Avenger

Who would offer me vengeance against my enemies?  Who would set me free?  There are a few conditions for someone to avenge me. First, the avenger must be more powerful than the opposition.  Second, the avenger must love the oppressed.  Third, the oppressed must be deserving.  Did you know that God is our avenger?

To be avenged, we must be loved.  God’s love for us is well documented.  It is described as unconditional, everlasting and powerful.  1 John 3:1 explains that God calls us his children.  Who among us does not love our child so much that we would avenge them?

If someone is to avenge me they must be powerful.  God is powerful.  So powerful, he handily establishes his own worlds.   He stretches out the north over the void and hangs the earth on nothing.  He binds up the waters in his thick clouds, and the cloud is not split open under them.  He covers the face of the full moon and spreads over it his cloud.  He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness.  Job 26:7-10 (ESV)

If I expect to be avenged, I need to be deserving.  This is a problem.  I am not deserving.  I am not innocent.  None of us are.  Its been that way since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.  The Lord doesn’t avenge the guilty, he eliminates them.  Remember Noah?  Genesis 6:5 (ESV) The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  That same fate would await us if not for Jesus Christ.  You know the story.  He died for us.  In his death, he took all of our sins upon himself.  He is our avenger.  We have been set free.  We are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  Romans 3:24-25

When we finally recognize the love that God has for us and we get a glimpse of his unimaginable power and we realize that we are now worthy to be called his children, there is only one response.  Worship.

Who rises up for me against the wicked?
Who stands up for me against evildoers?
If the Lord had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.
Can wicked rulers be allied with you,
those who frame injustice by statute?
They band together against the life of the righteous
and condemn the innocent to death.
But the Lord has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.
He will bring back on them their iniquity
and wipe them out for their wickedness;
the Lord our God will wipe them out.                                                                            Psalm 94:16-23

Almighty

Almighty is the attribute that God gives to himself in Genesis 17:1.  It sets him apart.  He has absolute power.  He is omnipotent.  Absolutely nothing can stop him. He controls everything.

We have two options when it comes to hearing God as almighty.  We either accept it or reject it.  Accepting him as almighty means that we place him in a position of utmost esteem.  We worship the almighty by giving him authority over our thoughts and actions.  Alternatively, we can reject him.  Rejecting him says that we are something and he is not.  Rejection of God as almighty is characterized by our unwillingness to yield our thoughts and actions.

This is where I have a problem.  You see, I want to be something.  I always have.  What I endeavor to know better is that being something requires me to be nothing.  Only in my nothingness, can the Almighty breath into me the life of something.

But it is the spirit in a person, the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding ~ Job 32:8 (NIV)

God Is Abounding In Love

Moses said, “please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18).

When I imagine the glory of God, I have grand and terrible thoughts.  Not in a bad way.  In an overwhelming way.  Moses sets me up for it.  When he asks God to see his glory (Exodus 33:18), God gives a frightening response.  God says, “here, stand in the cleft of this rock so that you are protected and don’t look at my face, because if you see it, you will die” (Exodus 33:19-20).  God’s response conjures up images of wrath, danger, and imminent destruction.  But that is not at all what happens.  God appears in the quiet stillness of a morning on a misty mountain top.  There is peace in the air, not a roaring hurricane.  God shares his abundant love and faithfulness with Moses. It’s who he is.

I submitted a similar question to God, “what does it look like to be in your presence.”  He provided an amazing answer, right under my feet.   

Every morning, I sit in the same spot.  I have a recliner that is the perfect place to drink my coffee and begin my daily reading.  This happens at 5:00 AM, every day.  Most mornings, my son would enter my room sleepy-eyed and dragging his blanket.  Quietly and carefully, he chooses a spot directly in front of my chair, lying down and quickly falling to sleep.  The first couple of times that he did this, I would wake him up, asking “if he wouldn’t be more comfortable on the couch?”  It is, after all, about five feet away.  His response was always simple and always the same, “No, I’m good.”  While he lies there my heart and mind ponder his little body and his spunky personality.  Swelling with pride, I consider how perfect he is.  Truly, I wouldn’t change anything about him.  I consider what he will be like when he grows up, the places he will go and the man he will become.  Of course, some of that is up to me.  The love that I provide him and the discipline that I encourage will help shape him into that man.  I pray for him, asking God to bless him, protect him and challenge him.  I pray for me.  That I might be a good example and, above all, share with him the love of the Father that I know in a meaningful and effective way. 

After several days of this, it finally dawned on me.  God had answered my prayer in the most profound way.  You see, Freddy was not coming into my room to sleep.  He was coming to be in my presence.  The couch, while available and far more comfortable was not nearly as secure and intimate as my feet.  This is how it feels to be in God’s presence.  Always.  He is abounding in love and faithfulness.

Exodus 34:5-7 (ESV) The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Love Is

1 John 4:7-12

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

The deli counter of a crowded grocery store is no place to be standing after a long day of travel.  Facing me, was a middle-aged woman with slicked-back hair and jagged teeth.  My thoughts ran wild.  “This is going to take a while.   It shouldn’t, though.  I just want some turkey.  I’ll make it easy for her.”   As she began her greeting, a huge smile took over her face.  She asks me simply “what can I get ya?”  “I need a ½ pound of honey-roasted turkey,” I replied trying to arrange my face to match her exuberant smile.  “Oh man,” she starts, “I have the best honey-maple turkey you’ll ever eat.”  “Do you want to try it?”  “Sure, I’ll take a ½ pound,” I replied hoping to speed her up a bit.  “you don’t want to try it?  I love cutting it.”  That was the turning point for me.  “Really?” I thought in disbelief, wondering how in the world this particular loaf of pressed meat was better than all the others.  “Sure, why not.  I’ll try some.”  She proudly walked to the slicer and pranced back with a two thinly sliced and perfectly stacked pieced of honey-maple turkey.  I pulled them apart handing one to my daughter, quickly consuming my portion.  She was right.  The turkey was amazing.  She was beaming as she put me in my place “I told you, so.”  After completing my order, she says, “next time you come back, I’ll cut you the cracked pepper turkey.  It’s even better.”

The following day, as I loaded my King’s Hawaiian bread with that amazing honey-maple turkey, I wondered if she knew what she did.  In a few short minutes, she was able to reverse my smug, pompous and impatient attitude.  In turn, she filled me with joy, peace, and love.  This was exactly the gift that I needed this Christmas season.

In my reflection, I wondered, how could so much love come from someone so ordinary, in circumstances so mundane?  How could I come away feeling so special?  The answer, of course, is because that’s the way Jesus does it.  Think about it.  He was born to ordinary parents, in a simple little town.  He picked ordinary people to work with and all of them did extraordinary things.  No fanfare, no fancy parades.  Only love.

Merry Christmas!

Titus

Titus 1-3

For years, Titus followed Paul.  He traveled with him, studied with him and learned from him.  Paul is the model of a Christ-follower.  Only Jesus would be better.  Thankfully, Paul had only one intention with Titus.  To show him Jesus.  We have a word for this process.  Discipleship.

We are first introduced to Titus in Galatians.  Then a young Christian, he traveled with Paul teaching the gentiles.  Since he, himself, was a Gentile, he was the perfect example of how salvation is available to everyone.  This was just the beginning for Titus. As his faith grew, so did his responsibility.  Under Paul’s guidance, he mastered Biblical principles and proved his reliance on the Holy Spirit.  This is why Paul recognized him as a leader.  Discerning that he was ready for more, Paul challenged him to lead.

To help prepare Titus, Paul wrote the letters that we now read as the book of Titus.  They are his instruction.  You see, Paul was sending Titus to the churches in Crete.  He would be their leader.  This was no small assignment.  Titus would need to appoint and guide strong leaders for the church (Titus 1:6-9).  Once in place, Titus was instructed to teach the people.    They needed a wise leader that knew the Biblical principles of marriage, Christian living, and good works.  Clearly this is a huge undertaking.  Thanks to strong leaders like Paul, Titus is able to take on this huge role.  It was his discipleship that propelled him.  More importantly, it was his discipleship that enabled the Church to be Spirit-led and God-honoring.

I have two big questions from Titus.  First, who is discipling us?  Do you have someone that encourages you in the Way of Christ?  Maybe it’s your pastor, maybe a good friend.  Take a minute to reflect on the way Paul discipled Titus.  First, he was an example.  then, he encouraged and finally, he challenged.  The evidence of Titus growth from Paul was obvious.  Your growth from your discipler should be obvious too.

The second question is related to the first.  Who are you discipling? Titus accepted Paul’s challenge because it was his duty as a Christ-follower.  It is ours too (Matt 28:19).  What is your challenge?  How can you server or who can you a disciple?  It might look like serving in the nursery, or joining a small group.  Perhaps, you’ve participated in a group for a long time.  Now, it is time to lead one.  There are countless ways to serve Jesus.  I know that you have heard him calling.  Answer him today.

 

 

Philip

What does the holy spirit do?  In How To Be Filled With the Holy Spirit, AW Tozer says “the Holy Spirit came to carry the evidence of Christianity from the books of apologetics into the human heart and that is exactly what He does.”  Today, we get a clear picture of how the Holy Spirit works.  Acts 8:4-12, 26-40 documents his works through Philip, a committed follower.

Simply put, the Holy Spirit lives inside those of us who are willing to host him.  When we do, only one result is possible.  Transformation.  This transformation exists in the life of the believer.  As Galatians 5:22-24 puts it, the believer gets love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.  Those, however, are only part of the picture.  Philip is proof.  The heart conditions created in the believer by the Holy Spirit lead to greater things.  To put it another way, being filled in that way results in action.

When believers are filled with the Holy Spirit, they will act.  But, appropriate action requires direction.  We see this clearly in Philip.  When persecution went wild in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit scattered the disciples.  This was a safety measure.  It’s not the first time God leads his followers away from danger.  Remember Joseph and Mary?  In Matthew 2:13, an angel of the Lord prompts them to take Jesus to Egypt. There, they will be safe.  Philip wisely listens to the Sprit’s prompting and soon finds himself in Samaria.  Incredibly, the Holy Spirit didn’t just lead Philp to a safe place.  He also sent him to a place where he could live fully.

In Samaria, Philip’s heart overflowed.  He could not contain the joy of Christ and did exactly what Christ-followers are called to do. Share the good news.  Verse 5 says he “proclaimed to them the Christ.”  Guess what?  It worked.  The crowds “paid attention,” resulting in healing and “much joy.”  In other words, an entire community was transformed.  This kind of change is not possible by a man.  Philip may have done the sharing and the preaching, but the Holy Spirit changed their hearts.

As I reflect on today’s scripture, I am captured by ONE thing that explains who Philip was.  You see, this post was supposed to be about who him.  Ironically, this post is about Philip and who he was.  Its just that who he was is best described by the Holy Spirit.  To summarize, Philip gave up everything for God.  He became nothing so that the Holy Spirit could become everything.

Crime and Punishment

Judgment, condemnation, punishment, and pain.  That’s what we expect.  It’s justice.  Especially for a criminal.  Death is justice for the truly sick ones.  Those that have murdered or committed other acts of brutality.  It’s what they deserve.  That is not true, however, in God’s economy.  His way is different.   Today, in Luke 23:26-43, we see it first hand.  Jesus befriends a criminal.  More than that, he promises him a place in heaven.  How is this justice?  How is this fair?  Was Jesus not thinking clearly?  This amazing story gives us great insight into our just and loving God.  The answers to the questions lie between the criminal’s heart and God’s love.

“Out of the heart, the mouth speaks,” says Jesus in Luke 6:45.  This simple wisdom is powerful.  In today’s story, we have two criminals.  One is mocking Jesus.  In his heart, the first criminal believes that Jesus is an imposter.  His hardened heart prevents him from seeing the possibility that Jesus is who he says he is.  He can’t even pretend.  The second criminal, however, reveals his hopeful heart.  He acknowledges his fear of God and defends Jesus.  Somewhere, in his heart is a belief that God is who he says he is.  Hanging on the cross, death was near.  He thought had nothing to gain. Out of each man’s heart, they spoke.

If we question Jesus’ wisdom in this matter, we should remember who he is.  I like his reminder to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7. “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  Do you know what the best part about that is?  God defaults to love.  I’m betting that he didn’t see perfection in the second criminal’s heart.  He forgave him anyway.  Why?  Because he will stop at nothing to be with us.  It is the very same reason that he will leave the 99 sheep to look for 1 (Matthew 18:12-24).  Simply put, his love for us cannot be contained.

There is one secret to unlocking the power of God’s love.  Of course, we have to believe, that’s a given.  The Bible says that we also must confess (Romans 10:9-10).  Isn’t this exactly what the criminal did?  Do you know what Jesus would have said to him if he’d kept his mouth shut?  Nothing.  That’s right.  His silence would have been a ticket to Hell.  What is your mouth saying about God today?

Blind Bartimaeus

Mark 10:46-52

He was blind.  Unable to work and unable to carry on a normal life.  He was a beggar.  Sitting on the side of the road, day in, day out, hoping someone would toss him a few bucks.  What hope could there be for a better future?  None, until he hears about a man that performs miracles.  The man was named Jesus.  As luck would have it, he heard that the man was coming his way.  There was excitement in the air as Jesus approached and a flurry of people trying to get a better position.  Bartimaeus only had one option.  To cry out.  “Have mercy on me,” he shouted.

If the story stopped there, you could tell me how it ends.  It is obvious because we know the character of Jesus.  He saves people.  He is a healer.  The only requirement he ever puts on people is to believe.  In fact, he asks us directly to express our beliefs (Romans 10:9-10).  There is a problem though.  Not everyone agrees.

Bartimaeus discovers it first hand.  As soon as he expresses his belief and reaches out to Jesus, they immediately pull him back.  Verse 48 says that they rebuked him and told him to be silent.  In other words, they said “hey, shut up you, idiot!”  I’m sure they were forceful and intimidating.  True faith, however, promotes persistence.  Frustrated by the people, Bartimaeus realized that he needed Jesus to save him from more than just eyesight.  He needed freedom from these wretched people too.  So, he shouted louder.  Loud enough to get Jesus’ attention.

Yes, crying and shouting to God will get his attention.  Do we know what to do once we have it?  Bartimaeus knew with 100% clarity what he wanted.  “I want to see,” he says in verse 51.  In an instant, he was cured.  Thankfully, Bartimaeus’ request was clear, not muddled.  What if he said, “Hey, I’d really like a more comfortable blanket or, I need a bigger bowl to collect tips in?”  I love that he didn’t ask for those easy things.  He asked for the impossible, with clarity and specificity.  Not only did he ask, he believed.

We have an advantage over Bartimaeus.  Jesus died and sent us the Holy Spirit.  That means we have his attention.  It means that our tears and shouts are not wasted.  He hears them.  In fact, just like Bartimaeus, he wants to radically change our lives.  He is there, waiting for us.

 

Clear Direction

Matthew 1:18-25, 2:13-23

Imagine Joseph’s surprise when Mary shares her news.  As the words are coming from her mouth, his heart drops.  She’s pregnant.  But how?  But, why?  He thought they were perfect together.  How could she go and do this to him?  Why did she agree to marry?  His mind races with questions while the anger and frustration build.  But, he was a reasonable man and, he loved her.  He resolved at that moment to control himself and not shame her.  It was not over, however.  His heart and mind would continue to stew on the matter.

As Joseph considered his options, according to verse 20, an angel appeared to him providing specific instruction.  More than that, the angel provided hope and security amidst his uncertainty.  The angel gave Joseph a clear path to follow.  Angels, become a common thing for Joseph.  He continues to get council and direction from them in chapter 2.  Joseph’s response was always, yes, I will go.

As I think about Joseph, I wonder about the unique privileges he was given. First, he played a huge role in the Christ story.  Second, he was directly guided by angels.  I don’t know about you, but I want to be directed by angels too!  How do we get that?  If we are to know how Joseph got it, we must know Joseph better.

First, Joseph was had a Holy bloodline (Luke 2:4).   If we are not careful, we will use this as an excuse.  We may believe Joseph was given special privileges because of it.  Guess what?  Jesus says otherwise.  Through his sacrifice, we become part of his royal priesthood (2 Peter 2:9).  Like Joseph, we’re part of this larger context.  We can be part of a much bigger story, but there is one catch.  We must be ready.

To be ready, we must do as Joseph did.  Look back again at Matthew 1:20.  It says that “as Joseph considered these things.”  What do you think Joseph’s consideration looked like?  If it were us, it might look like worry.  Or, maybe an endless list of strategies to get out of the situation.  Clearly, that wasn’t true for Joseph.  His consideration must have included God.  I imagine him in prayer and reviewing scripture.  Maybe he found comfort in the Psalms or wisdom from the Proverbs.  We don’t get that kind of detail, but we do know the result.  He was given a clear direction.

I believe that we are all able to get direction from angels.  Actually, we get a better opportunity.  Through the gift of Jesus, we get the Holy Spirit.  The real question is, do we hear him?  You see, Joseph ordered his life so that he recognized the angels when they came.  Furthermore, he was also able and willing to turn their direction into immediate action.  Today, we get a privilege that Joseph did not have.  Every minute of every day, we get the power of God at our fingertips, through the Holy Spirit.  He is not a privilege to a select few, we have all been chosen.  Now, the choice is ours.  Will we order our world to hear him?

 

Faith Under Fire

Isaiah 36 & 37

Trouble will come.  Even to the faithful.  Hezekiah proves that in our reading today.  He had been a faithful king, returning the land to God.  He restored the temple and reorganized the priests to present it as a holy place for God.  He brought worship back, providing sacrifices and burnt offerings to God.  He reinstituted the Passover, commanding all of Judah to participate.  Hezekiah was faithful in all he did.  “He did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart and prospered” (2 Chronicles 31:20-21).  And yet, trouble came.

As we read today, Hezekiah’s faithful kingdom came under attack by Sennacherib, the king of Assyria.  He attached them where they were most vulnerable, in their faith.  Threatening to take their city and kill everyone, Sennacherib argued that God could not and would not save them.  That he would be just like the god’s of other cities that he had easily overthrown.  Why would it be different, he asked.  His talk rattled the city and sent fear through their leader, Hezekiah.  This is where faith and leadership collide.

While he may have been overcome with fear, Hezekiah knew where to put his hope.  First, as we see in Isaiah 37, Hezekiah seeks wisdom.  It is important to note who Hezekiah seeks wisdom from.  It was Isaiah, his most trusted prophet.  He knew that Isaiah was a Godly man that would give him direction from the Lord.  When the words of Isaiah were brought to him, Hezekiah’s faith was quickly restored.  This restored faith resulted in further action.  Prayer.

Something strikes me about Hezekiah’s prayer.  It is all about God.  Hezekiah is reaffirming who God is.  He acknowledges his most high position and sovereignty.  Hezekiah invokes God’s power not for his own salvation and maintenance of his kingdom, but for God’s sake alone.  Hezekiah’s true faith allowed God to prove to the world that He alone is Lord.

As I reflect on Hezekiah’s actions, I wonder about my own faith.  When I encounter trouble, do I invoke God for my own salvation, or do I see the opportunity for God to expand his kingdom?  If you have trouble in your life today, consider praying, as Hezekiah did.