Archive for January, 2016
“Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God?’ Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired” (Isaiah 40:27-28).
It is the perennial question of suffering, “If God can do something, why doesn’t he? Is he unaware?” Such assertions are foolish to Isaiah. The prophet’s response begins with a theological statement about God; intended to reshape the perspective of God’s people and their interpretation of life’s tragedies. Isaiah offers three assertions in verse 28 — God is timeless, omnipresent, and omnipotent. The implications are far-reaching. Because God’s time is infinite, having no beginning, succession, or ending, what is viewed as a delay from our earthly vantage point should not lead to a conclusion of God being unaware. Because he is not bound by space, he can help in my current place. Because his strength is inexhaustible, he can sustain me in my exhaustion.
“Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11).
At my conversion it was this very thought that gave me, for the very first time, a sense of clarity regarding the mission and purpose of life — that in all things God might be glorified. Everyone needs a “why” that gets them up, defines their day, and drives their life. For the followers of Jesus Christ, it is a holistic and comprehensive approach to every facet of life — to bring glory to our heavenly Father in all things. That’s why!
“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
That we are to not only love but love fervently is filled with descriptive imagery. Fervent love is love earnestly maintained. It is the idea of something being stretched; taught; in tension. Thus, when we apply love to any situation we are to keep it going and not slack off. While there are a great many things we may well do wrong, you can never go wrong with love.
“When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the oldest ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court” (John 8:9).
Once Jesus established the criteria for stone-throwing eligibility, it was the oldest that first walked away. I like to think in that moment of reflection they “grew up” and were awakened to their own sinfulness; that while, perhaps, not guilty of the same sin as the accused, they certainly had their own sins that could just as easily bring public shame if exposed. A faith that offers grace is far superior to a religion that throws stones. We are at our best when we err on the side of grace.
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life…” (Matthew 6:24-25a).
Our sense of security is going to be sought in one of two places — in relationship to the world or our relationship with the Lord. One of these is going to be the true object of our affection. Thus, the amount of worry we experience in life is in direct proportion to the level of intimacy and commitment offered to the true love of our life. We worry because we are torn between two lovers.
“One of the scribes asked Him, ‘What commandment is the foremost of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is like this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12: 28, 30-31).
Despite the warnings of Jesus, and the freedom the resurrected Christ has afforded us, an alarming number within the faith community continue in their love affair with an old covenant of condemnation and, strangely, consider it the standard for measuring their “religious performance.” It’s a minimalist approach to the life of faith — what’s the least I can do and still have favor with God. Out of this labyrinth of religiosity, Jesus offers a clear and concise word. Of all the commandments (613), the One who came not to abolish but to fulfill the Law, offers a two point synopsis — love God and love your neighbor. These embody every dimension of covenant life in Christ.
“Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground” (John 8:8).
Twice now Jesus has stooped to write on the ground (v.6). While many speculate what words he might have written, I am more captured by the action he has taken. While the self-righteous zealots of religious preservation sought to humiliate and belittle an adulterous woman; having set her in the center of the court, Jesus attempted to draw the crowds attention from the woman to himself. Such is the nature of grace. It deals with the sin while seeking to restore the dignity of the individual.
“Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:8-9).
When naturally sighted, Paul was blind to the realities of a Christ; a hostile persecutor of the church. When supernaturally blinded, however, he came to see Christ as the resurrected Lord. Strange isn’t it? Open eyes were blind while blinded eyes could finally see. The difference? The blinding scales of institutional religion fell from his eyes when an experiential encounter with Christ allowed the light of faith to shine through.
“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer, and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled” (Acts 16:13).
Upon entering a new city, Paul’s missional strategy was to enter the synagogue on the Sabbath. Here he would find a ready audience to hear the word of God. In Philippi, however, there was no synagogue, meaning that not even 10 Jewish men dwelt in the city (the number necessary to establish a synagogue). Thus, Paul had to re-strategize and embrace an approach and methodology that he had never utilized, in a setting that was untraditional, with a group of people (gentile women) with whom he was unfamiliar. Paul’s willingness to change, be adaptable to his context, and to let go of the once effective strategies of a bygone era would bring about the introduction of the gospel to the western world. The gospel will always reach people. It is the barriers we continue to prop up that impede its progress.
“And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city’” (Acts 18:9-10).
Faith can land you in difficult situations. For Paul, it was one of the most vile places within the Roman Empire — Corinth. Opposition and physical threat caused Paul to become fearful. As is common when overwhelmed by fear, there is an accompanying sense of isolation. In a vision, the Lord offered Paul the reassuring words of His abiding presence and that he was not alone; that there were many of His people nearby. It is the vision of the One in us and the those around us that conquers our fears and keeps us going.