Thursday, July 18, 2013

More than many sparrows

Sunday morning this week, I came out of the service to see a small bird that had probably died by flying into the window. I knew that all the young boys in our church would likely be out there messing with it, so I scooped it up in a plastic cup and threw it in the dumpster. I honestly didn't give it a second thought. But on the way in to work this morning, as I was listening to a teaching on James 1:9-11, the speaker made reference to this old gospel song "His Eye is on the Sparrow".


The lyrics are difficult to understand at times, so here they are: http://www.metrolyrics.com/his-eye-is-on-the-sparrow-lyrics-mahalia-jackson.html

It is so easy to lose sight of the Father's love and glorious riches we have Jesus Christ when we are in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Matthew 10:29-31 Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. 30 But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. 31 So don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.

That little bird that I just tossed in with the garbage, even its life was in the hands of the Father. How much more are His children purchased by the blood of His Son! Whatever you face today, remember this song, and remember this great truth: "You are worth more than many sparrows."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Unfailing Love

35 Who can separate us from the love of Christ?
Can affliction or anguish or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
36 As it is written:
Because of You
we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
37 No, in all these things we are more than victorious
through Him who loved us.
38 For I am persuaded that not even death or life,
angels or rulers,
things present or things to come, hostile powers,
39 height or depth, or any other created thing
will have the power to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Romans 8:35-39

We were created to love and to be loved. There's a lot the Bible has to say about love, not the least of which is "God is love" (1 John 4:8). As ones created in God's image, we need to be able to give love and receive love in order to be emotionally, and sometimes even physically, healthy. This can take many forms, such as a marriage, a parent-child relationship, siblings, friends. But there are many opportunities for love beyond those types of reciprocal relationships. Loving those who cannot or will not love you in return is a big part of what it means to be disciple of Jesus.

Matthew 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

We see this modeled in Christ (Romans 5:8), and one of the beautiful outcomes of such a love is what Paul stresses here in these few verses of chapter 8. Because the love Jesus has for us is completely not dependent upon us, there is absolutely nothing we can do to separate ourselves from that love. What an amazing promise!

What would it look like if we loved each other like that? Paul gives us a picture of what this kind of love looks like in 1 Corinthians 13. I wrote a series on this recently

Do you love even when you don't feel loved? For those you say you love, does it look like 1 Corinthians 13? I know that is a high standard. In fact, it is impossible to do in your own strength. But with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Unspeak

One careless word, intention skewed
One hapless touch of unknown pain
One action viewed through darkened glass
And rainbows shatter beneath the strain

Dark thoughts unfurl in chaotic fury
Distorted dogma demands debate
Unfettered torments from shadows surge
Released reproach recriminates

Contrition birthed through labored breath
Flooded windows washed unstained
Embattled scars embrace forgiven
While consequential wounds remain

One soldier's cause and martyr's mission
One battered brow and crimson face
One prize secured and now dispensed
This path's prevention, a dose of grace

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wisdom and Folly

3 [Wisdom] has sent out her female servants;
she calls out from the highest points of the city:
4 “Whoever is inexperienced, enter here!”

14 [Folly] sits by the doorway of her house,
on a seat at the highest point of the city,
15 calling to those who pass by,
who go straight ahead on their paths:
16 “Whoever is inexperienced, enter here!”
Proverbs 9:3-4, 14-16 (emphasis mine)

How hard it is sometimes to discern between the path of wisdom and the path of folly! They both call for our attention and seek to guide us a certain way. They are not the same path, but they can look very similar. So which one is right? If we are foolish, the path we choose still seems right to us (Proverbs 12:15). How do we discern between the two?

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Proverbs 9:10

We must know God and His Word if we are to find the path of wisdom. Recognizing this need for Him and His instruction is itself the beginning of wisdom, and to know God is to have understanding. We must also not forget the direct approach:

James 1:5 Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.

God is the only source of wisdom, so if you need it, ask for it. It's hard to remember to do this, but I try to ask God for wisdom every day, along with at least one fruit of the Spirit based on my circumstances of the time (right now it is joy that I am asking for). Even so, this exhortation from James is in the middle of his thoughts about proper responses to the trials we face. It is a rare and beautiful gift to be able to understand why you are going through the hardships you face as well as how they will be used by God to conform you to Christ-likeness.

I think, or at least I would hope, that given the same choice as Solomon (2 Chronicles 1:7,10) I would also choose wisdom. I hope you would, too.

7 Wisdom is supreme—so get wisdom.
And whatever else you get, get understanding.
Proverbs 4:7

Monday, July 8, 2013

Wait for the Lord

Isaiah 40:29-31

29 He gives strength to the weary
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Youths may faint and grow weary,
and young men stumble and fall,
31 but those who trust in the Lord
will renew their strength;
they will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary;
they will walk and not faint.


Reclaim me from the depths, O Lord
From the pit of despair, rescue my soul

Weak and pitiful is my body
My own strength cannot save me
My force of will is a child's fist against a mighty wall
My resolve, a tiny stone in a hurricane

Anchor me, O Lord, in the harbor of Your faithfulness
When the storm rages, cover me with Your right hand
And let me not be afraid

- October 29th, 2008

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Study in Ephesians: Part 14, Ephesians 3:1-13

Ephesians 3:1 For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—

More transitions words from Paul here, indicating some significant dependence on his preceding statements. He is about to share something in light of what he previously shared. What he specifically has in mind here as the reason for what he is about to share can be seen in the latter half of the verse,  "the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles". At the end of chapter 2, Paul is focusing in on how the mystery of God's plan to bring glory to Himself includes bring Gentiles to salvation as well as Jews, creating for Himself a single body of believers from two disparate groups. So, as a culmination of that idea, "For this reason", he continues...

Ephesians 3:2-4 you have heard, haven’t you, about the administration of God’s grace that He gave to me for you? 3 The mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have briefly written above. 4 By reading this you are able to understand my insight about the mystery of the Messiah.

... except that he doesn't. Seeing the chapter as a whole, we see that the "for this reason" continuation is not picked up until verse 14. Here, Paul takes a moment for a parenthetical digression. You can almost hear the wonder in his voice. It's like he was writing "on behalf of you Gentiles" and just stopped for a moment. It's hard for us to fathom how incredible it was to the Jews that their Jewish Messiah was a Messiah for the Gentiles as well. If he was having a conversation about this with someone, he might have said, "Do you realize what I just said there? This is incredible! Jesus is the Messiah not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well!"

In fact, that's essentially the tone that I see here in verse 2. "You have heard, haven't you, ..." This is a big deal, and despite the lack of the instant press of our Internet days, Paul expects this news to have gotten around and seems like he would have been surprised if they hadn't heard. This is similar to Isaiah 40:28 that I wrote about yesterday. "Do you not know? Have you not heard?" There's an incredulity in both writers' words, even more so in Isaiah, as if to say that the writer finds it hard to believe that anyone could not know what he is sharing. I don't think that Paul meant to belittle those who may in fact not have heard. The mystery has been revealed! Jesus is the Messiah for both the Jews and the Gentiles! Like a child on his birthday who receives an amazing gift, Paul is excited about sharing this revelation with all who will listen.

I want to finish out here focused on "the administration of God's grace that He gave to me for you". I was really struck by this phrase, especially the parallel we find in spiritual gifts. Paul had a special mission and a special message for a specific group of people. He was not content to simply glory in his own experience of the gift or mystery. It was one that demanded to be shared, and Paul eagerly complied.

I see spiritual gifts in the same light. God gives each of us a measure of Himself, whether mercy, wisdom, teaching, or shepherding, for the express purpose of building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11). As a disciple of Jesus, the Holy Spirit has given you specific gifts to be used to build up your local church body. That is part of your mission in life, and this mission cannot be accomplished on your own. You must be actively involved in a local church body to use your gifts. You yourself have a special "insight about the mystery of the Messiah" through how He has revealed Himself in your gift mix. 

Part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus is to be actively involved in a local church body. Just like a physical body with a non-functioning organ, if you don't play your part and do the work God has given you, then that local body is not as healthy as it could be. 

For we are His creation,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared ahead of time
so that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10

Monday, July 1, 2013

You are not alone

27 Jacob, why do you say,
and Israel, why do you assert:
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my claim is ignored by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Yahweh is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the whole earth.
He never grows faint or weary;
there is no limit to His understanding.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Youths may faint and grow weary,
and young men stumble and fall,
31 but those who trust in the Lord
will renew their strength;
they will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary;
they will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:27-31

Do you feel alone? Do you feel like not even God understands what you are going through? Haven't you heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth! He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to His understanding! God never grows tired of being God, of being the One in control of everything. And He always understands everything and everyone to the utmost. There is nothing that you face that is beyond His power or His understanding. He is the Creator of all things, and as a disciple of Jesus Christ, He is also your Father in heaven.

Are you tired of bearing the burden you carry? He gives strength to the weary. Do you feel helpless to change the circumstances you face? He strengthens the powerless. Even the strongest among us faint and grow weary at times, and even the most committed stumble and fall. But you, trust in the Lord, and He will renew you strength. Trust in the Lord, and you will soar on wings like eagles. Trust in the Lord, and you will run this race of being a disciple with endurance, not growing weary or faint.
 
Cast your burden on the Lord,
and He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.
Psalm 55:22