Category: Theology

The Great Escape

escape from the fowler

 Praise be to the Lord,
     who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
  We have escaped like a bird
     from the fowler’s snare;
 the snare has been broken,
     and we have escaped.
  Our help is in the name of the Lord,
     the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:6-8)

What kind of help has our Lord given us? He gives us two kinds of help in this passage.

First, God freed us from the fowler’s snare. This snare stands for being trapped by sin and death. We need help!

Jesus is our rescuer. Once and for all, Jesus sets us free from the snare of sin and death when we repent and believe in him for salvation.

Second, the Psalmist also gives praise to the Lord that he “has not let us be torn by their teeth.”  Here, the “they” is enemies who attack.  This can refer to actual human enemies, to demonic forces, and to the junky things that happen to us just because we live in a fallen world.

Does this mean that God protects us from all tearing in this life? No. But no matter how much things do get rotten in our present life, our hope cannot be torn away from us. We keep our hope that our final destiny is with the Lord. We remain in union with Christ.

Here the apostle Paul is in great difficulty but not torn:

 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:7-9) 

Paul compares our bodies to jars of clay. That sure highlights our weakness, contrasting our tiny power with God’s mighty power. When calamitous stuff seems overwhelming, God is constant. That’s the full meaning of our help being in the name of the Lord.  We’d be in despair if it all depended on what we can do—but what a relief that our powerful God gives us the hope we need to persevere!

What does it really mean to have more of Jesus?

ball pub

 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10)

Does having more of Jesus mean getting all pumped up emotionally? That easily happens when we go to a retreat, mission trip, etc. Our balloon is soaring higher and higher.   But then —– we return home.

I remember one time driving to work the day after a 3-day retreat and someone did not think I was driving up the entry ramp to the Interstate fast enough. So, they gave me a long blast on their horn! Yes, after our return, somehow the realities and stresses of everyday life have not changed…soon we are swamped by them again and then we become like that picture of the deflated balloon.

How, then, can we have a more robust view of more of Jesus?

I think we need an encounter with our God of fire and holiness.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29)

Our God is a consuming fire. Should we be terrified about this? Am I throwing fire and brimstone at you?

Let’s look at what the Prophet Isaiah said after a frightening encounter with God.

 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5) 

Does this experience make Isaiah pull back in fear or give up? No, he next learns that God forgives him. And then see what happens next in verse 8:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”   And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 

What if we too start at a place of “woe is me” and then become able to say, “forgive and cleanse me Jesus” and then “I want more of what you want?”

Then, we are empowered to be used and sent. As I often have said in my blog posts, this does not mean we must be doing wonderful and spectacular things for the Lord. The sending can be to tasks that appear to be ordinary.

These ordinary tasks begin to change what we want, care for, think we need, get annoyed at, etc.

So, even when the realities and stresses of everyday life have not changed, Christ is changing our way of reacting to them.  It’s these little changes that add up over time to a changed, maturing character that really does have more of Jesus.

Calmed and Quieted

  I do not concern myself with great matters
     or things too wonderful for me.
  But I have calmed and quieted myself,
     I am like a weaned child with its mother;
     like a weaned child I am content. (Psalm 131:1b-2)

I have recently read some heated arguments amongst Christians about Genesis versus Science.

One book I recently read gave me a spiritual headache. It claimed to have found “the” answer to the connection between Adam, Genesis, and science. Why did it give me a headache? Because the authors insisted that they had found the right answer at last… and that perhaps anyone who did not see it their exact way was just a little bit ignorant.

But here’s a thought about the right answer.

If God wanted Genesis to provide a detailed science textbook explaining how exactly he did what he did, couldn’t he have provided it? Does he owe us an explanation of how he did what he did? That brings to mind God’s challenge to Job:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
     Tell me, if you understand.
  Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
     Who stretched a measuring line across it? (Job 34:4-5)

Here’s what I see as indisputable about the creation account in Genesis:

What God did: He created.

Why God did it: To show his glory and call a people to himself through his Son Jesus.

Isn’t it refreshing to just rest in awe of what God did and not worry about how He did it?

That’s why today I will not attempt to give you a final explanation of how science and Genesis are connected.

I will simply accept that some of this is just beyond me, but still very wonderful. And that leads to the result in the second verse of today’s Psalm: contentment.

I experienced the Psalmist’s path to contentment in recent prayer times as I prayed through different issues. This peace is a gift from the Spirit that we all receive if we ask. When we “let” God keep his secrets, and trust that he does tell us what we need to know, then – what a wonderful result: we truly become more calmed, quieted and content.

I wouldn’t build a golden calf..or would I?

the-golden-calf-idol

“You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. (Nehemiah 9:13)

What does it mean to keep the commands? Should we even care?

As New Testament Christians, since we are in an age of grace in Jesus, it is easy to look at the Old Testament and say oh, it’s just a bunch of legalistic rules and regulations. I don’t have to worry about obeying.

But in today’s passage Nehemiah is giving his people a reminder of something that happened for them many centuries earlier. He reflects on who God is, and what God did, back in the times described in the book of Exodus. Obedience is connected to what God is really like: God is just, God is right, and God is good. Obedience gives us a taste of all three of these wonderful qualities of God.

But Nehemiah understands quite well that we do not automatically obey.

 “But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. (Nehemiah 9:16)

They deserved to be left alone by God. But, amazingly, we hear,

…… But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies. Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness (Nehemiah 9:17b-19,emphasis mine)

But, what if we rebel and make an image of a golden calf and worship it?  As modern 21st century people we say “Who, me?  I wouldn’t make a calf. I’m not like those primitive people.”

But think about this: Jesus says, “He who loves me…keeps my commands.” Doesn’t the calf stand for anything we treasure more than keeping Christ’s commands? Aren’t we worshiping that thing more than Christ?

Nehemiah gives us a wonderful preview of God’s forgiveness for us in Christ.  Because of God’s great compassion he does not abandon us in the wilderness even when we make an idol; instead he sent Christ to rescue us.

Through Christ giving us the Spirit, we can reflect God’s justice, righteousness, goodness—-and love. And because God’s love outweighs his anger, Christ always keeps the door of repentance open.

Father, we thank you that you do provide rescue for us in the person of Jesus, that because of your great compassion you do not abandon us.

You’ve Saved the Best Till Now

And the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:9-10)

You have just enjoyed a pleasant meal out at a restaurant. You think you are all done and ready for your check when the server appears with an exquisite, fancy, tasty dessert. She announces “Courtesy of the chef. This dessert is on the house”.

Your surprise and delight with the dessert is only a tiny taste of what Jesus wants to do.

In the John 2 narrative the water jugs represent tradition, the law, the old way of doing things. The jugs were part of the purification rituals under the old Jewish law.  But by obeying Jesus the servants were putting these traditional objects into a new use.

The miracle: Jesus has turned the water into wine.

The significance: The wine represents the new covenant in Jesus Christ.

Think again of what you have counted on for fulfillment that left you empty. Keep in mind that Jesus may or may not change the circumstances around the emptiness but he WILL give a new way of experiencing them.  Christ, being the new wine, gives a replacement that goes beyond anything we can try on our own. Dwell on what the Psalmist says in 34:8 “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”

What is the area of your life where you want to taste and see that the Lord is good? Where do you need a supernatural attitude adjustment?

Give thanks that Jesus gives the new wine and ask Him to transform that area of your life.

A feast with no wine and a plane with no pilot

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”  (John 2:3-4)

On a December flight from Des Moines to Denver a few years ago came two disquieting announcements. First

“Does anyone in the cabin have medical training?”

And then, ominously,

“Does anyone in the cabin have flight experience?”

A plane with no pilot.

A feast with no wine.

A life with no hope.

Now what? Can anyone handle it?

Somehow Mary thinks that Jesus is the answer to the wine problem. She understood part of why Jesus came to earth back then, but now we understand the full story of why he came.

Jesus gently rebukes Mary because He is not ready to reveal at this point what you and I now know:  that He was the Messiah who would go to the cross to pay the penalty for our sin and be resurrected to redeem us and give us eternal life.

I don’t think Mary was expecting Jesus to give a point by point procedural, 5 steps to take when the wine runs out.

Nor would we expect that Jesus gives us a list of 5 things to do to replenish our empty joy tank.  Rather, when we are out of hope, we see that Jesus does not have the answer to the problem, he is the answer. In John 10:10b He said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

By the way, the pilot in our opening vignette had had a heart attack. But in this case, no disaster. Turns out a talented nurse saved the pilot and and the co-pilot knew how to land the plane after all.

Today, focus on who Jesus is. Give thanks that only Jesus, who rescued us from sin and death, is able to give us true joy and fulfillment.

What a Hope and Future Really Means

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

fired

As a new Christian, did you have a rosy view of your new Christian life? I know I did. And Jeremiah 29:11 was one of the first verses I heard as a new Christian. It was easy to think that meant that from now on I would always prosper and never get harmed.

It took a while to realize I was misunderstanding God’s promises. God’s promises did not mean I was magically protected from broken relationships and being fired from a job.

Today’s verse comes from a letter that Jeremiah wrote to the Jews who were carried away into exile, away from their home in the promised land. These Jews longed to go back home, and many despaired, thinking they never could go back. So, the context of this verse is Jeremiah preaching during calamity. Deep in exile they are told that God will take care of them to give them hope and a future.

So, the promise gives us encouragement of God’s sustaining presence during life’s trials rather than a promise that we will avoid all trials.

How easy it is to overestimate how much God will perfect now, and underestimate how much he will do later. Even when we have been Christians for quite a few years, it is still easy to grow impatient and want the change now.

So, broken relationships, being fired from a job, and having loved ones die are inevitable parts of this life. But today’s verse is an antidote to entering despair or escapism. We have something in common with those Jews. Like them, we Christians now are living in exile from our true home.

The book of Hebrews expresses that truth beautifully, as Christians going through tough times were encouraged to keep persevering and holding on to their faith.  They too were encouraged to look to a future hope:

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come (Hebrews 13 :14)

What an encouragement for us today, anytime we struggle with the gap between what’s going on now and the fullness of all that God has promised will happen !