What Kind of King Are You Expecting to Follow?

Meditation delivered on Christ the King Sunday, November 21, 2010, at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Lewis Center, OH. There is no audio version of this meditation.

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

What is the Human Condition?

Good afternoon, St. Andrew’s! Today is Christ the King Sunday and I want to ask you what kind of King you are expecting to follow in Jesus? Some of us expect to follow a King who will grant us health, wealth, fame, and fortune. Others of us expect to follow a King who will help us defeat our enemies and who will insulate us from all of life’s problems and difficulties. But as our Epistle and Gospel lessons make clear, that is not Christ the King. For you see, we have a crucified King who has rescued us from our permanent exile from God and who blesses us with his Holy Spirit living in us to transform us into his very likeness. No, we follow a King who tells us that if we want to follow him, we had better stop and count the cost before doing so because we will have to deny ourselves, take up our cross each day, and follow him (Luke 9:23).

Where is God’s Grace?

But why would we want to do that? If we are looking for a King of our own making, it is likely we wouldn’t because a King of our own making is bound to disappoint. But the Christ of Scripture and history will not disappoint if we understand what he calls us to do and be. For you see, he has rescued us from death and eternal separation from the Source of all life, a separation that our own waywardness has caused. He has suffered a terrible death on the cross to bear the punishment we justly deserve and he has done that for us because he loves us and wants us to be with him forever where he lives and reigns.

And since he wants us to live with him forever he wants us to become just like him. So what does that look like? Paul tells us in today’s Epistle lesson. We are to learn to endure everything with patience and we are to do it joyfully. In other words, we are to imitate our King on his way to the cross. We are to imitate King Jesus in his infinite kindness and patience toward us, even when we  often falter and don’t get things right. If we want to live with him forever as he wants us to, we have to learn how to become like him.

Where is the Application?

But note carefully that Paul does not tell us that we have to be patient and endure the hard things in this life by our own power. If that were the case we would surely fail. No, Paul tells us to draw on the strength of God’s mighty power, a strength that is ours when we allow him to live in us in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Living life patiently and with endurance does not mean we live our lives passively, sitting in our rocking chair waiting for our God to do something on our behalf. The kind of patient endurance Paul has in mind is that of a runner who keeps on running even when his body is screaming at him to quit because the runner wants to finish the race and win (cf. Philippians 3:12-14). Our Lord did this very thing in his ministry when he went to the cross and we bids us to do likewise. But in doing so, he also promises to give us his power and strength to help us endure the hardships of this life with patience and with joy.

This may strike us as being very weird. How can we endure our struggles with joy? But we often misunderstand the NT’s use of the word “joy.” We often use the words joy and happiness interchangeably, but a distinction needs to be made. Happiness often depends on happenings. If things are going well and people are kind to us, we are happy. But joy is independent of both circumstances and people because it comes from God. One of the most joyful epistles Paul wrote was Philippians, and he wrote it from jail as he faced the possibility of being martyred for his faith.

So what was Paul’s secret and how do we manage to capture it? Again, he tells us in his letter. We can have joy only when we invite Christ to live in us, strengthening us with his strength and reminding us of the great and wondrous future he has promised us through his blood shed on the cross. Christ’s great love and sacrifice for us makes our hearts overflow with gratitude and love for doing the impossible for us. His living Presence in us allows us to have a joy that this world simply cannot give because this world is finite and passing away. On the other hand, Christ’s love and gift to us is eternal. When we truly know we are loved and redeemed we have real joy. That was Paul’s secret to having joy in the midst of terrible suffering. He knew Christ and knew that he had been given a gift he simply did not deserve. Likewise with us.

“Trust me,” Jesus says. “Allow me to live in you and I will show you a joy and power you did not know exists.” This is what it means to live in Christ. This is what it means to have a saving faith. It is available to anyone who is willing to humble themselves, to let Christ live in them, and to transform them so that they become just like him. None of this is easy. In fact, it is terribly costly because we have to decide that Christ will be the King that we follow and not ourselves. After all, we don’t get patience and learn to endure unless we are thrust into situations time and again that require us to be patient and to endure! But if you want to experience love, joy, peace and all the other fruit of the Spirit, this is what you will have to do to enjoy these gifts, remembering always that you have Christ in you helping you become the human being he created you to be.


In this life there will always be troubles and trials, suffering and heartaches, and if we think otherwise, we are simply being delusional. The question each of us must answer, then, is whether we want to deal with our troubles on our own or to tap the very power of God living in us to help us not only patiently endure our troubles but to do so with joy. Many of us try to be our own King and sooner or later realize that is an exercise in futility because we are profoundly broken and flawed. But there is another way, a better way. We can follow King Jesus, a crucified King who bids us to follow him and become just like him in his patient endurance. Because he loves us so much and wants us to be with him forever, he has given himself for us in a terrible and costly act on the cross. Imagine that. God incarnate pierced and dying so that our exile from him can be ended forever. Not only that, he promises to be with us in power and glory in the Presence of his Holy Spirit to transform and heal us, to make us become like him over time so that we really do have necessary power to help us overcome all the difficulties of life—the very power of God in us. This is not something we should fear. It is something we should be eager to embrace. And when we really understand this, we will discover that we really do have Good News, now and for all eternity.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

A Prayer from St. Augustine

The past two days I have been talking about how Scripture reveals what God has in mind for us to have a healthy, happy relationship with him. Augustine’s prayer below epitomizes this beautifully.

Lord I want to know you as you have known me. You are my strength. Dive deep into my soul and wash it out. Make it a good place without spot or wrinkle, a fine place for you to live. I hope for this and when I am thinking straight the very hope gives me joy.

O God, my soul is like a house too small for you to enter. I pray that you will enlarge it. It is in ruins, but I ask you to remake it. It contains much that you will not be pleased to see. This I know and I will not try to hide it. But who can rid it of these things? There is no one but you to whom I can say “If I have sinned unwittingly, absolve me. Keep me always as your servant” (Psalm 19.13-14).

–Confessions 10.2, 1.5

Why Read the Bible: More Insights Into Our Relationship with God

“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return? Will a mere mortal rob God?’ Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.

–Malachi 3:6-12 (NIV)

We continue to look at what God has to say to us concerning our relationship with him. It would be a mistake to focus on God’s emphasizing the tithe because we miss its deeper message here. As we saw yesterday, God wants us to have proper relationship with him–not one of equals but of Creator interacting with his creatures. That means we must allow God to lead the dance.

Here we see what happens when folks give up on God. Malachi was written to the remnant of Israel who had returned from the Babylonian Exile. They had gotten discouraged because God had apparently not delivered on his promises to redeem his people and make them great once again. Consequently, they began to act accordingly. They began to treat God as a non-entity. Their actions in tithing, among other things, betrayed their lack of hope and faith in God and God called them on it.

God reminds them that he does not change because if he did, his people Israel would be toast. Their track record of obedience to him was not exactly stellar or worthy of his blessing and life-giving and sustaining love. But God did not destroy his people entirely. Judgment came but not utter destruction. Here we see God reminding his people to act like people with hope, not like people without hope. “Test me,” God says, “and you will see I am true to my word.” In other words, the proof is in the pudding and you will never find out till you eat the pudding!

So here we have more instruction regarding our relationship with God. God wants us to live as people with hope because we do have hope. This does not make us immune from bad things happening to us or our loved ones. It means, rather, that we have power–God’s power–to help us cope when things go wrong with us. But we’ll never find out for sure unless we take the plunge and trust God in the midst of our darkest hour. This means we cry out to him for help and ask him to sustain us in ways that he sees fit, not in ways that we see fit (there’s that pesky Creator-creature relationship thingy again).

And to help us remember that we have a God who is true to his word, he asks us to read our Bible, to read about his track record with his people in the OT and NT. We also gather together as brothers and sisters in Christ and remind each other how God has helped us in the midst of our own trials–our small group did this very thing on Wednesday evening–and we trust that the Holy Spirit living in us will use all this to help sustain us and allow us to live with joy and peace and power.

This is the kind of relationship that God wants for us. Is it the kind of relationship you have with God?

Why Read Scripture: Insights Into Our Relationship with God

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

–James 4:13-17 (NIV)

In today’s passage we get insight into how God wants us to interact with him. I remember when I first read these verses, I zoned in on the making money thingy. Wrong. James is not scolding folks for making money. James is scolding us for thinking that our lives are our own. We are finite and mortal, “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” No, our lives belong to God because he created us, he is omniscient, and he is eternal. He knows how to make us truly happy. We only think we do and there is the rub.

Here James is reminding us to get our ownership issues straight. Nothing we have is ours. Everything we have comes from God. This is not to deny that we work hard or are called to take responsibility for our actions. Rather, James is reminding us that we have life only and because God wills it.

So how does God want us to interact with him? God wants us to remember that he is God and we are not. He wants us to come to him for guidance in every aspect and dimension in our lives. When we do that, we are more often than not surprised at the peace, joy, and contentment that descends upon us. It frees us to be who God created us to be and to use our gifts in ways that are pleasing to God. That is real freedom.

Are you ready to find the peace, joy, and purpose in life that God wants you to have? If you are, give your life to God and let him lead you in ways that will allow you to be the human he created you to be.

Why Read Scripture: A Guide for Healthy Relationships

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.

–James 3:13-4:2 (NIV)

We continue to look at reasons why Scripture matters. Today’s focus is on God’s intentions for our relationships with others.

Continuing with his theme of faith made evident by our actions, here James talks about how we can be faithful in our relationship with others. In doing so, we can gain insight into God’s will for us in our dealings with others.

Notice first that humility and the desire to do good are the keys to healthy, happy relationships and this should make sense to us. When we have a humble spirit we do not insist on having our own way all the time. This doesn’t mean we become a doormat for others. It simply means that we recognize others have needs just like we do and their needs are as important as ours. This is the godly “wisdom” about which James speaks. Such wisdom is devoid of implicit judgmentalism that perforce accompanies a proud spirit.

When we start to fool ourselves and think we and our needs are more important than others, then we are cultivating the field for chaos and rancor in our relationships. We will start insisting on having our own way, even at the expense of others. And because we think we are more important than others, we are more likely to do what is necessary to get what we want. We all know (or know about) those who have ruthlessly pursued their own agendas at the expense of others. Certainly there is no peace and harmony when that happens. Certainly those folks have no one on whom they can count because they believe they are superior to others.

And of course it should be readily apparent that behind such attitudes are the fundamental sins of pride and the accompanying judgmental attitude against which the Bible consistently warns. This is what James is talking about in referring to envy and selfish ambition. Behind both is the evil of pride, often aided and assisted by forces of evil who are only too glad to sow discord and animosity amongst us.

Think of your own fractured relationships. There is a very good chance that at the root of those relationships lies somebody’s pride–often our own–and the accompanying sense of having a condescending attitude toward others that must necessarily accompany pride. This, of course, is what it means to be judgmental. Neither is pleasing to God.

If you find that your relationships are not as satisfying as you would like, then look at God’s intention for them (and you) and use that as the standard by which to see what is infecting them. 99.9% of the time, you will find somebody’s pride getting in the way of having the kinds of really healthy, satisfying relations that we all desire. You cannot control what others think or do but you can control what you think and do.

Every one of your healthy (or disordered) relationships starts with you.

In sum, God desires us to have a humble spirit, the prerequisite state of mind needed for us to do our part in building healthy, satisfying relationships where we love others enough to want to build them up and to hold them accountable for their behavior when we see them going astray. A humble spirit is also needed so that we allow them to do the same for us and allows us not to hold a grudge against them when they fail to do so. Likewise, others need the same humble spirit to forgive us when we fail them.

So who will be the Daddy of your relationships? Pray to the Lord that he will help you make him your Daddy. As that begins to happen, you will start to enjoy the kinds of relationships you were created to have.

The Faithfulness of God

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet.

LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.
His splendor was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.
Plague went before him;
pestilence followed his steps.
He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed—
but he marches on forever.
I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,
the dwellings of Midian in anguish.

Were you angry with the rivers, LORD?
Was your wrath against the streams?
Did you rage against the sea
when you rode your horses
and your chariots to victory?
You uncovered your bow,
you called for many arrows.
You split the earth with rivers;
the mountains saw you and writhed.
Torrents of water swept by;
the deep roared
and lifted its waves on high.

Sun and moon stood still in the heavens
at the glint of your flying arrows,
at the lightning of your flashing spear.
In wrath you strode through the earth
and in anger you threshed the nations.
You came out to deliver your people,
to save your anointed one.
You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness,
you stripped him from head to foot.
With his own spear you pierced his head
when his warriors stormed out to scatter us,
gloating as though about to devour
the wretched who were in hiding.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
churning the great waters.

I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

–Habakkuk 3 (NIV)

Today we continue to look at what the Bible tells us about God, his character and his intentions for his people. I picked this passage because of its language. As we read this passage and its sometimes peculiar language (at least to our ears), we are reminded that we have a God who acts in history and this passage reflects the historical and cultural milieu in which it was written. Too often we moderns get tripped up by this fact and miss the message contained in the language. So the first thing I would point out is to not focus so much on the idiosyncrasies of the passage/writer that you miss the what the writer is telling us about God and his relationship with us.

The God of biblical history is also the God of your history.

Having said that, what does this passage reveal about God and his character? Here we see a God of wondrous grace who remains faithful to his promises to redeem his people and rescue them from their exile. Even in the midst of impending judgment, God remains faithful to his promises. We see this illustrated here where Habakkuk talks about God’s past track record of punishing Israel’s enemies and his mighty power manifested in multiple ways so that the reader has no doubt that God has the power and desire to deliver his promises. In other words, Habakkuk is reminding us about God’s track record with his stubborn, rebellious, and wayward people. And because of that track record, the prophet can have a real basis for hope because God always remains faithful and true to himself and his promises to us.

That is why the last two verses are so wonderfully poignant. Despite God’s impending judgment of his people in the form of the Babylonian conquest, the prophet remains faithful to God. He does not stop trusting God or putting his ultimate hope in God, even as his heart pounds and his knees knock in fear over anticipation of the coming invasion. No, Habakkuk remembers God’s qualities and character, and is consequently reminded that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abiding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Despite the impending disaster that will befall Judah and Jerusalem, the prophet knows that God has not totally abandoned his people. Notice that this does not make the prophet immune from fear. Rather, Habakkuk’s faith helps sustain him in the midst of it. Likewise with us.

The next time you are facing calamity in your life, remember Habakkuk’s prayer (and numerous other passages in the Bible) to help bolster your pounding heart and weak knees. This faith in action is pleasing to God and you will not regret maintaining it, even in the most dire of circumstances.

Do you know God well enough to have the kind of faith Habakkuk had?

What God Expects From Our Faith

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

–James 2:14-26 (NIV)

We continue our series of looking at what the Bible says about the nature and character of God, and about what he expects from us in terms of our relationship with him and each other. In today’s passage we get a better understanding of what God expects to see in a living faith. Specifically, how will a living faith play itself out in our relationships with others?

There seems to be great confusion among Christians over this idea of works and faith. Are we saved by good works or by faith? The answer, of course, is both. 🙂

Say what?

Well, actually we are saved by grace through faith, but as James reminds us here, a real, living, and saving faith always manifests itself in works. For example, what would we expect to see in terms of behavior if we saw someone who believed passionately in free enterprise? Would we expect to see that person going about advocating government intervention in the markets? Would we expect to see him actively involved in a business enterprise to earn a profit? Well, “no” and “yes” to both questions respectively. Given normal circumstances, behavior always flows logically from beliefs.

That is why you must change beliefs before you can change behavior.

Likewise with the Christian faith. Folks who have a living faith in Christ have a changed heart and an outward orientation, an orientation that is passionate about other folks. They understand they have been given an immense and immeasurable gift in the cross of Christ and it changes them. They know the ineffable Presence of the Holy Spirit living in them, transforming them into Christ’s very image and it changes them. It makes them want to be like their Master and do the kinds of things Jesus did–in other words, good works.

This doesn’t mean we get it right all the time because we are weighed down mightily by our body of sin. But more often than not, we will see the Christian faith manifest itself in good works, works done for the welfare of others. James’ example above about feeding a hungry person instead of just talking about it says it all. If we have a real and life-giving faith, it will always manifest itself in works consistent with that faith and it will be noticeable to others (and sadly not everyone will appreciate it). And contrary to popular belief, working for the welfare of others does not always equate to giving them what they want. It means giving them what they need in terms of God’s economy.

In sum, we are saved by grace through faith and our faith will always manifest itself in works. That is the kind of faith God expects to see in and through us. Is your faith living or dead?

Why Read Your Bible?

Sermon delivered on Sunday, November 14, 2010, at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Lewis Center, OH. If you would like to hear the audio version of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

What is the Human Condition?

Good morning, St. Andrew’s! In today’s Collect, we ask God to help us hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Scripture. But why would we want to do that? If you’ve heard me preach long enough (and some of you doubtless would say not only do I preach long enough but that I preach too long), you’ve heard me encourage you to read your Bible daily. But why would you want to do that? Frankly, if you think you should read your Bible because some priest tells you to, that’s not a very good reason or a good idea because you are doing something so that you can “follow the rules.” No, there needs to be some other, more compelling reason that makes you want to read your Bible every day and that is what I want to talk to you about this morning. I hope to give you some reasons that make you want to read your Bible each day.

How many of you are happy with your relationship with God? If you are happy, I suspect one huge reason is that you know God, not just know about him. You have learned to trust him and learned to recognize his voice and his hand in your life. In other words, you’ve learned what to expect from God and how he expects you to interact with him and others. He has a track record with you based on your knowledge and experience of him.

On the other hand, if you are not entirely happy with your relationship with God, chances are that you don’t have in play the factors I just mentioned. Perhaps you really don’t know him. Maybe you don’t even know that much about him so that you haven’t learned to recognize his voice or his hand in your life. Or maybe you have asked God for something and had your request denied or your prayer remain ostensibly unanswered, leaving you to wonder what that’s all about and whether God really loves you.

If you find yourself in a situation like this but in your heart of hearts really desire to have a real and satisfying relationship with God, then you have the proper motive and incentive to read your Bible each day because in Scripture we learn about God’s character and nature, and about his intentions for us as his creatures. In Scripture, we have a record of God’s dealing with his creatures, about what he has done and what he is doing to end our exile from him, an exile that is caused by our sin and rebelliousness. And if you have a satisfying relationship with God, chances are that one of the main reasons you have that kind of relationship with God is because you have spent time with him in Scripture so that you have learned what to expect in your relationship with him.

That is why in today’s Collect, we ask God to help us to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Scripture. Notice carefully that each of these verbs represents a progressively deeper engagement with God through Scripture and this is consistent with good learning theory. If we are content to learn about something simply by listening to someone else talk about it, chances are that most of us will never learn much because we tend to forget about 90% of what we hear within 72 hours of having heard it. This is especially true if we do not paraphrase the information to make it meaningful to us and to rehearse it in our minds so that we don’t forget it. The old adage is true. If we don’t use it, we lose it. Our knowledge of God through Scripture is no different.

What I am talking about here, of course, is going beyond hearing. I am talking about reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting Scripture so that we can have a solid foundation on which to build our relationship with God. This ought to make perfect sense to us. Think about your dearest friends. You likely did not want to be their friend (or have them be yours) until you got to know them a bit and decided there was something in them that made cultivating a friendship with them worthwhile. Likewise with God. Scripture is the primary medium that God has ordained for us to get to know about and know him. Of course, there is more to having a relationship with God than reading our Bible regularly, but without the foundational knowledge of the Bible, chances are that any relationship we have with God will be superficial at best.

But here is where the rub is because many of us are content to only learn about God by simply hearing his word read to us. For a variety of reasons, we are not willing to commit the time or the effort to engage in Scripture in deeper and more meaningful ways so that God can speak clearly to us through his word contained in Scripture. And since God never forces himself on us because that is not the nature of true love, we inevitably find ourselves wanting a deeper relationship with God but not knowing how to achieve it. Please understand. I am not trying to make anyone feel guilty by saying this. I am simply laying out the fundamental and necessary principles that will help us grow in our relationship with God if that is what we really want.

And so if it is true that we can learn about God’s character, about his track record with his  people in exile, and about his intentions for us, then let us see what we can learn about God from today’s Scripture readings. As we do, ask yourself these questions: “Is this the kind of God with whom I would want to have a relationship? Is this God big enough to meet my needs and to heal my brokenness?” How you answer these questions will go a long way in determining what kind of relationship you really have with God.

Where is God’s Grace?

What do today’s lectionary readings tell us about God? In today’s Psalm we learn that God is Creator of this world and that he has an established track record with his people, a track record that makes all creation want to shout for joy over what he has done for us. We learn that God is holy and because he is holy he is keenly interested in helping us have the kind of relationship with him and each other that will bring us real happiness and contentment. Consequently there must necessarily be judgment when we behave in ways that do not bring about God’s intended happiness for us and so we wonder exactly what God’s intended happiness for us looks like. We learn that God is faithful and merciful and this makes us wonder what the Psalmist is thinking about when he writes this. To whom is God faithful? How does he show mercy? Will his mercy have any impact on his role as our Creator and Judge? Fortunately we get some answers to these questions in our other lectionary readings.

From today’s OT reading from Isaiah, we read one of the most poignant and hope-filled passages in all the OT. Here God is speaking through the prophet, promising his wayward and rebellious people that their time of judgment is almost over, that God is going to redeem them beyond their wildest hopes and imaginations by bringing about a New Creation where he will finally put to right all that plagues and bedevils them. Now if we do not know the history of God’s people and their dealings with him, we may miss the unbelievable amount of grace and mercy contained in this passage. To really catch the breathtaking grace contained in this passage, we need to know the story of how God called Israel to be his agent for redeeming and healing his sinful world, but how Israel herself became part of the problem rather than the solution.

For example, we need to go back and read the story of how God brought his people out of  slavery from Egypt and about how they grumbled and rebelled against him in the desert. You’ll find that story primarily in Exodus and Numbers. We then need to read the sad story of Israel’s continuous rebellion against God and her proclivity to worship idols even after God delivered Israel to the promised land. You’ll find that story mainly in Judges, the books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, or you can read a concise summary of this ongoing debacle in Psalm 78. Time and again, Israel refused to be the people God called them to be and judgment ultimately came in the form of the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. But despite Israel’s waywardness—and our own—God remains faithful to his promises to redeem and heal us, and is always willing to be merciful and gracious to his stubborn and wayward people.

Contrast that to our typical reaction when we encounter entrenched and unrepentant behavior. What do we typically do? After enough time and chances have past, we typically give up on that person and leave him to his own devices. We see this especially in the way we treat hardened criminals. We are inclined to lock them up and throw away the key. Not so with God as today’s passage from Isaiah so beautifully attests. God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6). We are reminded of this nine times in the OT alone. He does not give up on us—ever in this life. The next time you are in despair over your retrenched sins, remember the truth contained in this verse. Remember this promise of New Creation and remember that the only way you are excluded from the promise of New Creation is if you exclude yourself. You have God’s word contained in Scripture and the blood of Christ shed for you as testimony to its truth.

In today’s Epistle lesson, we learn something about God’s intentions for us as the Body of Christ, the Church. We learn that God created us to be free moral agents and because we are given freedom to make moral decisions we are also expected to take responsibility for our own lives and our own decisions. We see this illustrated in Paul’s command to the Thessalonians to deny the slackers among them food to eat. Apparently there were some in the church at Thessalonica who stopped working because they expected the Lord Jesus to return soon and claim them at the Parousia. So they stopped taking responsibility for themselves, something which Paul reminded them was unacceptable in God’s eyes.

Perhaps more importantly, we see a keen concern on God’s part over how we relate to each other. Paul commands the Thessalonians to stay away from those who were intentionally idle but who presumably were healthy enough to work. The Greek verbs that Paul used for “keep away from”, stello apo, do not imply a total ostracism of such believers but rather a refusal to participate in their idleness. Why? Because idleness leads to being a busybody and a gossip, and such behavior is always judgmental and leads to discord and animosity. As Paul reminds us countless times in his letters, that is not how believers are to behave. Instead, our job is to build each other up, not to tear each other down. God created us to have relationships, both with him and with each other, although on different terms, that lead to happiness and the fulfillment of our being truly human and here we see that concern expressed in a practical manner.

Finally in today’s Gospel lesson we see a God who promises to never leave us alone, even under the most dire circumstances. As today’s passage implies, and as Jesus made explicit in his farewell discourses in John (see, e.g., John 14-16), he will send us the Holy Spirit to be with us, to help us know what to do and say, especially in the most extreme circumstances. But the Spirit will not force himself on us and if we do not open ourselves up to him in humility and faith, he will not enter. Think of it this way. If you come to a house and knock on the door, what will you do if no one answers it? If you are not a criminal, you will walk away and leave that place. Likewise with the Holy Spirit. If we do not invite him into our lives and make a place for him to live in us, he will leave us to our own devices. But when we open the doors of our heart and mind to his abiding Presence and partake in the means of grace that will nurture the Spirit’s presence, we can have confidence that he will be with us to sustain us and help us meet every one of life’s challenges. We can read about how that played out in the each of the four Gospels, the book of Acts, and in any of Paul’s letters. Are you making room for the Holy Spirit to live in you so that you can experience peace, joy, and wholeness even in the midst of your brokenness?

In sum, today’s passages from Scripture remind us we have a God who created us to have  happy and satisfying relationships with him and each other. We have a God who is infinitely patient and kind with us, who is always faithful to us, who will never abandon us, and who expects us to treat others just the way he treats us. This is what it means to be holy as God is holy. Is that the God you know?

Where is the Application?

So what do we do with this? I am not going to suggest the obvious, that we read our Bible everyday, because of reasons I have already given. If you have a satisfactory relationship with God and others, you likely are already well-versed in what the Bible says about God’s nature and his intentions for us. If you are struggling with your relationship with God or others and that struggle is a result of your not really knowing God, then I would simply encourage you to answer the questions I have posed. Is the God we have talked about this morning someone with whom you want to have a relationship? Does that God appear to be able to meet your needs, wants, and healthy desires?  If I have done an adequate job of summarizing what today’s lectionary readings tell us about God, I am convinced that for most of us, the God we read about in Scripture is an adequate God who is worthy of our ultimate love and devotion. And if that is true and you want a real relationship with God, one that you can count on, you will be willing to do the work to deepen your knowledge of God, in part, through reading your Bible regularly.


Any relationship we value is, in part, contingent upon our knowledge of the other so that we have learned to trust him or her. We only gain that knowledge through experience, which allows us to see if that person is really trustworthy and dependable. Likewise with God. Our relationship with God is built on a firm biblical foundation in which we learn about the God of history and his dealings with his broken and wayward people. When we engage in Scripture, we find a God who is gracious and merciful, steadfast in his love and faithfulness, and who has delivered on his promises to deliver us from our exile and alienation from him through the blood of Christ. As we await our final redemption, we are also reminded that God gives us his very Presence in the person of the Spirit to be with us through thick and thin. And when we really understand this, we will discover that we really do have Good News, now and for all eternity.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Why Character Matters: A Case Study

From here:

Jonny Osborne, seven, symbolised the face of a new generation yesterday as he marched shoulder to shoulder with servicemen and women to honour those killed by war.

But three miles across London from the Armistice Day ceremony at the Cenotaph, another face of Britain was on display. It was contorted with hatred, poisoned by politics, and fuelled by flames from a giant, burning poppy.

These were the Muslim extremists who brought shame to the memory of the dead yesterday by breaking the traditional two-minute silence with chants of ‘British soldiers burn in hell’.

In today’s reflection below on character, I observed that good character almost always produces solid relationships because God sees character, in part, as having a concern for the welfare of others.

In the sad case above, we have a classic non-example of how this works. I do not know what is on the hearts and in the minds of those who chanted that British soldiers burn in hell. What I do know is that they are not displaying the kind of godly character that our Lord Jesus always demonstrated. Their anger and hatred sow strife and discord. By chanting what they did and when they did it, they clearly do not care about others. They only apparently care about their own concerns and program. Certainly they are not using the wealth of this world to help build an eternal future for themselves.

They may very well think they are being faithful, but the god they are following is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who desires us to have love, compassion, and concern for others, and who asks us to humble ourselves rather than to cause needless discord and animosity with others. No, these extremists are doing exactly the opposite and the reaction of those against whom their venom is aimed is predictable–anger, rancor, discord, strife, animosity. This is not the kind of character our Lord asks us to display if we desire to be part of his Kingdom.

May our Lord Jesus send forth his Spirit to put his Light in these men’s darkened minds and hearts so that they may not remain in exile from God forever.

Character Matters

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

–Luke 16:1-9 (NIV)

Yesterday I began a series of of reflections aimed at helping us know God better. Today we continue to attempt to answer the question, “Why read Scripture? What’s the point?”

So what can we learn about God and his character and intentions for his creatures from this passage? First, God created us as moral creatures. He expects us to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions, and has given us freedom to do so. This is seen in the parable when we look at the dishonest manager’s behavior. He acted unethically and was held responsible for his actions. But he learned from his mistakes and acted wisely to ensure his future.

Second, and related to the first point, God values character. The dishonest manager ensured his future by treating others correctly. We aren’t told if lowering what his master’s debtors owed was ethical, but it is not unreasonable to believe that perhaps the debtors had been overcharged in the first place and the dishonest manager was just setting things aright. Regardless, if we do not treat others the way we want to be treated, we can be pretty certain that we will not build the kinds of relationships that each of us want to have, relationships that are based on mutual honesty, trust, and respect; relationships that we can count on when things go south for us.

Jesus commended the dishonest manager, not because he was dishonest but because the manager did the things necessary to ensure his future. Likewise for us. If God values character, then we must learn to use the world’s resources in ways that reflect the kind of character that God values. This means, of course, that our focus must be on the welfare of everybody, not just ourselves, so that we use our God-given resources accordingly.

The dishonest manager realized that character counts, that he would be he held accountable for his actions, and therefore acted in ways that would ensure a favorable outcome for him. That meant looking beyond himself and to the needs of others. Good character almost always produces solid relationships and this is pleasing to God. When we please God we can be confident that we are doing our part to ensure our future, both here on earth and after we die. To be sure, we are saved from permanent exile from God by the blood of Christ shed for us. But that does not absolve us of doing our part as we build our relationships with God and others.

If you want quality relationships with others, character matters and that starts with you.

A Prayer for Our Armed Forces

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.