Highways of the Heart

Don’t really need my Google Maps these days. No need to bring up my WAVES app to find the quickest route to where I wanna go. ‘Cause not going much of anywhere. And anywhere I go, it’s a well worn path. And when I do go, it always looks like Sunday afternoon on the roads — no traffic jams to contend with. So, don’t really need my GPS these days.

Or do I?

Just got word from our governor yesterday that he’s extending our “stay at home” order until May 4. Not surprised. Expected. But when you hear it officially . . . heavy sigh. And the numbers increase. The danger is yet to pass. The suffering continues in so many ways on so many fronts. Can’t help but inform how you filter what God’s saying to you through His word.

So, when I read in Judges, I’m encouraged as Gideon fights through his fear. God faithful in taking a man who is “the least” in his father’s house, whose clan “is the weakest in Manasseh” (Judges 6:15), and promises to be with with him. And to enable him, though afraid, to be victorious in battles against idolatry and against the world.

Then my reading in Mark, and I’m inspired by a woman so put through the ringer that Jesus is her last chance at healing. Inspired because she believes with all her heart that if she can just get close enough to touch Jesus’ garments things are going to be ok. And her faith makes her well (Mark 5:34). I do believe, Lord . . . help my unbelief.

And then, as I read Paul’s assertion to the Corinthians, I’m reminded that even this current testing of our fidelity to God is not uncommon to man, but that God is faithful and, even with this testing, will provide the means to endure (1Corinthians 10:13).

All good stuff. Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.

But it’s Psalm 84 that resonates deeply this morning. Reminding me that I do need a GPS. I need a direction finder, especially in such discombobulating times. One that sets my mind on “things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). An internal app that continually directs me on the highways of the heart.

How lovely is Your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. . . . Blessed are those whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.

(Psalm 84:1-2, 5-7 ESV)

Blessed are those in whose heart are the highways to Zion. That’s what I’m chewing on this morning.

Blessed because on those highways of the heart there is strength. Strength even as they go through the Valley of Baca, literally the “lowland of weeping.” Strength in the valley. Even through the tears. Strength because the heart is set on highways leading to the place where God dwells. And on those highways, He is already, and He is always present. Making even the dry place where tears are shed “a place of springs.” Covering our sorrow with His all sufficient grace, the early rains of heaven covering the arid land of earth with pools of God’s presence.

Sure, the going will be slow. And could get pretty tough. And that’s why these highways are traveled “from strength to strength.” His mercies new every morning, His grace sufficient for the day. Gonna have to come back tomorrow for tomorrow’s manna. But today, today there will be sufficient strength in the One my heart and flesh sing for joy to, the living God.

All because of this Spirit-implanted, internal GPS that keeps me on the highways of the heart, the highways to Zion. The roads to the risen Christ. The paths towards the Prince of Peace. The lanes leading to the Lord of Life, . . . and life to the full . . . even when it’s the quarantined life. Amen?

By His grace. For His glory.

Posted in Psalms | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A God of Testing

Maybe the filter will become less focused as time passes, but for right now at least, can’t help but process things through a “we’re living through a natural disaster” set of lenses. “Unprecedented,” still a word that works. “Surreal,” still a feeling that persists. And that, I think, because of how we’re “suffering” as a first-world nation. While everything has been turned upside down, so much has kind of stayed the same.

Yeah, we’re sheltered in place, but how many of us are still working, though from home? We’re no longer gathering, but I still get face-to-face contact with friends, families, and study groups, though via video-conferencing. I’m isolated, but I’ve spent more time on the phone talking to people over the last couple of days than I don’t know when and that’s because, while still working, my calendar is less cluttered.

But there’s a sense of opportunity in all this, isn’t there? The opportunity to reflect, reassess, and as appropriate, realign. And, can’t help thinking, an opportunity, perhaps, for revival. To return to putting first things first. And should that happen in the church, it will be because we have been tested. Our focus tested. Our priorities tested. Our comfort tested. Our endurance tested. Our obedience tested. Our readiness to minister to those around us who are feeling the effects of this slow moving tsunami rolling through our land tested.

Reading in Judges this morning reminds me our God is a God of testing.

“Because this people have transgressed My covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed My voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their fathers did, or not.”

(Judges 2:20b-22 ESV)

After Joshua’s land-conquering generation, “there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that He had done for Israel” (2:10). They’d had the promised land handed to them on a silver platter. As such, they had become loose with the things of God. Slack concerning the ways of God. Comfortable with rubbing shoulders with the enemies of God, even to the point of pursuing their way of life and their objects of worship.

And God loved them too much to leave them. And so, He declared an end to the “take the land” campaign and determined to no longer drive out those who Joshua had warned could be thorns in their sides and their gods a snare for their hearts (Josh. 1:11-13, Jud. 2:3).

And these thorns and snares would provide opportunity to test His people, testing whether or not they would respond by walking in The Way or continuing to walk in the world. And they would toughen up His people, teaching a generation that had never really known what it was to enter into battle how to battle with the Lord on their side (Josh. 3:1-2). ‘Cause our God, is a God of testing.

Not saying that God explicitly sent this virus to test His people, but I think we miss an opportunity if we aren’t at least open to God permitting this natural disaster to, among other things, awaken His people. To refocus His people. To reveal to His people how comfortable we’ve become living like the “nations around us.” To remind His people that we are to have no other gods but this God, the God of heaven and earth. To rebuild His people’s spiritual muscle as we enter the fray, whether the battle is against fear, or it becomes a daily determination to remain faithful.

I don’t know. I’m not God. But I am reminded that our God is a testing God. A refining God. A God who wants to present His Son’s bride to Him “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27).

“And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon My name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are My people’; and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.'”

(Zechariah 13:9 ESV)

Refiner’s fire . . . my heart’s one desire . . . is to be holy . . . set apart for You, Lord. (Thanx Brian Doerksen).

Tested in His grace. Tested for His glory.

Posted in Judges | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Focused Faith

If He had the power to stop it (and He did), then He had the power to prevent it from starting in the first place. If He could rebuke the wind and the sea, He could have restrained the wind and the sea. But He didn’t. Instead He got in the boat, found a cushion in the stern, and went to sleep.

He slept. But I’m awake. And awake way too early this morning. Mind racing way too fast. Anxious about way too many things. I could be the one on the pillow snoozing. Instead, while there’s no storm physically raging around me, the seas are anything but calm within me.

Not beating myself up about it. These are turbulent times. But I probably need to stay away from my news feeds. Rather than communicate anything about control, or contribute in any way to confidence, they just seem to add to the chaos. I want to stay in touch, but way too easy to become overwhelmed.

So, awake too early. Good opportunity to pray if I can bring captive my thoughts. And, I get an early start on hearing God’s voice through His word. And what am I hearing in the midst of my different readings this morning?

He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

(Mark 4:40 ESV)

Fear and faith, there’s a connection. It’s actually an inverse relationship, isn’t it? Faltering faith gives way to greater fear. Focused faith, less fear. Notice I didn’t say much faith, less fear. But I’m thinking it’s focused faith.

Jesus was right there in the boat with them. But they chose to stare at the storm above them. They wouldn’t take their eyes off the crashing waves around them. Uh, they may not have been focused on the the right thing.

They believed Jesus could do something about their predicament, they wouldn’t have cried out to Him if they didn’t. So, their faith failure wasn’t about whether or not they thought He had the power. It was about whether or not they believed He cared.

They woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

(Mark 4:38b ESV)

Does Jesus care? Oh, yes, He cares. (Hmm . . . someone should write a song about that. Hmm, they have. Click here if you have time).

But caring about the danger in the storm doesn’t necessarily mean preventing the danger in the storm. For, if He could rebuke the wind and the sea, He could have restrained the wind and the sea — but Jesus didn’t. While He may not have explicitly produced the storm, He certainly permitted the storm. And it became an opportunity to teach His disciples about fear and focused faith.

Not necessarily testing their faith as to whether or not they believed He would calm the storm, but that He could calm the storm. And whether He did or didn’t, knowing by faith that while He was in the boat with them, He cared for them, and–whether allowing the storm to rage or causing the seas to be still–He would get them to the other side.

Focused faith. Seems it’s the remedy for frantic fear.

Does Jesus care? Yes, He cares.

Whether He chooses to or not, can He calm the storm? Yes, He can.

Then, it is well with my soul. And I can do another day in the boat. Maybe even get a nap in.

By His grace. For His glory.

Posted in Mark | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Tribe

Continuing to read in Joshua. Continuing to think about the Levites.

Yesterday, I wondered what it was like to watch the other tribes be allotted their inheritance in the promised land and for your tribe’s name never to come up in the draft, because you didn’t get a chunk of land. I wondered if it was like opening Christmas presents around the tree and there wasn’t one with your name on it. Or like going out with your family trick-or-treating and being the only one to come back with an empty bag.

But as I read this morning, I realize I may have overstated things a bit. They actually did get toys to play with on Christmas morning, just not their own, they had to settle with one of their brothers’ toys. And it’s not like they were left out of the Halloween candy windfall, its just that they had to rely on each of their siblings giving them some from their bags.

Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites came to Eleazar the priest and to Joshua the son of Nun and to the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel. And they said to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, “The LORD commanded through Moses that we be given cities to dwell in, along with their pasturelands for our livestock.” So by command of the LORD the people of Israel gave to the Levites the following cities and pasturelands out of their inheritance. . . . The cities of the Levites in the midst of the possession of the people of Israel were in all forty-eight cities with their pasturelands.

(Joshua 21:1-3, 41 ESV)

If their brothers were landowners, then maybe you could think of the Levites as renters. However, the cost of their rentals was zero dollars down, with zero dollars per month, for forever. So, maybe not such a bad deal. But still, at the end of the day, they owned nothing. Nothing was theirs to pass on to their kids. So, like I said yesterday, they had to be content that their heritage was the priesthood. Satisfied that their legacy would be found in serving an eternal God. And thus, ultimately, their’s was an inheritance that would last.

But here’s the thing that hits me this morning. Their identity was also found in their ministry. And their community would only be realized through their calling.

Whereas the other tribes were given big chunks of land in which to live together, the Levites were to be scattered throughout the land in forty-eight cities. They were to live “in the midst of the possession of the people.”

Though their brothers would have identity through proximity, the Levites were to live, in a way, as strangers in a land not their own (sound familiar). And they would be most connected as a common people when they would come together for service to the tabernacle. Though apart, what would most define them was the fact that, rather than being given an inheritance, God had chosen them as an inheritance (Num. 3:12). And though scattered, what would bring them most into a sense of community and common purpose was when they came together to minister at the tent of meeting.

And it’s got me thinking that maybe there’s something in the Levites of old that paints a picture of what gospel community is about for believers today.

We don’t have an inheritance here. We’re scattered among the people. And while we might tend our pasturelands just like our neighbors, what truly defines us is when we’re in service to our God. And what ultimately unites us is not a common up-bringing, socio-economic status, or natural affinities and interests. Rather, what brings us together is a shared burning desire to worship our God, to serve Him, and to represent Him.

And guess what? COVID quarantine doesn’t change that one bit. While proximity certainly promotes community and unity, and while that is God’s preferred way for us to encourage one another and be built up in our faith (and I can’t wait until that day when we’re doing so again face to face), I’m reminded this morning that our ultimate bond is found by being in Christ, sealed with His Spirit, and set apart for a common mission. That our ultimate identity is not in how much, or in what manner, we gather, but in how faithfully we serve. That our ultimate community comes not from proximity but in purpose.

Like the Levites, God has owned us as His own (1Pet. 2:9). Like the Levites, we’ve been told our inheritance isn’t found in this land (Heb. 13:14). Like the Levites, we’ve been scattered, as salt and light (Matt. 5:13-14), among a world owned by others (yet still ruled by God). And like the Levites, our family is most defined by our faithfulness to our God (Mk. 3:34).

That’s my tribe. Praising God for them this morning.

Because of His grace. For His glory.

Posted in Joshua | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Inheritance that Lasts

Most of the conquering’s been done. Big chunks of land have already been deeded to the larger tribes. Time to divvy out the rest of the promised land.

And I wonder what it was like for the leaders of the different tribes of Israel to gather round as the lot was cast “in Shiloh before the LORD” (Joshua 18:7). Shiloh, that’s the first place where the tent of meeting was first set up after the dust had settled. And it was there Joshua and “the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel” met “before the LORD” and allotted the land (19:51).

But what I’m really chewing on is what it was like for the tribe of Levi?

Hovering this morning over a simple, matter of fact statement, that I’m thinking kind of has huge eternal implications. Wondering how satisfied those Levites really were with an inheritance that lasts.

The Levites have no portion among you, for the priesthood of the LORD is their heritage.

(Joshua 18:7 ESV)

Was it like being gathered ’round the tree with family on Christmas morning and watching as gifts were passed out to everyone else but you? Or coming home from hours of trick-or-treating on Halloween with your brothers and sisters and your bag is the only bag that comes home empty? And what does dad say? “Oh, never you mind! Sure, your brothers are getting land, and cities, and fields and such. But you, you’ve got the priesthood as your heritage.” Hmmm. How might that play?

I’ve got the priesthood too (1Pet. 2:5) by the grace of God and through the finished work of the cross. But I also have a house I call mine (though, it really isn’t, is it?). And some retirement savings (well, a little less these days). But what if all I had to “call my own” was the priesthood? What if that was it?

What if being consecrated for God’s service was all I could call “mine” in this world, while those around me had the privilege of accumulating stuff and passing it on to their kids? Would it be enough?

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:21). Would it mess too much with what Jesus said to also say that where our inheritance is, where our legacy lies, there our heart will be also? I’m thinking not.

If our heritage is found in the name we make for ourselves here on earth, or the amount of stuff we can leave behind to our kids and others, then that’s where we are going to be investing our discretionary resources — the time, talent, and treasures we have left over after we’ve put food on the table and paid the bills. But if our inheritance lies somewhere else, if it is ultimately found in being set apart for God’s work in us and through us, then that’s where we’ll be investing our “surplus” — investing it in an inheritance that lasts.

If this current pandemic season reminds us of anything it’s that life is fragile and so much of what we might seek to live for just doesn’t stand up.

But this current season can also remind us we’ve been given a priesthood as our heritage, and that’s an inheritance that’ll be around forever.

And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

(Revelation 5:8-10 ESV)

O Father, give us the heart of the Levite, so that, if we had nothing else to call our own, we’d be content with the priesthood as our heritage. That we would faithfully “practice” being priests, here and now, in anticipation of reigning with Your Son, there and then. Might we know the peace, security, and blessing of living for an inheritance that lasts.

By Your grace. For Your glory.

Posted in Joshua | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Always a Song to Sing

He wanted to sing again. He wanted songs of praise to flow freely and words of worship to be offered up once more before his God. But no matter how hard the songwriter tried, he couldn’t. ‘Cause life was really, really getting hard. Like, “God are You there” hard.

Whenever He tried to remember God, he moaned. When he tried to be still and meditate, rather than priming the pump of wonder he was overcome with weariness. He would lay awake at night, his mind racing so fast and so full of stuff that, if you asked him, he couldn’t even tell you all that was troubling him. No way he could make sense of his current situation. And no way, seemingly, he could break the crazy cycle of despair feeding despair.

He wanted to sing again. He wanted to be immersed in the deep things of God again.

I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.”

(Psalm 77:6a ESV)

But as he tried to find God in his current season he only came up with questions. Will the Lord spur forever? Has His steadfast love ceased? Are His promises done, has He forgotten to be gracious? Have I so angered Him that His compassion has dried up? (77:7-9). Everything in his current life circumstance seemed to be pointing to a heaven which had closed its door to him. “Selah,” he says. Pause. Reflect. Heavy sigh!

But then, an idea. Rather than obsess on this time when God seems so far away, what if, instead, I take every thought captive and focus on a time when I knew God’s presence, when, without question, I saw His hand at work.

Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember Your wonders of old. I will ponder all Your work, and meditate on Your mighty deeds.

(Psalm 77:10-12 ESV)

And so where does the songwriter go to remember such a time? What does he determine to recall to know again that no god is great like our God? Where does he direct his mind, what does he chew on, to be reminded that his God is a God who works wonders?

You with Your arm redeemed Your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

(Psalm 77:15 ESV)

The songwriter sings to himself, “Self, behold your redemption! Recall your deliverance. Remember your salvation.” Selah . . . just chew on that.

So he thinks of the God who made Himself known as He walked His people out of Egypt. He thinks of the God who showed Himself mighty as He led His people out of bondage even as they encountered deep waters that seemed unmanageable. The God known in the thunder of the whirlwind. The God known in the lightnings that lit up the world. The God who walked them through deep waters, on route to a land of promise. Just like a shepherd would lead His flock (77:16-20).

When the waters saw You, O God, when the waters saw You, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled. . . . Your way was through the sea, Your path through the great waters; yet Your footprints were unseen.

(Psalm 77:16, 19 ESV)

God’s way was through the sea, then. Evidently, it seemed to be that way again.

But been there, done that, recalls the songwriter. And redemption was realized. If God saved me then, he can save me now. If God was with me then, surely, though I don’t sense His presence at this time, He is with me now.

I may not be able to sing about my current season and all its uncertainty, but I can sing of that rescue which I have known, my redemption and His wondrous works to secure it. I may not be seeing the hand of God right now, but we never saw the footprints of God then, either. But He was then, and is still now, mighty to save!

Unseen footprints. Isn’t that how our God operates so often? But unmistakable promises . . . and unchangeable character. So, if God says through His Spirit, “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” — and He does (Php. 1:6) — then we should focus on the “good work begun” even when we have trouble figuring out the crazy world we’re in now.

Other than maybe the “COVID Blues,” there’s not much to sing about now. But we can still sing . . .

. . . for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.

(2Timothy 1:12 ESV)

There’s always a song to sing. The song of our redemption. The song of our Redeemer. If He saved us then, truly, with God all things are possible now (Matt. 19:25-26).

Amen?

By His grace. For His glory.

Got 5 more minutes? I was blessed by eavesdropping on this old-time congregation gathering in this old time way (probably not gathering together these day, but will be soon), singing this old time hymn. The words gripped my heart afresh, making me wanna sing too. Check it out if you’ve got the time.

Posted in Psalms | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Jesus Saw Their Faith

Reading in Mark 2 this morning and encountered one of my favorite statements found in all three of the synoptic gospel accounts. Four simple, mono-syllable words, that never cease to inspire. Never cease to capture the bottom-line of what was a chaotic and complex event.

Jesus is back in Capernaum, and after a few days it gets around that He’s back in town. His fame has spread everywhere (Mk. 1:28). So much so, that He “could no longer openly enter a town” (Mk. 1:45). So when they find out Jesus was at home, they packed the house where He was staying. No room inside for anyone else to get in. No room around the house, either — you couldn’t even get near the front door (Mk. 1:2). Crowded and chaotic. So filled with people you wonder if the house would burst at the seams. Nope! But the roof would cave in.

Enter the fearsome five. Four able-bodied guys along their paralytic buddy who they carried on a cot. Five guys on a “Jesus or Bust” mission to get the one who needed healing before the Healer. And they were not to be denied. To rip off USPS, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night (nor packed-full house with no apparent access) stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

So if you can’t go in the front door, and you can’t go in the back door, and the windows are plugged up with people too, go in through the roof.

And when they could not get near [Jesus] because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.

(Mark 2:4 ESV)

Love trying to imagine what it must have been like to witness this over the top demonstration of determination. Crazy!

But then, that simple, mono-syllable statement . . .

And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

(Mark 2:5 ESV)

Jesus saw their faith. Chew on that for a bit.

I wonder if most often we don’t think of faith as an intangible. As something invisible. More sensed than seen. More perceived than presented. But Jesus saw their faith. The newly created skylight above Him, the dust of fallen roofing material settling around Him, the paralyzed guy lying flat on his back in front of Him. Jesus took it all in.

Did these guys believe Jesus could make a difference? Evidently. Was it tangible. Oh, yeah!

He saw their faith because He saw the evidence of their faith. He could see they trusted because of the track they took. He knew they believed because of how they behaved.

No packed rooms here at my place. Just me rattling around in this big house. Not fighting for access to Jesus, no need to break a door down or tear a roof open. Just aware of His promised presence. And thinking that, I too, want Jesus to see my faith. That my abiding will be manifest in my actions. That my resting, made evident in how I’m responding to being sheltered in place. That what we so often think of as being intangible and invisible, would be demonstrated through a pressing desire to be faithful, . . . despite the temptation to fear.

Jesus saw their faith. Yes He did!

Might He see ours this day as well.

By His grace. For His glory.

Posted in Mark | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment