Rebellious nature…

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Psalm 51: 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 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. 

We are told this psalm was written by King David after he was caught in adultery. You may recall from scripture that David and Bathsheba actually conceived a son in that act of adultery – but the child died. Shortly afterward David actually took Bathsheba as his wife and they later conceived another son – Solomon – who would be David’s heir on the throne.

The words of our passage are filled with remorse and regret. And in verse 10 David asks God to do what he cannot do for himself, “Create in me a clean heart, O God…”. Like David, you and I were born with a sinful nature. We tend toward rebellion against God. As I’ve gotten older, I think I am a bit less rebellious than I used to be, but my sinful nature remains. I know that, in my own power, I don’t have the strength to overcome this predisposition to sin. Like David, I need the Lord to cleanse me from the inside out. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

Perishing and eternal life…

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John 3:14 (Jesus said) And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Today is Good Friday – the day we remember Jesus’ death on a cross. Two days from now we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. What gets my attention today is the contrast between the words “perish” and “eternal life” in v.16.

Jesus is not saying that Christian believers will never die (perish) – in a mortal sense. Everyone dies, Christian or not. The Greek word translated here as “perish” refers more to a spiritual reality than a reality of the flesh. This same word is used here in 1 Corinthians chapter 1:

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

In this sense to “perish” is a process of spiritual death. It’s being separated from the life-giving God who created heaven and earth – and all people. However through Jesus our sins are forgiven and we are brought near to our holy God, adopted as sons and daughters of the living God. In other words, we are given “eternal life” in which we come alive on the inside and remain so for all eternity. Even when our mortal body has died.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your obedience to God the Father. Thank you for taking our sin to the cross and giving to us your righteousness – by grace. We pray this in your holy name. Amen.

Loving the wrong kinds of people…

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Mark 1:40 A leper came to (Jesus) begging him, and kneeling (the leper) said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

This is the kind of thing that made the Pharisees (leaders tasked with teaching the people of Israel the laws and rules of God) crazy. On the one hand it is a wonderful miracle that Jesus healed a man with leprosy. On the other hand, there is no way a man of God should touch a leper – under any circumstances – making himself ritually unclean. To them, Jesus was a walking contradiction. The fact that so many people were following Jesus served to elevate their anxiety. Eventually, of course, they had Jesus put to death.

I’m pretty sure if Jesus were walking around today he would be breaking rules we think are sacred, loving on the wrong kinds of people. People we think are “bad” or “wrong”. Has me thinking… Lord help us to see the persons in our lives we can love in your name. Amen.

Expectations, disappointment, and doubt…

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Mark 1:John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

What I find interesting here is how bold John announces Jesus’ coming. There is great certainty in his words, no equivocation or doubt. John is saying, “Jesus is the Messiah we’ve been waiting for!” At this time Jesus was essentially unknown but John was already a prophetic “rock star” – with a following of hundreds if not thousands. What we read here is John vouching for Jesus, staking his own reputation on the ministry Jesus hadn’t yet begun.

John the Baptist is ALL IN on Jesus!

But then look at what John does after he’s put in prison a few years later (a prison he will not leave alive), “When John heard in prison what the Messiah (Jesus) was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Matthew 11:2-3)

WHAT?! Is John doubting Jesus is the Messiah? Yes he is. Why? Because, though Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah, he was very different than what John expected. He hung out with the wrong kinds of people. He broke the “rules”. He wasn’t a “king” in the traditional sense of the word. And he would eventually die hanging on a cross. AND YET – the blessing God the Father brought through Jesus far exceeded anyone’s expectations.

Dear God, help us to trust you when disappointment has us doubting ourselves and even you. Amen.

Controlling the narrative…

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Matthew 28:11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

Interesting that the battle for the narrative of Jesus’ disappearance from the tomb is mentioned. The priests are wanting to characterize Jesus’ resurrection as “fake news”. The truth would further undermine their authority in the eyes of many. And, as is true in our day, people were inclined to believe what they wanted to believe. Followers of Jesus believed he was genuinely raised from the dead. v.15 says that “the Jews” believed the fiction.

They say that one of the first casualties of war is the truth. The ongoing conflict between Russia and the Ukraine seems to illustrate this. It would seem that the story coming from Ukrainians is closer to the truth than the story coming from Russia, but everyone has an agenda.

Lord give us grace to know the truth when we hear it. Amen.

Where are you God?

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Psalm 44: 1 We have heard with our ears, O God, our ancestors have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old: 2 you with your own hand drove out the nations, but them you planted; you afflicted the peoples, but them you set free… 9 Yet you have rejected us and abased us, and have not gone out with our armies. 10 You made us turn back from the foe, and our enemies have gotten spoil. 11 You have made us like sheep for slaughter, and have scattered us among the nations. 12 You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them. 

You can hear the frustration in the words of the psalmist. On one hand he recalls God’s faithfulness in generations past, but wonders where God is now. More than that, the psalmist accuses God of serious neglect of Israel, “you have rejected us and abased us”… “You made us turn back from the foe”… “You have made us like sheep for slaughter…” “You have sold your people for a trifle”… In later verses of this psalm the writer makes clear that Israel HAS NOT turned away from the Lord. They have remained faithful, so what gives?

This ever happened to you? Ever wondered where the Lord might be when you’re in a difficult place? Me too. And while I know the Lord has not abandoned me or those I love, waiting on the Lord can be agonizing.

Lord give us grace when we are struggling. Especially right now. Amen.

It is the Lord who has done it…

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Psalm 44: 1 We have heard with our ears, O God, our ancestors have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old: 2 you with your own hand drove out the nations, but them you planted; you afflicted the peoples, but them you set free; 3 for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm give them victory; but your right hand, and your arm, and the light of your countenance, for you delighted in them. 

The writer gives praise to God for deeds done in generations past. In the rest of Psalm 44 the writer goes on to thank God for faithfulness in his day as well. What gets my attention this morning is in v.3 “for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm give them victory; but your right hand…”. Did God’s people have to fight when they entered the Promised Land? Yes. But the credit for their success belonged to God alone, for apart from God they never would have escaped Egypt, much less taken possession of the Promised Land.

So this morning I’m thinking of all the ways I have seen God’s hand move in my life and the blessings I’ve been given. There are so many. This is not to say that I haven’t had a part to play when things have worked out, but I know that my God is the one who gets the glory. Apart from my Lord I can do nothing. Lord never let me forget your work in my life and in the lives of those I love. Whatever success we’ve had we owe to you alone. Amen.

Being fully present at the end of life…

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Matthew 27:32 As (the governor’s soldiers and Jesus) went out (to crucify Jesus), they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered (Jesus) wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 

It hasn’t happened often, but there have been at least two times I can recall in which I was with a person near death, in pain, who refused pain medications. They wanted to be as fully present as they could be in their last moments, rather than anesthetized. We are told here that Jesus was offered wine mixed with “gall” which would dull his pain a bit. It was an act of mercy, yet Jesus refused. I suppose in a similar way, he may have wanted to be fully present in his last moments.

I’m not sure how I might respond to such a situation, but I understand the notion of embracing pain as a part of life, particularly at the end. The older I get the more precious life becomes to me, even the painful parts. I appreciate it more than I did as a younger man, when so much of life was in front of me.

Whatever his motivations, we know that Jesus took on the full penalty for our sin so that we might have life in him. This morning I’m particularly grateful. Thank you Jesus for enduring the cross on our behalf. Amen.

Head vs. heart

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Psalm 42: 5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. 

This psalm is attributed to King David who is dealing with an “enemy who oppresses me” (v.9). He describes his soul as “disquieted”. Seems that David is constantly dealing with adversaries of one kind or other – sometimes enemies from outside his kingdom and sometimes from within. In the verse above you can sense a battle happening inside David.

On the one hand he’s anxious because of his enemy. It’s not looking good at the moment for David, but this is not David’s first rodeo. He’s been through a lot, beginning as a boy, and God has never failed to rescue him from danger. So his head says “don’t worry” but his heart is freaking out a bit. It’s this tug-of-war on the inside.

That ever happen to you? Happens to me all the time, but I’m a “feeler” by nature. I tend to initially experience things from the heart, then try to think before responding. I’ve mentioned before in this space my concern for what’s happening in the Ukraine. When I see people suffering like they are, especially the most vulnerable people, I want the US and NATO to get directly involved. Work with NATO to provide a “no fly” zone? Heck yes! Send troops? Absolutely – if that’s what it takes!

But of course, reason suggests that may not be such a great idea. Are we really prepared to go to war, even WW3, over the Ukraine? What about nuclear war if it comes to that? These possibilities change the calculus a bit, right? I’ll tell you, I do not envy those who have to ultimately make such decisions. I hope, like me, you are praying for wisdom for our leaders in what is an awful set of circumstances.

So today, like David, I am feeling the conflicted nature of our world, while also remembering God’s faithfulness. Lord, we trust you to lead us and guide us. Calm our spirits, give us clear thinking, and bestow upon us peace that passes understanding. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Our “jealous” God…

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Exodus 34:11 Observe what I command you today. See, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 12 Take care not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you are going, or it will become a snare among you. 13 You shall tear down their altars, break their pillars, and cut down their sacred poles 14 (for you shall worship no other god, because the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God). 15 You shall not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, someone among them will invite you, and you will eat of the sacrifice. 16 And you will take wives from among their daughters for your sons, and their daughters who prostitute themselves to their gods will make your sons also prostitute themselves to their gods. 

This was a very important command. Making a covenant with people of the land is much more than making a peace treaty. Covenants bind two nations together as one. Making a covenant with another people invited the Israelites to share the spiritual habits and loyalties of the covenant partner. As the scripture says, doing this would be a “snare” to God’s people – and it was. Over and over again. Most unfortunate.

I also think it’s interesting that God describes himself as “jealous”. God doesn’t want us to share our loyalties with other things. I’m thinking this morning of the ways I may be doing just that, making other things in my life a priority over the Lord.