me through this Christ whom I seek to follow.

This little passage is such a good reminder that words matter. How we live matters.

It's also a reminder that when we seek to live this way there will be people who won't respond well. They will see the pursuit of love and will find is distasteful, a stench.

But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse.

How can I be sure that I'm speaking life? How can I know that the words and way I live are honoring and pleasing to Christ?

This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on? No—but at least we don’t take God’s Word, water it down, and then take it to the streets to sell it cheap. We stand in Christ’s presence when we speak; God looks us in the face. We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we can.

It's that last little bit that jumps at me, “say it as honestly as we can.”

There's no “but” tagged onto the words of Jesus. There's no attempt to package him or mitigate him for our comfort. No, when we are speaking the truth in love it is not going to be a cheap, watered down, Christ. It is going to be the message of the cross and resurrection that is laden with grace, mercy, compassion, empathy, and love.

I suppose this is the means by which I can evaluate myself. Is the way I live and the words I speak bookended with grace and love?

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A Vending Machine or God?

Psalm 102:12-28; Job 6:1-13; Mark 3:7-12

Photo by Marc Noorman on Unsplash

Each morning I share a little morning blessing in my social streams. Nothing big, just a little something that runs through my mind. This morning I shared, “may you choose to be content despite your circumstances.” With this being a Wednesday we can often find ourselves buried by details and tasks. It can be really hard to be content.

But, there's also a bigger picture beyond the small every day stuff. Some of us find ourselves in these difficult situations where it feels like the whole world is closing in on us. Some of it is due to our own decision making and some of it is due to things beyond our control.

Often times when we find ourselves in these situations we turn to God out of desperation.

Like Job we wonder why hasn't God done the things we want him to do on our behalf.

The arrows of God Almighty are in me, poison arrows—and I’m poisoned all through! God has dumped the whole works on me. Donkeys bray and cows moo when they run out of pasture— so don’t expect me to keep quiet in this. Do you see what God has dished out for me? It’s enough to turn anyone’s stomach! Everything in me is repulsed by it— it makes me sick.

Yet, more often than not I wonder if we are really more like the crowds chasing Jesus around. The people who have experienced God's provision and then demand more.

He had healed many people, and now everyone who had something >wrong was pushing and shoving to get near and touch him.

God is not a vending machine that we can drop a quarter into and get something in return. It's just not how things work. No, God relates to us. God engages with us. God is calling and drawing us in deeper beyond our wants and desires.

There are times when we will walk through difficult things. It's parf of living in this imperfect world amongst imperfect people. There is sickness, mental and physical, there are natural disasters, there are things well out of our control.

Sometimes we have to face the consequences of our decisions.

Sometimes we experience the consequences of other people's decisions.

Sometimes we find immediate healing and relief.

Sometimes we have to learn contentment in the midst of our circumstances.

If you're anything like me when I'm facing the hard stuff I want to know why God doesn't answer my fervent prayer to fix it and fix it now. Then, sometime later I see how the plan worked itself out and see God's hand in it.

As C.S. Lews writes about Aslan in the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “ Ooh” said Susan. “I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall >feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”... “Safe?” said Mr Beaver ...“Who said anything about safe? 'Course he >isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”

I love this picture of Aslan. He isn't safe but he is good. In our home we talk often of God being sovereign and good. We can trust God because God is in control and is good. This helps us find contentment in the midst of circumstances.

No, God is not a vending machine. God works in God's ways on God's own timing. I'm learning to be content with that.

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That Time They Fought

Psalm 102:12-28; 2 Kings 8:1-6; Acts 15:36-41

Photo by Obie Fernandez on Unsplash

What do you do when conflict arises? This little passage in Acts 15 is always fascinating to me because it gives us a snapshot of the less than perfect leaders in the early church. It turns out that they were as human and normal as we are. They had disagreements and tempers and personalities. (Side note, I'm thankful that the Bible preserves the imperfections because it helps us know and understand these people were just like us.)

Paul and Barnabas disagreed on taking young Mark along on the journey. So, they parted ways. Their disagreement on this man lead them to breaking off their partnership. This doesn't sound like the kind of thing that the writer of two thirds of the New Testament should do, does it? This was a guy who had visions of the risen Christ. He was a guy who would go on to write, possibly, the greatest passage on love in human history. Yet, here he is unable to continue in relationship with someone who was his mentor and friend over a disagreement.

There's no moral judgment in the passage about the argument. There's just a statement of the facts of the matter.

I think one of the things that comes out of this brief story is that it's OK to agree to disagree. Some times we come to a place where we simply have to say, “We aren't going to see eye to eye and for the greater good we ought to part ways.”

It also brings to mind a conversation that I've a number of times about the nature of forgiveness. I think that when we talk about forgiveness we need to distinguish between forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. Forgiveness is a one way street. It's what the offended person does so as to not develop bitterness in their own soul. Reconciliation is a two way street when the two people can be present with one another. This is a two way street where the offender acknowledges their hurtful action and the offended is willing to remain in relationship. Restoration is when the hurt has been moved past and the relationship has been returned to a previous or deeper state.

I imagine that Paul and Barnabas forgave one another. Perhaps in their separating there was even reconciliation in that they were not estranged from one another. We see later in the book of Acts a restoration when Mark joins Paul on the journey.

When we enter into conflict the minimum outcome we hope for is forgiveness from our own point of view. When it comes to reconciliation and restoration, that is something that requires two people to move towards one another. We don't really control the reconciliation and restoration aspect. And sometimes, those are not healthy outcomes (particularly in cases of abuse, restoration is not something that we need to pursue).

This morning I am processing whom I may need to forgive or whom I need to ask forgiveness of.

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You Are Not Dismissed

Psalm 102:12-28; 2 Kings 4:8-17, 32-37; Acts 14:1-7

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

One of the things that I like about the Psalms is that they make me feel normal.

I don't know about you but when it comes to my experience with the divine it's up and down and left and right. It's a mixed bag to put it simply. There are days when I'm really angry with God. Then there are days where it feels like God is right in front of me and I feel God like never before. There are also days where I'm totally indifferent to God.

Maybe I'm an odd duck (well, I know I'm an odd duck, who in their right mind chooses to be a pastor...)?

Perhaps this isn't your experience at all. It sure is mine.

For a long time I tried to pretend that it wasn't like that. For my adult life I have been a professional Christian. I was a missionary to the college campus and now a pastor. I am supposed to have a dynamic relationship with God. One that is constantly on the upswing and never dips. That simply isn't true.

Over the years, I have learned that being honest about relationship with God has become the most important thing in having a relationship with God. It is amazing as I share struggles with others that they too have them and we are able to find encouragement from one another. When I pretend or lie about my relationship with God I inevitably isolate myself. During these seasons of isolation it can feel like I'm in a hole that I can't dig out of.

Thankfully, I have found myself in a community of people who love me without condition. I can share all of myself with them and as a result, I find that my relationship with God is more honest and real.

I resonated with verse 17 in Psalm 102,

“When he attends to the prayer of the wretched. He won’t dismiss their prayer.”

When I feel wretched, God won't dismiss me. When you feel wretched, God won't dismiss you either.

How amazing is that?

When we are at our most unloveable God still embraces us. Why? Because God is compassionate and loving and merciful and gracious.

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February 2, 2024

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c; Job 36:1-23; 1 Corinthians 9:1-16

Photo by isaac macdonald on Unsplash

Our decision all along has been to put up with anything rather than >to get in the way or detract from the Message of Christ. 1 Corinthians >9:12b, The Message

I love and hate this line from Paul.

In this chapter he's writing about his rights as an apostle. He is reminding the Corinthians that it's OK for him to be supported by the people of and to make a living as a minister of the gospel.

But, he has chosen not to exert those rights.

Why?

Because they can get in the way of the message of Christ.

Imagine, not using a right that is yours because it might detract from the message of Christ.

Am I willing to do such a thing? What are the rights that I demand that hinder the message of Christ?

So much to wrestle with.

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