The inward being, the outward being…

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3 John 1:2 Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul. 

Here the apostle greets the believers who are receiving his letter. I’m particularly drawn to the distinction he is making between the outward being (health) and the inward being (soul).  The older I get the more I realize these two dimensions of being don’t necessarily track together.

This week my shoulder is bothering me a bit. I’m told it’s tendonitis, but that’s just the latest bit of breakdown in my physical being. The issues keep piling up and I know it’s not likely to get better the older I get. That’s just a fact of life. We’re not designed to last forever, at least not on the outside.

But then there’s the inside part of our being, the “soul”. Whereas it’s been a bad week for my shoulder, it’s been a good week for my inner being. I’m at a continuing education retreat with a few pastor colleagues I’ve been meeting with for three years now. We’ve gotten to be really good friends and it blesses me to spend time with these people. They support and encourage me, but also challenge me in my life and work.

In this and other ways my soul is in a good place – well, mostly. I’m human and there are days that feel heavy and difficult. But the Lord has been good in helping my inside grow stronger as my outside grows weaker. Lord thank you for the grace you pour out on your children. Amen.

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Daniel 6:1 It pleased Darius (the new king) to set over the kingdom one hundred twenty satraps, stationed throughout the whole kingdom, 2 and over them three presidents, including Daniel; to these the satraps gave account, so that the king might suffer no loss. 3 Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom. 4 So the presidents and the satraps tried to find grounds for complaint against Daniel in connection with the kingdom. But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him. 5 The men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” 

Daniel clearly has the favor of the Lord, yet he’s repeatedly getting in trouble. Seems like a disconnect for me. But I’ve seen this before, especially in the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis. It was said of Joseph “the Lord was with him”, yet he was sold into slavery and ended up in prison in Egypt. Eventually Joseph was placed second in command of the entire nation of Egypt. Didn’t see that coming. Here is a parallel as Daniel goes from being thrown in fire, and then into a lion’s den, only to be raised up to a place of great authority.

It reminds me that having the favor of the Lord doesn’t mean we will stay out of trouble or that people will respond well to us. In fact, sometimes it’s quite the opposite.

Tears of sorrow to tears of joy…

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Psalm 126: 4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,  like the watercourses in the Negeb. 5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. 6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. 

What a great passage. According to my bible resources the Negeb is the dry desert region in the southern portion of Israel. The waterways of the Negeb would usually be void of water and life. But every once in a while a flash flood would fall and the waterways would be transformed into an oasis of green vegetation.

In our passage above there’s the image of a nation pouring forth a river of tears as they grieve the loss of their homeland. For 70 years they were in captivity away from Israel. Most of the adults who left Israel as captives died before the people were allowed to return to Israel. Yet the Lord restored his people and established them in the holy city of Jerusalem once more. Hence, rivers of sorrow became rivers of joy!

The other day I was speaking to a family member whose husband passed away less than a year ago. As you would expect of someone married for over 40 years, the loss of her spouse has been hard for her. The first several times I saw her after the funeral she was in tears very quickly. The grief and loss were hard to bear. What would life be like without her husband? Mostly I would just listen to her process her grief.

I saw her again a few weeks ago and there was a marked change in her. She’s obviously still grieving, but she smiled a lot more. She laughed as we shared stories of days gone by. Perhaps in the not too distant future she will be able to both remember her late husband and explore the possibilities of a new reality without him. I know that’s what her husband would have wanted. So does she. But it’s really hard right now.

Part of life is suffering. Tears. But there is a promise in the psalm today. We may be sowing tears of sorrow now, but the day is coming when we shall reap tears of joy. It may not be in this life, but joy is coming eventually. Lord let it be so. Amen.

 

My heart leaks!

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Daniel 2:45 (Daniel said to the king) “The great God has informed the king what shall be hereafter. The dream is certain, and its interpretation trustworthy.” 46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, worshiped Daniel, and commanded that a grain offering and incense be offered to him. 47 The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery!”

God gave Daniel grace to interpret the king’s dream, which deeply impressed the king – as this passage shows. In fact, the king “fell on his face” to worship Daniel. Think about that. This was the king who his entire known world worshiping Daniel! Daniel clarified that the one to be worshipped was God, not Daniel. It was a remarkable act of humility by the king.

But it didn’t last. In the next chapter we’re told the king ordered the creation of a gold statue for his subjects to worship. 

It’s easy for us to be impressed when we see God’s hand move. When I see a troubled relationship reconciled or an illness healed or an addiction broken it’s easy for me to praise the Lord and to thank the Lord for his goodness. But I’m afraid my enthusiasm can wane. It’s like the Lord fills my heart with gratitude, but my heart leaks!

Today I’m asking the Lord to give me a heart to praise and worship him, to remember God’s goodness in my life, to humble me in response to his great love for me and those I love. Lord let it be so. Amen.

I cannot do it. But God can…

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Daniel 2:26 The king said to Daniel… “Are you able to tell me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?” 27 Daniel answered the king, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or diviners can show to the king the mystery that the king is asking, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has disclosed to King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen at the end of days.

I love Daniel’s humility in this passage. He is asked to do something impossible – to tell the Babylonian king both what his recurring dream is and what the dream means. The king had already asked his own diviners who were stumped. Daniel admits that he cannot do what the king asks, but that God in heaven can do it.

I’m reading a business leadership book right which was written by a former mentor of mine. I’ll admit it’s been a while since I’ve read a secular leadership book. It’s not that I think I have nothing to learn from such books, but there’s a common dynamic that tends to grate on me.

Much secular leadership literature suggests the answer to life’s challenges lies… within oneself.

Something about this paradigm bothers me. Why? Leadership is hard as you probably know. And when I face particularly difficult challenges I often have to face a stark reality. I cannot do it. The challenges are often beyond my abilities, capacities, know-how. Were I to lean inward for solutions I would be ground to dust! Yet I find it’s when I reach that point, when I’m facing failure square in the face, that God steps in to give the wisdom and stamina needed to carry on. Over and over again I find seven simple words unlock the impossible:

“I cannot do it, but God can.”

Lord God in heaven, thank you for the grace you pour out when we reach the end of our capacity. Strengthen your servants to accomplish what appears impossible on our own. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Don’t mess with my people!

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1 John 3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. 10 The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

Wow. “Those who have been born of God do not sin…they cannot sin because they have been born of God” Really? It was this same writer who in chapter 1 of this letter wrote, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – sins. You know that. I know that. The writer knew that. So what’s this passage about?

We always have to remember that letters such as this were written in a particular context addressing a particular situation. Theologically speaking, the first century church was something of a wild west of ideas. Many of the core beliefs and doctrines we take for granted today (the idea that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God, the bodily resurrection, the virgin birth, etc) were still forming. Someone like the apostle John would teach in a particular church, only to be undermined by others upon his departure “Let no one deceive you” (v.7)

In John’s mind those who were teaching a false gospel were “of the devil”. They sought to undermine the integrity of the Christian community, to take down what John and many others had given their lives to establish. I think it was still an open question as to whether the early church would endure, or if it would fade away as had so many other Jewish sects over the centuries. I think passages like this one reveal a person whose blood was up, who was fighting to save a community being torn apart by false teaching from within, persecution from without. John was protecting the flock, which is an important role for a church leader.

But you don’t have to be a church leader to function as a protector. It may be an old fashioned idea, but as the “man of the house” I was raised to protect those I love. It’s one of the responsibilities I take seriously. And while this role is not limited to men, it is particularly expected of men – heads of families. I know, I’m a dinosaur. And I’m okay with that.

Lord give us grace to protect those we love. Amen.

 

Aliens are not the enemy…

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Ezekiel 47:21 So you shall divide this land among you according to the tribes of Israel. 22 You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who reside among you and have begotten children among you. They shall be to you as citizens of Israel; with you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. 23 In whatever tribe aliens reside, there you shall assign them their inheritance, says the Lord GOD. 

Back when Joshua was leading the people to occupy the Promised Land (after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness with Moses) God directed the land to be divided in a particular way. Hundreds of years later, Israel was conquered and surviving Jews sent to exile in Babylon. They remained as exiles for 70 years before they were allowed to return to their homeland. Here in Ezekiel 47 and 48 God is again giving instruction on how the land is to be divided among the tribes of Israel.

What I find interesting in these verses is the direction related to treatment of aliens (non-Jews living among the Jews). When the land was first allotted under Joshua, God’s people were directed to avoid allowing non-Jews in their midst. God was afraid the Israelites would be led astray by aliens and their pagan religious traditions. Better to keep the land racially homogenous to support fidelity to God. It was perhaps the right idea, but the directive failed miserably.

Reading the verses above it would appear that God is making concessions to reality. There were already lots of aliens living among the Jews, particularly after living in Babylon for 70 years. In fact, aliens were to have the same essential rights as Jews and were to be included in the inheritances of the tribes. It’s really a very generous policy toward non-Jews. Here’s a quote from one of my bible commentaries:

The Israelite is to love the alien, even to love him as himself, “for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19; Lev. 19:34): an interesting illustration of the impact of shared historical memory on the formation of a community ethos and the laws that embody it.” – Interpretation Bible Commentary

I wonder what it would look like for the United States to embrace a policy of immigration in light of the fact that all Americans (except Native Americans) were ourselves once immigrants from somewhere else. Many of our ancestors came here fleeing violence and persecution, as is frequently the case today with people traveling from countries south of the border to America. How do we balance compassion for persecuted peoples while honoring our need to secure our borders from those who would seek to do violence to Americans? In any event, God is declaring that aliens are not the enemy, but are brothers and sisters to those of us who call this land home.