Aug
30

Preparing the Way

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It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was rulera over Galilee; his brother Philip was rulerb over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the LORD’s coming!
Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
the salvation sent from God.’”

(Luke 3:1-6, NLT)

Years ago I was sitting with Henry Blackaby discussing a new discipleship course that was hot off the press called, Experiencing God. As we discussed some of the compelling insights into his curriculum, he began to tell a story about John the Baptist. Referencing the above passage, he noted that the people of the first century (and the reader) would expect that the word of the Lord would come to the high priest at the place of worship. But it didn’t. It came to a crusty prophet who had isolated himself in the wilderness.

The point he was successfully making with me was that God always has something to say if he can just find someone to listen. Jesus frequently said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” We have been designed with the capacity to hear the word of the Lord, but just because one possesses the capacity is no guarantee that they will actually hear and respond to God’s voice.

Even though one may possess the position and place of spiritual leadership he or she can become deaf to God’s speech. Like Annas and Caiaphas, we can become so distracted with the noise of every day religious business as usual that we miss the spiritual implications of our faith and relationship with God.

What are you doing to decrease the din and distraction of culture and place yourself in position to hear what God has to say to you?

Categories : Spiritual Formation
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Yesterday was Father’s Day, and I was thrilled to have heard from each of my three adult children by 9:00 am! I’ve enjoyed fatherhood, and now that they are emerging into full blown adulthood, I cannot dwell on what I have offered to them. I am overwhelmed by what I have received…with how my life is fuller today because of the simple things they have taught me or introduced to me.

For example, thanks to my children I know about:

Sushi
Apple (as in computers!)
Spotify
Social Media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat)
Jazz
Pre Workout
Protein Shakes
Creatine
Stretching
Netflix
Text Messaging
Binge Watching
Venmo
Christine Caine
Apps
Battery Life
Working Out
Recovery Weeks
Memes
Online Banking
Uber
White Privilege
Social Justice
Enough Spanish to be Annoying
Art Appreciation
Sexual and Gender Orientation
Diversity
Unconditional Love

Clearly there is more! The point is that my kids have challenged me to be the best me I can be. Because of them, I know about things I may not have pursued on my own, and I’ve certainly travelled places I wouldn’t have gone otherwise. They have taught me that I matter, and that because I matter I matter to other people. They constantly remind me of the value of loving God and loving others and doing both well.

My hope is that for years to come I will continue to learn more from them. And that I continue to grow as a person so that I have something to offer in return!

Categories : Uncategorized
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From time to time, my wife and I like to rise before dawn on Easter morning and watch the sun rise. It gives great meaning to the story of the day as we read the Scriptures and pray, reflecting on the new life made possible through the resurrection.

On the first day of the week, the women rose early and walked to the tomb. Heaviness was in their hearts, sorrow was in their steps, and mourning was on their minds. With spices in hand, they went to the tomb expecting to complete the burial rituals that were left undone late Friday afternoon.

Often in the Bible, dawn or early morning is the time God uses to make new revelations. That’s when the Lord often surprises his people. The women that morning were surprised with three startling things.

They found the stone had been rolled away. They expected the stone barrier to be in place. In fact, in Mark’s gospel they anticipated that the stone would still be there. (Mark 16:3)

They also expected to find a body but instead discovered the tomb was empty. They knew Jesus was dead, but now nothing is the way it was supposed to be. The stone is moved and the tomb is empty. Fear? Anger? Confusion?
They suspected grave robbers, not the grave robbed.

Finally, they discovered two men from another world. The women were now frightened by this majestic visitation.
Of all of the possible questions that raced through their minds, one rose to the top: “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?” (24:5) That question reorients and redirects everything.

This direct question brings a revolution in the way we view and think of life and all existence in four ways:

1. It Redirects us from Death to Life

All life apart from the resurrection is really a slow death. So many people live to die, while some are dying to live. But the resurrection means you live to live. We don’t visit tombs to meet God. Life is not found among the dead!

2. It Redirects us from the Cross to the Resurrection

We love the cross. But there’s something beyond the cross that gives the cross its glory. While we love the cross, it is incomplete without the resurrection. The resurrection adds triumph to tragedy.

3. It Redirects us from Feelings to Facts (24:6-7)

There is a lot of emotion expressed by the women, yet the angelic beings point them to the truth of Scripture with one powerful word: remember!

4. It Redirects us from Imitations to Invitation (John 10:10)

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon describes all of the avenues he explored to find meaning in life, including education, pleasure, career, political power, wealth, and relationships. Through all of those pursuits he, in the words of U2, “still couldn’t find what he was looking for.” Each avenue overpromised and under delivered.

Jesus said, “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. But I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly!” (John 10:10) Jesus’ promise of life is still extended today. He invites you to come to him to find life, hope and rest.

Categories : Easter
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Tonight
Lord Jesus Christ
you sat at supper
with your friends.
It was a simple meal
that final one
of lamb
unleavened bread
and wine.
Afterward
you went out to die.
How many other meals you shared
beside the lake
fried fish and toasted bread
at Simon’s banquet hall a feast
at Lazarus’ home in Bethany
the meal that Martha cooked
on mountain slope
where you fed hungry crowd
at the close of tiring day.
Please sit with us tonight
at our small meal
of soup and rolls and tea.
Then go with us
to feast of bread and wine
that you provide
because afterward
you went out to die.

Categories : Uncategorized
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Into the woods my Master went,
Clean forspent, for spent.
Into the woods my Master came,
Forspent with love and shame.
But the olives they were not blind to him;
The little gray leaves were kind to him;
The thorn-tree had a mind to him
When into the woods he came.

Out of the woods my Master went,
And he was well content.
Out of the woods my Master came,
Content with death and shame.
When death and shame would woo him last,
From under the trees they drew him last:
‘Twas on a a tree they slew him–last
When out of the woods he came.

Categories : Uncategorized
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Mar
28

Untied (Luke 19:28-35)

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After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?” And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on (Luke 19:28-35, NLT).

I’ve owned four pickup trucks. Not that I have ever really needed one, I just enjoy having one. And every now and then, they’re handy. The first one I purchased was a used Chevy Silverado. I had only owned it a few weeks when a friend asked if he could borrow it for a few days to do a landscaping project at his home. I said, “sure!” He offered his wife’s car for me to drive while he used my truck. To make a long story short, two or three days turned into 11, and by the time he was finished with his project I was frustrated to say the least. As I drove to make the vehicle exchange, I uttered promises and oaths that I would never lend my truck to anyone again! When I arrived, I was totally embarrassed, because my friend had taken the truck and had the oil changed and professionally detailed. He even topped off the gas! He actually returned it in far better condition than he received it.

In Jesus’ day the most common form of transportation was the donkey. Donkey’s were ridden by people of every socio-economic class. Like a pickup, donkey’s were utilitarian animals that could be ridden or used to haul heavy items. Some were even used in the fields of agriculture for plowing or for grinding grain into meal. Because they were gentle in spirit, the donkey was viewed as a symbol of peace.

The donkey in the Palm Sunday narrative is usually overlooked. But if you read the passage carefully, the text mentions that the donkey was tied and must be untied five times! That much repetition calls for the reader to pay attention to what is going on.

Let me make four quick observations about the exchange in the aforementioned text. First, the owners gave out of their poverty. In Bible times some people were too poor to own their own individual donkeys, so they would pool their resources and own one jointly. Jesus didn’t send for a donkey from a man that had a stable full of them. His opportunity was extended to those who would have recognized the cost and potential risk of allowing it to be untied and entrusted to the disciples.

Second, the owners exercised faith. Some scholars believe that Jesus prearranged this exchange, but I like the story more as a blind invitation. The only thing they knew was “the Lord needs it.” Faith is nothing more than our positive response to the word(s) of God. They untied the donkey because the Lord had a need that they could fulfill. While we assume the donkey is returned, it is important to note that the Scripture never gives us that answer.

Next, the owners didn’t fully understand the purposes of Jesus. Were they well versed in the Old Testament prophesies of Psalm 118 or Zechariah 9:9? Even if the disciples would have explained that Jesus needed the donkey to ride into Jerusalem to symbolically proclaim his Messiahship, they may not have comprehended the coming events headed into Good Friday and Easter morning. Sometimes God extends opportunities and invitations to us that we may not fully grasp or understand.

Finally, their contribution made a difference. A kingdom sized difference. When we are willing to untie our blessings and gifts for the Lord’s needs we make a lasting impact. The kind that allows people like me to blog and preach their story 2,000 years later!

What does the Lord need that you need to untie?

Categories : Easter, Stewardship
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Mar
15

Out of the Ashes

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After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has. So take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer on your behalf. I will not treat you as you deserve, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite did as the Lord commanded them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before! Then all his brothers, sisters, and former friends came and feasted with him in his home. And they consoled him and comforted him because of all the trials the Lord had brought against him. And each of them brought him a gift of money and a gold ring. So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 teams of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters. He named his first daughter Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land no women were as lovely as the daughters of Job. And their father put them into his will along with their brothers. Job lived 140 years after that, living to see four generations of his children and grandchildren. Then he died, an old man who had lived a long, full life.

(Job 42:7-17, NLT)

I heard a story about a man who left his house one day for exercise. As he jogged down the street, he was approached by a man in a mask who had a knife. The man cut the jogger and took his money. Moments later the jogger was found on the sidewalk. Emergency Medical Services soon arrived and took him by ambulance to the nearest hospital. After a brief evaluation in the emergency room, he was rushed into surgery, where he was approached by a man in a mask with a knife who cut him and took his money.

Suffering is a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

I believe the purpose of the Book of Job is to help us frame our questions about suffering. Is God fair? Is God just? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do the righteous suffer? But the answers to those questions are incomplete in this story, especially when everyone lives happily ever after. I’m happy for Job and others whose suffering concludes with a sigh of relief, but for many, if not most people, it doesn’t end that way.

Job helps us frame the questions, but the real answers we seek come from Jesus.

Think about some interesting parallels.

Jesus faced a test from Satan following his baptism.
Jesus met popular acclaim in the early days of his ministry, which was short lived.
Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, while his three friends slept.
Jesus was betrayed, then denied.
Jesus was falsely accused.
Jesus was offered up to the crowds in a popularity contest with a felon, which he lost.
Jesus was beaten, then crucified.
Jesus was buried.

Surely there are one or more items on that list that you can personally identify with. But for the Christian, Jesus rose from the “ashes” of death to proclaim his victory over sin, death and the grave. And because he is risen, we know that we, too, shall rise from the ashes of our suffering. Our happily ever after may not come in this earthly existence, but we can be confident that in eternity, we will indeed rise from the ashes.

There is no singular answer as to why people suffer. Bad things do happen to good people. But the story of Jesus is the ultimate good news story. Bad things happened to him so that good things can happen to us!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series from the Book of Job. My prayer for you is that you maintain hope in the midst of whatever you’re facing today, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith!

Categories : Job, Unfair
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Mar
13

Out of the Whirlwind

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Affixed atop my county courthouse is a statue of Lady Justice. She presides over those who enter each day, reminding them of two important things. There are the balance scales which symbolize fairness and equity, promising that all judgments will be based on the evidence. Then there is the blindfold, suggesting that justice is impartial.

Throughout the story of Job the reader sees the challenge that Job wrestles. He desired justice. He went so far, in fact, that he requested that God appear in a court room and present his case so that he could defend himself.

Oh that I had one to hear me! Behold, here is my signature; Let the Almighty answer me! And the indictment which my adversary has written, Surely I would carry it on my shoulder, I would bind it to myself like a crown. “I would declare to Him the number of my steps; Like a prince I would approach Him. (Job 31:35-37)

After about 35 chapters of banter between Job and his “friends,” God had enough. Chapter 38 begins with God speaking to Job out of a whirlwind. If Job had an iPhone, the text message would have included an angry emoji. God posed 67 unanswerable questions about creation, the rhythms of creation, and the restraint of evil. God’s questions were so powerful that Job was left speechless. God had no interest in hearing Job’s challenges. Neither was he interested in telling Job why he was suffering.

God’s line of questioning revealed Job’s problem, pride. God said, “Will you discredit my justice and condemn me just to prove you are right?” (Job 40:8) I believe that Job was so good he could no longer see the goodness of God. But when God speaks, you listen. And you learn. And Job learned three important lessons.

First, he learned that God is sovereign. “Then Job replied to the LORD: ‘I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you.” (Job 42:1-2)

Second, he learned that he had spoken from ignorance. “You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.” (Job 42:3-5)

Finally, Job learned that he needed to repent of his pride. “I take back everything I said,
and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” (Job 42:6)

It is important to recognize that Job repented before his restoration, leading the reader to believe that Job would have been content to live the rest of his life in his current state of suffering and never utter another argumentative word in the direction of God again. The good news for Job is that he will soon rise from the ashes. The bad news? He would never know why he suffered as he did.

Categories : Job, Unfair
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God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells,
for he views the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
When he established the force of the wind
and measured out the waters,
when he made a decree for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
And he said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.”
(Job 28:23-28, NLT)

When we evaluate our suffering through the lens of justice, we are left with questions that focus on fairness, equity, and whether or not we are deserving of such pain. How could a good and loving God allow such tragedy? Why do bad things happen to good people? Those discussions are endless and unsatisfying.

It should be pointed out that some of our suffering may be the result of poor judgment or wrong behavior. And I believe that when those cause and effect relationships are in order, they are recognized. The majority of our questions are directed toward those instances when we cannot establish the cause and effect, such as in the case of Job.

There is an alternative, and that is the way of wisdom. When we look at suffering through the lens of wisdom, three things become evident that may be helpful to the righteous sufferer.

First, there is the consequence of creation. When God created the universe he set forth laws that are immutable and absolute. The creation account of Genesis 1-2 describes an ordering of creation, complete with these laws of nature that have been in place from the beginning. Take, for example, the law of gravity. Sir Issac Newton is the scientist credited with its discovery. And each of us is fully aware of the absolute truth of gravity. What goes up will, without a doubt, come down.

Second, there is the consequence of free will. Not only did God create the universe with laws that are immutable and absolute, he also gave the power of free will. In the same creation account, Adam and Eve, securely situated in the Garden of Eden, are given just one rule with outlined consequences. Don’t eat from the one tree. That was it. They had one rule, and they broke it.

Which brings me to number three, the consequences of the fall. Things went sideways at a breath taking pace following Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey. And the repercussions of that choice impacts each one of us today. The “fall” continues to make its presence known in our lives on a daily basis, and ultimately results in our physical deaths.

So how do we move forward in a positive fashion?

We begin by acknowledging the wisdom of God at work in the world. God is the source of all wisdom, and he is the place to begin. In addition to that, we can cultivate awe and wonder. Contemplating God’s vastness helps our hearts to know that the God who created all things also is the God who sustains all things. God is great enough to hold the universe in his hands, and personal enough to call me by name and know the number of hairs on my head. Which means he can be trusted. And when I learn to trust God, I can then come to him in my moments of pain and suffering and be loved by him.

Think of a small child who falls on the playground and skins his knee. He hobbles to his parent with tears in his eyes and reaches his arms to the sky, signifying his desire to be picked up and held. The parent sees what has happened and immediately sweeps the child up and holds the child. Few, if any words are spoken. The child is in pain and comes to his parent knowing that he will find comfort, compassion and strength to carry on. Healing will take place, but there may be a scar to serve as a reminder of the hurt. But the deepest memory will not be the pain. It will be the comfort felt in that deep and profound moment of suffering.

I am aware that large books have been written about suffering and that this is merely a blog post from a sermon I delivered. For me, though, the lens of wisdom is a valid way to approach our personal pain, and I hope you find it helpful.

Categories : Job, Unfair
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In the middle of Job we find the wisdom chapter, Job 28. It serves as an intermission between Job’s dialogues with his three friends and his debates with a fourth friend named Elihu. In this chapter you will find Job searching for some sensibility as he evaluates his suffering. He cannot grasp why his calamity has happened, so he searches for wisdom.

I grew up in an era where a popular phrase was, “They can put a man on the moon, but they can’t (fill in the blank). For Job, the modern scientific and technological advance was mining for ores and gemstones. The first 11 verses of this chapter is a wonderful description of what human kind could accomplish through brains and brawn, tunneling deep into the earth to discover and retrieve the natural resources hidden from the surface. He states, “But do people know where to find wisdom? Where can they find understanding? No one knows where to find it, for it is not found among the living” (Job 28:12-13, NLT). In other words, “They can mine the depths of the earth for natural resources, but they can’t explain why I’m suffering!”

Job noticed that this elusive wisdom cannot be discovered in the skies nor beneath the surface of the waters. “It is hidden from the eyes of all humanity. Even the sharp-eyed birds in the sky cannot discover it. Destruction and death say, ‘We’ve only heard rumors of where wisdom can be found'” (Job 28:21-22, NLT). Job had searched high and low, and was left empty.

But then there’s God.

God understands the way to it
and he alone knows where it dwells,
for he views the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
When he established the force of the wind
and measured out the waters,
when he made a decree for the rain
and a path for the thunderstorm,
then he looked at wisdom and appraised it;
he confirmed it and tested it.
And he said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.”
(Job 28:23-28, NLT)

The story of Job shows his struggle to find justice. In this chapter, however, he is concerned with wisdom. What if we took the old narrative about justice and fairness and instead, looked at our suffering through the lens of wisdom? I’ll take that question up in my next post.

Categories : Job, Unfair
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