We’re Gonna Sing

To sing, or not to sing, that is the question. At least for some. And, a few weeks ago, for us as elders as we anticipated our church gathering again in our building this Sunday. Lot to think about when it comes to shifting from shelter-in-place to coming together. To sing, or not to sing, is one of those things.

We didn’t deliberate long over the question, but we did ask the question. Came to the conclusion fairly quickly that singing is something the gathered church does and thus, when we gather together, we should sing together. Certainly, to do so mitigating risk as much as possible, but declaring His praise in song, nevertheless. Not saying it’s the right answer, but we’re thinking it’s what the Lord would have us do.

But here’s the thing, even having made the decision, in a sense the question never goes away. As new information comes in, whether that’s reports of COVID outbreaks in other congregations, or feedback about discomfort with singing from our own congregation, for me at least, there’s always the question percolating in the background, “Lord, is this what You would have us to do?”

And it’s into that sort of context that the word of God often speaks. Such was the case this morning for me.

And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres. . . . Then I brought the leaders of Judah up onto the wall and appointed two great choirs that gave thanks. . . . So both choirs of those who gave thanks stood in the house of God . . . And the singers sang with Jezrahiah as their leader. And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.

(Nehemiah 12:27, 31a, 40a, 42b-43 ESV)

Not sharing this as some “proof text” of why congregations must sing when they gather. No, just an illustration of how God in His goodness can communicate to people individually who are asking questions specifically if we read His word faithfully.

And I know that every text has a primary meaning and that we need to be careful about making unwarranted interpretations and applications just to give ourselves the answers we want. But at the same time, when the hearts desire is, “Word of God speak!” . . . often it does. Sometimes the living and active Word is actually living and active and speaks into current situations and, answers percolating questions.

Been pretty anxious about getting everything ready for this Sunday. Lot of details to work through. So, as the “to do” list grows so does my anxiety. Not sayin’ it’s right, but it’s kind of how I’m wired. It’s the flesh the Spirit has to work with as it conforms me increasingly into the likeness of the Son. Maybe, someday, I will actually get to the point where I am not “anxious about anything” because I’m quicker to pray about everything (Php. 4:6-7), but for now, it’s still a battle. But it’s into that battle that God, in His patient grace, speaks. And, most often, speaks through His Word.

So, this morning, I read these verses in Nehemiah 12 and almost immediately the question that’s been in the back of mind comes to the front as I sense God saying, “Yeah, you guys sing. It’s what people do who come out of exile.”

And I know it won’t be the same. Fewer people in the sanctuary, socially distanced, only half-face to half-face. But it wasn’t the same for Nehemiah & Co, either. There’s no way the walls resembled the walls of Jerusalem in the glory days. No way the house of God was even a shadow of the magnificent temple built by Solomon. But just as the glory had come down in Solomon’s day, so too the glory would come down as Nehemiah and the people climbed up on those walls, stood in the house of the LORD, and sang the glories of God.

So, Lord willing, we’re gonna sing this weekend. Not recklessly. Not as many songs as we used to. But we’re gonna sing enthusiastically, nevertheless.

Because our God reigns.

And, thank You Lord, because He speaks through His word when you least expect it.

Move evidence of His abiding grace. More reason to give Him all the glory.

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Leaving Home

Listened to a podcast awhile back where Ruth Graham was interviewed about a book she’s recently written. The title of the book is “Forgiving My Father, Forgiving Myself.” Forgiving her father . . . you know who that is, right? Billy Graham. The Billy Graham. Certainly the greatest evangelist of my time, perhaps, some might argue, of all time. So what’s he got to be forgiven for?

From the interview it doesn’t sound like it’s one of those tell-all, reveal dirty secrets book. In fact, she says, she idolized her father. But sounds like it’s an honest processing of what it was like to grow up in a home where dad was gone . . . a lot! And sounds like she’s not blaming her dad for “her stuff” and her sin, she owns it, but part of that “stuff” was dealing with feelings of abandonment from her father. Even as her father pursued God’s call on his life to preach the gospel around the world. Hmm . . .

Came to mind as I was reading in Luke this morning.

And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed You.” And [Jesus] said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

(Luke 18:28-30 ESV)

Honestly, this has always been a tough passage to noodle on.

It comes right after Jesus’ discussion with the rich young ruler who wanted to know what he needed to do to “inherit eternal life” (18:18)). Figured he was pretty good at keeping the law but Jesus said, “One thing you still lack.” So Jesus tells him to sell all he has, distribute it to the poor, and then he would have “treasure in heaven” and be unencumbered to follow Jesus (18:21). And the young man bows his head and walks away. Too costly. Too great a price to pay. “How difficult,” Jesus says, “it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God” (18:24). Then, Peter said, “See we have left our homes and followed You.”

Hover over that for a bit. Doesn’t that seem like a place too far to go for our modern senses? Not just cashing in your bank account to follow Jesus but also leaving our home. Leaving wife, siblings, parents, and even children!

Our kids? Really? Could that possibly be the cost of following Jesus? Apparently. Doesn’t it strike you, at first, as going too far? But is it? Apparently not. For Jesus says, it will be worth it, “in this time, and in the age to come.”

Hard stuff for me to camp on. Would prefer to quickly read it, check it off my reading plan, and move on. Not this morning for some reason.

Does it make you feel like the rich young ruler? Sad, because it feels like it’s too great a price to pay? Ready to walk away? To settle for a second-best holiness? One that’s within my grasp? One that sets a bar I think I’m able to jump? Or, by His enabling, could I really surrender all. Or at least, being willing to surrender all for the sake of the kingdom?

Am I willing to entertain that to follow Jesus might actually involve not just something as easy as letting go of my material wealth, but also my relational wealth? Not that I’m equating the stewardship of money with the responsibility of caring for one’s family. But would I be willing to trust Jesus with my home if following Him kept me from being there a lot?

Cue introspection. Expel a heavy sigh. Search my heart, O God.

No tidy bow wrapping this thought up. Just something to chew on.

Requires His grace. Could only make sense for His glory.

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Keep on Keepin’ On (A Rerun)

Gotta get going for an early morning airport run. Thought I’d re-post something from 2012 . . . a fond reminder of a dear friend. A needed reminder for such a time as this when we need to keep on keepin’ on . . .


He wasn’t flashy . . . but he was the real deal. Not some nuclear physicist, but a pretty good truck driver with a down-to-earth wisdom that caught your attention. Not a university trained man, but one who had buried his nose faithfully in the Scriptures daily . . . one whose hunger and thirst for the things of righteousness drove him to study the inspired Word of God . . . one, who as a result of what he found in the Word, had set his gaze firmly on the prize and sought diligently the kingdom. Not someone who would necessarily stand out in a crowd, but someone who had a profound impact on this guy at the keyboard. And one of his favorite encouragements . . . one that I’ve claimed for my own . . . was, “Keep on keepin’ on!” And this guy from my past was brought to mind as I was reading in 2Timothy this morning . . .

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it . . .

(2Timothy 3:14 ESV)

Paul knew better than anyone that the Christian walk isn’t really a walk or a stroll but that it’s a race . . . a pursuit of an ultimate goal. And that this race isn’t just a sprint but a long, enduring marathon. It was important to Paul that those who came to faith, would pursue the faith . . . that those who started well, would finish well . . . that those who sang Sunday School songs as a kid, would still be singing the praises of God as a “senior saint.” And, I’m thinking, that part of the “secret sauce” to finishing well has got to be the daily determination to keep on keepin’ on.

And the secret to keepin’ on? You continue in that which you have learned and have come to firmly believe. If I believe, or am assured, that something is true, trustworthy, the “real thing” . . . then I am far more likely to seek it . . . and desire it . . . and live for it. Would it be safe to say, “Show me a Christian who’s struggling with living for Christ and I’ll show you someone who’s not really convinced that Christ is living in them or worth living for?” Staying power is heavily reliant on being convinced that Jesus and the salvation He offers is truly “the way, the truth, the life” . . . the only way . . . the whole truth and nothing but the truth . . . demanding our whole lives and nothing less than our lives.

Timothy learned and became convinced of the truth of the gospel. He was a student . . . studying not only the Scriptures but also those who modeled how to practically “seek first the kingdom of God”. And Paul commanded him, “You MUST continue, in that which you’ve become convinced.”

I know I’ve said it before . . . again and again . . . but being saved is about so much more than just avoiding hell. It is about so much more than just waiting for heaven. Being saved is about pursuing salvation. It is about learning and then continuing in that which we’ve learned. It is about desiring to live godly lives in Christ Jesus (2Tim. 3:12). It is about knowing and then living out doctrine . . . about a way of life . . . about purpose, faith, longsuffering, love and perseverance (2Tim. 3:10). It is about continuing . . . or as my friend Wynn would say so often, it’s about “Keepin’ on, keepin’ on!!!”

And I think the reason so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ are struggling with continuing is because they really haven’t learned and they really aren’t convinced. They have not learned the truths of the faith and thus have not embraced the truths of the faith. They have not been taught “to observe all things” which is just as much a part of the Great Commission as is “Go therefore and make disciples” (Matt 28:19-20). Poorly taught . . . poorly walked. Little investment in the Scriptures . . . little staying power in the world. Lack of concentrated consideration of God’s Word and ways . . . lack of desire to take up the cross and follow Christ.

The more convinced I am of the truths contained in the “God-breathed Scriptures” (2Tim. 3:16), the more likely I am, by God’s grace and the power of the Spirit within me, to continue in the God-ordained way of life He has called me to.

Oh, that we as the people of God would know a revival of “firmly believing” . . . and that we would know the power of the Spirit in continuing . . . that we would keep on keepin’ on . . . by His grace . . . and for His glory . . . amen?

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Times of Difficulty

Sometimes we can get more focused on the symptoms rather than the sickness. Distracted by what presents almost to the exclusion of what produces. Failing to connect the dots between things which are indicators and the root cause of what initiates.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.

(2Timothy 3:1-5 ESV)

Times of difficulty. That’s the phrase that caught my attention this morning. That’s what I’m chewing on.

Difficult times (CSB, NASB). Terrible times (NIV). Perilous times (NKJV). Troublesome times (a favorite southern gospel oldie but goodie).

In the last days there will come times of difficulty. Hard to take. Hard to bear. Hard to do. Strength sapping, soul wearying, heavy sighing times.

But understand this, Paul commands Timothy, times of difficulty are but the symptom. The indicators of a deeper problem. For at the heart of times of difficulty is the heart.

. . . there will come times of difficulty. For people will be . . .

It’s because of the list in verses 2 through 5 that there will be troublesome times. Pervasive sin promotes perilous seasons. Loving self and pleasure more than loving God is a recipe for turmoil. The appearance of godliness is what causes us to snooze at the wheel rather than guard against godlessness.

What hit me this morning is that times of difficulty point to a deeper problem. Hard times are the fruit of diseased roots.

So, while we need to deal with the times, while we need to engage in solutions for today’s problems, we can’t loose sight that we also need to address the heart of the problem, the heart. And only the gospel has the power to do that. Terrible times are ultimately addressed through transformed lives.

So, as we get involved in the issues of the day, we need to do so in a way that also points to the only real hope for tomorrow. While we might be called to act for systemic reform, we must not forget that it happens, ultimately, with one changed heart at a time. That re-working worldly structures and systems is but a temporary fix, but that the redemption of souls is of eternal consequence.

Not saying that we don’t need to engage in being salt and light in the world, we do. But we do so with a bigger picture in mind, a longer term in view, a more certain solution for all who believe, which will deal with the symptoms of our times of difficulty as it works sanctification in the hearts of regenerated people.

Make sense? Hope so.

Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men [and women] of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

(2Corinthians 2:16b-17 ESV)

By His grace. For His glory.

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Hard Conversations

I think the church is being stretched. I think in this season everyone, everywhere is being stretched. But if anyone should have their “ears on” and head in the game about the opportunity to re-think and re-calibrate a thing or two, it’s the church — not the institution, but the people of God.

And one of the marks of how we’re doing, I think, is in our conversations. Easy to “dwell together in unity” (Ps. 133:1) when you talk about the weather, sports, and the doctrines you agree on. But try and make sense of the headlines that consume us today. Try and talk with certainty about things that are anything but certain, if only because of the mega-media maze we live in today where we can always find a voice, an expert, a study that aligns to our feelings. And then, try and process that with others holding a different view? Well, to say the least, it can be a challenge. Those can be hard conversations.

Pick a topic. How serious is COVID really? Has the government over-stepped their authority? Are masks really effective? What about matters of justice, protests, and how to make a difference where it matters? Top it all with a global pandemic, people growing stir crazy and ready to shed their bonds of shelter in place, add the uncertainty around economic recovery, and then mix in an election, and I’m thinking you have yourself a bit of a pressure cooker which is counter-productive to “civil discourse in the public square.”

And, it’s not like you can just ignore it, forget it, or pretend it’s not happening. You can’t really just talk about something else because, until recently when sports started firing up again, there’s not much else to talk about.

And here, though it’s just one area, is where I think the church is being stretched. Where the church has an opportunity to model the transcendence of the gospel through Spirit enabled unity beyond some superficial uniformity. Where, as we’re constantly pressed to engage with one another around controversial matters, we put on display the goodness and pleasantness of living as family together, like oil running down Aaron’s beard, a people where the Lord commands the blessing (Ps. 133:2-3).

And it starts, I think, with our conversations. With being “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). And, as we practice talking about hard stuff around the family table, it prepares us to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders” with speech that is to “always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:5-6 ESV).

This leads me to this morning’s text (sorry for the long intro), a text that’s been on my radar for the past several weeks as my “bubble” expands and I connect more and more with my brothers and sisters in Christ and find myself in hard conversations. As we quickly get past the weather and talk about how we’re processing what’s going on in our world.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.

(2Timothy 2:24-25 ESV)

Taken a bit out of context? Yeah, but I think the principles apply. Not quarrelsome. Kind to everyone. Able to articulate an argument. Patiently enduring — not necessarily evil, but often an opposing view. Correcting, or trying to convince with gentleness. Recognizing all the while that it is God who changes hearts and minds as they need to be changed. And that we have the promise of the presence of the Spirit of God to lead us into truth.

Take this approach concerning our speech, mix it with a healthy dose of Romans 14 where we’re not to “quarrel over opinions” (Rom. 14:1 ESV) or pass judgment on “disputable matters” (Rom. 14:1 NIV), address such matters through the filter of God’s word, and I think we have an environment where iron can truly sharpen iron (Prov. 27:17). And where brothers and sisters can model gospel-founded unity.

It takes some work. And, at least for me, some confession when our flesh gets the better of us. It also requires a commitment to the gospel being the main thing superseding all things, and a trust in the God of truth working in our midst. But at the end of the day, or at least at the end of the heated debate, we’ll know the pleasantness and goodness of our unity in the Spirit despite our differences in this season.

And there, God will command the blessing.

By His grace. For His glory.

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A Dwelling Faith

Faith, real faith, is not just about what we believe, but is evident in how we behave — and that, because it abides. That’s what I’m picking up from what Paul’s laying down this morning as I eavesdrop on some final words from a father-in-the-Lord to his son-in-the-Lord.

To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

(2Timothy 2:2-5 ESV)

That Paul had a soft spot in his heart for Timothy is evident throughout the New Testament narrative. Paul connected with Timothy back in Acts 16 and, from the get go, saw great potential in the young man. More than just being a faithful co-laborer in the gospel, he considered Timothy his son in the Lord. A trusted, capable son fully bought into the “family business”, often relying on him for the follow up work in areas where the gospel had been received. Timothy, it seems, wasn’t so much a church planter as he was a church establisher. And that, Paul would say, because “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” (Php. 2:22).

And here, in his second letter to Timothy, aware that his letter writing days were soon to be done, Paul is thankful for this faithful laborer, reminded that it was his faith which was truly at the heart of his faithfulness.

Paul calls it a sincere faith. Genuine. The real thing. Without hypocrisy. No pretense. No concealing what he thought, or what he believed, or how he discerned it should be lived out. Up front. What you see is what you get. And what you saw on the outside with Timothy was because of what was happening on the inside. For Timothy had a dwelling faith.

His was the same sort of faith that dwelt in his grandma, Lois. An enduring faith, able to be passed on from generation to generation. A faith that also dwelt in his mom, Eunice. And, like grandma, like mom, like son, a faith Paul could see was dwelling in Timothy as well.

A faith that had moved in. A faith that entered through the mind, but had set up permanent residence in the heart, soul, and spirit. A permeating faith. More than just a checklist of to do’s and to don’ts to simply follow and obey, the truth of God and the implications of the gospel had become operating precepts and principles etched into the innate mechanics of how Timothy responded to all of life. He had been transformed by the renewing of his mind (Rom. 12:2) and it manifested itself in a dwelling faith.

The Word had been hidden in his heart. The Way had been programmed by the Spirit into his life directing GPS. His motivating reward determined by things above, not things below.

He’d wake up in the morning and his faith was working. He’d go through his day and his faith was leading. Inseparable. No sacred vs. secular divide. His faith’s influence unavoidable regardless of the situation. Because it wasn’t just a Sunday morning faith. Not just a when-I’m-with-other-believers faith. No, Timothy’s was a dwelling faith.

Not saying Timothy had a perfect faith — we know better. But Paul, led by the Spirit of God, declared it to be a sincere faith. The real thing. And that, because it was faith beyond just facts, but a faith that had moved in — abiding in Timothy, even as Timothy abided in the Lord. A dwelling faith.

O, that I might operate out of such a faith, a faith at home in me through His on-going work in me.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Next To

What I recall from most couples I’ve met who have talked of taking on home renovation projects together, is that while they may have saved some money, they stressed their marriage. Whether tiling together, painting together, or hanging pictures together, at times, they said, it was hard to keep it together.

But that’s not the case with a young couple I’ve become friends with. They actually find themselves at their best when they are shoulder to shoulder doing a home reno. Thriving when tearing stuff down and fixing it up again. It actually seems to be one of their love languages.

I saw this first hand awhile back when I was asked to come over to help a bit with the replacement of the double door entryway frame for their house. When I say help “a bit”, it was help “a bit” — anyone who knows me knows I can’t even spell handimann. But he needed an extra set of hands to help move the new frame off the truck up to the entryway. And when I arrived there she was . . . Sawzall in hand, cutting out the old door frame, sawdust flying all around her. And I’m seeing this again as, for their anniversary, they’re shipping off their kids so that they can enjoy a nice, quiet, romantic weekend together . . . replacing the roof of their house. Yup, re-roofing their house together on their anniversary. Who does that? Apparently, they do.

So, what’s this got to do with anything?

They came to mind this morning as I was reading in Nehemiah 3. Not because their roofing project resembles the Jerusalem rebuilding project, but because of two words, repeated 10 times, which caught my attention. I thought of them because of how the roof is bringing them “next to” one another just as the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem brought the people of God “next to” each other.

Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel. And next to him the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built. The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired. And next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, son of Meshezabel repaired. And next to them Zadok the son of Baana repaired. And next to them the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord.

(Nehemiah 3:1-5 ESV)

Something about a common task that creates community. Something about a job too big to do on your own that makes you reliant on others. Something about a cause worth living for that compels you to get out of the house and live among others. That’s what the wall was for Nehemiah & Co.

Priests (v.1), goldsmiths and perfumers (v. 8) — three very different occupations but with one over-arching purpose — next to one another. Not all doing the same job — some rebuilt walls, others reconstructed gates, others set doors, bolts and bars — but all working closely together. And because I know what’s in following chapters, they were ready to also stand together and fight together against opposition, if necessary, in order to complete the task God had set before them together.

And I can’t help think about how little, in some cases, the church comes together. Not just now in this COVID reality, but before all this, how little, outside of Sunday, we sought to be next to one another — even Sunday, so often, deemed as optional. More so, how the polarized rancor of the world has seeped into the church’s walls and we find ourselves more often than not nose-to-nose with one another in debate over non-essential things, and less and less shoulder-to-shoulder next to one another in unified service for the kingdom.

I wonder if, having lost a sense of being on common mission together, it has also quenched the desire to be next to one another in the trenches together.

I don’t know. But there’s something as I read Nehemiah 3 that stirs a desire for revival among the people of God. A renewal as to the task at hand and the calling God has made on us to do it next to one another. Making the main thing the main thing again. Knowing afresh that our lack of uniformity on secondary and tertiary matters shouldn’t impact our eagerness to maintain our unity (Eph. 4:3) as we go into all the world with the gospel.

Truly, how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together, and work next to one another, in unity. For there the LORD has commanded the blessing (Ps. 133). Amen?

By His grace. For His glory.

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The God of Heaven

Okay, not sure how this thought’s going to play out. More noodling than concluding. But need to work through an observation that keeps getting observed over the past few days through my reading plan.

So, what am I chewing on this morning? The God of heaven.

Started showing up on the radar when I began reading through Ezra. Lots of ways to refer to Jehovah, but the God of heaven seemed to be used frequently. What’s more, not really sure that I’d encountered it before Ezra. And then, I start in on Nehemiah this morning, and there it is again — four times in the first two chapters.

Bring up the handy dandy online concordance . . . type in “God of heaven” . . . search. There it is: twice in Genesis 24; once in 2Chronicles, just before Ezra; then eight times in Ezra; four times in Nehemiah, in today’s reading; once in Psalms; four times in Daniel 2; and one more time in Jonah.

So, this name for God, while so intuitive, actually isn’t used that much in the Old Testament (nor in the New Testament, for that matter — only twice in Revelation). And, where it is used, it’s used in a concentrated fashion, and that’s in the storyline covering the period of the captivity. Cyrus uses the Name. Ezra uses the Name. Nehemiah uses the Name. And I wonder how much their use is because Daniel used the Name. Even the one occurrence in Psalm 136 is followed immediately with, “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion” (Ps. 137:1).

I’m wondering then, why? Why in that context? Why, in the context of exile, is the God of heaven so frequently used? Don’t really know. Going to take more than a few minutes in the morning to dig into that one. But, I’m wondering if there isn’t something about living in a world where you don’t quite fit in that makes you remember that you serve a God who is above the world. That the only way to make sense of the chaos in the land is to focus your mind steadfastly towards the King and kingdom which transcends the land. That when the world around you is seemingly out of control, you’re driven to your knees to cry out to the One who you know is always in control.

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep His commandments, let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, to hear the prayer of Your servant that I now pray . . .

Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, . . .

But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us . . . Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build . . .

(Nehemiah 1:4-6; 2:4-5; 2:19-20 ESV)

Daniel turned to the God of heaven when an insomniac king demanded his dream be interpreted or people would die. And Daniel told the king of the God of heaven — the King above all kings, who gives kings of the earth their kingdoms.

When God moved Cyrus’s pagan Persian heart to act in a kingly way to release the captives, He did so by revealing to Cyrus that while he may have been a big deal, there was One who was a bigger deal, the God of heaven. And, when Ezra was moved to take on the first “Jerusalem or Bust” return trek from Babylon to rebuild the temple, that it was all about the God of heaven and His house in Jerusalem, was on everyone’s mind. So, when Nehemiah gets involved, he too looks beyond the circumstance, and above the horizon, to the God of heaven.

Even in Revelation, when the judgments of God start to rain down on the earth, people on earth will be acutely aware that He is Ruler over all, the Sovereign over all the earth, the God of heaven (Rev. 11:13, 16:11).

The God of heaven. Our God. A good thing to keep in mind when things seem kind of out of control.

Peace for the anxious soul. Hope in uncertain times of a certain future.

Our God reigns! Amen?

By His grace. For His glory.

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Like Father Like Son

Yesterday morning I was thinking about what it looks for God to rejoice. Jesus taught that “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15:10). And if the angels are before the throne of God, then who’s before the angels? God. So, who’s doing the rejoicing? God. So, what does that look like when God shows joy? I can only imagine. But that He would do so when a fallen son or daughter of Adam comes to faith is worthy of such imagination.

In one of my readings this morning I read of more rejoicing. And this time, it’s rejoicing before God.

When [the LORD] established the heavens, I was there; when He drew a circle on the face of the deep, when He made firm the skies above, when He established the fountains of the deep, when He assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside Him, like a master workman, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before Him always, rejoicing in His inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.

(Proverbs 8:27-31 ESV)

Wisdom calls out (Prov. 8:1). She speaks truth (8:6-7a). She contends that her instruction is better than silver, her knowledge to be valued more than choice gold. That she herself “is better than jewels, and all that you desire cannot compare” (8:10-11). She loves those who love her, and outlandishly promises those who seek her that they will find her and, along with her, “riches and honor . . . enduring wealth and righteousness” (8:17-18).

But here’s the thing about Wisdom that grabs me every time I read this chapter. She was there for creation. She was present when the heavens where established (8:27). But not there as a mere bystander. Instead, there side by side with the LORD God, as Creator. As a “master workman” engaged in the work of creation (8:30a). The LORD’s “daily delight” (8:30b), she was there when the world was formed. There through its habitation. So if the wisdom in Proverbs is intended to point to one who personifies wisdom, then who is she pointing to? Cue again Sunday School Answers 101 . . . Jesus!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.

(John 1:1-3 ESV)

Proverbs is about Jesus. Jesus as the Way of true life. As the One who calls to the children of man to follow in the ways for which they were created. As the One who says buy of Me. As the one who promises blessings, honor, and ultimate riches for those who seek Him diligently. And so, Proverbs is about behaviors that indicate when we’re walking in that way and when we’re not. If we have a problem with living out the pragmatics of Proverbs, we have a Jesus problem. But I digress . . . back to the text in Proverbs 8.

So, if Wisdom is rejoicing always before the LORD, delighting in the children of man, then, I’m thinkin’, Jesus is rejoicing. Like Father like Son.

The One who Himself is the Father’s daily delight, rejoices before Him. Rejoicing in the Creation. Delighting, as some translations put it, in the human family. So pumped about the work begun in Genesis 1 and 2, that when it comes off the rails in Genesis 3 He’s ready to do whatever is needed to redeem, reconcile, and restore it.

So, what does it look like for Jesus to express joy? Not a fist pump. Not a whooping victory shout. Not a happy dance. But more like a nail through the fist. A dying cry of “It is finished!” on the cross. A motionless, lifeless body laying in the tomb.

. . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame . . .

(Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

That’s what rejoicing looks like — like redemption. Wisdom the Creator so pumped about creation’s potential that He humbled Himself “by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” (Php. 2:8) as the Lamb of God.

Loving those who love Him. And loving them to the uttermost (Jn. 13:1).

What abounding love. What amazing grace. To Him be all the glory.

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Joy Before the Angels

Is it irreverent to imagine God pumping His fist and shouting, “Yes!” If so, then how do we imagine God expressing joy?

Can’t really say He’d be on cloud nine . . . He towers over cloud nine, and every other cloud you can number. On top of the world? Over the moon? No, that doesn’t seem right. Of course He is, that’s where He dwells, the earth is His footstool. Pleased as punch? Don’t even really know what that means. Pumped? Stoked? Nah. Doing a happy dance? Seemed hardly fitting coming from King David, doesn’t seem right to picture in one’s mind the Almighty Creator doing a two-step. Nope. That’s doesn’t work either.

So how do we imagine God expressing joy before others? ‘Cause, I’m thinkin’, He does.

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” ~ Jesus

(Luke 15:8-10 ESV)

A few years ago, I noticed how the ESV breaks with the other translations on that last phrase. It’s most commonly translated “joy in the presence of God’s angels” — like it’s the angels who are rejoicing among themselves. But the ESV’s a bit different. To think of there being joy before the angels of God can make a big difference in how you understand who’s expressing the joy.

So what’s before the angels in heaven? What’s in their line of sight? Who are they in the face of? Who’s occupying the place before them? What’s in their presence?

Safest Sunday School answer ever: God!

And all the angels were standing around the throne . . . , and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God . . . ”

(Revelation 7:11 ESV)

So, if the angels are standing around the throne, and they fall on their faces before the throne to worship God, then isn’t God before them? And so again, if there is joy before the angels over one sinner who repents, then isn’t it God who’s doing the rejoicing? Like I said, I’m thinkin’ . . .

And it’s kind of consistent with the story Jesus told. It’s the woman, the coin-seeker, the finder in this lost-and-found endeavor, who calls together her friends and she’s the one doing the rejoicing. “Rejoice with me!” she says. So isn’t the mapping such that the woman represents God, who through Jesus came to seek and save the lost? Thus, isn’t it also God, then, who calls together His friends, the angels, and says to them, “Rejoice with Me!”

God rejoicing over one sinner who repents! What does that even look like? But maybe, more importantly, what does that tell us about our God?

Did He rejoice over me, when I believed? Like, really rejoice? Fist-pumping, “Yes” declaring, happy dance rejoicing? Maybe not like that. But however God rejoices before the angels — if we believe His word, if Jesus was telling a truth tale — then yeah, the God of Creation rejoiced when I was translated from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of light. That’s a full-meal deal! That’s a lot to chew on!

My head knows He loves me. That He loved me so much He sent His one and only Son. I get that. But do I really get that He would love me to the point of rejoicing before the angels when I feebly confessed my love for Him?

And what could that look like?

The LORD your God is in your midst, a Mighty One who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.

(Zephaniah 3:17 ESV)

Singing. Loud singing. Is that how God shows joy before the angels, by singing over His redeemed people? Almost as hard to imagine as pumping His fist. But a lot more appropriate.

What amazing, abundant grace. Only for His ever-deserved, joy-filled glory.

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Got 5 more minutes? This song came to mind as I was hovering over this . . . ’cause if grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking . . . O how He love us!

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