The Final Exam of a Christian

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Psalm 107–Do Tell

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Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story – those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south. (Ps 107:2-3)

The culture that we have developed within the Church puts an emphasis on the shiny, clean you. Reborn, redeemed? Give effusive thanks for that, Christian!

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. (vv8-9)

The psalmist reminds us, however, of the value of recounting the journey prior to redemption. Others benefit directly and indirectly from the journey, from seeing the hills and valleys overcome. They gain a deeper perspective on redemption when they see sin beaten, sin removed, sin forgiven and washed clean. The psalmist tells of the wandering, the failure, the enslavement, the loss and greed—all forgotten by Yahweh in an instant when His people focused their devotion on Him.

Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord. (v43)

Grace and peace to you.

image Lewis & Clark College

Learning to Kneel-One

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;*

imageIf you have ever paddled the quiet waters of a remote lake, gently placing the blades into the water so as not to churn the stillness around you…

If you have ever chanced upon the grandeur of a mountain vista or a verdant valley or the deep crimson of a desert sunset and found yourself quietly absorbing the beauty…

If you have ever held a newborn, warm and taking his first few breaths, and had no words to utter…

… you are familiar with the feelings that overtake you as you truly enter the presence of the Living God.

Many a sanctuary this coming Sunday will be filled, not with awful, prayerful silence overwhelmed by the presence of God, but the noise of a hundred casual conversations that grow slowly louder as more of the brethren enter the room. Bibles will remain closed, guitars will be tuned, and children will play.

As if God will appear at the appointed hour, like the train from Bakersfield, and all we need to do is to be there to meet Him.

Reverence is the first lesson in learning to kneel. This requires a change of attitude and a soul attuned to the Omnipresent God rather than the culturally popular Compartmentalized God. My next post will begin here, unpacking the twin threads of omnipresence and reverence and noting how a heightened awareness of both can radically change our times of worship. This coming Sunday however, enter your sanctuary or meeting room and try sitting quietly, making yourself aware of His enveloping presence. Pray for the service. Pray for the visiting family sitting behind you. Pray a Psalm. See if others follow your lead as the moments tick by toward the first notes of a song. See if your preparation hasn’t brought minutely closer to the throne.

Grace and peace to you.

*Psalm 95:6

image Joshua Conley

Faithfulness Despite Appearances–Fourth Sunday in Advent 2010

imageOur Advent meditations have to do with an event that none of us were present for. The life and death of our Lord passed before our era and, despite numerous predictions, His return has yet to come. Our entire system of faith is rooted in the apologia that supplements our intellect and the discernment provided by the indwelling Spirit who tells us that we can trust in the words recorded long ago. Every Christian since that day at Golgotha has had to trust the beliefs passed from one to another through the centuries. We trust in the work of Christ by faith alone.

Every Christian since that Friday afternoon has lived in a world of chaos. The dimensions of this chaotic environment have varied from era to era and person to person. Many have looked upon the severity of their trials or the universality of evil and pointed to these as proof that God does not exist. Many of us might be tempted to believe them when we see the horrors that man visits upon man or in the death and loss caused by natural events. Disease surrounds us, getting stronger in some cases. Limited resources threaten the existence of many. Pregnant women are run down and left for dead in the intersections of our cities. Evil abounds.

Joseph looked upon his pregnant fiancée tempted to act on appearances. His scriptures provided a way out for him and he loved Mary enough that he planned to divorce her quietly. By all appearances, her story was incredible–almost unbelievable–and yet, at the prompting of an angel, he remains faithful.  He trusts the word of God provided for him, despite outward appearances.

There is subtle encouragement in the angels words to Joseph, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife” (Mt 1:20). God does not command him to stay with Mary. Instead, the angel tells him not to be afraid, that despite what things may seem to be all will turn out well. These words echo for us as well.

This Christmas may not be the best time in your life. You and your family may be facing difficulties. It may be the first holiday without a family member at home. Your faith may be being tested to the very limits of your endurance. Despite appearances, there is reason to celebrate. Christians, you know the end of the story. You know that God has proven faithful to his promises time after time through history and He will continue to be faithful until the end of this history. Trust Him, do not be afraid. Celebrate your Savior.

 

Grace and peace to you.

image by VickyV

Watching the Skies–First Sunday of Advent 2010

imageWhen these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Lk 21:28)

Without the calendar, and especially the Church calendar, we would be hard pressed to know the beginning of Advent. As the commercialization of Christmas has increased, the start of the season has become an artificial demarcation. The start of the ‘holiday season’ creeps further back on the pages of the calendar, with some outlets beginning to display the colors and icons of Christmas around the end of October. Thanksgiving becomes a speed-bump in the path of the gift-rush steamroller.

These false signs have an effect on us. Few are moved to shop anymore simply by the appearance of red and green replacing the oranges, auburns and browns of autumn. Fewer still see these signs as a welcome reminder of the joy of Christmas. Our senses are dulled by the barrage, hardened because of the attempted to deceit,  temporarily blinded by the fast-cut commercials and blinking LED reindeer noses.

Advent is the Church’s reminder of the Kingdom that came and makes it dwelling amongst us. Our reading for this year comes first from Saint Luke. The doctor records the Lord’s insistence that we be ever watchful for signs of the kingdom. He gave the analogy of the trees, say “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.” (vv 29b-30) Likewise, He explained, if we are watchful and knowledgeable about the signs of an impending change in the season of our relationship with Him, we will not be caught unaware.

The world threatens to dull our sensitivity to the signs of the Kingdom. Whether it be God speaking to us through another person, a book or the movement of the leaves in the trees, the noise and busyness of our lives can drown out that quiet voice. Other signs are hidden from us as our vision tires from the constant stream of images we take in, good and bad. Without seeing the signs, our ability to raise our hands in celebration is limited.

Let us quiet our celebration this year. Spend some time looking into the flickering Advent flame rather than the Christmas lights. Reread favorite Scriptures and listen for the voice of God. When we see and hear clearly, our chances of noticing the signs of the Kingdom around us increase tenfold. Seek out and praise the Lord for the intimacy of His presence in your life.

 

Grace and peace to you.

image Per Ola Wilberg

Psalm 89–Love and Faithfulness Go Before You

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O Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David? (Ps 89:50)

Like so many of psalms we have read before this entry, we could easily substitute our own name in place of the king’s. When we enter a season of spiritual winter, or even encounter travail in the otherwise sunny seasons, our tendency is look upward and outward rather than inward, in order to comprehend the perceived lack of love from the Father. Cries of “why are You doing this to me?” fill our prayers and thoughts. We labor to align the ‘promises’ of our faith with dark chasms that we suddenly have to cross. We Christians are prone to disillusionment in far greater percentage than the unbelieving souls around us. 

Perhaps, this is because we have not developed a mature understanding of the promises of God.

Psalm 89 turns on verse 38. After rehearsing the greatness of God and reciting the promises of the covenant made with David, the psalmist points a finger at the sky and speaks aloud his accusations.

But you have reject, you have spurned, you have been very angry with your anointed one.

You have renounced the covenant with your servant and have defiled his crown in the dust. (vv 38-39)

The temerity of the final accusation is fascinating and telling. The crown that God has ‘defiled’ was formed, shaped, adorned, fitted and assigned by Him! It is His crown, only temporarily assigned to a mortal creature and conditionally, at that. The poet fails to include the countless failures and apostasies that God has endured within the kingdom he promised his love to. His expectation is wholly out of line with the covenant agreement and yet, he does not hesitate to ponder out loud why God has ‘failed’ to uphold his end of the bargain.

We will rarely know what greater good our seasons of struggle are intended to for. Our first thoughts should turn inward toward our own sin and breaches of love with God. Is this a time of discipline that is meant for correction? Be a good student and allow the Tutor to reform your heart. If the spirit does not bring sin to mind, search the Scriptures and find all those who struggled through similar circumstances. Their roles, however minor, in the greater span of the Kingdom give us hope that our pain is not wasted. God does and will turn all things for good. Count on that before raising your next accusation to the sky.

 

Grace and peace to you.

image Krystn Palmer

Psalm 88–The Darkness is My Closest Friend

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Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me.

All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me.

You have taken my companions and loved one from me;

the darkness is my closest friend. (Ps 88: 16-18)

The psalter contains numerous pleas for restoration, salvation and redemption but none as bleak as this. The psalmist lives a life, as it were, knowing only the dark side of God’s presence. Unlike Job who once knew a life of blessing, the psalmist here describes a life of pain and affliction from birth to the day he pens this scroll. The tragedy of his life is of such a degree that it is finally responsible for driving away even his loved ones and companions as he lives with one foot constantly at the edge of the grave.

The casual bible reader will quickly sift through these verses, reading forward to find more uplifting passages, but this would be a mistake.

Individual purpose is never easy to discern with our limited mindset. Why God would burden one of his beloved with such difficulty without respite is beyond our ability understand. And yet, we are called by the scriptures to endure, and even find joy in our travail, trusting that our pain and the darkness we inhabit has a larger purpose in His plan. Our response often echoes the despair that rings in these verses.

But I cry to you for help, O Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. 

Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me? (vv 13-14)

This is a familiar frustration, that of the prayer that does not reach its audience. We plead and cry out but silence and pain are the only responses we receive. The Tempter whispers in our ear to surrender, to give up the belief that relief is at hand and to curse the One who visits it upon us. We come close, but we cannot do it. God will redeem this pain and bring light to this darkness. It may not be until we have left this plane, but it will occur. So we continue, like the psalmist, to raise our voice…

I call to you, O Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you. (v9b)

 

Grace and peace to you.

image Ozan Ozan