I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about learning what it means to live locally. This followed after I began to read Zack Eswine’s book, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being. Eswine writes, that we are “merely human and only local.” We forget that only “Jesus is human, but not merely. Jesus is local, but not only” What then are the implications for me (us) if we admit that we are merely human?
This requires a choice. To be merely human means, in contrast to Jesus, that we are not God. Most, if not all of us know this theologically but many of us resist this practically. To be human means that we accept that we have limits. It means we cannot do it all, we cannot know it all and we cannot be everywhere. Eswine’s writing should liberate us, “Being human does not mar greatness; it informs it and sets its noble boundaries.” 351
Sadly for ourselves and for those we live with and minister to, our refusal to accept and live within these limits only creates insurmountable problems, “Trying to be an exception to the human race encourages arrogance among most of us and burnout among many of us.” 246 We have bought into the serpent’s lie in the Garden, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Our grasp for attributes that only belong to God gets us into trouble and in the end prevents us from loving others. Again Eswine nails it, “As ministry leaders we endeavor to give of our lives in such a way that every neighbor we minister to will know that we are not God. The Serpent’s invitation to celebrity, immediate gratification, and using people to advance ourselves as if we are God poisons the air.” 652
We can only be at one place at one time. “We will resist and want to act like we are omnipresent. But he will patiently teach us that as human beings we cannot be, and this admission will glorify God. Others will likewise resist Jesus and want you to be omnipresent. They will use his name to praise or critique you accordingly, but they too will have to learn that only Jesus can be with them wherever they are at all times. This fact is actually good news for them and for us.” 766
We cannot do everything that needs to be done. “Jesus will teach us to live with the things that we can neither control nor fix. We will want to resist Jesus and act as if we are omnipotent, but we will harm others and ourselves when we try. Others will also resist Jesus. Using his name, they will praise or critique us according to their desire that we fix everything for them and that we do it immediately. But they will have to learn too that only Jesus can fix everything and that there are some things Jesus leaves unfixed for his glory.” 771
We are unable to know everyone or everything. “Jesus will teach us to live with ignorance, our own and others’. In other words, we are not omniscient. Jesus will require us to stop pretending that we are. Others will resist Jesus and in his name praise us or critique us on the basis of their estimation of what we should know. They will have to learn that only Jesus knows everything they need; his invitation to faith and to trust in his knowing is a good one.” 777
In what way are you most tempted? Thinking you can do it all? Thinking you can know it all? Thinking you can be everywhere? Eswine asks us, “What do you feel you will lose if you stop pretending in these ways and entrust yourself to Jesus?” 782
While these make great and perhaps entertaining commercials, they mask the reality that most of us are very ordinary and all of us are limited.
We are “merely human and only local.” We forget, says Zack Eswine, that only “Jesus is human, but not merely. Jesus is local, but not only” (Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being). What exactly is Eswine saying? Two things. I must not forget that I am human; I do so to my own peril. And second, I must live locally. I resist both of these truths. To understand what it means to live locally, let me quote more from Eswine.
In the Garden, Eswine writes that God gave us three things,
- We were to love God.
- We were to love each other
- We were to recognize the goodness and sacredness of the place, the creatures, and the things that God had created and to watch over these good things.
And Eswine highlights three core truths that he states are necessary for us to enjoy God,
- God has given you himself to surrender to and love.
- God has given you a handful of persons that you are meant to love.
- God will give you a place to inhabit, which means that you get to become attentive to what is there where you are.
In both of these, the last line about living locally stands out to me.
I have been a missionary for twenty-six years. It has been a good life. I continue to be a missionary but my location will soon be based in the United States, in Texas, in College Station, at Parkway Terrace, at 3514. Why do I find this so hard? I miss my friends and the ministry I had in the Philippines over all these years. But I think it is hard because it has been a long time since I lived locally. Yes, even in the Philippines. I have been coming or going somewhere for most of my life. And now, I find that I must learn to trust God to be present somewhere.
I expect that most missionaries will tell you that the first question people ask him/her when they arrive in their home country is, “When did you arrive?” The second question, “When are you leaving?” Well, I am not leaving anymore. I am struggling
- With a loss of uniqueness, a loss of celebrity that comes with being a foreign missionary
- To understand how someone could attend an aerobics class for ten years
- To build a history with a tennis group that has been together for many years.
- With the loneliness I feel after attending church and I know no one around me and no one speaks to me
- To discover what it means to live in community with a home group
- As I seek to learn how to be a neighbor in our community
I guess I am saying that I have been so globally focused that I do not know how to live locally. I have lived so long with my identity as a missionary that I am afraid of what will happen when people get to know me as a person, apart from my role.
Eswine suggests that in order to make a global difference, we must be present in the local place to which God has called us.
“No matter how great or gifted we are, God invites us to himself for the sake of local people in a local place with the long learning of local knowledge in Jesus until he comes. This means that if you are wearing yourselves out trying to be and do more than this, Jesus is calling you to stop all of this tramping about and come finally home. The great work to be done is right in front of you with the persons and places that his providence has granted you.
Here is where he has called me. Here is where he is working. Here is my post, my place, my life, his glory.”
I need to live by faith as much now as when we lived overseas. Trusting God as I open myself up to others and become a friend to them and allow them to be a friend to me. Trusting God as we build traditions. Trusting God as I learn to care and nourish the roses in our garden and maybe even a tomato or two. Trusting God in the mundane and ordinary. Living life with Him and others in a local place.
Maybe I will even buy a pair of cowboy boots.
As I prepare to speak on 2 Cor 5:21 for this weekend, I have been looking at Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, one of my favorite theology texts. I found a footnote by Grudem that I cite here in full regarding the meaning of Justified.
One sometimes hears the popular explanation that justified means “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned.” The definition is a clever play on words and contains an element of truth (for the justified person, like the person who has never sinned, has no penalty to pay for sin). But the definition is misleading in two other ways because (1) it mentions nothing about the fact that Christ’s righteousness is reckoned to my account when I am justified; to do this it would have to say also “just-as-if-I’d-lived-a-life-of-perfect-righteousness.” (2) But more significantly, it cannot adequately represent the fact that I will never be in a state that is “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned,” because I will always be conscious of the fact that I have sinned and that I am not an innocent person but a guilty person who has been forgiven. This is very different from “just as if I had never sinned”! Moreover, it is different from “just as if I had lived a life of perfect righteousness,” because I will forever know that I have not lived a life of perfect righteousness, but that Christ’s righteousness is given to me by God’s grace.
Therefore both in the forgiveness of sins and in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, my situation is far different from what it would be if I had never sinned and had lived a perfectly righteous life. For all eternity I will remember that I am a forgiven sinner and that my righteousness is not based on my own merit, but on the grace of God in the saving work of Jesus Christ. None of that rich teaching at the heart of the gospel will be understood by those who are encouraged to go through their lives thinking “justified” means “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned.
I appreciate Dr. Grudem’s comments here. God has done much more for us than any wording can possibly explain and as long as we live here on the earth, we continue to be aware of our need for his applied payment for our sin and his applied righteousness in our life!
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:8–12 ESV)
If you have been in ministry, whether in your local church or in an overseas context, you will know that ministry can be discouraging. We can be tempted to give up or to use a Pauline phrase, “to lose heart.” Paul says he does not lose heart in 2 Corinthians 4:1 because he remembers that the ministry that he has been given is because of the mercy of God.
The Message provides an insightful wording of the verse, “Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times.” I am sure that some of you, like me think, “occasional” hard times? But remember Paul’s perspective later in 2 Cor 4:17 when he calls his struggles, “momentary light afflictions” compared with the “eternal weight of glory.”
Back to 2 Cor 4:1. Paul says we have this ministry because we have received mercy. You and I are not in ministry because we went to Seminary, because we volunteered, because we have been faithful, because we are at the right place at the right time. We are in ministry because we have received mercy from God. In other words, it is not about us, it is all about God! That is why Paul says “For what we proclaim is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor 4:5). He initiated things and continues to take the initiative with us. We are able to love God and others only because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). That is good to remember when we get tired and feel like we are the ones who seem to always being the initiator in ministry and in relationships.
Ministry is tough even at the best of times and we will be tempted at times to give up. But when we remember that we are in ministry only because we have been shown mercy, maybe we will remember that there is a world out there that is in desperate need of this same mercy and grace and we will keep going. Again, Paul says it best in verse 6, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” As we have been shown light, may we be light bearers to others.
Question: What is discouraging you about ministry today? Meditate upon the mercy shown to you by God that enables you to be in ministry.
If you are like me, you like your coffee hot! And, should I get distracted for a few minutes and take a sip and find that my coffee is lukewarm, there is nothing to be done except to toss it out and start over! To be honest, I do sometimes reheat lukewarm coffee in a microwave. Hot coffee or cold (iced) coffee but never lukewarm coffee. In the same way, John writes and Jesus says in Revelation 3 that there is no place for a lukewarm Church or a lukewarm Christian.
In my first post on the topic, I gave some biblical background on the words for lukewarm, hot and cold and gave the first four descriptions of Lukewarm Christians that Francis Chan provides in his book, Crazy Love. In working on this post, I found some other goodies. Darrell Fusaro gave me permission to use his cartoon on how to keep your coffee hot. I found a site called lukewarm coffee and a hilarious and much tongue-in-cheek article called Coffee as a Means of Grace by Michael Svigel–who just happens to be the author of RetroChristianity, a book I have just begun reading. I am glad to say, much good has come out of these reflections on Lukewarm Coffee whereas as you will see, Chan leaves no room for escape for those of us who fall into the Lukewarm Christian camp–no escape except for a fleeing into the arms of the Lord Jesus. Numbers that follow are from the kindle numbering system
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act. 1376
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE rarely share their faith with their neighbors, coworkers, or friends. They do not want to be rejected, nor do they want to make people uncomfortable by talking about private issues like religion. 1394
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE gauge their morality or “goodness” by comparing themselves to the secular world. 1404
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE say they love Jesus, and He is, indeed, a part of their lives. But only a part. They give Him a section of their time, their money, and their thoughts, but He isn’t allowed to control their lives. 1415
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE love God, but they do not love Him with all their heart, soul, and strength. They say that “total devotion isn’t really possible for the average person; it’s only for pastors and missionaries and radicals.” 1431, 1436
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE love others but do not seek to love others as much as they love themselves. 1442
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE will serve God and others, but there are limits to how far they will go or how much time, money, and energy they are willing to give. 1469
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE think about life on earth much more often than eternity in heaven. 1483
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE are thankful for their luxuries and comforts, and rarely consider trying to give as much as possible to the poor. 1503
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE do whatever is necessary to keep themselves from feeling too guilty. 1523
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE are continually concerned with playing it safe; they are slaves to the god of control. This focus on safe living keeps them from sacrificing and risking for God. 1547
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE feel secure because they attend church, made a profession of faith at age twelve, were baptized, come from a Christian family, vote Republican, or live in America. 1562
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to. Their lives wouldn’t look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God. 1579, 1588
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE probably drink and swear less than average, but besides that, they really aren’t very different from your typical unbeliever. They equate their partially sanitized lives with holiness, but they couldn’t be more wrong. 1601
How easy it is to become lukewarm and to be unaware of it! We do not realize that we have become lukewarm any more than we are aware that our coffee has grown lukewarm until we taste it. And just as I want to do with lukewarm coffee (throw it out), Jesus says he wants to spit out lukewarm Christians. I think Francis Chan, in his book Crazy Love, writes words that would make Jesus proud, “Lukewarm living and claiming Christ’s name simultaneously is utterly disgusting to God. And when we are honest, we have to admit that it isn’t very fulfilling or joyful to us, either.” Chan goes on to say that he sees the term lukewarm Christian to be an oxymoron; “there’s no such thing.” But clearly Jesus identifies a church as lukewarm.
Jesus accused the church of Laodicea of being lukewarm, one of the harshest statements he makes to any group of people (except maybe his woe statements to the Pharisees about their hypocrisy in Matthew 23. They were neither psuchros (cold) nor zestos (hot) but chiliaros (lukewarm). These words (along with words from the root therm-), described the literal environment (cold water (Mtt 10:42; people warming themselves when it was cold outside (Jn 18:18, Acts 28:2, 2 Cor 11:27; Mark 14:54) and people needing to be warmed by food and clothing (James 2:16)
More interesting is when these words are used metaphorically. Jesus refers to a period of time when love (for God) would grow cold when lawlessness increases (Mtt 24:12). Apollos was known to be fervent in spirit (literally boiling in spirit) and using the same phrase, Paul exhorts all believers to be fervent in spirit and not slothful in zeal (Rom 12:11). So, it is not surprising that Jesus used the word lukewarm (likely a reference to the lukewarm waters being piped into Laodicea that caused people to throw up) to rebuke a people, a church that was ineffective, whose self-trust and wealth had blinded them to the desperate nature of their reality.
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Rev 3:15-17
The only solution for them was repentance and opening a metaphorical door to Jesus so that they would know the presence of Jesus in their lives and church.
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Rev 3:19-20
Chan admits that it is the people who know they are lukewarm and don’t care that scare him the most. On the other hand, if being lukewarm is a condition that gradually creeps up on us, perhaps the following statements by Chan will shock some of us into realizing that action is required if we are to continue to follow our first love. If you see yourself in some of these statements, as I have, may God graciously lead us into repentance so that we may open wide the doors of our lives and know His freedom and vitality once again. The numbers following provide the kindle reference.
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE attend church fairly regularly. It is what is expected of them, what they believe “good Christians” do, so they go. 1318
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE give money to charity and to the church … as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living. 1328
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE tend to choose what is popular over what is right when they are in conflict. 1345
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin. 1362
More of Chan’s statements in the part 2 post
Fellowship with Jesus enables me to enjoy my relationship with Jesus.
According to Dave Anderson, God gave us 1 John to “show us how to have intimacy after the fall.” As he says in the first chapter of his book, Maximum Joy, “the security of being loved leads to a recognition of our significance.” According to Anderson, 1 John focuses not on relationship but on fellowship. Not that relationship is not mentioned–it is! But relationship is a secondary theme in 1 John unlike the book of John in which relationship is the major thrust (John 1-12; 18-21) and fellowship is the secondary theme (John 13-17).
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—” (1 John 1:1 ESV)
Anderson suggests that 1 John 1:1 is revealing the Magnetic Messiah in which the author shows us the progression of getting closer and closer to Jesus physically as a metaphor for spiritual truth. Hear—See—Look—Touch! Jesus is drawing us closer and closer to himself.
As believers in Jesus Christ, God has introduced or led us into a relationship with Jesus, a relationship that is secure (John 5:24-25), a relationship that is permanent since we have been adopted by Him as sons and daughters (John 10: 27-30; Rom 8″14-17). But, as Anderson says, “to enjoy that relationship, you need His fellowship.”
How marvelous that God pursues us! Again, Anderson writes, “The marvel is that He could actually know what is inside of me and still want to pursue me and use His magnetic power to draw me closer and love me for who I am, not because of what I can do or have done, but love me simply for my essence and my being.”
Psalm 23 has helped me (and many others) cope with and survive great loss. Over the last few weeks of a schedule full of transitions and very little Bible reading, I have managed to survive by meditating on Psalm 23.
In verse one, I discover, “Yahweh, you are my shepherd and I lack nothing.”
YAHWEH—He is the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. He is faithful, all-powerful and awesome! When he revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 3, His holiness stands out (see also Heb 12 and Isaiah 6). This holy one is the God with whom we have to face and the very same one who invites us into a relationship of intimacy!
IS—He is the Great I AM of Exodus 3 and John 8:58 and John 18:5-6. He is present with me. My relationship with him is one that is ongoing and full of life! He is with me moment by moment. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow (Heb 13:8) and will never leave me nor forsake me (Heb 13:5).
MY SHEPHERD—Unbelievable that he could be MY shepherd. He cares for me. He protects me. He guides and leads me. He knows my name and He is good (John 10:3, 11).
I LACK NOTHING—I can be content with what He provides; with what I have. I can be grateful. I have no reason to complain or be envious or covet what others have. I lack nothing that I need. Perhaps there are things that I would want but if I needed them, I can trust that my good shepherd would give them to me.
Yahweh, You are my good shepherd and I lack nothing!
Admittedly, I am getting older but I am not the only one! My daughter, at age 25, moaned about how her college and career group at church changed when the young college age group arrived for the summer. My son, soon to be 29, exclaimed how he was the oldest one in a recent church sponsored meeting for young adults and his wife regretted that at 33, she was too old to join him. Back in the United States for a four week leave, I am having to work out hard at the gym to avoid adding unwanted pounds and an expanded waist size. At 57, I generally feel pretty good and still play a fairly aggressive game of tennis but working out at the local Y makes me aware of my age—even more so at the sports facility at Texas A & M University.
But, along with grey hair and skin that proclaims my age, I am grateful for all that I have learned along the way. An article by Holly Steinbrecher, “Tapping into 10,000 years of wisdom on successful aging” in the Houston Chronicle, reaffirmed that I and those farther down the road have acquired wisdom that the younger groups might benefit from. This reminds me of an article by David Brooks, writing about “The Follower Problem” in which one younger reader bewailed in the comment section how he had missed tapping into the wisdom of older generations, “As a young person, I’ve found very few adults willing to mentor me, to invest in my own personal development.” I have heard his comment before and have personally experienced this problem in my earlier missionary years. I would hope that I have been more available to our younger leaders myself but I also recognize that I need to be more intentional about mentoring the next generations.
Steinbrecher concludes her article putting the impetus back on us to pursue our elders and their wisdom when she challenges us to spend “some time with someone who is aging successfully.”
What wisdom do the centenarians have to teach us? Steinbrecher tantalizes us with three choice nuggets.
1. The clichés might actually be true. Move it or lose it. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. A majority of centenarians say they’re exercising daily, more than 80 percent say they’re eating balanced meals every day, . . . and centenarians are nearly twice as likely to get at least eight hours of sleep every night.
2. It’s all about making a connection.
3. Look to the future.
We will need to invest time and energy to pursue the wisdom of those with advanced years and to invest in mentoring those younger than us but it will be worth it. How will you invest your life today?
Psalm 51:3 “I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.”
Ah yes, I know but do I admit I know! There are few occasions when I sin that am unaware of what I am doing. Not that I don’t have my blind spots. But most of the time I know what I should do when I don’t and I know when I don’t do what I should do! I am trying to be honest here but I am struggling to put this in words. What does this reveal about me or reveal about sin and my avoidance of it?
Honesty is what is needed, brutal honesty, an admission of my own wrongness, an admission that I have sinned against God and against others.
I think I do okay when I am confronted with my sin–I understand God’s forgiveness and know how to appeal to him to appropriate his grace and mercy but my greatest issue seems to be recognizing when I have sinned, that i am wrong. Why is that?
Is it because I have isolated myself and need more community? Well that would help but I can still deceive others and myself. A few things that keep me from recognizing my sin:
1. Pride–I expect that everything flows from this sin. Pride keeps me hiding my head in the sand with regard to my sin.
2. My pursuit of comfort and relief from pain keeps me dishonest about the way things are within.
3. Fear and shame keep me dishonest and in denial. Somehow shame whispers to me to push aside the dis-ease I feel inside and hide. Busyness is a one of the prime tools that I use to avoid dealing with the inner dark realities. Noise in my life is another way I avoid dealing with stuff.
4. Continued exposure to God’s word. How faithful is God to speak to me in his word and through other people–his church. He speaks straight into the heart of my self-deception–if only I will listen. Open my eyes and my heart Lord and give me courage to face the darkness within.
And so, it is no wonder that silence and solitude are wonderful gifts that God has given to me (us). In silence and solitude, it is difficult for me not to be uncovered. I must admit to God in the stillness and silence the true state of my soul. I have no place to hide in the desert.
What keeps you from an honesty about your own darkness? And how have you experienced the grace of God in this journey?
Genesis 3:1 “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field”
Assuming that the serpent is a figure of the devil–perhaps a big assumption, I am foolish if I expect that I am going to win a head to head battle against him on my own (I have been watching too much tennis lately). He and his evil companions are crafty, sly, deceitful, liars and they hate God and all of us who call upon His name. Although the imagery of him as a roaring lion in 1 Peter 5 warns me of his danger–he really does want to maim, kill and eat me up!
But the serpent’s slyness should warn me that his attacks are rarely frontal assaults. His normal attack
is by the use of deception and this holds true in the Genesis 3 story. With Eve, he creates doubt–”has God really said?” He whispers lies so that others cannot hear (did Adam hear the conversation?). He tries to isolate me from others.
The evil one preys on those who don’t know God’s word or who know it incompletely. If we misunderstand God’s word either by neglecting something or by adding to God’s commands, as did Eve when she said that God told them not to touch the tree, then Satan will either entice us to sin in a direct way contrary to the word we do not know or he will lead us into the bondage of legalism. He contradicts God’s word.
When we are weak and vulnerable, when we are facing loss, these seem to be the times w
hen the evil one suggests we should question the goodness of god. When we begin to think that God may be witholding something that is good for us, we should expect that the tempter is behind these wrong thoughts. So, when God’s goodness is in doubt and I am not sure what God’s word says to do, I am vulnerable to the evil one’s temptation. Temptation seems to offer relief or comfort or power or control but it does so apart from the will of God.
I need to be aware of my vulnerabilities. I need to keep reminding myself of the goodness of God (Psalm 103) and I need to be aware of the deceptive and sly strategies of the evil one. And I need to remember that with every temptation, God provides me with a way of escape (1 Cor 10:13).
You and I are made for praise. We function at our best when we are grateful and when we honor our creator, the one known as Yahweh to the nation of Israel. As I reflected on the first six verses of Psalm 103 today, I felt the longing to praise Yahweh. I am designed; I have a need bless the LORD. Is this a flaw of the designer, that I do not function well, that I am not at my best when I fail to allow praise to flow forth from my lips and from my life?
Actually, I think it is more of a case that praise naturally bubbles forth, erupts out of a heart that is owned or possessed by God. The natural disposition of a life belonging to God will be one of honor and gratefulness to the One in whom we live and breathe and move.
All our longings are but echoes or remnants of this built-in demand that we have to give our Creator His rightful praise.
He forgives all our (my) iniquity.
He heals all our (my) diseases.
He redeems our (my) life from the pit (a hint of the resurrection to come?)
He crowns us (me) with mercy and goodness
And so, it is no wonder that we are daily renewed. Our inner person is daily being transformed and renewed as we reflect upon and praise His beauty and goodness.
Yes, Bless the LORD, oh my soul and all that is within me, Bless His Holy Name!
During a devotional time, the other week, someone read something from Charles Swindoll about obscurity. After being in a meeting last night when everyone was sharing about how significant their ministry was, I needed to look up Swindoll’s comments. I know it is supposed to be all about God and not all about me. I really have learned a lot about giving up control but after listening to all the stories and feeling like my own did not measure up, I realize that God is not finished with me yet!
Swindolll was reflecting on Exodus 2:21-22 when Moses wife, Zipporah gave birth to Gershom. Her name would reflect the journey and descent of Moses from the paths of power and royalty to that of a sojourner who was, according to Swindoll, “in a distant land, forgotten and obscure.” Swindoll asks, “Let me ask you directly: Are you willing to be obscure? A servant’s mind-set will teach you what that attitude is all about.”
I think when I first heard this a few weeks ago, I realized that maybe I am not yet satisified with a life and ministry of obscurity.
Swindoll concludes his reflection with the following:
“Moses was willing to be obscure, to dwell apart from the limelight, to accept his new status. I ask again: Are you? God will use failure in your life to break down that strong desire in your heart to see your name in lights. And when He finally breaks you of that lust for recognition, He may place you before the lights like you could never have imagined. But then it won’t matter. You won’t care if you’re prime time or small time, center stage or back stage, leading the charge or cooking the food. You’re just part of the King’s army. People of selfless dedication are mainly available. That’s plenty.”
“Tender words to the tired heart” is how Max Lucado describes the story. After reading posts last week by Max Lucado and Eugene Peterson, (actually excerpts from previous books) I finally had time to look at this story of grace for the exhausted found in 1 Samuel 30.
Not a story of strength and power and training like in Men of Valor. It’s a story about broken men, weak and tired, unable to do what we (and their companions) expected of them. “As Lucado writes, How tired does a person have to be to abandon the hunt for his own family?”
But a story of grace for the exhausted. I know many of you understand this exhaustion. An exhaustion that I have much more experience with this year I would have chosen. An exhaustion that is no sparer of person nor of calling.
Two hundred men left at Brook Besor, too exhausted (stressed out ? to use a modern day term), to pursue the men (Amalekites) who had kidnapped their wives and children (30:10). While the 200 are reduced to being supply guards, David continues pursuit along with 400 others. David succeeded in recovering everything and everyone that had been taken (30:18) just as the Lord had promised success (30:10). David declared plunder was to be equally shared between those who fought in the battle and those who guarded the supplies (30:24, much to the disgust of evil men and trouble makes among his group (30:22). David’s reasoning–our victory was of grace, God has given it all to us (30:23), why not share?
Peterson comments about the final scene:
Just then David stepped in. His intervention is the climax to the story. David intervened at the Brook Besor, and his intervention is pure gospel. David ruled that everybody at the brook that day — the two hundred who had been unable to continue and had been given the undramatic, behind-the-scenes work of watching over the supplies at the brook 1 Sam. 30:24) and the four hundred who had fought for their lives — were equals and would share everything equally: “Everything we have is a gift from God; we share it with all who are saved by God” (1 Sam. 30:23-25).
The ringleaders of the “fairness” policy are called “wicked and base fellows” (1 Sam. 30:22). Strong words, it would seem, for what sounds like common sense and plain justice. Until we remember who these people are and where they are: these are the men of Ziklag with nothing in their backgrounds to be proud of, all of them picked up from a disreputable life and brought, through no merit of their own, into the net of God’s providence and salvation. And the Amalekite chase itself? They had started out wanting to kill David, and only through David’s prayer with Abiathar and their desert hospitality to the Egyptian had they gotten their families back
Everything they experienced was sheer grace. How could they talk about dividing things up fairly? God was treating them with marvellous and generous grace; David would see to it that they treated one another with marvellous and generous grace.
David at the Brook Besor anticipates Jesus: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matt. 11:28-30, The Message).
At the end of his post, Lucado writes about how in the church we have men (and women) who are exhausted like the men left behind at the Brook Besor.
The church has its quorum of such folks. Good people. Godly people. Only hours or years ago they marched with deep resolve. But now fatigue consumes them. They’re exhausted. So beat-up and worn down that they can’t summon the strength to save their own flesh and blood. Old age has sucked their oxygen. Or maybe it was a deflating string of defeats. Divorce can leave you at the brook. Addiction can as well. Whatever the reason, the church has its share of people who just sit and rest.
And the church must decide. What do we do with the Brook Besor people? Berate them? Shame them? Give them a rest but measure the minutes? Or do we do what David did? David let them stay.
Lucado provides life giving words to us all when we are exhausted.
If you are listed among them, here is what you need to know: it’s okay to rest. Jesus is your David. He fights when you cannot. He goes where you cannot. He’s not angry if you sit. Did he not invite, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest” (Mark 6:31 MSG)?
Brook Besor blesses rest.
Brook Besor also cautions against arrogance. David knew the victory was a gift. Let’s remember the same. Salvation comes like the Egyptian in the desert, a delightful surprise on the path. Unearned. Undeserved. Who are the strong to criticize the tired?
Are you weary? Catch your breath. We need your strength.
Are you strong? Reserve passing judgment on the tired. Odds are, you’ll need to plop down yourself. And when you do, Brook Besor is a good story to know.
Fascinating talk about creativity by Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like An Artist.
More from chapter six in Gerald Sittser’s Water from a Deep Well. Sittser is writing about the Sacraments of the Middle Ages.
What is the purpose of the sacraments?
The sacraments are a source of genuine spiritual life and an objective means of grace. The tangible, concrete, material nature of the sacraments reminds us of the reality of Christ’s saving work. The sacraments join material and spiritual together into a seamless whole, just as the incarnation does. They are windows that allow us to gaze into another world and receive the grace that pours from that world into ours. 144
How the sacraments reflect the gospel
The incarnation alters the way Christians should view the spiritual purpose of the material. . . In Christ God and humanity come together in a seamless whole. God takes on materiality, the material is united with the divine; God becomes a man, a man embodies God; God embraces humanity, humanity surrenders to God. 147
The sacraments are symbols of the ongoing presence of the material Christ who lived, suffered and died for our sake. 160
Mystery of the sacraments
How God uses the sacraments as a means of grace remains a mystery. That God commands us to receive them and offers us grace through them is God’s promise. We live in the tension between the mystery and the promise. 147
The sacraments teach us that grace comes to us as an objective reality. . . The Bible does not tell us how the sacraments actually communicate grace, only that they do. It is all a mystery. 160
How the sacraments help us understand the church
When the church is functioning at its best, it communicates the grace and love and power of God so completely that the faithful are enabled to live for God wherever they are, and thus to claim the “secular” world—theaters, bowling alleys, schools, businesses, neighborhoods for God’s Kingdom purposes. At its worst, it does the opposite; the secular world encroaches on the church until it finally takes over. 159
In the Christian faith the spiritual and material are mysteriously, perfectly and ultimately united in Christ, in the sacraments, and in God’s plan of redemption.
Speaking about taking communion in his church, Sittser writes, “We have nothing to say but a word of thanks, nothing to claim but mercy, nothing to pay for the grace that is lavished on us.” 161
Sacraments have the power to transform us into living sacraments to the world.
The medieval church was a sacramental church; the sacraments were the primary means by which believers came to know and experience God. 143
Sittser opens up his chapter talking about the Gothic buildings, saying that they “depict in material form the spiritual reality of heaven.” 142
Stained glass became the ideal symbol of the Gothic vision of reality because it is the one artistic medium that allows light to shine through it, which creates the conditions for luminosity. Thus, if harmonious proportions manifested the perfect order of heaven, then luminosity reflected the light of God shining into the dark world of fallen humanity. 142
Gothic cathedrals were constructed to direct attention to the altar, the place where the sacraments . . . were administered to the believing community. 143
The cathedral . . . provided the place and the sacraments the means by which God blessed his people with grace. . . Cathedrals were designed to convey the sacredness and power of the sacraments themselves. They became like a holy ship that would carry believers to salvation. 143
As a result, “the faith of the Middle Ages became increasingly tangible and concrete, and thus accessible to people whose world teetered on the edge of chaos.” 144
The church used tangible things to lead people to the reality of the gospel . . . 144
Speaking about the two fundamental qualities of the Gothic cathedrals, Sittser applies them to believers today when he writes,
Harmonious proportion has to do with how we order our lives under God’s will and rule. We put first things first, live according to proper priorities, channel our resources toward worthy ends, and hallow the world as God’s good creation. Luminosity in turn has to do with how we let God’s light shine through us. . . . We were created to be like stained glass windows, luminous and resplendent, manifesting the beauty and holiness and love of God. . . God calls us, as people redeemed by Christ, to reveal the divine glory to a fallen, desperate world. 161-2
My wife wrote the following excellent devotional this morning. Enjoy!
The writer to the Hebrews tells us to “draw near [with confidence] to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Here are 7 observations to encourage us to persevere in our practice of prayer.
- Drawing near means actively coming before God. If we were to enter the throne room of a king, we would have to deliberately and physically bring our bodies before the king because we had a request to make of him. I can’t say how many times I lament my ineffective prayer life without failing to see how many times I fail to physically bring my body before God in prayer.
2. Drawing near with confidenceis no small matter. For subjects of the kings of old, to approach the throne without being summoned was to invite certain death. You may recall Queen Esther’s boldness: “I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). Of course, Esther’s confidence came from her trust in the sovereignty of God over life and death, and our confidence comes because we rest in the advocacy of a great High Priest who is perfect and is sovereign over life and death.
3. Drawing near with confidence to the throne means drawing near a throne. Where God is seated. God. Who created and upholds all things by the power of His word. And we are approaching His throne to stand in the immediacy of His glory-filled presence, and all of His attention is on our lips to hear a request He already knows. This is stunning.
4. Drawing near with confidence to the throne of grace means this throne is unlike any other kind of throne. Many kings have been vicious tyrants; some others have been benefactors. But there is no throne upon which a mortal king has sat that can be called a throne of grace. Our God is so bent towards grace that He seats Himself upon it and surrounds Himself by it. His throne alone is a throne of grace.
5. Drawing near with confidence to the throne of grace to receive mercy may seem a paradox. A guilty man coming before a king to beg for mercy does not come with confidence; he comes with wobbly knees and a trembling voice. But the promise we have in drawing near the throne of grace with the advocacy of our perfect High Priest allows us the freedom to expect mercy when we come.
6. Drawing near with confidence to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace means the God who seats himself upon a throne of grace offers grace to us as well. He is the source of this grace but does not hoard it. He means not only to give us grace but for us to find it as well. When we seek at the throne of grace, we find what we are seeking.
7. Drawing near with confidence to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need means the grace we find when we approach the throne of God, with confidence, finding mercy, is the kind of grace that is meant to help us. His grace not only forgives; it enables. It not only absolves sin; it sustains. And this kind of grace is the kind of grace that addresses all kinds of needs because it is a grace from a God who is sovereign over all things.
Praise God for the instruction of his word and the patience with which He teaches us! And let us continue to practice prayer, with steadfastness and perseverance, because we serve a great Coach and a mighty King who invites us to enter His throne room with confidence wrought by faith in the God-man who perfected prayer: Jesus.
Thinking a few weeks ago with a group about what missionaries need if they are to last in the ministry. We all agreed that most evangelicals lack an adequate theology of suffering. I don’t think this is limited to any one age group or generation but the younger generation may be facing an even more fundamental challenge–that of dealing with rejection.
Heard this quote when I was watching Castle (Season 4, Episode 3) last night.
“Rejection is not failure. Failure is giving up. Everybody gets rejected. How you handle it determines where you end up.”
And then I read Mickey Goodman’s article, “Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids.” She quotes Tim Elmore,
“We are consumed with protecting them instead of preparing them for the future. We haven’t let them fall, fail and fear. The problem is that if they don’t take risks early on like climbing the monkey bars and possibly falling off, they are fearful of every new endeavor at age 29.”
Here are a few uncomfortable solutions to the problem that Goodman and Elmore suggests
- We need to let our kids fail at 12–which is far better than at age 42
- Kids need to align their dreams with their gifts
- Allow them to get into trouble and accept the consequences.
- Balance autonomy with responsibility.
A favorite song of many evangelicals is the popular (Don Moen?) song, “God is Good.” Well, that is partially right but may tends to ignore the harsh realities of life. Randy Stonehill’s song, Life is Tough, God is Good, might be closer to the whole truth. Enjoy the following version.