Tuesday, April 30, 2024

God of Prophets

There is no shortage of prophets in the Bible - men and women of God tasked with carrying and speaking His truth in some of Israel's most trying times. But have you ever paid attention to whom the prophets are speaking?

Some of the prophets are sent to Israel's leaders - to the kings. They spend their times encountering the kings in throne rooms and courtyards and battlefields, helping the kings to assure Israel's victory or condemning the kings to defeat on account of their unfaithfulness. They continually call the kings to repentance and to restore the kingdom to proper worship, to restore the people of God to their Lord. This is an important function. 

There are other prophets who speak directly to the people of Israel. They bring God's message and cry out for repentance. They seek to restore the people to proper worship, to remind them of the goodness of God and how faithful He has been throughout their travels and trials and troubles. They call the people to account and remind them that they will have to answer for their unfaithfulness - or perhaps, they are already answering for their unfaithfulness. This is also an important function.

It's easy to read the prophets and read what they have to say about God and learn what we can about God and move on, but it's important to pause and look at who is the audience for the prophet's message.

There are some truths of God that are meant for the leaders. These truths are about being in charge, about being the one who sets the tone for everyone else, about the calling to be a shepherd. These are truths about what it takes to be responsible for others, to take control of the big scheme things, and to lead with integrity. 

There are other truths of God that are meant for anyone and everyone. These truths are about what it means to live a faithful life, how to navigate the challenges of a broken world, how to stand up to the temptations to stray, how to repent and turn back to God when you've wandered off, about God's intimate, personal love for you. 

That's why it's important that we pay attention not just to the Word we're reading, but to who was meant to hear it. If it's a word for leaders, it has a different application in your life than a word for everyone. If it's a word for everyone, it should not be confused for something only the leaders need to concern themselves with. And isn't that one of our greatest temptations? Thinking that God's Word is for someone else? Someone in a different position, someone in a different place, someone with more or less power or responsibility or whatever. 

It's not for someone else, though. Not always. That's why we have to read not only to know what is spoken, but to see who was meant to hear. Because very often, the Word of God is for us

Monday, April 29, 2024

God of Provision

If you're at all like me, you've spent a lot of your life working very hard to have what seems like very little. In fact, it was just yesterday that I saw someone post a meme on social media talking about how quickly the paycheck seems to disappear, with plenty of "likes" to affirm its message. 

We are living in an age of inflation, where the price of everything seems to be going up except for the price of the labor market, where wages are stagnating. We are, as we have in past times in America, working harder for less, stretching to make ends meet, and still often coming up short. Requests for assistance, need for aid, pleas for the basic necessities are rising. 

But God. 

There's a story in 2 Kings where the kings are afraid of Moab, they're prepping for battle as best they can, they are worried about providing for their livelihood. Everyone is thirsty. And God says to them, through the prophet Elisha, "Watch."

Watch, and the valley will fill up with water. There won't be rain. There won't even be a hint of wind. But the valley will fill up with so much water that you, your livestock, everyone you know, and their livestock will have enough water to drink to satisfy them. And then come those words that make this whole verse so powerful: 

And that's not all! It is indeed a small thing for the Lord

Enough water to quench the thirst of every living thing in the region is "a small thing" for God. And He promises He's going to do the bigger thing, too. 

Our God, the God who created everything out of the formless and void, who spoke into the darkness and created the light, who by a single utterance planted grass and trees and flowers in the ground, who carved out the rivers and dug out the oceans and piled up the mountains, who bent down and played in the dirt and then breathed the breath of life into it....our God is a God of provision. He is a God who provides our every need. 

He is a God for whom this kind of provision is, indeed, a small thing. It's so easy. And He loves to do it. 

Honey in the rock, manna on the ground, water in the valley...all of it. 

If you're hungry, cry out to Him. If you're weary, cry out to Him. If you're thirsty, cry out to Him. And then watch the valley you're in fill up with holy water.

Friday, April 26, 2024

An Event

"Are you hosting an event?" 

That is the question that Facebook asks me every Friday when I post my Communion reflections from this space. I enter a few words about a table, about some food, about fellowship, and whatever it is in AI's brain that is always trying to be helpful (but is far less helpful than it thinks it is) comes up with its brilliant interpretation - I must be hosting an event! And, thus, it would like to help me invite others to attend. 

Most of the time, I'm mildly annoyed by this little pop-up. I have been writing in this space for somewhere around 16 years and sharing links to these posts on Facebook for nearly as long, always in the same format: title, quick synopsis, link. Just like millions of other bloggers/writers/creators around the world. So it's frustrating to me when Facebook doesn't simply recognize that I'm doing the same thing that I have done for literally thousands of days prior...without ever hosting a single event. 

But as I reflect on this minor nuisance, there's something inside of me that can't help but think that maybe that's the point. 

I joined a Communion-celebrating church 24 years ago. Every week for 24 years, I have fellowshipped with a church that takes time out of its Sunday morning service to reflect on the Upper Room, on the Cross, on the body and the blood, the bread and the juice, and to pass the plates and partake of this remembrance. Every week. We never skip a week. 

And then someone inevitably comes along (confession: it's usually me) and emphasizes all over again the nature of this remembrance as an event, as something we're invited to, as more than just a quiet, solemn moment between three songs and the sermon. Someone comes along and tries to remind everyone that this thing that we do every week is bigger than just being a thing that we do every week. 

Sometimes, that reminder is successful; sometimes, it falls on weary ears; sometimes, it doesn't even register at all. Such is the nature of being interconnected with human beings with all of their own experiences, circumstances, challenges...everyone brings their own energy and their own week with them to Sunday worship, so you don't hit everyone on every Sunday. 

But now, I'm thinking about this mild annoyance that I feel when Facebook asks me if I'm hosting an event and my first inclination is to say...don't you get it? Isn't your AI any better than that? I'm not hosting an event! I'm doing exactly the same thing I've been doing for days and weeks and years before now. Can't you see that? 

Can't you, indeed.... 

Because this is the reaction I think some of us have to the Table. And I'll be the first one to confess that sometimes, this is me, too. We come to the Table, we see the bread, we see the juice, we hear the words, but...it's not really anything. I mean, it's not really anything big. We miss the meaningfulness of it. There's something inside us that says this is just what we do. This is what we do every week, just like we've been doing it every week, just like we'll do it again next week and the week after that, and doesn't everyone just get this? This is just what we do. 

But what if it wasn't? 

What if...just for fun...we went ahead and clicked that box and said, you know what? It is an event. We are doing a thing. 

Go ahead. Invite everyone I know to this grand event I'm having. 

There is, after all, space at the Table for all of them. Every. single. one. 

Thursday, April 25, 2024

God Knows You

While the sinful king Ahab ruled in Israel, Jehoshaphat sat on the throne in Judah, and occasionally, the divorced northern and southern kingdoms of God's people found a reason to come together. 

Battle was one such reason. 

Ahab asks Jehoshaphat if he will go into battle with him, and the southern king agrees, but he says they have to talk to a prophet first. Ahab calls together all of the prophets that he has, all of the men who call themselves men of God, but Jehoshaphat wisely looks around and says, "Isn't there a prophet of the Lord we can ask?" 

In other words, isn't there a real man of God here? 

So they find Micaiah, who Ahab knows but doesn't really care for, and the real prophet comes. When he gives a message that is contrary to what the other prophets have said, Ahab is like, "See? This is why I don't like him." Then, the king asks how the message came to be so different and why the other prophets said something else. 

Micaiah responds simply, "God's spirit agreed to come into those other prophets in order to deceive you because He knew you would listen to what they were saying."

Now, this story gets complicated by the judgment God has put on Ahab's life and the plans that are already in motion to end his reign; God is already working toward Ahab's defeat and death, so it raises some questions for us theologically, but those questions are not the point of today's reflection. 

Today, it's just important that we recognize that God knows who we will listen to. God knows which voices we've given the authority to speak into our lives. God knows where He can put a message and know that we'll hear it. God knows how to speak, individually, to us. 

That message through the fake men of God who were more people-pleasers than prophets is a message that Jehoshaphat didn't bother with, but Ahab bought hook, line, and sinker. God sent Micaiah because he was the messenger that Jehoshaphat needed, but He used the prophets to help further His judgment plan against Ahab because He knew those were the voices Ahab would heed. 

And He knows which voices you're listening to. 

I don't know about you, but sometimes, I spend a lot of time wondering if I would ever really know if I heard from God, if I would recognize His voice if I heard it, if I would be confident in what I was hearing. But stories like this remind me that God knows how I'm listening, and He knows how to get me to hear. And He will send the right voice at the right time to further His plan for my life, whatever it happens to be in any season. 

So as long as I'm listening, I can trust the Lord who speaks to help me hear. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

God is Clear

In the ancient world, every peoples had their own god, and their god was tied directly to their daily experience. So the god in Egypt was presumed to be a sun god because the sun guided their existence. The gods in other areas similarly reflected the areas in which their peoples lived and the things they depended on. And those things were the only things those gods were responsible for or had control over. Egypt's "sun god" only controlled the sun. Nothing else. 

So when the Arameans encountered Israel in the mountains and were soundly defeated, it only made sense to them to deduce that the Lord must be a god of the mountains. Thus, if they were to change the battlefield and draw the Israelites out of the mountains, their God would become powerless to help them and the Arameans would earn a decisive victory. 

Now, keep in mind that at the time, Israel (which indicates only the northern kingdom, as the two had long ago split) had a wicked king - Ahab. God wasn't particularly impressed with Ahab and was not exactly delighting in what Ahab was doing. God was already planning judgment against Ahab. 

But you do not just make presumptions that the God of the Universe, Lord of all Creation, is a little-g god only of the mountains. 

So God sends word to Ahab through the prophet and says, "Look. The Arameans said I'm only a god of the mountains, so I'm going to let you beat them and beat them badly in the flat lands, just so they get that I Am....God of the Universe."

In other words, God says - let Me be clear

And clear, He is. 

It's this kind of clarity that can give us confidence to believe the things we think we know about God. The things that we've been taught or have discovered through His Word. Sometimes, it's hard for us to hold on too tightly to these things because we have lingering questions or they're bigger than we can wrap our brains around or we're not sure they're exactly correct (and these hesitations are not completely unfounded - our understanding is limited by our finite human nature). 

But we need not worry about such things. Because as this story demonstrates, if we've got something wrong about God, He'll correct us. If we've made God too small, He'll correct us. If we have somehow turned God into a little-g god of limited domain, He'll correct us. And He'll be very clear about it. 

Israel didn't gain just a little victory over the Arameans on the flat land; they got a sound defeat and a full surrender. Why? 

Because the Lord our God is not some little-g god of the mountains. And He was out to make that one thing very clear. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

God of Life

There is a story in the Old Testament about a widow living in Zarephath, to whom the prophet Elijah is sent for provision during a prolonged famine. When the prophet meets the widow, she is preparing to make one last little small bit of bread to feed her and her son, then prepare them both to die. 

Elijah speaks from the Lord to the widow and God provides an abundance of flour and oil that lasts them through a very long period without any other food. Until one day, the widow's son died. 

She cried out to God and called out to Elijah and asked, "Why?" Why did this happen? Is God punishing me for some kind of past sin? 

If we were to use her approach today, we might cry out to God and ask, "Did this bad thing happen because of that little white lie I told in 2007?" This is what the widow was asking. 

It was common in those times that persons looked at tragedy, trial, and calamity as the judgment of God. It was common for them to understand that bad things happen to you because you did bad things. Sinners get what sinners deserve. So it was only natural, when this son died at too young an age (after, we must remember, her husband had also died - she was, after all, a widow), she started to wonder...is it because I'm a sinner?

But then, she didn't have the Cross.

This is the difference between Old Testament law and New Testament grace. Back then, the widow couldn't imagine any other reason for death than sin (even though 1 out of every 1 persons will die). Today, we understand that God does not remind us of our past sin through death; Jesus already took care of that. And He would not dream of using death to condemn you. Not when He's already defeated it. 

So if you're looking at that bad thing that's happened in your life and wondering if it's God's way of punishing you for that thing you did that one time (or even that many times or even just five minutes ago), remember: that's pre-Calvary theology. On this side of the Cross, God is not punishing you for that thing you did. 

He's too busy loving you through it. 

Monday, April 22, 2024

God of Direct Communication

In 1 Kings, there's the story of two men of God. At least, that's who we're told they are.

The first goes to Judah to talk with the leadership, but he says very plainly what God has asked him to do. God has told him to go, speak the message, not dilly-dally, and leave a different way than he came. The instructions are clear. The direction is precise. Go, speak, leave. And the man of God says plainly what God has told him, not only the message, but the method. When invited to stay, he says he cannot; God told him not to stay, but to leave.

On his way out of town, he encounters the servant of another man of God who has been sent to track him down. This servant says that the other man of God has been told that the first man of God should come to his place - back in the city he just left - and have a meal. 

So we have one guy who knows what God has said to him and seems perfectly clear on that, but then we have a second guy come in and say that he knows what God has said to him, and it's an entirely different message. 

If you know this story, you know how it ends - the first man of God goes back because the second man of God claimed a divine revelation telling him to do so, he is cursed and killed for disobeying God, and the second man of God (who confesses that he lied) buries him in his own tomb. 

Man, that's a lot of third-person pronouns. Did you follow that?

This story always gets me because the first man seemed so sure. How was he so easily persuaded by the second man? Where did all of his surety go? How was he so certain when speaking boldly to those with human authority and then so easily fooled by another man?

Yet, we do this all the time. We're sure that we know where God is leading us, what He wants from us, that He loves us, that He's redeeming and restoring us...whatever it is that we know about God, but then someone else comes along and says something about us that they believe, tacks God's name onto it, and all of a sudden, we question what we knew. "Well, gosh, if God is telling this other person this other thing, then do I really know God at all? Would I recognize His voice if He spoke to me?" 

Then, we get ripped apart. 

Friends, I want to tell you this, and I want to be perfectly clear: God will reveal Himself directly to you. When you get that feeling in the depth of your spirit that feels strangely warm and tingles and dances and you know that you've heard from God, He will never go tell someone else something different. He will never have someone else bring you a different message from Him that contradicts the one He's already given you. He is never gossiping, speaking more about your life to someone who isn't you than He is to you directly. 

And let's be honest - why would He? He wants a relationship with you. And anyone who has time to manage anyone else's relationship with God...is a liar. I know because I know how much energy it takes to manage my own relationship with God; sorry, I don't have anything left to be responsible for yours, too. 

So do what God calls you to do. Be firm in what He's spoken to you. And don't listen to anyone who invites you to turn back and do something you already know God spoke against.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Servants of God

Have you seen the painting of the Last Supper? Of course, you know it's not realistic.

The painting depicts Jesus and the disciples gathered on one side of a very long table in a very big room, the food all spread out in front of them and everyone sort of picking at whatever happens to be set in front of them. 

If we're not thinking of the painting at this Table, we're thinking maybe of a more realistic picture, where the disciples are reclining at a table with Jesus, as they would have been in that time in history, laying on their side and nibbling on the food as they celebrate the Passover, perhaps with some servants milling around to refill things or clean things up. 

This is where it gets complicated. 

On one hand, we know that the meal didn't just magically appear on the Table. We know that Jesus sent His disciples ahead of Him into the city to find the Upper Room and prepare the meal and the space ahead of time. And we would be foolish to assume that the plates and dishes just magically refilled themselves during the meal. Of course, there were servants. 

And of course, we know that in that time, it would have been socially taboo for the men to get up and serve themselves or refill their own glasses. That's what servants and women were for. 

Still on another hand, we know that Jesus had women among His disciples, that women traveled with Him and supported His ministry. 

Yet, we also have to confess that we know that God treated servants in Israel the same, largely, as the rest of the house. They were included in worship, and they were allowed to eat the Passover. So would we be talking, then, about two Passover meals - one for the family and one for the servants afterward? That seems unlikely; we would be talking about one Passover meal in which the servants would be invited to partake, as it was a meal holy unto the Lord and for the people. 

As someone who has spent more than a decade "passing the plate" in my local congregation, I think about things like this. I think about the servants who must have been in that Upper Room, about how it's so easy for us to forget about them, about how we can only wonder at what their role really would have been, about who these servants were and how they fit into the Table. About who was serving who and how the plates were passed and how the cups were filled and how the dynamics in the room were established. 

Then, I also remember that at one point, Jesus stood up, tied a towel around His waist, knelt on the ground, and became the servant to all of them. 

That is the social dynamic of this Table.  

Thursday, April 18, 2024

God of Many Promises

Israel rebelled. Israel always rebelled. If you've read the Old Testament, it's kind of a theme, at least of the human thread that runs through the story. And yet, when we read the story of Israel's rebellions, we also read the story of an incredible God. 

It would be enough to talk about God's faithfulness, about the way that He remains true even in the face of repeated rebellion. About how He continues to love and bless His people, even when they are foolish and sinful. About how we can count on God not to turn His back on us the way we turn our backs on Him. That would be enough. 

But what I love is what we learn about God when the rebellion finally becomes too much and He splits apart the kingdom of His people into more than one. 

Solomon is king, but Solomon (despite all his wisdom) is blowing it. He's married a bunch of foreign women, has all kinds of perverse worship sites on all the hills, is turning away from exclusive worship of the Lord. Things are starting to go south. 

Still, God has a promise to keep. He promised David that his throne would be secure forever. He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that this is what He was doing for this people all along. He promised at the Temple that anyone who would pray and seek His name...He has promises to keep. 

That doesn't mean, though, that those are the only promises He can keep. 

God is always able to make new promises. 

And that's what He does. 

When humans make it hard to keep His promises, God doesn't renege on those promises; He goes out and makes more of them. 

He'll keep the promise He made to David, and to Solomon, but He's making a new promise with ten of the tribes of Israel and their new king, too. He'll keep the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but instead of their being one people, now, there are two. Two parts of one whole - one promise still kept, one new promise made. Another promise that He will keep. 

Isn't that cool? Most of us would just change what we're doing when our promise becomes too hard, or impossible, to keep. Most of us would make excuses. 

But not God.

He makes more promises. 

And then, He keeps them all. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

God of Word and Deed

At the dedication of the Temple, years after Israel has settled into the Promised Land and when they are already on their third king (Solomon), Solomon prays a long prayer for what the Temple means and what it will forever mean and what it offers to those who will seek the Lord there. 

Near the beginning of the prayer, Solomon talks about all of the promises of God that the Lord kept all the way through the history of His people, right up to Solomon's own father, David. And the promises that He will keep on keeping. And how now, by the work of God's hands and His very physical provision for His people, they have come to this place. 

What Solomon's prayer essentially says, what it recognizes, is that what God starts with His words (His promises), He finishes with His hands (His provision). 

And isn't that the most beautiful image of the bigger story of God? 

God started everything with His words. Into the formless and void, Genesis 1 tells us, God spoke. And there was light. And there was night. And there was day. And there was land. And there was sea. And there was man. And all of this by the word alone of the incredible God who spoke it. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was very good. Everything God had made was very good. It was just the way that He wanted it to be, and He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day with man created in His own image and not only was all very good, but all was well. 

And then, well....

Then there was sin. Then there was rebellion. Then there was this little inkling in man's soul that perhaps, without even speaking, he could become somehow like God, knowing good and evil and living, perhaps, forever. Then there was a piece of fruit, probably a fig. Then there was shame. Then there was a curse. Then there was an exile.

Then...there was a Cross. 

And in the Cross, what God started with His words - all the way back in Genesis 1 - He finished with His hands. His carpenter-calloused, dirt-covered, nail-pierced hands. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

God of Science

Solomon was a king who was known for his wisdom. Early in his reign, he dreamt a prayer for wisdom, and God granted it in his waking hours, and then, persons and leaders from all over the world came just to hear his wisdom. 

He is responsible for many proverbs, for many songs, for many pieces of worship. We're told that his wisdom was greater even than Ethan and Heman, two persons we know wrote some of the psalms. We remember the story of the Queen of Sheba, who traveled a very long distance to come and hear his wisdom, and when she heard it, she gave him every single piece of the elaborate gift she had brought with her and declared his wisdom was greater even than this. 

Yes, Solomon was a man of great wisdom. 

So it's interesting that in 1 Kings 4, the Bible tells us that some of the things he reflected on in wisdom were...the trees. Animals. Birds. Reptiles. Fish. 

In other words, nature. 

This is important for us because we're living in a world torn, it seems, between science and faith. (And for what it's worth, I don't understand what all the tearing is about; the two are largely compatible. But I digress.) The world tells us that it is science that is able to tell us about all of these things, that it is science that gives us understanding of them. We have taken these things into the labs and torn them apart, carefully cutting through to see what we can discover and compiling great troves of books that document all of the things that we learn. And then, when we have a question about something in the natural world or there's something we want to know more about, we turn to these books. Because the world tells us that it is science that holds the answers we seek. 

But the Bible says...not so fast. It's not just science that speaks to the natural world; it's also wisdom. And wisdom comes from the Wise One Himself, God. 

Because when God granted Solomon wisdom, it wouldn't have had to be about science. It wouldn't have had to be about nature. He could have stuck to the things that we consider wisdom today, in our multifaceted culture. He could have stuck to interpersonal relations or math problems or whatever else you want to say that wisdom impacts, but He didn't. We are told that in all his wisdom, Solomon spent his time reflecting on...nature. 

And of course he did. Because nature itself is the product of the spoken word of the Creator Himself, who is wisdom personified. God is wisdom, so His creation obviously is also wisdom.

We don't call it wisdom. We call it knowledge. But...it's wisdom. 

Which maybe shows just how little we actually know sometimes. 

Monday, April 15, 2024

God's Faithfulness

The stories of the kings of Israel and Judah, as recorded in Kings and Chronicles, get...a little messy, as God's history with His people sometimes is. He has made promises to David, as He made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and those promises reach down to David's son, Solomon. But...kind of.

Because in his dying breaths, when David is telling Solomon about God's promise, there are two points of information that are extremely important. 

First, David tells Solomon that God will keep His promise to David throughout Solomon's life. That is, God's faithfulness, and His promise, extend into the next generation because of the faithfulness of David during his lifetime. 

But the other half of that sentence is that Solomon, in turn, must be faithful to the Lord the way that David was in order for God's promise to David to continue being fulfilled. 

So God is faithful to Solomon because of the life of David, and God is faithful to David on account of the life of Solomon. 

And, well, doesn't it seem to us that God ought to be faithful to us on account of...our own lives? 

I have heard it said fairly often by persons in management that one of the most frustrating things about being a supervisor is that all of a sudden, your performance review is not based only on the work that you do, but on the work that those you are supervising do. In other words, you're not responsible for your own failure or success any more; other humans contribute into that.

At the same time, though, those other persons, the ones on your team, are no longer responsible only for themselves, either. Their work directly impacts your performance as a supervisor. So it creates a sort of interdependence between leadership and team members. 

And I think that's what God is going for in this little vignette that David gives us. Your faithfulness is good, and God is faithful to you on account of that. But He is also faithful to others on account of your faithfulness...and faithful to you on account of theirs. 

We are not individuals, no matter what our culture tells us. We are interdependent. We are interconnected. Our lives are nestled into one another in a way that absolutely matters, whether we believe that and try to live it or not. 

So whose life is a blessing to you today? And whose life are you blessing? 

Or better put, whose life is God using yours to bless today? And whose life is God blessing you through today?

Friday, April 12, 2024

Swapping Stories

Communion is a solemn event in many of our churches. It's a quiet moment, when we take time to "reflect" on the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. We grab our cracker and our little bit of juice (or wine), we bow our heads, we block out everything, and we sip. (In some churches, I know, one walks forward to a communal place and partakes, but individually.) 

So I think when we think about what it must have been like in the Upper Room, we get a sense that it was somewhat like this: solemn. We picture that when Jesus took hold of the bread and started reaching for the cup, He cleared His throat and made things...awkward. And the entire room of disciples sat quietly, with bated breath, waiting to hear what He would have to say next. 

It was a holy moment. And we assume that means it was a solemn moment. 

But the Passover was a time for telling stories. It started with the story of how God performed a series of miracles in Egypt...well, miracles in Goshen and plagues in Egypt...and how He led His people out of slavery and into the Promised Land. That's not a solemn story; that's a joyous story. That's a fun story.

And if you're anything like me, one story turns into another story pretty quickly. You hear one detail in the story someone is telling, and that reminds you of a time when.... So you start telling another story. And then someone else hears a word that ticks off their memory, so they start telling another story. And before you know it, you're sitting around telling stories like old friends who went to war together. Remembering. Reminiscing. Laughing. 

The disciples had a lot of stories. Remember what John said? If he wrote them all down, there's not a library in the world that could have contained them. They had stories. And I imagine that once they got settled into that room, around that table, talking about the incredible things God had done for His people, they probably started throwing in some other stories, too. 

Remembering. Reminiscing. Laughing. 

Yes, laughing. Telling those stories about the times they've shared together, stories they would all remember but somehow, also, have perhaps forgotten. "Remember that time when...?" Yeah, I remember that time. Do you remember that time when....? And on and on and on it goes through a whole Passover, through a whole evening. Even if Jesus made it awkward for a minute or two. By that point, the disciples just probably stared at Him for a second, then busted up laughing again and went back to sharing stories. 

Communion is a time to reflect, yes, but it is also a time to remember. And there is no better remembering than the stories that we share and that we tell to one another. There's no better remembering than taking this moment to talk, really talk, and recognize all of the things you've been part of in God's great scheme of things.

There's no better remembering than the kind that we do together. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024


Like millions of others, I watched the total solar eclipse this week. My town happened to fall in the path of totality, with my little neck of the woods nestled in the direct path of totality, giving me a little over four solid minutes of midday darkness. 

To properly, and safely, view a solar eclipse, one must acquire a set of specially-made sunglasses, which are infinitely darker than regular sunglasses. These allow you to look directly at the sun without damaging your eyes. (There are other ways to view the eclipse, as well - pinhole viewers, welding shields, etc. - but this illustration depends upon the super-dark sunglasses, which were the overwhelmingly most popular choice. Probably because they were free most places.) 

It was actually really cool. With the glasses on, you can't see anything EXCEPT the sun. They are so dark, they block out literally every other speck of light except for the sun itself. So you can watch as the moon starts to block out the sun little by little, and it's very cool. 

And then, as the moon moves fully into place, your glasses go dark again. BAM. Just like that. All light is gone. That last little sliver is covered, and there's nothing but total darkness. At that point, it's safe to take your glasses off and look straight at the sun.

I highly recommend that you do. 

It was breathtaking. 

From total darkness behind these glasses to one of the most incredible sights I've ever seen in the heavens. Okay, the most incredible sight I've ever seen. The moon is totally in front of the sun, and the sun glows in this bright white ring around it. The stars and planets come out. The beautiful colors that normally indicate sunrise in the east and sunset in the west are all around you in 360-degree coverage, this beautiful orange just hovering near the horizon all around. It takes your breath away, and it is impossible not to be in awe. 

In my backyard, a mile away from the nearest gathering, I could hear the crowds gasping in awe. It's a powerful experience. 

And I have been thinking how much a reflection of faith this experience is. 

So many persons spend so much of their lives looking through dark glasses. Jaded by their experiences of this broken world. Clinging to whatever light they can through the dimness that seems to block their view. It's depression, yes, but it's also sometimes just a natural reaction to living in a fallen world. If you're looking through a dark lens, the light just always seems to be slipping away. Until...there is none at all. Gone. Finito.  Finished. 

This is the moment of despair. This is the time when defeat sets in. This is when we start to believe there's nothing going on in this world but darkness, and it's time for us to quit. To stop trying. In tragic cases, to stop living. 

But take those dark glasses off, my friend, and look at what the heavens are doing. Look at the way that the light you thought was gone bursts out from behind the darkness. Look at the beautiful colors clinging to the horizon all around. Look at the way the stars are dancing, right in the middle of the day. See the other planets start to show up. 

You are not alone. The heavens declare the glory of God, God who created the heavens in their stunning beauty and created you, too. Because He loves you. 

And the darkness is never as dark as it seems. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Left Behind

There's been a lot of talk about the Rapture this week, with certain celestial events taking place in the sky. Yesterday, we talked about how we somehow have this idea in the depths of our spirit that thinks we're going to be taken naked when Jesus returns (and the theological truths that may be behind that). But what really strikes me when we start talking, even in jest, about the Rapture is the number of Christians - faithful, believing, earnest Christians - who wonder if they will be left behind. 

Even if we offer an awkward chuckle when we say it, there's something inside so many of us that wonders if, when the resurrection really happens, we will really be resurrected. 

And that breaks my heart. 

I mean, Jesus said it, didn't He? He said He was going to prepare a place for us and that when He comes back, He will take us to the place that He is preparing. He said that if we believe, we will have eternal life. The most famous verse in all of Scripture - John 3:16 - promises that whosoever believes will not perish. 

Yet, here we are, wondering what's going to happen to us when Jesus comes back. 

This comes from a couple of places. First, it comes from the teaching in some branches of Christianity that not everyone will be saved. That there are the believers, and then, there are the elect. That God has set aside before time began the numbers of who He will save, and He already knows who they are by name. Even if you don't worship in this branch of Christianity, you've probably heard this idea floating around if you've been a Christian for any length of time or have read any popular Christian living books. Because it's out there, and it's so firmly rooted out there that Christianity as a whole can't ignore it. 

The idea comes from Revelation, where it is written that something like 144,000 (12,000 from each of the 12 tribes) are marked for eternal salvation/redemption/resurrection. Over the years, scholars have attempted to comfort the worried by explaining this as one of those "perfect numbers" that the Bible, we're told, likes to use - numbers that mean more than their numerical value and are meant to be all-encompassing. But that's a lot of math for most of us, and a lot of questions for the rest of us. How are we supposed to know when the Bible means, for example, three or when it means an infinity? Too complicated. I don't like it. 

It's much easier for me to believe that a God who created everything from nothingness with a simple word has a heart for everything He's created. That a God who knows the number of hairs on your head isn't counting to see if you might be in the 144,000. The truth is, there are a lot of problems with Christianity if we think about the idea that there are currently 8 billion persons on the earth, not including thousands of years of previous civilization, and we want to believe God only wants to save 144,000 of them? Christianity, then, would have worse odds than the lottery. 

That just doesn't gel with what we know about God. 

The other place our hesitation comes from is our understanding that, well, we aren't as good at living this faith thing as we think we are...or as we want to be. We're faltering. We're failing. We're sinning, even after the whole sacrifice on the Cross thing and the promise of eternal love and abundant life. So we wonder if we're living a good enough life to be "ready" for when Jesus comes back, and we fear in our hearts that if we're not, we're going to be left behind. 

But says Jesus to the thief, with nothing at all in this world to redeem him except this one profession of belief - today you will be with Me in paradise. 

From this, we can - and must - take comfort. For if the thief had nothing more than a profession of faith, then we, who have made that profession and continue to make it with our broken, messed-up, faltering lives, have the same promise. 

Friends, if you are a lover of Jesus and beloved of God, you need not worry that when He comes back, He's not coming for you. He is. You're going. He has prepared a place for you, and He intends to take you there. Period. 

There is no such thing as a believer left behind. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2024


Are you still here this morning? Me, too, apparently. So...shucks. 

There was some chatter across the internet that with the big solar eclipse deciding to come through so many of our neighborhoods this time - and especially through so many towns named after wicked biblical towns (like Nineveh) - then, surely, this was the Rapture. (And I realize that if it was, nothing I write from here after matters all that much.) 

We love to talk about the Rapture. Even secular Americans get caught up in this idea of the sudden end of civilization and the world as we know it. (They call it Armageddon a lot, but if you look in the Bible, Armageddon is a place, not an event. Anyway....) There are a couple of ideas about the Rapture that are popular in culture, even in Christian culture, that are honestly kind of confusing. So I thought, given all the memes and proclamations and yes, jokes, that have been flying around, why not talk about it? 

One of the things that always jumps out to me is the ongoing joke, whenever a rapture-like event comes along, that we should lay some clothes on the ground and then hide. 

First of all, every human being who has ever lived with laundry is not going to think anything about your clothes lying on the ground. The same is true in probably the majority of American households; there are always clothes lying on the ground. We just step over them and move on. It's not going to register in the brain the way you want your raptured joke to register in the brain. 

Second, where did we get the idea that we're going to be raptured naked?

This has seemed to be a common belief for awhile. It's interesting to think about. On the one hand, we live most of our lives in clothes. Overwhelmingly, in clothes. When we bury our dead, we bury them in clothes. We have something in us that doesn't want them to be naked for all eternity, that can't even really entertain the thought that they might be. 

Yet, we also know that we came into this world naked. So there's something in us that makes us think we might go out, eventually, the same way. 

It's also connected to this idea that we have that the resurrection will not be a physical event, that it will be a soul sort of thing with our bodies left behind. But if that's the case, then it wouldn't be just your clothes lying on the ground; your dead and discarded body would be there, too. That's a little more morbid, don't you think? But if you believe that the Rapture is an event of the disembodied soul, then you have to believe your physical body would still be in your clothes if they are left behind. 

For the record, we will have physical bodies in heaven. We will have glorified, heavenly, perfect physical bodies the way we were intended to have them, but we will have a physical dimension to this thing called our "self" when Jesus comes back for us. The Bible tells us so. 

But there is still good reason to believe that if there is a rapture in our lifetime, we will go naked, and that is the very creation story in Genesis. Remember, when Adam and Eve were created, they were naked. In fact, they were naked right up until sin filled them with shame about it. Then, they went diving for the bushes, fashioned some clothes, then were clothed even better by the Lord, who offered the first animal sacrifice to obtain hides for, well...for the hiders. 

So if the Rapture is the start of the restoration of all things to their original state, to the way that God intended them, then it's quite plausible that we're all going naked and that, hear this, we won't be ashamed of it. Shame will be gone. It will be the Garden in the cool of the day all over again. 

Maybe, then, yes, leave your clothes lying around for a good Rapture prank, which might reveal more of our understanding than we are even conscious of, but also, refer back to #1 - don't be surprised if we just mistake it for dirty laundry. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

The Heavens Declare

Depending on where you are in the world, you may have heard something about a total solar eclipse happening today. If you're close to where I am - in the direct center of the "path of totality" - then you have heard a lot about a total solar eclipse happening today. You might even already have a T-shirt proclaiming such a thing. 

This event is bringing together persons from all walks of life, who will be standing outside and staring up at the heavens...whatever they believe about them. 

Which brings us to an interesting conversation about, at the very least, "science." There are so many persons who believe only in "science" who are super-excited about this event because they know it will be once in a lifetime for them (unless they choose, as many do, to travel around and chase these things because honestly, they aren't as rare as they seem unless you spend your whole life in one spot). 

They will marvel at how cool it is and dig deep into the science of it, and then they lean on the math to tell you that this isn't going to happen again, at least not here, until the year...whatever year it is. And the very fact that they can say that betrays the very foundations of their faith in science. 

See, "science" as a general belief system says that all the matter in the universe always existed and things got started off somehow (the most widely-accepted theory is some sort of "big bang") and all this mass of matter, out of chaos, has organized itself over billions of years to become the things that we live in today. Even we, as human beings, have evolved to come here. Because the entire universe is constantly expanding, rapidly (relatively) changing, always growing. Things are always morphing into other things. 

And yet, somehow, we come to have something so solidly, mathematically predictable as when the next solar eclipse is going to happen in a certain location. 

So they'll tell you that things have settled into a certain rhythm, even as they continue to evolve and expand and press outward, but...can both of those things be true? 

As I've said before with other aspects of the faith of "science," they really can't. We can observe, maybe, how the universe has expanded for the last hundred years or maybe two, as we've developed the equipment, but that doesn't mean that it's always been expanding. It could be perhaps expanding and contracting, just at such a length of time that we haven't observed a contraction yet (and some scientists are waiting on contraction as a sign of inevitable collapse, but again...would that necessarily be the case if we see some contraction?). In other words, maybe the universe isn't constantly expanding; maybe it's wobbling. We don't have enough data to know. 

Which leaves us with two things that are possible. Either 1) we don't have enough information to accurately say that in 412 years or whatever, another eclipse will pass through here because we may not know for sure what exactly will happen in a time span longer than we've been scientifically observing space...or 2) the world has a rhythm about it that really is predictable and knowable. And if the latter is the case, we have to ask how it got here. 

Because it wouldn't be from chaos. If the world is chaos organizing itself and it has come to rest sufficiently to be predictable, then it has to have come to rest in something, for some reason. Think of a marble rolling around and then finally finding a groove. The groove gives it stability, but where did the groove come from? We are back to the question of a Creator. "Science" always leads us back to the question of a Creator. 

So either, we're still ignorant or we're back to the question of a Creator. And this conundrum is illustrated no better than a moment like today, when we will all be standing outside staring up at the sky as the moon passes between the earth and the sun and casts a rare mid-day moment of darkness and stillness and night and...

...and as the heavens declare His glory. Indisputably.  

Friday, April 5, 2024

Picked Last

Have you ever been picked last?

Playground pick'em has been a right of passage for generations. Two leaders are chosen, and these leaders look at the mass of kids blobbed together, arms raised, begging to be picked for this or that team. And, inevitably, there has always been one or two kids who know they are going to be picked last. One of them might not even be picked at all; he or she will just be relegated to whichever team would have had the last pick.

Sometimes, it gets down to these last few kids, and an argument breaks out - not about who gets who, but about who has to take who. "I'll take Sally this time if you take Joe. I had to take Joe last time." It can be humiliating...especially if you happen to be Sally or Joe. 

(This is why, by the way, I never pick team captains when I have to divide a class of students.) 

A lot of us imagine God's Kingdom to be a lot like this schoolyard pick. We know that He says He has a place for us, but we worry that that place might be all the way out somewhere near the right field fence, somewhere where we, who are picked last, are never going to see any real action, never going to be a meaningful part of the game. 

But remember, Jesus understands what it's like to be picked last. There was a moment in His life when it came down to just two men remaining, two men standing in front of the crowds. There was Jesus, of course...and there was Barabbas. And the entire crowd, in a moment of stunning rejection and humiliation, starting shouting Barabbas's name. 

No, you have to take Jesus. I don't care what you do with Him. We don't want Him.

He felt the sting of all of that. 

And He's not about to do that to you. 

God chose you first. Before the beginning of the world, He chose you. He knew that the world, His world, was going to need one of you, and He chose you by design. He knit together every part of your being so that He could love you just the way you are. 

Jesus chose you first. When He tells you that there's a place at the table for you, He means it. This table. Not under the table, like the woman in the Gospel story. Not next to the table, where a servant might be. There is a seat at the table for you; it's got your name on it already. First. Before you even get there. Before you even come. 

Not as the last chosen, but as the first welcomed. This is the Table of Christ. 

Set for you by Someone who knows what it's like to be picked...not even last, but not at all. He chose you first. And you're welcome here. 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

God of Mercy

If the abandoned restaurants in my town have any lesson to teach us, it's that one place is not as good as any other for a Rally's (or a Firehouse Subs or a Long John Silver's or a....). It doesn't matter how much the people like your food; if it's not easy to get into and out of your location, they aren't coming. 

And if house-hunting for my grandmother has taught me anything, it's that one neighborhood is not just as good as any other. Sometimes, the houses are too close together. Other times, the association fees are too high. In other cases, maybe there's a history of crime somewhere. 

As they say, location, location, location. 

Given this truth, where do you think might be the best place to build the Temple of the Lord?

In Jerusalem, of course. Duh. But that's the answer we give in hindsight, already knowing where the Temple of the Lord was built; the people of Israel had to think about this a little bit more critically.

Many years before Israel even started gathering the gold and bronze, the dust and clay to build the Temple, there was a plague. Of course there was a plague; it seems there was always a plague in Israel. But in this particular plague, there was a spot where the plague stopped. David rushed to get to where the Lord's angel of death put his sword away. He sped to a place between the plague and the people and there, he built an altar and offered a sacrifice to the Lord. 

The Bible tells us that on that very piece of ground, the plague stopped. Not one more Israelite died. 

And, the Bible tells us, it was on that very piece of ground that the first Temple was built. 

Of course it was. Because what better place is there to build the House of the Lord, the Temple, the place of worship...than the place where the Lord's anger stops and His mercy begins?

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

God of Delight

Why do you think God saved you?

Sometimes, when I'm reading the Old Testament, the words of Moses jump out at me. Over and over again during the Exodus, Moses keeps pleading with God not to destroy His people because, Moses says, if He does, then the whole rest of the world is going to talk about how God wasn't even powerful enough to save His own people and how He let His wrath get the best of Him. No, says Moses, it's better that God keep putting up with His people so that no one thinks less of Him, so that His reputation can stay intact. So maybe, I think, God saves me because He's concerned about His reputation - I mean, if the Lord of all Creation can't save one measly person like me, how all-powerful can He really be? 

Other times, I think about messages I have heard throughout my life in the church. Messages like, you exist for God's glory. And so I start to think that perhaps God has saved me because I am supposed to somehow bring Him glory. Something about me is supposed to bring glory to Him, and I can't do that if He lets me die. So He saves me for His own glory. 

We just finished up Easter week, and sometimes, I think about the sacrifice of Jesus. Such an extreme thing, such a dramatic thing. God's only Son, coming to live in flesh and die a horrible, excruciating death. It would be terrible if all of that was in vain. So sometimes, I think that God saves me because He's already paid for it; it'd be a shame (an even greater shame) for the Cross to go to waste. 

Then, I read in 2 Samuel the real truth about things. Not that there might not be a nugget of truth in each of these ideas, but the heart of the matter is right there in one of David's victory songs. The king sings, "He led me out onto a broad plain; He delivered me because of His delight in me." 

And there it is. 

God has saved me because He delights in me. Because, if we were to use another term, He loves me. 

The same is true for you. God has saved you because He delights in you. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

God Speaks Bluntly

Do you ever have moments in your life when things are going poorly, and you're sure that God is mad at you? That He's disappointed in something you've done or someone you've become? 

We spend so much of our time looking at the unwelcome circumstances in our lives, understanding them as judgment, then digging through them to find the smallest little bit of a hint as to what we've done wrong. If we're being honest, though, most of us have no shortage of a list of things we've done wrong. We can immediately bring them to mind - big, small, things everyone noticed, things no one noticed, things we've almost forgotten about, except...well, except that life suddenly got hard, and was it because I.....? 

We have a sense that we get some kind of bonus points for knowing what we've done wrong or for figuring it out ourselves. We think that God knows, so we should probably know, and if we don't know, then maybe we don't know God as well as we thought. Maybe our faith isn't as strong as we thought. I mean, if we can't even figure out why God's upset with us. 

There's a story in 2 Samuel that always helps me with this. It's the story of a famine that lasted 3 years in Israel. 

Chapter 21 opens and says, "after the people had suffered from a famine for three successive years, David asked the Lord why the famine lingered." 

Now, the people of Israel (and of all nations at that time, really) understood famine to be a judgment of the gods. In Israel's case, of the Lord. Famine didn't just happen because of environmental conditions or bad weather; it was an unignorable sign that something was wrong somewhere in the community, in the people. So the people of Israel had some story they were telling themselves about why they were in famine, and they were digging through the smallest details to try to find the finest point of error and atone for themselves. 

So there's been a famine for three years in a row, the people have exhausted their limited understanding, and David finally just asks God what's up. Why the famine? Why can't we shake it? 

And here's the best part: God answered him. Not in some riddle. Not in some hidden message. Not in some thunder and lightning. God just answered him. Straight up, here's what you did. 

Now, Israel can finally make proper atonement. Now, they can finally repent. Now, they understand. 

So if you're spending your time trying to figure out what you've done to upset God, assuming you've done anything at all - if you feel like God is upset with you for some reason...ask Him. He'll tell you. Straight up. 

Then, you'll be able to eat.  

Monday, April 1, 2024

God of Better

There comes a point when even the man after God's own heart's life gets messy. Yes, we're talking about David. And we're talking about when his son, Absalom, starts trying to usurp authority and take over the kingdom of Israel for himself. 

Absalom is not a dumb guy. Foolish, maybe, but not dumb. He knows that he needs some guidance on what he wants to do. So he goes and he asks a good friend how he should approach his battle against his own father. And he gets some advice. 

But just to be sure, he goes and gets some other advice. And now, he has a decision to make. 

What's interesting here is that God actually leads him to make the more foolish choice. God leads Absalom to accept Hushai's plan over Ahithophel's, even though it's clear to anyone else looking at the data that Ahithophel's plan is literally dripping with wisdom and good battle strategy. 

This is a challenge for all of us who tend to make our decisions by doing whatever seems good. We think that if we just look at the evidence and choose the "good" thing, then we will be doing God's will - we will be following God's plan and making the choice that God would want us to make. 

What this story reminds us is that God doesn't always condone the obviously good plan...and when He doesn't, it's because He is doing something better

Yes, that's right - sometimes God isn't doing what is obviously good because He's doing something better. 

Of course, we have several other factors playing into this particular story in 2 Samuel 17. We have the sin of Absalom, of course. We have the sin of David. We have the brokenness of Israel as a people. We have all kinds of things going on here that influence what God determines is best here, rather than what just looks subjectively good on the outside. 

But isn't that true of our own lives, as well? We are always dealing with our own sin. And the sin of others. And the brokenness of the human species. And all kinds of other things that influence the way that God probably sees things. 

So it is wise for us, then, to not only look for what seems obviously good, but to continually ask God. Because sometimes, as this story tells us, God has planned to thwart what is good...for the sake of something better.