Taking Matters Into Our Own Hands

5 The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Mikmash, east of Beth Aven. 6 When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. 7 Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. 8 He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. 9 So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. 10 Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him. 11 “What have you done?” asked Samuel. Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” 13 “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”

–1 Samuel 13.5-14 (NIV)

At first blush this story seems quite harsh, in part because we can all relate to Saul and his predicament. Given that Saul’s troops were getting especially antsy in the face of a massive military buildup by Israel’s enemy, it is easy to see why Saul wanted to take matters into his own hands, so to speak. He was worried that if he didn’t he would face an unmitigated disaster at the hands of the Philistines. In light of these facts, Samuel’s rebuke of Saul sounds especially harsh.

But this misses the overall point of the story and illustrates why it is important to read these kinds of stories in their proper context. We recall that Israel, God’s called-out people to be agents of God’s rescue plan for a sinful and fallen world, had decided they didn’t want the responsibilities of being God’s holy people. They were more interested in becoming like their neighbors while retaining the benefits of being God’s called-out people. Hence they asked God’s prophet, Samuel, to appoint them a king so that they could be like the rest of the nations.

In doing so, of course, Israel demonstrated a remarkable distrust in God’s love and providence over them. They developed historical amnesia that prevented them from remembering God’s mighty acts on their behalf, especially when God rescued them from their slavery in Egypt. God had demonstrated that he knew what he was doing. He had demonstrated countless times that he had the ability to protect and deliver his people, Israel. What Israel had to do is keep their part of God’s covenant with them. They had to acknowledge God was God and be open to his will for them so that God could use them to bring his healing to the nations. But Israel generally refused and this got them in trouble.

Likewise with Saul in today’s story. The writer of 1 Samuel makes it clear that as Israel’s newly appointed king, Saul was not particularly interested in submitting to God’s authority. Instead, Saul was more interested in pursuing his own agenda and doing things his way. In so doing, Saul in effect was thumbing his nose at God and demonstrating that he did not really trust God. In this particular case, it was God’s timetable that Saul found distasteful. He feared that if he didn’t take matters into his own hands that he would be wiped out.

And how often do we do the same thing in the context of our own lives? Do you regularly seek God’s will for you and yours in the living of your daily lives or do you seek to take matters into your own hands, especially during times of crisis? Too often we humans do the latter and like Saul, this indicates a fundamental distrust on our part and/or a desire to elevate ourselves to God’s level.

To a degree this is understandable, especially if we really do not know God very well (or at all). If we are not convinced that God is true to his word and can deliver on his promises, we likely will not want to bring our hopes and fears to him and be willing to listen for his guidance. Instead, if you are like me, you will often panic and take matters into your own hands. And as Samuel rebuked Saul by telling him he had done a foolish thing and thus done irreparable damage to his relationship with God, so we too discover that same truth.

To be sure, we are not called to be Israel’s king. But those of us who give our lives to the Lord and claim to love him are called to be God’s people for the world. When we do not listen carefully and patiently to God’s call to us, we too will get it wrong more often than we get it right. In the context of today’s story, Saul and his army won the battle but Saul ended up losing the war because he did not submit to God’s rule or trust God to deliver on his promises. Sadly, many of us do not seem to learn that lesson and make the same mistake in our relationship with God. This is evidenced by a static and/or dead faith. We see little fruit of the Spirit in our lives and when that happens, we can be sure that we have acted foolishly, in part, because we think we know better than God.

But when we go to God in prayer and listen for his voice and will for us and our lives, we can be confident that we will live our lives with meaning, purpose, and power–the power of the Spirit living in and through us. This doesn’t mean we won’t encounter stiff opposition and setbacks. We will. But at the end of the day, when we give the general pattern of our lives in obedience to God’s commands to us to be his people and to bring the love of Christ to bear on the world, we can be assured that we will not fail. The world may call us foolish. The world may consider us failures. But the world cannot raise us from the dead or give us life, real life. Only God in Christ through the power of the Spirit working in and through us can do that.

The next time you are tempted to take matters into your own hands before listening for what God wants you to do, stop and remember this story of Saul. Remember too that God is big enough and able enough to help you handle anything that life throws your way. God knows what is best for you. God will give you what you need and when you need it. Let that give you pause before you act. Let that drive you to your knees in prayer, in conversation with trusted Christian friends, and in careful study of Scripture. And then let all of these things help guide you so that you will not act in ways that are foolish or that will cheat you out of the richness of living life the way your Creator intends and desires for you to live.

Columbus Dispatch: Atheist Billboard Moved Off Church’s Land

From here:

An atheist billboard didn’t last long on church property on the East Side. The smiling image of Dylan Galos was accompanied by the words “I can be good without God.” It was one of seven billboards posted across Columbus last week by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to introduce central Ohio residents to their atheist neighbors…Galos, 25, who just earned his master’s degree in public health at Ohio State University, said churches have a right to decide what goes on their property. Still, “I was a little disappointed that was the reaction they had, that it was so offensive to the congregation they had it moved.”

Read it all.

Every once in awhile there are stories I read with incredulity. This is one of them.

I can only shake my head in amazement and sadness for this man and his fellow atheists. I’m sure Mr. Galos really is at a loss as to why a church might take offense to a billboard on its property advocating atheism–a bankrupt, hollow, and close-minded philosophy that can lead only to death for those who advocate it because it denies the existence of the Source and Author of all life and cuts them off from it.

He might benefit from asking this question and trying to answer it honestly. How could anyone who loves the Lord and who takes seriously Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves not take offense to an advertisement that can only lead to death for those who espouse it? Never mind that the ad campaign is itself an angry reaction against religion and intolerant in its own right. Yet it is packaged as rationale, reasonable, and tolerant. Surely Mr. Galos and his fellow atheists would be better off if they understood most Christians’ reaction to stuff like this as actually an expression of love rather than being a manifestation of “unenlightened ignorance” and “intolerance,” etc., etc.

Finding a Real Fix to Our Problems

1 Samuel said to all Israel, “I have listened to everything you said to me and have set a king over you. 2 Now you have a king as your leader. 6 Then Samuel said to the people, “It is the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your ancestors up out of Egypt. 7 Now then, stand here, because I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your ancestors. 8 “After Jacob entered Egypt, they cried to the LORD for help, and the LORD sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your ancestors out of Egypt and settled them in this place. 9 “But they forgot the LORD their God; so he sold them into the hand of Sisera, the commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hands of the Philistines and the king of Moab, who fought against them. 10 They cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We have sinned; we have forsaken the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths. But now deliver us from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve you.’ 11 Then the LORD sent Jerub-Baal, Barak, Jephthah and Samuel, and he delivered you from the hands of your enemies all around you, so that you lived in safety. 12 “But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to rule over us’—even though the LORD your God was your king. 13 Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see, the LORD has set a king over you. 14 If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God—good! 15 But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors. 16 “Now then, stand still and see this great thing the LORD is about to do before your eyes! 17 Is it not wheat harvest now? I will call on the LORD to send thunder and rain. And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the LORD when you asked for a king.” 18 Then Samuel called on the LORD, and that same day the LORD sent thunder and rain. So all the people stood in awe of the LORD and of Samuel. 19 The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the LORD your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.” 20 “Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. 22 For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own. 23 As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. 24 But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. 25 Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish.”

–1 Samuel 12.1-2b, 6-25 (NIV)

On the cover of one of the computer magazines to which I subscribe is this inscription: “How apps FIX everything!”


I must have missed them at the App Store, but I guess there are apps to fix poverty, hunger, injustice, and the massive suffering that exists in the world today. There must be apps to fix terminal illness and broken relationships. If apps can fix everything there must be apps that will fix the array of mental disorders that afflict some of us. I bet there are even apps that can fix our damaged relationship with God and the alienation and exile that our ongoing rebellion has caused. After reading the front cover of my magazine, I suddenly realized today that I am in the wrong business. I should have continued with my career as a technologist. At least then I would have had a shot at developing tools to fix everything in life that ails us.

Sarcasm (and the magazine’s editors’ hyperbole) aside, as today’s lesson makes clear, we humans have a long and checkered history of looking for almost anything (or anyone) else to solve our problems instead of looking to the One who really can fix everything for us and restore us to a truly peaceful and wholesome state of being. Don’t let the historical context of today’s lesson cause you to miss its point. When reading about God’s interactions with his called-out (holy) people, Israel, the people he chose through Abraham to bring healing and restoration to his broken and fallen world, we must always keep in mind that Israel had become part of the problem instead of part of God’s solution to address the problem of human sin and the host of problems that it causes.

We see this illustrated in today’s lesson. The writer of Samuel is not criticizing monarchy per se. Monarchy in Israel is no worse than, say, democracy would be if we keep in mind that God is our ultimate King and Ruler. The form of government is of little concern to the biblical writers, both in the OT and NT. What is important to the biblical writers is who people, especially God’s called-out people, really want running the show. As Samuel points out to his people, Israel’s sin is not wanting a king but rather in wanting to be like the people living around her, the very people God has called Israel to help him redeem! Israel is more interested in finding a human solution to the problems that beset them rather than acknowledging they are God’s people, and that God is big enough to handle any problem that Israel encounters.

This is especially grievous to God, considering all that he has done for his people, Israel. As God’s prophet (i.e., God’s human mouthpiece) points out to his people, God has a long and glorious history of delivering Israel from various forms of slavery and oppression. He did it in Egypt and he continued to do it once Israel settled in the promised land (cf. the book of Judges). And what was Israel’s response? They got fat and sassy and decided they didn’t need God to help them run their lives. They decided they could do it themselves. In other words, they decided they could play God and get away with it.

This is the essence of what the sin of human pride causes. We think we are big enough to play God–until life smacks us right in the teeth and reminds us otherwise.

Neither is this a problem for only God’s people. We should never read any of these kinds of passages in a prejudicial way. To the contrary, if Israel wasn’t God’s called-out and beloved people, God would likely not be spending so much of his time and energy on them. No, Israel’s problem of pride and self-reliance is our problem. It is humanity’s problem and it is universal.

We see it today in our own society, manifested in various ways. Here in the USA we scurry around and seek all kinds of different gods to help us take God’s rightful place as our Lord, Creator, and King. We pursue our individual freedoms and make them our god, and we can all see how well that is working out for this country. Some of us celebrate sexual disorders and promiscuity. Others advocate for the destruction of the traditional nuclear family. We continue to ignore and abuse each other, all in the name of personal freedom. We think that the more freedoms we have the happier we will be. But if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit this is just not true.

Others of us, like my technology magazine reminds us, make technology our god, hoping that it will ultimately solve all of our problems. Science and technology are indeed wonderful things and have made life much better, at least for people living in the West. We are living longer and healthier lives, for example. But the problem with technology is that it is amoral. It is only as good (or bad) as the people who use it. The same technologies that have brought wonderful advances in science, medicine, and education have also been used to bring us the atomic bomb, genocide, and the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

No, like Israel, until we acknowledge that God is God and we are not, and until we submit to his good and sovereign rule, we are never going to be able to fix ourselves, let alone the problems that bedevil us. Human solutions to the massive problems will ultimately be ineffective because we humans are so profoundly broken.

But there is hope, in no small part because we know that God’s rescue plan for his fallen creation and creatures involves human agency to a significant degree. We see this illustrated in God giving humans stewardship of his good creation, in sending his prophets to correct his wayward people Israel, and ultimately in Jesus of Nazareth to redeem God’s fallen people and creation. In Jesus, God has defeated evil decisively, although he has not brought evil’s defeat to its final conclusion. In Jesus’ resurrection, God has defeated our worst enemy, death, and has begun his wondrous and mighty act of New Creation, an act that will find its ultimate fulfillment when Jesus returns again in great power and glory to finish the work that he started and that only he is capable of finishing.

In the interim, God continues to call out his people in Christ to help him in his act of restoring his fallen and broken world and its people. We who follow Christ are called to bring his love to bear on those we encounter in our lives. None of us has the power to completely solve the massive problems that beset us. But we are not called to do that. Instead, we are called to use our God-given gifts–and with the Power and help of the Holy Spirit–to bring Christ’s healing and love to those around us who desperately need it. We are called to do that as individuals and collectively as Jesus’ people formed as his body, the Church. We may not agree with God’s plan or even understand it fully; that is where living and acting in faith come in. We are simply called to obey Jesus’ command to follow him and then have the confidence and humility to believe that he will use us in ways that he sees fit and are pleasing in his sight.

This is how God’s world gets fixed (and we get fixed in the process). God will return one day to bring about the final and ultimate rescue for his world. Until then, he calls us to love and obey him by taking up our cross each day, denying ourselves so that we can serve others, and following Jesus. We do this because we believe God has acted decisively on our behalf by becoming human and suffering and dying for us so that our alienation and exile from him can be ended permanently. We will not get to see the ultimate fruit of this wondrous gift until we are raised from the dead and given new resurrection bodies to live in God’s New Creation. It will be wonderful and glorious beyond our ability to really imagine.

In the meantime, however, there is work for us to do. We are to use our gifts and talents to bring Christ’s love to bear on others–always and only with the Spirit’s help, of course. It won’t be easy work and we will often meet heavy resistance because the powers and principalities don’t want to give up ruling the world. But they have already lost the war. God in Christ has assured us of that. Our job is to remain faithful to God and his call to us. We are to give up playing God and trying to elevate ourselves to his rightful place as sovereign and ruler of this universe.

All this requires a leap of faith on our part because in many cases what God calls us to do just doesn’t seem to make sense to us. But if we delve into God’s story and learn about his rescue plan for us, and if we align ourselves with other faithful Christians we are trying to be obedient to God just as we are trying to do, we don’t need to leap blindly into action. We will be reminded that we are serving a God who can raise us from the dead and call into existence things that are not. This, in turn, gives us hope for living and when we become God’s Kingdom workers in his world, we open ourselves up to be human to the fullest and to live our lives with power, meaning, and purpose.

If you haven’t given your life to Christ and in loving service to him by serving others, what are you waiting for? Your present and future are assured and you will discover what living the abundant life is really all about. It starts with losing yourself so that you can find the only True fix for all that ails you in this life.

The God of Infinite Possibilities: Turning Bad Into Good

1 On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. 4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.

–Acts 8.1b-8 (NIV)

If you are aware of any church history, you know that the first-century church spread like wildfire and went on to turn its world upside down in the Name of Jesus. But did you know how and why the early church spread? Luke tells us in today’s passage. The early church spread initially because it was persecuted and one of the early leaders of the persecution was none other than Saul (later known as Paul) of Tarsus, who later became arguably the greatest of all the Apostles, at least in terms of spreading the Gospel throughout the ancient world of the Roman Empire.

Today’s lesson is another powerful reminder of how God can turn evil into good. If the folks who comprised the first church were like us in any way, and surely they must have been because the human condition has not changed much over the centuries, they likely would have been quite satisfied to stay put and enjoy the benefits of fellowship with each other and their Lord. Sure, Jesus had told the apostles to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28.16-20), but that is easier said than done! And so we can reasonably infer from Luke’s report here that the church really didn’t start to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission until its people suffered severe persecution. If God’s people weren’t in any hurry to get off their duffs and spread the Good News of Jesus to the nations, even after hearing this command from Jesus himself, God would provide them with a little incentive to do so. I certainly do not mean to make light of persecution. The point is that God used evil and turned it into good.

Much to the persecutors’ chagrin, as the early Christians were scattered, they took the message of the Gospel with them and preached it to those who had not heard it. They not only preached it, they lived it by their actions and Luke reports that the early church turned heads by their amazing acts of Spirit-driven power, acts of healing and compassion, and kindness. But it apparently took an initial evil to get the ball rolling. In fact, the overall history of the church reflects this. When the church has been a persecuted minority, it has generally flourished. When it has become a major player in society, it has often foundered.

This should not particularly surprise us since the church’s founder was subject to persecution and death himself. When Jesus called Saul to be his Apostle to the Gentiles, he told and showed Paul how much he must suffer for Jesus’ sake. Apparently it is true. If we are to follow Jesus we must take up our cross each day, deny ourselves, and follow Jesus. In other words, we can expect to suffer and face persecution for Jesus’ sake.

But a funny thing, that. When we do suffer and experience persecution for Jesus’ sake we can take it as a badge of honor. If God can use the murderous attempts of Saul and others like him to spread the faith and grow his church, how much more can he use your own sufferings to help you grow and get to where God wants you to be? There are countless examples of Christians who have let God use their own tragedies and personal sufferings to help others in need and to bring Christ’s love to bear on his hurting and broken world. This is how Jesus seems to work as often as not and it takes a good amount of trust on our part to buy into the program.

That is why we need to take Scripture’s exhortations to remember constantly God’s mighty acts of power and his great love and faithfulness. When we do we are better able by God’s grace to see his hand at work in our own suffering and problems. This, in turn, will help us persevere and even overcome all that can afflict us–as long as we remember to make it about God and not ourselves.

What evil is in your life that you can give over to God to transform into good? You have God’s promise in the NT that he has dealt decisively with evil on the cross and is now working at bringing about his promised New Creation. The same God who has done this and who is always good to his word will likewise help you overcome the evil in your life. It may not be instantaneous and you may have to really persevere and struggle with whatever it is you are dealing with. But as you do, and as your remember God’s great power to deliver on his promises, you can be confident that some kind of good will come out of the evil that afflicts you or your loved ones.

But you have to give yourself entirely to God and trust him to work his will as he sees best. If you have not already done so, are you ready to let God use you to help him turn his world upside down by bringing his great love in Christ to bear on you and those he calls you minister to in his name? This is not a call to take a leap of blind faith. You have an established track record to look at, both in Scripture and in the lives of countless faithful men and women, that God can use to reassure you that he is with you always and will deliver on his promises to you, even in the darkest and deepest of your valleys.

What Happens When You Fail the Test

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

54 Then seizing [Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane], they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” 57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. 58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. 59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” 60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

–Luke 22.[31-34], 54-62 (NIV)

In today’s lesson from Luke we have drama of the highest order. It is a story we can all recognize because unfortunately all of us have been in Peter’s shoes to one extent or another. Yesterday I wrote about why our faith needs to be tested, in part, to verify and validate who we are (or are not). In that example, we looked at Abraham as a positive example. God tested him and Abraham passed the test by obeying God’s command to him. Abraham was able to demonstrate to both God and himself that he had the faith God expected him to have. And in the process, Abraham also discovered that God was a God whom he could trust in any and every circumstance. God too had passed the test.

In today’s lesson, we see a negative example of what can happen to us when we are tested. We can fail the test as Peter did. I can relate to Peter because in a lot of ways I am like him. Sitting in the comfort of the Upper Room with Jesus immediately before Jesus’ arrest, Peter was full of himself. He shot off his mouth with great bravado and claimed that he would never desert his Master and friend, that he would even be willing to die for Jesus. But Jesus would have none of that nonsense. Jesus knew better and he predicted as much.

Now in today’s lesson, the chickens have come home to roost. Jesus has been arrested and Peter has followed him to see how it would all play out. But he is recognized as one of Jesus’ followers and they call Peter on that. So what does this man do, the one who bragged that he would willingly die for Jesus? When he had the chance to demonstrate the sincerity of his love for Jesus, to put his money where his mouth was so to speak, Peter folded like a bad poker hand. Unlike Abraham, when Peter found himself tested severely, he could not deliver on his promises. It is an utterly heartbreaking story and there is no wonder why Peter went out and “wept bitterly,” especially after he had looked directly into his Lord’s eyes and had the shallowness of his very soul exposed. We don’t have to look at ourselves in the mirror very long to empathize with Peter because we are him.

And what can we expect from the world when we fail the test, when we fail to live up to our hopes and dreams and highest aspirations? Typically we can expect to get punched in the face. Like sharks, others will smell blood and circle around us in an attempt to finish us off. The world is not a particularly kind and merciful place. Don’t believe me? Think about Rep. Weiner and tell me where you saw anything that even remotely looked like mercy.

But it is to the glory of the Gospel and God’s great love for us that he does not give up on us, even when we fail him (and ourselves) miserably by not living as the creatures God created us to be. In his Gospel, John tells us that when Peter met his risen Lord, Jesus did not spurn or scold or reject him. No, Jesus restored Peter. This surely was painful for Peter (and likely for Jesus). But the point is that Jesus saw more in Peter than what Peter saw in himself, and Jesus moved to restore their relationship so that Peter might have the chance to see in himself what Jesus saw in him. There is nothing harder to get over than guilt over a failed relationship that cannot be adequately resolved because the other is no longer available to us so that we can ask forgiveness and work toward restoration. It is an awful burden for us to bear and it wears us down almost completely

Jesus didn’t let that happen to Peter and Jesus will not let that happen to us if, like Peter, we allow him.

No wonder our Lord tells us to come to him when we are weary and worn out by our lives and our various failures in life. When we do, we can expect his mercy and tender love for us so that coming to Jesus is not a burden at all for us. After all, how can mercy, grace, and undeserved forgiveness be a burden? No, in Jesus, we tap into the very Source of life and find forgiveness, refreshment, and healing. We don’t find this because of who we are but because of who Jesus is.

If you are one who is bearing the heavy burden of your various disappointments and failures, take heart and hope. The God who created you for relationship with him, and who loves you, has not given up on you. He sees in you the kind of human being he created you to be and he wants to help you become just that person. He asks simply that you have the needed humility to cast your cares, your worries, your burdens, and all that weighs you down on him, to trust him to work in and through you so that you can find newness of life and be refreshed in the process. He wants this for you, in part, so that he can use you as his agent to bring his love to bear on others in your life, just the way he has brought his love to bear on you.

Here is just what you need to find real hope and purpose of living. If you have not yet availed yourself of Jesus’ great love and power for you to help you when you become weary and discouraged, what are you waiting for?

It’s a Matter of Trust

Last week I suggested that we could not fully understand the nature of our triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, unless we looked at how God has revealed himself in his plan to rescue his broken and fallen world. We saw that humans play a critical role in God’s rescue plan demonstrated by the fact that God initiated his plan by calling Israel through Abraham to help him in this task and reaching its climax in Jesus of Nazareth. We will see its ultimate fulfillment in the promise of New Creation that was foreshadowed in Jesus’ Resurrection. Today I want to look briefly at an important early story from God’s plan of redemption, the story of the testing of Abraham, and what that could possibly mean for us today.

In today’s OT lesson we are confronted with the uncomfortable fact that sometimes our faith and character get tested. We generally don’t like that, do we, especially when it is God who is testing (not tempting) us. In the Genesis account, God ostensibly demands the life of Abraham’s beloved son, Isaac, but because we know how the story ends and the writer lets us in on the purpose of God’s request at the beginning of the story, it is easy for us to miss an important lesson because we read it with 20-20 hindsight. Yet stop for a moment and try to put yourself into Abraham’s shoes (or sandals) as the story unfolds. You are happily living out your life and enjoying fellowship with this God who has called you out to be the father of many nations, who has delivered to you and your wife a miracle baby, and has promised to make your descendants more numerous than the stars (Gen. 15:5). Then one day disaster strikes. This God who has made all these promises to you suddenly demands the life of your only beloved son, the very son whom God had promised and delivered to you when you were over 100 and your wife was in her 90s, well past her childbearing years.

The writer does not tell us how Abraham felt or what he thought when God told him to sacrifice Isaac, but it is not hard for us to imagine because we have all been confronted with moments like this. Being human, Abraham must have felt initially shock and disbelief. Perhaps later he felt fear and anger. Maybe Abraham wondered what he had done to deserve this punishment. Despite being known later as the Father of all who have faith (Romans 4:16), Abraham might have remembered that both he and his wife, Sarah, had initially laughed at God’s promise to give them a son in their advanced age (cf. Genesis 17:17; 18:12). He might have remembered further that after 11 years they had both become impatient with God to deliver on his promise and had taken matters into their own hands when he fathered Ishmael through Sarah’s slave girl, Hagar. So now maybe the chickens were coming home to roost and God was going to punish him for doubting (but not disbelieving) his promises. No, it is not hard for us to imagine Abraham might have had some of these thoughts and fears because they are the very same thoughts and fears we have when disaster strikes in our lives. We also hear these sentiments echoed in the first half of today’s psalm.

Even if we do not know for sure what Abraham thought, we do know what he did, and what he did ultimately demonstrated that Abraham had faith and trust in God because faith always manifests itself in action. The writer of Genesis tells us that Abraham immediately obeyed God’s command because he got up early in the morning and set out with two of his servants and Isaac to go to the place God told him to go. He didn’t delay or stall or protest to God; he acted. Note carefully what he told his servants once they arrived: “Stay here and we will come back to you.” Now it is entirely possible that Abraham was just trying to trick his servants so as not to tip his hand regarding what he was going to do.

But we get further insight into Abraham’s faith when we look at his conversation with Isaac. What Abraham told his son seems to indicate that Abraham was not trying to deceive to his servants. When Isaac asked him where was the lamb to be used for the burnt offering, Abraham replied that God would provide the lamb for the offering. He did not say, “You are going to be the sacrificial lamb, son. Sorry about your bad luck, kid. I’m just obeying orders.” No, he told Isaac that God would provide. Abraham then bound Isaac and prepared to kill him. He must have been very close to doing so because the angel of the Lord urgently called his name twice to stop him. Despite whatever feelings and misgivings Abraham had, in the end he did what God had asked him to do, even if it meant losing the most precious thing in his life. Abraham had passed the test. However, what is more important from our perspective, so had God.

So why did God test Abraham in the first place? After all, if God is all-knowing, surely he knew Abraham had faith and trusted in him. The answer, in part, lies in how Abraham responded to God’s request. Despite his fears and misgivings—and because he was human he surely had them—Abraham trusted God and obeyed him, and in doing so allowed God to prove himself to be trustworthy. The issue is not whether God knew if Abraham had faith in him and trusted him but rather did Abraham really know if God was trustworthy? In other words, the test was really for Abraham’s benefit, not God’s. Abraham had to experience for himself that God was trustworthy and it is only in dire situations that trustworthiness can be truly verified.

For example, in my conversations with my friend John about his Vietnam war experience, he has talked about being battle tested, which enabled him to learn what he was made of. He certainly did not like being shot at or having to endure the extremes of combat, but in so enduring, he learned what he was made of. Likewise, in our own suffering, it is only when we trust in the Lord to help us will we discover that he can be trusted. This isn’t fun but God can use our dark times to help us grow in our relationship with him.

How? Because trust is one of the essential components of any relationship and is based on intimacy. Therefore it is important for us to know God is trustworthy if we are ever going to have a real relationship with him. It is easy for us to trust in God when things are going well for us and trust really isn’t earned during good times. In fact, when we enjoy God’s abundant blessings, we tend to get fat and sassy and forget that he is the source of all good things because we are fallen and rebellious creatures. It is exactly in those times that our relationship with God can suffer the most because we start to delude ourselves that we really do not need him to lead a happy and healthy life. No, unfortunately it is not until disaster strikes that we can really see if God is worthy of our trust because only then does God have a real opportunity to prove his trustworthiness which in turn can lead us to a more intimate relationship with him.

When God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the very personification of God’s promise to him, Abraham trusted God and obeyed. As we’ve seen this does not mean that this was easy for Abraham to do. But the point is that by not losing faith in God and obeying him, Abraham was able to see that God was trustworthy. In Abraham’s darkest hour, God proved himself trustworthy. And there was a bonus in this for Abraham. In obeying God, Abraham was able to demonstrate to himself that he really did have faith and trust in God. Contrast Abraham’s actions to Peter’s on the night of Jesus’ arrest. When circumstances required Peter to back up his claim that he would never desert Jesus, Peter utterly failed, deserting his Master along with the rest of the disciples.

So what can we learn from all this? First, if we want a real relationship with God, we must become intimate with God so that we can learn to trust him. A vital way to do this is through prayer and regular study and reading of Scripture. When we pray and read our Bible we can gain a more intimate knowledge of God’s character, his promises, and his mighty deeds and acts. It helps us to remember Whose we are, who God is, and what he wants us to do to walk with him faithfully. Faith always seeks understanding and the daily disciplines of prayer and Bible reading are a good place to start. If we do not know how and why God is trustworthy, it is unlikely that we will risk trusting him as we must if we desire to have a real relationship with him.

Second, and related to the first point, Scripture constantly exhorts us to remember God and his mighty acts. Abraham likely did that when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac. Paul reminds us in Romans 4 that Abraham put his trust in the God who gives life to the dead and calls thing into existence that are not (Romans 4:17). On his way to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham surely remembered God’s mighty act in blessing an old, barren couple with a son, just as he promised he would do. Remembering God’s mighty acts and past trustworthiness helps us trust him in present times when we don’t have the benefit of 20-20 hindsight.

What about you? When disaster strikes or suffering occurs in your life, which it inevitably will, in part because we live in a broken and fallen world, do you know God well enough to turn to him for help? Do you trust him enough to allow his grace to work in you to allow you to do what you consider to be impossible the way Abraham did? Trusting God in our darkest hours doesn’t happen overnight; it takes a lifetime to develop as does any worthwhile relationship. Nor will it guarantee us a “happy outcome.”

What it will do is allow us to see that God is trustworthy by using even our worst times to enable us to persevere and grow in our relationship with him, which ultimately is what real life is all about. As Paul reminds us, suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, character produces hope, hope does not disappoint us because we have the love of God poured out in our hearts via the Holy Spirit (Romans 5.3-5).

It will also enable us to see that we are not alone in our struggles nor do we have to come up with our own solutions. The Christian faith is no self-help solution and that is why God reminds us not to be afraid because he is with us in any and every situation, especially those that are darkest. When you understand that, folks, you have good news, now and for all eternity.

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

Careful What You Ask For–You May Get It!

1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. 4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” 6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” 10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” 19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

–1 Samuel 8.1-20 (NIV)

Imagine you are the leader of your family. You come from good stock and your family name is well respected in the community. You have no siblings left and only have one son. You are counting on him to carry on the family’s name and good legacy by continuing to be salt and light to your community just the way you and your family before you have been. But as your son comes of age, he decides he doesn’t want the responsibility. He just wants  the perks of bearing the family name. He starts hanging out with less than desirable elements within the community and you become alarmed because you see the danger into which he is sliding. You warn him continually about his inevitable path toward ruin and you ask his former friends to do likewise.

But your son doesn’t listen. He apparently is determined to do things his way and doesn’t care one lick about your family name and legacy. What do you do? Because your son is of age, there is really little you can do about it. You can disinherit him but you love him too much to do that. And so you in effect end up giving him what he wants because you stop trying to intervene in his activities. You then must sit back and watch the painful results unfold as your only son is drawn further and further away from you, from your rock-solid values, and your family’s good and cherished name. It is almost unbearable for you to watch, but watch it you must because of your great love for your son.

If you understand the dynamics of this little scenario, you are ready to read the story in today’s Scripture lesson. God has called out his people Israel through Abraham to be a blessing for others, to be his agents of healing and redemption for his broken and fallen world. But they refuse. They are more interested in having God’s blessings but they have forgotten about their own responsibility as God’s called out (holy) people to be a blessing for others, to be God’s agents of redemption. Instead, the leaders of Israel come to Samuel and ask him to ask God for a king. Ostensibly they ask this because Samuel’s sons have become corrupt. But this is only window dressing. The real reason Israel’s leaders are asking for a king is because they want to become like the other peoples with whom they live. This indicates that they have completely forgotten (or rejected) their call to be God’s blessing to others so that God can heal and redeem those other people through his chosen people Israel.

And so God, because of his great love for his people and because of his faithfulness to them, gives his people what they ask. But he tells his prophet, Samuel, to warn his people about what they will get if God gives them a king. Don’t let the historical context of these warnings make you miss the power of God’s warning. God is telling his people that if they have a king like the other nations, those kings will start to oppress Israel financially (too many taxes) and politically (too few individual freedoms, too much government meddling in their lives, and too much injustice and oppression).

But more grievously to God is the fact that his people Israel have in effect rejected God’s kingship in favor of being like the other unredeemed and fallen people around them, the very people God has called Israel to bless. If you understand the dynamics of my example above about the grief the leader of the family feels over his wayward and rebellious son, you can begin to understand the terrible grief this particular request by God’s people has on God’s heart. He isn’t fooled by the ostensible request. As always, God knows the hearts of his people and he understands all too clearly their motives in making this particular request.

Yet it is to the glory of God that he does not reject his people or destroy them. God sticks with his people. He gives them what they want and he continues to work with them in a variety of ways to call them back to their right minds so that they might become the people he called them to be. In biblical language this is called repentance.

Likewise with us, God continues to love us and call us to be the people he wants us to be in Jesus. Like ancient Israel, we continue to rebel against God and to reject his kingship in our lives. We are more interested in being the captain of our own lives rather than humbly submitting to God’s rule and in doing so, we rob ourselves of God’s power and the ability to be God’s called out (holy) people to be a blessing to others by bringing God’s love in Christ to bear on those who are broken and hurting and need God’s love the most.

But like his people Israel, God does not reject us or become unfaithful to us. Instead, he has chosen to live among us as a human. He has chosen to die a terrible death to bear our just punishment himself and to make it possible for us to be reconciled to him forever. Just like God did for his people Israel when he rescued them from their exile from Egypt, so God has rescued us from our exile from him, an exile caused by our persistent and willful rebellion against God and our refusal to let him be God so that we can be his people. And he did all this for us even when we were too stupid to know any better and ask for his forgiveness and mercy so that we could enjoy life, both here on earth and forever in God’s direct presence.

This is the cost of our rebellion, both to ourselves and to God. It is to the glory of God that he sticks with his beloved and offers us a way out of death and our exile from him. But we have to come to our senses and be smart enough to accept God’s gracious offer to us in Christ to have real life, not the window dressing of money, sex, power, and prestige that many of us seek.

The next time you tell God by your actions that you do not want him as Lord and king of your life, remember the terrible hurt you inflict on him. Remember too that despite this hurt, God loves you and created you for relationship with him. Remember that he has done the one and only thing possible to restore your broken relationship with him. Consider carefully what a breathtaking love that God’s action in Christ demonstrates and then resolve to start living your life abundantly, the way your Creator intended. You will then discover a power, meaning, and purpose in your life that is impossible to find anywhere else. And as you discover the joy of living life as God means for us to live it, remember to give thanks and praise to this God of ours for his great and tender love and faithfulness toward his wayward creatures, and for giving us the tremendous opportunity to have him use us to bring this great love to bear on those around it who need it the most.

A Self-Check for You

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

–Luke 22.20-23 (NIV)

Here is a little self-check for you to measure your pride and self-righteousness. How did you react to today’s story? If you are familiar with it, you recognize this story as being Luke’s account of the Last Supper. Jesus is about to be betrayed by Judas and here we see Jesus telling his disciples this awful truth. Put yourself in the disciples’ place and try to forget the fact that you know how the story turns out. How would you react to Jesus’ statement that one of you will betray him?

First, we notice the disciples’ reaction and it is a healthy one. They don’t protest in self-righteous indignation. They wonder who it could be that would do something like that. Surely each man at the table looked into his own heart to ask if he had the capacity for this kind of betrayal. After all, both Matthew and Mark comment that the disciples became sorrowful when Jesus told them about his impending betrayal and asked, “Is it I, Lord?” Do you ask this question of God on a regular basis?

If you found yourself asking the same question and empathizing with the disciples’ sorrowful reaction, you are in a good place because you realize that you are profoundly broken and have the capacity to betray even your nearest and dearest. Having the capacity is not the same as actually betraying someone, but that is not the point. The point is that we must recognize the truth in Jesus’ diagnostic statement about the human condition, that out of the heart proceeds all kinds of evil. When you have the humility to admit your capacity to commit evil, you are well on your way to allowing the Lord to heal you.

And of course, that is the wondrous Good News of the Gospel. God loves us enough to do something about our human condition and if we have the good sense to accept his gracious offer of forgiveness and healing in Jesus, we can be confident that he is indeed healing us through the power and Presence of his Spirit living in us.

But if you read today’s story and said to yourself, “I could never do that to a friend,” then you should take that as a warning sign that you may be suffering from an inflated opinion of yourself and that is going to naturally spell trouble for you because you will likely not think you need any of God’s gracious help to fix what ails you. In fact, you might not even think you need fixing at all! Please let us know how that works out for you when all is said and done in your life.

For you see, that’s the curious thing about the Gospel. Given the human condition and our very stubborn pride, we will not be much interested in what God has done for us in Christ unless we think we are beyond self-help. After all, why would we go to a doctor if we were convinced we were quite healthy? Likewise with our willingness to accept the Gospel. The point is not to run people down but to help everyone understand the reality of our situation so that we can seek the necessary help to get us on the road to healing and restoration. That help, of course, comes from Jesus and his Spirit living in us and it all starts with the wondrous love and grace of God manifested in the cross.

So how did you do with this little self-check? Do you have a pride and self-righteous problem? Or do you really understand your desperate need for the Great Physician? If so, there’s glorious news for you. Jesus, your Great Physician, has just the medicine you need. All you need to do is ask him for help. Thanks be to God!

NBC Apologizes for Omitting ‘Under God’ From Pledge During U.S. Open Broadcast

From Fox News.

NBC issued an on-air apology Sunday for omitting the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance during its coverage of golf’s U.S. Open.

The words were edited out of a clip of children reciting the oath — a move immediately noted by viewers, who took to Twitter and various blogs to voice their anger, the Huffington Post reported.

Hmmm… I post a reflection below about what can happen when the profane meets the holy. Voila! A real-life case study!

For NBC to claim that editing out “under God” was not meant to “offend anyone” is duplicitous or at best incredibly naive. Either way, it sadly represents the reality that just as in the story of the ark of God and the Philistines, we still have today those who choose to send God packing so that they can continue to worship their various human-made idols, especially the idol of political correctness.

Read it all.

Meeting the Holy

1 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. 5 That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold. 6 The LORD’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors.[a] 7 When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god.” 8 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and asked them, “What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?”

–1 Samuel 5.1-6 (NIV)

Don’t let the historical context of today’s story rob you of missing its significance. It’s what always happens when the profane meets the holy or when the Living God meets the various idols we construct. The results usually are not very pretty.

In today’s story, the enemy of the Israelites, the Philistines, have captured the ark of the covenant, the focal point where God’s dimension intersects with the earthly one (later that focal point would be the Temple in Jerusalem and ultimately in Jesus). God allowed his ark to be captured because his people Israel had themselves misused the ark for their own petty purposes (see 1 Samuel 4). But a funny thing happens when a major idol of the Philistines meets the real God of the universe. The Philistines are shown how utterly powerless and worthless their idols are. Now our idols today may not consist of the god Dagon, but our idols of money, security, power, sex, fame and prestige, and a host of others are equally powerless to help us live abundantly. The only way to live abundantly is to have a relationship with the one true God who can raise us from the dead and calls us into loving service on his behalf for the benefit of his broken and hurting world.

We may wonder why the Philistines didn’t realize the folly of their ways, especially after seeing repeated demonstrations of God’s power. But it really shouldn’t surprise us because we often do the same thing. We hear the promise of God in Christ to give us new life, but we continue to pursue other, lesser things (and people) that are bound to fail or disappoint. We see the power of God’s love made manifest in loving service through God’s called out (holy) people, and we tend to yawn. We would much rather respect power and the ways of the world. And like the Philistines, instead of welcoming God’s Presence in our very midst, we often see it as a threat and seek to send it packing.

So what should be an appropriate response when we are confronted by the holy? We can take our cue from folks like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Peter, who, when realizing they were in the Presence of the Holiness and Goodness of God, fell prostrate and cried out to God to go away from them because they saw how unworthy they were to be in his presence. Now let’s be clear. I am not talking here about an exercise in self-humiliation. I am talking about having the proper humility to realize that God is God and we are not. This perforce leads us to be obedient to God’s will for us and to trust his goodness, love, and mercy for us and our lives in any and every circumstance. That’s terribly hard to do; in fact, it’s part of the curse of the human condition. But by God’s grace and mercy, as well as through the Power of his Spirit living in us, we are able to become obedient people.

How do we know God loves us and is for us? Because we have seen his symbol of justice. It is not that of lady justice. The symbol of God’s justice is the cross and the man we see hanging on it on our behalf so that we are made able to live forever in the direct Presence of the Holy God of this universe is God himself. We also have the Presence of his Spirit in us, testifying about himself and the truth of these things.

When we, by God’s grace, are given a right mind to see things as they are, and to see God as he is, it changes us forever. The change may be gradual and almost imperceptible at times, but it changes us nevertheless. The weight of the world is taken off our shoulders immediately as we realize that we worship and serve a God who is big enough for all our needs, hopes, and best desires, and who will help us overcome anything that evil can throw at us.

This, in turn, prepares our hearts to become Kingdom workers for God in Christ. We want to share with others, especially those who are most hurting and broken, the exquisite Good News with which we have been blessed. And because we have our minds right, living in God’s indirect presence here on earth is no longer is threatening to us. We want to remain in that Presence, not send it away, because we know that only when we are doing what God calls us to do can we find and live the abundant life.

What about you? When you are confronted by the Holy, do you want to run away or send it packing? Or do you recognize your radical need to be in its Presence and welcome it with a glad and humble heart? How you answer will be the deciding factor as to whether your life has meaning and purpose or whether it revels in self-centeredness and the profane.

Keeping Life in Perspective

1 LORD, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
2 May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

3 I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

–Psalm 88.1-5 (NIV)

12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.13 And so you will [have the opportunity to] bear testimony to me.14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.17 Everyone will hate you because of me.18 But not a hair of your head will perish.19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

–Luke 21.12-19 (NIV)

All of us can relate the the psalmist’s prayer of desolation in today’s lesson. It is the darkest of all the psalms and the only shred of hope we find in it is in verse 1. Like the psalmist above, we cry out in desperation and agony to God when we or our loved ones are afflicted with a devastating illness or loss. We cry to God when we see the massive amount of suffering and injustice that goes on in this world or when we see someone who is desperately hurting. Where are you God? Why do you allow my troubles to overwhelm me?

Indeed, we see Jesus warning his disciples that even following him will not make them immune from trouble or suffering. In fact, it will cause just the opposite. But here’s the curious thing. In warning his disciples about their impending persecution, he reminds them that they have an opportunity to witness for him! Why would anyone want to do that given all that is wrong in the world?

No one would want to do that if we look at God as some kind of cosmic Santa Claus who is at our beck and call. Neither would we want to do that if we think that this mortal life is all there is because we would have to assess our success or failure by how many goodies we are able to accumulate. But that is not what life is.

As Jesus reminds us at the end of today’s Gospel lesson, we need to hang on when “it” hits the fan in a big way and we are smacked right in the mouth. Why? Because life is more than our mortal, biological existence. Life is about having a reconciled relationship with the Source and Author of all life, a relationship only made possible by God himself. When we really know that, it makes it possible for us to transcend all that can assail us–with God’s help in the Spirit, of course. We no longer have to be afraid because we understand that the living of our days is but a drop in the comprehensive ocean of eternity and Christians are promised that one day, we will no longer have to life indirectly in God’s presence. We will get to be in his direct Presence forever and he will fully restore all that is wrong with his good albeit broken creation.

That’s why we would want to bear witness for Christ.

Having this kind of eternal perspective and knowing the God who created us will also inevitably move us to work on his behalf to address some of the massive wrong that confronts us in our daily lives to the extent we are able. We understand that we cannot provide the ultimate fix to those wrongs but we can bring Jesus’ love and God’s justice to bear on some things. As we saw yesterday, God has this amazing power to turn bad things into good, especially when we decide to trust and cooperate with him.

What this means for us on a practical level is that we listen for our marching orders each day in prayer. We ask God to give us strength and power to turn outside of ourselves when we are greatly afflicted and then ask him to use us to bring healing and good to others. It also means that we must be content to live with ambiguity and incomplete answers, stuff that typically drive humans nuts because we want it all and we want it now.

But that is not how the game of life works. That is not how the rules of engagement with God are set up and if we are truly to allow him to be our God we must respect his good order of things, even when we don’t think they are so good or even right. This is no small task and is impossible without the very Presence of God’s Spirit in us and the help, love, and support of trusted friends.

When, with God’s help, we are given grace to see life for what it is, we will also discover a power outside of ourselves that will enable us to transcend our fears and hurts. When that happens, you will be on your way to living a meaningful and purposeful life because you will be thankful to God’s gifts to you–including the assurance of your eternal future–and want to respond by giving your life to him, primarily through your loving service to others. Remember, Scripture’s most frequent admonition to us is “don’t be afraid.” When we really know the God of this universe in the person of Jesus Christ and the abiding Presence of his Spirit, we will also discover the secret to obeying this command.

If you do not yet know this God who loves you passionately and equips you to live life abundantly and with proper perspective, what are you waiting for?