Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Prayer for a King

Wednesday July 31, 2013

Psalm 72 is one of those “mixed” passages.  It refers to a time in ancient history, but it also looks ahead as a prophecy.  It is the last written prayer of David, on behalf of his son, Solomon, that the new king would be benevolent, wise in the eyes of God, and, therefore would be a king that protects the homeless, poor and weak.  (We could use a Solomon or two in the world today)!
The Psalm also looks forward to the coming of Messiah, the perfect king.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Rev 22:20
So, David’s words were meant for his son, Solomon – but his words also describe Jesus.  Imagine that – a father praying that his son will be like Jesus!  A son or daughter could receive no better than that!

For what do you pray?

Are you praying today for a new pink Cadillac, or better health?  Are you praying to win the lottery?  
Kinda puts it in perspective to remember what Jesus taught:

Don’t store up treasures on earth!  Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them.  Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them.  Your heart will always be where your treasure is.      Matthew 6:19 - 21 (CEV)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Jus' Sayin'...

Tuesday July 30, 2013

Edward Bennett William was a well-known Washington, DC trial attorney.  When he was on his deathbed in 1988 a visitor mentioned all the power and influence he wielded.  He is quoted as saying, “Power? I’m about to meet real power.”[i]  The ominous tone in that statement is very telling; Mr. William understood the power of God was much greater than any power you encounter in political settings here on earth. 
It is so wonderful that the Psalmist included the other thing he heard God say – that he was “very kind”. 
Of the two things the Psalmist heard, I personally believe the emphasis is stronger on “kindness” (lit:  loving-kindness, the covenant mercy of God).
I count on that! 
At my age it doesn’t take a whole lot of math or convincing to know that my physical power is on the downhill side.  That aside, who is strong enough to stand before God and muscle it out with Him anyway?  Even Arnold Schwarzenegger in his Terminator days would have melted away in an instant.

Have you ever contemplated standing before God?

I stepped into the elevator at a hospital one time.  There was a young mother with her little boy already there.  The little guy was standing near the buttons.  He looked up and asked me, Are ya’ goin’ all the way up?  I answered, Yes…some day!
Hebrews 9:27 says, We die only once, and then we are judged (CEV).  That means we are all going “all the way up” when death comes.  It’s not difficult to imagine the power of God, considering the vastness of the universe He created.  But there is no need to fear that power if you’ve accepted the loving-kindness of His covenant mercy.  It was offered to all of us at the cross.
Jus’ sayin’…

[i] Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent in Newsweek (July 20, 1992). Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 11

Monday, July 29, 2013

Days of Wandering

Monday July 29, 2013

You have kept record of my days of wandering.  You have stored my tears in your bottle and counted each of them.  When I pray, Lord God, my enemies will retreat, because I know for certain that you are with me.  I praise your promises!  I trust you and am not afraid.  No one can harm me.  I will keep my promises to you, my God, and bring you gifts.  You protected me from death and kept me from stumbling, so that I would please you and follow the light that leads to life.             Psalms 56:8 - 13 (CEV)
OK, so it’s Monday!  Just about enough said after a hard weekend.  Then you read the 56th Psalm, because it’s next-up on the list, and you always read what’s next up on the list.  But did it have to be “days of wandering” and “tears in your bottle”.  Time to roll over and go back to sleep!
But you don’t just go back to sleep, because the question comes again and again:  Why doesn’t God DO something?  Wouldn’t that be better than just collecting the teardrops?  If God is so powerful and loves us so much, wouldn’t it make more sense to keep us from all pain and suffering?  Wouldn’t there be less depression and suicide if God just “zapped-away” all the madness, anger and greed in the world?  Collecting my tears just doesn’t seem like enough!

Ever felt like that?

Certainly you’ve wanted to buy God a calendar at times – praying for that child, husband, or neighbor has seemed like a full-time career. 
And sometimes it seems like our praying is only because we sense that if we can just trust enough, give enough, go to church enough….God will give us what we’ve been asking for.
We pray because He’s God (and we’re not!).
A church member gave me a newspaper article this past Sunday.  It’s about an atheist who “finds solace in prayer”.  In a story picked up from The Washington Post[i] the caption reads,
Sigfried Gold, an atheist, made a drawing almost 20 years ago of a female deity.  Gold says he takes comfort in praying daily to her.
If Mr. Gold is an atheist, by definition there is no God!  Contrary, oxymoron-ish and dumb hardly begin to explain this!
But are we any better when our prayers are simply tossing “spiritual coins” into the great vending machine in the sky, so we can get what we want?

Bottom line

Pray, drop your tears, pay your vows, trust in Him….not because it will make you healthy, wealthy and wise; do it because He’s God.
There….end of “Monday rant”.

[i] In The News & Record, Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

Christ did this, so that he would have a glorious and holy church, without faults or spots or wrinkles or any other flaws. 
Ephesians 5:27 (CEV)
Under a caption in the Detroit Free Press appeared a new prescription for retaining beauty [the ad said] “…Ladies, do you want to stay young?  Then join a church choir.  Women who sing stay younger looking.  A singer’s cheek muscles are so well developed by exercise that her face will not wrinkle nearly so soon as the non-singer.”  This is the article we have been waiting for.  Now women and men, if you do not want to look like a prune, join the choir![i]
For most of us a church without “spot or wrinkle” is a long way off!  In fact, a face without wrinkle is a pipe dream!  But, John and Charles Wesley beg to differ (at least on the church issue, if not the face).  The Wesley brothers contended that “perfection” in this life is not only attainable, it is expected in the life of a believer.  One of the questions asked by Wesley of candidates for ordination was do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?  The question remains to this day in the United Methodist Church, asked by bishops in the Wesleyan spirit.
No wrinkles, no spots…what does that mean?  Let’s look at what the Scriptures say about ironing-out the wrinkles and Oxy-cleaning the spots.  We’ll be guided by Charles’ hymn, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.

I.           Salvation from Sin v.1

Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down; 
     fix in us thy humble dwelling; all thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art;
     visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart.
The idea of “perfection in this life is intimidating; how in the world can we actually be clean enough to have a heart pure enough to please God?  Even in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:8), Jesus said only the pure in heart will even see God. 
Psalm 23 is a favorite for many people, green pastures, table set, dwelling in the house of the Lord forever!  But note what Psalm 24 says about that:
Psalms 24:3 - 4 (NLT)  Who may climb the mountain of the LORD?  Who may stand in his holy place?  Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies.
It would seem that the benefits and promises of Psalm 23 are contingent on the obedience of Psalm 24.  Who can be that good?  Who can wash his hands and heart?
This is just the point…we cannot clean our hands and hearts, but Jesus, through his sacrifice on the cross is willing to do the scrubbing for us.  Oxy Clean® has nothing on what God can do with blood!
1 John 1:9 (NLT)  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
God’s salvation is just that…it is God’s!  But he is willing to share it with us as we confess our need.  This is how he “fixes his humble dwelling” in us.  Paul’s image of Christ “presenting” the church to himself is Christ giving Christ a gift – us.  The word “present” means “to stand alongside”.  Like a bride and groom stand before God, Jesus is willing to have us standing alongside him once we’ve been washed in the blood!  That’s salvation!
Charles wrote it, we sing it, fix in us thy humble dwelling…

II.        Freedom from Slavery v.2

Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast!
     Let us all in thee inherit; let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning; Alpha and Omega be;
     end of faith, as its beginning, set our hearts at liberty.
The target of a holy life is to be freed from the control of sin.  Sin is a very strong addiction!  (See the book of James).
The “second rest” of assurance in Jesus Christ means God wants us to be like him – holy – different from sin-loving.  It was always his plan.  Notice what he told his servant Moses to tell Israel:
Leviticus 11:45 (NLT)  For I, the LORD, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God.  Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy.
The idea of a “wrinkle” is from an ancient word in Hebrew that suggests a flow, or hemorrhage of blood.  It’s a progressive draining of the life, God’s life out of your spirit and soul.  Where sin can be characterized as wrongly putting your interest and energy into the things of this life – power, money, prestige, materialism and the like, living a holy life is gaining the priority of placing the eternal over the temporal.  Peter told the church to make a choice – this world or the next:
2 Peter 3:10 - 11 (NLT)  But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief.  Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.  11Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live,
This world can be a strong drug – cars, boats, houses, clothes, and all the glitz and glimmer of what you see in popular culture; stuff that will make you happy.  God wants to give you freedom from that kind of thinking. 
That’s what Charles Wesley meant when he wrote the words we can use to invite God to do this work of freedom in us – sing it together,  Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast…

III.      Joyfully Serving v.3

Come, Almighty to deliver, let us all thy life receive;
     suddenly return and never, never more thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing, serve thee as thy hosts above,
     pray and praise thee without ceasing, glory in thy perfect love.
True life in Christ finds its expression in praise, particularly the kind of praise where we find ourselves serving others. 
1 Peter 1:22 (NLT) 22You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters.  Love each other deeply with all your heart.
Genuinely moving along in “being made perfect in love” is an “on-the-job-training” kind of experience.  We learn best how to love when we love.  Jesus said we would be his “church”.  The New Testament word is ecclesia – or, the called-out ones.  To be a person of faith as a follower of Jesus Christ is to think differently than the world; to be different and act differently than those outside the family.  We are to demonstrate the love of Christ to the world by loving as Christ loved the lost. 
Charles wrote:  Thee we would be always blessing.   As you serve Christ by serving others, you will be joyful…that equation never varies!

IV.      Fully Sanctified v.4

Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be.
     Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee;
changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,
   till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.
2 Corinthians 7:1 (NLT) 1Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.
Charles Wesley had one of the great distinctive Christian doctrines in mind in here:  God’s redemptive purpose was to reconcile His creation to himself.   
2 Corinthians 5:19 (KJV) …that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself…
To “reconcile” is to seek agreement.  When the bank sends you your account statement, you reconcile your own record with what the bank says you have in the account.  You are seeking agreement.
This world was far from being in agreement with God’s purpose and nature.  It began in the Garden of Eden, and all people who had Adam and Eve as ancestors carry the sin gene.  Now, on the cross, God did that reconciling work through Jesus’ death.  It’s called “propitiation” – Jesus paid it all!
But that only leveled the playing field; it is up to us to choose God’s gift of salvation and freedom from slavery to sin. How can you do that?  How can you “go on to perfection” – in THIS lifetime?
I believe we can count on Charles for understanding this.  He has three words, lost in wonder, love and praise.  All three of those words, like everything else in life, cannot be done “perfectly” if you consider “perfect” to be without any kind of flaw.  We are not capable! 
But the word is telios[ii] and it means not without flaw, but rather complete, in the sense of mature and functional.  It means to act as you were created to act.  A rose bush is telios, mature, when it produces roses that engage the eye and sense of smell.  A Christian is telios when he or she is living life lost in wonder, love and praise.


…is the sense of respect and genuine thankfulness for the life with which you’ve been blessed.  You know you’re created, and you are in awesome wonder of your Creator!


…is the response of the heart and life to what you’ve been made for; we were created to praise and adore God and to have fellowship with Him.  We were meant to correspond to God’s nature and reflect that glory.  The glory of God is expressed in how we live:
James 1:27 (NLT) 27Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.


…is the outward response of a heart and life that understands just how glorious and wonderfully our God has been in creating, sustaining and loving his children. 
Lost in wonder, love and praise is Charles Wesley’s way of describing what a divine love that excels any other kind of love looks like when it washes all over a child of God.
Pure and spotless let us be… is the prayer of a life which recognizes you would not want anything unholy to be in your life so you CAN reflect the goodness, grace and majesty of your Lord and Redeemer!
And this is the finishing of God’s new creation – turning us back to being lost in wonder, love and praise of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Message version of our text says it this way:
Ephesians 5:26 - 27 (TMSG)
Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness.
Finish it, LORD, in me….finish your New Creation.  Help me to be lost in wonder, love and praise for your goodness, mercy and grace!

1.       [i] Remedy for a Prune Face in A Treasury of Bible Illustrations, First Ed, © 1995 by AMG INTERNATIONAL, INC. All Rights Reserved. Electronic Edition STEP Files Copyright © 2005, QuickVerse. All rights reserved.
2.       [ii] Matthew 5:48, Strongs Exhaustive Concordance

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Trouble Everywhere

Saturday July 27, 2013

In the daily lectionary readings there are four passages each morning.  Consider the readings today:
2 Samuel 1-16 – The king has been killed in battle – what to do?
Mark 6:1-13 – In the previous chapters Jesus had been healing everyone in sight, including raising a dead girl; he returns to Nazareth and is rejected by the hometown folks.
Acts 15:22-35 – The church has a crisis about whether to accept Gentiles in the fold.  So they elect a committee!
Psalms 55 – David sets his inward lament to music for the worship singers – murder, death and betrayal on every hand.
Trouble, anger and strife are part of daily life; just turn on CNN in the morning to verify this.  Job says we’re born for trouble as surely as sparks from a fire fly upward.  While this is all true, and it’s easy enough to get depressed if you dwell on the endless stream of bad news, remember David’s last line of Psalm 55:
…but I am trusting you [God] to save me.

You cannot stop humans from acting like the fallen creatures we are; you can believe in God to bring meaning and purpose out of the madness and into your focus.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Handwriting On the Wall

Thursday July 25, 2013

In Maurice Rawlings’ “Beyond Death’s Door” there is an interesting/startling comparison between the Roman Empire and current conditions in America.  The following list shows cultural conditions which are more than “similar” in each “empire”
                 …Affluence and luxury abound
                 ...An increasing margin between the very rich and                                               very poor which seems to be the                                                   root of much civil unrest
                 ...Obsession with sex to the extent of “extreme                                                      perversion”    
                 ...Loss of originality and creativeness in personal                                                  life and the arts    
                 ...Emergence of a welfare state

I Wonder

It certainly doesn’t take much imagination to connect the dots here.  When I first read these words, many years ago, my jaw dropped open.  I could not imagine we were headed for the same fate as the Roman Empire….crumbled, wadded-up, thrown away.  Yet, the years since have proven we are getting deeper-in!
What will it take to wake us up?
And what is my part in that?
Or shall we just go back to sleep?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Jesus; Creator

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.       Colossians 1:15 - 17 (KJV)
On a hot summer day in the early 60's, our family pulled into a gravel parking lot and walked a short beaten pathway to a clearing.  There was a little cabin in this unpretentious setting.  You couldn't go in; you could only stare at it from a distance.  The cabin was simple and not very interesting.  As an impatient pre-teen, I wanted my parents to hurry-up and get on with our travels.  That is, until I learned of the prior history of the cabin.  This was Illinois, and the name carved on the inside of the rough-cut timbers was "A. Lincoln."  Suddenly, there was no hurry.  I would've stayed all day! 
A place takes on the significance of its owner.  This world can be dreary for the tired, hostile to the weak, and burdensome for the "have-nots."  But, as we take a look at the name inscribed on this world, our evaluation can change in a hurry.  The Name is "Yaw.sad,'" (He is the Founder).  His other name is Jesus.
There are two sides to creation's story.  There is no fence to sit on concerning either side.  The question that is the great divide is; "Are the first four words of Scripture true or not?"  "In the beginning God"
Side one is what you will hear today.  The believer says, "Yes, indeed!"  There are no reservations.  Jesus created! 
Side two is what Paul faced, and what we see today in the New Age movement.  The answer you hear comes in a variety of approaches, but all are steeped in unbelief, and ultimately the answer is… “No, Jesus didn’t create this world.”
Here are some of the variations:
·        Well, not really.  No one can know. 
·        The jury is still out on that one. 
·        It’s not really THAT important; after all, there are many roads to God.  We're all trying to get there. 
·        It's not important what you believe, as long as you believe something. 
The word "firstborn" in verse 15 refers to Jesus, and is a perfect example of how Christianity is theologically unique.  There are sects today that teach that Jesus was a created being, therefore, He is not equal with God.  They use this verse as a proof-text.  The only problem is that the verse proves His divinity.  The word has two meanings, firstborn as a son; and also supremacy in position. 
(See Ex 4:22, Israel was God's chosen, God’s special people; In Ps 89:27 David was a favored king, special over the kings of the earth).  The phrase "firstborn over all creation" indicates that Jesus is Lord over all.
Choose your side and let's see what the Bible has to say about the REALITIES of creation and Jesus:

It was His idea

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;  Colossians 1:15
There are two words that help us understand this, "image" and "firstborn."  In the ancient language the word "eikon" meant two things, with one dominating.  It meant representation, as a picture represents the real thing.  Jesus was that, a picture of God in all His love and care for us.  But it also means (and dominates the thought here) a manifestation. 
The New Testament leaves little doubt; Jesus was the appearance, or manifestation of the living God:
He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being,
Hebrews 1:3 (NRSV)
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
John 14:9b (NRSV)
Creation was Jesus’ idea, and…

He got it going

for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him…                    Colossians 1:16a
Jesus created every bit of this world.  It was "in/through him" (his power).  When an artist paints we say he created.  Actually he has re-created what already existed; he just took the materials and rearranged what already existed.  The same can be said with a building or automobile.  We have taken raw materials that existed, and rearranged them to produce something that suits us.  Every time the Scripture refers to man making something it is a re-creation of God's creation.  But the word ascribed only to God's activity is the creation "ex-nihilo" [out of nothing].
Jesus started with nothing.  As the old-time preacher put it, "They wasn't nuthin', an' Jesus reached-out an' kotched his self a bit o' that nuthin' an' made him a-somthin' outa that nuthin'!"[1]
Creation is natural, and the most logical of explanations concerning our existence. 
Order suggests an "Orderer."  Life presupposes a "Life-giver."  Science and philosophy cannot deal with the ultimate issues of life; philosophy is only so much guesswork.  But in Jesus, the guesswork ceases.  Someone once offered that the theory of the "big bang" of evolution being the origination of the universe has about as much chance of historical fact as if you were to take 70,000 cans of Campbell's Alphabet Soup, toss them in the air, and have the letters fall to the earth perfectly arranged in the collected works of William Shakespeare.  I think not!
Creation was Jesus’ idea, and He got it going, and…

He keeps it going

He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Colossians 1:17 (NRSV)
If you believe the first four words of Scripture (In the beginning, God), the rest is enlightenment on how good God really is towards His creation.  By Jesus' power the whole creation is held together.  The youngster who prayed by his bedside can teach us a lot about this:  "Dear Lord, take care of Mommy, Daddy, Sis and me.  And Lord, take care of Yourself, 'cause if anything ever happens to You, we're sunk!"
Ownership!  It was God’s idea, God got it going, and God keeps it going!  Incidentally, He's doing a great job as owner!  But never forget the final piece of logic from this text:

It's all going to Him

all things have been created through him and for him…   Colossians 1:16b
The Bible declares that everything (you, me and the lamp post we lean on) was created FOR Jesus.  Like it or not, there is an accountability for our lives.  He is the Owner, and ownership presupposes accountability.
On another vacation our family visited the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.   
You go down, down, down in this hole in the ground (it was so incredibly deep I distinctly recall hearing a muffled voice on the other side of the wall - speaking Chinese!)  At 300' below the surface there is a plaque.  It tells how the early Indians would not go any deeper.  They felt they had no right, that this was the world of the forces of darkness.  The ancients believed if they went deeper demons and gods of the deep would attack.  Somewhat below this level is the remains of a 2,500 year-old man who didn't make it back. 
It's no wonder they were afraid.  Darkness and not-knowing are frightening.  But God wouldn't have that for us.  The beloved apostle, John, said, The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory....  This is not a god of darkness and fear.  This is the God of all creation, Who has let us see His face.
The Bible says that every knee shall bow.  One day we will all stand before Jesus.  Some of us will stand in judgment, others will stand for rewards.  The difference between the two will be only one:


Have you taken the "leap of faith" that says,
·        I choose to believe the first four words of the Bible, and then the rest of the story, that God loves me, and Jesus died for me. 
·        I accept Him as my Savior.  I turn from sin and defeat and judgment." 
You can bow later in judgment - or you can bow now in humility and receive Christ as Savior.  But you will bow!
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen!

[1] Dr. Manuel Scott, Florida Baptist Pastor’s Conference, c.1991