God takes us as we are…

Standard

happy_and_sad_emoticons__psd__by_softarea-d5ha7jz

Psalm 52:1 Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly? All day long 2 you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. 3 You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. 4 You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. 5 But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. 6 The righteous will see, and fear, and will laugh at the evildoer, saying, 7 “See the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!”8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. 9 I will thank you forever, because of what you have done. In the presence of the faithful I will proclaim your name, for it is good.

I love the contrast in King David’s words found in this psalm. Apparently David was betrayed by someone close to him. It’s always hard dealing with one’s enemies, but there’s an added sting when the enemy is someone you thought was a close friend.

For seven verses David vents his anger, but there is a turn in verse eight. “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God…”. He’s not happy about his circumstances, but never once questions whether he belongs to the Lord. Or whether the Lord will eventually come to his aid.

There is anger. And betrayal. And frustration. But there is also hope in the living God.

Heavenly Father, this morning I give thanks that we don’t have to pretend with you. We can give you everything we have – happiness, anger, frustration, whatever. Thank you for always being willing to receive it. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Crushed…

Standard

crushed

Psalm 51:6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

David is asking mercy and forgiveness for all the ways he sins against God. The second half of verse 8 is particularly vivid “let the bones that you have crushed rejoice”.

There is a weightiness to sin, a burden that is felt. The psalmist has carried so much sin for so long it’s as if his very bones have been crushed. Yet, despite all this, there is hope. Because with the Lord’s cleansing and forgiveness those same crushed bones… rejoice. The weight is lifted. Life is restored. We are made new.

Forgive me, oh God, for the many ways I rebel against you. Turn my heart toward you that I may live. Amen.

 

Dumb mistake…

Standard

IMG_2662

Psalm 51: 1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. 5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

This passage is resonating today for me. Yesterday evening I was on my way to a meeting at the church when I collided with the car in front of me. I was looking to my left at a car that looked like someone I know and I looked too long. When I turned to face forward again, traffic had come to a complete stop. I, however, could not stop in time. Boom. So dumb. Ugh!

Mine is a 2009 vehicle so it’s nine years old. Meaning it’s not worth nearly what it was new, so I’m afraid my insurer may total it. I love my car. Some wonderful memories in that car. It’s a model that is hard to come by and a color scheme I love. True, no one was hurt, and yes a car can be replaced, but I’m still very frustrated with myself. Why in the world did I look so long?! What was so important?!

“Indeed I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.”

It’s not necessarily a sin to wreck a car, but it is a form of stupidity and needless pain/loss. Today’s psalm reminds me that I was born with a defect of sorts. A tendency to do the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way. It’s a problem that is as old as humanity. Lord, have mercy on me. A sinner. A perpetrator of dumb mistakes. Amen.

The gift of understanding…

Standard

understanding

Mark 4:10 When (Jesus) was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12 in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’ ”

Jesus’ disciples asked about his use of parables. In essence they’re asking,
“Why not just come right out and say what you mean instead of using stories (parables) that are sometimes hard to understand?” I agree. Even for someone like me who has spent many years studying the scriptures, there are times when Jesus’ parables are confusing or open to multiple interpretations. So what’s the deal?

In verse 12 Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah to explain. It would seem that not everyone who hears Jesus is intended to understand and respond in faith. Some do (the disciples and followers) and some don’t (Pharisees, skeptics, and the like). Faith is a gift of God’s grace as is the ability to interpret the parables.

The fact that I’m writing this, and you’re reading it, suggests we are among those for whom the gift of faith has been given. For this we should be eternally grateful. That said, I know I have so much to learn. There are many things I don’t yet understand, questions that are hard to answer. Yet the curiosity itself is an indicator that God is at work in me and you.

Lord whatever understanding we possess, whatever desire we have to draw closer to you – is a sign of your grace. Motivate us to respond to your teachings by following your will and your ways. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

A little perspective goes a long way…

Standard

crying-teenager

Psalm 49: 16 Do not be afraid when some become rich, when the wealth of their houses increases. 17 For when they die they will carry nothing away; their wealth will not go down after them. 18 Though in their lifetime they count themselves happy —for you are praised when you do well for yourself— 19 they will go to the company of their ancestors, who will never again see the light. 20 Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.

If you’ve raised teenagers, or worked closely with teenagers, you know they can tend to see every setback or obstacle as the end of the world. No date to the prom? Got a C on the big exam? Got wait-listed by your favorite college? Grounded for breaking curfew? It’s the end of the world! I think I’m gonna die!

I used to think this was ridiculous behavior, but then I was reminded that young people lack something very important – perspective. Perspective comes from enduring adversity and surviving the ordeal. Minor problems are a big deal to someone with little life experience.

This is the first thing that comes to mind for me in our psalm passage. It can be hard to struggle playing by the rules while dishonest people enjoy wealth, good health, and more. It can leave us discouraged or tempted to do things we should not do.

16 Do not be afraid when some become rich, when the wealth of their houses increases. 17 For when they die they will carry nothing away; their wealth will not go down after them.

Here our eternal God is trying to offer perspective. Yes, it’s true that sometimes good people struggle in this life while dishonest people prosper. But, taken in the context of eternity, a human life is but a tick of the clock. And when this “tick” is over, temporary injustices will be set right.

The second thing that comes to mind for me is the possibility that I may be counted among the “bad” people. I’m not rich, but I mess up a lot people. I try, and fail, to live up to the will and ways of God. Left to myself, and my track record, I’m in big trouble. My sin is ever before me.

But thanks be to God, for Jesus’ sake, God forgives my sins. My brokenness and shortcomings are washed away. As are yours. Though I absolutely do not deserve it, I am counted among the righteous. Thank you Father for your mercy and grace. Amen.

Soften my heart, O Lord…

Standard

1

Mark 2:13 Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14 As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” 

Here he goes again – reaching out to tax collectors. First Matthew, now Levi. I’m sure the other disciples weren’t happy about this. As you know, tax collectors were a particularly despised people group among the Jewish community. Why? Because they were Jews who collected taxes from other Jews, and got rich in the process. There were considered traitors to their people. No respectable Jew would spent time with a tax collector if they could avoid it.

Yet here is Jesus actually pursuing them, inviting them into his family of disciples.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a woman who came to me in need, someone I’d never met who is not a part of our church. The minute she starting talking I knew she was going to ask me for money. She had this long story of woe, how some cash would help keep her young children fed for a few days. As she was speaking I could feel my heart harden.

This sort of thing happens all the time. People go from church to church trying to collect as much cash as possible, often to fund consumption of drugs, alcohol, or other addictive substances. Yet I’m also aware this is not true of everyone who seeks this kind of help. Sometimes the need is legitimate. The problem is, it’s hard to tell which is which. And so I will tend to view all people with skepticism. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true.

This morning I can hear the Lord saying it’s not up to me to figure out who legitimately needs help and who doesn’t. My job is to be present and to reflect the love of Christ for all people – even the scammers and hustlers. Especially the scammers and hustlers.

Lord thaw my heart this morning. Give me grace to replace skepticism with love. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The blessing I didn’t ask for…

Standard

1400954323530

Mark 2:When (Jesus)  returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” 

I’m trying to picture what it would have looked like for four men to carry another man on a stretcher some distance, THEN lift him up onto the roof of a house, THEN make a large hole in the roof (likely with their bare hands), THEN carefully lower him down through the hole so he could be touched by Jesus. I’m imagining four exhausted men, sweating profusely, trying to catch their breath, all so their friend could be healed. It is an astounding act of love for a friend, and faith in the healing power of Jesus. You wouldn’t go to such trouble unless you were certain healing was possible.

Rather than chastise these men for damaging the house, or interrupting his teaching, Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Wait, what?! I’m imagining the potential for great disappointment on the part of the four men. They went to all this trouble, but no healing. At least not at first. Jesus finally heals the paralyzed man, but only to establish his authority to forgive sins, which Jesus understands as the more important blessing. Physical ailments are temporary. One’s spiritual state is eternal.

This morning I’m thinking of times when the blessing I got wasn’t the blessing I sought. About ten years ago my family and I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina so I could start a new job there working in the bishop’s office and for the national Lutheran church (ELCA). I was expecting we would sell our home in San Antonio fairly quickly, then buy a home in the Charlotte area. So, I signed a six month lease for a home that was too small for five people, but would do fine for a few short months until we moved into whatever home we purchased. I even made sure we could end the lease earlier than six months without penalty.

Then the bottom fell out of the housing market. 

By the time we listed our San Antonio home for sale, no one was buying homes. It was the great recession. People were being laid off left and right. Six months came and went with no buyer, so we renewed our lease for another six months. Paying for the rental home while paying the mortgage on our empty home in Texas was killing us financially. We ultimately decided to make the home available for rent, hoping the market would recover in short order – as many people were saying. It did not.

And to make matters worse, we had awful neighbors in our Charlotte neighborhood. Seriously, it was bad. I remember gathering the family together to pray because we were all so tired of bumping into one another in a little house, tired of the stupidity of our neighbors, feeling homesick for Texas and all our friends and family there. Help dear Lord! Sell our home! Find us a new place to live in North Carolina!

We would spend a full year in the North Carolina rental and it would be over five years before we managed to sell the house in Texas. 

On this side of the experience I see that the Lord was teaching me to be patient, to trust in God’s provision when resources are low, to pray for those who persecute me, to wait upon the Lord’s timing. This was not the blessing I asked for, but is one for which I’m grateful nonetheless.

Heavenly Father, the bible teaches us that your ways are not our ways. This is most certainly true. Few of us choose to welcome hardship, but adversity is often the context in which important lessons are learned and character is formed. Give us grace to embrace the difficult times, trusting in your goodness to see us through. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.