God Helps Those Who Help Others (Life Journal – 7/29/2015)

Scripture

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. (Isaiah 58:6-9)

Observation

  • Contrast between the fast in previous verses and this one that brings good
  • Vss. 6 and 7: a fast from doing wrong and from avoiding doing right
  • To fast, to sacrifice and then to use that to relieve those who have not
  • The Lord responds to those who act justly and righteously

Application

As followers of Jesus, as those who trust in his grace and depend on his salvation, it is easy to forget the need to do something righteous as well as to be righteous. It is not enough to lay claim to the righteousness that comes by faith – that righteousness needs to overflow in acts of mercy and of love.

The image of this as fasting is captivating to me. Real fasting – and probably by extension other spiritual disciplines too – is a transformative work. To fast is to make room for God to do these things in us and through us. To let my hunger point me to the one who is really and always hungry.

Prayer

O God, hear me pray today and lead me to the fast Isaiah saw – a fast that fills the space around me with what is right, an emptying that leads to real fullness in me and others. My my light break forth like the dawn today. May my cries for help be heard because I have heard the cries of others. Amen.

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Like a New Baby (Life Journal – 7/21/2015)

Scripture

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

Observation

  • Why both “God and Father?” —> imagery of birth, new and young life
  • God’s mercy is the source of this blessing Peter describes
  • What God gives is connected to its source in quality: resurrection produces living hope, heaven gives an inheritance that cannot fade or dim
  • Although mercy is the source — faith is the means of this blessing (verse 5)

Application

These brief verses at the opening of Peter’s letter speak profoundly to me today. Over the next few days I will be spending time with a family who has lost their husband/father/grandfather after a long illness. These verses are powerful but even more so in the shadow of death, of loss, of grief.

What says life more than a baby? What brings joy more than  a new life, a young life? So Peter says we can experience that anew through the resurrection of Jesus. Not just a metaphor – a reality. Not an image but an experience! The Father of Jesus? Wants to produce new life in us who are facing death.

Prayer

God and Father, as I look toward these days of facing the reality of death may I remember life in you. As I grieve with these friends may I point them and myself to the Father who gives another life, one that will not end with death and cannot be destroyed or diminished. In these days when they and I most need it may we see it again through your great mercy and the resurrection of your son, Jesus. Amen.

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Snakes in the Way (Life Journal – 7/20/2015)

Scripture

In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.) (2 Kings 18:1-4)

Observation

  • Ahaz (Hezekiah’s father) did not do “what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” Where / how did Ahaz learn to do right, as David had done?
  • What Ahaz did “right:” removed high places, destroyed the sacred stones and Asherah poles (Asherah was a mother goddess), and broke the bronze snake from the Exodus that Moses had made
  • The people were worshiping at high places, worshiping Asherah, and even worshiped the snake from Moses’ day

Application

It is so easy to get confused about God. Not to excuse them, but the poor folks whom Hezekiah begins to lead got it close in the worship of Nehushtan, the bronze snake. In Numbers 21, the people had sinned and God sent poisonous snakes among them as judgment. God told Moses to make a bronze snake and all who looked up at the snake lived. Over time, it appears, people came to worship the snake itself rather than the God whose deliverance it signified.

How often do I worship God’s blessing rather than God? How easy it is to be passionate, protective about a blessing that God has given as if it were God instead. To confuse the reminder of God’s goodness for God, the testimony to God’s mercy for the Giver of Mercy.

I don’t want to worship (or fret over or defend or obsess about) a blessing of God that then gets in the way of God, that blocks my view of Christ.

Prayer

Lord, you delivered Israel from the serpents by giving them a sign that pointed to you. And then in Hezekiah you delivered them from their worship of the sign. Deliver me today from the same idolatry – may I not worship the good that you have done for me but you who gave it, not the faith I have but the object of that faith, your son, Jesus. Amen.

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Role Reversal (Life Journal – 7/17/15)

Scripture

13 The Lord says:

“These people come near to me with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
    is based on merely human rules they have been taught.[b]
14 Therefore once more I will astound these people
    with wonder upon wonder;
the wisdom of the wise will perish,
    the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”
15 Woe to those who go to great depths
    to hide their plans from the Lord,
who do their work in darkness and think,
    “Who sees us? Who will know?”
16 You turn things upside down,
    as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!
Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it,
    “You did not make me”?
Can the pot say to the potter,
    “You know nothing”? (Isaiah 29:13-16)

Observation

  • Who are “these people?” — residents of Jerusalem, people of Judah
  • BUT – contrast between verbal (mouths, lips) worship and service and drawing near with the heart
  • The assets – wisdom, intelligence – will be taken away
  • They have reversed the order of things and put themselves in the place of God (the pot thinks it is the potter, the clay the artist)

Application

This hits close to home today. Isaiah warns them of the danger of speaking the right things, worshiping the right way – but still being far from God. The ultimate problem here is putting myself in the place of God: thinking that I know better than God (the earlier comment about wisdom and intelligence seem to bear this out. To think that I am smarter than God is the ultimate hubris!)

Isaiah warns of a progression I think – it starts with outward observance but no inner life with God. It moves to a reliance on my own intelligence and wisdom. It deepens to living as if God cannot perceive what I think or do (or turns a blind eye anyway). And it ends in the foolish notion that I am smarter, higher, wiser than God.

It is easy to think I am honoring God with my life, with my ministry and, in fact, be far from him. It is far too easy to think my brains are enough, my wisdom is sufficient, to ignore the intelligence and wisdom of God.

My dog thinks she is a person. She doesn’t know any better :-) Sometimes this pot thinks he is the potter, this clay slips into believing he is the artist. Words to ponder today and a moment to humble myself before the Potter.

Prayer

Lord, let my prayers be more than words today – but a drawing near to you. May my thoughts be not my own but a seeking after your wisdom, your thoughts. I confess this clay often thinks it is the potter and is shaping itself. This clay wants today to be molded by a real artist, by you. Amen.

 

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God Who Is The Same (Life Journal – 7/16/2016)

Scripture

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:6-8)

Observation

  • “This mountain” is Mount Zion. Why “this mountain?”
  • The Lord will prepare a banquet, destroy the shroud, swallow up death forever, wipe away tears, remove disgrace
  • Repetition of “all:” all peoples (X2), all nations, all faces, all the earth
  • God is called “Lord Almighty” and ‘Sovereign Lord”

Application

We (Christians) often think of the Old Testament and New as distinct, as revealing one God and then another. So much so I understand some early Christians rejected the Old Testament and saw the New Testament and Jesus as superseding the Old Testament and Yahweh.

But this passage sounds so much like the New Testament – for example, John’s vision in the last part of Revelation of a New Heaven and a New Earth. A great banquet for all, the death of death, the comforting and caring of God.

As an adult I experienced my dad very differently than I experienced him in my childhood memories. Yet I realize today as I think about this passage that he was the same person (although like me he grew, too, over time).

It is worth remembering that God has always desired to gather the nations and the people to himself… to destroy the great destroyer, Death… to comfort the people. And that Isaiah’s visions suggests all — not just Israel, but all people, all nations and races. The grace of God is who God is and not just something that springs into life at the death of Jesus!

Prayer

Lord Almighty, you are the giver of banquets, destroyer of death, wiper of tears. And always have you been so and desired to do so! Today may I remember that you are the same today as you always were. Help me to understand what that means. And to remember that your faithfulness stretches to the beginning of time and will endure until its end. You promised and perfected this vision of Isaiah for us in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus and in his name I pray. Amen.

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Pluto and Jesus (Life Journal – 7/15/2015)

Scripture

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Observation

  • “Therefore” (since what he just wrote in Hebrews 11 about the countless ones who had faith and were faithful)
  • Metaphor is a race we are running – crowd of observers/fans, hindrances to finishing the race, someone in front whose pace we try to match, promise of reward at the end (Jesus is our example – he endured the cross for what it brought at the end)
  • Contrast? Cloud of witnesses from the previous chapter vs. shame, opposition of sinners
  • Suggestion the readers face the same: opposition that will make them lose heart and grow weary

Application

Last night I watched some coverage of the Pluto flyby. What an incredible achievement, lost in the midst of so much noise and negativity. Human beings launched a spacecraft that flew to the last unexplored planet (or whatever it is) in the solar system. A two hour flyby was nine years in the making (not counting the years of planning and construction that preceded its launch).

I love these words from Hebrews but they always challenge me. They are meant to challenge, convict rather than comfort. Don’t lose heart in the race you are running. Don’t let being tired make you stumble or drop out. Don’t quit because Jesus, who is out in front of you, didn’t.

I am sure during the nine years that the Nasa folks waited for last night’s climax they grew tired, bored, uncertain. Earlier this month there was a moment when they couldn’t get a signal from the spacecraft and were afraid it had all been for nothing. But the pictures so far? They have been stunning. And I am sure today and tomorrow the ten year old boy still in me who remembers men walking on the moon will be just as excited at what we see.

I want my race following Jesus to be the same. It is a long race – a lifetime one. And my journey from 15 to 48 has been filled with hindrances, sin, opposition, weariness, heart loss. But others have run this race. Others have been faithful and faith-filled. Jesus most of all has been victorious and shared the joy of his victory with those who are still running the race.

I can’t post stunning pictures of my journey’s end and I am not there yet – by the grace of God still far from it I hope. But I can do this. We call can. Because Jesus did it and won.

Prayer

Oh Jesus, Pioneer and Perfecter, it is easy to forget that I run the same race you ran. What I face daily you faced too. You ran the race and you achieved a victory – THE victory. As I gaze these days on the beautiful images of a distant planet that was, until now, unknown, may I also gaze at a victory that is still far away but awaits the race’s end and the journey’s conclusion. And unlike Pluto… today may Jesus’ victory give me victory in the here and now while I still run the big race of life. Amen.

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Keeping God at Arm’s Length (Life Journal – 7/13/2015)

Scripture

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:19-25 NRSV)

Observation

  • Admonition to draw near to God because: (i) confidence in the way opened by Jesus AND (ii) Jesus is our great priest
  • Hope is grounded in God’s faithfulness
  • The application of vss. 19-22 is to: (i) spur one another to love and good deeds, (ii) meeting together, and (iii) encouraging one another in our meeting together

Application

Hebrews argues from the sacrificial and worship system of the old covenant (Exodus, etc.) for the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus who is both sacrifice and priest and that eternally. The imagery here is that Jesus’ body is the curtain (i.e., the curtain of the temple that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple and that could only be passed once a year by the high priest).

If Jesus’ body is gone, so is the curtain. The way is open (vs. 20)… our ability to see into the presence of God is no longer obscured or hindered. What had been hidden is now seen. What had been limited and restricted is now, through Christ, open to all.

Why are we so reticent to “draw near to God?” We tend to keep God at a safe distance, like a wealthy, powerful relative whom we only call when we are in great need. And can’t think of anyone else to call!

God in Christ invites us to draw near. The guilt that might keep us away has been erased in Christ – do we believe that? Or do we treat – as I often do – God’s grace as something that lets me access God on sufferance. God is just enough satisfied by Christ’s offering to let me come close but only just.

NO – we are told to draw near with a sincere heart and with assurance. Let’s do that today!

Prayer

O God of Jesus the Great Priest, by Jesus may I draw near to you today. May I come with assurance – not that I am favored or special but that Jesus has opened the way and removed the obstacles. May I come to you in that unswerving hope that grounds itself in your faithfulness. Amen.

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Everything Changes… Almost (Life Journal – 7/9/2015)

Scripture

16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:16-20)

Observation

  • God can only swear by God— there is no greater power to ask to help keep the promise
  • Repetition of the idea of what does not change: God’s nature and then “two things” that cannot change (God’s promise and God’s oath)
  • God’s unchanging nature (in the face of what seems changing in the light of Christ’s coming) is the basis for hope.
  • We are the heirs in verse 17 – the heirs of what God promised to Abraham

Application

Is there anything – anything at all – that is unchanging in our experience? While earlier generations remember times when change proceeded glacially if at all, we live not in those times. About the time I grow used to my current smart phone I realize there are two newer versions of the same phone out and about. And the world! Who would have thought in my childhood or youth that people would be traveling to Cuba for instance? The times they are a changin’…

But God does not. God’s character, God’s grace, God’s work done perfectly in Jesus Christ is unchanging.  For some who read or heard these words who had been raised in Judaism it might have seemed like what they had learned and believed was upended. Nothing could be further from the truth the writer argues here.

Sometimes what is new and changing offers hope. Sometimes it is the unchangeable, the enduring that brings us real hope. A hope rooted in what has been and still is true.

Prayer

Unchanging God, you alone are fixed. You alone have not changed, have not reneged, have not broken your promises or your oaths. Ground my hope in you and in your promises. When change sings its siren song, may I hear instead your voice reminding me of your faithfulness above all things. In the name of Christ who was my forerunner in this hope. Amen.

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The (Un) Apathy of God (Life Journal – 7/8/2015)

Scripture

“But I have been the Lord your God
    ever since you came out of Egypt.
You shall acknowledge no God but me,
    no Savior except me.
I cared for you in the wilderness,
    in the land of burning heat.
When I fed them, they were satisfied;
    when they were satisfied, they became proud;
    then they forgot me.
So I will be like a lion to them,
    like a leopard I will lurk by the path.
Like a bear robbed of her cubs,
    I will attack them and rip them open;
like a lion I will devour them—
    a wild animal will tear them apart. (Hosea 13:4-8)

Observation

  • Vss. 4-6 — God is the God of the Exodus
  • Vss. 4- 6 God the savior contrasted with God the devourer (vss. 7-8)
  • God becomes Israel’s Lord in the Exodus –> salvation makes God our God?
  • Uncomfortable analogy… Israel becomes satisfied / fed and then becomes prey (by their own choice)
  • “Savior” is not a New Testament term only — occurs here and 35 other times in the Old Testament

Application

Images of judgment, of violence in the Old Testament make us uncomfortable (well, some of us!). We explain them away. We want Jesus meek and mild, God who loves and nothing else. We tend to explain away or even rationalize (they misunderstood what God wanted, for instance). I am not wise enough nor smart enough to understand the things in the Bible (Old and New Testament) that disturb me.

Here, however, what I see is that God cannot, will not be apathetic. God is many things – passive or uninterested God is not. This seemingly harsh contrast reminds us that God is not a vending machine, responding to what we give of love and faith and hope but sitting passive otherwise. God is active, alive, and interested in what we do collectively and individually.

What God cannot do is ignore us. So Hosea shares this disturbing message of God as savior or predator. Because God cannot do nothing… our actions, choices, responses make a difference to God. They do today.

Pray

Saving God, today may I respond to and see you as Savior, Deliverer, Provider. May I not be proud but humble, may I not forget you this day. I know you will not forget me! May I avoid the great sin of thinking there are things in my life about which you do not care, issues toward which you are indifferent. Most of all I see this in Jesus, our Savior and our Lord. Amen.

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Never Praying Alone (Life Journal – 7/7/2015)

Scripture

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Observation

  • Have faith because Jesus has ascended into heaven
  • Jesus is our high priest – the one who represents us, intercedes for us.
  • Jesus was tempted really – his temptations were real, his trials were real
  • Jesus will extend mercy because he understands our trial and temptation.
  • “Time of need” seems to be related to temptation specifically

Application

All of us are lonely at times. Even – and maybe especially – in an age of always connected communication. No matter our relationship status, our extroversion or introversion, our activity in the community, our work environment — sometimes we feel alone, isolated. Slate magazine posted survey results in 2013 that said 40 percent of adults were lonely.

Hebrews reminds us that we are never, ever alone. Jesus is a real person who died, rose, and ascended to be our high priest. He is the one who intercedes for us, who understands us, who was one of us and continues to be so.

I struggle with this at times myself. My work can be isolating. When added to my introversion this can be a real problem. But I am not alone – we are not alone. We have someone who knows us, understands us good and bad).

Prayer

 O Jesus our Intercessor – you know what it is to be a human. To be tempted. To be alone. This day, whatever may come, remind me of your presence in heaven and your representation of me. I am not alone. I am not the only one who prays when I pray. May I hold firm to the faith and receive both grace and mercy that I need daily, even moment by moment. Amen.

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