Eating the bread of anxious toil…

Standard

benefits-of-eating-bread-1501303565-lb

Psalm 127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. 2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.

This passage always hits me when I read it. The message is simple. Either God is leading the way in our endeavors or he isn’t. If God is leading the way, then God takes care of the outcomes. The burden is not on us to “make it happen”. When God is not leading the way, then the burden becomes ours. We stress out about things. We get anxious, worrying that we’ve made a mistake, fearful that our shortcomings will tank the whole thing. The psalmist puts it this way:

“It is in vain that you rise up early and go to late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil”

Isn’t that an incredible image? Bon appetit. I imagine a person slaving away, working ridiculous hours to meet the goal. Refusing to take days off or vacation days because they’re thinking, “It’s up to me.” If this sounds like you (it sounds like me) that makes you… normal.

We have a number of changes and transitions we’re navigating at the church I lead in suburban Dallas. It’s not easy. On the one hand the changes we’ve made are starting to produce the very results we were hoping for, which is great. On the other hand… change is hard. While some people are thrilled with how things are going, others are anxious and upset. There is a heavy dose of grief and loss, which is to be expected. But it’s still really hard.

So when I read this passage today I’m reminded who is building this house called Rejoice. It’s definitely not me, or my staff, or other key leaders. If it is, then we’re done for. Our efforts are in vain. But if God is building the house, and I believe he is, then there is hope. The outcome doesn’t depend on me or staff or other leaders. That burden belongs to the Lord.

So let me ask. Where in your life might you be “eating the bread of anxious toil”? Where are you taking responsibility for things that belong to God? What would it look like for you to give the burden back to the Lord… and rest? Dear God, show us the way. Teach us to cast our cares upon you, for your shoulders are broad and strong. Ours… are not. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Good news, bad news…

Standard

good-bad-news-400px

1 Kings8:25 (King Solomon, son of King David, prayed) Therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.

The first part of this verse is good news. God would “never fail” to provide a successor to King David on the throne of Israel. Great! Wonderful! But then there’s the second part of that verse, the bad news… “if only your children look to their way, to walk before (God)…”. See, the second part of the promise is what messes things up. People couldn’t live up to the covenant of the law, then or now.

Thank you Lord Jesus for giving us life via the covenant of grace rather than the law. For we are hopeless sinners in need of your mercy.

Contempt. Scorn.

Standard

shutterstock_147127772-554x382
Psalm 123: 3 Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. 4 Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud. 

Contempt. Scorn. The psalmist is naming these as burdens carried in the soul, placed there by “the proud”. One definition of pride is “deep satisfaction derived from one’s own achievement or capacity”.

A hallmark of the people of God is our dependence on God rather than our own achievement or capacity. To those around us, this can seem foolish. This was true thousands of years ago at the time this psalm was written and it’s increasing true in our day. Believers are mocked or ridiculed as backward or superstitious or just plain stupid. The secular world around us portrays us in the most unflattering ways. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

In our passage the psalmist asks for the mercy of God, recognizing a complete dependence upon God to be strengthened, restored, renewed, perhaps even vindicated. This morning I’m praying for those who suffer for their faith, particularly those who suffer much greater things than contempt and scorn.

The betrayer is revealed…

Standard

Judas-2

John 13:21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.

We’re getting close to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in the gospel of John. Jesus was telling the disciples that one of them would betray him, then indicated Judas as the culprit. The part of the passage that sticks out for me is “After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit…”

It’s assumed by many that Jesus knew how his story would unfold far ahead of time. He knew what would happen, how it would happen, and who would be involved. Maybe. But as I read the gospels, Jesus strikes me as one for whom the story (at least the details) is unfolding in real time. It’s possible that Jesus was troubled in spirit because he was finally getting clarity on how he would die and who would betray him. And as the Father revealed this to Jesus, it broke his heart. Betrayal would not come at the hands of some outsider, but from one of his closest brothers. Judas would hand Jesus over – for a few pieces of silver.

“Jesus was troubled in spirit…”

Somehow these few words endear Jesus to me. He was human in a way I understand. He loved and he laughed and he grieved and he cried. Lord bless those today who are troubled in spirit. Give us grace to rest in you. Amen.

Privilege turned upside down…

Standard

lemmonythings-files-wordpress-comwashing-feet-413x310

John 13: 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him… 12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

The Kingdom of God has a very different orientation than our natural world. In God’s Kingdom the first are last and the last are first. To lose one’s life is to save it, and to save it is to lose it. Eternal life begins with the experience of the cross (death). In our passage Jesus gives a concrete example of what leadership looks like in the Kingdom.

Jesus is the rabbi, the teacher, the guest of honor at the table. Washing the guests’ feet would have been a task for the lowliest person in the household – the servant – not the guest of honor. Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet is a reversal of roles that is startling to everyone present. V.15 tells us clearly, “For I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” In other words, you should serve one another rather than try to lord over one another.

We just finished a LONG political season as we Americans went to the polls on Tuesday for the mid-term elections. Here in Texas there was a close race for the US senate between the incumbent Ted Cruz and the challenger Beto O’Rourke. Combined they raised – and spent – over $100 million in their bid for the job. $100 million! I’m sorry, but that is OBSCENE! I can assure you US senators do not serve in the way Jesus did. Theirs is not a humble existence, but one filled with privilege and power – lording over others.

But now I’m confessing other peoples’ sins, which is not generally a helpful practice. Truth is I have as lot of growing to do in this area myself. I often fail to take a posture of humble service when I have the chance. The Lord has some work to do in me.

Lord Jesus, yours is a startling example for Christians to follow. Give us grace to reflect your heart of love for others as we serve people in simple ways. Amen.

More than just a word…

Standard

Memorise-the-scripture

John 12: 48 (Jesus said) The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, 49 for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak.

Jesus had been performing incredible miracles for the crowds, most notably raising a man named Lazarus from the dead. Yet there were many who didn’t receive Jesus’ teachings, despite the miracles he performed. So Jesus speaks here of judgment to come. This is where it gets a little confusing.

V.48 uses the same English word to translate two very different Greek words. First there is “The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge…”. The Greek word here “rhemata” refers to a message or teaching. Then there is, “On the last day the Word I have spoken will serve as a judge…”. This is a different Greek word “logos”, which is understood as form of God. John 1:1 referring to creation in Genesis says,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

God spoke the Word over the chaos, from which the heavens and the earth came into being. In this sense the Word is an extension of God. The Word creates, generates, gives life. It’s this Word that is spoken over water at the time of baptism, through which people are claimed as sons and daughters of God and are given new life. It’s this Word that is spoken over bread and wine to become, by faith, the body and blood of Christ. It is this Word that is released when the scriptures are read aloud. It’s an extension of what the prophet Isaiah speaks of in Isaiah 55:11,

“The Word goes forth and does not return empty, but accomplishes that for which it was sent.”

A key reason I read scripture in the mornings is to give the living Word a chance to do a work in me each day. I hope that’s why you join me in this space. When we meet here we’re not just reading a few sentences. We are making ourselves available to be touched, formed, even transformed by the living Word of God. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

Settling scores…

Standard

the-godfather-le-parrain-marlon-brando-al-pacino-i18574

1 Kings 2:5 (King David said to his son Solomon as he was about to die) “Moreover you know also what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner son of Ner, and Amasa son of Jether, whom he murdered, retaliating in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist, and on the sandals on his feet. 6 Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace… 8 There is also with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a terrible curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim; but when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the LORD, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ 9 Therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man; you will know what you ought to do to him, and you must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” 

In the classic movie “The Godfather”, Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando), died and his son Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino) took over as godfather. ** Spoiler alert!! *** At the end of the movie Michael Corleone settles many scores in one day – killing rivals both outside of his family and inside his family. It’s a simultaneously brutal and poignant scene. A similar scene occurs in the sequel, Godfather Part II.

King David was a man of great faith, but he was not above holding a grudge. And in this chapter he gives his son Solomon instructions to settle a number of scores, paying back evil for evil and consolidating Solomon’s claim to the throne at the same time. It’s a marked contrast from the times in his youth when David refused to settle scores on his own, in the case of King Saul for instance, but waited for the Lord to bring justice.