Monday, April 19, 2010

Psalm 125

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore.
The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous,
for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.
Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart.
But those who turn to crooked ways the Lord will banish with the evildoers.

Peace be upon Israel.
For true peace to reign, true justice must be established.

This principle lies at the heart of salvation in Christ, of course -- we could not have peace with God until His justice was satisfied, so He sent Jesus.

But the principle is true in the affairs of men as well. All true justice gives us glimpses of the character of our God, who among other attributes, is wholly and completely just. That means that He rightly and accurately, consistently, judges between right and wrong, good and evil. Scripture, especially the prophetic books of the Old Testament, is filled with admonitions that human judges reflect that same discernment.

Simply put, the good guys should win and the bad guys should lose. Without that assurance, peace is elusive and transitory at best, non-existent at worst. In our deepest heart of hearts, we know that something is not right when evil triumphs. As I write this tonight, I'm hearing stories of price-gouging from Europe, where thousands are stranded due to grounded flights. Most of us instinctively know that taking advantage of people in that way is wrong. We rightly recoil at the glimpse of humanity's potential for evil when such greed is on display. We want justice.

Sure, it's not always easy to know where the line between good and evil, between justice and injustice lies. My husband and I love to watch "Hogan's Heroes". It's about Allied soldiers in a POW camp during World War 2. It's totally unrealistic and silly, but I realized why I enjoy it: with few exceptions, the good guys and bad guys are clearly defined. I will always get to laugh as the wise "good guy" Allieds outsmart the evil Nazis yet again. It's justice served up with a side of humor, and it rings true this side of history because the evil of the Nazis has been confirmed repeatedly for 65 years and counting. In the middle of the battle, though, it's not always easy to sort things out.

That's why I think the Psalmist just totally puts the emphasis on God's ability to judge here. After encouraging the believing community to trust God - flowing perfectly from the end of Psalm 124's praise of God's deliverance - the Psalmist lifts up good and evil into God's hands to sort out. Verse 3 is so significant: God doesn't let the wicked reign over the righteous too long - but why? Because He doesn't want the hands of the righteous to do evil. Our hands were made to do good. God knows how much wickedness we can bear before we use those hands for evil. He protects us from ourselves. That doesn't mean we never do wrong - but God will guide us back to the right path.

Verses 4-5 illustrate God's judgment at a level we can never view - the heart. God knows who is upright in heart but burdened by the rule of the wicked and the injustice of the day. He knows equally who has turned to - embraced - crooked ways and rejected God's better path. And He will judge. We cannot.

I wish everything was as easy as Allieds vs. Nazis. It's not. Until the day when God makes all things right, we do the best we can ... trusting God with unshakeable faith, trusting that He surrounds us even as we see the shadow of the scepter drawing closer, trying with all our might to use our hands only for good, and keeping our hearts soft and pliable so we don't embrace and love crooked ways ... knowing in the end, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things (1 John 3:20). He'll right the wrongs and lift up those who were right all along.

"Peace be upon Israel." And peace be upon us ... peace that rests in God's perfect justice.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


reflections during my quiet time today - an example of how God sets me straight! 

"Another day, another chance to get things right" -
    My first thought as I sit to pray.
A self-centered mantra,
     it reflects the American way.
For "if it is to be, it's up to me", you know -
    Who could question that?

But in the throne room,
     "Rugged individualism" has no place.
I sit before my Maker
      in desperate need of grace.
"His mercies are new every morning"
     What do I need more than that?

"Daily He bears my burdens"
    as at His feet I fall.
Learning anew that while my mistakes and sins are plentiful,
     His grace covers them all.
"Abundant grace to the worst of sinners"
     Is there any news better than that?

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Faking it always came easy to me.

There's a lot of reasons why, from the earliest ages, I remember pretending not to know something I already knew, or to have answers I didn't have, or to hide my feelings or pretend in one area or another. One of the first things God began working on when I started walking with Him was the need to be real. Since that time, authenticity has been vitally important to me. It's become quite a buzzword in the church these days, as well.

In my journey toward authenticity I've had to learn and relearn a basic principle: Authenticity is not the greatest expression of a redeemed man or woman, Christlikeness is.

Instinctively, I think we know this. When I first started walking with God and He began peeling back the layers to show me the depth of my artificiality - so deep that even I didn't know who I was - my initial reaction was repulsion. I couldn't possibly be authentic, because I hated much of who I was. I didn't want  to have to show who I thought I really was. I still remember the prayer I prayed years ago when I began a Kay Arthur study on the Beatitudes: "Lord, if I'm going to be authentic, you're going to have to change who I am, because I don't want to be authentic the way I am today."

Ah, but that was the point. I had to learn that He loves me just the way I am, but too much to leave me there. There were things in my life that desperately needed to be changed. There were other things that I had to learn how to exhibit in the Spirit and not the flesh. For example, God gave me the personality that I have. That personality is fairly strong-willed and quite opinionated. I love to think and study and research. None of that is wrong, but I've had to learn to bring my will and my tongue under the control of the Spirit (correction: I'm still learning!), and to focus my time and energy on thinking and studying and researching things that truly matter. I can be fascinated by any number of topics, but I don't need to give years of study to each of them. Furthermore, authenticity has been as much about learning what not to change as what to change and what to control. I don't need to seek change in areas that are just different. God's Word is filled with marvelous examples of unique individuals that were different from each other like night from day. Each had a mission that the other would have been ill-suited to fulfill.

As I've reflected on my journey toward authenticity recently, I realized that I had drifted away from the basic principle that Christlikeness, not authenticity, is the greatest expression of a redeemed man or woman. As I look at the trend within the church toward authenticity, my concern is that authenticity has become an idol to us. We rightly want pastors and teachers who don't act superior and let us know they, too, are flawed. But we need pastors and teachers to take it to the next level and help us learn how to take our flaws to Jesus and ask Him to make us authentically Christlike in that area. We need to be walked through the steps of 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 and other passages that can help us submit our flesh to Christ.

What we need in the church is an expanded understanding of all it means to be Christlike - not a deeper glimpse at our own humanity. Too often we've limited Christlikeness to moral actions and failed to explore His deeper emotions and motivations. Scripture records Jesus as feeling compassion, sadness, anger, joy. He sought the prayers of others. We see Him resting and eating and walking through the fields. As we behold Him, Paul tells us, we are transformed more into His image.  Keeping our eyes on Jesus, studying what is revealed in the Gospels about who He was in all His humanity and deity, will help us to know all that it means to be fully human - and we'll be changed in the process.

Seeking authentic transformation to Christlikeness is not hypocrisy. We'll still mess up, and we should never claim to have "arrived". Hypocrisy is pretending to be something that we're not. If we're believers, we should be on a journey toward Christlikeness. Authenticity is simply letting others walk that journey with us.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

"He's Alive"

He's alive. 

I fear we've pretty much lost the sense of the power behind those words on that glorious Lord's Day long ago. We've relegated the resurrection to doctrinal treatises, theological statements, and a familiar story. We forget that to the earliest followers of Jesus, the resurrection equalled HOPE.

Go with me for just a moment back to that week in Jerusalem. Pretend you haven't read the end of the story.
You've watched your leader - the one you hoped would bring an end to Roman rule in Jerusalem and restore Jewish leadership - enter Jerusalem to fanfare. Your hopes were high that day. How proud you were! The week was action-packed, with teaching and confrontations with religious leaders. You hardly knew what to think and hardly had time, as the crowd was pressing from every side with the Passover feast coming up on Thursday night. All you knew was that people wanted to be around Jesus as He continued His ministry of teaching and healing. But the crowd wouldn't be around for the private Passover feast in the upper room. You would, though. You could hardly wait to celebrate the feast - you knew the words by heart, having repeated them annually every year of your life. This year, though, with the Lord, and filled with such hope - what they would mean to you.

And yet, the tone of the evening was so different than you anticipated when you eagerly prepared the lamb and the table. Jesus was talking about going away ... about laying down His life ... and betrayal ... nothing made sense. Judas left, and you didn't really understand why. You followed Jesus outside, by the temple and across the Kidron Valley to the Garden where you've gone before. All the way, He kept teaching. He told you how to know when "the end" comes. He talked of abiding in Him. He prayed. And then, He went on further still, to a place alone with God, and asked you to watch and pray. You tried, you really did, but sleep overcame you. Before you realized it, the time in the garden came to an abrupt end. There was a Roman guard, and Judas - betraying Jesus? Jesus allowing them to arrest him? You wanted to fight, but He said no. Everything blurs together after that ... fleeing the guards ... Peter's denial ... the crowd chanting "Crucify Him " ... before you realize what happened Jesus was headed up to Golgotha with a cross. He was really letting them crucify Him. Only one of your group was there when He died, and was charged with caring for His mother. Surely, if Jesus planned to stop this madness, He wouldn't have given that responsibility of the oldest son to someone else.

So after the Sabbath, you awoke to the second day without the One whose movements had defined your life for 3 years as you traveled the countryside together. What could be done? It was all so hopeless. Was it all in vain?

But then - here come the women. Mary Magdelene leads the bunch. "He's alive! He's really alive!" she proclaims. It's too good to be true. But Peter and John run to the tomb. Sure enough, it's empty. But what does it mean? You gather the group together in the upper room ... locking the door for fear of the Roman guard who had thought you might steal His body ... and two of the group talk about how Jesus had appeared to them on the road to Emmaus. Could it be? He had said something about resurrection, hadn't He? What was that again? While you are still talking, He appears ...

Luke 24:36-43 (ESV) As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.

He's alive!! He's really alive!! It wasn't meaningless after all! A later apostle would write If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:19). Tonight, you know there is no need for pity. You have a message for the world. He's alive.

We still have that message. We lose it sometimes, amidst life's busyness and routine and the ritual we are prone to make of our faith. But for the earliest believers, "He's alive" became a greeting and a confession. It was a reminder of hope when they were in the extreme minority. "He's alive" means that the Gospel is true. It means that we serve a risen Savior who is living and active and involved in our lives intimately. He makes intercession for us eternally at the right hand of the Father, where the scars in His hands serve as a permanent reminder that He went to the cross for our sins, but that He conquered death.

He's alive. May the whole world know the hope behind those words.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Holy Week 2010

"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." - 2 Cor. 5:21

After my last post, God did something He is prone to do in my life: He called me on what I said to you. You'll recall I blogged about the challenge of seeking to be devotional rather than just focusing on what to write or teach. Well, the rest of Holy Week was definitely about what God wanted to say to me ... and to make sure I didn't forget it, He kept the circumstances just enough out of my control to keep me off the computer and away from the blog.

It's not that He doesn't want me to write ... I've had confirmation after confirmation, most notably through my husband, that I should be writing. It's just that He didn't want me reading those significant words for any reason other than relationship with Him. He wanted this Holy Week to refocus me on the cross and away from my own efforts - because even those efforts that are God-glorifying, Christ-honoring, and Spirit-led can easily become "works", especially in our results-oriented society.

But for 2 1/2 years now, God has been teaching me that a relationship with Him and me joining Him in His work is a lot more about process than it is about results. Oh, results happen. But as my life verse at the top of this blog reminds me, they happen because of Him, not because of me! I have to focus on the process and what He wants to teach me and where He wants to place me and who He wants to connect me with and what HE is doing that He wants to invite me to join. For a task-oriented person like me, that is incredibly hard. I'm so grateful that He knows when to intervene more radically and protect me from my own tendencies ... like this week.

I have really had an amazing Holy Week. God has spoken to me in dramatic ways through each day's readings. This year, He seemed to give me an overall "theme" for each day, which He allowed me to see threaded throughout that day's readings. This helped me tie together sometimes large chunks of Scripture around one central lesson. Here are the "themes" for the days since I last wrote:

* Tuesday of Holy Week: "What am I doing with what He has given me?" We are all given truth and resources. What am I doing with them? Jesus took what He was given and served. Luke 22:27 "For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves."

* Wednesday of Holy Week: There are no readings for this day. This has been called Jesus' "silent" day. But it's a reminder that the silence is always only from our side. He is always at work.

* Thursday of Holy Week: "My great need and His great supply." The disciples had a great poverty of understanding, of love, of strength to stay awake. As I read this day I realized how much of it reflects the needs of humanity. Jesus' teaching and prayer in John 14-17 especially underscore this truth.

* Friday of Holy Week: I can say it no better than C.J. Mahaney: "We never move on from the cross, only to a deeper understanding of the cross." As I read all the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion at one sitting, I was hit with an incredible sense of the injustice of it all. The one perfect man, God in the flesh, beaten and mocked and spat on and rejected and betrayed. Everything in me wanted to stop it, to say it was wrong. Imagine how the Father felt. And yet Scripture tells us that on the cross, God demonstrated His justice. Why? Because a holy God cannot ignore sin. He loved us enough to make a way for relationship with Him, but that way had to deal with the sin that stood in the path. He dealt with my sin ... with your sin ... with the sin of the world ... on the cross. If Barabbas had been executed instead, none of us would say it was injust. He earned execution due to his crimes. Jesus' crucifixion would have been injust -- except for the fact that He bore our sin. All the sins of the world were heaped on Him and God's justice - the justice due every person in the world - was satisfied. And He went beyond justice - after judging our sin on the cross, He gives those who embrace the work of Christ on their behalf His righteousness. He makes us new. As the Scripture above says, He became our sin so we would have the chance to become His righteousness. That should take our breath away and cause us to fall to our knees in worship. My sin is what kept Jesus' crucifixion from being an injustice and instead, made it a demonstration of God's perfect justice.

* Saturday of Holy Week: The women, ah the amazing women. They couldn't wait to get to the tomb! After Sabbath was over (about 6 p.m. Saturday evening), they got things ready to go to the tomb. I'm not sure exactly what all this looked like, as we know they discovered the empty tomb at dawn on Sunday. But what spoke to me was their eagerness to get to Jesus. They didn't know He would be risen. They just wanted to do what they could for Him. Mary Magdalene represents so many of us who have been forgiven much and so love much. May I awaken every morning with her eagerness to get to Him!

I can't wait for tomorrow. Here's a little secret: I am happy to have friends who live where it's already resurrection morning, so I can send them greetings tonight a little ahead of time. But there will be something special about those early morning hours tomorrow. I want to look ahead in my Bible to the empty tomb. But that isn't how it works. Tomorrow, along with millions around the world, I'll turn to those timeless words and discover that the tomb, nearly 2000 years later, remains empty.

For tonight, I close with one of my favorite modern hymns. The lyrics are below. Tonight, remember the wounds which marred the Chosen One are the wounds which brought us to glory. Hallelujah.

How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
And make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the man upon the cross
My sin upon His shoulder
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Why should I gain from His reward
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom