Monday, January 27, 2014

Keeping perspective

This week I read through more of Genesis (chapters 20 – 26), Psalms (chapters 20 – 26), Joshua (chapters 20 – 26), and Judges (chapters 1 – 2).  Lots stuck out to me this week, particularly as I read through the culmination of the lives of both Abraham and Joshua, two huge pillars of the faith.  But one section that hit home deepest was in Psalm 21 (vv 1 – 7) …

How the king rejoices in your strength, O Lord!  He shouts with joy because you give him victory.  For you have given him his heart’s desire;
you have withheld nothing he requested. Interlude.  You welcomed him back with success and prosperity.  You placed a crown of finest gold on his head.  He asked you to preserve his life, and you granted his request.  The days of his life stretch on forever.  Your victory brings him great honor,
and you have clothed him with splendor and majesty.  You have endowed him with eternal blessings
and given him the joy of your presence.  For the king trusts in the Lord.  The unfailing love of the Most High will keep him from stumbling.

For a second … close your eyes and think of God.  What do you think of when you think of Him?  Is it some overbearing, distant deity Who just wants to impose His rules on you … rules that take all the fun away from life?  Or, maybe He’s an unknowable, grumpy, vapor of a being that maintains some sort of scale, balancing the good things you do against the bad things, eventually to break some mean-spirited surprise on you when you try to enter His heaven some day?

It probably all sounds ridiculous, but such are the thoughts of many about our God … even to some degree many Christians.  Many religious systems propagate these personifications of God for all sorts of disreputable reasons.  But none of these points of view accurately portray the God of the Bible.

That’s why I loved David’s writing in Psalm 21.   In contrast to the views just described and all too often commonly-held, look at how David describes the Lord.  Referring to himself (the king … king David), he reflects on how God “has given him his heart’s desire,” “withheld nothing he requested,” gave him “success and prosperity.”  He makes the “days of his life stretch on forever,” “brings him great honor,” and clothes him “with splendor and majesty.”  He gives “eternal blessings” and “the joy of [His] presence.”  Finally, he talks about how God gives us His “unfailing love.”

Hardly the type of talk that sounds like an angry, judgmental, vicious, impersonal God.  Rather, it describes a personal, loving, gracious, and generous Creator who, while He created and knows every atom in the universe, equally knows everything about us and longs to provide our deepest desires and most necessary needs.

What this triggered in me was a reflective attitude.  It made me essentially put myself in David’s shoes, basically able to acknowledge the same things that David was praising God for … even though I’m not a king, with the wealth, riches, and possessions that the king of Israel had.   I’m every bit as blessed as he was.

And so are you.

Sure, we all have heavy burdens that weigh us down.  Worries that we contend with on a daily basis.  Stresses that grind away at the very bones in our bodies.  Disappointments that can cause us to want to retreat to the darkest reaches of life.  But like a longtime friend of ours used to say, “where you stand, depends on where you sit.”  That is, it’s all about perspective.

As 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV) says … “no temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you’re able, and with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you will be able to bear it.  Yeah, life is rough and at times things can feel terrible.  That’s real.  But notwithstanding that, in the bigger picture we’re no less blessed than king David.

So … let’s ask the Lord to help us gain a little perspective. 

Take some time this week and prayerfully sit down and write a list of the ways God has blessed you.  Give it at least 15 minutes.  It’ll probably feel a little awkward at first, but just jot down some thoughts about things in your life that bring you joy, that allow you to experience God’s love and favor in your life.  Write down things you think are beautiful, that make you laugh, that you consider gifts.  At first, you’ll feel weird and probably worried about not being able to list many things … but as you go on, you’ll be blown away by the huge list you’ve crafted, and how trying to list it all in only 15 minutes is tough.  Trust me … give it a try.

Then, read the passage above from Psalm 21 again.  Note the way you can relate personally to the very things that David expresses in the Psalm, almost as though he wrote it for you (and me).  That’s because God is that good … and He love us ALL, equally.

Take stock this week of the ways God continues to show you love, mercy, grace and generosity.  Let that realization change your perspective … and let’s ask Him to allow that change in perspective to pervade all we do, see, and say this week.

In the strong, matchless love of Christ,


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Take a second look ...

My Old Testament journey took me through Genesis 13 – 19, Psalms 13 – 19, and Joshua 13 – 19.  Within that I came across a very familiar passage that has interestingly resonated a bit more deeply than it has in the past.  Fascinatingly, it’s a consequence of the commute to work I now take on.

The passage in particular is in Psalm 19:1 – 6 … probably one that will be recognizable for you, too …

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
 The skies display his craftsmanship.  Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.  They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard.  Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.  God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.  It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.  It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.  The sun rises at one end of the heavens and follows its course to the other end.  Nothing can hide from its heat.

I have to say, one of the surprising things about my new job is how enjoyable the commute is.  The logical reaction to that is … “HUH?  You drive an hour or more each way.  How can that be enjoyable?”  Great question.  Don’t get me wrong … I’d just as soon drive the seven minutes I used to have to drive for the past four years.  But I have to say, I drive probably the most picturesque route in the US … driving through south Orange County and north San Diego County, right by the ocean most all the way, is pretty awe-striking.  The time of morning that I leave usually allows me the blessing of seeing the sunrise on the left of my car and its reflection on the ocean on the right side of my car, not to mention the general beauty of the Pacific with or without the sunrise.

The thing I wonder is, is this beauty so enjoyable because it’s new … because it’s novel … because I haven’t gotten sick of it yet?  Will it eventually just fade into the backdrop of a drive on a freeway that could just as well be any freeway in the US?  Might this energizing scenery sometime soon become a nuisance?

I think, then, of David’s words in Psalm 19 … the reminder he gives us of the glory that God demonstrates in all of His creation.  The heavens … the stars, the heavenly bodies, space, and all that is encapsulated in it and reflected by it.  The skies … the clouds, the colors, the paintbrush strokes you can sometimes see in a sunrise or sunset.  Those represent His handiwork … His creativity, His care and love for creation, His joy in just making something beautiful.  The sun … its immensity, its power, its impact on our entire solar system, its importance in sustaining all life on Earth … the unfathomable way it paints a picture each and every morning and evening, a picture that is never once the same.

And so … my takeaway from all this?

God is allowing me, in only the way He can, to take a little more stock of His majesty each day as I drive (or take the train … it’s really no different) to and from my San Diego-based office.  Each day I’ve noticed something that all too often we take for granted.  It reminds me of a scene from the 1980s movie “Running Scared” where Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines are vacationing in south Florida and notice a group of people standing around the beach at the end of the day looking out over the sea.  Billy Crystal asks this lady, “What are you all looking at?”  She responds, “The sun.  It’s setting.”  He says, “No, really.”  She says, “Yeah, we’re looking at the sunset.”  He just shakes his head, perplexed.

I think we all too often look past the beauty of God’s creation.  Too many sunsets go unnoticed.  Too many amazing products of the Lord’s hand escape our attention.  Just Friday as I was stuck in traffic on Torrey Pines Road (one of the most beautiful streets I’ve ever driven) I took a picture of the sunset.  It was magnificent.  The colors were crazy.  There were some clouds that looked like they were just streaked across the sky and they added a texture that made the sky look like you could feel it.  I just smiled and said, “Thanks God.”  I was actually glad I was stuck in traffic.  Huh????

What I think God was saying to me in this Psalm of David and what I’ve been learning the past two weeks is … take a second look.  Notice stuff.  Appreciate things.  Look as God’s glory and handiwork, not just in the skies or sunsets, but in all things.  Nothing exists but for God having conceived it, designed it, and personally created it.  He did that not only to demonstrate His power and glory, but He also did it for our enjoyment.  What a shame it is when we neglect it.  It’s like when we give someone a beautiful gift and they just set it aside, unopened and unappreciated.

So … let’s notice the sunsets and sunrises; appreciate seeing and elderly couple taking a walk, holding hands even after decades of marriage; listen to the sound of a hawk gliding around in the sky; watch the way a baby smiles, cross-eyed, when he / she notices something for the very first time and tries to grasp its substance; notice laughter in a crowded restaurant; go to the beach (if there’s one nearby … if not, come visit us and we’ll join you … haha) and listen to the waves crashing … not a single one of them sounds the same (trust me); look at the colors on trees in the fall; smell a flower or two; listen to truly wonderful music of whatever genre … yep, even rap and metal.  Just … NOTICE and APPRECIATE.  That’s God’s desire for us.  Why?  Just because He loves us so much.

Let’s ask the Lord in prayer this week to help us stop and notice.  At least just one thing.  Let’s slow down a little and see, hear, touch, smell, etc.  How we rob ourselves when we look past it all.  Let’s pledge to take a second look.

Praising God for you and lifting you up to Him,


Monday, January 13, 2014

God can do ANYTHING ... me, on the other hand, not so much

In this week’s reading through the Old Testament, which brought me through Genesis 6 – 12, Psalm 6 – 12, and Joshua 6 – 12, I found a passage that confounded me a little.  I was half-tempted to just look past it and move into a different passage to write about this week, but something about it wouldn’t let me.  You’ll see why in a minute.  The passage in question was Genesis 11:1 – 8 …

At one time all the people of the world spoke the same language and used the same words.  As the people migrated to the east, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia and settled there.  They began saying to each other, “Let’s make bricks and harden them with fire.” (In this region bricks were used instead of stone, and tar was used for mortar.)  Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.”  But the Lord came down to look at the city and the tower the people were building.  “Look!” he said. “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them!  Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.”  In that way, the Lord scattered them all over the world, and they stopped building the city.  That is why the city was called Babel, because that is where the Lord confused the people with different languages. In this way he scattered them all over the world.

The part of this that I struggled with a little was where God says, “After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them!”  And then he causes the people to speak different languages so they wouldn’t be able to understand one another.  I read this a couple times and also looked at different translations and still couldn’t shake what God was saying … or why He said it or why it was concerning.

Basically, I was thinking, why would God be worried about what the people would set their minds to?  Why would He say that if they spoke the same language that they’d be able to have nothing be impossible for them?  Was God worried about the people being able to accomplish anything, and hence be on equal par with Him?  I couldn’t imagine that to be the case.  But I really couldn’t figure out what the issue was here.  I sought the Lord on it a little more, and read some commentaries on the chapter to see what I could find, because frankly, this was confusing to me.

Here’s what I’ve come up with and how it pertains to us.

God’s observation in this endeavor was NOT that the people would, by virtue of building the tower, become omnipotent somehow like He is omnipotent.  People can never become omnipotent.  But that doesn’t stop us from believing that we can be.  I think that’s the heart of the matter here.

God understood that the people who were trying to build this tower were beginning to develop a bit of a mob mentality that would ultimately have led them to the prideful thought that nothing would be impossible for them.  In other words, the sin of pride would have begun taking root, leading them to believe that they could themselves accomplish anything.   We know from experience that this isn’t the case … as much as the bubble-gum-flavored motivational phrases today might tell us otherwise.   “You can do anything you set your mind to,” popular culture wants us to think.  Well, I’ve never been able to dunk a basketball on a regulation hoop, and no matter how much I set my mind to it, it ain’t gonna happen.  8-)

Now, I understand the importance of believing in the impossible from time to time, and my point in this isn’t to deflate us.  Rather, let’s get back to the tower.  The people here had already begun letting the drug of pride traverse their veins, and God saw the danger in it.  What was the danger?  Well, the more the people might have thought they could do anything, that nothing was impossible for them (despite the factuality otherwise), the less they would rely on God and the less God would have preeminence in their lives.  How many times in our life have we allowed the same type of dangerous thoughts seep in?  For me, too many times to count … and the slippery slope in the thinking is real.  The more we arrogantly believe in our own ability being the key to achieving something, even mundane and minor, the more we’re apt to attribute to ourselves the key to life, fulfillment and success.  Anytime we push ourselves to the front, there’s no room for God to occupy that place.

So, was God being mean-spirited and jealous in this situation?  Not at all.  In fact, He was being gracious and merciful.  How?  He foresaw the perilous situation and intervened directly … not by wiping out the masses, though this would have been warranted, but by creating variation in their language and removing their ability to speak to one another.  God jumped in the way, and took away their opportunity for a woeful cascade of sinfulness and evil decision-making.

How I wish God would always impede our ability to sin to the same degree!  Don’t get me wrong, the Bible is clear that God always provides a way of escape from sin (1 Corinthians 10:13), but He allows us the opportunity to choose to avert ourselves from bad choices.  In this case, He jumped right in and stopped them from a life-altering blunder.  Think about the amazing mercy of His action!  He stopped them from essentially destroying themselves eternally.

We must always be very careful of the type of thinking that led to the potential building of the tower of Babel.  We’re all susceptible to it … every one of us ... to thinking that our own efforts are all that are needed to help us succeed, or achieve whatever end WE decide for ourselves.  Thinking of this type is nothing short of pride, arrogance, and sin.  The consequences of this, as Paul points out in Romans 6:23, is spiritual eternal death.  That’s because the logical progression of this thinking is to minimize and marginalize God.

Let’s prayerfully ask God to reveal any areas of our lives that we placing ourselves in headship for, or where we are shoving God aside.  Let’s ask him to remind us that He created all things, owns all things, controls all things, and determines all things.  Since that’s all true, it must hold that we did and do none of that and therefore we must trust God for all things.  Once we do, then He can work to bring about the ends He alone knows are best for us.  In other words, let’s let Him be God, since we’re NOT.

Be blessed this week!


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Let's not mince (or add) words!

As I mentioned last week, this year I am taking a little different approach to my daily reading, which has had more of an impact already than expected.  My approach for the past few years has been to focus on reading all the way through the Bible each year, and cutting against that grain feels a little odd.  But I’m finding it is already paying some dividends. 

This year I am working through a reading plan that will have me reading the Old Testament, with the New Testament my goal next year.  This means that I am reading quite a bit less than I’m accustomed to … and it feels a little odd, to be honest.  With that said, what I’m finding is that it affords me an ability to take my time reading through stuff and letting it soak in a little more.  This reading plan includes a section of the historic books, a section of the poetic books, and a section of the prophetic books each day.  That means this week I’ve read Genesis 1 – 5, Psalms 1 – 5, and Joshua 1 – 5 (through the first five days of 2014).

As I reflected about my reading this week, a passage hit me that will be a great reminder as I go through the Word this year in particular.   Coupled with the series our senior pastor is kicking off the next couple years, I felt God telling me something that I need to remember … the passage is in Genesis 3.  Note that this is a section where Satan successfully tempts Adam and Eve into directly disobeying God and eating the fruit from the forbidden tree.  Check out what happens here (Genesis 3:1 – 3, NLT) …

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”  “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied.  “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat.  God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

There are many, many very excellent commentaries on this passage, so I have no right trying to take on far more educated individuals who have dissected it.  But, what I find interesting is what Eve said when Satan pushed on her and Adam.  First of all, remember that when God instructed Adam about not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Eve wasn’t there.  She hadn’t been created just yet.  Genesis 2 points out in verses 15 – 17 …

The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.  But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”

In the next verse, God says that it’s not good for man to be alone and then causes a deep sleep to come upon Adam, at which time God creates Eve.  So, Eve was responding but not from direct knowledge.  Even more interesting, look at what Eve said in chapter 3 … “It’s only the fruit form the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat.   God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”  Look back at what God said in chapter 2 … God did NOT say “or even touch it.”  He just told Adam (without Eve there, mind you) that he wasn’t allowed to EAT the fruit from the tree.

Here how these passages spoke to me.  First, it’s very dangerous for us to go through life as Christians supposing what God said, without knowing directly.  This is another reason why we MUST read our Bibles regularly.  Otherwise, we, like Eve, will get caught unprepared for the inevitable attacks we get from the enemy.  And … we will fail, and we will fall.

The second thing that struck me really hit home.  Not only was Eve ill-prepared for the attack because of her lack of direct knowledge, but she added to God’s very direct instructions.  This is a very, very dangerous act, and one, I’m afraid, we’re subject to fairly often as well.  How?  Well, anytime that we add to God’s Word, we teeter on a very dangerous edge.  It could be via adding words or concepts that don’t exist, twisting together concepts that shouldn’t be comingled, or adding practices or traditions to God’s Word.  Those are all ways that cults have arisen over the centuries and, sadly, many have been led to hell.

Another danger is in looking at what IS NOT in God’s Word, rather than what IS in God’s Word.  This can be a source of a great deal of disagreement or division.  In fact, just a couple weeks ago I had a pretty terse argument with a couple buddies because of what the Bible doesn’t say in terms of the creation account.  Instead of us focusing on what the Bible does say, and rejoicing in the love, power, creativity and joy of God’s creation, we bumped heads on whether or not it all happened in six literal days or six periods of time.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter … and we were arguing over something God didn’t see fit to specify in His Word.  He is certainly able and capable of doing so, but for whatever reason, He chose not to.

There are a great many such topics that we humans get stuck on.  We look between the lines and try to figure out things God didn’t intend for us to figure out.  Instead of honing in on what He did say, and as the Bible instructs us being “doers of the word, and not hearers of the word only” (my paraphrase of James 1:22), we try to nitpick what the word says.  Worse still, we try to hold other people accountable to these between-the-lines concepts rather than holding ourselves accountable to what the lines actually do say.

As we set off this year into whatever journey into God’s Word we choose to take, let’s be sure to really take care to know what it says, accurately, and directly.  Let’s not rely on what others tell us or what we think it says.  Let’s dig into the Word directly ourselves so we can know.   God promises we will if we diligently seek to.  Let’s also focus on what the Bible says, not pursue conjecture about what it doesn’t say.  If God didn’t say something, there’s just as much a reason as there was a reason He did say what He said.  (boy that’s a rough sentence)  Let’s keep it simple … that’s how He intended it.

Praying for you this week … that our Father will speak to you powerfully and plainly through His Word.

In the strong love of Jesus, the living, breathing Word of God,