I will lift up my hands…

Standard

Psalm 63:Psalm 63:2–4 (NRSV): 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. 3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

A mentor of mine once said, “If it’s in the Bible it’s Lutheran”. Our people are not much for outward expression of worship… like lifting up our hands. But it is most definitely a biblical practice. Lord help us to let go of cultural inhibitors to your praise. Amen.

A delusion…

Standard

201405-omag-lion-949x534-670x377

Psalm 62: 9 Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. 

One of the things I’ve noted in this blog space is David’s approach to dealing with adversity. David was a king, which means he had every kind of resource available to him in times of trouble. He had finances, lands, advisers, armies, and more. It would seem logical that David would turn to these things when his back was against the wall.

But he didn’t.

V.9 is a great explanation. The things of this world are “lighter than a breath”. They ultimately come to very little. They are temporary, here today and gone tomorrow. The fact that I so often turn to such things instead of my God tells me I believe in a “delusion”, a lie. Though my heart is not as focused on the Lord as was David’s, I want it to be. Lord, give me grace to make it so. Amen.

Freedom vs. Control

Standard

Print

Mark 9:38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. 

What’s the problem? The disciples pointed out to Jesus that some guy was casting out demons yet was “not following us”. There were twelve disciples in the beginning, whom Jesus selected personally. These were the famous ones who became the “apostles” once Jesus ascended to heaven. Yet they were by no means the only disciples. As time went on, more and more people followed Jesus. Since Jesus couldn’t possibly relate to all of them closely, one would assume the twelve original disciples mentored those who came later.

But the one casting out demons in this passage was not being mentored by Jesus or the disciples. He was not “one of us”. He was not “authorized” so to speak. They wanted Jesus to shut the guy down. I mean, God forbid that people all over the place start casting out demons in Jesus’ name! It could get out of hand! Where’s the control and accountability?! But rather than give the guy a good talking-to, Jesus condones the man’s actions. “Whoever is not against us is for us”.

I’ve been a leader in the church for over 20 years now and I can tell you one of the greatest obstacles to the effectiveness of the church is leaders who feel the need to exert excessive control over what God is doing through others. I understand the impulse. If someone is going to represent my church in the community I’d like that person to be accountable in some way to the larger church community. After all, that persons doesn’t just represent themselves, or even the church they’re a part of. They represent the name of Jesus. The name that is above all names. It’s not “anything goes”.

That said, excessive control gets in the way of people doing their thing for Jesus. There is the tension between freedom and control. We must have both to function well. However, at the end of the day it’s about the fruit of one’s actions. In this case, an unknown follower of Jesus was doing great things for the Kingdom of God. Jesus thinks that’s more important than exerting control. Some of us could learn from Jesus’ example.

Lord help us to trust that your Kingdom is working through many people, authorized or not. And teach us leaders to get out of the way when it’s happening. Amen.

I don’t get it!

Standard

bigstock-131635712_confused_worried_panic

Mark 9:30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 

Jesus has been repeatedly telling his disciples that he must die, but would rise again. And repeatedly they don’t understand. It never occurs to them to take him literally because, frankly, Jesus often speaks in parables, euphemisms or analogies – especially when speaking to the crowds. But then Jesus would often take his disciples aside and explain what he meant. This, however, is not one of those times. Jesus isn’t teaching the crowds, so one would expect Jesus’ teaching here to be clear and easily understood by all. Nope.

And to be fair, the disciples are a bit gun-shy at this point. Jesus has repeatedly rebuked them for their lack of understanding. I suppose they are tired of feeling stupid or being called out in public. So when they are again puzzled by Jesus’ teaching they “were afraid to ask him”.

I don’t think Jesus intended to shut down his disciples by rebuking them, but that’s what happened. Maybe Jesus was a bit harsh with them. Maybe their pride got in the way and they didn’t want to risk looking bad in front of their peers. Maybe the enemy was whispering in their ears to stop asking. I don’t know. What I do know is that our Lord never wants us to stop asking. I’m reminded of Matthew 7:7

7 “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.

Lord Jesus, give us grace that we might not get discouraged when we don’t understand. Because the truth is, we often don’t understand. We don’t know what you’re trying to teach us. We don’t understand what’s happening around us. We don’t know what we should do or say in difficult situations. Help us to persevere through seasons of confusion and doubt. We pray this in your holy name. Amen.

God’s time…

Standard

shutterstock_471687491-1000x480

Numbers 1:44 These are those who were enrolled, whom Moses and Aaron enrolled with the help of the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each representing his ancestral house. 45 So the whole number of the Israelites, by their ancestral houses, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war in Israel— 46 their whole number was six hundred three thousand five hundred fifty. 47 The Levites, however, were not numbered by their ancestral tribe along with them. 

Today we started into the book of Numbers. As one might expect, the book of Numbers begins with… numbers. The Lord commands Moses to take a census to count the number of battle-ready males among the Israelites. I skipped ahead a few verses to see the total number. It was just over 603K men, not including women and children. One could assume the inclusive total would be well over 1 million people.

Yesterday I preached a sermon with Abraham as a key subject. Abraham was 80 years old and childless when God called him to the land of Canaan. God declared he wanted to build a nation with Abraham and Sarah his wife as the starting point. Though at the time of their meeting they had no descendants, God would give them descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. That’s a lot. Yet it took 20 years for God to give them child #1 whom they named Isaac.

When Abraham died he had nowhere near the number of descendants promised to him. I would probably have died thinking God failed me. As numerous as the stars in the sky? What a joke. Yet today’s passage reveals that the promise made to Abraham was indeed fulfilled. It just took a while. A long while, like several centuries.

Too often I think God is not responding to my prayers. I pray and I want to see something happen – right now. I want to observe cause and effect. C’mon Lord, do something! But today I’m reminded that our God doesn’t live in the same finite time/space world that you and I live in. To God, a few hundred years is a tick of the clock. And so I am called to wait. And trust that God is acting in God’s time, not mine. Ugh! I’m terrible at waiting.

Gracious God, you are one who keeps your promises. Give us grace to live in anticipation, trusting that realization will come. In time. Amen.

Older people have value too…

Standard

660654876

Leviticus 27:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When a person makes an explicit vow to the LORD concerning the equivalent for a human being, 3 the equivalent for a male shall be: from twenty to sixty years of age the equivalent shall be fifty shekels of silver by the sanctuary shekel. 4 If the person is a female, the equivalent is thirty shekels. 5 If the age is from five to twenty years of age, the equivalent is twenty shekels for a male and ten shekels for a female. 6 If the age is from one month to five years, the equivalent for a male is five shekels of silver, and for a female the equivalent is three shekels of silver. 7 And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the equivalent for a male is fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. 

Vows to God were serious things back in the day. This passage doesn’t make clear exactly how a vow worked, but I expect it was something pledged to God either in hopes of securing a blessing from God or in response to receiving a blessing from God. And I suppose the more significant the blessing, the greater the value of the pledge.

What sticks out for me here is the drop in value for people as they age. Males between 20-60 years old could be redeemed for 50 shekels of silver. After turning sixty the value for men went down to 15 shekels. For women it went from 30 to 10 shekels. I suppose the drop is less about the value of the person in the moment and more about the number of years the person had left to be productive. 60 years old is no big deal today, but in ancient times people just didn’t live that long.

I’m not 60, but I’m past 50. Given how fast the decade of my 40s passed by, I expect my 50s to be over any moment – despite the fact I’m only 51 right now! This morning I’m thinking of people I know who are looking for work, but are having a hard time because (at least in their opinion) employers are wary of hiring someone past 50 years old or so. While older people are often well qualified, their skills may be considered dated and they tend to be expensive relative to someone in their 30s. Let’s face it, we live in a youth culture where older people aren’t as respected as in some other cultures. In the US older people are too often just considered… old.

Heavenly Father, while the world around us doesn’t value age much, you have done incredible things over the centuries with people well past 50. Help us who are on the back half of life remain productive and valuable for the sake of your Kingdom. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I will awake the dawn…

Standard

Dawn-Amonkhet-MtG-Art

Psalm 57: 6 (My enemies) set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my path, but they have fallen into it themselves. 7 My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing and make melody. 8 Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn.

David continues this psalm asking for God to deliver him from his enemies (v.6). There’s bound to be some stress in that situation. I’d be tempted to hunker down and work with my advisors to plot some kind of military or political response to the threat. Then, once we’d gotten that stuff figured out, I would perhaps think to worship the Lord. I’m not proud of that, but that’s closer to the truth than I’d like. David takes a different approach.

He says that his heart is “steadfast”. In other words, his heart is unwavering in its focus upon God, not upon the problem at hand. David will sing praises to the Lord first, then maybe get with his advisers later. Why? Because David knows it is God who will deliver him from his enemies, not his advisers or the plans they will make.

Then David starts to speak to his inner self, his soul. “Awake my soul!” Despite being sinful and broken like everyone else, David genuinely loved the Lord, having been described as a “man after God’s own heart”. But David is also human. Even in the midst of great faith there may be an element of fear and anxiety present. And so he speaks to his soul. “Snap out of it! Stop with the long face! Remember to whom we belong – to God Almighty!” It’s sort of a mind over heart situation.

And so, in that spirit, David endeavors to worship with musical instruments. “Awake, O harp and lyre!” Now he’s speaking to inanimate objects that will come alive as his fingers move the strings. David was a musician. I’m a musician, a wanna-be guitar player. I never could get my right and left hands working closely enough to play lead guitar stuff, but I’m a pretty good rhythm guitar player. There is something about playing an instrument and singing that speaks to my soul especially as a means of worship.

Finally there is “I will awake the dawn.” There are a couple of ways to think about this last sentence. It could be that David has spent the night in prayer and will usher in the morning with worship and song. There’s a sense that David’s music-making will stir the heavens, calling forth the sun from behind the earth.

Another way to think about this is more metaphorical. David’s circumstances constitute a time of darkness. As David plays, sings, and worships the Lord, the hand of God will move and usher in David’s salvation. The darkness of fear will subside and the light of hope will be restored. Like the break of dawn.

However one chooses to understand this passage it’s clear that David is a man of worship. His heart seeks the Lord in good times and bad. I want to be that kind of person. I want to be one who seeks the Lord first and everything else second. I have a long way to go.

Heavenly Father, grant me grace to seek after you like David did. Amen.