Waiting Room

waiting-room-1 Psalm 27
13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord

in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!

Psalm 27 finds David in the darkness of hardship. He’s being pursued and is afraid, betrayed and abandoned. But in the midst of the turmoil, he keeps turning to God as his provider and protector…to God to hide and protect him; to lift him up high.

Where do you turn when you are in the darkness? This Psalm can feel like just sappy placating; an effort to just try to make me feel better. But what if it’s true? What if God my Father really does hide me and lift me up? What does that look like and what do I do?

Despite being surrounded by the storm, David looked on the dark horizon for the sunrise, and was assured that he would once again “look upon” the God’s goodness. When I’m in my darkness, my head it pointed down and my hope is absent because I can’t “see it”. David’s first word to me is simple: Wait.

I hate that. I want the sun to rise right now. I want to see my hope. But often I can’t. So David’s next word is this: Be Strong. We aren’t called to a simple passive couch-waiting. We are called to actively wait. To dig deep and believe that the sun will rise. A great example of this is seen in Jesus’ followers. They stared at darkness for 3 days, seemingly losing hope in the promised revolution. An even greater example is Jesus himself. He was literally dead, the ultimate darkness. And he had to wait. Three days. We don’t know hardly anything about this period of time (did he descend to hell or not?), but we know that the end result was the ultimate sunrise (insert cheesy church “sonrise” here). And now, because of his perseverance we now have a living hope to get us through our darkness. Because he was strong, we can admit our weakness and receive his strength.

And this living hope leads to the next word David gives us:  “Be Encouraged”. We can’t be strong enough in and of ourselves no matter what talk shows and self-help books tell you. We simply cannot grit our teeth enough and push our way through. We need the Holy Spirit using other people, His Word and miraculously Himself to infuse courage into us where we are weak and afraid.

 

Do You Like Me?

sad faceI was at a Dave Matthews concert several years ago and there was a dude there wearing an unusual shirt with this bold proclamation: “God Hates Me”. It was really awkward and makes me wonder this: How do I think God thinks about me?

It’s super easy to go through the motions and read the posterboards at football games that tell me that “God Love Me”. And I pretty well believe it almost all of the time.

But what does he really think about me? How does he “feel” about me? (but let’s not get into a debate regarding God having or not having emotions…go read your Westminster Confession and figure it out).

When I’ve recently asked that question to friends I get two responses more than any other:

“Disappointed”

“Tolerant”

I see my own life and even a touch of my own heart and am pretty disappointed in myself. How can God, who knows me better than I know myself and has infinitely higher standards than I can imagine, feel any better about me. At the very best He tolerates my slow learning and weak following. Kinda like giving me 2 stars out of five in his review of me.

But then passages cut my disappointed knees out from underneath me:

Psalm 149:4
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with salvation.

There’s loads of other places that say the same thing, but essentially we are told that, because of the Gospel and Jesus exchanging His Sonship with ours, we have a Heavenly Father that absolutely loves us, but ALSO LIKES US! Hear that. Own that. I have pretty much never heard that preached, though it is an age-old theology called “Propitiation” (defined as returning into God’s favor)

In short….God has not just removed his wrath (“expiation”) but has imputed his favor, his “affection”. God actually likes you. He doesn’t just put up with you and wish that you would do better. He sees you as you in all your uniqueness, but with Jesus-colored glasses. Even more…he has changed us into His Son’s Image. He doesn’t just see us in a better light, he has remade us into our original image…and has returned his favor onto us. And this utterly changes the way I see Him…love Him…obey Him…repent to Him. It’s utterly freeing.

 

 

I preached on this a bit ago…here it is:

http://www.graceinfo.org/learning-media/sermons/sermons/message/adorned-and-adored

TRACS and Words

Say What?Ps​alm​ 12
3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,
4 those who say,
“With our tongue we will prevail,
our lips are with us; who is master over us?”
6 The words of the Lord are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
7 You, O Lord, will keep them

Martin Luther used a system to read, study, meditate and pray through Scripture that seriously helps me. It’s shortened to this: TACS. What is the passage TEACHING? What does it reveal about God that I need to ADORE? What does it reveal about me that I need to CONFESS? What need arises that requires God’s SUPPLY? To help my tendency to not be Jesus-Centered enough, I added an R after the T: How is Jesus REVEALED…thus making is “TRACS“.

Here’s how I used this structure with Psalm 12:

Teach: This Psalm shows that we all have use “words” to our advantage (to make myself look good; to flatter others in order to get what I want; to deceive; to mock; to slander; to hurt…ultimately to mock God). But God’s words are Truth and Pure. They are used to love and redeem; to perfect and instill hope. In order to do this, he sent Jesus, His Word, to us to live Truth that would then be counted on my behalf.

Reavealed: Jesus is the “Word” of God (John 1:1) and is himself pure and true. Likewise when he spoke, he only spoke truth. So when he said that it “is finished”, that cannot be untrue or undone because he himself was the fulfillment of his own words.

Adore: God, thank you that I can trust what you say. It doesn’t seem like it a lot of the time, but in the end, it’s continually revealed that you only speak truth and your words build up your people….even when your words aren’t what I want to hear sometimes. Also, I adore you for making your Word come into Flesh in Jesus to that Truth lived and lives among and in me.

Confess: Forgive me for using what I say just for my own advantage…for stretching the truth; omitting the truth; gossiping; crude joking that crosses the line. I’m sorry. I’m also sorry for not trusting what you say is true. I doubt you and ignore you; I don’t “hide” your words in my heart where they can grow and produce fruit. I call you a liar even though it’s not even possible for you bend or omit the truth.

Supply: I really need you to help me with what comes out of my mouth. Today, let me use my words to lift up my wife and kids; to encourage people that I talk with; to praise you. Help me to also trust you and what you say, leaning on nothing but Jesus as The Word.

Lost Dog

email-jan08-5Man my dog is dumb.

So my daughter took our dog Chili camping. He usually does really well, has a loads of fun and comes back exhausted. This time was different. He went off exploring, which is normal, but never returned. He was gone. And wasn’t wearing his dog tag. No amount of whistling or yelling helped. He was swallowed up by the 801 Sq. Miles of Pisgah National Forest. My wife and I were out of town, so we called in all of our resources. We had a friend who works at the local NBC channel tweet a plea for help to his masses; another friend posted her own reward for the dog; many other friends went out scouring. Amy and I were left 5 hours away overcome with worry, anxiety and prayer. Yes, we love our little dog.

The morning that Chili took off, literally at the exact time, Amy and I were listening to a Timothy Keller sermon on Prayer and Mediation (http://www.gospelinlife.com/how-we-live-as-believers-6324.html). He walked us through Psalm 1 and how, as our roots are dug deep into the river of the Gospel, we won’t be utterly dismayed when dark storms thrash around us. We won’t be like the chaff that has no roots and blows with the wind. Well, once again, call me chaff. I am well aware of my mood, faith and heart fluctuations. It’s annoying to me as well. But it also tutors me in the Gospel. As my heart-pendulum swings, it reminds me of how much I need Jesus, who is not only the example of my faith, and not only the object of my faith, but the power of my faith. I can’t do it on my own, so I keep requiring him to do it for me; keep reminding me that I truly am His and that he won’t let me go; that he has forgiven me for all my ugly sins, including my ugly faithlessness when I forget the depths of his love and care for me.

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.
Prone to leave the God I love.”

So, as it turns out, a couple of hikers stumbled upon Chili and had him join them on the rest of their long hike. When they returned to Asheville, they had him scanned for an implanted chip, which revealed who he belonged to! They brought him back home where he belongs. When I keep straying from my Father, He keeps bringing me back. Over and over. I have the Holy Spirit perfectly and permanently implanted in me, which not only reveals my identity, but has the power to bring me home.

“Here’s my heart,
O take and Seal it.
Seal it for Thy courts above.”

Ephesians 1:13-14
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Power

power king 1 Corinthians 1:20-21
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

We love to be in control. When we grew to a family of 5 and had to go the mini-van route, one of the key needs we had was the button that allowed for “rear control” of the A/C…but with the ability to override their control. We live our lives like this with God and each other. We give lip service to “let go and let God” but in reality we retain all veto rights to who we are, what we do and who gets what credit. We absolutely HATE weakness and fundamentally DEMAND control. I hate weakness because I want people to love and respect me. I grab control because, deep down, I am sure that I know better than God and that He doesn’t really want what is best for me.

But the Gospel is fundamentally based on weakness. God chose Israel, the weakest nation; he chose outcast women, temperamental fishermen and tax collectors. He decided to come into the world as a vulnerable weak infant in order to save the weakest. The message of the Gospel demands that we simply admit and own our absolute weakness, and this is all that we bring to the table. It’s not that we bring nothing. We bring less than nothing. We bring a deficit. And he takes that deficit for us while crediting to us his strength. Not just salvation, which would be enough, but strength in this life that is all Him. But Him through us. For some reason he decided to empower us to be his hands and feet, knowing full well our tendency to take full credit for what isn’t our doing. But he did and does it anyway. Once again he lowers himself lower than us in order to raise us up with him.

So today, enjoy your weakness. You are far weaker than you can possibly imagine, but have been empowered and elevated far more than you could possibly dream. The more we can understand that concept, the more we will elevate and enjoy Jesus. And isn’t that the whole point anyway.

HESED

hesedHESED. This is probably my favorite ancient-language word. It is Hebrew (read from right to left, and those little dots and funky markings are basically the vowels).  I’m not a tattoo guy (yet?), but I was (am?) fairly close to getting one and it was this. Because it is so powerful, beautiful and transformative.

It is generally defined as “Steadfast Love; Goodness; Kindness; Faithfulness; Loyalty; Favor; Unconditional Love. This is the semi-equivalent to the Greek word Agape, but I think even bigger. It is used 247 times in the Old Testament and all over the Psalms. Let me unpack it a little.

33:5b the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.

God Himself, in his being, character and actions IS Love. Not just loving, but Love itself. In his essence God is this perfect, steadfast, passionate and powerful Love. God gets a lot of attention for being Omnipotent…meaning that he can do all things. But He can’t. God can only behave according to his being. And his being is Love. God doesn’t have the ABILITY to be or do anything unloving. God can’t go back on his promise or do harm to his loved ones. God can’t forget his people or be in any way faithless to us. This word HESED is far more than describing how God acts; it describes God himself. To drive home the point, the greatest HESED act, the act that displays his character the best, is his faithful sacrifice of his very own son. That’s HESED on steroids. Out of no consideration to himself, he gave us his very own: Jesus, the HESED of God in the Flesh.

1John 4:9-10
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. 10 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.

So when I am afraid, angry, judgmental or overcome with sin (my own or others), I keep looking to HESED. If this God’s essence and how he has already treated me, how much more will he continue this love today and tomorrow? How much more will God pursue me still? If He’s gone to this extent to bring me home, how much more to flood me with more and more love, that I would, out of response and thanksgiving, love him and others in return…with my own seriously broken form of HESED.

So how can I appreciate and hold on to this Divine HESED today? When I feel unloved and unlovable, I must return to LOVE himself, who gave himself, to make me a vessel of LOVE to him and others.

Inheritance

inheritanceOnce there was a father with vast accumulated wealth. He was a fickle, eccentric old man who told his numerous children that, in order to be inherit his riches they would have to make him proud. They would have to come for monthly visits to his home, get good jobs, maintain a clean lifestyle, have a public image in accord with their birthright and, ultimately make him proud. His children were anxious to get their hands on his wealth, so they behaved accordingly, becoming model children and successful pillars of society: an example for all to follow. Their family gatherings were friendly, frequent and shallow, often involving petty arguments and sibling rivalry.

Down the street there was another father who was pretty different, eccentric and very misunderstood. He told his many children that he would shower them with wealth regardless of what they looked like or accomplished…just because he loved them. His children went in all sorts of directions. Some loved by society and some dreaded. Their family gatherings were on and off, but usually becoming ending in a wild exciting party with laughing, crying and everything in between. The kids couldn’t quite figure out the father, but they loved him with all their being as they blundered their way in their attempt to “make him proud”. They weren’t an “ideal” family, but they loved each other.

The first family behaved beautifully, but had no love.

The second was spotty in their behavior, but had more love than they knew what to do with. Most of us treat God as the first father. He has rules and regulations that he requires of us, and we obey because we should and, ultimately, because we want what he has to offer us. But the second Father is the Father of the Gospel. Because Jesus already perfectly obeyed, His love is lavished on us despite our behavior…just because he loves us. But because we are confident in His love, our behavior grows. We love him back and love each other because we are loved, not because we “have to” in order to get his riches. We begin to love Him, not what He offers.Do you want Jesus? Or what Jesus offers? Do you treat him as the fickle inheritance giver or the generous eccentric Father who just can’t stop loving you regardless of whether or not you make the “family” proud?

Fortress

fortress2 When I was a kid growing up in Austin (before it was Austin) there were actually empty lots and freedom to be a ridiculous kid. And I was.

Across from my house along a creek my friends and I made a sweet tree-fort. Three stories tall with a secret entrance so that all the bad guys couldn’t get to us. It was glorious. I loved making forts in trees or out of blankets in my bedroom or whatever.

I still love making forts, but they look different now. I make protective forts out of things like reputation, money, morality, health, looks and family.

So what is a fort? A fort for me is something I build to bring me personal heart-safety. It’s where I try create and secure my identity and hope. Something that will protect me from insecurity and pain. The problem is that forts don’t work. The enemy of pain keeps sneaking in and stealing my value and hope. But I keep making them, thinking that maybe this next one will do the trick.

King David did the same, and he faced some nasty enemies. He tried making forts out of armies, riches and reputation, but they repeatedly failed him. But he also moved into The Fort that alone could offer shelter. He writes about it a lot, but let’s look at Psalm 18:1-3 where he realized what REALLY brought him deliverance.

1 I love you, O Lord, my strength.
2 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.

It is the same but different for us. Our “enemies” are likely not bad people seeking to do us harm but ourselves and the sin that is so pervasive…or the nasty enemies of this life like death and disease. God in his infinite glory, power and sacrificial love sent Jesus to fully “save” us from the Greatest Enemy we will ever face: Sin. And in so doing he has set HIMSELF up as our fortress. By no means does this mean that our lives will now be sappy and happy. Quite the contrary. But our hope is no longer is comfort and ease (which are unattainable), but in HIM (who is perfectly attainable). And HE cannot be taken away, nor can we be taken away from him. When our “enemies” attack, we are not alone. When we are in despair, we hurt but are joined by the Great Comforter, the Holy Spirit.

John 16:33
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Double Inheritance

Matthew 27:25
And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”

bloody thorns

How do you resemble your parents? Do you have her nose or his hair? Her artistic ability or his gifting for math? Her quick temper or his greed?

What do you hope to inherit one day? Her jewelry or his classic car? 

Matthew 27:25 is an incredibly ironic verse. This verse comes right after Jesus’ illegal trial where the people were asked if they’d rather free Jesus or Barabbas. Of course they chose Barabbas. But still Pilate couldn’t rationalize sentencing Jesus to death, so he “washed his hands” and told to riotous crowds to do as they pleased. And they said these unbelievable words “His blood be on us and on our children.”

And here is the irony. In one sentence they declared the essence of the Gospel.

On the one hand they all, and we all, are guilty of His bloodshed. Like inheriting your dad’s bad habits, we have inherited the guilt and penalty of sin. We are just as fully responsible for the death of Jesus if we were the ones to literally nail his hands to the cross. So the GUILT of his blood is truly on us and our children.

But on the other hand, we are also offered the HOPE of his blood. The very act that brought Guilt also brings Life; what they intended for evil, God intended for God, and the salvation for all who believe.

And this is my prayer for myself and my children…and for you too. That we would admit our guilt in his blood while also receiving the forgiveness that his blood offers. You can’t have one without the other.

Out of Darkness

RICOH IMAGING

So my parents just got back from Alaska to see the Northern Lights. Apparently God decided to put on a wild show. Just before they got there the sun threw out some wild solar flares, hitting our atmosphere just in time. This picture seems surreal and other-worldly. But it isn’t actually my favorite one.

 

This is:

RICOH IMAGING

Impressed aren’t you. It would seem that my dad forgot to take off the lens cap. But actually this picture captures something extraordinary.

 

 

 

This:

RICOH IMAGINGJust highlighting the behind-the-scenes in photoshop (no other doctoring at all!) reveals what couldn’t be seen: brilliant show with the North Star leading the way.

 

 

And this is Good Friday, leading up to Easter. As Jesus hung there bloody and dying, every reasonable person was either cheering or crying because Jesus and his mission was snuffed out. But he wasn’t. It was the darkest of times that turned into the brightest. The exact same moment was the worst time in history and the best. The death of Jesus was brutal, and freeing; horrible and glorious; infuriating and loving.

So my heart needs to visually be reminded that God works in paradoxes. He turns evil into good, and he does it for, in and through me because he did it foremost to and through his Son so that my worst can be turned into best.

And so Jesus could say with confidence: “It Is Finished” (Jn 19:30). Because his death has brought me life. And now as I wait for Sunday when we celebrate the resurrection, I can also wait expectantly for my resurrection when all things will be made new. But even now in the in-between time, I can live with hope, knowing that God’s hidden paradox is at work right now in my life.