His Possession with A Promise

If you think about it, if Paul’s identity had been found in Paul’s occupation or position of influence, Paul’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth should have been taking a major hit. Maybe the transition from being a Hebrew among Hebrews to the Preacher to the Gentiles might not have been so bad. After all, while Paul no longer possessed prestige status among the majority of his countrymen, he was quite the noted itinerant among the quickly growing start-up church. Though prominence among the majority may have been traded for prominence among this upstart minority, it was still prominence.

But this morning I’m reading of Paul the prisoner in Acts 27. And this man who once directed Jews as a Pharisee, who had once planted churches as a Preacher, couldn’t even persuade a centurion or the pilot of ship to discern the weather. Like I said, if Paul’s identity was wrapped up in his influential abilities, you might expect that Paul the prisoner was hitting rock bottom.

But Paul’s identity wasn’t wrapped up in his position. His self worth not dependent on his sphere of influence. His self image less about himself and more about the image he bore. Created in the likeness of God, he was also the possession of God and believed in the promise of God.

. . . Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”

(Acts 27:21b-25 ESV)

It had been a dumb move to set sail from Fair Havens. Getting there had been with difficulty and, as the prime season for sailing had past, leaving there wasn’t going to get any easier. Everyone knew that continuing the voyage at this time would be dangerous. He had tried to warn them but, as already noted, Paul the Pharisee turned Paul the Preacher, who had become Paul the prisoner, no longer was Paul the prominent voice.

But when the weather turned, and the ship was tossed, and the situation seemed hopeless, this seemingly uninfluential victim of other’s bad decisions became the voice they all heeded. Not because the prisoner had once commanded the platform, but because he belonged to God, and he believed in what God had told him. That was Paul’s identity. That was his position of power. He was as a possession of God who believed the promise of God.

The God to whom I belong. How’s that for a label? That the God of creation, the One who fashioned me in His own triune likeness (Gen. 1:26-27), also determined to purchase me for His own, though I had sold myself into sin’s slavery. Ransoming me “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1Pet. 1:18-19). Though once an enemy of God, claiming me as the spoils of the victory won over sin and death through the cross of Christ. While I might find many things to identify me, when all is said and done, my true identity is found in the God to whom I belong.

What’s more, beyond being His beloved possession, I have been given His unfailing promise. Not to appear before some Caesar in Rome, but to one day stand face-to-face before the King of kings and Lord of lords in heaven. And though, while I sojourn to that place my lot on earth may shift, and the journey might seem hi-jacked by unexpected storms along the way, “I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”

Because I am His possession and He is faithful concerning His promises.

And that by His unfailing grace. And that for His unceasing glory.

Amen?

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Hope for the Future

Don’t know exactly the nature of the trouble the songwriter was experiencing which inspired him to pen Psalm 42, but you sense it was trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with D, and that stands for despair.

Relentless, flooding despair. As if “deep calls to deep” and invokes the waters of a “roaring waterfall” to crash over the songwriter as “breakers and waves.” Drowning the soul. Taking away its breath. Causing it to flail as it struggles to break the surface of the overwhelming flood in order to catch a breath (42:7).

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?

(Psalm 42:5a ESV)

And the floods of despair resulted in a drought of desire.

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

(Psalm 42:1-2 ESV)

Waters of despair can create a desert for the soul. The only liquid the songwriter consumed served but to create a more arid and desolate condition.

My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”

(Psalm 42:3 ESV)

Tears day and night. Such was the normative state of this season in the psalmist’s life. How does one survive such a season? What’s the anchor for such a storm? When all you can manufacture are tears day and night what’s the counter? What’s available to water the dry and desperate soul so that its life is not left completely withered and depleted?

By day the LORD commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

(Psalm 42:8 ESV)

Daily tears are countered with the daily reminder that each day there is a fresh dispatch of God’s steadfast love ordered out of heaven. That His steadfast love never ceases. That His mercies never come to an end and are new every morning. The reminder that God’s faithfulness is great (Lam. 3:22-23). And that His grace if sufficient, His power made perfect in our weakness (2Cor. 12:9).

Nighttime waterworks are supplanted with nightly melodic memories of deliverance. God’s Spirit reminding the downcast soul again of God’s past deliverance. Songs of victory sourced in the finished work of the cross. Tunes of remembrance, the lyrics of which are inspired by themes of past redemption and reconciliation.

And along with these “golden oldies,” the playlist also includes fresh songs based on the promises for a new beginning in a new place. For a deliverance yet to be realized. A time when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

And where do these daily provisions and these nightly supplies come together? How are they converted into nourishment for the downcast, thirsting soul. For the songwriter it came through prayer. A prayer to the God of my life. A prayer finding form in a song. A song acknowledging the reality of a dry, dry season, a tear-filled time, and yet taking God’s steadfast love and His never ending song, and converting them into life-sustaining expectation.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.

(Psalm 42:11 ESV)

Steadfast love by day. His song at night. Hope for the future.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Mercy and Memory

Maybe you can understand it. Perhaps there’s a way to make sense of a guy who fails to forgive the debt of someone who owes him a day’s wages even though he had been forgiven a debt it would have taken a lifetime to repay. How someone who should have been sold, along with his wife and kids and everything he owned, as recompense for at least part of the debt, but wasn’t, could then arrange to have a brother thrown into jail, separating him from his family and preventing him from earning a living. Maybe you can understand it . . . if you think that perhaps there’s a connection between mercy and memory.

“Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’” ~ Jesus

(Matthew 18:32-33 ESV)

Peter had asked the Master a question, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” And Jesus responded with a parable, a story that could be understood on earth though it spoke of dynamics related to the kingdom of heaven.

And so, He told of a debt-ridden servant who owed more than he could ever repay and a master who responded with unimaginable compassion and generosity at the servant’s plea for patience. A tale of a debt-forgiven servant who, when given the opportunity to show similar understanding and generosity to another, refused and, instead, had him thrown into jail until he could repay the debt. Yuck! No wonder, in Jesus’ story, the master loses it with the servant and judges him severely.

So how does that happen? How can someone forgiven so much be so stingy? How can someone shown so much grace be so ungracious? How does someone whose very freedom is because of unprecedented mercy be so unmerciful? Wondering if it doesn’t have something to do with memory.

That as time goes on, being debt-free just becomes the norm. That the awe of having been forgiven ages. The wonder of being debt free wanes. The once intense appreciation of being spared atrophies. And the more the memory fades, the more likely the motivation to show mercy dissolves.

But what if the forgiven servant had some way to memorialize that life changing event when his insurmountable debt was erased? Some regular means of remembering where he had been and the cost of him being in a different place now? What if it involved a tangible, purposeful, intentional ritual designed to engage the senses in order to stir the memory, invoke again the wonder, and stir afresh the awe? I’m thinking that fresh memories of having received mercy might result in fresh motivation to show mercy.

And I’m thinking of the Lord’s Supper.

While we do this in remembrance of Him until He come, it can’t help but bring to remembrance the reason for His death because of where we were. Our debt of sin beyond our ability to pay. Justly deserving to bear the recompense for what we owed, yet freely forgiven through the finished work of the cross. Objects of God’s incomprehensible love. Recipients of unimaginable grace. Forever set free because of immeasurable mercy. And in remembering this, in keeping it fresh, ready to love others, extend grace to others, have mercy on others, forgiving others as we have been forgiven.

Seven times, Peter?

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

(Matthew 18:22 ESV)

Maybe mercy is a product of memory. And Jesus has provided for the memory through a simple remembrance feast. Ours is to faithfully, frequently, and meaningfully participate in it.

Then we too, who have been shown such great mercy, will have the capacity and the motivation to show mercy to others.

Because of His grace. For His glory.

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A Kid in the Kingdom

This truth has manifested itself differently through the generations but it’s still an operational truth, little kids are down the food chain. In my day of being a kid, when the adults were gathered we were to be seen and not heard. At family reunions there was a kids’ table. We were not permitted to talk back. And we were expected to do what we were told. Debate was often met with discipline and defiance often came with a reminder of who’s boss. We were the kids.

Don’t get me wrong. Loved being a kid. Loved being part of the family. But honestly, loved growing up too. Becoming more a part of the adult crowd, the decision making crowd, the we’re-in-control crowd.

So as I read Jesus’ response to His disciples’ questions this morning, I’m chewing on the implications of being a kid in the kingdom.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

(Matthew 18:1-4 ESV)

Greatness in the kingdom requires becoming like a kid for the kingdom. The ESV says it requires a “turn.” The NIV says it’s a “change.” The HCSB says you need to be “converted.” This type of greatness doesn’t come naturally.

Kingdom greatest is a factor of self humiliation. Not being humiliated by others, but of humbling oneself. How unnatural is that?  Pretty unnatural!

Think of the adult who offers to be seen and not heard. Who willingly sits at the little table with the cheap silverware and is served after the adults’ serving dishes have been filled first. Who’s okay with being told what to do. Who trades in asserting personal preference, and even self-preservation, for putting others before themselves. Taking the lowly place. In effect saying, “You can be the boss of me.”

Weird? Maybe. The way the kingdom works? Kinda’!

But who can do that? What person, having tasted the ways and benefits of being an adult, can will themselves again to being a kid, even if it’s a kid in the kingdom? Born again adults, that’s who. Spirit indwelt, Spirit enabled adults. Metamorphosing adults–those being transformed by the renewing of their minds. Work in progress adults who are being sanctified, made over increasingly in the likeness of Jesus. Thinking His thoughts, feeling His feelings, responding with His responses.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

(Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)

The King of the kingdom let go of His glory. The King of the kingdom emptied Himself of His privilege. The King of the kingdom willingly set aside the regal rob of divinity for the rags of mortality. The King of the kingdom took off the crown in order to bear the cross. Is there any greater in the kingdom than the King? Nope!

Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name . . .

(Philippians 2:9 ESV)

So, wanna maximize your kingdom potential? Wanna be among the greats? Become a kid in the kingdom.

Our holy determination, His holy power. A willingness on our part, a wondrous work on His part. Content to be a kid at the bottom of the food chain if it exalts the King of heaven who reigns on the throne.

O’ for the mind of Christ.

By the grace of Christ. For the glory of Christ.

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Sometimes You Just Gotta Talk It Through

Whatever the songwriter’s experience, it’s crushing him. Physically, emotionally, spiritually–David’s getting hammered. So much so that everything in him wants to grumble, complain, perhaps make excuses, maybe even get into the blame game with heaven. So, aware of this propensity to vent and blow off steam, but also aware of the likelihood that it could manifest itself in sinning against God, David guards his mouth “with a muzzle.” He determines to be mute, silent, and to hold his peace.

But as he does, the mental anguish and sorrow increases. Far from calming his heart, keeping it bottled up actually fuels the fire. As he runs the reality of his hard circumstance over and over in his head, the fire is stoked and he senses the sparks of discontent growing into flames of bitterness. Finally, he is forced to break his silence:

“O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!”

(Psalm 39:4 ESV)

How long is this going to last? Maybe that’s what you say to God when you don’t want to say anything against God. Articulating the heart’s cry while avoiding the heart’s complaint by putting the harshness of life in the context of life’s frailty and brevity. If silence isn’t the answer to getting through it, then perhaps it starts with simply reminding yourself of who you are in light of who God is. That you are but a shadow. That He is ever the Sovereign.

“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You. Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool!”

(Psalm 39:7 ESV)

And having started the conversation, having acknowledged the vapor-like nature of life at best, clarity starts to come. So what hope do I have, Lord? It’s only in You. And so deliver me from all my transgressions, particularly those that may have led to this trouble. Deliver me from the wages of the sin for which I cannot pay. And, by Your mercy and grace, deliver me from the consequences of that sin of which I am unable to bear. Against You alone have I sinned. And in You alone is my hope.  My hope of rescue, redemption, and restoration.

I kept quiet, David says, because I knew this trouble had come from Your permissive hand and I feared I would blame You for being God. But now I appeal to You as my Father and ask you to “remove Your stroke from me” (vv.9-10). That Your discipline would have accomplished its purifying work and might now cease.

And with the silence broken, the conversation continuing, David’s pondering becomes a direct petition:

“Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; hold not Your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with You, a guest, like all my fathers. Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more!”

(Psalm 39:12-13 ESV)

Hear my prayer. Give hear to my cry. For I am but a nomad here. I am just Your guest in this transient world. However, I am also Your child because of Your eternal promise. Make me smile again, Father.

At first, David thought it best to be silent. But, so it seems, sometimes you just gotta talk it through.

While guarding against a venting or vindictive tone, maybe there’s something about acknowledging before God what God already knows. And that in starting the conversation it brings perspective into focus and it reminds us of where our hope is anchored and from where our help comes from. And in talking it out before the throne of grace, instead of our heart becoming a hard heart which demands to know, “Why me!?” it becomes the contrite, supple heart that humbly cries out, “Help me!”

I don’t know. Just chewing on Psalm 39 and thinking there’s something here for me.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Because of The Touch

You’d think that paying the price for another would come with a bit of honor. That laying down your life for someone else’s sin would demand a bit of dignity when disposing of the body. But as I hover over Leviticus 4 this morning, I’m chewing on the picture presented of a substitutionary sacrifice that gets little respect.

It’s the sin offering. The offering to be presented when someone, anyone, sins unintentionally. Whether it’s the priest, the congregation as a whole, one of their leaders, or one of the common people, when someone sins unintentionally and they realize their guilt they are to bring a sin offering. The animal is to be killed. Its blood to be shed, offered before the Lord, and poured out at the altar. Then the fat and vital organs are to be burned on the altar.

The life given of a spotless substitute. Its blood shed. It best parts offered up. You’d think then that disposing of the rest would be done in a way that shows a high regard for the sacrifice. Apparently not.

But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, with its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung–all the rest of the bull–he shall carry outside the camp to a clean place, to the ash heap, and shall burn it up on a fire of wood. On the ash heap it shall be burned up. . . . And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. And he shall carry the bull outside the camp and burn it up . . .

(Leviticus 4:11-12 , 20b-21a ESV)

Though the place was to be ceremonially clean, to me the ultimate disposition of the carcass seems somewhat unceremonious in nature. Dumped on the ash heap. Whatever’s left burned outside the camp. The best of the sacrifice leveraged for atoning forgiveness, the rest of the sacrifice left in abandoning obscurity.

How come? I’m thinking it’s because of the touch.

In every instance where the sin offering is offered, it begins with the sinner laying his hand on the head of the sacrifice before he kills. it. A transference of the debt they should pay for with their life to the one whose life would be offered instead. Their sin laid upon their offering. And with that translocation of iniquity came the defilement of the spotless substitute. A clean sacrifice made unclean. Thus disposed of outside the camp.

And I find myself thinking about how my spotless Lamb, come to atone for my sin, suffered a similar humiliation.

Because He allowed my hand to touch Him, taking my sin upon Himself, He too was taken outside the camp, to a hill outside of Jerusalem. What’s more, he was mocked, abused, robed in purple, and required to carry His own cross. Though His blood would be shed for the remission of the sin of many, though His life offered to bear the just wrath deserved by others, there was no honor afforded the Lamb of God.

Even after His blood was shed and His life was given, His body was scooped up, hastily prepared for burial, and tucked away without fanfare in an obscure tomb lest His death taint the observance of a holy day.

How come? Because of the touch.

Because He who knew no sin became sin for us (2Cor. 5:21). Because He who eternally is holy submitted to the Father’s will and “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'” (Gal. 3:13).

Having taken on the sin of another, disposed of outside the camp on an ash heap.

And that because of the touch. When, by faith, we responded to His invitation to reach out our hands and lay our sin upon Him.

O, what a Savior!

What amazing grace! To Him be everlasting glory!

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A Generous Heart

Can’t remember the last time, if there was a last time, that I was chewing on my morning readings on a Sunday morning. The snow and subsequent deep freeze here forced the decision to cancel Sunday services. Weird.

Anyway, finished up Exodus this morning. The tabernacle is built, the glory has descended. God is in their midst.

But what I’m chewing on this morning is the catalyst behind the tabernacle blueprints becoming the tabernacle built. What enabled an idea on the mountain to take form on the ground. And it wasn’t just God’s Spirit-powered enabling of the craftsmen (35:30-35). Even before that, before the materials could be constructed into an end product, there had to be materials. And what sourced them? A generous heart.

Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution . . . (Exodus 35:4-5 ESV)

What’s grabbed me is that, while the contribution to the tabernacle project was commanded of God, it was for “whoever is of a generous heart.” A command given to all. But one which God wanted obeyed not just of cold, submissive compliance, but of an enthusiastic, large-hearted response. This was to be a “freewill offering” in the fullest sense of the term (3:29).

Repeatedly the God pleasing heart of giving is echoed by the Spirit in this passage.

And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the LORD.

(Exodus 35:21-21 ESV)

Their hearts were stirred. Their spirits moved. And of a willing heart they gave liberally to the work of the Lord. Gave of their treasures. And, for those with the God-given ability, gave of their talents. All giving generously.

Though I’m sitting here this morning by myself when I so want to be gathered with the saints, I’m also profoundly aware of how the Lord’s generosity begets generosity. How the Lord’s abundant grace evokes a desire to respond with abundant praise. How, having been moved to appreciate the magnitude of what has been freely received, the heart longs in response to gather with the saints to freely give (Matt. 10:8b).

That it was a movement of God is obvious. Wouldn’t be long before the grumbling would start again. But at this time, for this season, the people of God responded to the command of God with a willing, generous heart. Oh, to be that people. Oh, to live in that season.

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

(2Corinthians 9:7 ESV)

God loves a cheerful giver. He is pleased with a generous heart.

O Spirit move our hearts, stir our souls. That to You we might freely give.

Because of Your grace. Only for Your glory.

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