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Well, Listen up here is the first installment of Ask Mom And Dad. Let us know what you think.
In the wake of the Vegas shootings, I felt overwhelmed. I had read a New York Times article several times throughout the day as it updated, and eventually even watched one of the videos posted by a concertgoer from that night. I’ll regret that for quite a while, as the sound of the bullets and screaming echoed in my mind for the rest of the afternoon. I texted a friend, equally as wearied by the world as I was, and together we wrestled with the question “how long can this go on?”
I don’t know the answer. I don’t have a date. Oh, that it would be soon. That the groanings of the earth would finally be put to peace by the arrival of its Creator. That the cries of a hurting people would be healed by the return of our Savior. Of course, I don’t know when that will happen. But I do know that in the waiting, our heavy hearts must spur us to action.
What do we do in such a dark, evil world?
We passionately intercede. We urgently speak of Jesus. We hope with a strength that is not our own.
Our cities cannot survive alone. Our world has been in a constant state of collapse since the garden of Eden. This isn’t news to us, we see it around us every day, read about it in our history books. Poverty, starvation, war, murder, natural disasters, genocide….all things outside of God’s original intention for our planet, yet here we are. Living in a world of sin introduced to us by the arrogance of our ancestors long ago in Genesis. As Christians, we can’t ignore this. As Jonah stood between Nineveh and the wrath of God, as Abraham stood for Sodom, as Jeremiah stood for Babylon, so we stand in the gap for our neighborhoods, pleading with God for mercy, redemption, and salvation. Our cities will not stand if we do not stand for them. In this time when it looks like precious little good is at work, we must fall to our knees and beg God to interfere in our communities, that God would “rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before You” (Isa 64:1). We desperately need the power of God at work in our world, and that starts with his children interceding for the lost and broken in their city.
As the past couple of weeks have unfolded, it seems that “when will Christ return” has become an even more frequently asked question than it normally is. One glance at the front page of the news, and a longing for Jesus is naturally what wells up in my mind. But I am also torn. If Christ were to return tomorrow….praise God. Hallelujah! I cannot express my joy and excitement at the thought. But how many of my family members would not be at my side? How many of my friends? My neighbors? While I am ready for Heaven now, I cannot help but need more time on earth. The state of our world, the evil that is parading in the streets, it must drive us to speak the name of Jesus with more urgency each passing day. Every moment ticks us closer to Jesus’s arrival; we are charged with the use of our time, a responsibility we must not take lightly. With each hurricane, each shooting, each attack...we speak the name of Jesus. Loudly. Clearly. The end is near, there is no question. So we must act. As Charles Spurgeon famously said, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay.”
I recently read an article by David Mathis that stayed in my mind for several weeks, the gist of it being that as Christians, we always have something good to say. In every situation, because of Christ, we can speak hope. The world needs hope right now, specifically the hope Christians have to offer. There is hurt, and abuse, and pain...but there is also God. He will make all good and perfect in His timing. He has overcome this world, not one act lies outside His sovereign power. Yes, we suffer, but we do not suffer without hope. When the people around us see our burden but not our despair, this is when they clearly see Christ in us. The shooting in Vegas is an unimaginable act of evil. I can’t explain it, or give reason. But I can speak divine love and comfort into the lives of those questioning so much in its wake. I can speak of truth, of Christ, of a time when all will be set right again. When the dawn explodes into day, and the darkness has no place left to cower. Friends, one day demons will have no hold on this world, sin will be rejected once and for all, and we will finally be reunited with the love of our souls. The groom is coming to claim His bride. This is what I speak into unspeakable situations. Into hopelessness. Into the face of the enemy. My God is not done here, and because of this, I hope.
“Restore the joy of Your salvation to me, and give me a willing spirit. Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways, and sinners will return to You.” Ps. 51:12-13. My prayer is that in these dark times, the joy of our salvation is strengthened. That the more clearly we see need around us, the more we are filled with joy because our needs have been met in the blood of Jesus. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways. Sinners will come to repentance. The more we are filled with Christ, the more we pour out into others. It is so easy to be overwhelmed by the weight of the world right now. To keep our heads above the water, we have to beg God for strength; to keep the miracle of our rescue in the forefront of our minds. For we are not a conquered people. We take heart, for Jesus has overcome the world. We are victorious. So we gather the broken pieces of those around us, and we pray. We speak Jesus. And we hope for the day when we have to hope no more.
“ For although they knew God, they did NOT honor him as God or GIVE THANKS to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Romans 1:21, The Holy Bible: English Standard Version
Romans 1 is clear that the gateway to “futile thinking” and “foolish hearts” starts with NOT being thankful, NOT honoring the God who gave us all things. (I would add, not humbly walking with the God of justice, acknowledging the one who has the right to Judge both the living and the dead, according to Micah 6:8, 2 Timothy and 1Peter, as well as Isaiah 33:22)
Maybe the key to the correct response to living is thankfulness. Maybe this passage of scripture explains how we have degraded to a point of thanklessness, instead of finding every day something to be truly grateful for! It also explains how its no wonder our whole culture seems to get further and further from the Truth of God. Or more precisely, from God Himself.
Other passages make it abundantly clear that He has our own interest at heart; that He wants to share His true nature with us, and His eternal power. But we want to look another direction and ignore the things that have been made obvious. It is for our OWN GOOD that He had a standard that would bring us peace in a relationship with Him. But we have said NO. Isaiah 30 says:
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling….
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
But we have chosen instead, INSTEAD OF BEING THANKFUL to “suppress the truth”, “dishonor our bodies” to “exchange truth about God for a lie”, to “exchange the glory of the immortal God” (in whom we have been made in the image of), for lesser images, rather than give Him any acknowledgment. Such a sad state we find ourselves, and the evidence of our exchange of the Truth is nearly anywhere you look. Sad yes, and yet very telling when scripture is fulfilled all around us. More from the prophet Isaiah (in chapter 5, verse 20)
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
and shrewd in their own sight!
And from the prophet Amos:
They hate him who reproves xin the gate,
and they abhor him who speaks the truth.
I say we as followers of Christ must get back to being thankful! Get back to simply recognizing good at work, His handiwork in the stars and all around us. Then maybe “they” will also “SEE” His invisible attributes, that have been clearly perceived since the foundation of the world.” As in Psalm 19:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
“Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s Kingdom?”
Jesus’s words in Mark 10:23 ring a loud conviction to anyone who might listen. I feel this speaks so clearly to most Americans, and the American dream mentality, though I am truly grateful for these comforts. And yet, it can be a true hindrance to those around us actually hearing the message we preach. So much of the scripture attests to God trying to help humanity see their need for Him. But what humans think they “need” is usually much different than what God KNOWS we need.
Throughout the Old Testament (the old covenant), God showed the people their need for Him by allowing them to stumble, and then picking them up, dusting them off, and re-stating what He had already instructed they would need to do to have success. Sound familiar?
It feels to me very much like what a parent has to do for a child several times, even in one day! Thus the references to the Israelites as rebellious children, lost lambs, straying sheep, make so much sense! But what children have that we very often miss, is a true, blind trust of the one who loves them. Because of their need and natural dependency on the one who cares for them, there is a particular naivety involved in a child’s view of the world. This is, from my reading of the Scripture, exactly what is desired and protected by Jesus. It is why He says, “….for such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
The opposite would seem to be true of the “rich.” Rich, referring to a mindset as much as, or more than, a house full of expensive treasure. In the mind of the one who “has it all” there is no need for dependence on any other person, no need to trust outside of himself. God tried to help the Israelites understand that when they trusted in themselves, they would ultimately fail. (So many battles were lost as the Israelites did not consult God. Saul, in 1 Chronicles 10, “did not seek guidance from the Lord,” so the kingdom was taken from him. The Gibeonites deceived the people, Josh 9:14: “they did not ask counsel from the Lord.”) But if He was their resource, their Warrior, their shield, their Treasure, their King……the blessings would follow them throughout the generations. (See Joshua 23-24)
In Mark 10, Jesus addressed the “I’m just fine” mentality. The same type mindset that He addressed in Mark 2, Luke 5, and Matthew 9 when He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” The ones who know their need for a physician, seek to find the Healer. Those who know they will face a Judge and have blame, who are unable to be innocent before Him, know they need a Redeemer. Those who have hit rock bottom in life and cannot save themselves, know they need a Savior. A Rescue, a Rock to stand on. Those who are vulnerable to this world, its sin, its dangers, its encumbrance, know they need a Prince of Peace. And those who have ever needed a defense, know they need a Shield, a Fortress, a Mighty Warrior.
Until a person realizes the need, or is willing to hear the still, small voice that calls a heart to the Only true Satisfaction….It is impossible for him to find salvation. But as Jesus says in Mark 10:27, “With man this is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Thank you, God for Your indescribable gift!!
20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (ESV)
God gave Abraham a specific promise that he would never really get to see; a promise that would come to fulfillment well beyond Abraham’s lifetime. Nothing now. Nothing much for you today, Abe.
Just a vision that his legacy would be great and his name would be the start of something legendary. All these things came to pass, yes, yet none of it benefited or affected Abraham’s life in that living time frame.
In fact, it just made things a bit more difficult for him. Chasing this promise, Abraham moved his family far from the comforts and life they knew. He began a journey that was more fraught with difficulty than great ease.
In the daily living, most of us tend to avoid conflict. We actively sidestep difficulty and seek a life which will improve our own situations and desires. Abraham did not. He knew there was something greater for him. He was in a friendship, a connected relationship with God that was enough in and of itself to warrant any risk he might be asked to take.
It is this faith-based relationship with God that Paul writes about in Romans 4; a relationship not just for Abraham, but also for us.
23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord...
Abraham’s faith is the kind of faith we can have too. We too can choose to lay ourselves aside and follow after God. To believe Him at his word and to see what He does with all that follows after. There may be some blessings in this life, Abraham had some, but that is not the point Paul makes here. God showed Abraham the big picture and Abraham followed after it, reward or no.
So much of our faith is based on the now. We want God to do something for us that we can see and benefit from in our lifetime. We say “I choose to believe God so my life can be better today.” Not so for Abraham. He believed for a future that he would never see. One that was beyond him, but that he knew would be obtained because of a divine promise. For him, being connected to God, and hope in His word, was sufficient for his faith.
How about you and me? Are we looking for what God wants in us? Or are we looking for something from God that we want for the now? Is a relationship with God sufficient enough, or must he provide something that you or I can see as a benefit in our lifetime? Is following Jesus dependent upon what we think He should do for us, or are we willing to follow him, believing that a life lived in faith might benefit something far greater than what can be seen with our own eyes?
I have been struck recently by a worship song based on Psalm 45.
This Psalm has at times confused me. It seems artistically personal, yet I have been taught it as relating to David as the King. But it is also seen as a Messianic Psalm, including prophecy that refers to the Messiah. And yet, it changes the audience from the King to God at verse 6...for some reason I have always missed this. Now, it brings me to tears.
It is communication between a King and His lover... God and the ones loved... the Messiah, and His bride... All one in the same. How beautiful. Perfectly clear and complete. How beautiful.
When I saw the true nature of a “heart moved by a noble theme” I, too, wanted to write a “verse for the King.” I, too, at a young age, became overwhelmed when the love and romance of this King came to my understanding, came to me. I am part of His bride, the church. I am His bride. He loves me, as God to His redeemed one, as a King to a servant, as a King to a Queen, as a man to a woman, as my Husband… (For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. Isaiah 54:5)
Turn from your “father’s house,” what you have always known...and bow to Him, He desires your beauty as one He created to love.
Oh you, His loved one, find in this Psalm your great Messiah. King Jesus, your one True God...your lover. Find Him as your great defender (vs.5) Find Him as the ultimate companion and satisfaction to every corner of your heart. Find His theme, to be loved
Love in dying for you, love in living again, love in bringing you into His most perfect plan for all of His creation and all of the Universe. To know His great LOVE
- Illuminate Worship Pastor, Tonya Sawyer
Your Throne, O God, Is Forever
To the choirmaster: according to Lilies. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah; a love song.
45 My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.
2 You are the most handsome of the sons of men;
grace is poured upon your lips;
therefore God has blessed you forever.
3 Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one,
in your splendor and majesty!
4 In your majesty ride out victoriously
for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness;
let your right hand teach you awesome deeds!
5 Your arrows are sharp
in the heart of the king's enemies;
the peoples fall under you.
6 Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.
The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness;
7 you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
8 your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
9 daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;
at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.
10 Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear:
forget your people and your father's house,
11 and the king will desire your beauty.
Since he is your lord, bow to him.
12 The people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts,
the richest of the people.
13 All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold.
14 In many-colored robes she is led to the king,
with her virgin companions following behind her.
15 With joy and gladness they are led along
as they enter the palace of the king.
16 In place of your fathers shall be your sons;
you will make them princes in all the earth.
17 I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations;
therefore nations will praise you forever and ever.
(song reference: Psalm 45, Shane and Shane)
“...a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance…”
I am not a dancer. I often joke about doing interpretive dance for church events, but no one has or will ever take me up on the offer. It probably has something to do with me being as graceful on the dance floor as a walrus using a hula hoop. It doesn’t stop me from offering. It probably never will. But I can appreciate the burst of energy and excitement that causes others to dance, almost like they can’t help it. 2 Samuel 6 describes this feeling as it came over David when he danced before the Lord in front of thousands of witnesses. And he was only wearing a loincloth. That’s a level of boldness I’m not sure I’ll experience. The elation, though, is familiar to me.
I appreciate Solomon’s contrasts in the beginning verses of Ecclesiastes chapter three. Uncontrollable laughter overtook my wife and I just days ago after reading a spectacular auto-correct fail from a friend meaning to console us. Tears streamed down our faces; the moment was both cathartic and well-timed. The sorrowful weeping came days later, as we knew it would. The beautiful timing had a taste of divine providence. On one hand was the truth of loss everyone will experience in this broken world, on the other mirth of kinship amongst friends and family.
What really strikes me is the second half of verse four. As we mourn, we are offered a promise, a contrast, to counterbalance the feelings clawing away at our insides. I’m fascinated that Solomon contrasted mourning with dancing. Why dancing? Why not rejoicing? Was this a concept Solomon learned from his father, for David wrote:
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing…”
There is a relevant cultural explanation for this, but I find that answer too trite. The heart of the matter is far broader. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, death is no longer some illusive end point for a mortal existence. Eternity beckons us to one of two destinations, so for those who are in Christ Jesus, death is just a temporary painful physical separation. Mourning is an expression of that loss, grieving the loss of someone’s presence in this mortal existence, but what if it was more than that? What if mourning included acknowledging a separation that reached beyond the loss of a loved one?
I ask this because I know what if feels like to mourn, but I have to wonder what it might feel like for that separation to no longer exist. Ever. No separation from the living and the departed; no separation from the divine and His creation. Can anyone fathom an existence without separation, without pain, without mourning? So far, none of us have ever experienced this. When I do get to experience it, I can see why it would make me burst into dance.
Since the beginning of Christianity, Christians have been arguing over whether or not to obey the Law of Moses. Few believe we are required to obey all of it. If we did, the ladies would have to leave their homes and towns once a month, men would grow awesome sideburns, and bacon would be off limits. However, the idea of letting go of the Law entirely and letting it be a thing of the past is simply too much for many people, so they pick and choose which Laws to follow and which to abandon. This, of course, is the height of religious hypocrisy, the very thing that set Jesus off from time to time. The real question Christians need to ask is, “What purpose did the Law serve?”
“Don’t misunderstand why I [Jesus] have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 20 But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”
What did Jesus mean in verse 18 when he said nothing about the Law would change until its purpose had been fulfilled? What purpose did the Law serve? Why did it exist? We can get hung up on a million little details about hygiene, dietary health, and layers upon layers of nuance, but what was the primary goal of the Law?
The purpose of the law is holiness. This was the impossible standard God set into place to show mankind how far they will fall short of His holiness. The Law literally points to mankind's need for someone to fulfill the requirements of the Law for us, a substitute sacrifice to appease the break between man and God. The result of never breaking the Law without fail was righteousness, and mankind insta-fails because of our sin nature. So God gave man a system of sacrifices to atone for when we failed. Jesus came to fulfill that perfect requirement for us because we can’t save ourselves and to become the perfect sacrifice to atone for our failures. His righteousness then becomes available to us if we accept it.
The Law was not given to empower performance but to evoke dependence. The purpose of the Law was to show us our need for a Messiah. That will never change. We will always need a Savior. Jesus said no part of the Law will be gone until its purpose has been achieved. Has it been achieved in you? Or are you still trying to be righteous all on your own? Jesus made it clear in verse 20 that unless your righteousness is better the righteousness of the Pharisees (performance based), you will not see the Kingdom of Heaven. Your righteousness must be Jesus.
What laws are you still trying to follow? What extra laws have you added to your life in order to obtain your own idea of righteousness, your own checklist of things to do so that you can feel good about yourself? There are spiritual disciplines Christians teach and practice, but those exist to help create the necessary space so we can encounter God. They aren’t law. They don’t make you righteous. All the spiritual disciplines in the world are meaningless unless you allow the Holy Spirit to move you to action in your heart and in your mind. Our righteousness is Jesus, but there’s nothing passive about pursuing Jesus.