In a better place than last year…

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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.

These verses always speak to me. I was reading a note I wrote a year ago when I read Psalm 127. I remember feeling the weight of Covid time. Being overwhelmed. Thinking how our regular Thanksgiving and Christmas activities were mostly off the table. Mostly convinced I had to figure it all out. My job. My responsibility. Gorging on the bread of anxious toil.

This year I’m in a better place, mostly because I have let go of the illusion I can handle everything myself. I cannot. And so I’ve gotten better at letting the Lord build the house. I still catch myself carrying burdens that are not mine, but I’m improving. Thank you Jesus. Amen.

…every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God…

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1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

Years ago I was part of a ministry to homeless persons in the downtown area of San Antonio. One of the activities was to hold a bible study there on Saturday nights. A bit of a risky proposition for sure. We would make a big pot of soup and invite people to have a bowl and then stick around for some bible study if they liked. Many did and it was a blessing. But once in a while someone would join in – but then be terribly disruptive. Over and over. They would not stop interjecting or shouting or disturbing the group, nor would they leave when asked.

And so one time a fellow pastor suggested we stop the discussion and say aloud together, “Jesus is the Son of God, my Lord and Savior!”. Over and over. LOUDLY! Sometimes a disruptive person would join in, and usually calm down in the process. But other times they wouldn’t say it and would eventually leave.

“…every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God”

Lord Jesus thank you that your name has power in the heavenly realm. Amen.

Honoring the Lord…

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Daniel 1: The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court… But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. Now God allowed Daniel to receive favor and compassion from the palace master. 10 The palace master said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king; he has appointed your food and your drink. If he should see you in poorer condition than the other young men of your own age, you would endanger my head with the king.” 11 Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 12 “Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.” 14 So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. 16 So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. 17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom; Daniel also had insight into all visions and dreams. 

The prophet Daniel was among those taken to Babylon when Israel was conquered by the Babylonians. The king of Babylon commands that Daniel and other young men of Jewish nobility eat the rations of the king’s court – which likely included foods that were not kosher. Rather than become ritually unclean Daniel asked that he and his buddies be given vegetables and water only. It was an act of faith to honor God in this way. God responded by honoring Daniel in return, giving him strength, wisdom, and insight despite his status as a glorified slave.

When we honor God, God will honor us in return.

The fact that you’re reading this blog post indicates your willingness to give to the Lord some of your time by dwelling in the scriptures for a bit. If you’re like me there are voices in your head telling you that you don’t have time for this. There is so much you need to get done today. Your to-do list awaits! I seriously hear that voice every day when I start to write. Or each week when the Sabbath approaches. Or when my wife Jana and I give financially what it appears we don’t have to give. Given how long I’ve been following the Lord now you would think those voices wouldn’t bother me anymore – but they do. So this morning I’m asking the Lord to reveal where I’m listening to the wrong voices and where I need to act in faith like Daniel did.

Lord give me strength to be faithful when my trust in you wavers. Amen.

With God there is always enough…

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Ezekiel 47:21 So you shall divide this (promised) 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. 

Interesting that, when the Israelites returned from exile, God directed that “aliens” living among them be included in the inheritance. More than that, “They shall be to you as citizens of Israel”. In a scarcity mindset this kind of command would meet resistance. There’s only so much land, why should we share it with those people? They’re taking what should rightfully belong to us! What if they grow in numbers and crowd us out?

But God directs Israel to respond in a mindset of abundance, not scarcity.

Abundance says that with God there is always enough. Besides, every thing we have is a gift from God in the first place. It doesn’t belong to “us” any more than it belongs to “them”. It all belongs to God. I wonder how this kind of thinking might inform how we see our world today? Lord, give us grace us to think more like you. Amen.

I long for your salvation…

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Psalm 119: 173 Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts. 174 I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight. 175 Let me live that I may praise you, and let your ordinances help me. 176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek out your servant, for I do not forget your commandments. 

These are the final verses of a long psalm which has as its central theme the blessing that comes from following God’s commands/laws/precepts/ordinances/decrees. I’ll admit I don’t generally share the writer’s enthusiasm for the laws of God, but them I’m not in a desperate situation as is the writer.

The writer is so passionate about the laws of God – because it’s all he has. So he clings to the laws of God for dear life.

I’m reminded of the apostle Paul who writes, “God’s power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) I see the same sentiment present in this psalm. I’m not a fan of being weak. Being dependent. Being helpless apart from God. And yet it’s often in that space of desperation that God shows up. Are you feeling weak? Helpless? You’re not alone friend. I’m there with you. Come Lord Jesus, for you are our salvation. Amen.

Strive to be found by him at peace…

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I Peter 3: 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. 14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. 

The apostle Peter is writing to a Christian community which, for a number of reasons, is under duress. First, there was persecution from those outside of the church. Second, Jesus’ return was taking much longer than anyone expected – which was getting harder and harder to explain. Third, and perhaps most importantly, there was division within the church community itself as Peter mentioned in v.14, “…strive to be found by him at peace”…

A community of people, unified in purpose and resolve, is powerful and resilient. It’s one reason why “families” (by blood or not) are the fundamental building blocks of human existence. However when a community is divided – warring against itself – it weakens rapidly and can be easily overcome. Jesus said it this way, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25)

The American church is under duress right now, not so much from persecution but from the challenges presented by a world that has changed significantly during this time of pandemic. More than ever we need to be united as a church, yet there has been growing division instead – mostly mimicking the growing division outside of the church. And so this morning, like the apostle Peter, I pray for unity. In the church. In families. In neighborhoods. In our country and in our world. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Today? Tomorrow? The next day?

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2 Peter 3: First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 

Like most of the early Christians, Peter and the readers of this letter had been expecting Jesus to return – like today. Or tomorrow. Or maybe the next day. And I can imagine how this expectation brought a sense of urgency to their proclamation of the gospel. Don’t wait! Repent of your sins and receive the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ! Eternal life is yours… but do not delay! There is no time to lose!

But then weeks and months and years went by… and no Jesus. And in the meantime the sin and brokenness of the world, the injustice and violence and death, continued unabated. I can imagine that would have been difficult for the early Christians to explain to a skeptical audience. And so they had to deal with “scoffers” mentioned in v.3-4.

“Waiting on the Lord” is one of the primary themes in all of scripture because it’s so difficult to deal with for many of us. I too am looking forward to the day when Jesus comes and sets the world right. And I remember again that, just because Jesus hasn’t returned in over 2,000 years doesn’t mean today is not the day. Or tomorrow. Or the next.

Lord give us grace to be ready for your return, whenever that may be. Amen.

The power of testimony…

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2 Peter 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. 

There is something powerful and compelling about testimony born of experience. The gospel of Jesus is not just an interesting idea Peter heard from someone else and is sharing in this letter. Peter has seen with his own eyes and heard the voice of God the Father speaking to Jesus, the Son. There is a level of conviction that experience makes possible here.

It will come as no surprise that interest in Christianity in America has been waning for many years. However, I find that people are still interested in a God who acts in our world – who responds to our need when we call upon him. I’m learning one of the most important things I can do as a Christian is simply to tell others what I have seen the Lord do in my life and in the lives of others. I’ve seen people who have ZERO interest in organized church get very interested in what I have to say when it speaks to their immediate need.

“…but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty”

Lord I give you thanks for the many ways you act in our world, in our lives, in our church. Give us grace to share our gratitude with others, especially those who may be far from you. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

It is time for the Lord to act…

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Psalm 119: 121 I have done what is just and right; do not leave me to my oppressors. 122 Guarantee your servant’s well-being; do not let the godless oppress me. 123 My eyes fail from watching for your salvation, and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise. 124 Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes. 125 I am your servant; give me understanding, so that I may know your decrees. 126 It is time for the Lord to act, for your law has been broken. 

The psalmist is running out of patience. In his mind he has done what is required to receive the blessing and protection of God, but God appears nowhere to be found. “It is time for the Lord to act…”. Makes me think about early Christians who were constantly persecuted in Jesus’ name, how they likely prayed a similar prayer. Or Christians who were fed to the lions. Or Jews during the holocaust. Or even people today who are in need. Me. You.

It’s hard waiting on the Lord. But wait we must. Lord give us grace to wait upon you to renew our strength. Come Lord. Amen.

They are surprised that you no longer join them…

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1 Peter 4:You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme.

It would seem that Peter is either writing to Jews who live among Gentiles or actual Gentiles. In either case, these Christians have embraced a new way of living. In other words, they no longer do “what the Gentiles like to do” but live for the sake of Jesus Christ. Peter writes of their former friends, “They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses…”.

In my case and that of the original readers of this letter, one of the consequences of following the Lord is the severing of former patterns of behavior and relationships that come with them. This was one of the most difficult aspects of my own faith journey, creating distance between me and people I cared about because my former lifestyle was not compatible with faith in Jesus. In some cases I’ve been able to re-establish relationships with new boundaries. Yet in other cases I have not – and have lost those people forever. It makes me sad to think about it all these years later. Lord console us who have sacrificed relationships for the sake of our faith in you. Amen.