The battle is won or lost in the temple…

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Psalm 33:13 The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all humankind. 14 From where he sits enthroned he watches all the inhabitants of the earth — 15 he who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes all their deeds. 16 A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 17 The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save. 18 Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, 

V.16-17 really got my attention today. David is articulating an important truth. it is our God who “looks down from heaven” who raises up and tears down. What I most appreciate about David is that he didn’t just write about dependence on God, he walked the talk. When faced with battle and uncertain outcomes, David could often be found worshipping the Lord – not consulting with his generals or checking his horses and chariots or meeting with his diplomats. David understood that…

the battle is won or lost in the temple, not the war room…

What would it look like for you and me to apply this principal? Lord show us the way, for you are God of heaven and earth. Amen.

Vocation and purpose…

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Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name…

The book of Romans is a favorite of many Christian believers. As we launch into Romans this morning it’s v.5 that gets my attention. Paul says of himself (and those with him) three very important things:

  1. Through Jesus they have received grace for salvation and for vocation
  2. The nature of that vocation is “apostleship” – being sent out for God’s purposes
  3. The purpose of their apostleship is “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles”

While all believers receive grace for salvation through Jesus, not all of us are called to the vocation of apostleship – or for the purpose of bringing about faith among the Gentiles (persons who are not Jewish ). But we are all called, sisters and brothers. And we all have a purpose. Clarity of vocation and purpose is a powerful thing. This morning I’m again reflecting on my own vocation and purpose. What about you? Who are you called to be? For what purpose?

Lord you have claimed us as sons and daughters of God. Give us grace to be clear about these important questions. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Being a witness… whoever you are…

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Acts 28:30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. 

It’s strange to get to the end of the book of Acts and not read about the conclusion of Paul’s story – especially given the description of Paul’s long and eventful journey to Rome in the first place. Tradition holds that Paul did eventually get his opportunity to testify before the emperor and that Paul was sentenced to death by beheading. One wonders why Luke did not report this. There are several theories among scholars, none of which is conclusive.

I suppose it’s possible that for Luke (the writer of Acts) the outcome of Paul’s journey to Rome is unimportant. What is important is the way in which Paul endured suffering for the name of Jesus over and over again, how God gave to Paul grace to endure, and how that suffering served the purposes of the gospel as Paul testified to the authorities in every city and town. I would think this letter was particularly meaningful to persecuted Christians who were encouraged by Paul’s story.

I’ve not been called to suffer for the sake of the gospel as Paul suffered, that’s for sure. I’m guessing the same is true of you. But that doesn’t mean we are not called to serve God’s purposes by telling the story of Jesus. This morning I’m wondering how the Lord might give me an opportunity to be a witness to Jesus and all he has done for me. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Let your heart take courage…

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Psalm 31: 21 Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as a city under siege. 22 I had said in my alarm, “I am driven far from your sight.” But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help. 23 Love the Lord, all you his saints. The Lord preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily. 24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. 

This is David again pleading with the Lord under difficult circumstances. What gets my attention is the contrast between what David’s eyes say about his situation and what his heart says. His eyes tell him he is surrounded, as a city under siege (v.21). He has doubts as to whether the Lord is still with him “I am driven far from your sight”. But then there’s v.24 in which he implores the reader to “let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord”. I think this is David writing from experience. There were many times in David’s life when things looked particularly bleak, only to have the Lord eventually come to his aid.

There is a difference between the testimony of the eyes and the testimony of the heart.

The eyes say the situation is hopeless. The heart says with God there is always hope. That’s a good word for me today. There are places in my life where I am waiting on the Lord to act, to show me the way, to turn around a difficult situation. Lord give me grace that, like David, my heart might take courage. Amen.

“Do not be afraid…”

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Acts 27:21 Since (the apostle Paul and those traveling with him by ship to Rome) had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. 22 I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we will have to run aground on some island.” 

What gets my attention this morning is v.22 “for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship”. At that point it was obvious the ship would not survive even if it had not yet run aground. As a result it would take Paul a bit longer than expected to arrive in Rome, but he would indeed have an opportunity to bear witness to the gospel before the Roman emperor.

As our world continues to “re-open” it’s apparent the church as we’ve known it is already gone, even if it’s not in pieces just yet. I think the sooner we come to grips with that reality the better. There is significant grief and loss during this “in-between” time when our past is in the rearview but the future is unclear. That said there is also opportunity to reach new people in new ways. The mission of the Church to proclaim the gospel of our Lord Jesus remains as it ever was, even if the means of accomplishing that mission has shifted.

We just need a new ship…

Lord give us courage to embrace “what is” while grieving “what was”. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

All the days it lay desolate, it kept sabbath…

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2 Chronicles 36:17 Therefore (God) brought up against (the Israelites) the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their youths with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or young woman, the aged or the feeble; (God) gave them all into his hand. 18 All the vessels of the house of God, large and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his officials, all these he brought to Babylon. 19 They burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious vessels. 20 He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. 

We’re told earlier in this chapter that Israel had been unfaithful to God for a very long time, ignoring the warnings of the prophets to turn from their wicked ways toward the Lord. Israel’s defeat was complete. What got my attention in particular is v.21:

… to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its sabbaths. All the days that (Jerusalem) lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

One of the sins of Israel was failure to keep the sabbath. When Jerusalem was laid waste, people killed, temple plundered, there was no more commerce or exploiting workers or harvesting crops or trade conducted on the sabbath – or any other day of the week. It would seem God’s people could not be bothered to keep the sabbath so God did it for them – in the most painful way imaginable. It’s interesting that, of all the sins committed by Israel, failure to keep the sabbath is singled out here by the Chronicler.

Lord I hate to admit it, but keeping the sabbath has been a struggle for me for years. During this season of Lent I’m leaning back into this practice. Give me grace to encounter you, even if my practice of sabbath is far from perfect. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

In you, O Lord, I seek refuge…

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Psalm 31:1 In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.

David wasn’t perfect, but he certainly trusted in the Lord. “In you, O Lord, I seek refuge…”. David doesn’t put his primary trust in councils or armies or any other human device, though there is a place for those things. He begins with God who is David’s rock, stronghold, fortress. It brings to mind for me Matthew 11:28 when Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden”. More than a plan or strategy or any other resource we need the Lord.

My track record of seeking the Lord, first and foremost, is not great. Too often I’ll trust other things and then turn to the Lord when I’m out of options. I’m not proud of that, but it’s true. That said, I want a heart like David. Lord teach me your ways. Draw me closer to you in these difficult days. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Praise of the soul…

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Psalm 30:11 You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, 12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. 

The NRSV translation attributes Psalm 30 to David – expressing gratitude for recovery from illness. I’m particularly taken by the phrase “so that my soul may praise you and not be silent”. There’s the kind of praise that is visible on the outside and then there’s praise of the soul. It’s praise in the deepest part of our being, in the seed of eternity planted in human beings by our eternal God. Today I’m asking myself what it looks like for me to praise the Lord in my soul. Lord teach me as you once taught David. Amen.

Telling your story…

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Acts 26:4 (the apostle Paul said to King Agrippa in his defense) “All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. 5 They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I have belonged to the strictest sect of our religion and lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, 7 a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship day and night. It is for this hope, your Excellency, that I am accused by Jews! 8 Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? 9 “Indeed, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death. 11 By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.”

Here Paul gives his testimony when his fellow Jews accused him of behavior warranting death. This passage above is only part of Paul’s story. He starts by telling the king how zealous he once was in opposing Christians, but after encountering the risen Jesus he became a Christian believer. And not only a believer, but an apostle proclaiming the gospel of Jesus. It’s an astounding transformation the Lord did in Paul.

Many Christians have a before Jesus/after Jesus story.

Although I was baptized in the church as an infant it wasn’t until I was a young adult that the Lord really got hold of me and put me on a different path. And while I most certainly remain a work in progress, much has changed in me. My values, my vocation, my sense of purpose, my relationships – all very different than before. It’s a privilege when I get an opportunity to share my story with others. It’s not that my story is so great or exceptional, but it is real and (I pray) it gives glory to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What’s your story? What difference has Jesus made in your life? With whom might the Lord be giving you the chance to share your story? Will you trust the Lord enough to tell your story when the opportunity arises? Lord, let it be so. Amen.

Defying the odds…

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2 Chronicles 32:After this, while King Sennacherib of Assyria was at Lachish with all his forces, he sent his servants to Jerusalem to King Hezekiah of Judah and to all the people of Judah that were in Jerusalem, saying, 10 “Thus says King Sennacherib of Assyria: On what are you relying, that you undergo the siege of Jerusalem? 11 Is not Hezekiah misleading you, handing you over to die by famine and by thirst, when he tells you, ‘The Lord our God will save us from the hand of the king of Assyria’? 12 Was it not this same Hezekiah who took away his high places and his altars and commanded Judah and Jerusalem, saying, ‘Before one altar you shall worship, and upon it you shall make your offerings’? 13 Do you not know what I and my ancestors have done to all the peoples of other lands? Were the gods of the nations of those lands at all able to save their lands out of my hand? 14 Who among all the gods of those nations that my ancestors utterly destroyed was able to save his people from my hand, that your God should be able to save you from my hand? 15 Now therefore do not let Hezekiah deceive you or mislead you in this fashion, and do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to save his people from my hand or from the hand of my ancestors. How much less will your God save you out of my hand!” 

King Hezekiah had been a good king for Israel, following the laws and commandments of God – and prospering. Here he was put to the test. The king of Assyria sent messengers to Jerusalem to warn the people of his intention to lay siege to the city and take it by force. He offered some solid, logical reasons why the Jews would be foolish to resist. After all, many other nations thought their gods would save them – and didn’t. Surely Israel would be the same.

It wasn’t.

It often doesn’t make sense to trust in the Lord. Our eyes tell us there is no hope. Even well-meaning people will say the same. And given God’s general tendency to wait until the last possible moment to come to the aid of his people, we can start to believe the naysayers. I have done so – on many occasions. But this morning I’m reminded that God defies the odds all the time. It may not look good for you and me right now, but the Lord is with you friends. Lord, let it be so. Amen.