Letting go…

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Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Indeed. As children of God we have nothing to fear. There is no obstacle, no problem, no difficulty our God cannot overcome on our behalf. You and I know this to be true. That said, there’s a reason scripture is filled with “fear not” or “be not afraid”. It’s because people tend to experience fear.

This past weekend I went with our youngest daughter Danielle (and her future roommate Brianna) to visit the college she will attend as a freshman in the fall. We needed to make her dorm selection so we took the time to visit several possibilities. And while I’m excited for her as she begins a new season of her life, there’s a part of me that wonders, “Will she be okay?” We’re a close family and Danielle is particularly close to her mother. I felt a bit of fear/anxiety creeping into my consciousness. We prepare our children to be independent, but actually letting them go can be hard. After all, as a father I’m hard-wired to protect my children as much as possible.

The verse this morning reminds me that Danielle has a heavenly Father who goes with here where I cannot. He holds Danielle in the palm of his hand. He holds me in the palm of his hand. He holds you in the palm of his hand. This morning I’m going to let that reality sink in.

Lord Jesus, give us peace when we tend toward fear. Amen.

When it seems God is not enough…

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Scripture: 2 Chronicles 25:5 King Amaziah assembled the people of Judah, and set them by ancestral houses under commanders of the thousands and of the hundreds for all Judah and Benjamin. He mustered those twenty years old and upward, and found that they were three hundred thousand picked troops fit for war, able to handle spear and shield. 6 He also hired one hundred thousand mighty warriors from Israel for one hundred talents of silver. 7 But a man of God came to him and said, “O king, do not let the army of Israel go with you, for the LORD is not with Israel—all these Ephraimites. 8 Rather, go by yourself and act; be strong in battle, or God will fling you down before the enemy; for God has power to help or to overthrow.”

Observation: King Amaziah (of the southern kingdom of Judah) enjoyed the favor of God, yet he perceived that having God in his corner was not enough. So he hired 100K warriors from the northern kingdom of Israel to supplement his own warriors. Fortunately, a “man of God” (v.8) talked him out of it. Crisis averted. But Amaziah’s heart still did not trust the Lord – so he would later offend God anyway. He would pay with his life.

Application: Many of you know I’ve recently focused on the practice of Sabbath – which is not an easy thing to do. Culture around me doesn’t support giving a day to God. But my greatest obstacle is myself. Why? Because I’m reluctant to trust God with one of my seven days of the week. So much to do. So many things that (I perceive) require my attention. In my mind I understand God blesses the Sabbath and cares for me better than I can care for myself. But my heart hasn’t yet caught up. I feel like Amaziah as described a few verses before our passage, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a true heart.”

In other words, Amaziah performed the acts of faithfulness, but his heart was lagging. He worried that God was not enough. I often do the same thing.

Prayer: Create in me a clean heart, o God, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

A divided church…

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Scripture: Acts 23:6 When Paul noticed that some (people on the council questioning him) were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” 7 When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.) 9 Then a great clamor arose, and certain scribes of the Pharisees’ group stood up and contended, “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 When the dissension became violent, the tribune, fearing that they would tear Paul to pieces, ordered the soldiers to go down, take him by force, and bring him into the barracks.

Observation: Paul was clever to use a known point of contention among the Sadducees and the Pharisees (v.8) to sow division among the council members. And get himself out of a jam.

Application: People of shared Christian faith can generally be counted upon to find small points of division despite significant points of agreement. Happens in the church all the time.

I was chatting with a young couple the other day, one a former Roman Catholic and one a former Missouri-synod Lutheran. They recounted how, during their wedding service last spring, several family members took communion. Together. From a pastor who was neither Roman Catholic nor Missouri-synod Lutheran!

We Christians of various denominations (or non-denomination) generally agree on the vast majority of things, yet we tend to define ourselves by our differences. I’m pretty sure this makes Jesus very sad. Makes me sad.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, by your grace, make your church one as you are One with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Privilege…

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Scripture: Acts 22:24 the tribune directed that (Paul) was to be brought into the barracks, and ordered him to be examined by flogging, to find out the reason for this outcry against him. 25 But when they had tied him up with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who is uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard that, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? This man is a Roman citizen.”27 The tribune came and asked Paul, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “It cost me a large sum of money to get my citizenship.” Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.” 29 Immediately those who were about to examine him drew back from him; and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.

Observation: As one might expect, being a Roman citizen carried with it privileges in the Roman Empire of ancient times.

Application: I don’t often think of myself as a person of privilege, but the truth is – I am. Despite being an ethnic minority (Latino) I was born in this country as were many generations of my family members. The Hinojosa family has been in what is now south Texas since the 16th century. My parents are both college graduates as am I. And while I have known discrimination, I’ve never been denied opportunity as a result – at least not that I know of. For this I am extremely grateful. Yet today’s passage has me thinking about those living in greater Dallas/Ft. Worth who know far less privilege than I do.

 

There are people living in communities of relative poverty, who attend poor public schools, who live in fear of a police encounter. There are undocumented people who worry they’ll be sent back to their country of origin at a moment’s notice. There are female pastor colleagues who find it difficult to find work in a male-dominated professional such as the ministry. There are professional people out of work in their 50s and later – who can’t get an interview because of age discrimination. I could go on.

This morning I’m thinking, “How has the Lord called me to support people on the margins in my own hometown?”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this morning we lift up to you people who live on the margins of our communities. Give us grace to advocate for others where you provide us opportunity to do so. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Yes…you

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Scripture: Acts 22: (the apostle Paul said to the crowd) 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today. 4 I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison…
6 “While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Then he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 I asked, ‘What am I to do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.’

Observation: I’ve said this many times before, but it bears repeating. It’s hard to comprehend just how unconventional a person Saul (his name before it was “Paul”) was when he was called by the Lord Jesus to be an apostle to the Gentiles. One might have expected there were any number of spiritually mature, faithful, formidable Christian leaders already in the church who could have done the job, empowered by the Spirit. Heck, most of Jesus’ original disciples were still alive, why not choose one of them? After all, they were direct eye-witnesses to just about everything related to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Few would have challenged their authority as apostles in the way they challenged Paul – who was not a direct eyewitness to those same things. But God’s ways are not our ways.

Application: I know. If you follow this blog you’ve seen me write about this issue many times already. Some of you may be rolling your eyes at this point and thinking, “Not this again.” Yes this again. God chooses people for his purposes much differently than human beings do. God seems to choose all the wrong people based on what can be seen and known about them before God calls them. But then they turn out to be just the right people. Why is this so important?

It’s so important because the Lord is calling you dear brothers and sisters. It may be something big or it may be something small, but the Lord is calling you to do something on his behalf for the sake of another. Even as you read this, some of you know exactly what I’m referring to. You’ve “heard” the call but you’ve been resisting it because you just can’t see yourself as someone who is qualified or capable of succeeding. I get it.

Get over it.

It’s not about you. All you have to do is say “yes” and trust God for the rest. Really. God will bring to bear whatever is needed to accomplish the task you’ve been given. It’s true. And when you step out in faith, despite your obvious shortcomings, the Lord will meet you there and do something you could never do on your own.

Prayer: Lord, give us faith to suspend our disbelief long enough to say yes to your calling. Amen.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…

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Scripture: Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Observation: In ancient times kings were often referred to as “shepherds” of their people. It was their job to secure provision and protection for their subjects. We also know David, to whom the psalm is attributed, was once an actual shepherd before becoming king, so such language was especially appropriate.

God was David’s king, so David trusted God for protection and provision “I shall not want”. David also had moments of fear and doubt as recorded in some of the psalms of lament. For instance, here’s Psalm 13:1, “1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” But that sort of edge is not present in Psalm 23. Instead there is a confidence that, no matter the external circumstances (“though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” v.4) God would provide and protect.

Application: First, I love the humanity of David (and other authors) we read in the psalms. Sometimes David was very brave and confident, other times – not so much. But that’s what makes the psalms so powerful. They echo the highs and lows of the human condition.

And while on one level I believe the Lord God is indeed my shepherd, that he will provide provision and protection, I don’t always live that way. Sometimes I do, but many times I don’t. Instead I’m anxious as if I’m not sure what God will do – despite the fact God has demonstrated his faithfulness over and over and over again. Still, the doubt remains.

And when I’m doubtful I get anxious. I worry. Instead of trusting in the Lord, I start striving – as if my world depends on me, my industry, my productivity, my capacity, my ingenuity. In short, I begin to live as if I have no heavenly Father. As if I have no Shepherd to guide me, to provide for me, to protect me. In my head I know this is not true, but my actions betray my stubborn doubt. Lord have mercy…

Prayer: Heavenly Father, this morning I find the words of your servant David compelling. I read in his words an ease, a trust, a confidence in who you are. You are the Shepherd who cares for your children. Today I ask that you would give to me a renewed sense of the truth of this verse. Not just something I understand in my head, but a confidence that comes from the inside out, a confidence that is given by grace. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Christianity and culture…

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Scripture: Acts 21:17 When (Paul and his companions) arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. 18 The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. 21 They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.

Observation:  The church elders in Jerusalem were glad to hear of Paul’s success in spreading the gospel among the Gentiles, but false rumors had spread about Paul (see v.21). There were many Jewish Christians who believed that to follow Jesus meant adopting the cultural norms of the Jews. Paul spent much of his life fighting this way of thinking, paving the way for a Christian church freed from the restrictions of cultural Judaism.

Application: There is a difference between Christianity and culture. Christianity is based on the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, that all people might be welcomed into the family of God by grace. Culture describes the packaging through which the Christian faith is taught and communicated – things like liturgy, music, rituals, language, and so on.

The beliefs of Christianity are timeless while the cultural packaging must be ever-changing.

Truth? The battle to separate Christianity from culture continues, and it’s not going very well. We are far too slow in adapting to the world around us. Cultural elements that are precious to life-long Christians are often baffling to those outside the church. Yet even in the face of significant decline, the church clings to the familiar. At our peril.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, people are creatures of habit. We tend to value what is known, and shy away from the new. Give us grace that we might do whatever it takes to share the gospel with those who do not yet know you. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.