Worship in the night…

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Psalm 134: 1 Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord!  2 Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the Lord. 

When I served as pastor of a church in the inner city of San Antonio we got connected to a network of churches that would periodically hold all-night worship and prayer. Our worship team would take a shift, along with several other churches, so no one church had to lead the entire thing. It was really great.

There’s something about extended worship that is special. There are no time limits to worry about. Songs can go on as long as the Spirit leads. Prayers can be spoken expansively, holding nothing back. It’s such a different experience than a typical worship service in which people start looking at their watches if it goes much beyond an hour.

Lord free us from the tyranny of the clock. Amen.



I am he…

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John 18:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. 

Why did I never notice this before? It’s true that John’s version of this story is very different than Matthew, Mark, or Luke – but still. I’m talking about v.6 “they stepped back and fell to the ground”. Weird.

My commentaries tell me Jesus is claiming the “I am” identity of God the Father, who is often referred to as the great “I am”. And as often happens when humans are confronted with divine and/or angelic beings, the arresting party falls to the ground. Eventually they get up, arrest Jesus, and set off a series of events leading to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

It seems John the gospel writer wants us to know where the real power lies. True, Jesus will be arrested, beaten, hung on a cross – but it’s an act of willful submission to the events which must take place. To fulfill his purpose on earth for the sake of the world. It’s not for lack of power.

This morning I’m thinking of the week to come, Thanksgiving week. For the first time in a long time I will not be with my extended family on Thursday. We’re trying to be careful, mostly out of consideration for our parents who are elderly. I’ll be home with my nuclear family, which will be nice. Having all three adult children at home at the same time is always a treat for me and my wife Jana. But there’s still some disappointment. I’m not going to lie.

And so as my eyes tell me things are a bit out of control, my spirit goes to the one who says “I am he”. Jesus is still Lord of all. And he is coming again. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Make us one, dear Lord…

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1 Kings 14:25 In the fifth year of King Rehoboam (king of southern Israel, including the city of Jerusalem), King Shishak of Egypt came up against Jerusalem; 26 he took away the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house; he took everything. He also took away all the shields of gold that Solomon had made… 6 The war begun between Rehoboam (king of the south) and Jeroboam (king of the north) continued all the days of his life.

We just read earlier in 1 Kings the incredible wealth amassed by King Solomon during his reign, which was really a continuation of what his father King David had begun. We are told that the fortune of King Solomon was like no other before or sense. After Solomon died his son Rehoboam assumed the throne… and promptly lost it all when the Egyptian king Shishak “took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house…”. So what happened?

There were multiple factors, but one of the most significant is the fact that Israel split into two kingdoms after Solomon’s reign. This divided kingdom weakened both sides and ultimately led to the complete defeat of all Israel, north and south.

It cannot be overstated how internal divisions weaken the whole. We’re more than two weeks past election day 2020 and the presidential race remains somewhat in limbo. It would seem that once the election results are certified in the coming weeks we will have an official winner, but it’s clear that deep divisions will remain. The level of trust in basic government is at its lowest in my lifetime. The level of partisanship is frighteningly high. One would hope America would again rally together should the occasion require it, but I’m not so sure.

Left to our human impulses we will find a way to make the split complete. A formally divided America would have been unthinkable to me even a year or two ago, but the current level of grievance and mistrust doesn’t make it sound so crazy anymore. So today I’m praying for our country which, despite huge unresolved issues and problems, remains a profound force for good all over the world. It’s something worth preserving. Lord let it be so. Preserve this union. Where there is division sow peace. Make us one, dear Lord. Amen.

Like a weaned child with its mother…

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Psalm 131:1 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me. 3 O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore. 

I have no doubt that the ancient world was filled with stress as is ours. Different forms of stress for sure, but stress nonetheless. In recent weeks I have felt my shoulders tighten, muscles ache. There’s a lot going on with constant change in the process. It can seem to spin out of control from time to time. I’m doing so-so, but I have my moments of insecurity and anxiety.

What draws my attention this morning is the phrase “like a weaned child with its mother”.

I remember watching my wife Jana breastfeed our three children when they were infants. The babies often started out crying because of hunger, but it didn’t last. When they were full they often fell asleep at mother’s breast. Full. Content. Dreaming baby dreams. At rest in mother’s arms.

This is the image the psalmist offers to us this morning. “My soul is like the weaned child that is with me”. How did he do this? “…hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore”. It’s the description of someone who has given over to God the burdens and challenges which are very real. It’s the calm given by the Lord as an act of grace. It’s an image of trust that God has things in hand, even if we do not.

Lord make us like the weaned child today, filled with peace and contentment. Satisfied in every way. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


One sin I do NOT commit…

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1 Kings 11:31 (The prophet Ahijah) then said to Jeroboam: Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “See, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes. 32 One tribe will remain his, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. 33 This is because he has forsaken me, worshiped Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and has not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, as his father David did.

If you know the story of King David you know that he did many things that were not in agreement with the will and ways of God – among them sexually assaulting Bathsheba and then having her husband killed to cover up her pregnancy. But one thing he did NOT do, which appears to be huge in the eyes of God, is worship other gods. It’s one thing David got right. Unfortunately Solomon gets this wrong, falling into the trap of following after the gods of his 700 wives and 300 concubines.

Lord knows I fall short on many levels. The list is very long. But I do not follow after other gods, certainly not in the way of Solomon. Considering all the sins of my life this may seem like something small, but maybe it is not a small thing to God. At least passages like this one would make it appear so.

Lord give me grace to follow after you all the days of my life, for left to myself I would fail even that. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

God’s ways and my ways…

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1 Kings 11:1 King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the Israelites, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods”; Solomon clung to these in love. 3 Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.

Of course what gets my attention here is the sheer number of wives and concubines. 1,000 women. Wow! I can’t even imagine how such an arrangement worked in the real world. Regardless, in ancient times marriages were often arranged to strengthen one’s political, economic, military position. Solomon was not just ruler over all Israel, but many neighboring kingdoms paid tribute to him. Receiving daughters from these various places may have been shrewd from a political perspective, but there’s a reason why the Lord told Solomon, “You shall not enter into marriage with (foreign women)”. I’m reminded of Proverbs 14:12

12 There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. 

I’m really good at rationalizing poor decisions. Though scripture reveals the pitfalls to me, I can always figure out why I’m an exception. I tell myself what I’m doing isn’t really wrong. Or that scripture is disqualified by a radically different cultural context than my own, so what was true then is not true now. I can think of many more.

What this passage is reminding me of this morning is that God’s ways are beyond my ways and that my sound logic is not sound in the eyes of God. Like all believers I’m asked to trust that God knows what I do not. That the Lord has named boundaries for my own benefit, not to cramp my style. Lord, let it be so. Amen.


An unbroken chain of love…

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John 5:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Here Jesus is offering his disciples what he refers to as “my commandment” – his instruction or direction for them. And in case they were wondering what exactly Jesus meant by this command, he offers himself as an example. They should love one another ( Greek “agape”) as he loved them. Given that his disciples had been with him for three years they would have had ample opportunity to imitate Jesus. So I expect when John (the gospel writer) hears Jesus’ words, that’s where his mind goes – to all the ways he has seen Jesus “love” the disciples.

It’s also apparent that Jesus intends his example to live through the disciples once he’s gone. They have the DNA of love. That DNA gets past along to all subsequent generations. This morning I’m thinking of the people who showed me the love of Christ. There are many over the course of a lifetime. It makes me smile to think of them. I’m also thinking of the people to whom I have opportunity to show love, to carry on a tradition that is now thousands of years old.

Lord Jesus you have indeed loved us all, especially through your death and resurrection. I thank you this morning for the many people who have loved me over the years, who have shown me sacrificial love. Open my eyes to see the opportunities I have to do the same, participating in a chain of love over 2,000 years old. I pray this in your holy name. Amen.

A promise for today…

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John 14:18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

It’s the first words of v.18 that speak to me this morning. “I will not leave you orphaned…”. I’m not an orphan. Both of my biological parents live and likely have plenty more years since both are just turning 73 years old in 2020. These days that’s not very old. I am grateful for my parents because I know few people my age (54 years) who still have both of theirs.

That said I don’t consider my biological parents to be my spiritual parents. They have not been spiritual mentors for me. Christianity and the church were not much part of our lives when I was growing up. It was other adults who mentored me in the faith and I’m grateful for them. It’s been my pleasure to mentor others in the faith and “pass it forward” so to speak.

But today I’m feeling the need to connect straight to the source of life – Jesus Christ. And so Jesus’ promise of presence with me, with you, stirs me. Comforts me. Gives me hope for another day. It’s as he says in v.19, “…because I live, you also will live”. Lord Jesus speak to your servant today. Give me life in the midst of so much uncertainty. Show me the way to do your will. I pray this in your holy name. Amen.

It’s about a relationship…

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John 14:1 (Jesus said to his disciples) “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 

This is one of my favorite funeral passages. We yearn to know where our deceased loved ones have gone upon their deaths. Jesus says here that he will come again and take his followers to be with him – to “my Father’s house”. One day we will join them there.

But this morning I’m hearing these words for their relevance right now, not just at time of death. In the Old Testament we read of God’s law being the key to navigating life’s complexities, especially in texts like Psalm 119. But Jesus seems to change that calculus in this passage, presenting himself as the key rather than the law.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life”

There’s a great deal of “unknown” in my life right now, as is likely true for you. When I sit down and try to figure it all out I get overwhelmed. This happened to me yesterday. It’s just too much. And somewhere in my mind I get to thinking I have to figure it all out, that these are my burdens to carry. Today’s passage reminds me this is not true.

So today, instead of trying to figure out the answers to all the questions, I’m going to do my best to take hold of the One who is the way and the truth and the life. My hope is not in managing others, managing self, figuring out the solutions to the many difficult questions in front of me. My hope is in a relationship, in knowing the Lord Jesus and asking for his guidance and mercy and grace. Lord let it be so. Amen.

“Our soul has had more than its fill…”

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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. 

What gets my attention here is v.4 “Our soul has had more than its fill…”. It’s not an intellectual burden, or a physical burden, but a spiritual burden – a burden of the soul. I felt that today. A heaviness. Almost a sense of despair, of being at the very end of my capacity. Not sure that I’ve experienced it quite that that before. I’m better tonight. Why? I prayed as the psalmist prayed in our passage, “Have mercy upon me, O Lord…”.

Lord the burdens are too great for me. I cannot bear them. And so I give them to you. Let me take your yoke tonight, that you might pull for both of us in the days to come. You are my hope and trust. Do not forsake me, dear Lord. Amen.