When you are disturbed do not sin…

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Psalm 4:4 When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. 5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.

If you’re new to reading this blog you may not know that I read several passages each morning and then write about the one that speaks most to me on that day. There is a psalm, an Old Testament reading, then a New Testament reading. Somedays, like today, two or more of the daily readings seem to go together.

The verse above is obviously from the psalm for today. The Hebrew word translated here as “disturbed” refers to a heightened sense of anger or fear. Frankly anger is often the byproduct of fear. When we are angry/fearful we tend not to make the best decisions. I know this is certainly true of me. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that I am more effective when I give myself a day or so to calm down rather than responding out of the heat of the moment. In the book of Ephesians the apostle Paul counsels:

26 Be angry but do not sin… and do not make room for the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27)

And then, as if to give a clear example of what NOT to do, there is our passage from Matthew:

13 Now after (baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) left Bethlehem for home, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod…16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. (Matthew 2:13-15)

V.16 uses the word “infuriated” to describe Herod’s state of mind when he ordered untold number of infants be put to death. Why? Because he was protecting his throne from ANYONE – even a baby. It’s hard to imagine how awful it must have been to watch infant after infant dashed against the rocks or run through with the sword as their mothers watched. Nothing short of evil!

I trust neither you or I would ever command such a thing, even if we had the power to do so. That said, it’s easy to do violence to other people out of fear or anger. The most common form of violence I see isn’t physical but verbal. When we’re angry it’s easy to say things that are incredibly hurtful, particularly to those closest to us. We know just what to say to inflict the greatest pain. Or maybe instead of talking directly to our loved one we talk about them to others – which is just as bad.

Psalm 4:5 “… put your trust in the Lord”

This is a hard one for me. True, it’s a good idea to talk directly with someone with whom we have a problem or conflict. The key is not to do so when we’re angry. What I’m learning to do is to take some time to pray first, to ask the Lord to calm my spirit, to put my trust in the Lord to bring about a solution. Lord let it be so. Amen.

The first-fruits of my time…

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Genesis 4:1 Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the LORD.” 2 Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

At first it was not obvious to me why God accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s, but upon closer inspection the reason emerges. V.3-4 tells us that Cain brought an “offering” but Abel brought “of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions”. In other words, Abel gave the very best he had, but Cain did not. That obviously mattered to God. This has me asking myself if I give to God my very best – of my time, of my personal gifts/talents, of my material resources. I think sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes no.

What keeps me from giving to God my best at times is my fear that by giving my best, or my first, I won’t have what I need. Initially this involved my financial resources. Particularly once Jana and I determined to give the full tithe (10% of our income) I had anxiety that our family would be left in a hole. It was a scary thing. I think many people have this anxiety when stretching to meet a giving goal. However our experience was that the Lord always found a way to provide what we needed. In fact, I would say our financial lives got better, not worse, when we grew in giving. It’s not logical, but that’s how the Kingdom of God works. Truly. If you doubt, you should try it.

The area that challenges me these days has more to do with time than money. Giving to God the first-fruits of my time is something that is always being challenged. Seems like I’m continually putting out fires of various kinds. It’s the tyranny of the urgent. Even this morning I’ve struggling to finish writing this. I let it get too late and the demands on me are in my face. That said, this is a key focus for me in 2020 – giving to God the first-fruits of my time each day and a Sabbath day each week.

Lord you know this is so hard for me. I stumble on this all the time. Give me grace to honor this commitment to you and to myself. I cannot do it on my own. Thank you in advance for your faithfulness in this and all things. Amen.

He will save the people from their sins…

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Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

If you’re like me you’ve heard this story many times. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit before Mary and Joseph were married. V.20 tells us that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told him what was going on – that the child was of divine origin. What stands out for me on this particular morning is in v.21 “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Why was Jesus sent by God? To save his people from their sins. 

Seems simple enough. As the old Lutheran liturgy used to say, “We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” Man, isn’t that the truth? So often my problem isn’t that I don’t know what is expected of me. It’s not a lack of knowledge that gets in my way. What makes me stumble is the part of me that knows what to do and does the opposite anyway. It’s the rebellion baked into human DNA beginning with Adam and Eve. If there’s anyone who needs saving from his sins it’s me. And you. Simple.

What strikes me this morning is my observation that Christians in America continue to wrestle with identifying what exactly is sinful and what is not. This is not simple at all. We wrestle with questions related to sexuality and gender, economic justice, caring for the environment, abortion, appropriate treatment of immigrants, and more. We’re regularly confronted with questions not specifically addressed in scripture so we are left to interpret the times as best we can. Too often we Christians disagree among ourselves and split from one another. It’s not a great witness to an unbelieving world.

Why was Jesus sent by God? To save his people from their sins. 

What gives me hope this morning is that forgiveness of sin is not conditional upon our correct understand of what is sinful and what is not. We’re never going to gain unanimous agreement on these questions this side of Jesus’ return. Not gonna happen. What we CAN agree on is that each human being is born with a predisposition to rebel against the will and ways of God – whatever form that may take. It’s this innate state of rebellion that is the root of all the incidences of rebellion we can “sins”. In Jesus Christ we are made new, saved from the eternal death which is the consequence of sin, empowered to live eternal life – right now. 

So as I close this blog post I’m lifting up before the Lord my sin, my brokenness, my failings before God and man – which are many. Lord Jesus see before you a sinner in need of redemption. By grace forgive my sins and make me into the man you’ve always wanted me to be. I cannot do it, but you have the power to do what I cannot. Thank you for your faithfulness in this and all things. Amen.

A focus for 2020…

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Genesis 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. 

As you know, God created man and woman on the sixth day of creation, so day 7 was the first day of life for people. God commanded that they rest on that first day of life and then get on to the business of stewarding creation. Rest, then work. Sabbath is a simple rhythm. Not hard to understand at all. It’s the keeping of the Sabbath that’s hard in our modern world.

Like most other people I’m thinking about resolutions for 2020. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you know that keeping the Sabbath as been a focus on mine for years. You’d think I’d have it down by now, but I don’t. It’s something I have to constantly lean into if Sabbath is going to be a reality in my life. And even then Sabbath can be elusive. So keeping Sabbath is something I want to re-affirm as a focus for my life in 2020. There may be other things I commit to doing in 2020, but this will be a very high priority.

And as we start another year in the scriptures I want to thank you for reading this blog. I know that the content of my writing is so-so at best, but I trust that God enters into this space we share and does something of value despite my shortcomings as a writer. Lord thank you for the grace you pour out in this space to both the writer and the readers. Amen.

Making the first move…

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Malachi 3:7 (God said to the people) Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.

Malachi brings to a close our reading of the prophets of the Old Testament. Starting tomorrow, January 1, we will start over at Genesis. The verse above is a sort of synopsis of the corpus of prophetic writings. Over and over God’s people turned aside from the statutes and ordinances and laws of God. As their unfaithfulness grew over time God’s protection and provision for them diminished, which seemed to only hasten the divide between God and the people.

What I find interesting about this invitation is its transactional nature. God is telling the people that reconciliation is possible. God has not forgotten the people, nor completely abandoned them. If they “return to me (God)” by honoring his statutes once again, he will return to them. But here’s the catch.

It is up to the people to make the first move.

The truth is the people never really did, at least not in a sustained way. They would return to God for a time, but then walk away once again. Over and over this is a central theme of the Old Testament, which I can absolutely relate to. There are seasons when I will make particular effort to lean into my relationship with the Lord, but it doesn’t seem to last the way I’d like. I get distracted. I get busy. I lose hope from time to time as I experience adversity in life.

What I appreciate about Jesus (among many other things) is that in Jesus it was God who made the first move, not people. 

If our salvation were dependent on human initiative we would end up, well, like the people in the Old Testament. Defeated. Lost. In the birth of Jesus, our heavenly Father demonstrated a willingness to go to any lengths to reconcile with his sons and daughters. You and me. On this last day of the year I’m particularly grateful that the Lord has never given up on me. Thank you Lord. Amen.

 

Giving our best…

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Malachi 1:6 A son honors his father, and servants their master. If then I (God) am a father, where is the honor due me? And if I am a master, where is the respect due me? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. You say, “How have we despised your name?” 7 By offering polluted food on my altar. And you say, “How have we polluted it?” By thinking that the LORD’s table may be despised. 8 When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not wrong? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not wrong? Try presenting that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts. 9 And now implore the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. The fault is yours.

The Old Testament law required that offerings be made to God at various times and for various purposes. The law also required that the animals brought as offerings would be “without blemish”. Clearly sacrificing animals that were blind, lame, or sick (v.8) did not qualify – but that’s what was happening at the time Malachi uttered these words. And since the people did not honor the covenant by sacrificing their very best, God did not honor the covenant by providing protection. The people suffered.

This passage has me thinking about the mindset of one who offers to God his leftovers rather than his best. We don’t do animal sacrifice in our day, but we do make offerings to God via time and money and other forms. So I’m asking myself this morning what kind of offerings I am giving to the Lord.

I think for starters the foundation of our giving to God is the tithe. We bring to God 10% or more of our income – off the top. That’s a form of first-fruits giving. Then there is the offering of time. Part of the purpose of this blog space is to offer to God the first hour or so of my day. If you follow this blog you know I don’t always succeed in doing that. My plan is to blog Monday – Saturday with Sunday off, but I fall short.

So as we enter into a new year I’ll be praying about upping the quality of my offerings to the Lord. I’ve been at this long enough to know that when I give my best to God the Lord provides all I need – and more. Even so I admit scarcity gets the better of me from time to time. How about you? What are you offering of yourself to the Lord? How can you take your offering to the next level?

Lord you are lavish in your blessing of your children. My heart is filled with gratitude. Give me grace to trust you with the very best of what I have, not because I have to but because I want to. And because I know things will be well with me and those I love when I trust you. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

A complex God…

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Zechariah 14:1 See, a day is coming for the LORD, when the plunder taken from you will be divided in your midst. 2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses looted and the women raped; half the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3 Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle.

V.2 speaks of God mobilizing the enemies of Israel resulting in “houses looted and women raped”. Brutal. Then v.3 says God will turn and defeat the nations he just mobilized against Jerusalem. Our God is a God of love – but not only love. In this case, God is a God of violence and death. There is much less of this sort of thing in the New Testament so it’s interesting to note the change in God’s posture towards people after Jesus is born.

Heavenly Father we know you are more complex than we tend to believe. I don’t pretend to understand it all, but I trust that – in Jesus – you revealed the lengths you were willing to go – so we sinners could draw near to you. We thank you today and bless you in Jesus’ name. Amen.