Wednesday, January 16, 2019

In Shut-Down Mode

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

One day a petition was presented by the daughters of Zelophehad—Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. Their father, Zelophehad, was a descendant of Hepher son of Gilead, son of Makir, son of Manasseh, son of Joseph.  These women stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the tribal leaders, and the entire community at the entrance of the Tabernacle.  “Our father died in the wilderness,” they said.  “He was not among Korah’s followers, who rebelled against the Lord; he died because of his own sin.  But he had no sons.  Why should the name of our father disappear from his clan just because he had no sons?  Give us property along with the rest of our relatives.”  So Moses brought their case before the Lord.  And the Lord replied to Moses, “The claim of the daughters of Zelophehad is legitimate.  You must give them a grant of land along with their father’s relatives.  Assign them the property that would have been given to their father.  “And give the following instructions to the people of Israel:  If a man dies and has no son, then give his inheritance to his daughters.  And if he has no daughter either, transfer his inheritance to his brothers.  If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers.  But if his father has no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan.  This is a legal requirement for the people of Israel, just as the Lord commanded Moses.”  Numbers 27:1-11(NLT)

Our Federal Government partial shut-down is approaching one month since the furlough of non-essential personnel began.  Frankly, it’s a lot easier to say personnel than men and women who have families to feed.  It’s a lot easier to look at rosters of those who fall above or below a line-item in the budget manual, than to look in the eyes of someone who’s nervous about this month’s mortgage payment on the family house.
Israel’s form of government was appropriate for desert wanderers that had stumbled into the Promised Land, and were about to settle-in.  Leadership had fallen to Moses, and he responded to needs of the powerless with fairness.
(Incidentally, Ruth Bader Ginsberg would have been proud of Mo.  This was a landmark victory for women’s rights in a day when women and children were considered little more than part of the family’s herd of oxen and donkeys).
Someone[2] once made a statement about government that you can tell a lot about the design and foundation of a government by the way it treats the powerless.  Using that rule as a baseline for understanding the heart of governance, we can trace the sunbeam back to its source in Moses’ day.  The Lord cared for the widows and the powerless, even though humans had a hard time not being hard toward each other.  That hardness is a development of the sinful nature each of us has inherited from Adam and Eve.  It is the source of all that is death to humanity.  And that is why God, who is love, mercy, grace, and peace did something unmatched to save us from ourselves:

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.  (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)  Ephesians 2:4-5(NLT)

Our system of government is not perfect, nor were the hearts of the founding fathers of this nation.  The ideals and basis, however, which permeate our founding documents (Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights) are a derivative of the liberty and life we crave, because that’s how God hard-wired humanity. 
And therein is the basis for an outcry against the political machinations of elected officials who dabble with impunity in power.  Their gamesmanship with who’s got the power today sends ripples of uncertainty to the masses, and, in the wake of that uncertainty is the certain hardship forced-upon government workers and their families as they labor without a paycheck.                                      
I was always under the impression that my country was better than this, holding its integrity and compassion hostage over a squabble on how to keep the power, while tens of thousands of families suffer the consequences of broken promises.
For You Today
It’s easy enough to sit back and do nothing if you’re not affected by this shutdown.  But what will you do tomorrow when they come for your paycheck?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image:  Pixabay.com
[2] Source unknown

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Excluding the Includable

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them.  We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one.  And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God.  And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ.  He is the only true God, and he is eternal life.  Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.  1 John 5:18-21(NLT)

In public discourse words matter…greatly!  The chasm between the terms inclusive and exclusive has grown to the point where there is almost no balance.  Those who live in the United States abide under a governance of laws, which, by definition, are systemic lines between what is allowed by society, and that which is not!  Actions or deeds that are unacceptable under the law are excluded, not permitted. 
The term inclusive in today’s cultural jargon is the child of a political correctness shift which evolved out of larger human rights’ movements; particularly the waves of racial, gender, and sexual identity struggles.  To demand inclusivity for such is a matter of claiming no barriers can exist, and those which do are artificial and heinous, harmful to society.  Anything suggestive of a lesser standard is labeled phobic, or close to the line of a hate statute.  In other words, to suggest any exclusion in an era of total inclusion excludes he or she who suggests such.  And that, to the extent of being labeled a loathsome bigot…worthy of being ostracized from our enlightened, and more sophisticated company; perhaps, if bad enough...jail time!
Fast-forward to the land of reasonable balance, located on the border between double-standard and logic.  If we as a (human) race demand total inclusivity, law will be outlawed; only anarchy will do.  When restrictions are levied by those in charge (necessitated by judgment of others that you are outside of the acceptable lines) total inclusivity is not a possibility.  The simple truth about anarchy is that it doesn’t work…ever! 
Without pushing this envelope past its capacity, let me cut to the chase.  Those who demand total inclusiveness might consider that means they must also “include” or tolerate (at least) those who would exclude them!  To live in any integrity with this idea of total inclusivity means you must accept everyone who is different from you as equal, valid, and welcome…even those who don’t accept you, to the extent they despise the ground upon which you tread. 
The ideals which spawned recent inclusivity movements are not without merit, and in some instances long overdue.  The problem with most movements, however, is that they attract, and even support radical partisan-ism to a fault.  You wind up with adherents to a movement whose agenda, whether hidden or overt, is to consign the object of their hatred to becoming the new oppressed group.  It is rarely a matter of serving the constituency of the movement.  Rather it frequently becomes just a matter of revenge.  It gets out of hand, and you have mob-mentality instead of civil discourse, from which comes out-of-control knee-jerk pushback from the law-keepers, and pandemonium, bedlam masquerading as an honor-driven revolution; which it is not…it’s just violence.
So, this morning we’re talking human nature, which trends towards selfishness, anger, and disorder, all in the name of the holy grail of inclusive political correctness.  Lord, help us, we need someone with a better idea!
Thankfully there is One who does have that better idea.  God is really in-to being inclusive.  That’s why Jesus Christ came to die for us.  His sacrifice cleanses us from our sins and includes us in God’s forever family.  It puts exclusiveness in our hands; the choice is ours to accept or reject God’s inclusive, open arms…or not.

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.  1 John 5:12(NLT)

For You Today
If you’re looking for a better way, come to He who said, I AM the way!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image:  Pixabay.com

Monday, January 14, 2019

Praying Like You Mean It

Monday, January 14, 2019

Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people; come near and rescue me.  Let me share in the prosperity of your chosen ones.  Let me rejoice in the joy of your people; let me praise you with those who are your heritage.  Psalm 106:4-5(NLT)

There are some salesmen who don’t need to be in sales; I am the poster child for that group! In 1968 I was fresh out of the army and lacking any idea what to do with my life; I needed a job to put food on the table.  When the sales job was offered, I became a salesman.  I hated it.  I recall, early on, being shown the ropes by my manager, Nick.  He took me to a neighborhood, and we began knocking on front doors.  After several conversations on front porches, we were approaching the next house, and Nick said, OK, the next one is yours.  I wanted to run like the wind…anywhere!  It’s as clear as a watermelon stuck in your stomach, that feeling I had as I knocked on that green front door…I was forcing a smile on the outside, but with each knock the thought grew:  Oh, man…I hope nobody’s home…please, God…let there be nobody home.
I’ve lost track of who said it, but the quote about prayer rings loudly within:

Some pray faintly, lest God actually hear, and they be known.

In much the same way I did not want to be known as the pitiful excuse for a salesman I knew Russell to be, many Christians really don’t want to be known by God for their weak faith.  And so, we pray faintly so as to not awaken God, and have him snicker at us, or worse, get mad and toast us for breakfast!
However, this is one messed-up sense of theology.  God doesn’t make fun or get mad at people whose faith is shaky, especially when they’re trying to pray and get stronger. 
Here’s what the apostle James said about that:

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.  James 1:5(NLT)

Recognizing your prayers have been timid, hoping just to check-off that you prayed, is like a soldier who is learning how NOT to fight.  It just doesn’t make sense, and it makes a sham of our commitment to follow Christ as a disciple.
So, here is what the apostle Paul has as a remedy for faint praying; it is his advice, admonition and heartfelt prayer for all of us who want to serve God effectively:

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.  Ephesians 6:10-12(NLT)

For You Today
If you’ve found yourself knocking timidly on heaven’s door, hoping deep within that you’ll get credit for showing up, but deep down inside knowing you’d rather not cause a disturbance, or that God won’t even hear you at the door…take Paul at his word…put yourself in God’s armor and knock hard on that prayer door; let God’s power start to flow into your life.  God’s been waiting for someone who prays like he means it to show up at his front door. 
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image:  Pixabay.com

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Familiar Wood

Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith.  “Abraham!”  God called.  “Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”  “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah.  Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”  The next morning Abraham got up early.  He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac.  Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about.  On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.  “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants.  “The boy and I will travel a little farther.  We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”  So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife.  As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”  “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.  “We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”  “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered.  And they both walked on together.  When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it.  Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood.  And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice.  At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”  “Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”  “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said.  “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God.  You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”  Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket.  So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son.  Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”).  To this day, people still use that name as a proverb:  “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”    Genesis 22:1-14(NLT)

Pictures are a large part of how we remember things.  When I hear the word “sacrifice” I see my Mom and Dad in that 4-room bungalow of a home, sitting at the kitchen table figuring out how they were going to make the house payment after giving their tithes at church, and sending support to their missionary in China.  When Elizabeth and I were surviving seminary days I always had that kitchen table snapshot in my mind whenever Mom and Dad’s envelope arrived every month during the entire 3 years we were in New Orleans.
Another sacrificial picture that is burned into my memory is Private Ryan, the only surviving brother (out of 4) during the landing at Normandy in WW11.  The soldiers who went to retrieve Ryan from behind enemy lines nearly all died, and will always serve to help me remember sacrifice. 
God asked a large sacrifice of Abraham.  The text tells us God said for him to take his only son, the one he loved, and follow God to Mt. Moriah to make of him a burnt sacrificial offering to God.  I’m wondering if any of us could have taken the first step in that journey.
But that’s exactly what Abraham did; he saddled the donkey and assembled what he would need…a couple of servants, his son, and some wood he chopped for the fire.  And then he went. 
I’m certain he went with more questions than understanding, all anger and no joy, and trembling over having to do this, as well as wondering if he’d be able to finish the job.  Abraham knew if he couldn’t do it, he’d be resisting the Sovereign, Almighty God of the universe, and he would be in trouble, big trouble!  He also knew if he completed God’s request, his life would be over, having killed his own son.  This was the ultimate no-win act of obedience.  But he went.
The story has its Hallmark movie ending, with an angel stopping Abraham’s knife-hand just in time, God supplying a sacrificial animal, and the patriarch passing the test of faith.
Now that’s the story line; what do we make of how this story affects us, and what is so special about the wood…the familiar wood?
I believe the wood is significant in this story because it represents God’s provision, the way God supplies every need we have.  Abraham was faced with a long, dangerous walk in unfamiliar territory, to do something in obedience to God which he’d never before encountered or even considered.  In a microcosmic way, what Abraham did is what every believer does every day, with every step of faith.  And God, ever understanding our needs, gave Abraham the familiar to bring into his journey of the unknown.  The wood is mentioned four times and helps us understand God’s provision and our obedience.
Let’s inspect Abraham’s pile of familiar wood:
A Symbol of Commitment
The wood wasn’t magical…it was just wood that Abraham cut and bound up.  What’s unique is that Abraham didn’t wait till he got to Moriah to gather up brush.  He chose wood from home and carried it for three days.  This was preparation to follow-through and tells us Abraham was committed to God’s will in this task.
One of the realities of regular weekly worship is that it demonstrates our willingness to be committed to God’s ways more than our own preferences.  Abraham had sworn covenant with God to be faithful (much like we make vows of faithfulness when we become part of Christ’s church).
A Symbol of Submission
The second mention of the wood was when they arrived at Mt. Moriah.  Abraham took the wood and put it on Isaac’s shoulder; he made the sacrifice carry the burden.  Sometimes, as you follow Jesus, you’re required to offer a sacrifice; at other times you might BE the sacrifice.  Submission is a matter of the heart, and the question at this point is always:  How far are you willing to go to obey God?
A Symbol of Faith
The third mention of the wood is when Abraham arranged the altar, placing the wood where the sacrifice would be laid.  Abraham was following through, even knowing that besides shedding his son’s blood, he would burn his body to ashes.
This was the son of promise.  Abraham was over 100 years old and had only this child to fulfill all God’s promises of his family multiplying into a nation.  God’s covenant was that his offspring and descendants would be a people as numerous as the grains of sand on the ocean’s shore.  And that was supposed to be accomplished through Isaac.  What faith is this?  It was faith that God would do whatever was necessary to fulfill His promise, even if it meant bringing Isaac back from the dead ashes.
I have a little prayer saying on my desk that my parents gave me the night I was ordained
I think of Abraham’s obedience when I see that sign.  All he had was his obedience and a stack of familiar wood to build a sacrificial fire for his God.  He built it!
A Surrender of Ultimate Obedience
The final mention of the familiar wood was by the angel when he stopped Abraham’s arm from plunging the knife in Isaac.  When Abraham looked at the thicket, there was the sacrifice that would take Isaac’s place!
It is said that every miracle you read about in Scripture starts out as a problem.  If you do the math that adds up well:  Blindness is a problem, as is being lame, or deaf, or mute, or a prisoner.  Lazarus certainly had a problem, being in a grave.  These are the problems; miracles are God’s undoing of problems. 
That “familiar wood” was Abraham and Isaac’s reminder all the way from their home to Mt. Moriah of the problem God had laid in their path.  In the end it was the wood containing the sacrificial lamb that was their miracle.  And all it took was the honesty of complete surrender to God’s will, even when neither Isaac nor his dad understood a bit of it!
So, what difficult thing has God placed before you? 
·      Are you in debt up to your eyeballs?
·      Is there some health question threatening to eat you for a snack?
·      Is your marriage crumbling into a pile of dust?
·      Have you been threatened?
·      Bullied?
·      Undocumented?
·      Do you feel unconnected or unloved, like you don’t belong?
When you discover God is pointing you towards Mt. Moriah, get ready for the trip.  And don’t forget to chop some familiar wood.  Because sometimes the wood IS the solution, even though it only looks like a problem.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Let the church say “Amen”!

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[1] Title Image:  Pixabay.com

Friday, January 11, 2019

God's Deep Secrets

Friday, January 11, 2019

When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan.  For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified.  I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling.  And my message and my preaching were very plain.  Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.  I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.  Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten.  No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began.  But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord.  That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”  But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit.  For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets.  1 Corinthians 2:1-10(NLT)

Mystery and secrets – have I got your attention now?  Musterion is the Greek word Paul used that we translate as “mystery”; it isn’t something hard to understand or figure out…it’s quite simple, once you have the key.
I never liked the way the entertainment industry teases you with coming attractions; they sensationalize next week’s show with what promises to be the best, ever!  Then, they manage to come up with an unashamed tease for the following week that will be the best ever…ever!  All clouds, little rain!  
God, unlike Hollywood, however, always delivers on His promises.  The difference is that God reveals the key to the secret before he asks the question.  God showed up in a manger as our answer to life’s riddle about death, life and what can be done about our lives; then he asked the question:  Do you believe?
When Paul showed up in Corinth he’d had enough of intellectual debate with scholars and the elite.  Paul decided he’d simply declare the unambiguous Gospel, unencumbered by big words.  He told his listeners how Jesus came to us, was crucified by us, rose from the dead to save us, and is coming back for us.
This is hardly a James Patterson mystery novel, or a Steven King story, or a Stephen Hawking physics theorem; it’s plain enough for a child to understand.  Therein is the difference between what we humans usually trust, promises from human experience (what we can see, but don’t understand and can’t fix), over gifts from heaven (what we can’t see because we refuse to see, and don’t need to fix, only accept).
Why we refuse to accept the simple, unvarnished truth about God’s deep secrets of Jesus being the answer to our problems, personal, cultural, and eternal, is a complete mystery to me!
For You Today
Are you confused by why we have so much violence, anger, hatred, and separation in our world?  It’s no mystery in a culture rejecting Christ!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image:  Pixabay.com

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Life Under the Sun

Thursday, January 10, 2019

These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem.  “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”  What do people get for all their hard work under the sun?  Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes.  The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again.  The wind blows south, and then turns north.  Around and around it goes, blowing in circles.  Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full.  Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea.  Everything is wearisome beyond description.  No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied.  No matter how much we hear, we are not content.  History merely repeats itself.  It has all been done before.  Nothing under the sun is truly new.  Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!”  But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new.  We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.  Ecclesiastes 1:1-11(NLT)

No matter how many times I read Solomon’s words I cannot shake off thinking he had to have spent time on a psychiatric ward due to extreme depression.  These are words for a deep blue Monday.  We are 10 days into a NEW year and the lectionary comes up with the text that says it out-loud and very plain:  THERE IS NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN! 
Ok…it’s confession time:  Sometimes I just want to close the Bible and go back to bed.  But, just like life, we don’t get to do that; we breathe in and out, we get up, we go on, we keep searching for meaning while we wash the dishes and listen to the old dog snoring over by the treadmill (the one I haven’t used in 3 months).
Part of the meaning for which we’re mining during these 24 hours until the sun hurries back around, is an answer to that question:  why?  Frankly, we get tired of the next sentence, because, at the deep base of our souls we suspect that the only answer we’ll get includes something about God knowing, and we don’t, and can’t.  Yet, we keep on looking.  We look into the bottom of a bottle, drug vial, or the next party.  Solomon did just that, and concluded where he began, that all that searching is meaningless!
And so, (with apologies to Rafiki) the circle of life comes back around again, and we find ourselves once again at the starting line, a bit older, but no closer to having the answers in hand.  
We feel like Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors in the movie Groundhog Day[2].  Connors, a TV weatherman, arrives in Punxsutawney, PA to cover the day’s events.  Taking a room at the local bed & breakfast, Phil awakens the next morning to the clock/radio belting out Sonny and Cher’s I Got You, Babe.  Everything moves along during the day, and Connors spends another night at the B&B, awakening in the morning to Sonny and Cher, and the day repeats itself…exactly!  Phil is stuck in a loop that goes on for days – groundhog ceremony, breakfast, conversations, bed, sleep, and then Sonny & Cher…over and over again!  No matter how much Phil Connors scrambles, he can’t make anything new or different happen – the wheel turns, and it’s back to Sonny & Cher.
Now, in case you’re already depressed enough by what you’ve heard/read to go join Solomon on the shrink’s couch, hold on just a second; there really is some redeeming purpose in all this treadmill trudging.  Dig into the New Testament with me for just one game-changing word:

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”  Revelation 21:5(NLT)

“New” is translated with several different meanings in Scripture.  This kind of “new” is new in kind, a transformed, changed world, re-formed by the hand of God.  In one sense it is still the world, the earth, the universe God created ages ago.  In another sense it is all new; it is new in purpose, purity, reason, fellowship, relationship.  Everything changes because God’s hand puts everything in a new perspective.
My bride just finished seeing the eye surgeon; both eyes had the cataracts removed, and I hear a new thing in our home:  the colors!  Oh, the colors!  Elizabeth is looking at the same rug we’ve had in front of our couch for 18 years, but now it is defined, brighter, it has been renewed in her mind. 
Like that, but not so trivial and insignificant as an old rug, is the kind of new sight with which we’ll see when God puts meaning into all that is around us.
For You Today
I have heard from many older people, especially in places like Hospice, that I should treasure each moment because it goes quickly in this fleeting thing we call our life.  Now I can add to it:  treasure each moment, experience, relationship, and thought, because not only is time fleeting, but everything and every person is a part of the meaning you will take with you through eternity.  And God will open your understanding to all of it.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image:  Pixabay.com
[2] Condensed information & image from Wikimedia Commons