Be Kind for Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle

Daily Office Meditations: 7th Week of Easter – Wednesday

(17) He sent a man before them — Joseph — who was sold as a slave. (18) They hurt his feet with fetters, He was laid in irons. (19) Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the LORD tested him. (20) The king sent and released him, The ruler of the people let him go free.

(21) He made him lord of his house, And ruler of all his possessions, (22) To bind his princes at his pleasure, And teach his elders wisdom.

Psalm 105:17-22

(20) “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

(23) “Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?

Ezekiel 18:20; 23

(27) So he answered and said, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (28) And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

(37) And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:27-28; 37

Joseph may be my favorite character in the Bible. In the Psalm we see a summary of the story arc in Joseph’s life. It is the ultimate archetypal story of death and resurrection (besides Jesus’ actual death and resurrection). Joseph is given a vision and a promise by God, it is given and confirmed in dreams. If you ever receive a big promise from God, duck! Immediately he is tested in the promise. The Psalmist writes that the promise, itself, tested him. He is promised that he shall rule over his family, but he is instead sold into slavery by his brothers. This is where any one of us would look to God and ask, “Why would you give me this grand promise only to allow my brothers to sell me into slavery? Was that promise even from the Lord?” Fair questions at this point.

The Psalmist tells us that Joseph was actually sent to Egypt by God to prepare the civilized world for a massive famine. First, Joseph must go through slavery and prison. This is such a parallel to our lives. How many of us are bemoaning our trials and circumstances when it may be that we have been sent there by God to bless and provide for many. God has the big picture, don’t get caught looking at your circumstances instead of God for your guidance on how your life is going.

In Ezekiel we see more of God’s heart. He would not be interested in visiting the sins of the father on the son. Although, of course, sons are adversely affected by sinful fathers. God takes no pleasure in the demise of the wicked. He desires that all would receive Jesus.

In Luke, we see God’s heart for us as created beings: “Love God, love your neighbor.” In order to do this, we must view all as our neighbor. A Jewish rabbi once said, “When can we know that the sun has risen? When we can look in the face of our foe and see our brother.” All in all, there is nothing simpler than “love God, love people.” The problem is that these concepts are difficult to practice.

In the end, it’s Joseph’s love for his family and the people that causes him to be such a good ruler. The Ezekiel passage allows us to rest in personal responsibility and an affirmation that God wishes even the wicked to turn to Him (we were once sinners when we were called). And the Gospel helps us to see that there is a focal point of the entire Christian life: Love vertical and horizontal.

Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. (maybe a quote by Ian Maclaren)

I Will Behave Wisely in a Perfect Way

Daily Office Meditations: 7th Week of Easter – Tuesday

(2) I will behave wisely in a perfect way. Oh, when will You come to me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. (3) I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; (6) My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land, That they may dwell with me;

Psalm 101:2, 3, 6

(4) In return for my love they are my accusers, But I give myself to prayer.

Psalm 109:4

(19) “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, (20) “that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (21) “But as for those whose hearts follow the desire for their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord GOD.

Ezekiel 11:19-21

(21) “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. (23) “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; (24) “for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.”

Luke 10:21, 23, 24

All of life is about your heart. We know this instinctively. If a man is said to be unintelligent, but he has a good heart, then he is considered “good” in our minds. If he is considered intelligent, but cruel and pitiless, then we have no problem judging him. Looking at the Scriptures today, we can talk about two aspects of the heart. First, we can talk about the prophecy in Ezekiel that God would replace our hearts of stone with hearts of the flesh. This is accomplished through baptism as we are “buried with Christ in baptism and raised to a new life in Him.” We are said to be “born again.” This is the most fundamental reality of our Christian identity: God has given us a new heart, we have been transformed completely as a part of our salvation.

Second, we have a responsibility to cultivate and tend our hearts. When Jesus tells the parable of the sower, He talks of the different soils (or hearts) that the seed (which is the word of God) falls on. In order to avoid the rocky soil, we must walk through the healing and redemptive work in our hearts to address past woundings and sin. To avoid the weed infested soil we must keep temptation and sin from our hearts. To avoid the path-soil, we must meditate on the word of Scripture and walk out the word of God in our lives daily. This hard work will till the soil and cause a deeper and enriched heart capable of resisting the lies of the enemy, represented by crows (“did God really say…”).

We see some hints of how to cultivate good soil in the Scriptures today. In the Psalm, “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes.” So we must be wise about what we are taking in with our eyes. More than ever, this needs to be a huge emphasis for a Christian. There are more evil and disturbing and tempting images in this world than there has ever been, and they are more easily accessed. This means we need a revelation of the goodness of God and those things that our eyes can look on without reproach.

“My eyes shall be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me.” This is a concept easily forgotten, “bad company corrupts good morals.” There is a disturbing trend in our culture that seeks to destroy anyone who would potentially be put on a pedestal in our culture. While there have definitely been terrible role models posing as leaders deserving of respect, the level of cynicism has risen to absurd levels. If someone asks who your hero is, there is definitely a piece of “journalism” somewhere on the internet seeking to tear them down. Most people just ditch the idea of admiring anyone or choose to admire terrible people (vacuous celebrities, violent rappers, Jesus-complex politicians). There’s a satanic glee on twitter when someone is torn down from admiration or their career is destroyed. I mean “satanic” technically. The spirit of the Enemy is one of accusation, the Holy Spirit is one of advocacy. We need to find faithful men and women to admire, look up to, and surround ourselves with in order to guard and improve our hearts.

In the second Psalm, we pray instead of reacting our unfair accusers. This would save us a lot of misery. Don’t respond in anger, stop and pray. Ask God for deliverance, guidance, and favor. We are even challenged to pray for those who persecute us.

In Hebrews, we get the New Testament affirmation of the tithe. A tithe is 10% of your income given to the church to support the minister, pastor or priest. Without diving into one of the cooler theological insights in the Bible (Jesus is the high priest of the order of Melchizedek), I want to merely say that the tithe is for our hearts and not because God needed a way to provide for His priests. The tithe helps us keep our money in perspective. Our money is, first and foremost, a gift from God. When we give Him back 10%, it shapes our hearts to trust His provision instead of our own.

All of these things are for training our heart to “love what God has commanded”. We are blessed beyond belief to see the kingdom of God expanding in the earth. As Jesus was saying, the Hebrew people lived and died for thousands of years hoping for the coming of the Messiah. We live in the world of the resurrected Christ every day. Keep your eyes on this fact and your heart will transform by the power of the Holy Spirit. As I remember the little song from a Christian kid’s show called “The Donut Man” (really weird show/premise):

Be careful little eyes what you see
Be careful little eyes what you see
For the Father up above
Is looking down with love
O, be careful little eyes what you see

Bind my wandering heart to Thee

Daily Office Meditations: 7th Week of Easter – Monday

(1) I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever; With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 89:1

(4) For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,

(5) and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, (6) if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. (7) For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; (8) but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.

Hebrews 6:4-8

And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. (53) But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. (54) And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”

(55) But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. (56) “For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”

(61) And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” (62) But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:52b-56; 61-62

In the Old Testament passage today, Ezekiel is told by the Lord to perform a prophetic act to prophesy against Israel. He is told to lay siege against Jerusalem and to lay on his left side for 390 days and his right side for 40 days. All this time he is to cook bread over cows dung to symbolize the defiled substance which the Israelites would eat in their captivity. The act itself is dramatic prophetic theater. God is trying to get Israel’s attention. He poured out His blessings on them, but they turned to worship idols. Like the passage in Hebrews, God had watered and cultivated Israel and they had rejected Him. But as the Psalmist wrote, God is faithful. He is constantly pursuing Israel amid their rejection.

Today’s readings are cautionary, even dire, but there is a kernel of hope amidst the strict warnings. We are told that none who has been a partaker of the salvific grace of Jesus can fall away from the faith and return. That they who have fallen away have crucified Christ again in themselves. Occasionally, I think this way about my sin. What anger or jealousy in my heart is adding to the price of the cross? Because God is outside of time, the cross was a Kairos moment where Jesus, as God and man, eternalized the pardon of God and took our sins today, yesterday and tomorrow into Himself. I don’t know that technically our current sins “add” to the cross of Christ, but the imagery is apt. I don’t think it is too presumptive to say that Christ weeps for our iniquity.

Christ has, once and for all, identified with our weakness and, like a father for his children, we can bring Him sorrow and pain with our sin. Further, the writer of Hebrews suggests that we, who are saved, can turn away from the everlasting grace of God. This is perhaps what Jesus talked about when He said that there would be no forgiveness for one who had blasphemed the Holy Spirit.

This reminds me of the Proverb, “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite.” I have seen people take the slow steady path into sin. I don’t presume to know their heart, but they have definitely “[born] thorns and briars” out of the blessings of God. I have observed the straying in my own heart. Yet the hope we have is not in our own faithfulness but in His. Jesus came, not to destroy men, but to save them.

All throughout the Old Testament, we see God rescuing Israel from themselves. He is patient and kind and steadfast. It is not God’s will that one should perish. So let us cling to Him and trust Him to finish that work which He has begun in our hearts. Let’s walk in wisdom and relationship with Him. Let us bear fruits in keeping with repentance. As the songwriter wrote in that great hymn:

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

What Is Man That You Are Mindful of Him

Daily Office Meditation: 6th Week of Easter – Thursday

3) When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, (4) What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? (9) O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8:3-4; 9

(28) Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. So when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of One speaking.

Ezekiel 1:28

(10) For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (11) For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, (12) saying: “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.”

(17) Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (18) For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.

Hebrews 2:10-12; 17-18

(18) “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (19) “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Matthew 28:18-20

The passages today illustrate one of the reasons I love the Daily Office of Prayer. We see in reading the Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel lessons the overarching design and purpose of history. In particular, the Hebrews passage today gives us insight into the role that Jesus fulfilled.

In the Psalms, we see the divine order, God in all His glory is still mindful of mankind. All of God’s purposes revolve around mankind and when we encounter the glory of God, this reality shocks us. The God who made the universe is mindful of humanity, even mindful of you yourself.

God purposed from the beginning that we should be raised up to rule and reign over the cosmos with Him. He designed that we should be a royal priesthood, offering up sacramental worship to Him as we enjoyed and cultivated His creation. Instead, we abdicated our thrones in rebellion and God has been pursuing us ever since. The psalmist is rightly awed by the notion that the God of all that exists is caring of us. Carl Sagan’s point that is often brought up about the insignificance of our planet (and us on it) in comparison to the vastness of the universe is inverted in God’s economy. Out of all that exists, God has preordained that man should be the heirs of eternity with His Son, Jesus Christ.

In Ezekiel, the prophet receives a vision that illustrates the magnitude and majesty of God. He sees the famous four living creatures and the throne of sapphire, but he also sees the promise. God has revealed Himself in the beauty and wonder that we find in the awe-inspiring expanse of galaxies and the exquisite beauty of a dahlia. We do not need visions of heaven to see the glory of God. In the midst of that glory, Ezekiel sees the “son of Man” (whom we now know is Jesus) who is like a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day. This is the promise of God. Originally, God establishes the rainbow after the flood subsides and Noah disembarks the Ark. He says it is evidence of His promise never to flood the earth again and as Ezekiel sees it in the throne room around the son of Man, we see God’s alternative to the flood. Jesus takes the devastation of the flood into Himself to rescue us sinners on the cross.

In fulfilling the visions of the Old Testament, the writer of Hebrews shows that Jesus had to come as a man, be made perfect in suffering, and die to destroy death. This identifying of God with man elevates man to the divine status always purposed for him. Pope John Paul II wrote, “Jesus is the human face of God and the divine face of man.” God did not hoard His glory or reject us as we rejected Him. Instead, He sent His son to identify with us in our suffering and temptation, pay the price for our sin by taking our place on the cross, and then rise to be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords that we might be fellow heirs with Him.

Jesus, Himself, shares His authority with the disciples in the Matthew passage and puts in motion the final chapter in the redemption of the world. God’s plan includes us. We are to go into the world and redeem it with the authority of Jesus. This divine plan reaches concrete practicality as Jesus tells us to make disciples of Him, a continuation of His mission on earth. Like Him, we are to bring love, acceptance, forgiveness, and healing to the poor, the sinners, the broken in our midst.

Jesus also said that many desired to see the fulfillment of the promises of God, and now we can see it every day. God’s promise to redeem the world, to bring heaven to earth, to arrive at a day where every tear shall be wiped from every eye and all shall see the glory of God. We get to do the tear wiping, the redeeming, and the healing with Him until that day. We go in His authority and the gates of hell shall not prevail against us.

P.S. His purpose is clear in Scriptures that we should do this work as a part of the Church. That means we need to plug into a local church and be apart of Christ’ body on earth… there are no lone wolves in the kingdom. Also, it’s hard to share the kingdom if you haven’t experienced it in your life. If you need healing, restoration, invigoration, Jesus has bought it for you, pray to Him. If you’ve never given your life to Jesus, then now is the time. Jesus has been given all authority on earth, He is able to help you in ANY situation and He longs for a relationship with you. Pray that He will encounter you right now and bring healing into your life. Confess that you are a sinner and ask for His forgiveness. Declare your belief in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. And go to a church and talk to a pastor, they’d love to meet you and pray for you.

Oh, How I Love Your Law!

Daily Office Meditation: 6th Week of Easter – Wednesday

(97) Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. (112) I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes Forever, to the very end. (114) You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word.
Psalm 119:97; 112; 114

(13) Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. (14) Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (15) And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (16) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
James 5:13-16

(22) “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. (23) “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. (24) “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? (29) “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. (30) …Your Father knows that you need these things. (31) “But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.
Luke 12:22-24; 29-31

OK, so this Psalm always perplexed me. As a child, I had a lot of issues with the rules… so the idea of loving the law seemed anathema to me. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize more and more that this principle is at the center of the Christian life. As Romans 12:1-2 tells us, the core of Christian transformation is in the renewing of our mind. The key is in verse 112 of the Psalm: “I have inclined my heart to perform your statutes…” This inclining of the heart is the active pursuit of the renewal of your mind in Christ Jesus.

As we encounter Him, read and meditate on His word, and declare/practice His truth, we begin to love what He commands. We find that in His service is perfect freedom. This was the contradiction I wrestled with as a child. I wanted everything my way, but in submitting to God (or His authority in my life at the time) I found deeper joy and peace. This was by no means an easy transformation, but gradually my parents said they began to feel like I was on their side.

As we align our will with the Father’s (mostly through a revelation of the goodness of God in our life), we begin to have powerful and fervent prayer. As our hope is found in His word to us, our prayer becomes participation with God instead of a plea to God. We begin to see the problems in our lives through God’s eyes and our faith is raised to pray for the sick and suffering. We press into God’s plan on earth, the Church, and we experience the kingdom of God through obedience. It becomes a positive feedback loop. We pray for God’s plan, we obey God’s plan, experience God’s peace, ask Him for His plan, obey His plan and so forth.

Therefore, Jesus says to us, “Do not be anxious… But seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.” God knows what you need, He has incorporated them into His plan. Seek His plan, and all that you need shall be added unto you. C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” All our anxiety is answered in this: “Your Father knows that you need these things.”

This is no prosperity Gospel, God may know that you need a crucifixion. Jesus invitation is summed up by Bonhoeffer, “Come and die.” God will transform your desires through your personal cross so that your will becomes aligned with His. And, while God absolutely does desire prosperity in all aspects of our lives, He cares for more for our soul than for our bellies. (bellies symbolically representing our craving for fleshly things)
Trust God, die to yourself, fall in love with His law, and ALL these things shall be added unto you.

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.

What’s in a Name?

From the naming of the animals, to the Name above all names, the Bible emphasizes the importance of names. When God calls someone into their purpose, he often gives them a new name: Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Saul to Paul. What is important about these transitions? Why does a name matter? “A rose would be a rose by any other name…” 

Let’s remember the creation of the universe: God spoke and the heavens and the earth came into existence out of nothing. So when God is naming these people, he is creating in them an identity that was not there before. Abram was childless until the moment God named him “Abraham,” which means “father of a multitude.” He did not see the multitude at that time, but it was his identity nevertheless. Jacob (meaning liar) had had to struggle and fight and lie to get everything in life until God named him “Israel,” which means “may God prevail.” From that moment, his identity was a symbol of God’s faithfulness to him and his people. It was a promise that Israel would not be saved by their own holiness and strength but by the salvation of God. Perhaps most relevant, Saul became “Paul,” which means “little, or humble.” This was the pharisee of pharisees, the master of the Law, the wielder of the righteous sword to cut down the enemies of God. Now, God named him “Paul” and we get such words as:

 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.[a] 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Here is a man who has been humbled by the power of God and the realization of his own weakness. The name caused the reality. 

So what does this matter? God hasn’t renamed me like that? Well, maybe he has. What does God call you? Righteous, beloved, sons and daughters, etc. There are hundreds of proclamations in the New Testament about  Christians. More specifically, what has he called you in your life? He has called me a speaker of truth that sets people free. That is a promise he has made me. That is a reality he has called forth. It’s not because I am so smart or eloquent or amazing (ask my wife she’ll let you know it can’t be that), it’s because God has called that part of my identity. So now, I have the opportunity to claim that identity and live from that place. Sometimes I still speak lies, sometimes I say the thing that is hurtful and not  helpful, but my identity lies in what God has called me.

God has called each one of us into our identity. Now, we have to listen and believe, which will lead to acting out of our identity in Christ instead of the hyper-flawed identity we create for ourselves through pride and iinsecurity.

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.