Category Archives: God

Fist-Pump Singing

I’m a bit slow.  It takes me awhile to catch on to things that should seem obvious.  For example, consider this line from Exodus:

The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;  (Exodus 15:2a)

I’ve heard that line many times without thinking about it much.  That is, until I came upon it, reading through Exodus this morning..  I began to see that, what had been for me a somewhat stale cliche of churchy songs, was for those folks a mighty fist-pump!  They had just escaped the mightiest army on earth with an amazing demonstration of God’s power.  They were so excited, they just had to sing.  Because God had revealed His power to them, and because His strength had become their strength, they had to express it somehow.  They had to sing.  They had to dance around and whoop and holler.  About God.  He had become their song.

Maybe you are thinking, “Yeah, of course, so…?”  Or, “Duh…”  But that idea began to hold new meaning for me, Mr. Slow, this morning.  I’d sung that line so many times without any thought, without any excitement.  And yet, this morning, when I began to think through an actual list of how God has been strong for me, how His power has been evident in the circumstances of my life and of how He has become my strength and salvation, then I began to want to sing about it.

On that list was a time I had impulsively picked up a hitchhiker on the way to Cheyenne.  Without boring you with the details, as I dropped him off that day, I knew,in the pit of my soul, he had just delivered a personal message to me from God.  He had been a messenger, what the Bible calls an “angel.”  Alone in the car that day, I burst into loud and raucous song.  I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t sit on it.  I didn’t have words for my song but it didn’t matter.  I just had to express my wonder and excitement.  Because God had showed me He would be my strength, He just had to become my song.

What’s your list?  Take a moment to add it up.  If you’re having trouble, ask God to show you.  Kind of like that “Footprints” thing.  About 150 years ago, someone, whose name has been lost, must have been doing that as he wrote these words:

No storm can shake my inmost calm

While to that refuge clinging;

Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,

How can I keep from singing?

 

What Smokey Says to Churches

What’s the worst thing about church?  Ask ten people that question and the chances are most of them will say something about hypocrisy.  Too many church people robe themselves in the look and sound of Christian-eze, while on the inside they struggle like all the rest of us.  Sound familiar?  

If so, you may be intrigued to know how Jesus taught his boys to act when they began to attract great adoring crowds of followers.  He did not tell them how to greet people with spiritual sounding phrases.  He did not tell them to raise their hands during the praise choruses, or to look pious during prayer time.  He taught them to watch out for trying to act all holier than thou just because they were His disciples.  

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.  (Luke 12:1-3)

Boys, He said in effect, it’s so easy to put on airs when you see how many people have showed up, to start acting like you are better.  Watch out!  Be real.  Don’t be hypocrites!

Of course, in our day, the same caution applies to the folks who show up at church, not just to the leaders.  There is an awful lot of pretending that goes on in the lobby.  Words and expressions that don’t match what we really think and feel.  True, that stuff frequently goes on in many other places – not just at church.  But Jesus knew hypocrisy is cancer in a church.  Because, if people feel judged, they will never get to know the One Who did not come to judge them but to save them.

And the way to fix it begins with you.  Like what Smokey the Bear says: “Only you can prevent…”

Finished

It’s no fun stepping on a nail.  It was just a small nail, but it hurt like crazy.  The pain of the Crucifixion must have been unimaginably horrible.  No wonder so much has been written and sung about the agony Jesus endured on the cross.  And yet, consider this surprising thing He said as He waited for that terrible day to come:

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!   (Luke 12:50)

Jesus was not looking forward to being crucified.  His prayers in Gethsemane bear witness to how awful He knew His next day would be.  But the distress He felt as He waited was the distress of yearning for His work on the cross to be accomplished.  Because it was not until the price for sin was fully paid that God’s Spirit could be given to people like me, by God’s love, grace and perfect justice.  And without that life-giving Spirit, we all were doomed.  When Jesus looked around, everyone He saw was headed for Hell.  It distressed Him; He could hardly wait until He made eternal life possible for everyone who would receive Him by faith.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.”  (John 8:24)

“…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  (John 10:10b)

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”  (John 6:63a)

Even though He knew how badly it would hurt to make God’s Spirit available, He loved me more.  And you, too.

That’s why, with His last breath, 

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  (John 19:30)

Sort of finished.  His part was finished.  But it’s not completely finished until you accept it.

No Can Do

This guy had it all.  He was extremely wealthy.  He had a position of great influence.  Like Donald Trump, except he still had his youth.  But it wasn’t enough; he was missing something.

And as he [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   (Mark 10:17)

He knew he couldn’t buy his way into heaven and, like so many of us, he sensed that he needed to do something.  Some good deed, some act of penance or sacrifice.  Jesus began by telling him a sobering truth.

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  (Mark 10:18)

Translation?  Nobody could do enough to get to heaven except God.  If you want to get to heaven by doing, you’ll have to be perfect.  In order to help the guy understand, Jesus said:

You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”  (Mark 10:19-20)

Really?  He somehow had accumulated great wealth and had never taken something that didn’t rightfully belong to him or told a lie?  Not likely.  Even the last thing he’d said to Jesus wasn’t true!

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

Now, take this one step at a time.  First pay careful attention to Jesus’ attitude toward the man.  Because He has the same attitude toward you.  Then, notice that Jesus took him all the way down the road to understanding he could never do enough.  He said, “Ok, you want to do something, go sell everything and give it all to the poor.”  Jesus knew, even if the man had done all that, he still would be in the same, empty, desperate condition.  Because, even doing such an extreme act of personal sacrifice would not earn you a spot in heaven.  What he really needed was to “come and follow” Jesus.

The man was already on his knees before Jesus and yet Jesus still told him to “come.”  “Come” meant stop relying on what he could do and instead, fully trust or surrender to Jesus.  And follow Him.  But even doing that would not be enough.  What is enough to qualify a person for eternal life is what Jesus  has already done and what He does for those who fully trust Him.  He gives them His eternal, Holy Spirit.  Jesus has done everything needed.  Our part is to come and follow.  And receive.

I don’t have words to explain why this is so.  But, I have discovered, to my own amazement and joy that it is.

Words of Beauty

You can’t explain beauty.  You just see it, hear it, smell it or think it.  Dream it, maybe.  Sometimes beauty lies in the way words are used.  Like this:

Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.  (Genesis 25:8)

“Gathered to His people.”  Those words sing beauty.  Not lost, not buried, not laid to rest.  But gathered.  Wow!  I’ve been stopped in my tracks by those words, especially after the death of my wife.  I wonder how they came to be, who thought of them and what they meant to convey.  Certainly, the continuity of life after death and the reunion of special relationships.  But commentaries that seek to explain them obscure their beauty with academic huffing and puffing.  They don’t really know.  So, I will not add to that.   

Except to remind you that Jesus extended an invitation and promise to all who would trust Him. They would not perish, but enjoy everlasting life.  And be gathered.  To their people.

 

Ruins are Ruined

These are the ruins of the synagogue that was built in Capernaum sometime three or four hundred years after the time of Jesus. It was the most magnificent building in town.  Rightly so, because it was the place where people came to try to draw close to God.  The idea was that the greater and more magnificent the building, the closer one could get to God.  That concept is still practiced today.  That synagogue  was probably built on the original foundation of an earlier synagogue that had fallen down, likely the one in which Jesus spoke the following words:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  (John 6:51)

This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”.  Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.  ​(John 6:58 — 59)

The bread he was referring to was Himself.  When you visit the synagogue you stand among dilapidated ruins.  You also can visit enormous, ornate, modern houses of worship and sometimes be standing among ruins.  Ruins, because in some of those places it is very tough to draw close to God in a lasting and meaningful way.  But when you come to Jesus by faith, you are filled with God’s presence in a continuing way, with His Fresh Bread of Life.

The Invitation

“Come in!” you hear and, pushing on the door, quietly, expectantly, you tiptoe into the hospital room.  The new mother is propped up, holding her first baby.  As she looks up and smiles, suddenly you find yourself swept up in her joy.  You can’t help it.  It’s as though you have fallen into a deep pool of unrestrained celebration. 

If that’s how great joy feels for us, and how it pulls us in, imagine what it would be like to be caught up into and fully share the joy of Almighty God!  Try to understand how vast and powerfully explosive would be the deep, rumbling, cymbal-splashing joy of God.  What would it do to you to enter His room and participate in His greatest happiness?

You have heard the parable of the master who gives to each of his servants portions of gold (called talents) to use.  Perhaps that parable, told by Jesus, sounded severe to you, as though He was saying, “You better get busy, or else…”  If so, reflect on how He described the outcome for the ones who faithfully and productively used the gifts with which they had been entrusted.

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  (Matthew 25:21)  
Now, there is an invitation you don’t want to miss…