Category: Devotions

Let’s NOT go to the replay

I looked out my window at the snowy hillside on a bright windy early March day during the isolation of the COVID pandemic. Starting to read Psalm 90, I found this amazing request:

Make us rejoice for as many days as you have humbled us,
for as many years as we have seen adversity.
(Psalm 90:15 CSB)  

When we remember our own times of affliction and trouble, how do we react? Do our memories cause anxiety, annoyance and grief as they repeat endlessly?

Today’s opening verse reminds us that affliction is only temporary. Indeed, if I keep re-experiencing or re-feeling troublesome past things, then I am ripping myself off of God’s righteousness and peace. It’s helpful to think of the meaning of resentment: it means to re-feel something. So resentment is a re-play of past negative feelings.

I remember a time when I underwent a sharp and prolonged rebuke by a boss and I felt my face turning bright red and staying red. Yet today when I recall that incident, instead of re-feeling the humiliation, I view the job loss that followed as God’s way of bringing a key turning point in my life.  Sure, at the time it seemed sharp and unexpected — who likes being fired? But God used it in leading me to a new career and in setting the stage for exactly where he has me in life in 2021.

Seeing how God used that past humiliation to bring me into a new career reminds me that God has a way of turning adversity to joy.   

 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
(Psalm 90:14)  

I don’t claim that this joy-replacement is instant and 24 by 7. There are other humiliations I have had that God is still applying his restoring grace to! But even though I have not been instantly cured of the pull of old bad memories and experiences, I am glad that their grip is shrinking and that I can keep being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

Is Paul another Dale Carnegie?

Paul begins several of his letters by being very complimentary to the recipients….and then later, subjecting them to sharp correction. Does this mean that Paul is simply following the principles for giving a corporate performance review, where you must say positive things before you come forth with a negative?

No, Paul is not trying to “win friends and influence people.” Instead, we are seeing something profound about how Christian love works. Paul’s compliments are not saying what fine upstanding people the recipients are, but rather they express how thrilled he is that that the risen and glorified Christ is alive and at work in their lives.

At the start of Colossians, Paul says:
In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. (Colossians 1:6)

This wonderful truth of Christ-in-them is so powerful that it vastly outweighs their negatives that need correction. Paul’s compliment is honest, even though he is fully aware that many in the congregation are not living up to their calling the way they should be.

So later, Paul turns loose with a sharp rebuke of the Colossians:
 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules (Colossians 2:20). He’s yelling at them for obeying a bunch of bogus rules that have nothing to do with being a Christian.

The same pattern repeats in 1 Corinthians. Early on, Paul says:
I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:4)

But then later he has a sharp rebuke:
Your boasting is not good. (1 Corinthians 5:6a) Here, he’s furious at them for bragging about overlooking some raunchy misbehavior within their congregation.

These examples help us as we look at our fellow Christians today. The pastor of my church is not lying when he says we have a healthy church, while yet being aware that some of our people are struggling or even are in rebellion. We can be fully aware of each other’s flaws and faults — yet rejoice that we are all touched by God’s grace. And when we do have to correct each other, we keep in mind that we are all Christ’s people, not adversaries to pummel!

Our rebukes are given with hope that they will guide people to change.  Our flaws are tiny compared to the gloriousness of Christ! Together, we know that God is at work and the gospel is spreading.

Looking for a Fine and Upstanding Citizen?

Once upon a time God did not have a chosen people on this earth. Sure, there were a couple of individuals like Enoch who followed God. But this was far from having an entire people who were selected by God and united in him.

You might think that to start this plan, God would search in a reputable area where there were many fine and upstanding citizens and find one who would be worthy of being the father of his people.  But no, on the contrary, he went to a locale where people were notorious for being raucous pagans: Ur.

And there God found one guy to whom he said, “I have made you a father of many nations.” (Genesis 17:5b)

This man was chosen before he had done much of anything. And he proved to be far from perfect in how he executed God’s plan for him. Indeed, if you read about his life in Genesis, in chapters 12 and 20 you see how he messed up and told two lies that were real whoppers.  When that happened, did God say, “Wow, that was a surprise! Oops, I must have made a mistake by choosing this guy to be the father of my chosen people.”?

No, God knew what he was doing. The man he chose was Abraham. And God said that his promise that Abraham would be a father of many nations was irrevocable despite any missteps he might make.

Abraham was the first of God’s chosen people, who became known as the Hebrews.

Later, membership in God’s chosen people was opened up. Christians are compared to olive shoots who are added to the chosen people because of what Jesus did: you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others (from Romans 11:17)

Here’s how our story is like Abraham’s: We did not have to be superb, meritorious citizens before being added into God’s kingdom. We were called in just as we are. And once we are in our place is irrevocable.

Thousands of years later the invitation is still open:
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12)

We are welcomed in by Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews. And he will never kick us out. Thank you, Lord, for your grace and mercy.

Banned

No matter how kindly we frame it, the message of Jesus draws opposition.   Several years ago, Vanderbilt University derecognized various Christian groups because they required that to hold a leadership position in their group, you needed to believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead after his crucifixion.

The Vanderbilt administration said that to forbid someone from being a group leader for not believing in the resurrection was intolerant! The Christian leaders showed a winsome attitude as they explained what they believed and why they believed it. But basically the administrators said, “We don’t care about your kind attitude; your beliefs are discriminatory and your groups are hereby banned from campus.”

I at least give the administrators credit for having an accurate grasp of the real core issue. You might think that they would evict Christian groups due to disputes about cultural issues such as abortion or gay rights.  But the administrators chose the key Christian distinctive that has not and will not ever change: we owe our lives to, and base our lives on, faith in a resurrected man.

The Vanderbilt fight, then, has a helpful lesson:  We don’t want to erect false obstacles by saying that being a Christian is defined by a list of positions that you must take in the culture wars. (Indeed, when fights about abortion and gay rights die down, they will only be replaced by a new set of culture war issues.)

I’m not saying that political issues are irrelevant or unimportant. But they are all less important than this claim:  Jesus is alive. And he wasn’t blowing smoke when he said he will return to rule as King. Neither Republican nor Democrat, and not a capitalist and not a socialist, he won’t allow any fights over culture war issues. We will laugh at the idea that we once thought that the right political solutions would bring heaven on earth.

Does all that sound too good to be true? It’s not. Check out this promise about Jesus’ return: He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)