Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lord, Please Help Me Find My Glasses

I heard the words -- a quick, off-the-cuff prayer, from the inner office of a co-worker. She hadn't even noticed she'd done it. "Lord, please help me find it."

"I like that," I said. "I enjoy being in a workplace where prayer is so common, even for the little things."

My coworker told me she occasionally gets laughed at for that. "Mom," her daughter would tell her, "He doesn't care about small stuff like that!"

Aren't we all tempted, sometimes, to believe that's true? That God simply doesn't have time to really care about the small, seemingly insignificant situations in our lives? Aren't the Christians being beheaded in the middle east certainly more important? Aren't families starving in the streets in greater need of intervention?

Well, fair enough. But if we're going to concede to having a God who can solve these big problems, isn't it fair to say He's big enough to deal with the small ones too?

Let me put it this way:

I love my wife. Because I love her, I help her. She has a big problem? I'm right there to assist. She has a small problem? Well, what should I do? Do I tell her I love her, but that she must deal with this small task on her own? If she needs a pair of socks, do I just give her a kiss and a "good luck with that" and go on doing whatever I was doing? Or, do I take into account that she asked for help? Do I consider that if she asked about such a small thing, she could probably use the assistance? As her husband, the answer is "yes." I absolutely help. Why? Because, put simply, I love her. I enjoy doing things for her. I enjoy making her happy. So, insofar as it is within my power to do so, I'll help her out -- even with the little things.

Because here's the secret: when it comes to love, there are no little things.

And as Jesus asks in Matthew 7:11,

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

The miracle here is that God -- the almighty, all-powerful being who created the entire Universe -- loves us at all! And yet He does, and has proven it by sending Christ, first to teach us how to love, and then to demonstrate that love by becoming the atonement for our unrighteousness on the cross. 

So, next time you lose your glasses, but are too afraid to bother God with something so small, ask yourself: Would the God who loved me enough to die really be put out by something like this? Is there such a thing as "too small" for someone whose Love is so big?
Indeed, the Lord delights in showing His love for us. Even in the little things.  

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Colors of Cloth and Interpreting Scripture

Well? What colors do YOU see?
Quite the internet controversy exploded last night -- and it was all over the color of a dress. Somebody posted a picture of a clearly blue dress with obviously black trim and asked what color it was. Turns out, many, many people believed the dress to be white, and with gold trim. My wife was among these people. So convinced was she of its color that she honestly thought I must be kidding when I told her I saw blue and black. Likewise, anyone who declared the dress white and gold, I thought must plainly be deluded.

This was such a mystery that even experts began to weigh in, from researchers to science magazines, opinions began to flow like water over not only the true color of the clothing in question but as to how everyone was seeing something different. However, unless the manufacturer of the dress actually comes forward with the truth, we may never honestly be sure.

What fascinates me here is the simple fact that so many people can't seem to agree over something so simple. My wife and I literally looked at the same image on the same computer screen, yet saw two completely different things. Even when she conceded that she could see how it may appear tinted blue in the shadows, I was taken aback, because to me it was as blue as the Summer sky. Likewise, when I said I thought perhaps the light was making the black fringe look like gold, she incredulously exclaimed she couldn't see any black at all. Still others had other varieties of interpretation. So, whatever the cause -- whatever the experts have to say about it -- the one thing we know for sure is this: two people can look at the exact same thing and see something completely different from one another.

Scripture is sometimes like this, too -- particularly when we get to some of those grayer areas of interpretation. I'm often shocked, when discussing Scripture, to find disagreement in the interpretation of a passage I'd previously believed to be black and white. That someone could possibly disagree on a matter I'd thought to be more than obvious. We'd be looking at the same passage -- comparing from the same translations, even, yet seeing completely different things.

Now, this isn't an apologetic for relativism. There is a single Truth. Just as that dress is either actually blue or actually white, Scripture actually says what it actually says. But, like the dress, we sometimes need to hear from the manufacturer to be sure what, exactly, we're looking at.

Paul points out this reality in his letters to the Corinthians:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Cor 2:1-5)

And the Ephesians: 
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[a] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Eph 1:17)

So what can we learn from this? Well, when it comes to Scripture, we can see how vital it is to be in tune with God when examine His word -- how important to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to "rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)." Only, don't wait until you find someone who disagrees with you before you do. 

Study the Word of God, but do so prayerfully, seeking guidance from the One who inspired it. And in so doing, you can know that, no matter what anyone else sees, the Maker knows for sure.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The House of the Lord

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever. (Psalm 23:6b)

The final promise of the 23rd Psalm neatly wraps up the narrative of the Good Shepherd. The quintessential "Happily Ever After," Psalm 23:6 tells us the end of our journey is not the end of our story. It serves as a reminder that, after God has kept us all through this life -- after He has led us through the Valley, after He has provided for us and kept us safe and found us rest and refreshment -- He will finally lead us to an eternal home with Him. 

What a promise! It is in this verse we learn that, though He is the shepherd, we are not merely sheep. Indeed, we are family to the Shepherd -- children of the King -- and He has prepared us a place in His own house!

This verse also implies another promise: that we do not wander in vain. That we have a destination. Sure, God promises to keep us safe in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but why walk through it at all? Because, as we find in verse 6, we're going somewhere. We're not not merely walking around, grazing from field to field, but our Shepherd is guiding us to a permanent Home -- a place where there are no enemies, where still waters abound, where the shadow of death cannot reach. 

And we know that, once we get there, His home -- the House of the Lord -- is OUR home forever. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Your Goodness And Love Will Follow

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.. (Psalm 23:6)

It can be easy, as a Christian, to spend a lot of time looking forward to the Afterlife. To Heaven. What could possibly sound as appealing, to those who love God, than the prospect of spending Eternity with Him? But you know, the first part of Psalm 23:6 reminds me that we don't have to wait for death to enjoy life with our Lord.

The NIV translates that section as "
Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life."

When you commit to a life following Christ, you're inviting Him to dwell with you, to share your life. That's what Christians mean when we say we have a "relationship" with Him. It means He is there. It means we can talk to Him. We can enjoy His presence. 

So often, we get so caught up in our day-to-day lives, it's easy to forget He is literally with us. Because we can't see Him by our sides, it's easy to think of Him as being far away; as being someone we can only reach during our devotions or those quiet moments of prayer. But if you allow yourself to see, you will find His goodness and mercy follows you.

You can live an abundant life, filled with the goodness, love and mercy of Christ, right now. You don't have to wait for Heaven. He is there with you, if you just look for Him. 

Let this be an encouragement. No matter what's going on today, no matter what you have to do, your Lord walks by your side. He is with you in that meeting you've been dreading at work. He's with you in the crowded grocery store, when all you want to do is pack up your kids and go back home. He's with you as He nudges you to talk to that lonely person at school or work.

He is with you, once you find Him, with all His goodness and mercy, all the days of your life.

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Cup Overflows

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows. (Psalm 23:5)

We've talked before about what an interesting, amazing picture is painted in verse 5 of the 23rd Psalm: Sitting amongst your enemies, dining comfortably in the presence and safety of your Lord. This last phrase completes the picture: "my cup overflows." 

It is here that we begin to understand the glory of God's blessing -- how His grace is in His every act. It's enough that He is our Shepherd. It's enough to know He is wish us even in the valley of the shadow of death. Enough that He not only protects us from our enemies, but prepares a table in their presence. But now we see that when God blesses, He gives above and beyond mere need. Indeed, He so delights to give good things to His children, that He just continues to do so. 

But note here: He doesn't make the enemies disappear. He doesn't pluck us from the Valley. He could, but does not. Jesus promised in John 16:33 that we would have trouble, and we see that, even in His presence, the trouble remains all around us. But just look at the rest of what Jesus tells us!

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

I believe this is the meaning of the overflowing cup of Psalm 23:5: that you and I and the whole world might get a glimpse of God's power and authority over the evil on earth. Here is the big, bad world, controlled for a time by darkness. And here's God in the midst of it, blessing His children beyond measure. It's a poke in the eye of the evil one that makes me smile, but it's also a reflection of God's glory and greatness! And of His grace.

Grace is when we get what we do not deserve, and in verse 5, we see a filling of what we don't deserve, beyond the limit of even the cup He has placed before us.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Stubborn Children In the Hands of a Loving God

Yesterday was one of those moments in the life of a parent. That moment when something silly -- stupid, even -- becomes something subtly heartbreaking. The situation: my daughter got caught with a candy wrapper. Though she claimed she was just throwing it away, circumstances -- and her overall demeanor -- suggested otherwise. But, she continued to deny any wrongdoing. A half hour later, I went out to the kitchen and noticed a piece of candy on the floor -- the very same kind which would have been found inside that empty wrapper. We confronted her with the evidence, which, when combined with the other circumstances of the evening, only solidified her guilt. But she wouldn't budge.

Several story changes and many tears later, she still wouldn't admit what she'd done. Of course, from a Mommy and Daddy perspective, the actual crime was nothing. She would have been reminded that we don't take food, particularly sweets, without permission, and possibly lost an after-school snack for a day. The big deal, for us, was simply that she wasn't telling the truth about it. This went on far longer than it ever would have, simply because she wouldn't admit what she'd done. And because of that, she got into more trouble, losing privileges for the week.

And the whole time, there she was, crying those big tears out of those huge blue eyes, breaking my heart with every drop. As her daddy, it killed me seeing her like that. I'll readily admit it took everything in me, during the conversation, to not just scoop her up into my arms, tell her everything was okay and that I believed her (even though I didn't), and send her off to bed with a conciliatory cookie. Yeah, I'm a sucker. I guess that's love.

The thing of it was, what I really and truly wanted was for her to simply be honest with us. To simply confess what she'd done and apologize. That one, simple thing, and I would happily have erased every indication of guilt. I'd have happily picked her up and kissed her tears and told her we loved her and forgave her, and always would. That she'd been forgiven even before she fessed up. But it was important to us that she confess. Vital, in fact. Not just for our own satisfaction, but in order for her to grow as a person. In order for her to learn to take responsibility for what she'd done. Because, without that understanding -- without taking that responsibility, our forgiveness is next to meaningless. She learns nothing, continues to justify what she'd done wrong, and keeps facing the consequences over and over again.

Maybe it makes me a bad parent, but in that moment, if she'd simply said, "I'm sorry," there probably would have been no punishment at all. It's just a stupid piece of candy, and all I wanted to do was comfort my little girl.

It was one of those moments in which I truly believed I finally understood God. At least, I finally understood His unconditional love and desire to forgive. I finally understood, in some very small way, His own heartbreak. Imagine, there He is -- having already paid the penalty for what we've done wrong -- just waiting on us to acknowledge it. To simply confess. To say, "Lord, yes, I've done something wrong. I've disobeyed you. I have sinned and turned away from what was right."

He waits for that moment with each one of us, wanting nothing more than to scoop us up into His arms, wipe away our tears of guilt, and say, "I love you. I forgive you."

 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8 & 9)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

You Anoint My Head With Oil

You anoint my head with oil (Psalm 23:5b)

In Scripture, anointing with oil carried two purposes: to heal, both spiritually and physically, and to set apart for God's use. David, with his unique place in history, must surely have been referring to both uses when he sang of the Shepherd anointing his own head. David, who would be King, but who felt wounded physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It hadn't been that long ago, after all, that David was literally anointed by the prophet Samuel to become King over Israel. 

It makes sense that anointing oil be used for the purpose of both healing and calling, and speaks to the way God chooses and cultivates those who will serve Him. 

As humans, we are inheritors of the Fall, broken at birth. We are born into sin, into a world of disease and pestilence and death. We are, in short, born wounded -- physically and spiritually dying from Day One. 

When we recognize we are the Shepherd's, and that He is our Lord, He anoints us for His use. Through His Spirit, He anoints us first for healing -- a balm and salve for our naturally broken state -- and then to set us apart. As David discovered, this is a part of the Joy of belonging to the Good Shepherd.

When we work for the World, we are used up and discarded. The world will take the best of us and, when it's through, leave us to die. But God isn't like that. God prepares us with a healing, and then marks us as one of His Own. So marked, the end of our walk on earth isn't merely death, but a homecoming. "You are mine," God says in His anointing. "Not just My sheep or servants, but my children." 

Anointing, then -- in both its healing and sanctification -- is inclusion. Inclusion into the service, and the Family, of the Almighty.