Peace and Righteousness: Preference and Prescription

PeaceLikeaRiver0777

Isaiah 48:17-18, This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.”

This passage, and scores akin to it, affirm (at least) these two great ideas: peace is heaven’s preference, and righteousness is heaven’s prescription.

First, note that The Lord claims that He is the One who teaches us what is best for us (best for us, best for us – as in “this is the most preferred state for us, the ideal). If “we” (they, in the text – but “we” as the reader) would pay attention to His commands (listen, honor, put into practice what He teaches) then we would have peace like a river and well-being like waves of the sea. Let’s not overlook the significance of peace and well-being. These words likely carried the ideas of “peace and prosperity” in their lives and “deliverance and safety” from their enemies. There’s no way not to see this as “best,” as “preferred” – highly coveted even. And the good news is that it is God’s idea. It comes from His heart and mind. Peace and righteousness are His design and desire for you. This is His preference.

Therefore, (among many other considerations) it would be illogical to embrace the idea that, for our own formation and edification, God will send trauma or pain or suffering into our lives. This is not to say that these things don’t come into our lives. Neither do we agree that if something is going wrong, the causal link is direct disobedience and God is punishing you. Rather, it is knowing what is heaven’s preferred state for us that gives us hope in hard times, confidence in adversity, and resolve to overcome trial and hardship. We need not ever resign ourselves to accept as “the new normal” what is less than that which God has prepared for those who love Him. Your heart doesn’t have to remain broken. Your soul doesn’t have to stay in turmoil. Grief and anxiety don’t have to be your roommates. Hope should be your companion, and joy your strength. Heaven has not assigned you to a desert of malaise; it has prepared for you a river of peace.

The OT never, not ever, presents the narrative from heaven as “when you’re obeying and walking in relationship with Me, from time to time I’ll surprise you with catastrophe and disaster just to keep you on your feet.” No. His preferred state is blessing; peace and righteousness are His plan. Think of it, when God dreams about you, He dreams (envisions, desires, designs) your best, your peace, your righteousness. He wants what is best for us.

Secondly, (again, among other significant truths) this passage affirms that the commands of God are the best prescription for relief from pain and suffering, and the best means to prevent those things in our lives. This is not a recruitment for more of Job’s counselors. But it makes no sense to grieve and mourn and be vexed over the pain and discord and LACK of peace and righteousness around us – and then wonder what (if anything) can really be done about it. The preaching and practice of truth are not just words and wasted breath. They are the only real hope of healing, change, and restoration. Think of it: what good is it if we treat the symptoms of decay (hunger, crime, violence, sickness, divorce, abuse, sexually transmitted disease, “unwanted” pregnancy, etc. – and make no mistake we can, should, must do our best and most to alleviate suffering in any form) but do not prescribe the path to peace? I am saying that the preaching, teaching, practice and priority of sound doctrine, ethics, and obedience are the only real, lasting hope for our society – no less so than it was for Isaiah’s audience.

Our redeemer STILL knows and desires what is best for us. He is still teaching us the way we should go. More than ever, I am resolved to “study, practice, and teach” (Ezra 7:10) His ways. I want what He wants – what is best.

Why Emphasize Healing?

Christ healing peters mother in law

Healing isn’t the gospel, but the gospel isn’t the gospel without healing. The Apostolic message has been, since the beginning, that Christ is risen and that the Presence of the Holy Spirit is proof. Of the messages recorded for us, of the teachings included in the narratives, of the epistolary literature we have, there is scant few didactic statements regarding healing. Healing is almost always contained within the construct of a narrative: included in an imperative from Christ, requested from someone in need, or simply recorded as part of the normal exercise of kingdom commission. It’s consistently part of the story, but rarely the content of the message. And yet we do, we should, we must emphasize healing as part of the ministry of the gospel. Why? A reasonable, quickly-read apologetic follows:

We emphasize healing:

  • Because healing is an essential expression of Christ. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and He went about doing good and healing all who were under the devil’s tyranny” (Acts 10:38). This was Peter’s one-sentence summary of the life and ministry of Jesus. It isn’t possible to adequately, accurately, express Christ without a profound emphasis on healing – for Jesus was (and is) a profound healer. If we are to be any sort of authentic expression of Christ in our community, we must emphasize Christ the healer.
  • Because compassion is our commission: Each of the four gospels record one or more instances of Jesus sending out his followers to continue His work. For example, Matthew 4 and 9 both record, in the same words, the ministry of Jesus as going about “healing every sickness and every disease” (see 4:23 and 9:35). And when Jesus sends out his followers, he commissions them to continue His work, exactly (compare 10:1 – they were to do the same thing Jesus had been doing). When you consider this passage with Luke 9, Luke 10, Mark 16, and John 20 (as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you) – it is clear that the compassion that Jesus exercised is the commission that Jesus expects.
  • Because if we don’t emphasize healing, sickness will emphasize itself. Sickness is a bully. It barges in. It takes over. It talks over. It interrupts. It’s stubborn. It’s rude. It shows up un announced, unwanted, and unwelcomed. It just keeps showing up. It shows up in the homes of the wealthy and the needy. It torments the kind and the cruel. It emphasizes itself in families, communities, epidemics, the elderly, the young, and everywhere. It is relentless. It doesn’t matter if you always wash your hands and only eat carrots. Sickness will seek a way into your life (it doesn’t have a right to, and it doesn’t have to, but it will try). Therefore, we emphasize healing like we’d emphasize a dam when facing a flood. We emphasize healing like we emphasize light when surrounded by darkness. We emphasize healing because sickness is a co-dependent drama-queen who never stops calling attention to itself. We emphasize healing because sickness doesn’t deserve the attention it demands. People aren’t diseases. People aren’t disabilities. People aren’t defined by their pain, their challenge, or their need. Healing reminds us that people are defined by their hope, their calling, their identity, and their destiny.
  • Because the gravity of decay is constant. To overcome or resist gravity, it requires quite a bit of thrust. The g-force felt by lift-off is gravity’s protest of your defiance. And the decay of sin: darkness, disease, despair… is a gravitational constant. Without resistance it would pull us in and down. Therefore, we rejoice by faith; we hope; we love; we persevere; and we keep emphasizing healing.
  • Because our ability to adapt may be one of our greatest assets, but it’s also an Achilles Heel. Adaptation is key to survival. We adapt to changes in climate, in circumstance, and routines. We adapt. It keeps us from going crazy or dropping dead. It also enables us to adjust, little by little, to the encroachment of sickness. It enables us to choose a path of lesser resistance, to cope, to accommodate, to adapt. Adaptation enables us to make room for the bully of disease in our lives, homes, churches and communities. We’re so good at adaptation that we are able to often and quickly redefine a new normal. But healing isn’t an adaptation to disease. Healing is a refutation. Healing is an insistence that we will draw a line, “this far, and no further.”
  • Because we have real hope. Healing is a claim laid on the hope we have in Christ for today and for the future. We emphasize healing even in, and perhaps especially in, the face of delay or defeat. Disease does not have the final word, because not even death does. If death has lost its victory, then disease has certainly lost its bragging rights. Healing, as an in-breaking of the power of the world to come, is a reminder of the hope we yet have for eternity.
  • Because Jesus paid for it. There was real purpose in the stripes on His back. There was real payment in the broken body of Jesus. Jesus deserves to get what He paid for.
  • Because healing remains one of humanity’s greatest needs, one of Scripture’s greatest promises, and one of the greatest expressions of the Gospel. We emphasize healing because we need to. We will emphasize healing as long as hope allows. We will emphasize healing until we no longer have any need of it, until there is no more crying and no more tears. Until we are all healed, forever.

Amen.

Thanks for reading. If you need healing, I welcome the opportunity to pray with you. Use the comment section below, and let me know.

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

‘Dav

 

Worldly Blessings?

health and wealth

 

Worldly Blessings? Is that a thing?

I am enjoying reading an author. He’s sailing along, stirring me up while informing me. What a great little book (on the importance of church history). Then he uses a tired, worn-out phrase: “worldly blessings like health and wealth…” In one way, seeing a phrase like that in a contemporary text is like seeing an old, faded bumper sticker with a formerly-trendy-slogan clinging in a wrinkled shrivel to the back of an otherwise handsome automobile. It’s just sad. In another way, reading it stimulates my irritance to where I must close the text and murmur exasperated complaints to no one listening.

Worldly blessings? Like health and wealth? I don’t know where to begin complaining. Health and wealth are blessings, but they do not originate from this world.

There are wealthy people in the world. The devil promised “wealth” (sort of) to Jesus, in the desert, in exchange for Jesus bowing down to him. But that wasn’t a blessing, it was a bribe. And the desire for wealth – the love of money – is carnal, worldly. It is so because it is the natural expression of an orphan mind-set that fears not having enough, that has no internal mechanism or well-spring for joy, and has no center of gravity in order to be content. Greed is worldly. Wealth is not. Greed is a curse, not a blessing. Greed is no respecter of person or status. In fact, most of the world struggles under the weight and pain of poverty. The world doesn’t give wealth; it steals it. It hordes it. It hides it. Wealth is not a worldly blessing: the world is not predisposed to bless anyone.

And health? Health is a worldly blessing? As if, somehow, in a way that is so upside down that it can only come from someone whose blood has rushed into their brain and can no longer think, being sick is something to be desired above being healthy? Is it worldly to be well? Is it worldly to want to be healthy? Let us be clear;  the world is sick. It cannot bless anyone with health. People around the world are sick and find new ways of being sick, along with rediscovering old ways. Disease swaggers about like an embittered bully picking on anyone who gets in its way. Health is not a worldly blessing any more than wealth, because the world cannot bless us with either.

On the other hand, there is One who blesses. The Blessed One who delights to bless, who invites us to seek His blessing. Heaven, not the world, is the source and supply of blessing. The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and He adds no trouble to it (Prov. 10:22).  Jesus blessed people with more, not lack:  more wine at the wedding, more fish in the nets, more fish and loaves for lunch. There is much bible that celebrates the blessing of the Lord, the abundance that He provides (and is delighted to do so). There is no bible for lack or poverty (except for how to rise up from beneath it without being overcome by greed).

And health? Is there any reasonable, sane question that Jesus preferred anyone within in his reach to be well? Jesus left no one, not one person, who came to him sick or tormented unaided. The word on the street was that, “God anointed Jesus Christ of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and He went about doing good and healing everyone under the tyranny of the devil” (Heb. 10:28). He never once “blessed” anyone by leaving them sick (let alone making them so). In fact, in more than one place, it seems He paid a significant price to bring aid and comfort to those who have suffered under sickness and torment (Isaiah 53, Matt. 8:16-17, I Peter 2:24).

The world does not bless. Health and wealth are not derived from the world, but from the Savior of the World. Heaven blesses. Blessing is Heaven’s idea and good pleasure. At least one feller even got singled out from all his siblings for having the hutzpah to ask God to bless him (1 Chron. 4:10). Health and wealth are not worldly blessings. Please, go to the store and get some Formula 409 (my dad swears by it) and a scrub brush, and clean that old, worn-out and worthless mindset from the back bumper of your mind.

God bless you,

‘Dav

 

 

Mending Your Nets

nets

Have you ever been frustrated? Have you ever exerted yourself, did your best, and still came out with results that weren’t just disappointing, but outright embarrassing? Have you ever fished all night and caught nothing? What should we do in those times? I’d like to suggest a principle that may keep you focused and faithful in the less-than thrilling moments and less than extraordinary seasons. Let’s talk about mending our nets.

Start with me in Mark 1:16-20, “As He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, his brother, throwing a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 Jesus said to them, “Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee and John, his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. 20 Immediately He called them. And they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed Him.”

It’s easy to extract the first and last parts: Jesus shows up and calls them. They leave everything and follow Jesus. They launch out on a new life, and this new life will be instrumental in changing the world – quite literally. But sandwiched between these glowing parts is a more mundane mention of what they were doing before Jesus called them…before their big moment… before their breakthrough…They were mending their nets.

Mending nets was tedious work. It was routine, likely daily work. Spreading out the nets, sifting through them. Repairing holes. Retying knots. Cleaning out debris. Tedious. Monotonous. This was the “grind” behind the glamour of fishing (if there is glamour in that). You can imagine them saying, “hey –we love the feeling of hauling in a great catch of fish. We really the love the rich profits from the market place. And we don’t mind the esteem of owning and running our own little fishing enterprise.” (James and John were partners with Peter, and apparently they all worked with James/John’s dad Zebedee.) We love the fishing – but the mending we can do without. Ever felt that way? Ever resent the mending of nets that is necessary for the fishing? Ever resent the mundane or routine that is always part of the rewarding and meaningful?

The thing is, if they didn’t do this mundane thing, they’d miss out on the marvelous thing. Nets with holes in them can’t catch fish. So, the first thing we can be reminded of from this passage is that we can’t overlook or neglect the things that might seem mundane – because it is the doing well of the little things that makes for the success of the big things.

But there is more: These young fishermen had no idea what was about to happen. They had no warning that Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, was about to step into their lives and change them forever. They had no idea that their names would forever be synonymous with the inauguration of the Church of Jesus Christ. They had no idea that their names would be on the lips of every tribe and nation for millennia to come. Today, the size of their lives measured the boundaries of this seashore and these blasted broken nets. Perhaps they had desire for something more. Perhaps they sensed something inside that said, “there has to be more than this.” Perhaps a praying grandparent had looked them in the eyes and told them Yahweh had great thing for them. Or – perhaps they’d been told that fishing was all they’d ever do, but yearned to make a bigger difference than this.

What were they doing while waiting for something more? What did they do in quiet uncertainty of the not yet? They mended their nets. They stayed prepared. They stayed faithful. They looked after the responsibilities directly in front of them. They did not stare off into the horizon and sigh. They did not say, “Hey – I’ve got bigger plans than this – why mend nets?” They did not neglect the mundane while waiting for the marvelous. So, as the Master of the Cosmos was about to summon them, they faithfully tied knots and repaired holes in fishing nets.

But there is even more to this story:  Luke tells us a larger version in chapter 5, verses 1-11. “As the people pressed upon Him to hear the word of God, He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret and saw two boats beside the lake. But the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their netsHe entered one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to thrust it out a little from the land. Then He sat down and taught the people from the boat. When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered Him, “Master, we have worked all night and have caught nothing. But at Your word I will let down the net.When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was tearing. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear. From now on you will catch men.” 11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.”

The partnership had been fishing all night. They labored long and gained nothing. And yet there they were – washing (mending) their nets. Many would be tempted to give up and go get drunk. When we face delay, disappointment, set back – one of things that often happens is that the “little” things start to slide. We don’t wash the car or mow the lawn. Vacuuming and dusting slips…. Shaving becomes optional. Why not eat a whole bag of chips…Why even get out of bed? Why mend the nets? Is it worth the trouble?

Because in the very next moment – Jesus said, get back out there, deeper this time, and let out your nets for a catch. Go right back out where you were – and maybe even deeper. Saddle up and get back on the horse. Time to go another round.

But, Lord – we tried. We tried for a long time. We tried over and over …. And over. We got nothing.  We hoped for much but had to settle for naught. But. They were willing to go back out.  AND – they were ready. The nets were ready. And it’s a good thing they were. Because the next catch was so big that the nets began to burst and they had to call for backup – and so great in fact that the boats began to sink.

Before anyone sells you some idea that this passage – or one like it in John 21 – is about making small changes for big results – which is a great, stand-alone principle, but not at all what these passages teach – just listen to what happened. The disciples had been working hard without result (both passages). Jesus sends them back out into the same waters they were before, with the same nets, and the same boats and the same personnel. In John’s account, Jesus says, “try the other side of the boat.” That is just ridiculous. That isn’t strategy. The boats aren’t even large enough to separate more than a handful of fish. This was, actually, pointing out that there was NO difference in where the net was placed; there is no suggestion that the lesson is that we need to carefully discern what minor (secret) change we need for breakthrough. Sheesh – that just makes us superstitious and afraid of fishing on the wrong side of a boat (or praying at the wrong time, or putting on the wrong pants, or choosing the wrong sentence, or turning down the wrong road, or any other fear-fueled query about the massive consequence of a single decision. Even though yes, sometimes small changes can bring big results – that is not the point of this passage). By saying, “try the other side” – Jesus made it clear that it was NOT a change in location or strategy that would lead to breakthrough. “Go back out into the waters of failure.” “Let your nets out again – just a few insignificant feet away.” But this time, do so with no reliance upon your own ability.  This time, do so with a complete confidence in the promise of God, and in the providence of God. Believe that His word and His good will (grace) are more than sufficient for breakthrough. Trust His promise and providence. Don’t waste time in regret. Don’t hover around the memory of failure. Believe. Imagine. Hope. Obey.

And remember, the best way to prepare for net-breaking, boat-sinking breakthrough is to…. mend the nets.

I remember when we were trying to rent our house some years ago. We tried everything we could. It was getting really frustrating. After weeks and weeks – nothing. No success. So, I decided I’d better just start mending the nets. I went to Home Depot and bought some paint and repainted my fence. I remember saying to myself, “here I am Lord, mending my nets.” And I don’t even think I can trace the series of events – but within weeks we were in a new house.

When you’ve fished all night and caught nothing – keep mending your nets. When you’ve experienced set back or disappointment – don’t give up and go away.  When the night was long and you’re worn out, don’t leave holes and debris in your nets.  Bear down. Be faithful with the little things.

I think of the single parent who doesn’t know how rent is going to get covered – but still stays up after the kids go to bed making lunch for their backpacks the next day. I think of the out of work former executive who spends time ironing a shirt or shining his shoes. I think of the athlete who missed the big shot or a team that lost the big game – back in the gym, on the court, or on the field the next day.  I think of the saint that seeks the salvation of their household but faces rejection over and over – and returns to the place of prayer and practice of love. I think of the pastor who longs for landscape-shifting revival and isn’t yet seeing all he longs for – yet he prays without ceasing. That’s the thing about net-mending. It is the quiet refusal to give up.

For me: people have disappointed – even betrayed me. Opportunities have escaped my reach.  I’ve had grand plans and great ideas that just seemed to come to nothing. And the only thing I can do is go back to mending nets. Keep reading stories of those who’ve overcome, who have broken through. Keep studying scripture. Parse the Greek and Hebrew. Exegete the passage.  Get back on my knees and pray in tongues for another hour. Read another biography. Read another testimony. I see a miraculous healing from cancer or long-term pain, and then turn around and lay may hand on Ben – again. That’s the thing about mending nets – faithfully attending the routine and mundane tasks of life.

Because: We can’t overlook or neglect the things that might seem mundane – because it is the doing well of the little things that makes for the success of the big things. The best way to prepare for net-breaking, boat-sinking breakthrough is to…. Mend the nets. And when disappointment, delay or set-back hits us, the best way to hit back is to keep mending the nets. And stay ready for deep water.

Hope you’ve been encouraged; thanks for reading!

‘Dav

Keep a Wet Edge

 

blue-paint-bucket-brush1

 

We decided the old church building needed a paint job. For whatever reason, I can’t remember, I found myself up on a ladder “helping” the veteran painters tackle the street-facing portion of the church. It was, of course, where the cross hung pristinely in view for passers-by. It was my duty-by-default to repaint the cross.

Up on the ladder I climbed, bucket and brush in hand(s), and began to give a fresh look to an old cross (fascinating, ironic, meditative… but not the point of this article).  Not an experienced painter, not even a painter, I dipped the brush in the bucket and sought to impress my more-experienced-observers with my focus, skill and stewardship of the paint. I brushed further and further, spreading the paint as well and as far as I could (clearly it was more economical to spread it out, really get all the paint out of the brush, good stewardship, maximize potential… look how much territory I was covering!) When I noticed there was nearly no paint left on the brush, I (begrudgingly) went back for more paint. And then started painting… somewhere where I’d left off… not exactly sure where… but started covering more territory.

The patient painter behind me could bear no more. He quietly said to me, “you have to keep a wet edge. Don’t dry your brush out or you’ll just have to repaint it.” He went on to explain how and why what I was doing was wrong. But I gently said, “Stop. You just said something that probably I should never forget. Keep a wet edge.” I am not sure how long I continued painting, I’d like to think I finished re-presenting the cross… I’d like to think that one day I will truly finish re-presenting the cross. But for today, what I need to remember is this: Keep a wet edge.

Leaders need to keep a wet edge. Parents do. Pastors do. Anyone whose hope or duty it is to spread the influence of good, of grace, of wisdom, of counsel, of kindness upon the canvas of this world – needs to keep a wet edge.

Never let your brush run dry. Don’t deceive yourself into believing that you are just working harder or maximizing your potential. You’re just painting like a novice. You may be covering more ground, but your impact will be thin and influence short.

Never let your brush run dry. Stay close to the Source. Immerse yourself often. Stay conscious of “why” you are doing and “Who” are you doing it for. Don’t get too far away from the bucket. Read the bible for pleasure and reflection. Often. Take a moment of private devotion and worship and gratitude – without it being part of a formality or corporate responsibility. Pray in the Spirit. Spend a little extra time with people who make you laugh and who encourage you. Spend a little more time alone.  It may look a little different for you than for me, but neither of us can afford too much time away from the bucket. Keep a wet edge.

The alternative is, without exception, that you will find yourself leaning over a ladder, arms stretched as far as possible, with maximum exertion, but spreading the least amount of paint. Then you, or someone else, will just have to paint again. Dry brushes make for wasted energy. Stay close to the bucket. Never let your brush run dry. Keep a wet edge.

When Lightning Strikes

lightning

 

Lightening is powerful. It cannot be predicted, but can be anticipated. Lightning is a meteorological phenomenon that essentially (really over simplified summary coming) is a result of the conditions above meeting appropriate, coordinating conditions below (equal electric charges of opposite polarity). When that happens, the result is a powerful flash of lightning. Other than the heat, light and energy released – lighting also oxidizes nitrogen in the air into nitrates which are deposited by rain and can fertilize plant growth. So lightning, a result of coordinating conditions above and below, is powerful AND contributes to conditions for growth. Interesting.

Revival is similar to lightning. Revival is a result of coordinating, conducive conditions above and beneath. But there is a significant, encouraging, and I believe challenging difference. To an almost total extent, the conditions “above” are always right. By that I mean that God is never not in the mood for powerful expressions, manifestations of His Spirit’s person and work that lead to greater conditions for growth. The contingency is with the conditions below.

Heaven is poised and longs to influence earth. From the beginning of the Gospel the message has been that the Kingdom is here – and to respond correctly by repentance and faith (Mark 1:15). And the concurrent imperative has been to pray for and proclaim the interests and influence of heaven on earth (Matt. 6:10, 16:19, 18:18). God has already declared and demonstrated His intent and activity: “in the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…” (Acts 2:17ff). Heaven is open and committed. The Spirit has been paid for and poured out (John 14:16-18).

The conditions below must change. Jesus implied as much with the statement, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). The implication being that the variable is not on the side of heaven, but earth. Jesus is looking for faith on earth. The conditions above are looking for coordinating, conducive conditions below.

The Holy Spirit can initiate activity without asking anyone’s permission – He is God. But it must be acknowledged that God has always operated through the faith and obedience of someone. He has rarely “shown up” or “moved in” without partnering with a person. In the most influential revivals of history – and their contemporary counterparts – even when it has seemed or been said that “this is a sovereign move of God” – the truth is closer to a divine partnership between heaven and earth.: somewhere, someone prayed and obeyed. Every time. The reformation. The great awakenings. Azusa. Brownsville. Topeka. Lakeland. Toronto. Redding. Every strike of lightning has resulted from coordinating, conducive conditions.

The excitement, enthusiasm and hunger that result from initial “strikes” usually foster even greater conditions for more. Testimony increased faith and hunger and expectation. Expectation creates enthusiasm. Enthusiasm generates more interest and more crowds with more of all the above. Since the days of Jesus, people have moved in mass to where the lighting of heaven is striking.

Often the question is asked as to why certain “moves of God” lift or cease. I do not believe that Heaven lost interest. I sincerely believe that earth loses hunger, anticipation, expectation… that real, humble, yielded faith wanes… and the conditions below are no longer conducive the conditions above. Lightning cannot be faked or forced. The conditions below must change.

I recognize that heaven responds to the prayers and petitions of the church. In some measure, though God’s preference never eases or ebbs, His apparent willingness to act is directly affected by the actions of His church. The idea of “waiting on the Lord” is not so much waiting for God to stir Himself from slumber, or to pay attention. Waiting on the Lord has much greater impact on me – it readies me for what God is already ready for.  I also recognize there appears to matters of timing and design from heaven. He does know the plans He has for us (they are good). But sovereignty is His arena, not mine. I am responsible for what I know, and I know that for the most part, I am not waiting on God as much He is waiting on me. If He’s looking for faith, I want Him to find it in me.

This brings me to why I am both encouraged and challenged.

I am encouraged because I know that Heaven is more ready than I am for revival. I don’t put very much stock into predictions about “what God is about to do” as if He’s been holding back and waiting for the right calendar year to line up metaphorically with an ancient timeline.  Nor do I believe He overly concerned with current events or politicians. Not in a way that would make more or less persuaded to be manifestly present in power and life. No one thing, not a person or event or the passing of time or the appearance of the moon can leverage Heaven’s interests on earth more than the shed blood of Jesus and His glorious ascension. Jesus has been exalted and has poured out the Spirit (Acts 2:32-33). Nothing greater than this can ever occur. No greater reason could ever exist for the manifest presence of the Outpoured Spirit. I do posit that the Spirit perceives when someone has started affecting the conditions below, and will let folks know that He’s “found a spot.” As such, I think the Holy Spirit forecasts manifestations of His work – not based on His own whim, but because the Son of Man has found faith on the earth.

Therefore, revival is always a possibility. If Heaven is ready now – then any delay or diminishing is not on Heaven’s side but ours. If the Son of Man is looking for faith, I want to be found with it. I want to be the conducive, coordinating “spot” below where lightning of God may strike again and again. And, by faith, I can hear the peals of thunder in the distance even now.

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

 

star-of-bethlehem

 

The words to the carol begin, “God rest you merry, gentlemen.” The comma goes after merry. The word “rest” is a verb and in the oldest use it means “make.” It is saying, “God make you merry, gentlemen (the general audience). God make you joyful, and let nothing you dismay – let nothing frighten or trouble you.

And then the narrator explains how God has had provided for their merriment and quieted their anxious souls. Remember, says the caroler, that Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day. To save us all from Satan’s power while we were gone astray. So, Christ has saved us from a fierce enemy, and from the fruit of our own folly.  The oldest versions then say, “this brings” or “which brings tidings of comfort of Joy.” Remembering what Christ has done for us brings news of comfort and joy.

The actual origins of this song are not known, and I can’t find anywhere that says if the writer developed it from scripture. But the main refrain of the song is extracted directly from Jeremiah 31:13, “Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” Young women (same word in Hebrew as virgins) will dance and be glad. Why this? It is a symbol of hope – it’s why the “young” dance – because they represent anticipation of the future – anticipation dances when there is hope. Why hope? Because of what the Lord has done and promises to do. God says, “I will turn their mourning into gladness.” I will turn their sad song into a happy song. HOW? I will give them comfort and joy.

The first thing he gives is comfort. This is not just a hug and a “there, there.” The word carries the connotations of deep empathy – it sounds like the low-toned sigh of a caring adult quieting a troubled child. God says, “I will comfort you.” How? Immanuel. God with us. God saving us. Earlier, in v. 11, the prophet says the Lord will deliver Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they. God will comfort us by being bigger and truer and stronger than the things that trouble us, even and especially the things that are stronger than we are. He will be present: bringing down the noise, quieting the alarms, the voices, the pressures, the threats, the fears, anxieties, and un-ending expectations. He comforts us by confronting these things. Christ comforts us by His own victory over them.

The term Christus Victor refers to a Christian understanding of the atonement which views Christ’s death as the means by which the powers of evil, which held humankind under their dominion, were defeated. The idea is this: Christ is victor. Christ in his death and resurrection overcame the hostile powers that hold humanity in subjection, those powers variously understood as the devil, sin, the law and its condemnation, and fear and anxiety and even death.”

Christus Victor is rooted in the Incarnation and how Christ entered into human misery and wickedness and thus redeemed it. The Christus Victor view of the Atonement is a drama, a passion story of God triumphing over the powers of darkness and liberating humanity from the bondage of sin. He redeems us from everything that was stronger than we were. He comforts us by His victory over all our fears.

His comfort precedes and produces joy. Comfort comes first because it is the voice of truth. It displaces lie and shadow and threat. Comfort settles the soul. It prepares the way for joy. Joy cannot long abide in the troubled soul. Without comfort, joy is temporary, elusive – crowded out. So, He comforts us – that He may cause us to have joy.

He would comfort your soul – that he may cause your joy. Where are you troubled? “Benign” things: Life? Work, family, finances? Or does fear, unrest, regret, or pain trouble your soul? Christ has overcome. He is truth. He is love. He is power and grace. He is stronger. He Is Immanuel.  God rest you merry, dear friend. Let nothing you dismay. He wants you to dance again. Tidings of comfort and joy indeed.

Thanks for reading; Merry Christmas,

‘Dav

 

Do you want to live a long and prosperous life?

prosperity

Sounds like the start of an infomercial. But it’s not an idea birthed by late-night marketing professionals. It’s an ancient query, posed by David  in Psalm 34:12-14. He offers this rhetorical question, “Hey! Do you want to live life, loving your days and see good?” The question presupposes an affirmative response, “uhm, yes please.” He offers a succinct solution to what you seek. The answer isn’t found in super-secret-strategies or narcissistic navel gazing. It’s about living by grace.

Keep your tongue from evil and lips from lies.

Interesting. The first thing David tells his audience is to watch how they talk. David apparently knew that how we talk – to and about others in particular – has a direct impact on our lives. Does he mean that our words have some sort of karma-like effect on our lives? Or is he pointing out that our words can most often be the first source of trouble and pain in life? I think it is mostly the latter. If we speak unclean and unkind words to or about others, or if our speech is littered with guile, we partner with everything ugly and invite the same in our lives. Where you find sour speech, you will not find happy hearts. There is a symbiotic relationship between destructive words and decaying lives.

Turn from evil and do good.

It follows that next David urges a change in our behavior (but remember he first insists we change the way we talk). Turn away from evil – by turning toward good. The Psalmist posits that the way we abandon evil is to embrace good. Doing good is turning from evil. You pretty much can’t do both at once. Don’t bother making a list of things to “stop doing” and then try real hard to not do them. Change what you focus on altogether.  Most of us don’t have to turn away from great violence or other horrid vices. This is more about the small stuff. In any given day we are presented with a thousand opportunities to make a better choice, to choose a kinder course. To encourage. To give. To serve. To do good.  Take advantage of every opportunity. Make doing good an adventure. What good thing can you do for even one person today?  I wager that you’ll discover your life is richer. Doing good is the good life.

Seek peace and work to maintain it.

Nothing ruins life more than strife. And few things shorten life as fast. The one who would prize a prosperous life should pursue and protect peace. It may cost you your pride, but pride is worthless anyway. Seek to bring peace where there isn’t any, and protect peace by precluding the poisons of envy, accusation, and quick-offense. Peace doesn’t mean everyone agrees and has had their expectations satisfied. Peace means we honor one another enough to adjust our expectations. Peace means we stop feeling the need to control others. Peace means we treat others the way we’d really like to be treated. Peace means we look for opportunities to forgive. Peace means we assume the best instead of suspect the worst. Peace has to be protected; don’t we always protect our valuables?

Apparently David recognized that a long and prosperous life has more to do with our words, our actions, and our relationships than almost anything else. May the grace of Jesus Christ fill and flow through what you say and what you as it governs and guides your relationships.

Live long and prosper.

Keeping Your Ask Big

Ask

Cruise control is for cars, not life.

Sure, life is a marathon and not a sprint, and patience proves a powerful ally. And yes, a great deal of life is getting up, showing up, doing what’s right, and then doing it again. But consistency is no excuse for apathy.

I am stirred by the encounter that Solomon has with the Lord in 2 Chronicles 1:7. At a very early point in Solomon’s reign, shortly after sacred inaugural events (including 1000 burnt offerings), one night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask! What shall I give you?”

God essentially dares Solomon to dream. God commands Solomon to ask from Him – with a powerful inference that He expected Solomon to ask big.  I cannot imagine a better way to begin a career as king – or anything else for that matter.

Think of it, Israel had already experienced significant success, wealth, and power under the reign of David. David essentially did all the heavy lifting. Solomon could – could – have eased into cruise control and just enjoyed the echoes of David’s reign.

But on this night God appears to him and says, “ASK!” Now, I have for years read this passage and attributed the wonder of this opportunity to God responding to something Solomon had done right – as if Solomon had picked the winning numbers in a lottery and “boom” God rewards Solomon with the greatest question ever.

But perhaps not. Perhaps this question reveals something about God, rather than something about Solomon. Perhaps we see a God who invites us to ask – and ask big. No, I don’t mean a God who invites us to selfishness or greed or discontent or gluttony – not at all. I mean a God who is glorified by great expectations.

Too often I fear that I tolerate atrophied expectations. I begin a day or start a task using the same measuring stick I used before, almost as if the goal was just to finish something instead of achieve something.

But what if I heard the voice of God each morning, inviting me to “ASK!” What if each week’s goals, every day’s appointments were predicated on elevated expectations – based on a big ask?

I am challenged to keep a big ask. I don’t want to set the cruise-control and just go through the motions, being satisfied with getting things over. I want to hear the voice of a Great-Big-Good-God who invites me to approach life, daily, with elevated expectations.

Ask! Dream! Imagine! Risk! Dare! Expect!

“Lord, help me to inhale hope and ask big today. And then to do the same thing tomorrow. Help me to keep a big ask.”

‘Dav