Tissues of Praise?

Tissue_Box

I feel crummy. No, not crumby like I’m shoving fistfuls of saltines in my mouth. Crummy as in miserable, as in puny, as in…sick. Yep, sick. I can’t tell if it’s a summer cold or monster allergies or a combo platter of both. What I do know is I’ve gone through boxes of tissues. And when I ran out, I used paper towels (which I highly DON’T recommend!).

 

Missed Meetings and Canceled Dinners

I’ve missed two days of work containing six different meetings. I’ve missed two important and exciting church meetings (yes, I do find them exciting—weird, I know). I missed my oldest son’s band’s Friday night concert. We canceled a small dinner party for tonight and I have to reschedule an invite to the shooting range. And I’ll probably miss church.

I know…waaaahhhh! Still, I’m frustrated. I carefully planned my schedule, color-coded my appointments on my Franklin Planner and set alarms on my cell phone. But all for naught. I fear people are disappointed in me or think I’m wuss. I eat tons of raw fruits and veggies, exercise, get moderate rest; I live a healthy lifestyle. What’s going on?

 

Who Really Holds Tomorrow?

Part of what’s going on is realizing that healthy living is not to become a prideful badge of honor. I’m still in a broken body in a broken world and am susceptible to whatever crud is going around. When I don’t get the crud, I ought not to be praising myself for my healthy living, but instead praising God for sparing me from the crud. When I get the crud, as I have now, I need to praise God that He allows me to draw breath at all—especially since much of my past hasn’t been filled in glorifying Him. Mercy and praise should be my thoughts even as I again empty my schnoz into yet another tissue that frays on my whiskers.

Moreover, God doesn’t promise me tomorrow—He promises me an eternal destiny forevermore with Him. My tomorrow could be in Heaven. Or it could be another day of sniffles and fraying tissues. Or healing.

And in spite of all my planning, color-coding and alarm-setting; God is the one holding tomorrow:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”

–James 4:13-15

Plan On…But Pray First

So James does not discourage planning, but he does remind us to remain mindful that God is ultimately in control of all things and does indeed hold our lives in His hands. Planning is good; prayerful planning is even better. Humility then, may be the catalyst for authentic prayerful planning.

So while I’m bummed my schedule has been so severely impacted and I’m equally as bummed to be feeling crummy, I am grateful for the reminder that no matter what my plans or my healthful lifestyle are, God is the One that is central to my life and being. Keeping this in view will allow me to live more freely in the Lord and, frankly, have more grace to others when they can’t show up to meetings or have to cancel dinner plans.

Next week I’ll return to themes more theological, but for now—I’m out; gotta go blow my nose!

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Killing Shalom

 

I believe sin is the willful disregard for the things of God. It includes the intentional denial of God’s existence, the intentional disobedience to the commandments of God, pride, and placing anything above God (such as self, money, family, fame, status, etc.) As we explored last week, sin actually originated in Heaven. What’s more, we are all sinners but Jesus is our antidote to sin:

For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation [atonement, payment] by His blood, through faith. (Romans 3:22-25, NKJV).

But how else can we define sin?  Plantinga states that, “in short, sin is culpable shalom-breaking”[1]. Additionally he states that “sin is blamable vandalism” against God’s design of shalom and is thereby “an affront to their architect and builder”[2]. These quotes help me begin to ponder a wider definition of sin, but they are incomplete without Plantinga’s definition of shalom which “means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts naturally employed”[3] (emphasis in the original). Sin, as Plantinga presents it, is a willful or intentional thought or act that somehow disrupts someone’s or something’s flourishing. This is somewhat of a flimsy summary without a concrete, though somewhat minor, example.

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This is a simple illustration of something we have all seen, and quite possibly have done: litter. If I litter, something like throwing trash onto a beautiful landscape, I’ve now willfully disturbed nature by introducing a man-made artifact into the natural beauty. I have littered; I have juxtaposed God’s creative beauty with my personal refuse. I have opened the door to an animal or bird mistakenly eating a littered item and possibly getting sick or dying because of it. I have also marred the aesthetic beauty of the area, thus diminishing another person’s joy of what could have otherwise been a peaceful spot of solitude and praise toward God.

I have disrupted the shalom of an otherwise pristine beauty. This blemish now retards the flourishing of both the natural realm and the relationship to other humans because they now to have to endure this blemish. This other person may be the one to fix the blemish in an attempt to restore the area to its near natural state. How do they do this? By picking up the ugly trash I left behind. Once they pick it up, they have to properly dispose of it. This person is now not only enduring the blemish, but is now having their time impacted due to fixing someone else’s vandalism.

I realize this example does not rise to the same level as adultery or murder, but it is a subtle and important, though not readily recognizable, example of shalom disturbance. It illustrates the tarnished interior of the functional aspect of the image of God discussed last week. It is the insidious nature of sin working in simple areas of our lives where we willfully disturb shalom. As this willfulness grows, it expands into greater expressions of shalom-disturbing acts. So take this simple example of littering into other areas where we begin willfully harming humanity.  If littering is shalom disturbance, thus sin; then how much more of a “shalom disturbance” are the easier to recognize sins such as lying, rape and murder?

But lest we lose hope, this flawed aspect of our image of God can begin to be rehabilitated through Jesus Christ:

“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29.)

Christ died for our sins. (1 Corinthians 15:3.)

“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38.)

[1] Cornelius Plantinga, Jr Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way it’s Supposed to Be: A breviary of sin (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), p. 13.

[2] Ibid., p. 16.

[3] Ibid., p. 10.

 

Integrity and Proverbs 10

Integrity

Proverbs 10:9 states that “He who walks with integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will become known.” Integrity is defined as “completeness, innocence, uprightness”[1]. I highly value being a man of integrity and strive to maintain it as best I can. Over time, however, I have made mistakes and my integrity has taken a bit of hit; especially if I have said or done something stupid while trying to represent Christ! But part of understanding integrity is recognizing when you’ve tarnished your own; you learn what not to do again or how to do or say things differently in the future. I also highly respect other men of integrity, they are a great example to me and a great help for me in making big decisions.

A key value of integrity contained in the proverb is we can walk securely; as we live a life with integrity, we know that we have nothing to hide and that we keep our word. Others begin to trust us so we need to value the trust they have in us and not compromise it through foolish actions or words.

Keys to Integrity

Keys to understanding, building and maintaining integrity include continually opening our lives up to Holy Spirit examination. Through this we need to do our best to hear and obey when He, the Holy Spirit, reveals weaknesses or barriers inhibiting a freer flowing of Him in our lives (cf. Ps. 139:23-24). Another key is spending time in God’s Word; the more Scripture we know the more equipped we are to live a life marked by integrity, especially as we study the life of Jesus. Hanging around those with high integrity is also a good idea, we can learn a lot through how they live their lives, especially when they are in difficult circumstances. This leads us to add two more aspects to integrity: humility and obedience.

Lacking integrity reveals a person that is two-faced and unstable (cf. Ja. 1:7). This person cannot be trusted with the things of men or of God. Such a person also lacks the humility to recognize their error, which can open them up to very serious calamities. This causes us to ponder if the lack of integrity means a strong presence of pride.  We will explore this possibility in a later post on Proverbs devotionals.

Practical Steps

Now more than ever integrity is eroding in our culture at rapid rates. Politician don’t mean what they say, entertainment is becoming more and more dehumanizing and sexualized, and the individual is quickly replacing the sense of community. One way to help stem the tide of such erosion is becoming a person of integrity: say what we mean, keep our promises, help others when we have opportunity, and lean more deeply into the things of God.

[1] Strong’s Concordance, pp. 136 & 555.

To Mary…

Mary_Brown

We miss you, Mary Brown. I can’t add anything beyond all the honest and heart-felt comments shared at today’s memorial service in her honor. However, I am looking forward to when I come home to Heaven; I fully expect to see Mary standing there, hands on her hips (you know what I mean), with her head cocked to one side and that wry smile, “Well, it’s about time!”

That’s what she always said as Caleb and I showed up late to the Food Bank every month—she always had that posture and she always said that phrase; oh, how I miss that phrase!

Mary’s life inspires me to live to a higher level of service (and joy) while I still have breath.

Here’s to Mary!

 

Church Fires and Ducks

Oh_Bible_2

“Our church is on fire,” read the text. Janey got the same message. Incredulous, she went to the fount of breaking news, Facebook. There it was, posts from staff and even a reference to the local paper. Our church was indeed on fire. It had already been confirmed there were no injuries—praise God—but it was a three-alarm fire with firefighters from two different municipal jurisdictions, Salem and Keizer. When the smoke cleared, it was determined an upstairs wall-heater in a storage room had accidentally been turned on.

Just Hours Later

The insurance adjuster responded quickly and within hours of the blaze a professional cleaning company was on site with a swarm of workers and equipment. The building was not a total loss, but damage, especially from smoke, is extensive. The final tally is still undetermined, even after a week. Evidently smoke, when mixed with water vapor, turns into an acid and permeates any surface it possible can, drywall, carpeting, paint, computers, everything. Just cleaning up is a massive enterprise.

Yet we persevere. We recall God’s sovereignty and praise Him that passersby pounded on the church doors and called 9-1-1. We are thankful for quick and competent emergency responders. We pray blessing over their lives. We also start reflecting on what we need to learn though this.

Why? No, What!

Most of us are not asking God the ‘why’ question but the ‘what’ question: “What are we to learn from this?” Have we become too complacent? Too comfortable? To worldly? Maybe, maybe not.

What we do know, however, is that God is our refuge:

God is our refuge and strength,

A very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear.

—Psalms 46:1-2a

We also know that our families, church and immediate, are intact and we are reminded that church is not a building or even a specific locale; church is people and relationships seeking Jesus together.

Ducks

Then the Ducks lost, actually, got thumped, in the national championship game. But what’s interesting is days before the game, their offensive coordinator, Scott Frost, told Fellowship of Christian Athletes something to the effect that when you are “all-in for God,” even if you lose, you won’t be shaken because your life is built on the Rock, Christ Jesus. Amen! (http://savingourfuture.com/2015/01/oregon-offensive-coordinator-scott-frost-god-first-video/).

I have been a life-long Duck fan (class of ‘84) and so was my father (class of ’58). We used to go to a lot of games in the ‘70s; we didn’t do much else together, but we did share Duck sports. So sometimes when I see them lose I also start to miss my dad a bit. Oh well, God is still God.

What’s the Point?

The point I’m rambling on about is God is the point, He is sovereign, He is trustworthy, and He will always be there through big stuff (church fires) and the little stuff (favorite teams losing and lost memories). Yes, we shouldn’t get too comfortable this side of Heaven, so maybe the disruption of these events are really to shake the dust off worshipping Jesus to then spark greater desire to move closer to Him.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

—James 4:8

Christmas Lessons and ‘Frankenflu’

tissues

Christmas is over and the family is suffering from a raging cold or flu thing—or a combo of both (I call it ‘coldenflu’, could also be ‘Frankenflu’). It is very hard to be cheery, to entertain and to be thankful when you have a fever, body aches, fog-brain and spontaneously explode in sudden bursts of coughing and sneezing. Eew!

But we got lots of neat stuff, which means we need to weed out the neat stuff from last year. We had fun times with family and friends, though I hope they don’t come down with this. The food, I’m told anyway, was great (I couldn’t taste it). The weather, while not a winter wonderland, was decent; so much so, that I could not resist the urge to put on my new pair of Asics to go for a short but wheezy run (which may explain why my recovery was slowed).

Who’s Will?

But the main lesson to be learned through all of this may be from the Book of James where it says “you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’” (4:15). We had everything planned out, even taking vacation at the same time; we were going to do fun family and church things then try to escape to Central Oregon for a few days. Instead, we barely slogged through the gatherings but come Christmas morning we were all feverish, hacking and coughing and worse. We are in no condition to travel far, except to the gym to sweat this out (I’m no longer contagious), and last night we all slept for 12 hours!

Perhaps the other glaring lesson, prominent by its absence, is the whole point of the season in the first place, celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior. The new iPod took hours to set up due to a myriad of incompatibilities with Windows 8, at some point I need to clear out old clothes so I can safely store the new ones, but I am enjoying my new headphones—finally good quality sound not attached to squishy ear buds that always fall out of my ears.

But where’s Jesus? 

I don’t think we forgot Him; instead, what I am figuring out is my adoration of Him is not dependent on my carefully thought-through plans, or my fool-proof meal prep, or even my desire to be away in the mountain air for bouts of contemplative prayer; my adoration is more deeply forged in trials that make adoration that much more difficult—sickness. Do I still adore Jesus in my fever and chills? Do I still adore Jesus when my body aches so much I can’t sleep? Or do I just adore Him when my plans work out according to my will?

Well, I do still adore Jesus, but I will admit that this Christmas has been one of the most challenging ones for adoring Him. Yes, I admit that I had bouts of less than stellar thinking and of blaming and of frustration. Yet I felt His patient presence even in my valleys. Today I’m not tip-top by any stretch, but I feel recovered enough to understand this is temporary; sort of like our existence on earth. So while this Christmas is not one I ever want to repeat, I am thankful that Jesus is still Lord, still Savior, and still loving me; even in my shakiness, wavering, and general unpleasantness.

Getting Back to Joy

hose

I am fascinated by the idea of joy. Actually, truth be known, I’m more chagrined by the lack of it. Joy, by definition, means “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation” (Dictionary.com). Jesus says that “these things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

What things did He speak to them and subsequently to us about? He spoke that He was the way to the Father and about the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He spoke about His peace being given to us and about abiding in the Father. Then after He speaks of us having joy He then calls us friends.

First John speaks to joy as well: “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 Jo. 1:4). This encouragement comes after he has reminded us that we have eternal life because of our faith in Jesus Christ. But notice that in both verses God desires our joy to be full; not half full, not a whiff of being full, but fully full!

Stepping on the Hose

It is also interesting to note that the word ‘joy’ occurs over 150 times in the Bible. God desires us to have joy; so much so that joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). ‘Joy’ sits between ‘love’ and ‘peace.’ God wants us to have joy. And since joy is part of the indwelling Holy Spirit, it can just flow through us if we leave the Holy Spirit unquenched. However, if we are always downcast or morose, then joy is obviously not being manifested in our lives. This should lead us to ask, why? Somewhere, somehow, we are quenching the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. It is as if we are stepping on the garden hose supplying the refreshing water to the soil of our hearts; we are somehow resisting the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (see 1 Thessalonians 5:19). Are we harboring some secret sin, hatred, or fear? Are we overworked, overbooked or overwhelmed? Where are we stepping on the hose of God’s refreshing?

If we live joylessly, then is it any wonder we’re not winning others to Christ? Who wants to become part of a dark cloud society when Jesus Himself is light and life?  And how do we get back to joy?

Unquench

Prayer, that’s how. We need to honestly approach God in prayer and plead for him to search our anxious hearts to reveal all that is contrary to his light in our lives (see Psalms 51:7-12 and 139:23-24). If in raw sincerity of our will we approach God with this request he will honor it even if it hurts a little. But the end result is the restoration of the joy we have in our salvation that will seep out of our lives to draw others into the same joy of the same salvation (Psalm 51:12-13).

Blood Moons, Division and Jesus

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

—Jesus, John 13:35

Blood_moon

There was a blood moon a couple of nights ago. It was quite a stunning sight as we were standing in our backyard at 3:27 AM. It is an event caused by the earth slipping between the sun and moon. Many considered it significant because it is the second of four consecutive blood moons occurring on Jewish feast days, what people are calling a tetrad. This particular day was the Feast of Tabernacles, also known as Sukkot. Typically, though, blood moons unto themselves are fairly common occurrences.

This blood moon tetrad is generating a lot of discussion around various biblical prophesies and predictions of the end times. Opinions are all over the map for all sorts of different reasons. The problem, however, is how hostile so-called Christians are against other Christians that have differing views on what the tetrad means, if anything, and how it relates or doesn’t relate to the end times. All of this anger proves nothing except that no one has a definitive lock on what will happen when and that a bunch of so-called Christians look foolish and are making a mockery of the faith. Frankly, it’s pathetic and highly un-Christ-like. I again draw your attention to the verse at the top of this column; Jesus’ disciples are to love one another and when they don’t love one another, well…maybe people need to lay their cyber bombs to the side, look in the mirror and ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse them.

Perhaps what the blood moons ought to do is remind us that we are not sovereign; but are instead broken and fallible people desperately in need of a Savior. Maybe we should look at the ‘blood’ as a reminder of Christ’s blood shed for us on the cross. Maybe we also need a reminder that what will happen will happen regardless of your opinion or mine. The one thing we do know is that if we have faith in Jesus we will eventually be with him forevermore, amen!

So let the skies do what they will while we remain focused on Jesus and His call for us to love others.

Conditional Words and Proverbs 2

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The key phrase in Proverbs 2 are verses 10-12: “When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things.”

Definitions and Application

Discretion and understanding mean that a person has “the ability to make responsible decisions” (from Logos Bible Software) coupled with intelligence and insight (from Strong’s Concordance). Thus, when led by the indwelling Holy Spirit we have the ability to make sound decisions while also being able to discern something to be of little to no value or even evil.

These are important traits for us regardless of what roles we have in life—employee, parent, spouse, single, etc. We often need to make decisions that can impact not just our lives but other people’s lives as well. Plus some decisions will have lasting impacts that can reverberate positively or negatively for days, weeks, or even years to come. Such decisions can become even more complex or impactful if you are the head of your family or are in ministry or in some other leadership role—or you aspire to be in one of these roles someday. With so many decision points in our lives it is blessing to be able to lean into God’s guidance and comfort through these decision making processes.

Conditional Response

However, an interesting statement about accessing this guidance from God comes in verse one by way of two little conditional words: “IF you receive my words, AND treasure my commands within you” (emphasis mine). These are conditional words that indicate we are to make an intentional decision to not just receive God’s Word, but to also treasure it. God is not going to force us to receive his Word and most certainly won’t force us to treasure it, we have to decide these things for ourselves whether we will or won’t receive and treasure the things God has freely given to us.

To treasure what we receive means, of course, that we treat the received object as an item of great value, something to be cherished and protected. We protect Scripture by hiding it in our hearts, committing it to memory and doing our best to live out its teachings.

So as we desire God’s wisdom, knowledge and discretion, may we first willingly receive and treasure what God has already given us in Scripture and in Jesus.

A Cognitive Dissonance of Faith

Caleb_bush_treatmentBless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

—Romans 12:14-15

Blood Cries Out

I feel a little strange today. Right now my youngest son is riding his bike around the cul de sac bellowing like a siren; he’s pretending to be a paramedic. I rejoice at the joyful heart of my child and his innocent imagination. I am also proud of my oldest son as he makes a life of his own in North Dakota. He’s a grown man now that makes his father proud. And yet there is a heaviness in the pit of my soul; it is like a mournful cry rising out of the earth itself as little children like my own are being murdered for their faith. The dust of the Middle East is muddying up in the blood of the innocents. God have mercy.

Dissonance

Amidst this I still have a paper to write for my Old Testament class, on God’s grace, oddly enough. I will eventually get on my bike today to enjoy the countryside, the sunshine and the feel of my body laboring in the love of cycling. We will probably grill up some tasty steaks on the back patio with an avocado salad.

And yet the pit of my soul beckons me to pray..pray for the children, pray for their parents, pray their faith remains strong, and, yes, pray that the murderers wake up to the wrong they reap with their own hands; no matter what they do, Jesus is still Jesus, and they will someday meet Him. I pray they come to faith prior to their meeting. Even so, I pray for God’s justice to reign through all the cruelty humanity heaps upon humanity.

A New To-Do List

How, then, am I to live my life? Do I hang my head in guilt that I’m not suffering as they? Do I pack, leave my family and head into the danger zone? I don’t think so. I think part of what I’m learning about this pit in my soul is the Holy Spirit encouraging me to pray as mentioned above. But He is also using this to remind me to be thankful for the life I am living, to love my sons with all I have, and to protect my marriage and my Bride by not taking her for granted, or having a wandering eye, or by thinking of her as anything less than a dear daughter of the Most High God. And to take care of myself, the temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19).

I can rejoice and I can weep. I can pray and I can celebrate. I can rebuke guilt and embrace the love of God that washes clean each heart of faith. I can go on with my day with a new motivation to never take for granted the life I live and the people I love and the people that love me.  And I can pray…