We cry out to the Lord “in truth”…

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Psalm 145: 17 The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. 18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them. 

I’m drawn especially to v.18 which says the Lord is near to all who call on him “in truth”. What does that mean? The Hebrew here suggests one who calls with all one’s heart, who calls and keeps calling. I also get the sense there’s a humility and awareness of one’s dependence on God. Calling on the Lord in truth is to recognize the truth of one’s dependence on the Lord. Finally it implies a confidence that the Lord hears us and will answer our call in time.

Heavenly Father hear the cries of your children this morning. Give us grace that we might call on you “in truth”. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Giving my first fruits… to me…

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Haggai 1: Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house. Then the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider how you have fared. You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and you that earn wages earn wages to put them into a bag with holes.

Haggai is writing to the Israelites who were finally allowed to return from exile in Babylon to re-build Jerusalem. However, after quite some time the people had only succeeded in building homes for themselves rather than rebuilding the house of the Lord (the temple). The Lord says in v.5 “Consider how you have fared…” – not very well. Two things come to mind for me this morning.

First is the idea of “first fruits” which is a common principal as it relates to things given by people to God. Giving first fruits means we give the first and best of our harvest to the Lord and live off the rest. In an agricultural culture the meaning was literal but the principal still applies today. We give to God first then live off the rest. In the case of the people in Haggai’s day, it would seem the people gave the first fruits of their labor to themselves rather than to God – hence God was still homeless long after people had housing.

Secondly I’m thinking about the outcome of the peoples’ failure to give to God the first fruits of their time. V.6 offers a clear description. They plant, but little comes from the crop. And even when they do produce a crop or clothing or wages it does not satisfy. It would seem that the human nature to see to their own provision before giving to God has been a failure for the people of ancient Israel. What about you and me?

I will tell you I’m no more pure in heart than the people to whom Haggai is writing. I am often tempted to provide for myself first then give the leftovers to God. Even giving to God the first fruits of my day to write this biblical reflection is hard for me on more days than I care to admit. My brain goes to all the things “I need to get done!” and I start thinking I really don’t have time for this. I’ll skip today, who will notice? Well, on many days I skip you all notice and I hear from you. I appreciate that accountability.

But more importantly God notices, not from a place of judgment but from a place of sadness. I’ve learned over the years that God wants to gift me with his Word at the beginning of the day, even on days when I don’t think the passages are that interesting. When I skip reading/writing I’m declaring that I don’t need what the Lord has to give me, that I’ll make it through the day in my own strength, providing for myself rather than depending on God. It doesn’t go well. I am so weak and needy but my sinful nature resists God. My pride resists a sense of needing God or anyone else.

So this morning I’m asking the Lord to forgive my hard-heartedness and asking for grace to trust in the Lord for all of my provision rather than trusting in myself. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Wonderful and terrible God…

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Psalm 145:1 I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. 2 Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever. 3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.

This morning I’m taken by two ideas: first, (v.3) God’s greatness is “unsearchable”. Other English translations of the Hebrew use the words “can’t be grasped” or “cannot be measured” or “no one can fathom”. I’m just one human being in a massive universe created by God, so the truth of this verse is self-evident. I can’t possible know or understand even a small measure of all the wondrous things God is up to.

The second idea comes from the meaning of the word “great” which appears in v.3. When I read this word I tend to interpret it to mean something positive, welcome, constructive – but I’m not sure that’s the spirit of the original Hebrew. To be “great” can mean both really good really not good. I think perhaps “awesome” might be a better word here than “great”.

Understanding God in this way makes sense of the biblical portrait of God who is both wonderful and terrible. I’m chewing on that a bit this morning. Speak to your servant Lord. Amen.

Bowing to the god of “more”

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Habakkuk 2: 4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith. 5 Moreover, wealth is treacherous; the arrogant do not endure. They open their throats wide as Sheol; like Death they never have enough. They gather all nations for themselves, and collect all peoples as their own. 

God is speaking a word of encouragement to the people of Judah as they’ve been conquered by the Babylonians. The Babylonians had an insatiable appetite for conquest and plunder and spilling blood, “They open their throats wide as Sheol; like death they never have enough.” Sheol in ancient Hebrew culture was like the underworld where dead people went. It was as large as the earth and as deep. In other words, the Babylonian need for “more” was endless.

The god called “more” was a powerful driver in ancient times – and now.

The words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today our daily bread” come to mind here. As we trust God for provision (in part by tithing our income) there’s no guarantee that we’re going to have lots of “extra” resources stored up. That makes me really nervous. It goes against all financial planning advice for decades. Yet Jesus’ words would suggest we’re not really designed to live that way in God’s Kingdom. It’s a day-to-day reality at its core. Ask God for what we need today and then ask again tomorrow.

Lord have mercy.

 

You never know when it will hit you…

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Revelation 15:5 After this I looked, and the temple of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6 and out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues, robed in pure bright linen, with golden sashes across their chests. 7 Then one of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever; 8 and the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were ended. 

You might think this passage is confusing because you haven’t read the previous chapters. You’d be wrong. Revelation is one of the strangest books of the bible – and that’s saying something. I can only imagine how many gallons of ink have been spilled over the centuries as scholars have tried to make sense of this book. I’ll be honest – it’s hard to keep reading it.

But I keep at it because it is the Word of God and, who knows, it might speak to me in a way I don’t expect. Today is not that day, but maybe someday. That’s the thing about scripture. You never know when a particular passage or verse will hit you between the eyes with a dose of sorely needed truth, hope, encouragement, warning, whatever. We can’t predict when that will happen, so we continue in the discipline of reading every day. Hoping for a gift from heaven when we least expect it. Lord, let it be so. Amen.

To you I lift up my soul…

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Psalm 143:7 Answer me quickly, O LORD; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me, or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit. 8 Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust. Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.

Again this is King David writing of the time when he was hiding from his predecessor, King Saul, in the Cave of Addulam. A cave can be a good place to hide, but it’s also risky. Why? Because there is generally only one entrance/exit to a cave, so if you’re discovered there’s nowhere to run. And if he were discovered by Saul he would be a dead man, no doubt about it, so David cried to the Lord.

What interests me in this passage is the nature of David’s need as he understood it. He didn’t ask for more men or the death of Saul or anything of the sort. He said in v.7 “my spirit fails” and in v.8 “to you I life my soul”. In other words, his need was on the inside, not the outside.

As a younger man I was physically strong, even compared to my young male peers. Because I was constantly involved in sports I was often in the weight room, or on the track working on endurance. And I suppose because I had physical strength in abundance I thought it was the most important kind of strength. But then as I got older I learned that’s not necessarily true in adulthood. When I was no longer on the playing field, but out in the working world, I discovered the importance of mental toughness. Successful people got knocked down in life like everyone else, but mentally tough people got back up again. They may have been down, but they weren’t down for long. They were mentally resilient which made a huge difference in how things worked out for them.

But then as I got older still I realized how many times both physical and mental toughness were not enough. There are challenges in life that are simply beyond our human capacity to “fix”: when a loved one is terminally ill, when a wayward child walks away from home into danger, when a marriage is at its breaking point, when financial crisis hits and there’s no solution in sight. In times like these physical strength means little and mental strength can only get you so far. At some point we all realize we are in over our heads, desperate. Sort of like King David in the cave.

It’s in times like this that we need strength from outside of ourselves. We need the Lord to strengthen our spirits, not just our minds and bodies. We need hope to make it to tomorrow when there appears to be no hope available. And it’s in those moments we cry out to God the Father to bear us up, to lift our souls from the dust into light. It’s the cry of desperation that draws the Lord near and strengthens us to keep going.

Lord, let it be so. Amen.

 

Surrounded by people… and lonely

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Psalm 142:1 With my voice I cry to the LORD; with my voice I make supplication to the LORD. 2 I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. 3 When my spirit is faint, you know my way. In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. 4 Look on my right hand and see— there is no one who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for me.

This psalm is attributed to David “when he was in the cave”. It most likely refers to the Cave of Adullam, where David fled as he was being hunted by King Saul. Saul was the very first king of Israel, but God found him unfaithful and so planned to replace him with David. When Samuel the prophet told Saul this was the case, Saul tried to have David killed – so David ran. He eventually found himself hiding out in the Cave of Adullam with no escape. But he wasn’t alone. Other men had joined with David to support him, though not necessarily the kind of men you’d want:

1 Samuel 22: 2 Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Those who were with him numbered about four hundred.

So this psalm found David with nowhere else to run, accompanied by 400 men of questionable repute, praying that Saul’s men didn’t find him – because if they did they’d have killed him. So given all of this background, v.4 is what really jumps out at me.

4 Look on my right hand and see— there is no one who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for me.

What I hear in this verse is a man who felt very lonely. Yes there were people with him, but their motives were questionable. It’s likely at least some of them were hoping David would survive to become king at which time they would expect to be rewarded for their support. I suppose that’s something, but it’s not love – as David points out in v.4 “no one cares for me”.

Logically one could point out that David was surrounded by hundreds of men ready to protect him, and that would technically be correct. But he FEELS alone. He has no experience of affection. Of love. Logic be damned.

I have known that feeling before, of being surrounded by people yet feeling utterly alone. I’ll bet you have too. Maybe that’s how you’re feeling right now. If so, I believe there’s something for us to learn from David in this passage.

When David was feeling desperate and alone he turned to God. Over and over and over.

Lord send your spirit to touch lonely people today – even those surrounded by other people. Give peace and hope to your beloved. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.