God’s Names – Shepherd

Psalm 23:1
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Sheep and goats are amazing and ridiculous beasts. They can be really social and even companions to us. And they can get themselves into terrible and dangerous situation. And they have serious issues with eating, especially what to eat and how much to eat. And they are awesome.

So it’s no wonder we are so often referred to as “sheep” in Scripture.

We are community-oriented “companions” to one another and to our Shepherd. When I was a kid (dad-joke intended) my brother and I and a couple of cousins each had a pet goat at the Land Ranch. These domesticated beasts would act almost dog-like, bouncing up to you as you walked into the barn (in hopes of being fed, but more on that in a minute). They travel in herds, listen to their guides and even to a degree cuddle up with you. We all are made for community and joy. We are designed to bounce up to our Shepherd, be fed and tenderly cared for. It makes us come alive.

And we do the dumbest things because we are either not paying attention or just don’t know any better. One of our ranch-duties was to drive the fence lines to rescue goats from their own stupidity. You see, sometimes goats would roam their massive acreage simply enjoying and grazing neat a the fence. The would then spot a little patch of green grass on the other side of the fence, enticing them to poke their heads through the fence to nibble on some greens. The issue is that these goats have horns. Bending backwards. Which means that when they try to pull their heads out from the fence, their horns prevent their escape. So we would regularly come upon these “stuck goats” and have to clip the fence to free them. My goodness how often we do this. We say something moronic and immediately with we could shove the words back into our mouths, but we can’t. Or react out of a fit of rage, only to find ourselves in more trouble than what caused the rage. Over and over. Everyday. So we need “new mercies every morning” to clip the fence and rescue us…so that we can do it again tomorrow.

And we all have terrible eating disorders where we either starve ourselves or gorge ourselves on unhealthy food (and I’m referring more to spiritual food, though worldly food certainly applies as well). Sometimes goats put their heads through the fence for some “forbidden” grass, and sometimes they just eat the “wrong” stuff that’s right in front of their faces. Ironically I met a goat yesterday whose name is Woody. I was sitting around town when Misty and her goat Woody walked up and sat near me. As we talked about life, goats and what makes for good BBQ (cabrito was on the menu) Woody kept sniffing around and trying to eat pretty much everything, much like a toddler who is learning to walk pulls everything off the shelves and tables he can find. Not only that, but some goats (not sure if it’s all goats) don’t know when their bellies are full…and they keep eating, even to the point of death. This parallel is my everyday life. I want to consume all sorts of things that aren’t on God’s “healthy menu” — and not just the “bad” stuff. I consume too much media because it looks good. I consume too much approval from others because it feels good. I stick my head through a fence to eat up gossip or slander. I need a shepherd to come alongside and feed me the good food, and pull my mouth out of the wrong trough.

And we are awesome, men and women made in the very image of God. Goats are so annoying, and so amazing. They are fun to hold, to play with and enjoy. This is what we are made for in the Lord. In the midst of our ridiculousness we are image-bearers of God himself, and he has designed us for the purpose of enjoying one another and, most especially, enjoying Him by glorifying him as our Shepherd. Our sustainer, feeder, rescuer and friend.

Jesus made this point himself:

John 10:11
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

He is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4) that so deeply loves us that he comes out searching for and rescuing us morning by morning. But we’ve gotten ourselves in so much trouble through the depths of sin that Jesus is not only our Shepherd, but the Lamb of God who was sacrificed so that we would not have to be.

And now, being loved, freed and empowered, we the lost-but-found sheep are sent out to be under-shepherds, as we see Jesus telling Peter and us:

John 21:16
He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

God’s Names – Mighty Rock

I love the picture YouTube chose for this video. It summarizes my character pretty well.

Psalm 62:7
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

We are going to do a little Devotional Series on the Names of God. Not the more “formal” names we might think of, but the personal character-names the Psalmists give God…like Shepherd, Portion, Help, Salvation, Rescue, Fortress, Shield….etc. There are so many great ones.

To start I want to talk about God our “Mighty Rock.”

One of my college summer jobs was being a beach lifeguard at Port Aransas, Texas for a really cool camp. We would position two guards on the beach about 50 years apart and 2 guard in the water at the 2nd sandbar (maybe 50 yards out, about 4 feet deep), making a big square that the kids had to stay in. Several times while being out in the water we’d have a teenager that was getting overwhelmed with the water, current, waves or exhaustion and begin to panic, frantically dog-paddling and feeling like they are going to drown. We’d go over to the kid, speak calmly to them, telling them that all they have to do is stop flailing about and…simply stand up. It looked like the water was deep and the future dim, but in fact there was solid ground available, if they would just stop, and stand.

This is my daily life. It happens in the little things and the big things. Like Peter in Matthew 14 the “wind and the waves” eclipse Jesus and I can’t see how or feel solid ground. And Jesus reaches down, time and time again, to lift me back up and “set my feet on a rock.”

In real life my feet search for solid ground…acceptance by other, financial security, physical health, relationship healing…so many things that I desperately want in order to feel secure. But EVERYTHING in this world is shifting sand. Things change, people fail (especially me), stuff falls apart, injustice continues, pain is chronic. But not so with Jesus. As Peter himself wrote, quoting Isaiah 28

1 Peter 2:6
For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

  • When my financial sand moves, Jesus provides.
  • When my relationships shake, Jesus loves.
  • When I feel all alone, Jesus is the Immanuel.
  • When I am rejected, Jesus was rejected so that my Father will never reject me.
  • When I feel unable, Jesus gave me the Spirit to empower and gift me.
  • When family is difficult, Jesus has made me a co-heir of the Father.
  • When death looms, Jesus died so that it no longer has power.
  • When my body deteriorates, Jesus’ resurrection promises me a new body.


Commit & Trust

Psalm 37:5
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.

I cannot fathom the number of times I wish I would have followed my parents’ advice of “Think before you act.” From being an impatient driver to spontaneous spender to, and most especially, reckless talker. Every day of our lives is filled with a smörgåsbord of actions, plans, goals, decisions, discussions etc. The word “way” is the umbrella statement the Psalmist uses to encompass all these things. He is imploring us and himself to not be a lone-ranger and not be a reckless act-er. To help with this virtually impossible task, here are a few notes:

  1. Way – First we need to get a grip on which “ways” rule our day. I’m not talking about the decision of what socks you are going to wear, but rather those “ways” that rule your life. Maybe more specifically, what big decision or pathway is weighing on you? I recommend you even write these things down so you mind and heart can get a realistic picture of them.
  2. Commit – As you look at these “ways,” begin the miraculous process of putting them onto The Lord’s lap. The classic American way to do this is to pray about something and finish it off with “in Jesus name” and think that we’ve committed our way to the Lord. Nope. It’s actually having a conversation with the Holy Spirit about the path in front of you; the goals, objectives, plans, fear, hopes etc.
  3. Trust in Him – In my mind, this is the hardest part. To Trust in him. Get the verbiage here. It’s NOT to trust in the outcome, but to put your trust in Jesus himself. It’s not just to lay your “ways” on his lap, but it’s then letting go. Repeat that…letting go. This in and of itself is a miraculous work of the Spirit, enabling our hearts to release control, stop trusting in ourselves or in the ways of this world, and begin to trust in the Almighty; his Decisions and His actions.
  4. Act – And God acts. In reality, God has “acted” during this whole process. But regarding this one particular “way” in which you are trying to Commit and Trust, God himself will be the one that carries the burden. We most certainly have a responsibility and are called to get off the couch and work diligently. But with this promise, we can also work FREELY, knowing that the Lord is the one that will make the way and carry us to the end.

Let me give you two examples.

One of the bigger decisions in life revolves around vocation and location. My family and I have made a couple of big moves in life and they were really difficult “ways” that we desperately, prayerfully and miraculously put on the Lord’s lap. In our journey from Houston to Asheville we spent months in prayer and research, as did Grace Community Church. We had a really hard time coming into anything close to clarity, but after seeking a lot of wisdom from faithful men and women, Amy and I just laid it on Jesus’ lap and, in the end, made the best decision we could, leaving the results up to the Lord. And then 6 weeks later thought that we made a horrible decision, wondered where God was, and tried to move back to Houston! See, it’s not so neat and tidy. But as we kept committing our way over and over (as we also de-committed lots of times), God kept showing up. He didn’t give our hearts peace to go back, even though we had another job offer. He confirmed that, even though it was difficult, he had moved us to Asheville and was going to do a work in and through us. It was messy, painful, exciting and glorious. And still is.

The second example is much better. It’s Jesus. In the garden. The night before he was crucified. He got on his knees face down and desperately committed his way to The Father, pleading for Him to “take this cup from me.” But then truly truly TRUSTED the Father by saying (and meaning) “not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22). I cannot possibly fathom the love and trust that took. And it sure seemed like the Father DIDN’T act. So much so that Peter tried to sword-fight his way out of God’s plan. But now, on this side of Easter, we know that in fact the Father DID act. Perfectly. Shockingly. He sent his own son to die in our place, and then took our breath away by raising Him from the dead so that all who trust in Christ can also be brought from death to life. All because Jesus Committed his way, Trusted in the Father, Who acted.

And so now we can commit and trust because we have a Father we know we can trust, whose powerful hand is not too short or unsteady. If he did not spare his own son, won’t he give us all good things! (Rom 8:32

The Gospel in the Midst of Unrest

(see below for some helpful links)

Hello Grace Family. The past few months have pushed many of us to our limits, and then last week has pushed many of us beyond. I wanted to take a few minutes to try to wrap the cyclone of violence, fear, racism, hatred and polarizing in the hope of the Jesus. This is not about politics or which news channel to watch (I’d really rather us minimize our news intake and abandon most social media); it’s not about sides or throwing stones. What I want to do is get to the heart of the Gospel which tells me that Jesus became an outsider to come resurrect us rebellious outsiders, empowering us to sacrificially love other outsiders. The Gospel revolves around Jesus, on the cross, paying for the justice that we deserved so that we now pursue love and justice for others. It’s a misunderstanding of the Gospel to minimize or even ignore the outrageous pain and injustice spreading throughout our country.

One of my favorite theologians and pastors is Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote “The Cost of Discipleship,” one of the all-time-great Gospel books. He put his life on the line during WW2 by helping create the “Confessing Church” movement which stood strong against Hitler’s insistance that all Protestant Churches unify as pro-nazi. He was later tried and found guilty of being part of an assassination attempt against Hitler. He was hung April 9, 1945 three weeks before Hitler committed suicide. His words are just as applicable in our time as they were in his: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Now, just to be clear, we are NOT at all living in Nazi Germany and fighting against an evil regime. But we are living in the midst of a some violent and racist people, and our duty is to lovingly stand with one another in pursuit of reconciliation and justice. We need to put down our throwing-stones and realize that the vast majority of people working in law enforcement are truly there to serve and protect all people without exception; and the vast majority of protesters truly want justice and are against rioting and these violent reactions.

As I try to do this, I quickly realize that my theology can’t fit neatly into any political system or party, which means I need to put away my red and blue boxes and begin praying and acting within the mosaic box of the Gospel that simultaneously tells me to respectfully submit to The State (Romans 13) while also sacrificially seeking justice and standing up for the oppressed and poor (Micah 6:8).

Let’s look at the words of the prophet Amos who spoke during horrendously violent injustice and abuse:

Amos 5: 23
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

See the pairing at the end…justice AND righteousness. God will not listen to our worship if it’s just religious, not penetrating our hearts and manifested in loving our neighbor as ourselves; loving the oppressed the way Jesus loved us. In so doing we live out His Righteousness by caring for the downtrodden and marginalized.

So what does that mean?

1) Listen and try to understand. Have actual conversations with a real diversity of people where you just listen to them talk about their experiences. Respect others’ viewpoints. Assume that other people are also intelligent and have a valuable perspective.

2) Go Local. Ask people locally what reconciliation and hope would look like right there at home. Go to those that consistently work with a marginalized and vulnerable population, asking them for wisdom and advice, and how you can be part of a solution.

3) Pray. Please pray for all of our hearts, especially the leaders (political, social, spiritual etc), that they would be overwhelmed by the Love of Christ and desire true love and reconciliation across all boundaries. Also pray for your own heart, that you would better understand the love of Jesus and what it might look like to enjoy his love for yourself as you express his love to our neighbors.

The “&Campaign” which seeks to integrate Biblical Values with Social Justice. HERE

Emmanuel Acho (former NFL player, Christian) explains from a Black Man’s perspective. HERE

The Calls to the Wild

Sometimes God gently whispers.
Sometimes God boldly shouts.

As I’ve talked about before, we have a couple of semi-feral cats. They are indoor/outdoor creatures that can often be found either curled up on the couch or roaming the neighborhood looking for trouble. When evening comes and I suspect the latter, I go out in my front yard, whistle and shake their food bowl, calling them home. More often than not they come running home looking to fill their bellies.

In your experience, what’s the most effective way to get somebody’s (or something’s) attention? What’s the most effective way for somebody to get YOUR attention. Is it the carrot or the stick? In reality, it depends. It depends on the situation, on our ears and attention, on how dire the circumstances and how stubborn our hearts. When one of my cats puts her nose near my food, I don’t use a gentle whisper but a sharp vocal pop. When our daughter Emily was walking too close to the edge of Triple Falls, it was a loud and seemingly harsh correction. When I was in college and trying to “win the heart” of Amy I brought her flowers and wrote her love letters. I didn’t sent Emily flowers to get her to away from the edge of a waterfall and I didn’t loudly instruct Amy to love me (I’m thinking that wouldn’t work very well).

Over endless generations the Lord has done the same. The book of Hosea gives us great insight into this, using both parent/child and husband/wife relationships, more specifically talking about loving a wayward, abused and heart-hurting woman.

Look at these two ways the Lord calls us, The Wild:

Hosea 11:10
They shall go after the LORD;
he will roar like a lion;
when he roars, his children shall come
trembling from the west

Hosea 2:14
Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.

Sometimes Jesus turned tables, sometimes he held children.

How do these sync with you? How has God beckoned you to his side, into intimacy?

What I think God really wants us to understand is not to confuse the mode with the message. His message has always been and will always be a proposal and call to deep relationship. His message will always be a calling for our good and His glory; a calling to life and love. This is the coupled message of the cross. The cross is a violent shout against sin, fear and death; and a gentle, soft and alluring whisper of the extent of His love for us and how much he was willing to sacrifice to bring us home.

Love the Law?

Psalm 119 is one of those tough ones that has caused me angst. It’s the longest chapter in the Bible (176 verses) and, in almost every verse, talks about the greatness and God’s Rules (laws, precepts, ways etc)…AND how much the Psalmist loves and delights in them.

I gotta admit, that’s usually not me. But then I realized and remembered something about God’s Law. The point of the Gospel isn’t about my behaving properly (though that is an outcome) but that goodness, the Law itself, has been fulfilled already in ther person of Jesus. He not only kept them all on our behalf but the beauty of the Law (love, fidelity, honesty etc) describes and defines Him. And this utterly changes the way I read Psalm 119. So when we hear about the Psalmist’s love of God’s rules, we can read that as as love for Jesus, which makes us appreciate the kind and protective measures of his rules; not a means to confine us as much as point us to Jesus.

Here’s some examples:

Psalm 119:31
I cling to your testimonies (“to Jesus”), O LORD;
let me not be put to shame!

Psalm 119:36
Incline my heart to your testimonies (“to Jesus”),
and not to selfish gain.

Psalm 119:37
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways (“Jesus”).

Psalm 119:41
Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD,
your salvation according to your promise (“Jesus”).

Psalm 119:46
I will also speak of your testimonies (“Jesus”) before kings
and shall not be put to shame,

Psalm 119:47
for I find my delight in your commandments (“Jesus”),
which I love.

Psalm 119:50
This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your promise (“Jesus”) gives me life.

Just to be clear, this certainly doesn’t mean that God’s moral code and guidelines are null and void. Quite the opposite. As Paul talks about in Romans, the Law reveals our inability to be pure and our need for Jesus, driving us to humble repentance and reliance upon him. And once in him, the law reveals what it looks like to live as children of a Good Father rather than little feral orphans that live only for themselves.

Curing the Incurable

To differing degrees we have all struggled with the fear of “What if this never gets better?”

  • Covid-19
  • A Relationship
  • My Finances
  • A Persistent sin
  • A Persistent pain

This is the human condition, our own personal muddy rivers that pour out from the spiritual Dead Sea. Creation, including each of us personally, are broken, leaving us hungry for and dependent on a cure, wondering if there really is one.

This is the house in which the whole book of Jeremiah resides. Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible and covers the exile of God’s people to Babylon, with the promise of eventual restoration. A brief outline of Jeremiah is also a brief outline of The Gospel itself. This post will be a bit longer than normal, but it will be dense with Gospel-Truth and hope. The outline is this:

  • Our First Marriage
  • Forsaken & Divorced
  • Curing the Incurable
  • Our Restoration
  • Our ReMarriage

Our First Marriage

Jeremiah 2:2a
“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride…

From creation God has designed us to be His; to be loved, cared for, satisfied, with him and one another. He has made us His Bride and brought us to himself.

However….we wanted “more”

Forsaken & Divorced

Jeremiah 3:8
She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce.

This conviction is shockingly humiliating. We the Bride of Christ have run off with other lovers and have become incurably diseased (forgive the mixed metaphors). We have “forsaken” the very One that has given us our very being and he has justly sent us off with a certificate of divorce, leaving us alone, broke, loveless and hopeless.

Jeremiah 2:13
…for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Also seen in Jeremiah 16:11, we are all culpable in looking for our love, our hope, our life, our joy, our being, our identity in other things, even good things. We all perpetually look to things in this world, the opinion of others, success and accolades, financial security, fleshly pleasures, personal victory, arrogant righteousness….

To put it much more bluntly and accurately, Jeremiah spells it out in gruesome detail:

Jeremiah 3:1b
You have played the whore with many lovers…

And in light of this treachery, Jeremiah 30 paints a terrible and hopeless diagnosis and prognosis:

Jeremiah 30:12-14
“For thus says the LORD:
Your hurt is incurable,
and your wound is grievous.
13 There is none to uphold your cause,
no medicine for your wound,
no healing for you.
14 All your lovers have forgotten you;
they care nothing for you;

What horrifying news to hear: “we are incurable.” And we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

And then the doctor comes back into the tear-filled room.

“Actually, though you are incurable, let me tell you about an ‘alternative medicine.'”

The Cure

Jeremiah 30:17
For I will restore health to you,
and your wounds I will heal,
declares the LORD,

Sit in this miracle for a moment. As we own the incurable state of our whole hearts, the truth and offer of a cure is outrageous, even unbelievable. The truth that we’ve gone so far and have been struck with such a fatal virus, to then be pursued and given a miracle cure. And it comes in a shocking form: the Son of God Himself.

Jeremiah perpetually points to a new covenant, a new promise, a new hope…a “Righteous Branch” that will come out of the dead stump of humanity:

Jeremiah 33:15
In those days and at that time I will cause a Righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

The Father himself has brought forth life in and through his Son Jesus, bringing us hope and life, healing our unhealable disease. But the only way to accomplish this was the put our disease onto and into the Son. He had to be the “death eater” into whom our virus would be transferred. This is why on the cross Jesus proclaimed a terrible truth…that the Father, because he is perfectly just, had to replay his Son what we have paid unto him: forsaking…

Matthew 27:46b
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And in so doing, our sin of forsaking has been owned and paid. The fatal virus of sin, fear and death has been transferred over to Jesus, which makes us well.

But it’s even better than that

Restoration

Jeremiah 30:18
“Thus says the LORD:
Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob

It’s not “enough” to simply be healthy because all of our resources have been lost. We would still be destitute. Healthy, but destitute.

And so God restores our strength, our gifts, our hope, our security. He makes us healthy, then he makes us instrumental in his hands. We are now priests of the Living God, living stones, empowered by the Spirit Himself.

But it’s even better than that!

Re-Marriage

Jeremiah 30:22
And you shall be my people,
and I will be your God.”

It’s great, but not enough, to be made well.

It’s great, but not enough, to be powerful and instrumental in the Father’s hands.

We are actually RE-MARRIED. He doesn’t just bring us back as healthy servants. He brings us back as His Bride. He re-commits to us with a perfect, eternal, unending, steadfast and faithful love. He has run after us in the wilderness, picked us up and brought us back home to together be with him forever. He is our Great Groom and we are His Bride.

Yes, in this life we give into the lure of other “lovers.” And we keep coming back to our wedding vows because our marriage is made secure by HIS vows over us, that He will never leave nor forsake us.

What Joy. What Hope. What Peace. What Love.

We the Incurable have been Cured.

Hewn Rocks

Isaiah 51:1
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
you who seek the LORD:
look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.

1 Peter 2:4-5
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Training a Divine Pet

Job 41
1 “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook
or press down his tongue with a cord?
2 Can you put a rope in his nose
or pierce his jaw with a hook?

5 Will you play with him as with a bird,
or will you put him on a leash for your girls?

I can’t imagine not having pets. I have had at least one pet most of my life (with a short gap in the first few years of marriage). Why is it that we love our pets? What is about them that give us so much joy?

To answer that, we also have to answer what it is about our pets that drive us nuts and make us want to take them to the humane society (or maybe literally take them).

To understand my love of pets from this backdoor angle, let me introduce you to Queso.

My goodness this was a great dog. We got her when our kids were little and showered her with loads of love and affection. But my goodness, she was a rebellious pup. Any of you that have experience in raising a lab puppy already know where this is going. Digested baby blankets; furniture being treated as chew toys; cats and squirrels being chased; Halloween candy stolen; water faucets being ripped off the side of the house.

Wait, what was that last one? Did I catch you off guard? That’s a true story.

Us Lands were out of town and on the way back. I had a youth group kid house/dog sitting to keep things somewhat under control. Then I got a call when we were about an hour away.

“Queso just pulled the watcher faucet off the side of the house! There is water going everywhere! What do I do?”

Apparently she was, in typical lab fashion, playing tug-o-war with the hose (which was screwed into the faucet). And apparently she won! The faucet bent; water was shooting out of the side of our house.”

We loved that dog, but she also drove us crazy. Sometimes it was cute and funny, sometimes it made me seriously angry and made me debate the wisdom in having a dog.

We love pets because God has made us to live with, among and in community with animals, and some animals (like dogs) really reflect our origins in the Garden. Running, playing and cuddling with these cuties (like the lion and the lamb one day will do). But there’s also a prickly side to these beasts because they aren’t always tame. We love them when they act like they are part of the holistic order, but not so much when they try to rise up above their “proper order” (i.e. underneath us as their “bosses”).

This is where we find God and Job in a conversation. Job, in the midst of being horribly plagued by death, disease and destruction, understandably contests God’s rule of the world, claiming that it isn’t “just”. After many chapters of complaints, God finally speaks us with a barrage of “get in your place, little man” comments. He perpetually asks things like, in Job 38:4, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” — God then goes into the specifics of listing the animals of the world that he not only designed but continually cares for. Then he gets into a while beast named Leviathan. We don’t know if this is a) a mythical creature in Job’s time that would have brought about terror; b) a commonly known animal that instilled fear, like an alligator; or c) a unknown-to-us beast like a dinosaur (or dragon? go read the description in Job 41, it is wild!). What we do know is how ludicrous it would be for Job to think that he could subdue such a monstrous creature and make it a pet for his daughters.

Yet this is exactly what we try to do with God

Job 41:10
No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up.
Who then is he who can stand before me?

We try to “tame and declaw the Lion of Judah” as some have said. We don’t like it when God gets “out of line” and goes against what we perceive as the “proper order”. Namely, we are in charge and it’s better for God, like children, to be seen and not heard. We want the cuddles of God, but not the quills; the smile but not the growl. We want a divine pet that we can control and put in a cage when He gets aggressive.

But this isn’t who God is, or who we are. He isn’t a tame beast that we, in our little and limited lives, can put a bridle in his mouth (Job 41:13) to tell him where to go and how quickly.

And though this is super uncomfortable and frustrating to our pride, this is exactly the God that we need. We need an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God that is so far above us that He will do things that are best which we don’t understand or agree with, like we when take our children to the doctor. We have an untamed, powerful and passionately jealous God who will go, and has gone, to the edges of the Earth, and even to the Cross, to redeem and renew his Beloved.

So my proper response, like Job’s at the end of his book, is to be humbly wide-eyed and mystified by the Glory, Beauty and Love of our True Lion of Judah.

Stop Hibernating

2 Chronicles 33
10 The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. 11 Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. 12 And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13 He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God.

I continually find myself focusing my mind, heart, energies and resources toward what is next rather than what is now, here. And this pandemic season has dramatically increased this in my life. It makes me want to curl up and hibernate until it’s all over. Wake me up when we this is history, when social distancing is over and toilet paper is plentiful. I’m tired of swimming in this sewage: the news, the blaming and shaming, the fear and anxiety, the what-ifs and potential apocalypse.

Even though I’m not literally going catatonic in my cryogenic chamber, I find my heart drifting off into slumber-ville in an effort to keep from engaging the darkness.

What a waste.

So let me preach to myself for a second. You can listen in if you’d like.

This hard time is not something to merely get through, but to grow within. This is an extremely valuable time to teach me what is essential, what I’ve been resting on, where my hope rests. What causes me excessive frustration? That’s something that I can repent of, grow in.

Starting with the littler things – the conveniences of life that make me comfortable. Having to wear a mask in public; not being able to hang out with my friends; delaying my vacation plans. These comforts and conveniences are being revealed as being far too important to my joy, my hope, my life.

But also going into the bigger, serious things – these are very real, very hard, very frightening…and very revealing. These are things like friends and family who are vulnerable to the point of death; jobs and finances hanging by a thread…so many of these issues. Real issues. Real fear. Real pain. Real loss. But no matter how big and important, they aren’t my savior, my hope. This doesn’t diminish their value, it just puts their value in proper perspective, in their proper role. I desperately love and value my family, but I can’t build my life on top of their safety and happiness. Oh, believe me, I’ve tried over and over. And what’s happened every time? My hope gets dashed because everything in this world is tenuous and temporary. Except for Jesus.

This swirling storm has given us a tremendous opportunity as it is perpetually shining a spotlight on the idols of our lives. What an opportunity to rearrange these loves as we put The Love into His proper place.

Look at how Habakkuk put it. God revealed to him that He was going to do the unimaginable: take his chosen nation into exile because their priorities were totally out of whack. BUT that he would also bring them back home and restore to them all that was lost, renewing their families and faith. This terrified Habakkuk, so he said this:

Habakkuk 3:2
O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.

He was saying in more literal Hebrew….”do what you have to do, over and over again, until your refining work is done.” Habakkuk realized that the beauty, goodness and glory of God is more valuable than his comfort, even he didn’t understand or like the plans that lay ahead of him.

Now, I am NOT saying that this pandemic is God’s wrath and justice for us being naughty. None of us have any idea WHY it is happening, but we can know FOR WHAT it is happening. We have an opportunity to join Jesus in the Garden when things are painful and not going the way we want to say “Not my will but yours be done.”

So, right now, what would it look like to lean into the struggle? To ask the Holy Spirit what we can learn and how we can find True Rest in Jesus, even now. And YES, ask for God to heal creation, destroy the virus and bring us back to “normal.” But also ask him to create a new normal, one where our hope is based on Him, which will help us to actually enjoy the gifts He gives us even more because we enjoy the Giver more than what He gives.