Monday, August 19, 2019

"God Said 'I Do' and He Did!"

Psalm 105.8, 42; 106.4, 7, 21, 45 
NIV and NASU

He remembers His covenant forever”. For He remembered His holy promise”. “For He remembered His holy word”.

Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people”.

Our fathers…did not remember Your many kindnesses”. They forgot the God who saved them”.

But He… remembered His covenant”.

A covenant is a promise made on the strength of the covenant-maker’s word. A covenant is only as strong as the character of the one who made it. A promise is only as good as the one who gave it. My father used to say, “A man is only as good as his word.” God has never forgotten His covenant to love and deliver His people. He has always kept His promises, and He is certainly “as good as His word.”

Over forty-five years ago I made a promise which I broke. Before “God and all these witnesses” I said “I do” and I did not “do” as I said I would do. After seventeen years of painful marital anti-bliss, my children’s mother and I divorced. Nothing will ever change that fact. I cannot reverse history. I did not keep my word. 

A few years after my divorce, I re-married the love of my life. In mid-life, God blessed me with twenty years of true 'wedded bliss.' He gave me five wonderful children from my first marriage and two from my second. For reasons unknown and undeserved, God chose to be incredibly gracious to me. I am Ebenezer Scrooge. I woke up from a bad dream and God gave me a second chance at life. I have seven incredible children, two wonderful sons-in-law, a fabulous daughter-in-law, a four fantastic grandsons, and three adorable granddaughters.

In the 1991 comedy “City Slickers,” weathered trail boss Curly (Jack Palance) offers thirty-nine year old city slicker Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal) some sage prairie advise. Holding up his index finger, Curly poses the ultimate cowboy question: “Do you know what the secret of life is? This.” Mitch quips, “Your finger?” With real cowboy authority Curly responds, “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean s___.” City slicker asks, “But, what is the ‘one thing’?” The trail boss leaves Mitch hanging with a smile: “That’s what you have to find out.”

I think I discovered the “secret of life,” the “one thing” that matters above all else. The “one thing” I must always remember is... God is God, not me.

I sometimes wish I was God. I occasionally act as though I think I am. But I’m not. I am not God. That’s a good thing because I am a covenant violator. He is a covenant fulfiller. I am a promise breaker. He is a promise keeper. God kept His word. I could not keep mine. He remembered to do what He said He would do. I forgot. He said, “I do” and did

I have actually forgotten about God, especially in the good times. But I always remembered Him when things got bad. In times of hardship I cried like the Psalmist, “Remember me, O Lord.” God, on the other hand, has a better and more consistent memory than me. He needs no reminder of His promise. He remembers me “in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and health, for better or for worse, as long as we both shall live”... and that’s forever! He never forgot about His covenant and He never forgot about me.

My precious second wife suffered and died from Acute Myeloid Leukemia four years ago this month. Nevertheless, God offered me a promise He will not break. He has promised to take care of my wife, my children, and me. I can trust Him... no matter what.  

I am glad I’m not God and He is. God has a better memory than me. I am slowly learning “the secret of life” and the “one thing” that matters above all else... God is God, not me. He fulfilled His promises to me. He remembered His word when I forgot mine, and He gave me a second chance at life. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

"Put Your Hand Down There and Find Out"

Psalm 101.3-4 NASU

“I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not fasten its grip on me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil.”



Once while hiking with my wife and kids, I noticed a hole in the ground just large enough to house a small animal. I thought aloud, “I wonder what lives down there?” My wife responded with a smile, “Put your hand down there and find out.”

It frightens me to imagine what might “fasten its grip on me” in the bottom of that hole. I’m not putting my hand in there. I have a mental picture of a stupidly curious guy coming up with a rock badger or rattle snake or giant spider fastened to his hand. I’m not afraid to go hiking. It’s a perfectly safe and fun activity... as long as I refrain from poking my hand in active critter dens. I have no control over what a wild thing might do when I go feeling around in his dark and private residence. If I stay on the trail and keep my hands to myself, chances are excellent that nothing harmful will “fasten its grip on me.”

King David, the author of the psalm at the top of this post, was bold enough to state, “no worthless thing [will]... fasten its grip on me.” He would “know no evil.” How could David be so sure? He probably knew better than to stick his hand in “worthless thing” holes.

I pass a variety of holes each day of my hike through life… conversations guaranteed to go nowhere, business opportunities sounding ‘too good to be true,’ so-called friends who want to “invest” my money or waste my time, activities and relationships I know will lead to sin, most television shows, a provocative trail of web links and click-bait, one more cookie, and a whole host of other distractions. Some of these holes seem harmless enough... at first. But experience tells me most are homes for creepy things that will not benefit me in any way. Of course, I will never for sure unless and until I “put my hand down there and find out.”

Sometimes my stupid curiosity gets the better of me. I’ve stuck my hand in more than my share of dark and foreboding holes. As a result, I’ve been bit by one or two nasty people and suffered through a few “worthless” activities. It was difficult to wrench myself free from their “grip on me.” These unfortunate experiences have redemptive value. They dissuade me from the temptation to blindly explore other dangerous luring pits. There’s no telling what kind of evil lurks down there and what might “fasten its grip on me.”

It would be best for me stay on the path and avoid unknown holes altogether if I want to “know no evil” and sincerely intend, like King David, that...

“…no worthless thing… shall... fasten its grip on me.”

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"The Irresistible Force Paradox"

Psalm 95.1-2 NKJV

“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.”

What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? This popular dilemma is known as the Irresistible Force Paradox and unfortunately, there is no answer. Logically, if there is such a thing as an irresistible force, then no object can be immovable. It is likewise impossible for an irresistible force to exist if there is an immovable object anywhere in the vicinity. If both existed in the same universe, they would seek each other out for the ultimate showdown.

The Irresistible Force Paradox naturally leads to the question of the nature of God. It is similar to the Omnipotence Paradox illustrated by questions like “Can God create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it?” The Chinese word for the word “paradox” literally means ‘spear-shield.’ The term originated from a 3rd century B.C. book entitled Han Feizi written by a Chinese philosopher of the same name. The book contains a story about a weapons vendor trying to sell a spear he claimed could penetrate any shield. Interestingly, he also had a shield for sale that was, apparently, strong enough to deflect any spear.

So, what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? Maybe both the force and the object surrender. Or, perhaps they exchange roles… the unstoppable force stops and the immovable object moves. The most plausible answer to me was posed by Victor Serebriakoff in one of his Mensa puzzle books... the Irresistible Force Paradox is truly “an inconceivable event.”

I love the mystery of the “inconceivable” nature of God. He is “the Rock of our salvation,”  both irresistible and immovable. Within Himself is contained the power of the unanswerable. He imagined and caused to happen many “inconceivable events” like the Creation the world from nothingness, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Incarnation of the God-Man Jesus, and the Resurrection of the crucified Christ. None of these events are plausible, fully imaginable, or humanly possible. However, “the things that are impossible with people are possible with God” (Luke 18.27).

I will accept the divine paradox and “shout joyfully to the [irresistible and immovable] Rock of our salvation.”

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

"Reluctant Leaders"

Psalm 90.17 NASU 

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; And confirm for us the work of our hands; Yes, confirm the work of our hands.”

The Spoken Law by Paul Gulacy
Colin Powell was the highest ranking African American government official in the history of the United States before Barak Obama took the presidency.[1] Born in New York City’s Harlem in 1937, Powell served as a General in the United States Army, National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Persian Gulf War, and the United States Secretary of State under President George W. Bush. He is a man of peace who believes war to be a “failure of diplomacy.” Good leaders, asserts Powell, must do “everything they can to avoid war.” That’s why he refers to himself the “Reluctant General.”[2]

Moses was also a “reluctant general” who did not seek or want to lead two million people from bondage through a forty year wilderness journey to the promised land. “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?,” cried Moses (Exodus 3.11). He didn’t want to do it but God made Him. 

Sometimes things work out that way. God has a plan and, reluctant though you may be, cooperate you must.

Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses and records his plea for God’s help in leading God’s people. Moses ends his prayer with an appeal for confirmation…

“Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
And confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes, confirm the work of our hands.”

One of the obvious benefits in serving as a leader in the church, community, or government is the confirmation we receive by doing so. In fact, without measurable confirmation of our role, we cannot possibly fulfill it. General Powell received many such confirmations in the form of countless awards, medals, military ribbons, and decorations throughout his brilliant career. These included the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Moses also received confirmation of his success as a leader when God performed miraculous plagues in Egypt (Exodus 7-12), parted the Red Sea for two million Israelites (Exodus 14), opened the earth to swallow up Moses’ defectors (Numbers 16), dropped manna from heaven (Exodus 16), and poured water from a rock (Numbers 20).

Colin Powell and Moses... both “reluctant” leaders who paid the price for their calling and received the confirmation of their success. Are you “reluctant” to step into a leadership role? You’re not alone. But if you are called to lead, then lead. Ask God to bestow His “favor” and “confirm the work of [your] hands.” When He does, you will know you’re on the right leadership track.
___________________

[1] President Barak Obama, elected the 44th President of the United States on November 4th, 2008, and sworn in on January 20th, 2009, became the highest ranking African American government official in the history of the United States.   

[2] From a pre-recorded interview between Bill Hybels and Colin Powell on August 10th at the 2007 Leadership Summit hosted by Willow Creek Association.

The incredible drawing at the top of this blog entry is entitled “The Spoken Law” and was created by my friend and well-known comic book artist Paul Gulacy in 1997. The piece is used by permission of the artist and depicts Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai with his staff and Commandments of God in hand. Paul gave me a print which I framed and hung in my study. I am inspired by this picture of courageous leadership every single day.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

"An Unfamiliar Voice"

Psalm 81.5c (CJB), 6 (TEV)

“I heard an unfamiliar voice say, ‘I took the burdens off your backs;
I let you put down your loads of bricks.’”


It's easy to fall into a routine, even a demanding one. By sheer force of determination, we dutifully obey all the familiar voices from our past…

“Eat your vegetables.”
“Sit up straight.”
“Wipe that smile off your face.”
“Go to bed.”
“Finish school.”
“Get a job.”
“Go to work.”
“Pay your bills.”
“Quit complaining.”
“Be a man.”
“Buck up.”
“Make something of yourself.”

Crashing through the steady roar of yesterday’s voices comes another one, “an unfamiliar voice,” a voice almost unrecognizable by its nearly unbelievable claim…

“I heard an unfamiliar voice say, ‘I took the burdens off
your backs; I let you put down your loads of bricks.’”

The Hebrews suffered under the tyranny of Pharaoh fifteen hundred years before the coming of Christ. The Egyptians “appointed taskmasters… to afflict them with hard labor” (Exodus 1.11). The children of Israel were forced as slaves to carry bricks and mortar to building sites for the construction of cities in Egypt. In the midst of their hardship they heard “an unfamiliar voice” from an unknown man claiming to speak for God. Moses made God’s people drop their burdens and throw down their bricks.

Familiar voices from our past, however well intended, can demoralize us, casting us into a stupor of rote obedience. Under the brick loads of their crushing weight, these voices can render us spiritually senseless. We become deafened to the real voice of God and numbly respond to the pounding and nagging of hyper-responsibility and blind obedience. We find ourselves conscientious to perform duties that really don’t matter. We become our own evil taskmasters.

Today I will listen for the “still small voice” of the Spirit (1st Kings 19.12), “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” of my over-achievement (Mark 1.3), the “unfamiliar voice” of the One who says…


“Come to Me, all
you who labor and
are heavy laden, and
I will give you rest.

Take My yoke upon
you and learn from
Me, for I am gentle
and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest
for your souls. For My
yoke is easy and My
burden is light.”

Matthew 11.28-30 NASU


“…casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”
1st Peter 5.7 NKJV

“I heard an unfamiliar voice say, ‘I took the burdens off
your backs; I let you put down your loads of bricks.’”

Monday, August 12, 2019

"Resign as General Manager of the Universe"

Psalm 78.23-25 NIV

Worry by Andrew Matthews
“Yet he gave a command to the skies above and opened the doors of the heavens; he rained down manna for the people to eat, he gave them the grain of heaven. Men ate the bread of angels; he sent them all the food they could eat.”

This psalm tells of abundant provision from the hand of God. God’s provision is as much a matter of faith as it is a matter of fact. As far as I recall, I’ve never unwillingly missed a meal. It would be safe to say that God commanded “the skies above and opened the doors of the heavens” and “rained down manna” for me to eat each and every day of my entire life. He has literally sent me and my loved ones “all the food they could eat” just like the Bible promised. So why do I worry about God’s provision?

I once heard a pastor preach, “Worry is incompatible with common sense.” To that truism I give hearty assent. Still, I worry. My behavior makes no sense. Worry is not logical. 

Every day God provides for me and (paradoxically) most days I worry about it. I have, on occasion, even considered worry to be my personal obligation. In a weird way, this logic almost works... ‘If I don’t worry I will become lackadaisical and fail to do what it takes to acquire the provision I need.’ Now there’s a twist! I’ve apparently decided my daily routine of worry, not God’s daily and proven acts of love, assures me and my family of what we need to survive. I remind myself of Charles Schulz who once said, “I’ve developed a new philosophy… I only dread one day at a time.”

Jesus commanded us not to worry…

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’
or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your
heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his
righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore
do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about
itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Jesus, Matthew 6.30-34 NIV

I hereby resign as general manager of my little universe. God always has provided (a statement of fact) and He always will (a statement of faith).
______________

The wonderful cartoon at the top of this post is by the amazing author, cartoonist, and internationally acclaimed speaker Andrew Matthews. His books have been translated into 33 languages and sell in 60 countries. Mr. Matthews has spoken to more than 500 corporations and over a million people. Check out his site at http://www.seashell.com.au.

Friday, August 09, 2019

"Keep All the Pieces of Your Soul"

Psalm 73.15-17 WEB
A Psalm of Asaph

If I had said, ‘I will speak thus;’
Behold, I would have betrayed the
generation of your children.
When I tried to understand this,
It was too painful for me;
Until I entered God's sanctuary,
And considered their latter end.”

I felt lucky to view a live presentation by Carly Fiorina who served as Hewlett-Packard’s president and chief executive officer from 1998-2005. The interview was conducted by pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago and broadcast live across North America to about sixty-five thousand registrants of the 2007 Willow Creek Leadership Summit.
 
I learned Carly Fiorina navigated one of the world’s largest and most revered technology companies through a severe industry downturn. She successfully orchestrated the historic acquisition of Compaq in an HP-Compaq merger. Fortune magazine named her the “most powerful woman in business” in its first annual ranking of women who most influence corporate America. (Oprah Winfrey was ranked #2.) [1]

In early February 2005, Hewlett Packard and Carly Fiorina parted company. Here’s what Bob Wayman representing the Board of Directors wrote to all HP Employees on that day…

“The HP Board of Directors announced this morning that Carly Fiorina has stepped down as Chairman and CEO, effective immediately.

“On behalf of the Board and the management team, I want to thank Carly for all she has contributed to HP. In her six years as CEO, Carly has revitalized the company. She had a strategic vision that has given HP the capabilities to compete and win. Through her leadership and vision, HP has laid a solid foundation for success in the marketplace.”

Carly was known for making tough choices during hard times. Here’s her take on what happened that day…

“Patti [Dunn, the new Chairman of the Board] had asked for my help in ‘positioning’ the shocking news. She said the Board thought I should announce this as my decision. I should say I’d decided it was ‘time to move on.’ I believe the truth is always the best answer, whatever the consequences. Less than two hours after I left the room, I sent a message to the new chairman saying we should tell the truth: the Board had fired me.”[2]

Ms. Fiorina was asked by the HP board to say something that made sense. The official” version of the story allowed both the company and its former CEO to move forward with the more dignity and less trauma. It would give the media minimal fodder to gossip with. Saying it was Carly Fiorina’s decision to ‘pursue other interests’ would reduce controversy and make a smoother transition for both parties. Carly was tempted to place this ‘spin’ on the occurrence which would most certainly be in the best interest of the Board of Directors and keep favorable light on Carly herself. 

There was just one small problem… it wasn’t true.

I assume Carly wrestled with the Board’s request in the moments following her ‘departure.’ Nevertheless, she quickly made the same decision Asaph did as recorded in Psalm 73…

“If I had said, ‘I will speak thus;’
Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
When I tried to understand this, It was too painful for me;
Until I entered God's sanctuary, and considered their latter end.”

It is not always easy to tell the truth. Truth-telling can be “painful” and hazardous to one’s sense of well-being. But still, it’s the truth. If you cave and say something different than truth, avoid telling important elements of the truth, or find creative ways to ‘spin’ the truth, you’ve “betrayed” those who are depending on your integrity.

People watching and depending on you, perhaps more than you realize. You are one of them. You are watching yourself. When you lie you betray yourself, you give away a piece of your soul. Pay the price. Preserve your integrity. Tell the truth no matter what the cost.

Ms. Fiorina’s ends her book Tough Choices with words that inspire me...

“Life isn’t always fair, and I was playing in the big leagues, yet I realized I had no regrets. I had completed my mandate. I had made mistakes, but I had made a difference. I had given everything I had to a company and a cause I believed in. I had to make tough choices, and I could live with their consequences. While I grieved for the people and the purpose I had lost, I did not grieve for the loss of my soul.”[3]

Jesus said, “...the truth will make you free” (John 8.32). When you lie (even a little) you betray yourself and others. You can always find good and logical reasons to lie, but when you do, you lose a piece of yourself. Pay the price. Be set free. Keep all the pieces of your soul intact. Save your life. Tell the truth no matter what the cost.
___________________

[1] Julie Creswell and Dina Bass. "Ranking The 50 Most Powerful Women: Fortune's First Annual Look at the Women Who Most Influence Corporate America," Fortune, October 12, 1998.

[2] Tough Choices – A Memoir, Carly Fiorina, Portfolio published by The Penguin Group, p.303.

[3] Ibid., p. 306.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

"I Have To"

Psalm 71.9, 18-19a “The Message”

“But don’t turn me out to pasture when I’m old or put me on the shelf when I can’t pull my weight.”

“Ill keep at it until I’m old and gray. God, don’t walk off and leave me until I get out the news of your strong right arm to this world, news of your power to the world yet to come, Your famous and righteous ways, O God.”

When I think about my own mortality, I become apprehensive. I have no problem going to heaven sooner than later. I just don’t want to go there before I finish what I’ve been placed on earth to do.

I am not deluded. I am fully aware that can accomplish no lasting good in my own power. The time of my departure and even the impact of my life are solely in the hands of God, not mine. However, I am equally certain that I can become dull to the opportunities and diminish my own influence by becoming complacent or apathetic. I want my life to count. I hope for significance and to leave this world a better place than I found it. 

I intend to fulfill my God-given purpose, but life (the aging process, my personal rate of decay, loss of energy, aching joints, etc.) happens fast. I lost my dad to cancer fourteen years ago and mom about five years after that. Then, my dear wife, at the young age of fifty, lost her battle with Leukemia. The oncologists stopped chemotherapy and gave her only “weeks to months,” exactly four years ago. I became a single parent of two teenagers still at home on August 30th, 2015. 

How can I do it? Life is fleeting. Death surrounds me. Will I last long enough to complete the mission I am called to perform?

I’m not alone. The author of Psalm 71 identified similar feelings within himself:

“But don’t turn me out to pasture when I’m old or put me
on the shelf when I can’t pull my weight.”

“I’ll keep at it until I’m old and gray. God, don’t walk off and leave
me until I get out the news of your strong right arm to this world, news of your
power to the world yet to come, Your famous and righteous ways, O God.”

When my youngest boy was eight years old, he announced, “It’s not that I want to play golf. I have to play golf.” As a result of his (admittedly youthful) zeal, we signed him up for Junior Golf Camp at Red Tail Golf Course. He loved it. We even sprung for a cheap set of clubs. He couldn’t have been happier.

I love my mission, but just like my boy and his golf, it’s not that I want to fulfill it. I have to. I am compelled by an undeniable force within. I can’t explain it or ignore it. I have no choice about turning “old and gray.” That’s already happened. But, I don’t want to be turned “out to pasture” or put “on the shelf” when I’m too old “pull my weight.” I still have energy and purpose. I don’t want to die “until I get out the news” of Jesus Christ’s mighty power to redeem and restore humankind.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

"What Was God Thinking?"

Psalm 65.9-10 NASU

You visit the earth 
and cause it to overflow; 
You greatly enrich it;
The stream of God is full of water;
You prepare their grain, 
for thus You prepare the earth.
You water its furrows abundantly,
You settle its ridges,
You soften it with showers,
You bless its growth.”

When my youngest children were very young, I read to them a bedtime story entitled Destination: Moon [1] by astronaut James Irwin. They were enthralled. The book contains fantastic pictures and detailed text about the Apollo 15 trip to the moon in 1971. Commander David Scott and Lunar Module Pilot Jim Irwin spent a total of three days on the moon driving lunar vehicle “Rover” and collecting one hundred and seventy pounds of moon rocks. Astronaut James Irwin describes an encounter with God on this historic flight:
The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.”
From a distance of two hundred and fifty thousand miles, the earth “shrinks to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine.” I heard it said that if the earth were the size of a pool ball, it would be even smoother than a pool ball. I wonder…

... from God’s perspective, the earth is really very small… and I am even smaller.

... if you travel a long way from earth (or me), you will not notice its (or my) bumps, ridges, wrinkles, blemishes, or defects.

... God has been known to “visit the earth” so He can “settle [literally smooth] its ridges” and “soften it with showers.” (He visits me for exactly the same purpose!)

Like the earth, I look good (smooth, beautiful, etc.) from a distance. Up close, you are sure to discover bumpy spots, areas difficult to navigate, some dangerous places, and maybe even features that may cause you to wonder, “What was God thinking?

Thankfully Jesus routinely visits me to ‘smooth out my rough spots,’ ‘soften my hard edges,’ and ‘bless my growth.’
____________

[1] Destination: Moon, James Irwin and Al Janssen, Multnomah, 1989. This book is out of print but you can obtain it from the Washington County Library or perhaps your local library system.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

"Awaken the Dawn"

Psalm 57.8 NIV

“Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.

“I will awaken the dawn.” I love those words. Nothing compares to morning. It’s the best time of the day. There’s no one (except God) to talk to. It’s quiet and peaceful and the ideal time to refresh your soul. 

Jesus was a morning person. He would “awaken the dawn” as Gospel writer Mark recorded…

“In the early morning, while it was still dark, 
Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a
secluded place, and was praying there.”
Mark 1.35 NASU

What prompted the psalmist to roll out of bed commanding himself, “Awake, my soul?” Why did Jesus arise “while it was still dark?” For Jesus, it was prayer. 

David, the author of this psalm, used his early alone time for worship...

“I will awaken the dawn. I will give thanks to You, 
O Lord, among the peoples. I will sing Your praises. 
Be exalted above the heavens, O God;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.”
Psalm 57.8c-9, 11 NASU

I can “awaken the dawn” throughout the day. Every time I recall this special moment, I will try to utter a quiet word of praise to God. Whenever it ‘dawns’ on me to do so, I will talk to Jesus.

Monday, August 05, 2019

"You Thought I was Just Like You"

Psalm 50.21a NASU

“These things you have
done and I kept silence;
you thought I was
just like you. 

I used to be into “spirituality.” I gathered elements from a variety of sacred tradition sources and formed a quasi-religious framework upon which I hung my cherished ideals. The system of theology that evolved was a hodgepodge collection of ever-changing notions about the divine nature of Higher Power and His (or Her) participation in human affairs.

Jesus Christ pierced my pious broad-mindedness with narrow and offensive words like “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14.6). I tried to ignore this Jesus in favor of the more polite version of a Messiah, that is a warm and fuzzy, soft and likable Jesus. The exclusivity expressed in Christ’s self-proclamation was abhorrent to me.

Although I was not an Christ-follower, I considered myself a “spiritual person,” (whatever that means). I was into the pursuit of personal “spirituality,” rather than the biblical Jesus. Jesus was a fascinating historical figure, a man of influence, maybe even a powerful prophet, but certainly not divine. As an enlightened “spiritual” person, I was compelled to assent to the probability that Jesus Christ was one of many ancient and excellent “spiritual” leaders, right up there with Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, and Vishnu. But I somehow missed the all-important point... How could I accept a religious leader and yet reject what he said? Jesus claimed to be the only way to God. I did not like that part. I wanted to remain blissfully ignorant of the fact that Jesus was not “just like me.” He did not fit inside my theological boundaries, nor subscribe to my homegrown theology. It would have made more sense to reject Jesus as a liar or a lunatic than to embrace Him as a renowned prophet who didn’t know what He was talking about!

This obvious contradiction of my personal love-hate affair with Jesus was the by-product of my clamor for meaning. I searched everywhere and forgot to look right under my nose! How did my “spiritual” quest lead me to dismiss two thousand years of orthodox Christian history and doctrine in favor of every whim of religious opinion? I was a child “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4.14). 

The Christians I knew did not help the cause of Christ with their forceful ways and blind allegiance to a book they called God’s Word. I was certain the Bible was an outmoded work of antiquity without meaning or relevance. My brand of “spirituality” was that of my own making. It had to be right because I said so. My god was “just like me.” I created Him in my own image. My belief system was rational, I thought, containing the best elements of many sacred traditions, and was broad enough to include all religious behavior as viable paths to God.

I was proud of my “spirituality.” It felt good and right. The author of “The Message” version of the Bible, Eugene Peterson, well describes my unoriginal and popular spiritual mentality in his 2006 book entitled Eat This Book [1]:

“There are a number of people around who object to the Bible as the authoritative text for our lives on the grounds that it is narrow, constrictive, and imposes a paternalistic worldview on us that we have long outgrown.
“We want a spirituality that is world-embracing, all-experience-encompassing. Our sense of life is huge…. How can we be satisfied to be the people of one book?
“But maybe we are putting the question wrongly. Perhaps we need to ask how we go about entering into a large life: Do we travel the world and pick up artifacts and souvenirs, bring them home and assemble a museum or workshop in which we can be in visual and sensory touch with as much as possible?... Does largeness come by acquisition of a lot of stuff from here and there, or by deepening what is at hand?”

He goes on to describe the Harvard biologist who spent “the summer traveling and made it halfway across his backyard.” I did not have to travel far to find the truth. It was in my own “backyard.” I was surprised to discover there was no such thing as Jesus-free “spirituality.” It was frankly disappointing to learn that God was not “just like me,” nor my devout, all-inclusive ideas about Him. When the Lord peered from heaven to observe my jumbled collection of pious thoughts and “spiritual” pursuits, He must have said…

You thought that I was just like you.”

That was then. Something, or should I say Someone happened. His name is Jesus. I no longer believe God is “just like me.”
______________

[1] Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, Eugene H. Peterson, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006, pp. 44-45.

Friday, August 02, 2019

"Be Here If Here is Where You Want to Be"

Psalm 45.10-11 “The Message”

“Now listen, daughter, don't miss a word: forget your country, put your home behind you. Be here — the king is wild for you. Since he's your lord, adore him.”


Psalm 45 was probably written sometime during Solomon’s forty reign as king of Israel (c.a. 970-930 BC). It describes the beauty of the bride of Solomon and the absolute devotion she offers him. The psalm is reminiscent of the Song of Solomon and its amazingly detailed description of Solomon’s courtship with his gorgeous Shulammite bride. Solomon’s love for his bride is unmistakable as translated by these versions of Psalm 45.11…
“The king longs for your beauty” GWT
“The king is entralled by your beauty” NIV
“So will the king have a great desire for you” BBE
I especially like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this passage in “The Message”...

“The king is wild for you”

The king is nuts about his fianceĆ©. And why not? She’s the woman of his dreams. There’s only one thing this woman of “inward beauty” (Psalm 45.13 CEV) must do. She must “be here” for her king...

“Forget your country, put your home behind you. Be here – the king is wild for you.”

The future queen has a choice. Be wed to the king or remain with her family. A new home or the old one. The choice was hers. Marriage is like that.

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother,
and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”
Genesis 2:24 NASU

You can’t be married to both your spouse and your parents. You must leave one to have the other. You must “be here” if here is where you want to be.

Psalm 45 and the book of Song of Solomon portray accurate historical details about a king and his lovely bride. These sections of Scripture also contain present day application. You are the lovely Shulammite bride. You are beautiful in the eyes of King Jesus. You are His dream come true. He’s literally “wild for you.” You are described in the book of Revelation as “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” who soon will be “made ready… adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21.2). You are the church, the bride of Christ, and the object of His unfathomable and never-ending love. You make Jesus’ heart beat just a little faster.

King Jesus “is wild for you.” Like the bride of Solomon, there’s just one thing you must do... Be here if here with Jesus is where you want to be.