All Good Things Come From God

Daily Office Meditations: 6th Week of Easter – Tuesday

 

(5) For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children; (6) That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children,

Psalm 78:5-6;

 

(11) ” Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today,

Deuteronomy 8:11

 

16) Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (17) Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

James 1:16-17

 

(2) When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. (3) Give us day by day our daily bread. (4) And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.”

Luke 11:2-4

The most helpful thing that I have found for keeping God in the proper place in my life is a daily acknowledgment of the ways He has provided for me. We see in the Psalm and the Deuteronomy passage this same principle. We need to see God’s character in His provisions for us. The two lies that the devil attempts to get us to believe are lies about 1. The character of God, 2. The power of God.

When the Israelites were complaining in the desert, right after God rescued them of decades of slavery in Egypt through miraculous means, they lost sight of either the character or the power of God. When He provided food and water in the desert, they asked: “Can God provide meat for His people?” It’s easy to write off the Israelites as terrible people, “a stubborn and rebellious generation,” but we can so easily fall into this same trap.

When I was leaving for college, I didn’t have the funds for my first year. My mom called me the day before I was leaving to tell me that an anonymous donor had provided the funds. The following year, the same thing happened. My third year, I bought my books, registered for classes, and even attended one day of classes in faith, but no money came. It was so easy for me to doubt God that week. He had miraculously provided thousands of dollars for me to attend that school and the first time He didn’t I doubted His plan and resented Him.

I had to remind myself at that moment of what He had done for me. God has never forsaken me, He has provided above and beyond what I have needed and there is no circumstance that can separate me from the love of God. I never finished school and that still grates on me to this day, but I have learned to stop questioning God, as He has used every aspect of my story to propel me into His purposes. His track record towards me is just too good.

James reminds us to count all good things as coming from God. Ann Voscamp wrote a book on how gratitude changed her life. When we put God in His rightful place as the provider of all that is good in our life, it is impossible to live in fear or resentment. How do we put God in His rightful place? We remember everything He has done for us and for those we love. We write down our testimonies (big or small) and we share them with others. We read of the marvelous works He has done in Scripture and in Christian books or blogs.

And we pray the way Christ has taught us to pray. “Our Father” affirms the good identity of God. Later in this same passage, Jesus talks of how we give good gifts to our children and how much more God will give good gifts to us. “Who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” Puts God in His proper place in reference to our daily struggles. God is bigger and greater than anything we are to face. “His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts.” We may not see the big picture, but we can be assured that “all things work together for our good.” “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Here we see our mission and focus. Because we acknowledge God’s rightful place through our gratitude and worship, we are automatically oriented towards His will and His kingdom. And since His kingdom is heaven, we are called to bring heaven to earth. This is amazingly encouraging to me as I build my family and establish the small slice of the kingdom that God has given me: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” “Give us this day our daily bread” God is the provider. Your job, money, family, success, fame do not provide for you. God is the one who provides for your daily needs, look to Him. “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” Easy link: If we are fully convinced of the greatest miracle of God’s forgiveness and grace towards us through the death and resurrection of His Son, then how can we hold anyone’s sin against them? Our forgiveness and their forgiveness are linked and bought with a price. “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil” This is the result of following the principles above. If you acknowledge God as your good, all-powerful Father, then why run after that which does not satisfy. Tonight my son longed to touch the blazing-hot metal part of the oven door as I was removing our fully-cooked, home-made pizzas. I kept him from that and he was convinced that I was withholding his deepest desire at that moment. We are much like Rowan in that regard. Any time we face temptation, we are questioning whether God really knows our good and cares for our good above all else.

So we see today in the Daily Office a call to orient our lives around God and what He has accomplished for us. I pray that each and every person reading this will take the time to allow God to reveal the depth of His love for us, that type of revelation will transform you from the inside out.

The Cross Comes Before the Crown

Daily Office Meditations: 6th Week of Easter – Monday

(23) “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. (24) “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. (25) “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?
Luke 9:23-25
(2) My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, (3) knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. (4) But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
James 1:2-4
(2) “And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. (3) “So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD. (5) “You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the LORD your God chastens you.
Deuteronomy 8:2-3; 4

Sometimes it might feel like God is allowing you to experience unbearable tragedy or malevolence. Today’s readings cut to the heart of the Christian message and set’s our faith (and the Jewish faith) apart. We are not called to live “happy” and “carefree” lives. Our salvation is not a cozy one. No, our salvation is death to self. This is not so that we can embrace suffering as the meaning of life, but instead so that we can push through the suffering to resurrection. The pattern of Jesus is all-encompassing. We follow God to death, even death on the cross, for the joy that is set before us.
This is the end of control, the end of striving, the end of our own pride and grandeur. God is found in the intersection of surrender and humility. As our Good Father, God allows us to experience the consequence of sin on earth in the form of tragedy and malevolence, while he uses that same suffering to burn away the very aspects of our lives that keep us from walking in the fullness of the resurrection.
It is written that Jesus learned obedience through the things he suffered. That is because obedience is only ever learned through suffering. It is not obedience to eat a fresh baked cinnamon roll on a hungry Christmas morning–even if my dad tells me to eat it. Obedience requires a denial, a submission, it requires suffering. A paraphrase of the James passage above: “Practice makes perfect.”
The Deuteronomy rounds out our understanding of God’s goodness. He sees so much farther than us. He leads Israel through the desert for 40 years and allows the chaff in them to be burned away. The amazing thing of the Old Testament is that (eventually) Israel looks to themselves and says, “We must have done something wrong to cause this suffering and we need forgiveness and restored relationship.” Our tendency is to put the blame outward, but Christ has encouraged us to bear our cross. The hope lies in the promised land. This Deuteronomy passage goes on to the land in which the Israelites will experience not only sustenance but abundance. Their desert journey led them to God’s ridiculously abundant provision.
So then, count it all joy when you fall into various trials… God is in control and is creating in you the ability to claim your promised land, to fulfill your destiny, to experience resurrected life. Be encouraged this week, there is no death (situation, dream, hope, promise) that God cannot resurrect.

(One last note, the secret seems to be in the Deuteronomy passage: Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. What are you trying to live on? Success, family relationships, friendships, money, fame, holiness? Turn to His word, ask Him to speak to you in Scripture, in prayer, in journaling, through others… It is possible that you do not even know you are starving.)

Many are the Troubles of the Righteous

I recently sat down to do devotions. I had skipped a few days and had been tempted to fall into the mindset, “it’s not that helpful to read the Bible every day.” Note that this generally happens when I haven’t done devotions in a few days. Well that morning, every passage was speaking to me. 

First, Psalms 34:19, 22: “Many are the troubles of the righteous but the Lord will deliver him out of them all. The Lord ransoms the life of his servants and none will be punished who trust in Him.”

Hold up. I thought only wicked people had troubles, or people with not enough faith. If you listened to my recent podcast with Fr. Ken Tanner, then you heard us discuss this troubling tendency in our minds as Western Christians. Calamity is too often treated as a matter of punishment. Just last night, my wife and I were talking about our own tendency to look for a reason in our own life when times are difficult. The question, which is also dealt with extensively in the soon-to-be film-adapted Silence by Shusaka Endo, is “what have I done to deserve this?” 

But the scripture says, “many are the troubles of the righteous…” and “…none will be punished who trust in him.” and, elsewhere, “There is now, therefore, no condemnation in Christ Jesus.” So why do we think that difficulties or tragedies in life are somehow punishments? Is God the impartial judge handing out cruel and unusual punishments to those he supposedly loves? Well maybe a misunderstanding of the Cross has distorted our view of God.

We often use judicial or economic language to metaphorize the cross: “It’s like if you were going to be condemned to death for your crimes, but the son of the judge jumped up and said, ‘I will die for him.’ And the judge said, ‘oh perfect, let me take out my wrath on you. As long as I have someone to kill for this crime, I will be satisfied'” Wait what? That’s kind of terrible. How should we feel about a God like that? 

Instead, we should look at the cross like this: We turned from God. God never gave up on us, but sent prophets and eventually his son to turn us back to him. Except that we could not accept God’s redeeming work but had to take out our guilt and anger on those who came to reconcile us. We continually persecuted and killed his prophets in our attempt to alleviate our own guilt and have our own way. So, Jesus took on himself all of our anger and hate and fear(the iniquities of us all) and gave himself up for us in perfect union with the Father. So the Father watched and wept as we put all of our sin onto him who knew no sin. It was not the Father’s wrath that was appeased that day, but our own wrath was absorbed by love and forgiven by grace. The Father somehow thought it was worth the sacrifice of his son to gain us. We were the pearl of great price and he went and sold all he had and bought that pearl. 

Yet we think that God is doling out punishment on us for our sin or our lack of faith. We think that our negative circumstances are due to our failures to live up to the impossible standard of perfection. In a similar mistake of ego, we think that our success is due to our great faith and works. Again, scripture says, “Many are the troubles of the righteous but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.” 

That’s the story of redemption. So when we fall, when times are hard, when we think that God has forsaken us, we can turn to the cross and know that God loves us, God is not mad at us, and God will never leave us or forsake us.

Advent Gratitude

There are many people who have explored this idea in better ways than I, (most notably, Ann Voskamp) but I have been thinking a lot about gratitude lately. As a manager in the restaurant industry, it is hard not to become a utilitarian manipulator who encounters your staff members as a means to an end: running a great shift. When someone calls out and we know we can get Susie Q. to cover it for us if we ask just the right way, we can lose our sense of engaging a person. We say “thank you so much!” and we mean it, but it can become just a part of the transaction. If we don’t make them feel appreciated now, they may not do A, B, or C for us later.

This mindset ends up eating its own tail as we begin to view people’s interactions with us as merely a means to an end. We go out of our way to help someone who is useful to us and we ignore the needs of those who ask too much or don’t benefit us in any way. Even with your friends, people who entertain us or encourage us are foremost amongst our friends and those who annoy us or are “needy” are held at arms-length. True gratitude and a realization of that which Advent teaches can help turn this utilitarian model on its head.

In Advent, we encounter the brokenness of the world before Christ came to enact God’s plan of redemption. God made the world good and beautiful, but we perpetuated brokenness and evil. We created the world of “might is right” and took advantage of our fellow man as often as helping him. We ran from the loving embrace of God and were self-centered above all else. The truth of Advent is that even in the midst of a world filled with suffering and widespread oppression, Jesus became one of us to emphasize and fulfill the value of every human being.

Jesus came to be the “human face of God and the Divine face of man.” Every man was embraced at the cross where a political torture device was used to kill a man who had done no wrong but was condemned by the religious crowd who had stripped him of his humanity as they used him as a scapegoat for their own guilt and shame. The irony was that Jesus still encountered each individual on his way to the cross with love and gifted each of them value.

Advent shows us that no matter how useful or useless we are, no matter how oppressive or oppressed, no matter what our origin, we are all sought after and valued as a “pearl of great price.” Where does gratitude come in? Well, we must be grateful for each person we encounter. We must learn to look in the eyes of our enemy and see our brother. We must see the world as God saw it when he sent Jesus. We must see through the eyes of God during the Advent before Jesus. The world was groaning and yearning for the true, the good and the beautiful. The world was broken and people were perpetuating that brokenness. Into this, God looked and He loved. He looked and he was grateful for our existence. He looked and he sent Jesus to restore relationship with those broken individuals whom he adored. So now, we must see Jesus in every man and woman, in every situation and system. Jesus came for the redemption of the world.

So now, we must see Jesus in every man and woman, in every situation and system. Jesus came for the redemption of the world. He came to strengthen the feeble knees and make glad the faint hearted, to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives. If we are not encountering people with this heart, if we are not truly acknowledging from whence we came and to where we are going, if we do not live out of gratitude for every  person we encounter, then we will not be living the kingdom Jesus established.

Let’s be grateful. A simple moment of showing someone that you are truly grateful for them as a person can make all the difference. Let’s acknowledge every person as the pursuit of God in Christ Jesus. And let’s enjoy the anticipation of the coming of the redemption of the world this Christmas and in eternity to come.

He was Tempted in Every Way as We are

One of the most remarkable stories in the Bible is the story of Jesus’ temptation. It is written, “[He] was tempted in every way as we are, yet he did not sin.” (Heb 4:15) And yet, we only have one instance of temptation recorded, and we have that same instance recorded in three of the four gospels. I am not saying that Jesus wasn’t tempted elsewhere in his life, but it seems that this was a very important example of temptation. In fact, I would venture to say that the story of Jesus’ temptation is one of the most important stories in the gospel for Christians. In it are the principles for how we navigate temptation and challenges in our life. 

Before we look at his temptation, it is important to to think through the implications of the theological concept of “Kenosis.” This is a Greek word that means to self-empty. It is used in Phil 2:6-7,

“[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” 

The crucial idea within Kenosis is that Jesus came to earth as a human without access to his Godly powers. “He made himself nothing…” This is the emptying of all God-qualities. Jesus was not a super-baby. All the iconography of Jesus blessing people as a baby is misleading. He did not have some sort of supernatural intelligence or power as a man. Rather, he lived his life as we lived, learning and growing as a young Jewish male in the first century AD. This means that he could actually experience temptation. If he were God, with the knowledge of all that is and was and is to come, how could he be truly tempted? If he had the unlimited power, knowledge and communion of the Trinity, how could he be tempted by anything?

Instead, he had to learn of his identity as we do. He searched the Scriptures, he learned of God from his parents, he was brought up in the way of the Lord by his local community. I am sure that he grew up hearing the stories of his miraculous birth. He had promises spoken over him. He grew in “wisdom and stature and favor with God and man.” So when we get to Jesus’ baptism, we can imagine that he was working from his relationship to God at that point. He seems to have had some idea of his identity. When he was eleven he replies to his mother and father after going missing for three days, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) So when he turns thirty, God tells him to go get baptized in the Jordan. This perfect man gets baptized as a representation of all of the new creation. John tries to turn him away, but Jesus knows enough by now to know that this is for the “fulfillment of all righteousness.” And then he gets the clear call of his identity as the dove decends upon him and the voice of God speaks, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” 

The firstborn of the New Creation gets baptized into his true identity as the Son of God. He has been reading about the Messiah his whole life. His knowledge of the Torah is shown throughout his ministry. He knows the prophecies about Messiah and now he has been confirmed and commissioned in his call. Throughout the Bible, as people are called into their identity and given promises about their life, they enter into a period of testing. Joseph was promised to be a ruler with the stars of heaven and sheaves of wheat bowing down to him then he was sold into slavery by his own brothers, then he was falsely accused and thrown in prison. It says in Psalms 105:19, “the world of the Lord tested him.” So now, Jesus is tested by the word of the Lord. 

He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness and after forty days of fasting he is hungry (ya think??). So in his weakest moment, the devil comes and tests him. The fascinating part of this dialogue is the nature of the temptations. There is no obfuscation here, the entirety of his temptation is about the identity and the promises God has spoken over Jesus. Jesus, the presumptuous Jewish man who has the audacity to believe that God has called him “Son” and to promise him the salvation of the world. 

Satan begins, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Hold up. This isn’t even a sin! The tempter is merely asking him to perform a miracle of provision in confirmation of the word God spoke to him. But we know better. This about whether Jesus trust the identity God spoke over him and his answer shows how tightly he is holding to God’s word.

He answers, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

All of our temptation to doubt the word of God, to be anxious for provision, to want proof of God’s favor, and Jesus clings to the Word of Truth. 
Again, Satan tries a different tact. He takes him to the Jerusalem and sets him on the pinnacle of the temple. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you trike your foot against a stone.'”

Satan throws Scripture in Jesus face. You can imagine him thinking, “Two can play at this game…” Now Jesus has a promise and Satan is only asking him to test the promises of Scripture. 

Jesus answers, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Not only is he choosing to believe God’s word of identity over him, he is choosing to believe in the promises God has made about him without any proof, without seeing their fulfillment. “Blessed is the one who believes without seeing…”

Lastly, the devil goes after the destiny of Jesus. Ok, maybe you know who you are, but now you have to decide whether you can trust God’s calling on your life. Jesus has an impossible task before him. The Devil takes him to a very high mountain and shows him the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Now, remember, Jesus knows that, “Kingdoms shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:3) So Jesus is seeing the smallness of himself in the light of what God said he would do. Satan offers him a shortcut. “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 

Ok, so we all know not to sell our soul to the devil, but how often do we make small compromises to get what we want? God promised to provide, but I don’t see the provision so I am going to go apply for a credit card. God promised to fulfill me, but I feel unfulfilled so I will enter into a relationship without consulting him to see if the relationship is one that God wants for me. These are broad examples, but every day we are confronted with choices of priorities. Are we going to worship God or _____? 

Jesus shows us once more the power of the Word: 

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”

One more note about this last temptation. Idolatry is the most confronted sin in the Old Testament, and we often think that we have not struggles with that. We would never worship a statue, but the nature of idolatry is far more insidious than that. The pastor of my church is always saying, “Idolatry is when we say, ‘I will be happy if I have God and ____.'” Whatever is in that blank–romance, money, a career, security, children, etc.–is the idol that we are serving.

How many of us have know our identity in Christ? How many of us know the promises and prophecies that have been spoken over us? We should hold fast to these words and not give in to fear when the words test us, when we don’t yet see their fulfillment. Jesus was unwilling to shortcut God’s process even though it led through suffering and death. Because he held to the promises of God over his life and the specific words God had spoken to him about his identity (both through prophecies directly to him and through the Scripture), Jesus was able to walk in the power of God and not stumble. We should do the same. When confronted with our various challenges and temptations, let us focus on the promises and the identity God has given us and cast our mountains into the sea. 

 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:24-25)