Shallow Narcissists

Vast caravans of camels will converge on you, the camels of Midian and Ephah.  The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense and will come worshiping the Lord.  Isaiah 60:6

In the mighty expanse of God’s wisdom, prayers are always answered.  But God’s children, in great need, cannot predict what the answer will look like.  Because our view is limited and our minds are finite, we often struggle with prayer.  We know what it is like when we love someone and how much we desire to alleviate every place of pain in their life.  If we could make things perfect for that person, we would.  All the more reason for us to wrestle with God and to trust Him to give us what is good.  To believe that all His decisions are driven by love requires supernatural faith.

Never were these realities more on display than in the Christmas story.  God provided supernatural clues of His loving-kindness in some instances but left us looking for them in many others.  Like ~ He could have ensured a more comfortable journey to Bethlehem through the generosity of wealthy travelers who felt compassion for a woman about to give birth.

The struggles, and the miracles, in the life of Jesus continued all the way to His resurrection.  We see God’s supply but we also see the restraining hand of God as His Son suffered many things.  In this, our own faith is built.  Can I call Him ‘good’ after a line of hardships and tragedies?

I have seen the miraculous in my life.  So have you.  God showed up in unexpected places with just what I lacked.  I prayed for help and God came swiftly.  I have also prayed and waited a long time for other things before seeing an answer.  I don’t know the reasons why He waited but when He finally did move, I can tell you that it felt like the right time. In the waiting room of prayer, waiting was not my enemy though it felt like it.   God knew the benefits as my spiritual grit was increased, scripture was explored, faith was exercised, patience was learned, and a greater compassion for others was born.

Both you and I have many unanswered prayers today.  God will break through with saving power and redemption for ALL of them.  If not today, then one day. And when He does, we will give thanks that He does all things well.

Lord, I don’t want to be a shallow narcissist.  In whatever ways I languish for You today, we both know it is good.  Amen

Where Were They?

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” Matthew 2:2-6

Herod knew whom to ask about this new baby King, the one he feared would be a threat to his throne.  He went straight to the Jewish priests and scribes who knew the scriptures.  When asked, they immediately quoted this passage from Micah about the Messiah being born in Bethlehem.  These religious leaders didn’t even need to consult with each other nor ask for a window of time to go search the scriptures for the answer.  It was on their tongue.

So where were they at the birth of Jesus?  We hear no accounts of any religious leaders coming to bow down at the manger to worship.  Jerusalem was only seven miles away whereas the Magi, if they came from Persia, traveled a thousand miles.  This baby would grow up to reveal that the gate is wide for those who reject the Messiah and narrow for the few who actually seek Him out.  Never was this more exemplified than in the scarcity of worshipers at His birth.

The message is clear.  Knowing a lot of truth and actually being engaged with the heart are two completely different experiences.  When both are present, when my quest for knowledge is love-driven, it is a beautiful thing.  But what a tragedy when knowledge and passion are mutually exclusive.  I can easily become as callous as those who lived around the corner from Mary and Joseph but weren’t spiritually alive enough to see if Jesus was really the One they had been longing for throughout their entire Jewish history.

Jesus is the end of my quest.  Whatever it takes to journey to Him is worth any effort and any sacrifice.

I am challenged, every day, by what it means to walk the narrow way.  I will stay on my quest to search for You with my whole heart.  Amen

Save

Can I Really Grasp It?

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. Isaiah 60:1

My sister related a quote to me the other day. Ideology is peaceful but history is violent. The darkness of this world, starting with the fall of man, has been overwhelming. No matter where we study history, there are stories of unspeakable cruelty.  Our lasting shred of innocence has been shattered by what we see on the evening news.  Never did we think we would see such savagery come to pass in my lifetime.

The differences between the darkness of evil and the light of the glory of God are so stark that I simply can not comprehend them.  Within the limitations of my mortality,  I don’t understand the full extent of God’s holiness nor Satan’s villainous nature.  I also don’t grasp the evil of my own heart nor the power of what it means to be created in the image of God. If I knew what it really meant to have His Spirit inside, wouldn’t I live as a blazing fire?  Wouldn’t my passion drive out all vestiges of a numbed out existence?  As it is, there are still days I taste the latter.

The Light of the world entered our violent world humbly and quietly. His light was only visible to some but for those who had spiritual eyesight, the darkness was eclipsed by the glory of the Son of Man.  Oh, what darkness was resident within the rule of the Roman Empire.  It was a corrupt and vicious dictatorship.  The nation of Israel had been suffering in the shadows of evil and were languishing for their Messiah to come and deliver them. His birth was preceded by 400 years of silence, a deafening and interminable silence. Never was the light more life saving than when Jesus came to show the world the Father’s face but most didn’t see Him as the answer to their prayers.  The miracle they, and their ancestors, had been crying out for had arrived but they couldn’t celebrate.

God’s brilliance is all around me because God loves to show off His glory. Am I receptive?  Can I see it?  And how much more so at Christmastime is the wonder of heaven revealed! How do the angelic hosts of heaven celebrate the birthday of Jesus? Someday I’ll know but I want to begin to take part in the celebration now. I’m asking God to open my spirit wide so that I can feel the impact of heaven and earth colliding.  The re-telling of His birth, captured by the musicians of heaven, has to be stunning.

Let me hear the music. In Jesus name, Amen

Why Peace Doesn’t Come

The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in Thee.  Isaiah 26:3

In the past, when my mind was unsettled, I prayed for peace.  When I was plagued with distrust, I prayed for peace.  When I felt God was unfair, I prayed for peace.  I didn’t get the results I expected and finally learned that I had things backwards.  What do you do when you need peace?  Do you pray the similar prayers that I prayed – as if it were all up to God?

Jesus is my peace.  Peace lay in a manger.  So, in light of Christmas coming, I’m exploring the subject of peace again and under what conditions God promises it.  This verse from Isaiah gives solid direction.  Those who are steadfast in their mind, who choose to trust, will be kept in perfect peace.  If I do not have peace, it is because my mind has taken a detour to a place of dis-trust.  I have allowed my interpretation of my circumstances to rule me, and subsequently, it has taken my emotions captive.  My beliefs are the problem, not God’s inability to bring peace.

Jesus was the WORD and He grew to say many things.  My choice to dis-believe Him is what erodes a deep, inner calm.  I must be intentionally steadfast and resolved to trust Him implicitly despite the mounting evidence against His faithfulness.  He is God and He is always faithful, always loving, always true to His promises.  Upon these truths my life rests.  Period.  My theology can not be defined by circumstances.

To provide an illustration for how peace is found, here’s a personal example.

I once prayed over the course of a decade for God’s intervention in a certain area of my life.  During that time, I saw no evidence of His future provision.  I lived despairing, but eventually, I believe the Spirit of God moved through me to confess this out loud:  “You are a faithful God who hears the prayers of Your child.  You answer every prayer with perfect love.  You hold Yourself responsible to meet my needs. I trust You and wait on You with full confidence that You will come and You will save.”  I confessed this often, many times a day.  Soon after, peace followed.  And soon after, so also did God’s deliverance.

I used to pray for peace as though it were all up to God.  I took no personal responsibility for laying the foundation of faith.  I let my mind wander where it wanted and my thoughts were often a cesspool of doubts and confusion.  I’m learning that peace of mind is always a two way street.  If I do my part, God’s promise of peace will descend upon my ragged spirit.

Oh Prince of Peace, I honor Your promises in every area of my life that still waits for Your deliverance.  Amen 

An Unpredictable Lineage

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh [Messiah] comes. Genesis 49:10

If I look for a human being to emulate, Joseph is always a good choice. His fidelity to God amidst great suffering has inspired us down through the ages. Of all of Jacob’s sons, Joseph gets the most attention. Yet, it is not from the line of Joseph that Jesus was born. The extremely flawed sons of Jacob didn’t mess things up so badly that God disqualified them from the promise.  God’s covenant prevailed over sin.

What was the purpose of Joseph’s life? To save Judah and His descendants. If Joseph had not assumed a place of power in Egypt, he could not have brought his father and brothers to a place of abundance. Jacob and all of his descendants would have perished in the great famine. It’s hard for us to grasp that Joseph was really used by God to save a brother who had sold him into slavery. It seems twisted to our sense of justice.

God is wild and wonderful. He is also unpredictable. He exalts the likes of Judah. He blesses adulterers like King David. He forgives betrayers like Peter. He saves persecutors and murderers like Paul. Judah, at the end of his life, offered to give his own for the life of another brother. His father, Jacob, lived long enough to see Judah choose righteousness. The common thread in all of these stories was a heart of repentance. God’s forgiveness was, and is, so radical that an entire past is put under His atoning blood.

No family is perfect.  I’ve talked with so many over the years who tell me that they have not seen their grandchildren in years.  Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ relevant to them? Is it relevant to us in the very places we long to see the righteousness of God revealed in the lives of our family members? Oh yes.

This Christmas, as we hear the Christmas story and are tempted to zone out at the reading of the lineage of Jesus, let’s wake up and sit on the edge of our seat. When Judah’s name is mentioned, we can rejoice that God works in family messes. No one is out of His reach. We should never stop praying for forthcoming repentance. God is good for every promise He has made.

For every family ‘Joseph’, there are tears of joy. For every family ‘Judah’, there are tears of faith. You are God over every family drama that is brought to your feet in prayer. Amen

Save

The Agony of Waiting

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. Psalm 13:1-2,5

The theme of waiting saturates the whole redemption story. God waited a long time to send a Savior after the fall of Adam and Eve. Did they look for Jesus after they were banished from the garden? If they understood the prophetic words God spoke over them, they did. They had known the love of the Father in the garden and though the consequences of their sin were staggering, I’ve no doubt they knew that God would come to save.

In their lifetime however, He didn’t come. Though He made a way for their sins to be covered through the sacrifice of innocent animals, it wasn’t the same as a Savior coming to take away their sin and restore them to paradise. In fact, things just got worse. Their descendants saw evil compounded. The god of this world took center stage as He appeared to be the one who controlled everything. Where was God? Where was the promised Savior?

‘How long, O Lord?’ was the cry of the ages. Injustice, suffering, and the havoc created by an enemy who relished destruction  appeared to have the last word as God’s people waited for their Messiah. It appeared that He was late and uncaring. Their lament through the ages filled His ears but so did their well-ordered proclamations of faith. They endured the scourges of many enemies and captivity in Babylon. They saw the destruction of their beautiful temple, waited four hundred more years through an interminable period of silence, and then bent under the weight of Roman rule before Jesus finally came. Their cries for rescue were so desperate that they couldn’t recognize the Miracle when He arrived. Never could they guess that their answer was a sleeping baby in an animal’s cradle.

Today, we are in a new waiting period. Emmanuel came once, stayed a while, but promised that He would come again. Though we saw the mystery unveiled in part at Bethlehem, mankind – and the earth he has destroyed – has not yet been restored to their original condition. Why is God, again, waiting so long to rescue? How can He restrain Himself from coming when evil is rampant upon the earth? The nature of waiting is to have unanswered questions. The challenge of waiting is to find the spiritual grit to make proclamations of faith while we scan the horizon for His appearing.

In every way you might be watching for His salvation this Christmastime, do not let Your trust in God be shaken. Rest in the mystery of His timetable. Grieve – but not without faith. Expect ~ but without a sense of entitlement. Question ~ but not with a fist. History will always reveal that love prevailed in the waiting.

You don’t always come sweeping in to make a grand statement. Many miss the salvation of a Bethlehem moment. Don’t let it be me. Amen