Archive for October, 2018

Sandbars

We love to kick at the shallow waves while walking among smooth sands on a lovely beach. Sometimes, though, God calls us go deep into the water.

I can’t let go of our recent walk on a beach on Sanibel Island, Florida, with my brother-in-law, Barry, and his wife Karen. They are dear, dear relatives and sojourners as we follow Christ. Karen is adventurous. While the other adult-minded, mature, and sensible adults walked on the beach and looked for shells (smile), Karen walked into the Gulf of Mexico to tempt sharks and boats as she ventured into deeper water and walked to a sandbar offshore. I invite you to join Karen and to step into deeper waters.

Psalm 115:3 brashly proclaims “But our God is in the heavens; he does whatever He pleases.” There are comfortable, stroll-on-the-perfect-beach words here—and there is a let’s-walk-into-the-deep-ocean opportunity, too. One writer ventured this prayer about this verse, “that we may be prevented from forming unworthy conceptions of the glory of God.”

First, the psalm reminds us of the Lord’s Prayer, where we pray as Jesus instructed us, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” How stunning it is that beyond the multitude of universes science has wonderfully unveiled to us (yes, universes), God rules everything and everyone. This is of tremendous comfort. While the world appears to be spinning out of control God is in charge. He has written the last chapter (s) of this world and our lives, and while “The mind of man plans his way,” it is joyfully true, “the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Keeping in step with the Spirit of God is our daily pursuit and joy (Galatians 5). How is that going for you?

Second, there is the challenging second half to verse three, “He does whatever He pleases.” We’re in deep water now. And while there are unanswerable, sometimes troubling questions that ooze from this verse, consider with me one of many things God has been pleased to do.
God is pleased to love us. And, He loves us in the most sacrificial, costly way—He gave His only Son to die for our sins. We should recite the gospel in one of its many Scriptural forms to ourselves every day: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Or, “Christ died for our sins…and rose on the third day.” Or, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

May we never tire of the essential, fundamental, comfort-giving, life-shaping, endlessly captivating, daily sustenance, and deep ocean of the love of God. It interests me that in Psalm 115 the wonder and works of God are contrasted with idols which are ineffective, hopeless, and futile, i.e., loveless. What are yours?

I regret not going out to the sandbar and deeper water with Karen. Next time, I will.

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Vacation For The Soul

Cheryl and I just came back from a week of vacation. Whew! Sixteen hundred miles of family and fun. The piled-high laundry, wear on the car, or toll roads can’t take away the joy.

Vacations are a great time to affirm the beauty and value of loved ones and friends, to have extended time with them for slow conversations, and for slow, warm cups of coffee. Sleeping in a few times was itself a luxury and rich gift from the Father. Florida and Georgia creation glories enveloped us. Lots of time just with Cheryl was indescribably wonderful during the nine days away. This time, we again proved we are increasingly and joyfully comfortable and safe and happy just being together. I found myself constantly darting minute prayers of thanksgiving for all these things.

Vacations can provide special moments with God, too. Reading the Psalms and a commentary one morning, I enjoyed Psalm 111 and its call to remember and worship the LORD for His great works. They were constantly all around me on vacation, just as they are daily here at home. His works in creation and life are “splendid and majestic,” including His “righteousness endures forever” (v 3). These are the joy of promised relief in a troubling and troubled world wherever we live. “His wonders,” the Psalmist notes, remind us of His grace and compassion (v. 4). Fabulous!

And then an “Aha” moment came my way that marked my time away as unforgettable. In the Psalm, the unnamed author singles out the unique benefits for those who “fear” (revere) God. Yes, all creation and her creatures enjoy “common grace.” But “His people” (v. 6, 9)—people of faith who trust and worship and live for Him alone—enjoy promised provisions (v. 5), an understanding and appreciation of God’s power and promised inheritance (v. 6), “redemption” (rescue), and wisdom for life (v. 10). I especially need more wisdom, don’t you?

Let’s talk about the fear of the Lord. One commentator noted the fear in Psalm 111 is not the debilitating, trembling, elementary fear of situations and people (though that is a benefit to followers of Christ), but is the primary, “comprehensive,” overarching life of true godliness and worship of God. Our life is both gathered with others as we praise God and private when we worship in thanksgiving for the glorious works of God in us and around us. “Nothing is more profitable…than to spend [our] lives in the celebration of the praises of God.”

Only rebels live in terrifying fear of God. Followers of Christ have this promise, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).

Please: Get away sometime or someplace—even daily—and give thanks to God for the works and wonders of Christ.

It will be a vacation for your soul.

Dashawn

This a shortened letter sent to an inmate in Georgia.

Dear Dashawn,

How great is our God! I rejoice with great joy in our salvation even though, earthbound for a while, we do not experience the fullness of heaven yet. I look forward to standing side by side with you before our Lord.

I am proud of your persistence to live out the gospel and to serve right where you are. Oh how I wish more followers of Jesus focused their life as you have and are. Though this new place is a different and a difficult place of service, God has prepared you for it and is using it to prepare you (and others) for the future. I encourage you to continue to “walk in a manner worthy” of the gospel. Even ministry to or with 1 or 2 men is Kingdom service in response to Jesus’ love and sacrifice for you. Yes, as you said, others are watching. That too is a precious honor.

Have you found a new “secret place” (Matthew 6) for your prayer ministry? That was a sacred hallway where you paced and prayed before.

It comes to mind that your separation from loved ones, the challenges of your mission field, and the aloneness are very similar to the Apostle Paul in his missionary journeys and imprisonments. Paul said he was willing to “fellowship with His sufferings.” You are in good company.

I just preached from James yesterday. We and they are strangers and exiles on earth, looking for a better country and city, longing for the presence and promises of God to be our daily reality (Hebrews 11:13-16). We are “last day” followers of Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). James fusses in 1:2-5:6. His warnings are many: reaction to suffering, relating to the church family, partiality, materialism, etc.

I especially love 5:7-12. “Therefore” (v. 7) is a crossroad moment. It says in light of what I’ve taught already, now live by it. In Greek here there is an unusual use of actual imperatives. James pours it on. His strategy for last day travelers is precise: be patient v.7, strengthen your hearts v.8, don’t complain v.9, follow good examples v.10-11, and don’t be rash in your commitments and promises v.12. I think it works for both of us.

I found a compelling quote by Matt Chandler. Rather than merely focusing on what someone else called “a gospel of sin management” (an unending, unobtainable list to check off), we are more successful and joyful [when]“Christ would become more beautiful and desirable than the allure of sin.”

I closed with the question: What is your strategy?

Well, I miss the physical joy of your face and presence, Brother. I look forward to seeing you soon, “here, there, or in the air.”

-john


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