Create in me a clean heart…

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Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. 

This psalm was written by David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. He had done wrong before God and people and was contrite, humble, in need. What gets my attention this morning is David’s recognition of both his inability to make himself “clean” and his faith that God could do a work in him “put a new and right spirit within me”.

David was a giant of the Old Testament, but he was also human. He had faults. He made mistakes. Yet he never stopped putting his trust in God. He always knew to whom he belonged. These verses resonate with me, both in recognition of my many sins as well as my hope that the Lord is not done with me yet.

Lord, let it be so. Amen.

How to respond to Derek Chauvin…

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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. 

Two things occur to me in relationship to these verse. First, we often hear a desire for a punishment that fits the crime. The court case of Derek Chauvin (the former police officer charged with murder in connection with the death of George Floyd) comes to mind, particularly as closing arguments are set to begin today. There is a public demand for “justice”, that if found guilty, Mr. Chauvin would receive a just punishment.

In the verses above King David prays that God would judge him, not through the lens of “justice”, but through the lens of God’s mercy and steadfast love. I find this is also my prayer. I am most certainly guilty of sin against God and people.

The second thing that occurs to me is our Christian calling to treat others with the same mercy and love we first receive from God through Jesus Christ. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” What would that look like in the case of Mr. Chauvin?

Lord give us grace to respond to others according to mercy and grace rather than judgment. Amen.

The “foundation is Jesus Christ”

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1 Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 

The apostle Paul planted several churches in multiple locations over many years. As such he didn’t stay in one place too long. When he left a particular church to continue his ministry, he left other leaders in charge, which makes sense. And since these churches were in different countries with different cultures, customs, languages, and so on they weren’t all the same. However, there was one consistent characteristic in all of them:

11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 

The foundation of all the churches was Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for the salvation of all who believe in the Son of God. This was the central message everywhere. The methods and structures used to communicate the message would vary, but the message was the same. It still is.

As I’ve mentioned in this space many times, we are in the process of seeing a new church (here and around the world) emerge from the effects of the pandemic. This new church is not exactly like the former church. How could it be the same when the world has changed so much in such a short time? Don’t get me wrong, there will be many familiar things. But there will be new and different things as well. However, whatever new ministry expressions or experiments emerge in our future, the central “foundation” is Jesus Christ.

Lord let it be so. Amen.


Gratitude… not generosity…

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Psalm 50: 7 “Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. 8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. 9 I will not accept a bull from your house, or goats from your folds. 10 For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine… 14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. 15 Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” 

God is not taking issue with the practice of sacrifice, “your burnt offerings are continually before me”. The people are apparently following the law. It’s the heart condition that God addresses here. The people are offering sacrifices, but more out of a sense of self-glorification. “Look at what I’m giving to God! Aren’t I generous?”

American Christianity is eyeballs deep in the language of “generosity” in terms of Christian giving. Our intentions are good, but problematic. What’s the problem? “Generosity” suggests that what I have belongs to me; that I’m being benevolent in my offering. What God asks is for is not generosity but gratitude, which acknowledges that everything I have already belongs to God. “Generosity” puts the focus on the giver. “Gratitude” puts the focus on the Provider.

Lord God you are the giver of all things, including all that we have. Give us pure hearts that willingly give you thanks for all that you have first given to us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hard to believe…

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1 Corinthians 1:26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 

This morning I’m drawn to v.30 above. In the Old Testament it was the law (God’s commandments, statutes, ordinances) that were considered wisdom. God’s people were to have the law “written on their hearts” (committed to memory and practice), to be meditated upon day and night, to be taught to their children. Of course, because of human sin the promise of the law to produce a people who were righteous in the eyes of God never materialized. The law did not ultimately serve to build up God’s people, but to condemn them.

Paul asserts here that Jesus “became for us wisdom from God”. I understand “wisdom” to represent that which leads people into right relationship with God. The law could not do it, but Jesus could – Jesus the Son of God who was crucified and raised from the dead so that we might have “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” as a pure gift of grace from God. This would have been a hard truth for Jews to accept, Jews who were long expecting a triumphant Messiah; as well as Greeks who would have scoffed at the idea that God could die. Ridiculous! But that’s what we Christians believe brothers and sisters.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Make us one, Lord…

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1 Corinthians 1:10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose…

Unity is a difficult thing for humans to maintain. This is especially true when a community of people is under pressure, experiencing anxiety as was true of the early church in Corinth. “Be united in the same mind and the same purpose”.

This is my prayer for the church in our day. The church I lead is making plans to return to worship indoors for the first time in over a year. We were set to go in February but then experienced water damage due to sub-zero temperatures and busted water pipes. That work is expected to be completed in about a month, which means we could be back inside later in May. This is great news for sure. I miss our people terribly.

But the challenge is that things will be different than before. And I expect not everyone will be happy with the changes, necessary as they may be. And so Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians are my own as well.

Lord Jesus, make us one as you are one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Eternal fruit…

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Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

Paul wraps up his letter to the Romans with a list of persons who have shared the ministry of the gospel with him. I’m particularly drawn to v. 5, “Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ.” When I looked online today I read there are approximately 400 million Christians in Asia at this time. But it started with one convert 2,000 years ago.

One convert doesn’t sound like much. But one convert – over time – can change the world.

This is one of the things I love about being part of the church. What we do together as believers may not seem like much in the moment, but the fruit of what we do is literally eternal. It doesn’t end when mortal life ends, but goes on from generation to generation.

I have a dream that I hope will be fulfilled one day. It occurs after Jesus’ return when all believers are raised up to eternal life. In the dream I make it a point to seek out those persons who supported and encouraged me in the faith in this life. Some of them I’ve been able to thank over the years, but some not. I want them to know what an impact they made on me and how grateful I am for their willingness to teach me about life with Jesus.

But there is also a group of people who find me in this dream. These are people who were impacted by my participation in the life of the church in this life. Some of them I will know, but many I will not. I will learn that one act of kindness, one word of hope, made a difference for them and encouraged them to share the love of Jesus with others. It will be a great day.

Lord, let it be so. Amen.

Be still…

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Psalm 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. 6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  8 Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” 11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. 

The psalmist here speaks of times of chaos, disruption, calamity “though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, though the waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with tumult”. Then there is disruption in the nations, “the nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter…”. Scary stuff! It would seem that the world is coming apart at the seems. What gets my attention this morning is v.10:

“Be still, and know that I am God!”

When the world is coming down around me, literally or metaphorically, my usual impulse is to act. Do something! Fix this! But the counsel of the psalm is to be still. To recognize my impotence, my inability to control/manage the world, and simply rest in the knowledge of God. This is a hard word for me. How about you?

Lord, when things seem to be coming apart, give me grace to rest in you. Amen.

An evolving theology…

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Job 11:1 Then Zophar the Naamathite answered: 2 “Should a multitude of words go unanswered, and should one full of talk be vindicated? 3 Should your babble put others to silence, and when you mock, shall no one shame you? 4 For you say, ‘My conduct is pure, and I am clean in God’s sight.’ 5 But O that God would speak, and open his lips to you, 6 and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For wisdom is many-sided. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves. 

Zophar, one of Job’s friends, is pretty harsh in this passage. In v.3 he describes Job’s long lament in earlier chapters as “babble” and “mock”, rejecting Job’s assertion that God has punished an innocent person. He simply cannot conceive of such an act from God. No way. No how. That’s not how God works.

But Job does not back down.

If we read the entirety of scripture we see human understanding of God (theology) evolve over time. And, in fact, God’s relationship with people changes over time. God goes from being the tribal God of Israel in the Old Testament to the God of anyone – Jew or Gentile – in the New Testament. This morning I’m thinking about places where my understanding of God is being challenged. Where do I need to hold fast to my current understanding of God? Where do I need to make a shift? Lord give me grace to recognize the difference. Amen.

Angry with God…

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Job 10: 11 You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. 12 You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit. 13 Yet these things you hid in your heart; I know that this was your purpose. 14 If I sin, you watch me, and do not acquit me of my iniquity. 15 If I am wicked, woe to me! If I am righteous, I cannot lift up my head, for I am filled with disgrace and look upon my affliction. 16 Bold as a lion you hunt me; you repeat your exploits against me. 17 You renew your witnesses against me, and increase your vexation toward me; you bring fresh troops against me.

Job has suffered greatly. First his 10 children are killed in a single day, then his own health takes a turn for the worse. In Job’s world God is providential and so his suffering must be at the hands of God – yet Job has not sinned against God. There is a great disconnect between his faithfulness to God, which has been beyond reproach (according to Job), and his suffering.

“Bold as a lion you hunt me…”

Job is angry, pained, struggling to make sense of what’s happening within the boundaries of his understanding of God. While I have great sympathy for Job, I’m grateful for his witness in scripture. There are times when I too am confused or even angry when my expectation of God and my experience of God are miles apart. Some people feel guilty when they grow angry with God, like that in of itself is a sin. I don’t think so. Job’s lament is never counted against him by God. Job is free to vent, to “let God have it” if you will. To me this book gives us a green light to come to God with everything. EVERYTHING.

Lord there are times when we hurt, we struggle, we blame. Thank you for your grace that leaves space for occasions when we are even angry with you. Thank you for never turning your back on us. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.