A Response to Tragedy, Part 1

How do we respond to tragedy? These are the thoughts I have been wrestling with and the string of Christian faith to which I have been clinging through my sorrow.

Recently, my sister lost her unborn child, Liam, at 20 weeks pregnant. Around the same time, my 32-year-old cousin, Ashley, was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and died within two weeks. This was not my family’s first encounter with deep and unexpected tragedy. In 2002, Ashley’s younger brother, mom and unborn baby sister died in a car accident on the way home from a family vacation. This was my introduction to grief. I was nine years old. Ashley’s brother who passed, Jonah, was not only my cousin but my best friend at the time.

I remember when they told us that Jonah had died in the hospital following the accident. My aunt had been declared dead at the scene with her baby. Jonah was in critical condition but was flown to the hospital. We all had converged on my grandparents’ house to pray and comfort each other. The next morning after the accident the kids were called down to the kitchen. They told us that Jonah didn’t make it, he was dead. There was palpable sorrow in that kitchen. The bright yellow walls did nothing to brighten the pall that hung over us. The only consolation in that moment was the comfort found in my dad’s arms as I wept.

Why? At some point, the question wells up in our soul as we process our pain. If God is good, if He really loves us, then why would He allow us to experience the overwhelming grief of losing a beloved friend, family member, child…? Why would He allow the incomprehensible suffering that we struggle to understand as we observe the weight of tragedy in the world? Answers abound. Some are good and true, some are false and depressing. None are satisfying. I mean this in the way that we all know we are not yet truly Home. There is no answer to grief that satisfies in this fallen world. We must live with the tension between faith in the truth and life in the pain. Hope remains.

I have found comfort in Job, in the story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection, and in the suffering of Jesus on the cross. As Job cries out against the unjust tragedy in his life, God holds it not against Him, but listens and then arrives in the midst of Job’s suffering. He does not explain away Job’s grief, He does not give reasons for Job’s loss. God shows up and demands that Job trust Him. God is worthy of it all. God is over it all, His timeless perspective redeems all our pain. He sees the order of the universe and, by His very being, He defies the totality of our pain. Job’s encounter with God is enough to bring him back into trust with God. This encounter does not alleviate or take him out of his suffering, but it returns him to trust. We need to encounter God in our suffering.

At the tomb of Lazarus, we get another glimpse of God’s response to our tragedy: Jesus wept. Here we see the further revelation of God’s response to Job. He shows up in our pain and He participates in our suffering. Jesus has enough knowledge of God to know the theological answer to suffering, the idea that God is worthy of it all, the idea that God will resurrect the dead and redeem all things in the end, but he does not use that knowledge to attempt to shield himself from the reality of tragedy. Jesus responds in His divinity and humanity as we respond in the face of death, with tears of sorrow. He had felt the same gut-wrenching pain that I felt when my best friend died. But He goes beyond this and calls forth God’s resurrection. I’ve heard some great sermons at funerals. I’ve been blessed in the midst of my grief to hear from preachers who have tapped into the heart of God for me and my family in those times of loss. The best sermons share that God is the enemy of death, that God takes no glory from man in the grave. They appeal to the fellowship of Christ with us in our suffering. They proclaim that death itself has been conquered and overcome; that death is now the pathway to life; that our fallen brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters are now more alive than we can imagine as we look through a mirror dimly.

At the cross of Jesus, we get the full unveiling of God’s ultimate word on our suffering. God does not merely empathize, God enters into and transforms our suffering. The mystery of the incarnation is not merely God clothed in flesh, but the embrace of our humanity so total that it finds its truest expression in the crucifixion. The moment that the incarnation completes its embrace of humanity is in the suffering and death on the cross. By the cross, our suffering and death are transfigured into fellowship with God and with His divinity. Then the resurrection proclaims our eternal answer: All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. There is not the slightest pain or disappointment that shall not have its answer in the resurrection. God has done what God does. God has embraced our suffering in His love and has made all things new. And so we cling to the fellowship of Christ in our suffering, we glimpse the hope of time that shall lead us to eternal resurrection, and we release our need to answer the question of “why.” He is worthy of it all.

These words do not solve the problem of grief. An intellectual understanding of these concepts doesn’t go one whit towards holding our pain at bay when we encounter tragedy. We need to meet the reality of these words. Only an encounter with the God who is love can bring us consolation in our trials. The only consolation in those moments is the comfort found in my Dad’s arms as I weep.

So we live through grief. We speak with muted tones and the world looks grayer for a while. We gather and give what comfort we can (remember we are to represent Christ to the world). We avoid platitudes and answers, we listen and sit with each other. Compassion calls for silence, for diversion, for conversation all at different times. Listen, be sensitive (in the sense of the word that is closer to “be discerning”) and grieve. Never try to excuse or diminish the tragedy. It sucks. Food helps, music helps, friendship helps, hugs help, just being around people who are in it with you helps. Memories resurface and stories are told. It is good that we celebrate and honor those who have passed on. It is right that we should grieve at our separation from those we love. Throughout the process of grieving remember foremost that this is not the whole story. What looks like the end is actually a beginning. Wherever you are in the process remember: God is faithful, God is present, all shall be well.

The Road Goes Ever On and On

Daily Office Meditation: 7th Week of Easter – Friday

(18) This will be written for the generation to come, That a people yet to be created may praise the LORD.

Psalm 102:18

(27) “Then the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase. They shall be safe in their land; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I have broken the bands of their yoke and delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them. (28) “And they shall no longer be a prey for the nations, nor shall beasts of the land devour them; but they shall dwell safely, and no one shall make them afraid.

Ezekiel 34:27-28

(5) who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things,

(10) “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

Hebrews 8:5; 10

(41) “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.

(42) “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:41-42

 

Just a quick note to start: it appears that my readings have been off by a day occasionally. The calendar for the website I use to get the Daily Office is set to EST and that is 3 hours ahead of PST. So if I am doing the Office after 9pm, it automatically shows me the following day! Whoops! I’ll be aware of that now. If you’d like to do the Office, you can join me in using this link: http://mysaintmichaels.com/readings/.

Today the lessons are all about the new covenant. First, I chose the verse from the Psalm because it is so fabulous to imagine the psalmist penning those words, “This will be written for the generation to come, That a people yet to be created may praise the LORD.” The psalmist could not have imagined the impact his words would have and how many hundreds of generations would be praying and reading the words of the Bible. We cannot imagine the wisdom of God. I think that is why the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. If you truly contemplate the vast and alien nature of God’s thoughts, then you cannot help but be in awe of Him. His plan is for generations, we struggle planning for tomorrow.

In Ezekiel we see God expanding on the nature of His promised New Covenant: the earth is bountiful, the yoke has been thrown off and broken, the nations shall not have the power to oppress His people, and there shall be no reason to be afraid. It’s easy to look at that passage and fall into a sense of longing for that day. The truth is, the New Covenant is here now! We are called to walk according to the principles of the New Covenant, yet we often submit to the ideologies of the Old Covenant. We are obsessed with success and performance, we look for punishment when we fail, and we do not come boldy before the throne of grace to confess our faults.

The Hebrews passage elaborates as it quotes the promises in the Old Testament to show the new reality we are invited to live in. Everything before Christ is but a shadow of the truth. Plato writes of Socrates speaking of the man who truly knew virtue as a man who walked among shadows. Jesus came to be the signpost, the embodied truth, and the pioneer of the truly Human life.

We see a glimpse of how to live in the kingdom vs. the world in the Gospel story. Jesus responds to Martha’s legitimate practical concerns with a kingdom principle of His own. There is one thing that is needed, that is sitting at the feet of Jesus. This can be literal, but it appears to mean different things to different people in the Bible. Symbolically, in my own life, it means leaning not on my own understanding, but resting in and actively pursuing His wisdom.

The New Covenant means that relationship is 100% good between God and ourselves. This is a reality that needs to be lived out. We need to experience God’s unconditional love on a regular basis to feel secure in our identity and ministry.

Ultimately, the idea that we are not experiencing our New Covenant with Christ to it’s fullest manifestation only means that there is so much further to go with God.

The road goes ever on and on…

Be Kind for Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle

Daily Office Meditations: 7th Week of Easter – Wednesday

(17) He sent a man before them — Joseph — who was sold as a slave. (18) They hurt his feet with fetters, He was laid in irons. (19) Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the LORD tested him. (20) The king sent and released him, The ruler of the people let him go free.

(21) He made him lord of his house, And ruler of all his possessions, (22) To bind his princes at his pleasure, And teach his elders wisdom.

Psalm 105:17-22

(20) “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

(23) “Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?

Ezekiel 18:20; 23

(27) So he answered and said, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (28) And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

(37) And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:27-28; 37

Joseph may be my favorite character in the Bible. In the Psalm we see a summary of the story arc in Joseph’s life. It is the ultimate archetypal story of death and resurrection (besides Jesus’ actual death and resurrection). Joseph is given a vision and a promise by God, it is given and confirmed in dreams. If you ever receive a big promise from God, duck! Immediately he is tested in the promise. The Psalmist writes that the promise, itself, tested him. He is promised that he shall rule over his family, but he is instead sold into slavery by his brothers. This is where any one of us would look to God and ask, “Why would you give me this grand promise only to allow my brothers to sell me into slavery? Was that promise even from the Lord?” Fair questions at this point.

The Psalmist tells us that Joseph was actually sent to Egypt by God to prepare the civilized world for a massive famine. First, Joseph must go through slavery and prison. This is such a parallel to our lives. How many of us are bemoaning our trials and circumstances when it may be that we have been sent there by God to bless and provide for many. God has the big picture, don’t get caught looking at your circumstances instead of God for your guidance on how your life is going.

In Ezekiel we see more of God’s heart. He would not be interested in visiting the sins of the father on the son. Although, of course, sons are adversely affected by sinful fathers. God takes no pleasure in the demise of the wicked. He desires that all would receive Jesus.

In Luke, we see God’s heart for us as created beings: “Love God, love your neighbor.” In order to do this, we must view all as our neighbor. A Jewish rabbi once said, “When can we know that the sun has risen? When we can look in the face of our foe and see our brother.” All in all, there is nothing simpler than “love God, love people.” The problem is that these concepts are difficult to practice.

In the end, it’s Joseph’s love for his family and the people that causes him to be such a good ruler. The Ezekiel passage allows us to rest in personal responsibility and an affirmation that God wishes even the wicked to turn to Him (we were once sinners when we were called). And the Gospel helps us to see that there is a focal point of the entire Christian life: Love vertical and horizontal.

Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. (maybe a quote by Ian Maclaren)

I Will Behave Wisely in a Perfect Way

Daily Office Meditations: 7th Week of Easter – Tuesday

(2) I will behave wisely in a perfect way. Oh, when will You come to me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. (3) I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; (6) My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land, That they may dwell with me;

Psalm 101:2, 3, 6

(4) In return for my love they are my accusers, But I give myself to prayer.

Psalm 109:4

(19) “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, (20) “that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (21) “But as for those whose hearts follow the desire for their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord GOD.

Ezekiel 11:19-21

(21) “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. (23) “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; (24) “for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.”

Luke 10:21, 23, 24

All of life is about your heart. We know this instinctively. If a man is said to be unintelligent, but he has a good heart, then he is considered “good” in our minds. If he is considered intelligent, but cruel and pitiless, then we have no problem judging him. Looking at the Scriptures today, we can talk about two aspects of the heart. First, we can talk about the prophecy in Ezekiel that God would replace our hearts of stone with hearts of the flesh. This is accomplished through baptism as we are “buried with Christ in baptism and raised to a new life in Him.” We are said to be “born again.” This is the most fundamental reality of our Christian identity: God has given us a new heart, we have been transformed completely as a part of our salvation.

Second, we have a responsibility to cultivate and tend our hearts. When Jesus tells the parable of the sower, He talks of the different soils (or hearts) that the seed (which is the word of God) falls on. In order to avoid the rocky soil, we must walk through the healing and redemptive work in our hearts to address past woundings and sin. To avoid the weed infested soil we must keep temptation and sin from our hearts. To avoid the path-soil, we must meditate on the word of Scripture and walk out the word of God in our lives daily. This hard work will till the soil and cause a deeper and enriched heart capable of resisting the lies of the enemy, represented by crows (“did God really say…”).

We see some hints of how to cultivate good soil in the Scriptures today. In the Psalm, “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes.” So we must be wise about what we are taking in with our eyes. More than ever, this needs to be a huge emphasis for a Christian. There are more evil and disturbing and tempting images in this world than there has ever been, and they are more easily accessed. This means we need a revelation of the goodness of God and those things that our eyes can look on without reproach.

“My eyes shall be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me.” This is a concept easily forgotten, “bad company corrupts good morals.” There is a disturbing trend in our culture that seeks to destroy anyone who would potentially be put on a pedestal in our culture. While there have definitely been terrible role models posing as leaders deserving of respect, the level of cynicism has risen to absurd levels. If someone asks who your hero is, there is definitely a piece of “journalism” somewhere on the internet seeking to tear them down. Most people just ditch the idea of admiring anyone or choose to admire terrible people (vacuous celebrities, violent rappers, Jesus-complex politicians). There’s a satanic glee on twitter when someone is torn down from admiration or their career is destroyed. I mean “satanic” technically. The spirit of the Enemy is one of accusation, the Holy Spirit is one of advocacy. We need to find faithful men and women to admire, look up to, and surround ourselves with in order to guard and improve our hearts.

In the second Psalm, we pray instead of reacting our unfair accusers. This would save us a lot of misery. Don’t respond in anger, stop and pray. Ask God for deliverance, guidance, and favor. We are even challenged to pray for those who persecute us.

In Hebrews, we get the New Testament affirmation of the tithe. A tithe is 10% of your income given to the church to support the minister, pastor or priest. Without diving into one of the cooler theological insights in the Bible (Jesus is the high priest of the order of Melchizedek), I want to merely say that the tithe is for our hearts and not because God needed a way to provide for His priests. The tithe helps us keep our money in perspective. Our money is, first and foremost, a gift from God. When we give Him back 10%, it shapes our hearts to trust His provision instead of our own.

All of these things are for training our heart to “love what God has commanded”. We are blessed beyond belief to see the kingdom of God expanding in the earth. As Jesus was saying, the Hebrew people lived and died for thousands of years hoping for the coming of the Messiah. We live in the world of the resurrected Christ every day. Keep your eyes on this fact and your heart will transform by the power of the Holy Spirit. As I remember the little song from a Christian kid’s show called “The Donut Man” (really weird show/premise):

Be careful little eyes what you see
Be careful little eyes what you see
For the Father up above
Is looking down with love
O, be careful little eyes what you see

Bind my wandering heart to Thee

Daily Office Meditations: 7th Week of Easter – Monday

(1) I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever; With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 89:1

(4) For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,

(5) and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, (6) if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. (7) For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; (8) but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.

Hebrews 6:4-8

And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. (53) But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. (54) And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”

(55) But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. (56) “For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”

(61) And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” (62) But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:52b-56; 61-62

In the Old Testament passage today, Ezekiel is told by the Lord to perform a prophetic act to prophesy against Israel. He is told to lay siege against Jerusalem and to lay on his left side for 390 days and his right side for 40 days. All this time he is to cook bread over cows dung to symbolize the defiled substance which the Israelites would eat in their captivity. The act itself is dramatic prophetic theater. God is trying to get Israel’s attention. He poured out His blessings on them, but they turned to worship idols. Like the passage in Hebrews, God had watered and cultivated Israel and they had rejected Him. But as the Psalmist wrote, God is faithful. He is constantly pursuing Israel amid their rejection.

Today’s readings are cautionary, even dire, but there is a kernel of hope amidst the strict warnings. We are told that none who has been a partaker of the salvific grace of Jesus can fall away from the faith and return. That they who have fallen away have crucified Christ again in themselves. Occasionally, I think this way about my sin. What anger or jealousy in my heart is adding to the price of the cross? Because God is outside of time, the cross was a Kairos moment where Jesus, as God and man, eternalized the pardon of God and took our sins today, yesterday and tomorrow into Himself. I don’t know that technically our current sins “add” to the cross of Christ, but the imagery is apt. I don’t think it is too presumptive to say that Christ weeps for our iniquity.

Christ has, once and for all, identified with our weakness and, like a father for his children, we can bring Him sorrow and pain with our sin. Further, the writer of Hebrews suggests that we, who are saved, can turn away from the everlasting grace of God. This is perhaps what Jesus talked about when He said that there would be no forgiveness for one who had blasphemed the Holy Spirit.

This reminds me of the Proverb, “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite.” I have seen people take the slow steady path into sin. I don’t presume to know their heart, but they have definitely “[born] thorns and briars” out of the blessings of God. I have observed the straying in my own heart. Yet the hope we have is not in our own faithfulness but in His. Jesus came, not to destroy men, but to save them.

All throughout the Old Testament, we see God rescuing Israel from themselves. He is patient and kind and steadfast. It is not God’s will that one should perish. So let us cling to Him and trust Him to finish that work which He has begun in our hearts. Let’s walk in wisdom and relationship with Him. Let us bear fruits in keeping with repentance. As the songwriter wrote in that great hymn:

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

What Is Man That You Are Mindful of Him

Daily Office Meditation: 6th Week of Easter – Thursday

3) When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, (4) What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? (9) O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8:3-4; 9

(28) Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. So when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of One speaking.

Ezekiel 1:28

(10) For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (11) For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, (12) saying: “I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.”

(17) Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (18) For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.

Hebrews 2:10-12; 17-18

(18) “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (19) “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Matthew 28:18-20

The passages today illustrate one of the reasons I love the Daily Office of Prayer. We see in reading the Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel lessons the overarching design and purpose of history. In particular, the Hebrews passage today gives us insight into the role that Jesus fulfilled.

In the Psalms, we see the divine order, God in all His glory is still mindful of mankind. All of God’s purposes revolve around mankind and when we encounter the glory of God, this reality shocks us. The God who made the universe is mindful of humanity, even mindful of you yourself.

God purposed from the beginning that we should be raised up to rule and reign over the cosmos with Him. He designed that we should be a royal priesthood, offering up sacramental worship to Him as we enjoyed and cultivated His creation. Instead, we abdicated our thrones in rebellion and God has been pursuing us ever since. The psalmist is rightly awed by the notion that the God of all that exists is caring of us. Carl Sagan’s point that is often brought up about the insignificance of our planet (and us on it) in comparison to the vastness of the universe is inverted in God’s economy. Out of all that exists, God has preordained that man should be the heirs of eternity with His Son, Jesus Christ.

In Ezekiel, the prophet receives a vision that illustrates the magnitude and majesty of God. He sees the famous four living creatures and the throne of sapphire, but he also sees the promise. God has revealed Himself in the beauty and wonder that we find in the awe-inspiring expanse of galaxies and the exquisite beauty of a dahlia. We do not need visions of heaven to see the glory of God. In the midst of that glory, Ezekiel sees the “son of Man” (whom we now know is Jesus) who is like a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day. This is the promise of God. Originally, God establishes the rainbow after the flood subsides and Noah disembarks the Ark. He says it is evidence of His promise never to flood the earth again and as Ezekiel sees it in the throne room around the son of Man, we see God’s alternative to the flood. Jesus takes the devastation of the flood into Himself to rescue us sinners on the cross.

In fulfilling the visions of the Old Testament, the writer of Hebrews shows that Jesus had to come as a man, be made perfect in suffering, and die to destroy death. This identifying of God with man elevates man to the divine status always purposed for him. Pope John Paul II wrote, “Jesus is the human face of God and the divine face of man.” God did not hoard His glory or reject us as we rejected Him. Instead, He sent His son to identify with us in our suffering and temptation, pay the price for our sin by taking our place on the cross, and then rise to be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords that we might be fellow heirs with Him.

Jesus, Himself, shares His authority with the disciples in the Matthew passage and puts in motion the final chapter in the redemption of the world. God’s plan includes us. We are to go into the world and redeem it with the authority of Jesus. This divine plan reaches concrete practicality as Jesus tells us to make disciples of Him, a continuation of His mission on earth. Like Him, we are to bring love, acceptance, forgiveness, and healing to the poor, the sinners, the broken in our midst.

Jesus also said that many desired to see the fulfillment of the promises of God, and now we can see it every day. God’s promise to redeem the world, to bring heaven to earth, to arrive at a day where every tear shall be wiped from every eye and all shall see the glory of God. We get to do the tear wiping, the redeeming, and the healing with Him until that day. We go in His authority and the gates of hell shall not prevail against us.

P.S. His purpose is clear in Scriptures that we should do this work as a part of the Church. That means we need to plug into a local church and be apart of Christ’ body on earth… there are no lone wolves in the kingdom. Also, it’s hard to share the kingdom if you haven’t experienced it in your life. If you need healing, restoration, invigoration, Jesus has bought it for you, pray to Him. If you’ve never given your life to Jesus, then now is the time. Jesus has been given all authority on earth, He is able to help you in ANY situation and He longs for a relationship with you. Pray that He will encounter you right now and bring healing into your life. Confess that you are a sinner and ask for His forgiveness. Declare your belief in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. And go to a church and talk to a pastor, they’d love to meet you and pray for you.

Oh, How I Love Your Law!

Daily Office Meditation: 6th Week of Easter – Wednesday

(97) Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. (112) I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes Forever, to the very end. (114) You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word.
Psalm 119:97; 112; 114

(13) Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. (14) Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (15) And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (16) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
James 5:13-16

(22) “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. (23) “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. (24) “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? (29) “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. (30) …Your Father knows that you need these things. (31) “But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.
Luke 12:22-24; 29-31

OK, so this Psalm always perplexed me. As a child, I had a lot of issues with the rules… so the idea of loving the law seemed anathema to me. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize more and more that this principle is at the center of the Christian life. As Romans 12:1-2 tells us, the core of Christian transformation is in the renewing of our mind. The key is in verse 112 of the Psalm: “I have inclined my heart to perform your statutes…” This inclining of the heart is the active pursuit of the renewal of your mind in Christ Jesus.

As we encounter Him, read and meditate on His word, and declare/practice His truth, we begin to love what He commands. We find that in His service is perfect freedom. This was the contradiction I wrestled with as a child. I wanted everything my way, but in submitting to God (or His authority in my life at the time) I found deeper joy and peace. This was by no means an easy transformation, but gradually my parents said they began to feel like I was on their side.

As we align our will with the Father’s (mostly through a revelation of the goodness of God in our life), we begin to have powerful and fervent prayer. As our hope is found in His word to us, our prayer becomes participation with God instead of a plea to God. We begin to see the problems in our lives through God’s eyes and our faith is raised to pray for the sick and suffering. We press into God’s plan on earth, the Church, and we experience the kingdom of God through obedience. It becomes a positive feedback loop. We pray for God’s plan, we obey God’s plan, experience God’s peace, ask Him for His plan, obey His plan and so forth.

Therefore, Jesus says to us, “Do not be anxious… But seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.” God knows what you need, He has incorporated them into His plan. Seek His plan, and all that you need shall be added unto you. C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” All our anxiety is answered in this: “Your Father knows that you need these things.”

This is no prosperity Gospel, God may know that you need a crucifixion. Jesus invitation is summed up by Bonhoeffer, “Come and die.” God will transform your desires through your personal cross so that your will becomes aligned with His. And, while God absolutely does desire prosperity in all aspects of our lives, He cares for more for our soul than for our bellies. (bellies symbolically representing our craving for fleshly things)
Trust God, die to yourself, fall in love with His law, and ALL these things shall be added unto you.

What’s in a Name?

From the naming of the animals, to the Name above all names, the Bible emphasizes the importance of names. When God calls someone into their purpose, he often gives them a new name: Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Saul to Paul. What is important about these transitions? Why does a name matter? “A rose would be a rose by any other name…” 

Let’s remember the creation of the universe: God spoke and the heavens and the earth came into existence out of nothing. So when God is naming these people, he is creating in them an identity that was not there before. Abram was childless until the moment God named him “Abraham,” which means “father of a multitude.” He did not see the multitude at that time, but it was his identity nevertheless. Jacob (meaning liar) had had to struggle and fight and lie to get everything in life until God named him “Israel,” which means “may God prevail.” From that moment, his identity was a symbol of God’s faithfulness to him and his people. It was a promise that Israel would not be saved by their own holiness and strength but by the salvation of God. Perhaps most relevant, Saul became “Paul,” which means “little, or humble.” This was the pharisee of pharisees, the master of the Law, the wielder of the righteous sword to cut down the enemies of God. Now, God named him “Paul” and we get such words as:

 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.[a] 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Here is a man who has been humbled by the power of God and the realization of his own weakness. The name caused the reality. 

So what does this matter? God hasn’t renamed me like that? Well, maybe he has. What does God call you? Righteous, beloved, sons and daughters, etc. There are hundreds of proclamations in the New Testament about  Christians. More specifically, what has he called you in your life? He has called me a speaker of truth that sets people free. That is a promise he has made me. That is a reality he has called forth. It’s not because I am so smart or eloquent or amazing (ask my wife she’ll let you know it can’t be that), it’s because God has called that part of my identity. So now, I have the opportunity to claim that identity and live from that place. Sometimes I still speak lies, sometimes I say the thing that is hurtful and not  helpful, but my identity lies in what God has called me.

God has called each one of us into our identity. Now, we have to listen and believe, which will lead to acting out of our identity in Christ instead of the hyper-flawed identity we create for ourselves through pride and iinsecurity.

Many are the Troubles of the Righteous

I recently sat down to do devotions. I had skipped a few days and had been tempted to fall into the mindset, “it’s not that helpful to read the Bible every day.” Note that this generally happens when I haven’t done devotions in a few days. Well that morning, every passage was speaking to me. 

First, Psalms 34:19, 22: “Many are the troubles of the righteous but the Lord will deliver him out of them all. The Lord ransoms the life of his servants and none will be punished who trust in Him.”

Hold up. I thought only wicked people had troubles, or people with not enough faith. If you listened to my recent podcast with Fr. Ken Tanner, then you heard us discuss this troubling tendency in our minds as Western Christians. Calamity is too often treated as a matter of punishment. Just last night, my wife and I were talking about our own tendency to look for a reason in our own life when times are difficult. The question, which is also dealt with extensively in the soon-to-be film-adapted Silence by Shusaka Endo, is “what have I done to deserve this?” 

But the scripture says, “many are the troubles of the righteous…” and “…none will be punished who trust in him.” and, elsewhere, “There is now, therefore, no condemnation in Christ Jesus.” So why do we think that difficulties or tragedies in life are somehow punishments? Is God the impartial judge handing out cruel and unusual punishments to those he supposedly loves? Well maybe a misunderstanding of the Cross has distorted our view of God.

We often use judicial or economic language to metaphorize the cross: “It’s like if you were going to be condemned to death for your crimes, but the son of the judge jumped up and said, ‘I will die for him.’ And the judge said, ‘oh perfect, let me take out my wrath on you. As long as I have someone to kill for this crime, I will be satisfied'” Wait what? That’s kind of terrible. How should we feel about a God like that? 

Instead, we should look at the cross like this: We turned from God. God never gave up on us, but sent prophets and eventually his son to turn us back to him. Except that we could not accept God’s redeeming work but had to take out our guilt and anger on those who came to reconcile us. We continually persecuted and killed his prophets in our attempt to alleviate our own guilt and have our own way. So, Jesus took on himself all of our anger and hate and fear(the iniquities of us all) and gave himself up for us in perfect union with the Father. So the Father watched and wept as we put all of our sin onto him who knew no sin. It was not the Father’s wrath that was appeased that day, but our own wrath was absorbed by love and forgiven by grace. The Father somehow thought it was worth the sacrifice of his son to gain us. We were the pearl of great price and he went and sold all he had and bought that pearl. 

Yet we think that God is doling out punishment on us for our sin or our lack of faith. We think that our negative circumstances are due to our failures to live up to the impossible standard of perfection. In a similar mistake of ego, we think that our success is due to our great faith and works. Again, scripture says, “Many are the troubles of the righteous but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.” 

That’s the story of redemption. So when we fall, when times are hard, when we think that God has forsaken us, we can turn to the cross and know that God loves us, God is not mad at us, and God will never leave us or forsake us.