Gospel

Even the Swallows

Psalm 84:2-4 (NASB)

“My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. The bird also has found a house,
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even Your altars,
O LORD of hosts, My King and my God. How blessed are those who dwell in Your house!
They are ever praising You. Selah.”

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Many essentials in life can be gleaned from the Bible and from the Berenstain Bears. Today’s post is no exception. You see, in the story “God Bless Our Home,” Papa Bear reminds us all of the Biblical truth found in Psalm 84:3:

“…swallows built their nests of mud in the rafters of the garage. Papa had to duck when the swallows came swooping in to feed their babies. But he didn’t mind.
‘As the Good Book says,’ Papa explained, ‘Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself.’”

Well, God bless Papa Bear! He has much more patience than most of us! I can’t say I really appreciated this aspect of the story (or the Psalm) until we moved from town to the country—which is apparently where swallows live. And I have to say that those mud nests are DISGUSTING. Even worse is the bird poop EVERYWHERE! And to make matters worse, they dive bomb your head. I’m hesitant to even let visitors approach our front door, for fear that they will get attacked and then sue us over our angry birds. We’ve tried all kinds of tricks to encourage them to nest elsewhere, but they will have none of it.

I think that the Psalmist presents us with both a literal and a figurative illustration through the verses above. From a literal perspective, I’ve just realized after reading the surrounding context that the altars of God (in the Temple courts, perhaps) were the sites of swallows’ nests—and therefore their excrement! And yet, He welcomed them!

Turning to the figurative application of Psalm 84:3, there may be a reason that it is God’s care for the sparrow that often makes it into the songs and sayings of Christendom, rather than the swallow. You see, sparrows are small and insignificant, often going unnoticed. But I’ve never thought of them as pests or nuisances, and would never consider them gross or malicious.

And of course, God does see us and love us—no matter how small or insignificant we might be. He notices our plight. But do you know what else He does? He sees us, loves us, and offers His gift of salvation to us—not only when we feel small and insignificant, but also when we are disgusting, sinful, malicious, destructive, filthy, and rejected by all. We know this because of the thief on the cross, whom Jesus promised paradise with some of His last words. I’m convinced that, had Judas repented, God would have welcomed him home as well. Quite possibly, even Satan himself could have found forgiveness and redemption, if he’d only accepted it.

And that’s the Good News of Easter—that Jesus accepted the punishment for our sins, and rose from the dead to defeat death and hell on our behalf…even if we are but nasty little swallows!  May we all celebrate together today that He is risen indeed!

2017-04-15 20.07.07

Burning Coals

Romans 12:18-20:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’”

I have to be honest, I’ve never liked this passage. I’ve always thought to myself, first of all, that we as believers shouldn’t be wishing God’s wrath or vengeance upon anyone, no matter their offense. We should hope, pray, and work for repentance, redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. So revenge has never been my M.O. And I’ve never really seen it as God’s, either.

The second reason why I’ve always disliked this passage is the idea of doing good to your enemy in order to “heap burning coals on his head.” That has always struck me as incredibly spiteful. And God doesn’t call us to spite our enemies. No, He calls us to love and bless them. So in my cognitive dissonance, I’ve just glossed over the verses, vowing to ask God about it one day. Well, it turns out that now I don’t have to—thank you Jon Green!

You see, Jon taught from this passage in his Sunday sermon this week, and he shed SO much light on the context of this passage for me. Specifically, he pointed out that this refers to a common-ish practice of the day, and one undertaken when an enemy was attacking. From the top of the city’s wall, soldiers would heap burning coals on the heads of their attackers in order to keep them at bay. And Jon rightly described this as a defensive action, a response from a position of strength, but one respecting appropriate boundaries. So rather than going on the offensive, or being spiteful, this heaping of coals was simply a strategy for protection. And for me, that changes everything.

So then, what about God’s wrath and His vengeance? Well, when Jon suggested that we are to leave revenge to God, I got to thinking that one reason for this is that we do not know how to properly wield vengeance. But God does. And do you know how we know that? John 8. You remember, don’t you, when a woman was brought before Jesus after being caught in adultery? And the teachers of the law wanted to stone her, but Jesus quietly called each one out in his sin, and said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b). “At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:9-11).

So when we turn our enemies over to God—who is righteous, just, AND merciful—we can trust that He will do the right thing. We can certainly have no such faith in ourselves. What a relief, then, to let go and give it to God—not asking Him to avenge us, but pleading with Him for mercy and forgiveness, on behalf of our enemy. Jesus Himself did no less as He hung on the cross to die for our sins. Let us live by His example, saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

DPP_0236

Receipts

Galatians 4:4-5

But when the time was right, God sent his Son, born of a woman,
subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law,
so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”

Do you save receipts? I do, although not as religiously as I was raised to. But at some point, don’t we all purge those old receipts. Some we may keep longer than others, but none will last forever. Maybe some we’ll toss out once they’re past the store’s return policy date. Or maybe, if you have a warranty on something, you would save the receipt until the warranty runs out. Or, at the very least, when you do a deep cleaning of your house and you come across receipts that are so old there is literally no ink left on them. If that’s you, come on, it’s time to let go.

Do you know how long God keeps receipts? Try not at all. When God bought us, redeemed us, adopted us, that was it. No return policy, no 100% satisfaction guarantee, no extended warranty. He just paid for us outright, through Jesus’ blood on the cross. He ransomed us from the power of sin, death, hell, and the law, and purchased our freedom. And adopted us as his very own children.

Imagine the most expensive, the most costly, thing you’ve ever purchased. Maybe it was an entertainment system, or a car, or a house. Now imagine shredding the receipt on the spot. I think most of us would be mortified at the thought—at least I know I would. But essentially, that’s exactly what God did for you and for me. His sacrifice, his purchase, his redemption is OURS to accept, to trust, to rest in, to be transformed by, to be grateful for, and to share with others. We don’t have to deserve it or earn it, indeed we never could. But if we do accept this gift, we belong to God, and he stamps us: “ALL SALES FINAL.”
 

One of These

Mark 9:36-37

“He took a little child whom he placed among them.
Taking the child in his arms, he said to them,
‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me;
and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.’”

At church this morning, Pastor Dave was talking about how God’s economy differs from ours, and how His view of success also departs from the benchmarks this world sets. His message focused on Mark 9:33-37, but I found myself drawn especially to his comments on verse 37. As I listened to him read the familiar verse, it gave me pause. Like so many verses and messages, I first tied it into my thoughts on adoption, and whether God could be calling our family in that direction.

But that wasn’t Dave’s focus, and it may not have been Christ’s, either. Specifically, Dave stated that Jesus had chosen a child for this illustration because in that time, children were not treated with much esteem or paid much attention. It was a kind of revolutionary teaching to suggest that children held so much value in the eyes of God. I suppose it’s always that way—that acknowledging the immense and inherent value of any marginalized individual or group of people would raise some eyebrows.

Dave was talking about what it means to be successful in God’s eyes, and he gave this advice: “Don’t be threatened by others’ success, and don’t be encouraged by others’ failures.” As I logged onto my Twitter account to share this “tweetable” statement, I was bombarded with messages relating to the mass shooting in Orlando that you’ve no doubt heard about by now. As I read the tweets and the headlines, the relevance of Mark 9:37 to this tragedy was not lost on me. I saw outpourings of love, sympathy, and prayers. But I also saw a couple of comments suggesting that this tragedy may have been ordained by God. I think not. At least not the God of the Bible.

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children”—one of these marginalized, one of these pushed aside, one of these mistreated, one of these ostracized, one of these disregarded—“welcomes me.” –Jesus

May we—like Jesus—welcome, invite, and value our fellow human beings, for whom He died, just as certainly as He died for you and me.

2016-06-05 16.40.21

Known

John 4:28-29

“Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people,
‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’”

You know something that doesn’t change about Jesus throughout the scriptures? The way He knows everyone He meets—inside and out. He knows the depths of their souls, the depths of their sin, and the depths of their needs. Each has a different story, but Jesus knows every detail. What I’ve found does change is the response of the known to the Knower, and to the being known. For some, it’s a source of comfort—for others, a source of shame.

Consider the woman at the well. After Jesus exposed her sins of adultery and promiscuity, she dropped everything and ran back to town to tell everyone. She was no longer ashamed of her sin. Instead, she was hopeful in the face of Christ’s forgiveness and was eager to share that Living Water with everyone she knew. She allowed her failures to become her testimony.

Similarly, recall the woman who in John 8 was brought before Jesus upon being caught in the act of adultery. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees had wanted to stone her, but had to retreat at Jesus’s command that he who was without sin must throw the first stone. When she looked up and saw that none of the religious leaders had condemned her, and when Jesus himself offered her mercy and forgiveness, there seemed to be a sense of gratitude and relief as Jesus told her to “go and sin no more.”

In contrast, though, reflect on Christ’s conversation with the rich young ruler, which is chronicled in all three synoptic gospels. In Mark 10:17-27, we see that, as Jesus

“was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, “Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.” And he said to Him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.’ Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.”

It seems as though this young man was counting on Jesus NOT knowing him, not being able to see deep into his heart to identify his sin. So when he realized that the Messiah did know him, inside and out, it brought sadness, as opposed to comfort. And ultimately, rather than repent of his sins and accept Christ’s love and forgiveness, this young man walked away.

The Bible is full of people just like him, unwilling to give up their earthly treasures in exchange for eternal ones. But the Bible is also full of people who embraced Jesus and His intimate knowledge of their sin. And in so doing, they were able to accept with confidence the grace, mercy, and forgiveness He offered them. Our world today is full of both kinds of people, too. The question that you and I need to answer is, “Which kind of person will I be?”

Who I Am–Part IV

Psalm 37:23
“The steps of the righteous man are ordered by the Lord.”

I’m kind of addicted to tattoos. Have you figured that out yet? I actually have a “tattoo guy.” He’s done all but the first three of my tattoos. He solidified his position when he custom-designed the frog on my foot. You see, I had a necklace that had a decorative tree frog hanging from it. I loved the design and wanted to use it for a tattoo, but three or four different tattoo parlors were unable to convert that frog into a two-dimensional image. So I walked into one more tattoo parlor and that’s where I met Garrett. He looked at the necklace, excused himself for about five minutes, and came back with exactly what I had envisioned.

There was just one problem. The only way to make the details crisp and clear, he told me, was to make the frog about FOUR TIMES the size I’d imagined! I hesitated briefly, but I’d been wanting this tattoo for years. I trusted his professional instinct, and he was right about the colors and the design. But I have to be honest, there are some days when I still think the frog is a little big, a little much, a little too conspicuous. But then, every now and then, I’ll run into a stranger or an acquaintance, and they’ll comment, “Hey, cool frog!” It reminds me that there are very few people who see that tattoo day after day. Most only get a glimpse in passing.

And that reminds me that it isn’t just about my tattoo. It’s about how many people that I pass by on any given day, and how many people only get a glimpse of me. And I think to myself, What do I want them to see? And the answer, of course, is, Jesus. I want them to see Jesus. So maybe that looks like a smile for a cashier at the grocery store, holding a door open for someone whose hands are full, giving up a seat for someone who needs it more than I do. Maybe it looks like grace for someone who makes a mistake, forgiveness for someone who has let me down, sympathy for someone who is suffering, peace in the midst of turmoil, joy in the midst of grief, or patience with my kids. I want to make the most of the glimpses that people get of me, and that means seeing every moment for its full potential. It means watching for opportunities to love, give, and serve.

My frog tattoo is the only tattoo I have that, to be honest, had no meaning or symbolism when I chose it. I can’t tie it to a Bible verse, or an adventure, or a dream. But even so, if it reminds me to embrace those opportunities to give people glimpses of Jesus, that’s meaning enough for me.

Chosen

Ephesians 1:4 (NLT)

“Even before he made the world,
God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.”

I hope you all will forgive me for digressing from my “Who I am” series for this week. But God spoke to me this week in an illustration that I want to share with you. You see, as I was walking home from dropping the kids off at school on Wednesday, I came across a random Chihuahua. He was in a yard that I didn’t recall him belonging to, and he started barking at me, and then he followed me briefly (and forgive me, the picture is a bit blurry–he wouldn’t stand still). He finally decided to stay where he was, but as often happens when I encounter a stray dog, I began to daydream. What if he followed me home? What if he refused to leave? What if he chose us to adopt him?

Now, you have to understand—and I mean no disrespect—but we are NOT Chihuahua people. We like BIG dogs: Bernese Mountain Dogs, Great Pyrenees, Newfoundlands, those sorts of dogs. But there’s something about the idea of a pet choosing you, isn’t there? About them adopting you, if you will. At least there is for me. So, I thought to myself that, if this dog indeed were to choose us, we might find ourselves inviting him into our lives and our home and becoming his forever family. We might.

There’s just something about being chosen. It’s like destiny, do you know what I mean? That’s one thing (among many) that I love SO much about God. He has chosen ME. He has chosen YOU. Psalm 11:3 says, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” There is such comfort in knowing this. The old hymn states, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!” But I dare say, “Blessed assurance, I am HIS!” Know this assurance today, and rest in the peace that comes from being His chosen.

The Danger of “Every”

Always. Never. Every. These are dangerous words. First of all, they’re almost never correct. Our world and this life are full of exceptions, for better or worse. Just this week, I read an article about abortion, wherein the author argued that “every” abortion is a failure of community. I have to disagree. Sometimes, the decision may be one of compassion and even selflessness. I’ve always been one to say that I would never have an abortion, but then I heard a story that gave me pause.

You see, there’s this condition called osteogenesis imperfecta (A.K.A. brittle bone disease). This disease can cause babies to suffer multiple and repeated broken bones in utero and after birth. In many of these severe cases, the babies don’t live through the gestation period. Of those that do, many die shortly after being born. I read an article about one little girl who had 30 broken bones at birth. I’ve personally never broken a bone, but I have no doubt that it is quite painful and traumatic—to break even ONE, I mean. I cannot fathom 30 broken bones at once or the pain that this poor girl must have been experiencing constantly. In her case, the parents decided not to terminate the pregnancy, and she has survived thus far. They report that she has a huge personality and a strong will to live. Still, she uses a wheelchair because her feet would break under the weight of her legs. She once broke a bone by sitting down on a waterbed. The slightest touch can cause fractures, so even holding or hugging her presents that danger.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not, by any means, saying that those parents made the wrong decision. But what I am saying is that I would have understood their motives, had they made the other choice. I believe that life begins at conception, but my understanding is also that babies can feel pain in the womb, somewhere around 20 weeks’ gestation. That leaves 20 weeks of severe pain in this case. If you or I were to suffer that kind of pain for 20 weeks, we would call it torture. The very thought of it brings to mind advanced interrogation techniques, which represent the antithesis of compassion.

So, even though I would like to say that I would never choose abortion, and though I will say that I would always seek out EVERY other possible option before pursuing that one, I can also say that I don’t envy the position of being forced to make that choice. I can also say that I would choose to grieve with someone who had made that choice, rather than judging them. After all, Romans 12:15 instructs us to “weep with hose who weep.” That is community. That is the Body of Christ. That is the Gospel.

DPP_0236t

Of Sandals and Seeds

Luke 4:24, 28-30

“‘Truly I tell you,’ he continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his hometown’…. All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”

Matthew 10:14

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”

Do you ever feel like God has given you something worthwhile to say, but the only people who really hear it are total strangers? Or maybe you feel like no one hears you at all. Well, take heart, this phenomenon is nothing new. In fact, Jesus himself faced the same thing. He made the claim in Luke 4:24 that “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” He then gave a couple of prominent examples before the town folk of Nazareth drove him out of town under the threat of death. And do you know what Jesus did? He “walked right through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4:30).

Now, you and I won’t likely ever be prophets, per se, but we would still be wise to follow our Lord’s example. He advised as much when he sent his disciples out on mission, saying, “If anyone will not welcome you, or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet” (Matthew 10:14). It sounds harsh, I know. But any time the disciples were forced to leave in this manner, they were leaving something behind—the seeds of the Gospel, the seeds of faith.

And those seeds are invasive. Do you remember when Jesus talked about faith the size of a mustard seed? (Matthew 17:20; Luke 17:6) Why did he choose that illustration? Was it because a mustard seed is so small? Or could it have been because mustard was an invasive species—a WEED? Have you ever had to water a weed? Provide it with nutrients? Of course not. And while we always want to plant seeds of the Gospel in good soil, the seeds of faith tend to have a mind and trajectory of their own.

Need evidence? Look no further than the book of James. This James was, contrary to what some believe, NOT James, the disciple of Jesus. Rather, it was his BROTHER! The story told in Luke 4 would lead us to believe that this James remained in Nazareth when Jesus left. He may even have joined the rest of the town folk in scorning Jesus—although I like to believe he stopped shy of the death threats.

But we can safely assume that James was not a “follower” of his brother’s early on. Nonetheless, we see that he later came to his senses and came to his savior. And he went on to write one of the most poignant books in the Bible. So it would appear that, as Jesus “went on his way” that day, he left something behind in the dirt he brushed from his sandals—SEEDS, seeds of faith and seeds of the Gospel.

Believer, don’t give up. You are a sower of seeds. You won’t always see or know the eternal outcomes of the work you are doing now. And even when you need to walk away for a time, you can rest in the hope that you may one day return to witness a harvest that you could not have dreamed or imagined. So keep sowing good seeds, and whenever you dust off your sandals, be sure you leave some of those seeds behind.

IMG_0470 (3)