Thursday, August 13, 2020

Living in Harmony

 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!  For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe.  Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion.  And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting.  Psalm 133:1-3

Harmony is…the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole.[1]

Almost 40 years ago music icons Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s music video lit up the charts in a plea for humanity to find a way to exist in harmony:

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony

Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don't we?[2]

Both of those artists helped define the distinctives of the Baby Boomer generation, those who came along after World War II.  In typical arrogance, fueled by youthful naiveté, the Boomers imagined we were the first to really get it right about how to have a perfect world.  The concept of harmony, just getting along with each other, learning to love each other, worked well in theory; in practice we didn’t do so well.

To wit:  2020.  If the dictionary is right about harmony being a pleasing, consistent whole (of divergent, cacophonous parts), we’re about as much in tune with each other in 2020 as sounds of a catfight in the middle of the night.

It’s hard for me to point a finger at the current generation for the way they’re proclaiming how to get it right in racial harmony, especially when my generation tried the same, worn-out garment of protest, public blaming, exclusion, infighting, and general unrest.  Fighting fire with fire makes for a catchy soundbite, but it’s a horrible methodology for bringing people to a point of respect, and even love, much less the promised land of harmony.

In the same way that light and the absence of light cannot exist in the same space, so harmony will never occupy the same space with anger.  Several weeks ago I preached a sermon on the text of Genesis 33[3] where estranged brothers Jacob and Esau reconciled after a 20-year feud.  The reconciliation only happened because they both decided that the anger that fueled the rift was just not working.  

In fact, putting aside the anger was the only way dust could have enough chance to settle so the importance of their relationship would be seen.

As a visual representation of the choices, I put together two doors, one marked “anger” and the other “reconciliation”.  The tagline for the sermon was:

If you choose reconciliation you must LEAVE the anger behind.  If you choose to remain angry you will NEVER reconcile with anyone.  You just can’t walk through two doors at the same time!

For You Today

Let’s go back to before this day’s generation, or my generation…back before Black Lives Matter, or Ku Klux Klan, or anything in recent memory…let’s let wisdom from Solomon be our last word.

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.  Proverbs 15:1

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today.  Have a blessed day!

VIDEO



[2] Ebony and Ivory, written by Paul McCartney, 1981

[3] Read the Sermon Two Doors or watch it on Youtube

 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Pay Attention

 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

“Pay attention to this, Job.  Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God!  Do you know how God controls the storm and causes the lightning to flash from his clouds?  Do you understand how he moves the clouds with wonderful perfection and skill?  When you are sweltering in your clothes and the south wind dies down and everything is still, he makes the skies reflect the heat like a bronze mirror.  Can you do that?  Job 37:14-18

Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples.   Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us!  We’re going to drown!”  Jesus responded, “Why are you afraid?  You have so little faith!”  Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm.  The disciples were amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked.  “Even the winds and waves obey him!”  Matthew 8:23-27

The haunting questions here have a focal point on storms, one of the earth’s more awe-inspiring and powerful realities: 

Do you know how God does that with the lightning, controlling the clouds?      

Can YOU do that? 

And the disciples watching the live feed of Jesus doing just that ask:

Who is this man?

Scripture does not go wanting when it comes to the connection between the creation and Creator; that connection is the all-powerful hand of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus was trying to straighten-out the skewed thinking of some Bible scholars among the leaders of Israel, He simply uncluttered the issue; He told them:

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!  John 5:39

Paying attention to the questions within your heart, mind, and soul, about where you come from, who you really are, and, therefore, where this is all going – where you’re going to wind-up, is more often on the front-burner during times of crisis.  Frankly, considering this pandemic, with all its quarantine, game-changing social distancing, and attention to the case and death tolls…if you are NOT thinking more about your soul and the reality of mortality, I’d be worried about your connection with reality!

And these two passages, one from the oldest text in Scripture (Job), and the other God’s veritable defining answer to life’s basic need, unveil what we need to know about life’s basic questions, those with which we wrestle; namely,

·       Who made me and everything I see?

·       What am I supposed to do?

·       Where will I wind up?

·       Who will guide me?

So, Job, Russell, anyone…pay attention…the answer is Jesus.  And He loves you.

For You Today

It’s okay to place your faith and trust in God, His Son, and His Holy Spirit; it was God who created it all, controls it all, and offers it all to us in His Son.  Don’t be afraid of the waves on today’s seas of storm; you’ve got the answers to the questions…you KNOW who this man is!

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today.  Have a blessed day!

VIDEO

Title image Pixabay.com ∞  Unless noted, Scripture quoted from The New Living Translation©

For other posts on Job 37 see The Wisdom of Elihu for Matthew 8:23-27 see Hanging-In There; or Just Hanging?

 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Something to Weep About

 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

You may never have entertained this thought or been troubled about it…or, perhaps, you’re like me and have often wondered about Israel in God’s plans.  The 12 Tribes are, after all, God’s special and treasured possession.  They serve a central role in Sovereign Yahweh’s hands to bring His message of hope, and His message of judgment to the world.  However (and this is my troubling thought), as followers of Jesus Christ, embracing the cross, with an uncompromising belief that there is only one way to approach God[1], and that through placing your faith in Jesus, how does that square with God’s embracing Israel, which denies the deity of the Son?

Admittedly, when I wonder about this, I always feel a little like Peter after the resurrection when Jesus tells Peter about how the future will not be kind to him, and the impetuous disciple questions Jesus about John’s future.

Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?  As for you, follow me.” John 21:22

The rebuke…it’s none ‘o your business, son…is stark, and meant to be.  Peter’s question borders on challenging God’s plans, which is to challenge God’s sovereignty.  Peter was headstrong, which is the beginning of the downward spiral leading to separation between human and God.  Peter had to learn that responding with your emotions before putting your brain to work never really ends well.

The Apostle Paul’s brain always seemed to be on the job.  For me, Paul’s answer, concerning Israel’s place in prophecy and God’s eternal plans, are enough to put my questioning to rest. 

And concerning Israel, Isaiah the prophet cried out, “Though the people of Israel are as numerous as the sand of the seashore, only a remnant will be saved.  For the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth quickly and with finality.”  Romans 9:27-28

Revelation[2] pictures 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel as being redeemed in the end.  That 144,000 is less than 2% of the 8.3 million population of Israel today, and 1 out of 100 if you consider an estimated 14-15 million Jews globally.

For me, this fits together with the point held by many Bible scholars, that, at the end, these are those who once rejected Christ, but now accept Him as Lord, Messiah, the anointed One of the lineage of David.  In their hearts they crown him King of Kings.

For You Today

Jesus told Peter not to worry about what plans God has for other believers, it was Peter’s job to follow Jesus, not approve of Jesus’ leadership.  This is especially important for us with plagues, natural disasters (can we say earthquake, North Carolina?), or any of the wars, famine, and other pandemics.  These are but the beginning of Christ’s new day.  Hear it from Jesus’ own testimony:

So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”  Luke 21:28

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today.  Have a blessed day!

VIDEO

Title image Pixabay.com ∞  Unless noted, Scripture quoted from The New Living Translation©

For another post on this text see:  Burning the Bridge of Integrity 



[1] Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.  John 14:6

 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

4% Shine

One day Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’  But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me.  You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’  If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor.  And remember that this nation is your very own people.”  The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”  Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place.  How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us?  For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”  The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.”  Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.”  The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you.  For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.  But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.”  The Lord continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock.  As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind.  But my face will not be seen.”  Exodus 33:12-23

When Moses came down Mount Sinai carrying the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, he wasn’t aware that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to the Lord.  So when Aaron and the people of Israel saw the radiance of Moses’ face, they were afraid to come near him.  But Moses called out to them and asked Aaron and all the leaders of the community to come over, and he talked with them.  Then all the people of Israel approached him, and Moses gave them all the instructions the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.  When Moses finished speaking with them, he covered his face with a veil.  But whenever he went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with the Lord, he would remove the veil until he came out again.  Then he would give the people whatever instructions the Lord had given him,  and the people of Israel would see the radiant glow of his face.  So he would put the veil over his face until he returned to speak with the Lord.  Exodus 34:29-35

--- The Word of God for us, the People of God ---

It’s hard to miss the shine on the face of someone who has been in the presence of holy God.  Moses didn’t have a clue that he looked any different for the days he’d spent in close communion with God.  But the people saw it right away; there was a radiance that was unmistakably holy.

I sensed that in my friend’s voice when he got on the phone.  James Emmons[1] is a dear Christian friend of more than 20 years.  James is my age, except his birthday comes a month before mine, so, when I call to recognize his May birthday, I always say, Happy Birthday, you old coot!  (A month later he returns the favor).

We have labored together for Christ, sharing ministry at the same church, I as pastor, and James as chair of the Deacon body.  He has been on our prayer list of late.  My friend was diagnosed a couple of months ago with stage 4 lung cancer.  He was never a smoker, and always very conscientious about health issues.  Nonetheless, the doctor said it was serious, and he called it stage 4!  That is a frightening phrase.

When James called me this past Monday, he shared how this unexpected journey has turned from the horror of stage-4 into an epic message of God’s glory. 

The diagnosis

“Cancer” is never a good word to hear from your doctor.  Lung cancer carries images of gasping for breath in the last stages.  My uncle had lung issues in his final years and couldn’t walk from his chair to the table (about 5 steps) without stopping at least twice. 

But the doctor added another word to James and Brenda’s burden, inoperable.  Between lymph nodes and the maturity of where it was located, there was no way to get at it, so surgery was eliminated.  The only possibility to arrest the growth was with chemotherapy and radiation.  Before a final decision was made, they had to do a scan of his brain to make certain the cancer hadn’t spread there. 

The possibility

When James and Brenda kept the appointment with the doctor to find out the results of the brain scan, they were relieved to find out the test came back negative.  The doctor wanted to do one more test for the outside chance that James’ cancer contained a mutation, which, if it did, would mean there was a new medication that would eliminate chemo.  That possibility would provide more hope, because the new drug was extraordinarily successful in stopping this cancer – just about 100%.

When the Glory piled on

The test for the mutant gene came back positive, but the good news was short-lived.  The doctor told James only 25% of those who applied for the drug were approved. 

But a 1-in-4 chance sounded good after searching for a mutation that had even lower expectations.  They applied. 

As with roller coasters, what goes up (in this case, hope), also often comes down.  Another friend was visiting when James found out the 25% qualification was, in his case, only around 4%.  My friend is a card-carrying, faith-believing, disciple of Jesus Christ, but this all-out assault was rocking the fear boat, and it’s hard to stand steady when the wind blows that hard!

The friend was there at the right time.  He told James, are you kidding?  This is great news.  If it was 25% and you got the drug, some people who need to believe won’t be too impressed; they’ll think it was the luck of the draw.  But you’re down to 4% chance; God’s gonna get ALL the credit with this thing.

As it turned out, the roller coaster did the other thing too…it had come down, but now the news came that he was qualified to get the wonder drug.  Glory!

And then the roller coaster’s bottom dropped out.  It would cost $12,000 a month.  James isn’t destitute, but this was out of the question.  It seemed life’s more sinister and uncaring chance was going to have the final say.  Bummer!

And then, as surely as night follows day, and the summer follows winter, God took one last, decisive swing of the bat, and knocked the ball out of the ballpark.  The price tag for this life-saving drug for my friend, James Emmons, was crossed-off  altogether.  His $400-a-dose medication would be totally absorbed in another miracle.  There’s not even a $10 co-pay!

Glory!!  Say it again, GLORY!

And, if you’re facing something like my friend James recently did, perhaps you’d like to write down this verse to keep it handy when the ordeal gets tough.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Ephesians 3:20

Rechecking the Math

James Emmons went from STAGE-4 “oh my” to a tiny gene possibility, and then to a 25% drug-available possibility, to a 4% possibility, to a fortune-high barricade reality.  And God wiped away everything, pushed aside every threat, fear, and laughed in Satan’s face.  Whatever the enemy wanted with James Emmons, God was having none of it!

And so, we come to the Glory-table

Allow me to state the obvious connection to this table.  It was Friday.  The disease of sin had a debt owed; it would claim a life.  Your life, mine, and the rest of humanity, one at a time…whoever was guilty. 

It was worse than stage-4; this was a stage-end!  The statistic on sinners is 100%.  Isaiah said it, all we, like sheep, have gone astray.  Apostle Paul finished the sentence:

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Romans 3:23

When Jesus was put on the cross the Enemy, Satan, the arch-deceiver, and enemy of humanity, was licking his chops, savoring his victory; he had won.

He had won…….NOTHING.

Satan didn’t count on the 4% shine factor.  Friday may have been dark, but Sunday was coming!  And, much like cancer that doesn’t stand a chance against my friend James’ medicine, death didn’t have a chance of holding Jesus in the grave.

And for those who come to this table in faith, knowing that the One we remember at this table is not dead, but lives forever, He has said we will too.

Can we say it?

Glory! 


Our Prayer

Father God, as we come to this table, help us to celebrate your life-giving power with every bit of our spirit, flesh, soul, and mind.  May we bring so much praise to your name in this simple act of remembering Jesus’ death that the glory of your fellowship would radiate on our faces for every unbeliever to take note when we pass by.

For the glory, honor, and praise to which You alone are worthy, o Lord, we pray in the Name of the Son, cooperating with the Spirit, to honor and exalt the Majesty of the Father. 

Let it be so in each of our lives…Amen!

Title Image:  Pixabay.com  Unless noted, Scripture quoted from The New Living Translation  Matthew 10:24-39©



[1] Sharing James’ story with his permission.  

 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Empty Cistern; Empty Hearts

 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Some time later, Reuben returned to get Joseph out of the cistern.  When he discovered that Joseph was missing, he tore his clothes in grief.  Then he went back to his brothers and lamented, “The boy is gone!  What will I do now?”  Then the brothers killed a young goat and dipped Joseph’s robe in its blood.  They sent the beautiful robe to their father with this message: “Look at what we found.  Doesn’t this robe belong to your son?”  Their father recognized it immediately.  “Yes,” he said, “it is my son’s robe.  A wild animal must have eaten him.  Joseph has clearly been torn to pieces!”  Then Jacob tore his clothes and dressed himself in burlap.  He mourned deeply for his son for a long time.  His family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted.  “I will go to my grave mourning for my son,” he would say, and then he would weep.  Genesis 37:29-35

If it came to a trial, Joseph’s brothers could have hired a lawyer who didn’t have much of a conscience; at worst they’d have gotten off with a slap on the wrist.  Showing their father, Jacob, their brother’s coat, dipped in goat’s blood to look like a lion’s napkin, and then allowing the father’s grief to overwhelm the rest of his life was a master stroke of manipulation.  They hadn’t spoken untruth; their breech of integrity was to let the truth lie unspoken, while the lie savagely destroyed their own father’s heart.  Technically they hadn’t lied; but the emptiness in Jacob’s heart said otherwise.

For You Today

Pain follows wherever truth is hidden.

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today.  Have a blessed day!

VIDEO

Title and other image  ∞  Unless noted, Scripture quoted from The New Living Translation©

For another post on this text see:  Burning the Bridge of Integrity  


 

Glory Story

Friday, August 7, 2020

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you fed me.  I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink.  I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.  I was naked, and you gave me clothing.  I was sick, and you cared for me.  I was in prison, and you visited me.’  Matthew 25:31-36

Linda, a childhood friend of mine, lives in Washington (state) with her golden retriever, Glory.  She serves as Executive Director of Matthew House, a support ministry for the families of those who have been incarcerated.[1] 

Another friend from years ago used to tell me he only needed a five-minute chat with a man’s family to figure out that man’s priorities, because what we do leaves a footprint on other people’s souls.  That chat, I believe, can also be with a person’s pet.  Every so often Linda will tell a glory story.  When I first saw a picture of Glory it was understandable how she got that name; that dog seems to radiate healing and joy.  She even rounds up all her (stuffed) friends to take to bed with her. 

It’s no wonder Glory shines; she’s often in the presence of those who minister to those who are in prison.  The mission of Matthew House is to assist families of inmates.  That ongoing connection facilitates re-assembling of families when a sentence has been served.  It’s a ministry of compassion.

The text for today has Jesus saying to those who have ministered love to the least, last, and lost in this world inherit the kingdom

This will be the most precious reception in eternity, when our Lord, smiling, (perhaps laughing), and with arms extended wide and welcoming, bellows well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master!

For You Today

How do you minister love to the least, last, and lost?  You listen with a heart ready to help.  It may mean donating money if you have it, time if you dare, prayer always, and, when possible, coming alongside as a friend helps another who has stumbled.

These days we are spending more time at home, forced to be separated from loved ones and friends.  It becomes easier to identify with those who have that as their everyday life…the prisoners and their families. 

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today.  Have a blessed day!

VIDEO        

For other posts on this text:  Creator Savior Judge and Enough? 



[1] You can read more about Matthew House and how to support this ministry here. 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Be Strong in the Lord - Part 8 Vespasian's Wrestlers


Thursday, August 6, 2020

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.   Ephesians 6:13

When a soldier has been properly outfitted, trained and pointed in the right direction, there is only one sensible thing left to do – Join the fight.  I don’t know what that means for you tomorrow, or even this afternoon; God is the one who defines and directs the strategy.  I suggest you keep an attitude of prayer, and an open heart.  He will bring you into the battle where you’re needed, and at the right time.  Good commanders know their troops.

In the days of the Roman Emperor Nero, there lived and served him a band of soldiers known as the "Emperor's Wrestlers."  Fine, stalwart men they were, picked from the best and the bravest of the land, recruited from the great athletes of the Roman amphitheater.

In the great amphitheater they upheld the arms of the emperor against all challengers.  Before each contest they stood before the emperor's throne.  Then through the courts of Rome rang the cry:  We, the wrestlers, wrestling for thee, O Emperor, to win for thee the victory and from thee, the victor's crown.

When the great Roman army was sent to fight in Gaul, no soldiers were braver or more loyal than this band of wrestlers led by their centurion Vespasian.  But news reached Nero that many Roman soldiers had accepted the Christian faith.  Therefore, this decree was dispatched to the centurion Vespasian; If there be any among your soldiers who cling to the faith of the Christian, they must die!

The decree was received in the dead of winter.  The soldiers were camped on the shore of a frozen inland lake.  It was with sinking heart that Vespasian, the centurion, read the emperor's message.  Vespasian called the soldiers together and asked:  Are there any among you who cling to the faith of the Christian?  If so, let him step forward!  Forty wrestlers instantly stepped forward two paces, respectfully saluted, and stood at attention.  Vespasian paused.  He had not expected so many, nor such select ones.  Until sundown I shall await your answer, said Vespasian.  Sundown came.  Again the question was asked.  Again the forty wrestlers stepped forward.

Vespasian pleaded with them long and earnestly without prevailing upon a single man to deny his Lord.  Finally he said, the decree of the emperor must be obeyed, but I am not willing that your comrades should shed your blood.  I order you to march out upon the lake of ice, and I shall leave you there to the mercy of the elements.

The forty wrestlers were stripped and then, falling into columns of four, marched toward the center of the lake of ice.  As they marched, they broke into the chant of the arena:  Forty wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor's crown! 

Through the night Vespasian stood by his campfire and watched.  As he waited through the long night, there came to him fainter and fainter the wrestlers' song.  As morning drew near one figure, overcome by exposure, crept quietly toward the fire; in the extremity of his suffering he had renounced his Lord.  Faintly but clearly from the darkness came the song:  Thirty-nine wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor's crown!

Vespasian looked at the figure drawing close to the fire.  Perhaps he saw eternal light shining there toward the center of the lake.  Who can say?  But off came his helmet and clothing, and he sprang upon the ice, crying, forty wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor's crown! 

For You Today

My friend, it makes little difference where you live, or what epoch in history; the battle is the Lord’s.  Someday the battle will be in front of you.   The question to settle right now, right here – so that you will be ready on that day – is:

Will there be 39 or 40 when Christ calls?

That is the decision Christ invites you to make for Him.  And so the invitation is what it has always been: Christ bids us:  come and die, Christian – Come and die!

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today.  Have a blessed day!

VIDEO

Title image:  Pixabay.com  Unless noted, Scripture quoted from The New Living Translation©

This devotion originally appeared 1/20/16 as Faithful Warriors - #8 Vespasian's Wrestlers