God's Presence

Posted 8/18/2019

Thanks to TV, we get to see some of the devastation natural disasters bring. Seeing such devastation, however, isn’t like living through it. What we see on the TV today is gone from our thoughts tomorrow. For those living through a disaster, however, the devastation goes on for months or even years.

It wasn’t simply a natural disaster on a huge scale that was on the psalmist’s mind when he wrote Psalm 46. It was the disaster to end all disasters — the end of everything. As the psalmist looked around his world, he saw a world headed toward the disaster of disasters — the final disaster.

He saw this in the natural disasters of his day. In those disasters the created world seemed to be going back into the chaos that preceded creation. Certainly, natural disasters today carry that same kind of undertone. He also saw “the end of the world” in the disasters of war — in the threats that his nation would be conquered. Certainly the pictures on our TVs indicate that war is a disaster that creates disaster zones.

But these massive disasters were simply that for the psalmist. They were the extremes of the disasters God’s people faced in their life. And they presented a lesson of faith in the eyes of the psalmist. If God could be trusted in the midst of natural disasters and war, certainly God could be trusted in the midst of the relatively lesser disasters that strike our lives. 

Yes, the psalmist knew there is a river that makes glad — the presence of God that gladdens our hearts and sustains our lives even in the midst of disaster.

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We Are in God's Hands

Posted 8/11/2019

Our times are in Thy hands; O Lord we wish them there; Our lives, our souls, our all, we leave Entirely to Thy care.” So begins a hymn that speaks of trust in God at all times and in every circumstance of life. But such trust doesn’t always come easily. Trust like this comes from remembering the goodness of God poured out into our lives over the years. Trust like this comes from remembering Jesus, whose trust in God didn’t waver, even on the cross.

I love the way this hymn puts the reality of a Christian’s trust in God. “Our times are in Thy hands; Whatever they may be; Pleasing or painful, dark or bright, As best may seem to Thee.” The truth of our faith is we dare to trust in God even in the dark times — especially in the dark times.

And we dare this trust because, “Our times are in Thy hands; Jesus, the Crucified, Whose hand our many sins have pierced, Is now our guard and guide.” It isn’t simply the reality of God’s faithfulness which we have experienced throughout our lives, nor  even the remembrance of God’s faithfulness to God’s people over the years that leads us to trust. It is the reality of Jesus’ love that leads us to trust our lives to God.

And that trust is a simple one: That our times are in God’s hand. That is, that God is the one in control. That whatever happens, it cannot undo God’s loving desires for our lives. That we are safely, securely, permanently held in God’s hands.

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Lament

Posted 8/4/2019

The mystics speak of “the dark night of the soul.” This is an experience of God’s absence — something that happens to many faithful followers of Jesus. However, the dark night is not just a sense of God not being with me right now; it is an experience of God’s absence for such long periods of time that the soul becomes dry and parched and faith begins to feel brittle. 

As I indicated, many Christians will experience some sense of God’s absence. And there are, no doubt, also many who also experience the kind of absence of God in their lives that can be described as the dark night of the soul. 

Biblical laments express this experience of God’s absence or God’s failure to act to uphold justice and righteousness. Laments often express this experience in very vivid terms. Psalm 63 describes it as the kind of thirst one has in a desert where there is no water to be found.

Yet if laments vividly express the experience of God’s absence, they also express a deep confidence in God rooted in the knowledge God has acted in the past. At their heart, laments are calls for God to act again. 

May the laments of the psalmist become a model for your own lament when you find yourself walking in a spiritual desert where there is no water. May their cries to God and their words of confidence uphold your heart when the water of God’s love seems far away.

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All I Need

Posted 7/28/2019

I have everything I really need. In fact I have an abundance of what I need — more than enough food, a closet full of clothes, a house larger than is absolutely necessary for a single person to live in relative comfort. God has provided abundantly for me. And God has provided abundantly for each and every one of us. The psalmist is well aware of this as he writes in Psalm 23, “I shall not want.” Such abundance calls for thanksgiving on our part.

Yet if we have been abundantly provided for, we also know we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Life has its moments of fear, uncertainty and pain. The psalmist knows not only that he had been abundantly cared for, but also that he will face times of grief and fear. In such times, however, he knows he can trust God. God walks with him into the dark valley. Even there, God protects him with a shepherd’s “rod and staff.” God doesn’t leave the psalmist — or us — alone in his fears or in the dark places in life.

The good news of the gospel is God doesn’t leave us alone. In fact, God has come among us and lived as one of us. God walks with us down the dusty roads and winding paths of our lives. God is with us in the dark valleys, not just when we are lying comfortably in the pleasant pastures. In Jesus, God has walked the paths we walk — even the path of “the valley of death.” We are not left alone; we can trust the God who is with us through every circumstance of our lives.

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Our Help

Posted 7/21/2019

Life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes we feel like we’re on top of the world. Other times it feels more like the weight of the world rests on our shoulders. There is a saying that goes “When life gets tough, the tough get going.”

The Scriptures, however, suggest another way of responding to the tough times and rough patches in life. They suggest trust in God. When life gets hard, Scripture says, God is still with us, caring for us, keeping us.

In Psalm 121, the psalmist doesn’t just say that God is with us; he asserts that God keeps us. We should notice that there is a difference between having and keeping. To have something is to possess it. To keep something is to acknowledge it is precious to us.

When life gets tough, the psalmists suggests that it is God’s care and keeping that enable us to get through. The psalmist knew he could rely upon the God who created heaven and earth to care about his life. The psalmist knew God was with him in all his comings and goings. 

That is the great assurance we have in all the ups and especially in the downs of life. God is with us. We are God’s beloved children. God goes with us in all our comings and goings — no matter where our life’s journey may lead. 

The psalmist asks where his help comes from — and he declares the answer, “The Lord!” The Lord is our help as well, this day and forevermore.

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Neighbors?

Posted 7/14/2019

Who is my neighbor? In our communities — even rural ones like we live in — this is increasingly a question that gets asked. Even in our smallest communities we find ourselves not knowing who our neighbor is. The days of knowing the names of everyone who lives on your street seem long gone. All too often we don’t even know the name of the family who lives right next door. 

The Pharisee’s question to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” was about more than just knowing someone’s name. It was about who do I need to help. And, to be honest, there is a certain logic to his question. If I am to love my neighbor, I have to know who my neighbor is, right? Maybe it isn’t necessary to know my neighbor’s name, but I have to know who is “in” and who is “out” when it comes to being a neighbor.

But Jesus takes the Pharisee’s question and turns it in a whole different way. He turns his question into “Who was a neighbor?” Jesus tells us the question we need to ask ourselves isn’t “Am I somehow responsible for helping this person?” It is “Who is in need of my help?” Jesus sets no limits on who might be our neighbor — that is no limits other than being in need.

That goes against so much of the thinking of our world which asks questions like: If I don’t really know the person, I’m not responsible for helping them, am I? If they aren’t from my community, I’m not responsible for helping them, am I? If they aren’t folk who are really trying to help themselves, I’m not responsible for helping them, am I? 

Jesus says all these questions miss the point. The point is, who is it that needs my help right now? The real question Jesus wants us to answer is this: will I act the neighbor?

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Spirits

Posted 6/23/2019

When I lived in Zambia, I had a student threaten to have his witchdoctor father put a curse on me. When I was living among Alaskan Eskimos, I had more than one experience where I was told shamanistic spirits were present in the building. I confess, I never saw the spirits that others saw; but I did come to know that evil spirits are real. I may not have seen them, but I felt their presence — both in Zambia and Alaska. 

I realize saying this may lead some people to dismiss me — after all, in our “modern” minds such spirits aren’t real. Or are they? Is it possible that our dismissal of spirits means we can’t see what is in front of us? Is it possible that we actually give other names to spirits? Is it possible that we too can live bound by spirits and under their curse?

I’d like to suggest that we in our modern culture really do experience evil spirits. Oh, we give them other names, and by doing so often fail to recognize the full impact these spirits have. We call such spirits “alcoholism” or “drug abuse” or “mental illness.” 

Now in saying this what I want to suggest two things. First, the impact of such spirits is truly beyond the control of the one who is suffering. Second, I also want to suggest that we often treat such people in the same way that my Zambian and Eskimo friends did. We are, underneath all our “scientific” approaches, in truth, frightened of them. We would really rather put a label on them and keep them at a “safe” distance.

The good news of the gospel is Jesus cares about even those possessed by an evil spirit. The call to discipleship is the recognition that we are empowered by the Spirit so that we too can care about them.

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Trinity

Posted 6/16/2019

Today is Trinity Sunday. It is a day when preachers everywhere can be found making an attempt to explain the mystery of God’s three-in-oneness. Preacher may talk about the three leaves of a three-leaf clover or how just one person can be a father, brother, and son. Or perhaps we use other such analogies in our attempts to explain the Trinity. But in the end, all our efforts at explaining the Trinity fall flat on their faces, having captured at best only a bit of what it means to say God is Trinity and having failed to capture much of the truth of God’s three-in-oneness. 

The real truth is we can’t explain the Trinity, something we preachers (and theologians) hate to admit. We like to be able to tie everything up in nice neat packages, to make everything clear and logical. But the Trinity is simply a truth about God that is beyond our comprehension and our explanations. 

We experience the truth of the Trinity, which is why we make our feeble attempts to explain the Trinity. But our stammering explanations can’t capture this truth which is so beyond our own ways of being. In the end, the Trinity is mystery — that which is true but beyond our ability to grasp it with our minds but something we can grasp in some ways in our experiences.

But there is value in celebrating Trinity Sunday. We see that value when we simply allow the reality of God’s three-in-oneness to lead us into wonder at the mystery and majesty of God. We see it when we allow ourselves to join the Psalmist in proclaiming, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1)

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Pentecost

Posted 6/9/2019

It’s here! The birthday of the church. The day that we sometimes celebrate with cake, like we might celebrate any other birthday.

Yet Pentecost is more than simply a birthday. It is the promise of Jesus’ spirit with us through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. It is the unleashing of God’s power in our midst in a new — yet very old — way.

In the Old Testament we read stories of those who were filled with the Spirit. Yet in the gift of Pentecost we discover the fullness of the Spirit, who is above all the Spirit of Christ. In the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost the church is not only born, but is empowered to be who we are called to be.

In other words, Pentecost is not just the celebration of the birthday of the church it is the celebration of our being empowered and molded into the church — the body of Christ. It is the celebration of the gift of the power to be faithful disciples of Jesus in the midst of an unbelieving world. It is the celebration of the power of Jesus to change our lives — and the lives of all who believe in Jesus.

The good news of Pentecost is the resurrection and ascension of Jesus means we, the church, are filled and empowered by the Spirit — the Spirit that filled Christ, the Spirit of Christ. May we not just celebrate the birthday of the church on this Pentecost Day; may we also celebrate our birth as Christ’s empowered, Spirit-filled people who have been enabled to live as the Body of Christ today.

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Opening Our Eyes

Posted 6/2/2019

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, Open the eyes of my heart, I want to see You, I want to see You. To see You high and lifted up, Shinin' in the light of Your glory. Pour out Your power and love, As we sing holy, holy, holy.” This praise chorus, written by Michael W. Smith, reminds us of several important things. 

First, that we need “the eyes of our heart” opened to see Jesus. Several times in the gospels we read of Jesus explaining the Scriptures to his disciples after his resurrection. The fact is, not only couldn’t the disciples really understand who Jesus was before his resurrection, even after his resurrection they needed to have it explained to them. We don’t easily see the power and glory of God in one who is crucified.

Second, that we are empowered by Jesus through the gift of the Spirit to bear witness to what we have seen and experienced. Our enlightenment about who Jesus really is isn’t simply for our own sake. It is given that we might be witnesses to Jesus. We are to tell of the holiness of God.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians was that the eyes of their hearts might be opened to see Jesus. That is my prayer for each of you. I wonder, is it your prayer for yourself as well? Are you longing to see Jesus and then, having seen, are willing to go out proclaiming the amazing power and holiness of the one who opens our eyes?

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