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.

I waited patiently for the Lord…

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Psalm 40: 1 I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. 2 He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. 

First of all, I want to thank all of you who messaged me that you were praying for me when I was sick last week. I’m much better today, pretty much back to normal. In today’s psalm David gives thanks and praise to God for coming to his aid. “Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” We don’t know for sure what David was struggling with, but it was important for David to do two key things:

  1. David made sure to give thanks to God. Gratitude is important. No one likes to be taken for granted, even the Lord.
  2. David made sure to tell others about the blessings God gave to him. When we hear what God has done for others it gives us faith to believe God can come to our aid as well. David is blessed in the telling and others are blessed in the hearing.

So this morning I’m giving thanks to God for healing. I’m also giving thanks to God for all of you who prayed for my healing. Lord, the older I get the more I appreciate physical health. It’s not something I take for granted as I may have done in my youth. Thank you for healing me and others out of your goodness and faithfulness. We pray as well for all those who need healing today, whether in mind, body, or spirit. Reveal your grace to your children that we may praise you all the more. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

O my God, do not be far from me…

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Psalm 38: 3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin… 21 Do not forsake me, O Lord; O my God, do not be far from me; 22 make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation. 

In my bible translation this psalm is described as a plea for healing from a penitent sinner. These two verses illustrate this. In the Old Testament things like illness or misfortune are understood to be consequences of sin. The psalmist is suffering in body with “no health in my bones”.

I wrote the other day that I had bronchitis. Seems like it’s getting a little better. Still coughing and such, but chest congestion is easing a bit. If you’ve ever had bronchitis you know that the coughing itself can be exhausting. My ribcage is sore from the contractions. Thanks to all of you who have been praying for me.

This morning I’m drawn to the end of v.21 “O my God, do not be far from me…”. There is an understanding that proximity to God can be healing in itself. Not just physical healing, but spiritual healing. A healing of the soul. What kind of healing do you need from the Lord today? O Lord, as we cry out to you this day, make haste to help us, for you are our hope and salvation. Amen.