Friday, September 18, 2020

Perhaps you, like me, have read the gospel accounts many times. If so, they are familiar--maybe even overlooked. I started a chronological read through the Bible a couple of years ago and am just now at the gospels-! There have been a couple of interruptions as I've come alongside others to get their own discipline of Bible reading off and running. I've stopped to catalog and organize books like Proverbs just to get a better grasp on knowing and remembering what God has to say. 

This time, in reading through the four gospel accounts, I was moved to study each author's intent; to highlight words and phrases that point to their reason for writing about Jesus.

It's always been there--that's the way Scripture is--but it was like new. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), read differently today as I look at Jesus, the LORD and sovereign--the King on earth--humbly speaking to and leaving His words behind for those of us who would never otherwise hear Him.

Jesus promises heavenly rewards and eternal consequences. Who does that? Who has that authority? Who even knows?

Who, but the Lord, can promise the kingdom of heaven? (v. 3, 10)

Who, but the Lord, can promise comfort? (v. 4)

Who, but God Himself, provides satisfaction? (v. 6)

Who, but God, extends mercy? (v. 7)

Who can promise an audience with God, face to face? (v. 8)

Who, but Jesus, guarantees me an identity with God--as His child? (v. 9, 16, 45, 48)

Who, but the Lord, can personally extend the riches of Heaven? (v. 12)

Who, but Jesus, determines one's entrance to Heaven? (v. 20)

Who, but God, determines my eternal, heavenly reputation? (v. 19)

And, who, but God, has the power of hell at His disposal? (v. 22, 29, 30)

It's no wonder that as Jesus spoke to the people, they sat in awe and wonder. This God, this Christ, came to them in human form and extended Himself--His riches, His kingdom, His very life--for their benefit. 

Oh, God, forgive us for taking you lightly, for not looking on you with the reverence and wonder you deserve. Forgive us for our blindness, arrogance, and earthly distraction. We are so lost, so unaware, so ignorant of Your greatness, power, and might.

May today be a day you see Jesus more clearly as the Lover of you soul, the Son of God, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end--and worship.

And they *sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and marvelous are Your works,
O Lord God, the Almighty;
Righteous and true are Your ways,
King of the nations!
“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy;
For all the nations will come and worship before You,
For Your righteous acts have been revealed.” Revelation 15:3-4

Friday, September 4, 2020

Prayer as Rest

 I was recently introduced to a computer program that replaced sticky notes. I used to have sticky notes all over the top of my desk for things I needed to do or remember--for family, self, projects--all those things to do and people to meet kind of lists. Maybe you have them, too.

It's been very freeing and has, in many ways, made me more productive. At the same time, I found the online app "coffitivity" which produces the sound of a coffeeshop in the background when it gets too quiet. My family laughs, but I enjoy feeling like there are people in my immediate surroundings.

All that to say, when I finished my daily Bible reading this morning and listened to myself pray (try it if it's not your normal routine), I asked if God could just look at my list and give me wisdom, success, all the good stuff. If you have given me the benefit of the doubt in the past, you may have just changed your mind.

And in that moment, the Holy Spirit convicted me that prayer is a sign and exercise of humility. In prayer, I am not exerting the effort, I am laying it before God to do what He will. I pause from effort. I stop striving; cry, "uncle;" refuse to work on the list and simply talk to Him about it. In the end, it is a sign of trust. 

Prayer recognizes that my efforts are dependent on God; not independent of Him. Prayer recognizes my lowly, ineffectual state. Prayer says, "I can't; I won't; I release the outcome." Prayer says, "I am at rest."

And, in resting, I exercise my true state of being. 

I cannot gain acceptance before God. There is nothing I can do to earn His favor. There is nothing I can do to procure eternity. I simply exist for His pleasure and glory. I bring nothing except what He has given.

Therefore, in Christ, I have acceptance from God. I have His favor. It cannot be lost. I have already procured eternity--it is mine. I am motivated and driven to live for His pleasure and glory because of all He has given. 

The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You support my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.


I will bless the Lord who has counseled me;
Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.
I have set the Lord continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will dwell securely.
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.
You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. (Psalm 16:5-11)

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

A Shelter in the Time of Storm

If you missed the news, you might be surprised to hear that Iowa had hurricane-like winds last week. The storm descended without notice bringing destruction and a wide-spread loss of power. For days, hundreds of thousands of people struggled to complete everyday tasks in addition to regaining structure and routine.

Photo: Iowa Trollnadoes on Twitter

Our acreage sits on top of a hill with a range of buildings and trees. We watched the walnut tree topple, the apple tree split, and pieces of leaves, like confetti, fly vertically, attaching themselves to windows, siding, and doors. It was an awesome show of strength and power.

By God's grace, the tallest, oldest, strongest trees were untouched. Our oaks trees--one shielding the house, one hosting a tree swing--remained unscathed. You may think of the deep, wide root structure as the reason for their preservation and yes, they are well-established. But that is not the answer. Instead, a hundred yards to the west, a treeline of younger, wispier trees stood guard. Violence hit the strategically-planted front guard and spared what lay on the other side.

In the same way, God calls us to watch over, or guard, our heart with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23). If I do not value my heart, if I do not see it as vulnerable and weak, I will not guard it. Our oak trees and 1911-vintage home have a degree of strength--but they are not able to withstand seasonal storms on their own. Knowing that, we have spent time, money and effort to maintain a physical buffer. Likewise, our hearts, central to life, family, ministry, dreams, plans, and future, require care and protection. 

How do we guard our hearts? In reality, we are incapable of doing it ourselves. Worries, insecurity, obligations and responsibilities weigh us down, creating dangerous openings for doubt, despair, and fear. We fail to guard our hearts because our trust is in our own efforts--or the failed efforts of others and capricious nature of circumstances. God calls us to trust Him. To call out to and depend on Him. He alone can effectively guard our hearts and minds from the storms of life. Are they destructive? Yes. Damaging and difficult? Yes. But only to the extent that God is using them to reveal Himself and our need for Him.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)