How will you thank God?

Psalm 18:1-2

David was a scoundrel. These no doubt. Yet that, God saw something within him that was beyond any of our seeing. Because of his grace, David was spared his demise. Perhaps it was to teach us a lesson that none of us are so far gone that God is unwilling to accept us to his bosom if we are sincere in our faith to him. The key is that we far too often forget that when God secures us from certain peril, we must give god praise in our own way. This psalm was written by David to the chief musician. I find it interesting that David was inspired to write to God but didn’t settle with a word. He gave it to a musician to make it into song. He collaborated if you will. In a way, this is emblematic of how we get anything done that will last and have significant impact on others and honor God; where two or three are gathered. 

I see David at his desk struggling to find the words that will perfectly express his joy at having escaped his doom. Words flow but he is not satisfied. He then turns to the musician. Together they create what is perhaps one of the most memorable of all psalms that has been sung for generation to generation. 

If you were to thank God with your heart, would a word be enough? Would you need to put those words to music too? Maybe in stone? In a book where a single line or paragraph would not be enough? Would you recite a poem? Deliver a sermon? Whisper it in someone’s ear as a way to inspir them too? Whatever you do, thank God. He is our rock and our salvation. His armament is sufficient to turn aside anything that have design to harm you. Thank him today. 

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Comforting the comforter 

2 Corinthians 1:3,4

It has been said that only the one who has been through something can testify to another how to ‘get over’ their similar issue. 

It has been thought that only a recovered alcoholic can truly minister to the alcoholic because the recovered drinker has been there and done that. To be sure, there is some logic to that notion. No doubt. If I want to know how to do something and do it well, I would seek one who has been there before too. Someone who has the ability to explain my path forward in as much detail as my curious mind may require. Children ask adults questions not always to be annoying, but because they know not what they do. 

So what of the times that will come that shall bring tribulations, which is a stained-glass word for the struggles of life? How are we to face those days? How does the faithful find comfort when they have heard so much tribulation even the most devout is now disquieted? What is the faithful to do when the confessions and mentoring has reached a tipping point and their mind is full of sinful thoughts we are unable to release the pain? 

This passage tells us that the same comforter that restores the stressed person, whom we as leaders of the Christian church will pray the Holy Spirit upon, will also fall upon us. What I see this passage saying is that the cycle of comfort is reciprocal and cyclical. That while we for comfort to the disconsolate we will receive comfort from The Holy One. Said another way, if you are not comforted, seek another that is discomforted and pray with them. Hold their hand and walk with them. Receive the blessing of comfort from the Holy Spirit and pay it forward to those who may not know the Lord. In so doing, the Word says that we will be comforted too. 

Your might say that this struggle I have, there cannot be any comfort for me. This pain is too strong and my scars are too deep. I say to you that the God we serve says that He is the God of all comfort. No pain or struggle, sadness or disappointment is stronger than the mighty God we serve. If we just stay in faith with him and continue to be a comforter to others, the Lord will be a comfort to us as well. He will fill us up and never let us run dry. Amen

Until I come

Ecclesiastes 10:15-19
Luke 19:11-27 “Occupy until I come” 
After just having entertained someone who all others had avoided (Zacchaeus), Jesus was preparing to go from Jericho to Jerusalem. So what was Jesus going to do in Jerusalem? He revealed his plan in this parable about faithfulness over money. Jesus knew that money was a pressing issue for the people. That the disciples were needing to be prepared to speak on issues of import to the people. At that time, as now, it was money and how to manage it. 

Zacchaeus was supping with Jesus and He shared a parable about folk who would look to control Zacchaeus (vs. 11) 

The parable: This certain man that Jesus spoke of went to receive a kingdom as his own. But the citizens hated him. In fact they said, they will not let him lead them. So while he was away, he told his 3 servants to occupy while he was gone. That is to invest his money while he was gone. This turned out to be a test to see who would be capable of being the proven leader the citizens might allow to lead them. 
The parable continued: So he quizzed each one upon his return and to see who was willing to be a true steward of that which he trusted them with. The one he gave 10 to reported that he was quite successful in his investments. Was he simply better than the others? Or was he able to do more with much? Or was the certain man aware of his ability to begin with? Perhaps it is all that. But understand this: to whom much is given, much is required and in this case, the one with 10 did not disappoint. 
So he asked what happened to the money? How did you do? The first with 10 said, that his trust was not wasted. That the ten he entrusted him with had literally doubled. In other words the bounty he gave him had not been wasted. It instead had been sent out as a significant investment and came back with twice as much. This might say that he had confidence in the man with ten. Knowing that what he gave him would not be wasted. But it also could mean that he was wise in the recognition of his ability to be proven wise. You see sometimes folk will not trust you with much until they see that another, who has much himself already, trusts you. They will not allow you to lead them unless others speak to you skills. So by knowing the citizens hated him, and they needed a leader, he needed someone that others could speak well of. That he was ready to lead because he already proved his worth. So he said thou good and faithful servant you were a good steward over much. Therefore, emblematic of your ten that you managed well, you shall actually lead ten communities. 
Likewise he testified to the worth of the one with five. But to the last, he asked what was the result of the one I gave you? The little I know I could trust you with? The small amount I know you wouldn’t waste or use to my directive; Which was to occupy? His servant answered with a litany of excuses and. complained about how fearful he was of the austere nature of the certain man. That what he laid down was what he exposed to pick up. In fact rather than being a steward or occupier he instead hid it in his napkin and hid his blessing from the world. 
As such the certain man said I will judge you as by your own words. Yes, he was austere. Likely his tightwad ways is exactly why the folk in his kingdom did not want him. But he was hoping that others would be better received than he. And rather than one who would be just like him, he wanted to see his servants do better. To be brave enough to not be a copycat and unoriginal thinker. But to follow direction, invest in the banks and occupy. Instead he hid the money. The single talent. Well maybe he looked at that little and thought that his boss hated him so he wasn’t going to try. That he was not going to try any harder and just do the little bit. But God doesn’t ask us to have the faith of a fully grown plant or tree. He asks us to have the faith of just a little mustard seed. Because God can do so much with so little if we just trust him.   

Friends and family plan 

Proverbs 17:17

I was at a major cellphone retail outlet once. They were discussing different plans they had available for my new mobile phone. They discussed different fees that provided different levels of service. They said to me that the more I spend the more services would be made available for my benefit. Each plan was for me to have a worry free way to maintain a connected relationship with the people in my life. One option they shared with me was called a friends and family plan. Curious I asked about it. In essence they said that in this plan I could have unlimited connection to my friends and family or a single fee. All I needed to do was be willing to share with the provider who my friends and family are. 

Interestingly I feel a message from God in this. 

Proverbs 17:17 says that a friend loves at all times. The message within those simple five words is that if I have the love of others, they are my friends. Too often I hear people say this person or that person is my friend.  But i believe they use the word too freely. In truth, there are only a few most of us could say are truly our friend. A few who can be trusted to love us regardless of who we are or where we go. Love doesn’t know limits and doesn’t die. A person who is only there when you are in good spirits or needing a drink is not a friend because those are not love. Those are fair weather friends. Love is there in season and out of season. Love is patient and allows me to grow and stays with me no matter what. At all times. 

But what of times that try men’s souls? Times that make me question my own worth as a man and a Christian? That is when I need my brother. He is there when adversity comes and come it will. No doubt. No day will come and go without some form of trial or trouble coming. It may be minor and quickly dismissed. Or it may be life changing and cause me to completely re-evaluate my life. But the trouble will come. The question then becomes, who is my brother? Who will be at my side when my view is focused ahead and I cannot see the danger behind? My brother will, be there. So is it wrong to say to random men, how are you brother? I don’t think so, but I do need to be aware that if I choose to call upon someone in a troubled times and need his presence due to adversity which has come my way, he must truly be my brother. My Christian brother. 

Have you ever heard the phrase, I was born for this? This means to me that I was always meant for this purpose. The word says that my brother was born for adversity. That says to me that adversity better watch out because my brother is here and he was born to deal with it. 

So what does this mean? This means that by investing in my friends and family time in ever increasing amounts, I can be sure that the love I think me will be returned to me and when I am troubled by adversity, so long as I stay connected to my brother, no arrow will profit in me. I find my greatest days are those where I am graced by my truest friends and protected by my brothers. 

May God bless me and you with the love of a friend and the brother who will stand with us in adversity. Amen. 

God is more than love

Romans 15:13

God is love. Love is God. Where there is love there too is God. 

This is a truth I embrace and know to be true in my heart of hearts.  But I’d love all that God is? 

The first thing I must understand is that my limited understanding of love is just that. Limited. God is limitless. So too is what God is. My comprehension of that which created all that I’ve ever known and all that any sentient being that ever realized something beyond itself knew, is depressingly limited. I cannot perceive much at all that God truly is. So how can I say that God is in essence love and love alone? 

Aparantly Paul saw this too in his letters. 

In this passage I see Paul writing that God is not just love, but is the source of hope. Love is kind and patient and long suffering. That I know. But love is hope? What could love hope for? Certainly not itself because the Word says love is not self seeking. The passage continues:

Love is hope and is on a mission to fill us with joy and peace. But it doesn’t happen automatically. It happens by believing. Belief is a powerful thing. For example, I believe that if I go outside now, I will be cold because it is winter. I believe that if I go to a website and click “buy now”, in a few days, something will be delivered to my home. I believe that if I touch my beloved one, I will feel human warmth and tenderness returned to me. Why? Because love is a natural response to love expressed. I love God because he first loved me. Not because I deserved it. But because I am His and a good father cannot help but love his own. 

But what can all of this possibly do for us, the children of God? To what end will this joy and peace bring me? I see this verse saying to the reader that they are feeling hopeless. Perhaps forgotten and unloved. Their days are troubled and their nights are without joy. But joy comes in the morning and Paul is saying that if we just believe in God and his love, we will not just feel better. See a dawn after the dark. Be given peace. Much more than that we will be able to hope and hope abundantly. In a time where daily I hear disheartening news on my radio and in my daily walk, I could use a bit more joy. A bit more love. 

A bit more hope. That is God. Hope in a hopeless situation. 

Grace, before. 

2 Timothy 1:9

This passage is shocking to the new Christian who may not realize that Jesus was here at the beginning. What beginning? The beginning before the world was formed. Before the stars were flung against the inky blue blackness of space and time. Before there was form in the void. Before you yourself were corporeal and walked. 

Before. 
In this passage I see God reveal to me the awesome truth of salvation. That we cannot do anything to earn his grace. We could work day in and day out to the glory of his kingdom without ceasing and without rest. We could raise the dead and converse with every being the universe has and share the gospel to all who have ears. We could live faultless from this day forward and cause no one to stumble. We could pastor the pastor and give peace to the troubled everywhere. And yet we still could not earn a place in his palace of many rooms where Jesus might go to prepare for us. Our works are insufficient in his sight. Yet he will welcome us in if we just accept his grace. But I thought he gave his grace to us 2000 years ago. Not before it all began. 

Therein lies the shock. 

What grace could Jesus have given us before the known universe even began? Timothy is saying that grace and purpose are not mutually exclusive. The purpose of God is not to set down commandment after commandment law after law and edict after edict by which he will judge us worthy or wanting. It seems to this uneducated deacon that Gods purpose is to reveal grace to us. Grace to be his representative on earth. Grace to receive his blessings here and now to his glory. Grace that we might do unto others as he has done unto us. Grace to receive the right hand of fellowship in his presence. Grace to enter thou in, as his good and faithful servant. Grace to receive the blood of Christ which we didn’t earn but he gave willingly for our sake. Grace to be in relationship with the eternal and living God. Grace to be ever ready to practice mercy on those who have done wrong and deserve justice, but instead receive…. grace. 

And he planned it in the beginning when the holy trinity were as one in the beginning. Before. 

The Christmas Promise

1 John 4:9

The Christmas season is always hard on people for one reason or another. It may be because we are suffering in poverty. Or perhaps there’s someone you love who longs to see you but isn’t able to for any number of reasons. Or maybe there is someone that loved you, but is no longer of this world. Sometimes plans are made to see one another but circumstances prevent this from happening. Maybe it was a card, or gift that you expected that never came. Maybe someone gave their word to you that this Christmas they wouldn’t let you down… and then did.

 But consider this: what if THE gift had never come? What if THE biggest gift of all was expected and never came? In 1 John 4:9 the Word of God talks of the reason we celebrate Christmas. We celebrate it because of a promise God made in Isaiah 7:14 that a virgin would bear a child and name him Immanuel. But that was years before the birth of Jesus. What would have happened if Gods promise of the coming Immanuel had never come to be? Or put another way: what if the promises of God were no more reliable than those of mortal man? 1 John speaks to me by saying that the promises of God are the only ones I can expect to happen.

But is the promise of God fulfilled because we deserve it? 

Every Christmas we enter the holiday with visions of sugarplums dancing in our childish heads and hopes that a jolly fat guy will drop down our chimney with gifts we deserve because we were good this year. How do we know he’s coming? Because the commercial told me my deservedness should allow me to expect him to come. But if I really examine myself, I know I deserve nothing less than Gods judgement because every day I sin a little. It may be as simple as having negative thoughts of my neighbor who chose not to say good morning or as egregious as stealing supplies from my overseers stores. I may think in the natural I deserve a break today, but I don’t deserve anything of the sort; especially at Christmas.

But God made me…and God made you…and God made our neighbor. God is our Father and because I am His son he loves me too much to treat me like a stranger. 1 John says that I can expect the only son of God to come not because I deserve life, but because my sin deserved death. Oh, but His love… His love was manifest in the person of his son wrapped in human flesh and given as a living sacrifice so that I would not die but live through his grace. Honestly I cannot think of a better gift that I know I can expect. I expect man to make promises all the time. On his whim, circumstance, or choice he may decide to reprioritize and deny his promise to me. But not God and that is why Christmas matters to me. I urge you to think of the promises that God has kept. The promise made that He is there with us in the joy and the pain. He is there in the valley and on the hill. The promise he would never again destroy the world and signed it with a rainbow. The promise that if we choose Him, and reject walking alone, God will walk with us all the days of our life. This is Christmas.

I ask you to remember that no matter whom you meet or what you read that tells you otherwise, you are worth it. You are a child of the living God and deserve his judgement but instead you have been given a Christmas gift called grace. You are loved even when you don’t think you deserve it and even when you don’t feel it. If you weren’t loved, Jesus would never have come. He never would’ve been born and he never would’ve fulfilled his father’s promise. My brothers and sisters, I wish you a very blessed, expectant, and promised Christmas.

What shall I live for?

Hebrews 9:27-28

It is no surprise or mystery why Jesus came to dwell among us. He came to die so that when we reach our appointed time, we may have eternal life in him. 

But why are we to die? What purpose is there in our dying? This passage seems to offer a glimpse into the answer which I feel is less why we die but more why we are to live. 

Jesus died once for our sins and we are promised to see him again. He has conquered death and sin and will await us in the eternal with all power in his hands. So when we get there,  what shall be our testimony? What should he know about us when we see him again? Again…. when did you last see Jesus? Was it in a selfless act of kindness? A babies laugh? A miracle in the hospital? In the helping hand of a friend? Did you see Jesus? If you haven’t yet seen him, I encourage you to seek him out. Jesus is there if you have eyes to see and a heart that is open to his love. 

So when you see him again, what will be your report? This is the time of judgement (vs. 27) but this is not the end. While we yet live, this passage suggests that Jesus died bearing the sins of the world and will be seen again without that sin. Another passage teaches that the sins of the world are cast into the sea of forgetfulness. So what sins will we have? Only those we carry with us. It seems to me that means that it is not prescribed that we, born into sin, need be burdened by it as we transition into the eternal. If we repent and present ourselves to Jesus knowing we were in a sin sick world but not of that sin sick world, I believe that he will receive us as faithful stewards and will bid us enter in and join him in the place with many rooms which he prepared for us. 

Reject sin, embrace love, seek him, and when the THE of judgement comes, the only one who was ever wholly without sin may yet receive you into his bosom. 

Father, I ask you to purge me of evil report and make me more like your image. Make me into a disciple that is a light unto the world. This I pray. Amen. 

Lead me through temptation 

James 1:2-3

Our father, which art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Forever. And ever. Amen. 

For all my life I’ve never looked at this model prayer and considered the importance of discerning and comparing it to James 1 and psalms 23:4. 

I know of no one who wants to actually walk into evil. I know of no one who actually desires to be led into the tempters snare. But the fact is God never promised to guide evil away from our path or that by entering into relationship with God would be a “get out of jail free card” from bad things happening. In fact it’s been written that trouble will come, but joy cometh in the morning. But to get to that morning, you must first get through the night.  James 1 is teaching me that I should not be bitter and callous towards God when I am tempted. In fact I should rejoice. But how is that possible? 

Think of of it like this: 

God knows his child and what we can handle with his help.  There is no temptation that is greater than us so long as we know that greater is he that is within us. We must be open to the fact that when we are tempted by strange fruit we can be confident in knowing that we won’t fly over it unscathed, or be wended around it unaffected. But instead we will know the love and power of God as he hardens us into hammered iron by his presence as we pass through it. We are to know that when dark nights come, and temptations come to steer us into troubled times, God will be with us. He hasn’t abandoned us or left us to our own devices. He is with us and by going through it with him we will learn his presence and his peace and patience. 

In these troubled times, I know I could stand to learn a little more patience. So God, I ask you today to allow temptation to come my way. In that temptation I will count it joy for I know you are not the God of temptation but will be with me as I pass through it. In Jesus name. Amen. 

I don’t know…

Ecclesiastes 11:5
Today, we are more connected than ever before when you consider the ready availability of the internet, wifi enabled equipment, social media platforms, 24 hour news cycle, town gossips, and online news sources. Very little occurs now that doesn’t get noticed by a camera, cellphone, videographer, or newsman. Privacy is not even available in any public places or private. The mysteries of the depths of the ocean are fast becoming known and considered old-hat. The lenses which we fit on Hubble and SETI have effectively removed so much of the unknown from our visions of the eternal beyond the moon, it’s actually a shock when we see or hear something that is new. So little is considered new and a first it will often become the headline on the six o’clock news and then immediately be relegated to the back page as a casual interest. 
Nothing is new under the sun and you can’t tell me anything is new because it’s all been said before. Conceptually and perhaps even medically I am fully aware of how the bones in the human body knit and expand in density. Books exist that explain just how the child forms in the womb and how the movie was made by seeing the behind the scenes featurette. 
But then I read Ecclesiastes 11 and all of that goes out of the window. 
The writer of this passage is not trying to get us to understand that even if we look hard under a microscope we should disbelieve what our eyes tell us. The writer of this passage is not saying that with a well attuned ultrasound the millions of changes that occur to a fetus will not be plain to all. It is not simply DNA deciding to twist this direction and that, or the blood flowing through that arterie or another. It’s more dazzlingly glorious than witnessing the upturned thumb being thrust into an open mouth or twins who embrace in the womb before they can even see. What is the incredible and inexplicable source of creation to the glory of God is the true mystery. Why would God form us in his image? Why would he look at us and say that is it’s good? What the writer is saying that the powerful gift and breath of life from God is what truly makes the bones coalesce into a complex dance of sinu, marrow, and cartelange forming a whole system of structural support for a human body. But that the reasons behind all of that are a mystery to us. 
The motivation of God to create is not for us to understand. It’s not for us to “get” why He would be so interested in seeing us enter into relationship with each other and Him. It is not for us to know what designs the creator of all has in his mystical trestle-board, upon which the designs of all that ever was, is, and will be is drawn. 
I know it’s disappointing but there really are some things we aren’t supposed to know. It flies in the face of our own perceived greatness. Perhaps it’s because we assume we are to be in dominance over the earth rather than in dominion. Maybe we should read Genesis again….
In due season and as God knows our young minds can absorb, I am sure of one thing: God will reveal. He is not a god of confusion or disorder. He gives us the wisdom and foresight to make choices and love and grow. He gives us so much, how dare we be so arrogant to suggest that we deserve to know more than he already has shown us about his plans and designs for us? I am sure that if we could handle the truth, as someone once said, it would be shown to us. But who’s to say it hasn’t already been shown us? Perhaps we were shown the truth and we misused it. Abused it. Refused to be held account for it. Perhaps even refused it. Maybe God wants us to learn more about ourselves before he gives us even more to absorb. God knows we’ve found spectacular ways to waste good knowledge after bad. Imagine if we knew how He thinks too? I’m reminded of the line in the sand at the base of mount Sinai that God told the Israelites not to cross or die. And when they wanted to see God only saw a small portion of him hidden by meteorological fury. That was enough to tell me that some people can handle the face of God and most others can not. I think I’m in the latter camp. 
God, I ask that you make me content in you. That you grow me to understand nothing and trust in none but you. I ask that you limit my vision to you and that anything else that whorl compete for attention that should be yours alone, gets away and finds parts unknown. I ask that how you think be your understanding alone. That you remove arrogance from me and that your children on this world find contentment and peace in your vision, love, omnipotence and omniscience. Amen