How Brokenness is Beautiful to Him

You who sit down in the High God’s presence, spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow,
Say this: “God, you’re my refuge.
I trust in you and I’m safe!”
That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps,
shields you from deadly hazards.
His huge outstretched arms protect you—
under them you’re perfectly safe;
his arms fend off all harm.
Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night,
not flying arrows in the day,
Not disease that prowls through the darkness,
not disaster that erupts at high noon.
Even though others succumb all around,
drop like flies right and left,
no harm will even graze you.
You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance,
watch the wicked turn into corpses.
Yes, because God’s your refuge,
the High God your very own home,
Evil can’t get close to you,
harm can’t get through the door.
He ordered his angels
to guard you wherever you go.
If you stumble, they’ll catch you;
their job is to keep you from falling.
You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes,
and kick young lions and serpents from the path.

“If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
“I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life,
give you a long drink of salvation!”

Psalm 91

I read through the first 3 ninety Psalms (90,91,92) the other day and God caught my eye. Normally I read to find something interesting, or an encouragement for my current situation, but this time, as I dipped into His Word, all I could see was Him.

He was great, wonderful, real; exactly what I felt I needed, He was telling me His is, and has been all along. How could I be so blind?

God, it seems you’ve been our home forever; long before the mountains were born,
Long before you brought earth itself to birth,
from “once upon a time” to “kingdom come”—you are God.

So don’t return us to mud, saying,
“Back to where you came from!”
Patience! You’ve got all the time in the world—whether
a thousand years or a day, it’s all the same to you.
Are we no more to you than a wispy dream,
no more than a blade of grass
That springs up gloriously with the rising sun
and is cut down without a second thought?
Your anger is far and away too much for us;
we’re at the end of our rope.
You keep track of all our sins; every misdeed
since we were children is entered in your books.
All we can remember is that frown on your face.
Is that all we’re ever going to get?
We live for seventy years or so
(with luck we might make it to eighty),
And what do we have to show for it? Trouble.
Toil and trouble and a marker in the graveyard.
Who can make sense of such rage,
such anger against the very ones who fear you?

Oh! Teach us to live well!
Teach us to live wisely and well!
Come back, God—how long do we have to wait?—
and treat your servants with kindness for a change.
Surprise us with love at daybreak;
then we’ll skip and dance all the day long.
Make up for the bad times with some good times;
we’ve seen enough evil to last a lifetime.
Let your servants see what you’re best at—
the ways you rule and bless your children.
And let the loveliness of our Lord, our God, rest on us,
confirming the work that we do.
Oh, yes. Affirm the work that we do!

Psalm 90

God, You are the center, and my glory is my connection with You; should I leave You, I am left with nothing.

What a beautiful thing, God, to give thanks, to sing an anthem to you, the High God!
To announce your love each daybreak,
sing your faithful presence all through the night,
Accompanied by dulcimer and harp,
the full-bodied music of strings.

You made me so happy, God
I saw your work and I shouted for joy.
How magnificent your work, God!
How profound your thoughts!
Dullards never notice what you do;
fools never do get it.
When the wicked popped up like weeds
and all the evil men and women took over,
You mowed them down,
finished them off once and for all.
You, God, are High and Eternal.
Look at your enemies, God!
Look at your enemies—ruined!
Scattered to the winds, all those hirelings of evil!

But you’ve made me strong as a charging bison,
you’ve honored me with a festive parade.
The sight of my critics going down is still fresh,
the rout of my malicious detractors.
My ears are filled with the sounds of promise:
“Good people will prosper like palm trees,
Grow tall like Lebanon cedars;
transplanted to God’s courtyard,
They’ll grow tall in the presence of God,
lithe and green, virile still in old age.”

Such witnesses to upright God!
My Mountain, my huge, holy Mountain!

Psalm 92

What We Really Want from Life

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law. I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.

You were running superbly! Who cut in on you, deflecting you from the true course of obedience? This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place. And please don’t toss this off as insignificant. It only takes a minute amount of yeast, you know, to permeate an entire loaf of bread. Deep down, the Master has given me confidence that you will not defect. But the one who is upsetting you, whoever he is, will bear the divine judgment.

As for the rumor that I continue to preach the ways of circumcision (as I did in those pre-Damascus Road days), that is absurd. Why would I still be persecuted, then? If I were preaching that old message, no one would be offended if I mentioned the Cross now and then—it would be so watered-down it wouldn’t matter one way or the other. Why don’t these agitators, obsessive as they are about circumcision, go all the way and castrate themselves!

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?

My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?

It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.

This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.

Galatians 5

What are your greatest desires and highest ambitions? Are they motivated by the spirit — coming from God — or, the flesh — coming from your sinful nature? These are hard questions, but avoiding them is forfeiting all that we could be enjoying in the spirit.

We cannot assume that we automatically walk in the life of the Spirit, according to the Holy Spirit’s inner working, simply because we now live by the Spirit; unless we allow Him — God — to search our hearts and know us we will not see our central motivations for what they truly are and seek Him in humble repentance, longing to be changed.

There is a prayer in the Psalms that I approach with much fleshly trepidation, yet spiritual zeal:

Generous in love—God, give grace! Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
Scrub away my guilt,
soak out my sins in your laundry.
I know how bad I’ve been;
my sins are staring me down.

You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
You have all the facts before you;
whatever you decide about me is fair.
I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
in the wrong since before I was born.
What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.

Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love
don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.

Make Zion the place you delight in,
repair Jerusalem’s broken-down walls.
Then you’ll get real worship from us,
acts of worship small and large,
Including all the bulls
they can heave onto your altar!

Psalm 51

May the Lord cleanse our hearts and make us new, leading us to come more and more frequently to Him, letting our hearts meet Him, believing that He is all the hope of this life was meant to be.

I, Simon Peter, am a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ. I write this to you whose experience with God is as life-changing as ours, all due to our God’s straight dealing and the intervention of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Grace and peace to you many times over as you deepen in your experience with God and Jesus, our Master.

Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust.

So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

So, friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, his choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Because the stakes are so high, even though you’re up-to-date on all this truth and practice it inside and out, I’m not going to let up for a minute in calling you to attention before it. This is the post to which I’ve been assigned—keeping you alert with frequent reminders—and I’m sticking to it as long as I live. I know that I’m to die soon; the Master has made that quite clear to me. And so I am especially eager that you have all this down in black and white so that after I die, you’ll have it for ready reference.We weren’t, you know, just wishing on a star when we laid the facts out before you regarding the powerful return of our Master, Jesus Christ. We were there for the preview! We saw it with our own eyes: Jesus resplendent with light from God the Father as the voice of Majestic Glory spoke: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of all my delight.” We were there on the holy mountain with him. We heard the voice out of heaven with our very own ears.

We couldn’t be more sure of what we saw and heard—God’s glory, God’s voice. The prophetic Word was confirmed to us. You’ll do well to keep focusing on it. It’s the one light you have in a dark time as you wait for daybreak and the rising of the Morning Star in your hearts. The main thing to keep in mind here is that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private opinion. And why? Because it’s not something concocted in the human heart. Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God’s Word.

2 Peter 1

Enter In

Good friend, don’t forget all I’ve taught you; take to heart my commands.
They’ll help you live a long, long time,
a long life lived full and well.

Don’t lose your grip on Love and Loyalty.
Tie them around your neck; carve their initials on your heart.
Earn a reputation for living well
in God’s eyes and the eyes of the people.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Don’t assume that you know it all.
Run to God! Run from evil!
Your body will glow with health,
your very bones will vibrate with life!
Honor God with everything you own;
give him the first and the best.
Your barns will burst,
your wine vats will brim over.
But don’t, dear friend, resent God’s discipline;
don’t sulk under his loving correction.
It’s the child he loves that God corrects;
a father’s delight is behind all this.

You’re blessed when you meet Lady Wisdom, when you make friends with Madame Insight.
She’s worth far more than money in the bank;
her friendship is better than a big salary.
Her value exceeds all the trappings of wealth;
nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her.
With one hand she gives long life,
with the other she confers recognition.
Her manner is beautiful,
her life wonderfully complete.
She’s the very Tree of Life to those who embrace her.
Hold her tight—and be blessed!

With Lady Wisdom, God formed Earth;
with Madame Insight, he raised Heaven.
They knew when to signal rivers and springs to the surface,
and dew to descend from the night skies.

Dear friend, guard Clear Thinking and Common Sense with your life;
don’t for a minute lose sight of them.
They’ll keep your soul alive and well,
they’ll keep you fit and attractive.
You’ll travel safely,
you’ll neither tire nor trip.
You’ll take afternoon naps without a worry,
you’ll enjoy a good night’s sleep.
No need to panic over alarms or surprises,
or predictions that doomsday’s just around the corner,
Because God will be right there with you;
he’ll keep you safe and sound.

Never walk away from someone who deserves help;
your hand is God’s hand for that person.
Don’t tell your neighbor “Maybe some other time”
or “Try me tomorrow”
when the money’s right there in your pocket.
Don’t figure ways of taking advantage of your neighbor
when he’s sitting there trusting and unsuspecting.

Don’t walk around with a chip on your shoulder,
always spoiling for a fight.
Don’t try to be like those who shoulder their way through life.
Why be a bully?
“Why not?” you say. Because God can’t stand twisted souls.
It’s the straightforward who get his respect.

God’s curse blights the house of the wicked,
but he blesses the home of the righteous.
He gives proud skeptics a cold shoulder,
but if you’re down on your luck, he’s right there to help.
Wise living gets rewarded with honor;
stupid living gets the booby prize.

Proverbs 3

I like to think that I am good at thinking things through, that I could get the prize for interpreting the true problem at hand, especially when it comes to my own. But, I’m not; just when I think I have the answer to something, it’s like God sidles up on me, letting His hand rest lightly on my shoulder while He whispers, “Now, that you think you have it, and are feeling more relaxed, would you like to hear the real problem you have?”

Gulp.

But, regardless of whatever character assessment you may have gotten from that short description of Him I just gave you, He always makes me know, just with His presence that He has come to give me just what I have been looking for all along. How ironic though, when He shares His insight, my eyes are suddenly open. It is always so simple, so obvious, yet so much more to the point then I was seeking.

When I’m so confused with fear and dread of the unknown of my circumstances or His plan, I miss what His objective has always been — to deliver me to life; life without an end and full of opportunities to see glimpses of heaven in all its majesty and wonder, lest I forget what I’m really living to see and where I’m really hoping to be.

There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.” Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.”

“How can anyone,” said Nicodemus, “be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?”

Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.

“So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”

Nicodemus asked, “What do you mean by this? How does this happen?”

Jesus said, “You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics? Listen carefully. I’m speaking sober truth to you. I speak only of what I know by experience; I give witness only to what I have seen with my own eyes. There is nothing secondhand here, no hearsay. Yet instead of facing the evidence and accepting it, you procrastinate with questions. If I tell you things that are plain as the hand before your face and you don’t believe me, what use is there in telling you of things you can’t see, the things of God?

“No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

“This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”

John 3:1-21 (emphasis mine)

Go After A Way of Love

Go after a way of love as if your life depended on it — because it does. Give yourselves to the gifts God gives you. Most of all, try to proclaim his truth. If you praise him in the private language of tongues, God understands you but no one else does, for you are sharing intimacies just between you and him. But when you proclaim his truth in everyday speech, you’re letting others in on the truth so that they can grow and be strong and experience his presence with you.

The one who prays using a private “prayer language” certainly gets a lot out of it, but proclaiming God’s truth in its common language brings the whole church into growth and strength. I want all of you to develop intimacies with God in prayer, but please don’t stop with that. Go on and proclaim his clear truth to others. It’s more important that everyone have access to the knowledge and love of God in language that everyone understands than that you go off and cultivate God’s presence in a mysterious prayer language — unless, of course, there is someone to interpret what you are saying for the benefit of all.

Think, friends: If I come to you and all I do is pray privately to God in a way only he can understand, what are you going to get out of that? If I don’t address you plainly with some insight or truth or proclamation or teaching, what help am I to you? If musical instruments — flutes, say, or harps — aren’t played so that each note is distinct and in tune, how will anyone be able to catch the melody and enjoy the music? If the trumpet call can’t be distinguished, will anyone show up for the battle?

So if you speak in a way that no one can understand, what’s the point of opening your mouth? There are many languages in the world, and they all mean something to someone. But if I don’t understand the language, it’s not going to do me much good. It’s no different with you. Since you’re so eager to participate in what God’s doing, why don’t you concentrate on doing what helps everyone in the church?

So, when you pray in your private prayer language, don’t hoard the experience for yourself. Pray for the insight and ability to bring others into that intimacy. If I pray in tongues my spirit prays, but my mind lies fallow, and all that intelligence is wasted. So what’s the solution? The answer is simple enough. Do both. I should be spiritually free and expressive as I pray, but I should also be thoughtful and mindful as I pray. I should sing with my spirit, and sing with my mind. If you give a blessing using your private prayer language, which no one else understands, how can some outsider who has just shown up and has no idea what’s going on know when to say “Amen”? Your blessing might be beautiful, but you have very effectively cut that person out of it.

I’m grateful to God for the gift of praying in tongues that he gives us for praising him, which leads to wonderful intimacies we enjoy with him. I enter into this as much or more than any of you. But when I’m in a church assembled for worship, I’d rather say five words that everyone can understand and learn from than ten thousand that sound to others like gibberish.

To be perfectly frank, I’m getting exasperated with your infantile thinking. How long before you grow up and use your head — your adult head? It’s all right to have a childlike unfamiliarity with evil; a simple no is all that’s needed there. But there’s far more to saying yes to something. Only mature and well-exercised intelligence can save you from falling into gullibility. It’s written in Scripture that God said,

In strange tongues and from the mouths of strangers I will preach to this people, but they’ll neither listen nor believe.

So where does it get you, all this speaking in tongues no one understands? It doesn’t help believers, and it only gives unbelievers something to gawk at. Plain truth-speaking, on the other hand, goes straight to the heart of believers and doesn’t get in the way of unbelievers. If you come together as a congregation and some unbelieving outsiders walk in on you as you’re all praying in tongues, unintelligible to each other and to them, won’t they assume you’ve taken leave of your senses and get out of there as fast as they can? But if some unbelieving outsiders walk in on a service where people are speaking out God’s truth, the plain words will bring them up against the truth and probe their hearts. Before you know it, they’re going to be on their faces before God, recognizing that God is among you.

So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. If prayers are offered in tongues, two or three’s the limit, and then only if someone is present who can interpret what you’re saying. Otherwise, keep it between God and yourself. And no more than two or three speakers at a meeting, with the rest of you listening and taking it to heart. Take your turn, no one person taking over. Then each person gets a chance to share something special from God, and you all learn from each other. If you choose to speak, you’re also responsible for how and when you speak. When we worship the right way, God doesn’t stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. This goes for all the churches — no exceptions.

Wives must not disrupt worship, talking when they should be listening, asking questions that could more appropriately be asked of their husbands at home. God’s Book of the law guides our manners and customs here. Wives have no license to use this time of worship for unwarranted speaking. Do you — both women and men — imagine that you’re a sacred oracle determining what’s right and wrong? Do you think everything revolves around you?

If anyone of you thinks God has something for you to say or has inspired you to do something, pay close attention to what I have written. This is the way the Master wants it. If you won’t play by these rules, God can’t use you. Sorry.

Three things, then, to sum this up: When you speak forth God’s truth, speak your heart out. Don’t tell people how they should or shouldn’t pray when they’re praying in tongues that you don’t understand. Be courteous and considerate in everything.

1 Corinthians 14

What’s the first thing you think of when you think of love? I think of a four-letter word that I love the sound of, but hardly know the meaning of. Sad, isn’t it. The thing that all of us most need, that Christ came to give at such a cost, and we don’t even understand the displays relevance.

I want the way of the cross to mean more to me than empty words, familiar concepts and comforting practices of service and devotion. I want it to mean that I have seen love, sat with love and known who He is, where to find Him, and how to hold onto Him in even the worst of circumstances. I want to know that He is a part of everything I am and do, that He is taking over and I am happy to decrease in light of all that I’ve come to thirst for of His abundance. I want what Mary had: a love for the Savior that made her stop, listen, and get as close to Him and His words as she could. She forgot all the chores that she and Mary had agreed must be completed before Jesus’ arrival. She couldn’t work while the incarnate God was intent on working on her heart.

The Pharisees, along with some religion scholars who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around him. They noticed that some of his disciples weren’t being careful with ritual washings before meals. The Pharisees—Jews in general, in fact—would never eat a meal without going through the motions of a ritual hand-washing, with an especially vigorous scrubbing if they had just come from the market (to say nothing of the scourings they’d give jugs and pots and pans).The Pharisees and religion scholars asked, “Why do your disciples flout the rules, showing up at meals without washing their hands?”

Jesus answered, “Isaiah was right about frauds like you, hit the bull’s-eye in fact:

These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
but their heart isn’t in it.

They act like they are worshiping me,
but they don’t mean it.

They just use me as a cover
for teaching whatever suits their fancy,

Ditching God’s command
and taking up the latest fads.”

He went on, “Well, good for you. You get rid of God’s command so you won’t be inconvenienced in following the religious fashions! Moses said, ‘Respect your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone denouncing father or mother should be killed.’ But you weasel out of that by saying that it’s perfectly acceptable to say to father or mother, ‘Gift! What I owed you I’ve given as a gift to God,’ thus relieving yourselves of obligation to father or mother. You scratch out God’s Word and scrawl a whim in its place. You do a lot of things like this.”

Jesus called the crowd together again and said, “Listen now, all of you— take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it’s what you vomit—that’s the real pollution.”

When he was back home after being with the crowd, his disciples said, “We don’t get it. Put it in plain language.”

Jesus said, “Are you being willfully stupid? Don’t you see that what you swallow can’t contaminate you? It doesn’t enter your heart but your stomach, works its way through the intestines, and is finally flushed.” (That took care of dietary quibbling; Jesus was saying that all foods are fit to eat.)

He went on: “It’s what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.”

Mark 7:1-23

You Can Eat and Drink at My Table

Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest. But Jesus intervened, “Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It’s not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant.

“Who would you rather be, the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You’d rather eat and be served, right? But I’ve taken my place among you as the one who serves. And you’ve stuck with me through thick and thin. Now I confer on you the royal authority my Father conferred on me so you can eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and be strengthened as you take up responsibility in the congregations of God’s people.

“Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you do not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.

Luke 22:24-32

Isn’t it amazing to consider what kind of Savior we have? He knows what our desires are and the motives that carry them, but He addresses us with mercy and loving authority. With perfect kindness He leads us with His example. How else could we follow someone so contrary to us, but that He showed us what good reasons we have to forfeit our own ways.

But GOD was not at all pleased with what David had done, and sent Nathan to David. Nathan said to him, “There were two men in the same city — one rich, the other poor. The rich man had huge flocks of sheep, herds of cattle. The poor man had nothing but one little female lamb, which he had bought and raised. It grew up with him and his children as a member of the family. It ate off his plate and drank from his cup and slept on his bed. It was like a daughter to him.

“One day a traveler dropped in on the rich man. He was too stingy to take an animal from his own herds or flocks to make a meal for his visitor, so he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared a meal to set before his guest. ”

David exploded in anger. “As surely as GOD lives,” he said to Nathan,”the man who did this ought to be lynched! He must repay for the lamb four times over for his crime and his stinginess!”

“You’re the man!” said Nathan. “And here’s what GOD, the God of Israel, has to say to you: I made you king over Israel. I freed you from the fist of Saul. I gave you your master’s daughter and other wives to have and to hold. I gave you both Israel and Judah. And if that hadn’t been enough, I’d have gladly thrown in much more. So why have you treated the word of GOD with brazen contempt, doing this great evil? You murdered Uriah the Hittite, then took his wife as your wife. Worse, you killed him with an Ammonite sword! And now because you treated GOD with such contempt and took Uriah the Hittite’s wife as your wife, killing and murder will continually plague your family. This is GOD speaking, remember! I’ll make trouble for you out of your own family. I’ll take your wives from right out in front of you. I’ll give them to some neighbor, and he’ll go to bed with them openly. You did your deed in secret; I’m doing mine with the whole country watching!”

Then David confessed to Nathan, “I’ve sinned against GOD.”

Nathan pronounced, “Yes, but that’s not the last word. GOD forgives your sin. You won’t die for it. But because of you blasphemous behavior, the son born to you will die.”

After Nathan went home, GOD afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he came down sick. David prayed desperately to GOD for the little boy. He fasted, wouldn’t go out, and slept on the floor. The elders in his family came in and tried to get him off the floor, but he wouldn’t budge. Nor could they get him to eat anything. On the seventh day the child died. David’s servants were afraid to tell him. They said, “What do we do now? While the child was living he wouldn’t listen to a word we said. Now, with the child dead, if we speak to him there’s no telling what he’ll do.”

David noticed that the servants were whispering behind his back, and realized that the boy must have died.

He asked the servants, “Is the boy dead?”

“Yes,” they answered. “He’s dead.”

David got up from the floor, washed his face and combed his hair, put on a fresh change of clothes, then went into the sanctuary and worshiped. Then he came home and asked for something to eat. They set it before him and he ate.

His servants asked him, “What’s going on with you? While the child was alive you fasted and wept and stayed up all night. Now that he’s dead, you get up and eat.”

“While the child was alive,” he said, “I fasted and wept, thinking God might have mercy on me and the child would live. But now that he’s dead, why fast? Can I bring him back now? I can go to him, but he can’t come to me.”

David went and comforted his wife Bathsheba. And when he slept with her, they conceived a son. When he was born they named him Solomon. God had a special love for him and sent word by Nathan the prophet that God wanted him named Jedidiah (God’s Beloved).

2 Samuel 12:1-25

I don’t often think about how God sees sin. Most often I am content to ruminate over what I think on the matter. I am much more of a philosopher — as I believe we all are — than a theologian, or even one who submits to theology in all of it’s authority. I like to consider what I believe about a matter, and then consult what others’ have to say about it. It is not my immediate response to ask God what He thinks, how things are according to His judgments. Quite frankly, His judgments seem criminal to me. Either they cause me to fear, feel guilt or question what I would really rather blindly believe. But, He doesn’t offer me that option, He comes right out and presents the truth and insists that I do something about it: either live with it, or take it to court.

Since I often don’t feel like I can live with it — because submission to His rules seems impossible either because of what I want to do or because of what I don’t want to do — I take it to court.

“God,” I say, “this doesn’t work for me. I don’t know how you thought it was a good idea, but I don’t like it. Do Ya think we could come up with a new plan; a new method for living…together, so I could have more of a creative part? Because I can tell that you didn’t really include much of my input — and we know I have ample supply for both of us! So, how about it? Ya think? Huh?”

I want to be for His plans, I truly do, but I am always surprised when I found out what they are. I get close to them and gasp: they couldn’t be further from what I think will work best for me! I often go through a period of grieving, where I struggle with what God has for me, and what I wanted for myself. I realize that I can’t have both. I can either have God and all His wonderful plans that will take me deeper into His love, especially with all those pressures I hadn’t counted on in my own plan, or I can have my plan, which really isn’t much of a plan, it’s just focused on having the fullest experience of leisure and comfort that I can manage on this earth.

Hard choice. One I can’t trust myself to make. I look to Him, to remind me of how intimately attuned He is to my best interest — the interest of my heart in increased godliness, the interest of my mind in increased wholeness, the interest of my soul in increased satisfaction, the interest of my heart in increased joy — the ability to grow in the love of God for me and mine for Him. Isn’t that really all there is?

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

1 Corinthians 13 (emphasis mine)

Distress that Drives Us to God

With promises like this to pull us on, dear friends, let’s make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without. Let’s make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God.

Trust us, we’ve never hurt a soul, never exploited or taken advantage of anyone. Don’t think I’m finding fault with you. I told you earlier that I’m with you all the way, no matter what. I have, in fact, the greatest confidence in  you. If only you knew how proud I am of you! I am overwhelmed with joy despite all our troubles.

When we arrived at Macedonia province, we couldn’t settle down. The fights in the church and the fears in our hearts kept us on pins and needles. We couldn’t relax because we didn’t know how it would turn out. Then the God who lifts up the downcast lifted our heads and hearts with the arrival of Titus. We were glad just to see him, but the real reassurance came in what he told us about you: how much you cared, how much you grieved, how concerned you were for me. I went from worry to tranquility in no time!

I know I distressed you greatly with my letter. Although I felt awful at the time, I don’t feel at all bad now that I see how it turned out. The letter upset you, but only for a while. Now I’m glad — not that you were upset, but that you were jarred into turning things around. You let the distress bring you to God, not drive you from him. The result was all gain, no loss.

Distress that drives us to God does that. It turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets.

And now, isn’t it wonderful in all the ways this distress has goaded you closer to God? You’re more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible. Looked at from any angle, you’ve come out of this with purity of heart. And that is what I was hoping for in the first place when I wrote the letter. My primary concern was not for the one who did the wrong or even the one wronged, but for you — that you would act upon the deep, deep ties between us before God. That’s what happened — and we felt just great.

And then, when we saw how Titus felt — his exuberance over your response — our joy doubled. It was wonderful to see how revived and refreshed he was by everything you did. If I went out on a limb in telling Titus how great I thought you were, you didn’t cut off that limb. As it turned out, I hadn’t exaggerated one bit. Titus saw for himself that everything I had said about you was true. He can’t quit talking about it, going over again and again the story of your prompt obedience, and the dignity and sensitivity of your hospitality. He was quite overwhelmed by it all! And I couldn’t be more pleased — I’m so confident and proud of you.

2 Corinthians 7

Isn’t it crazy the gentleness and sensitivity we find in God, even when He disciplines us, alerting us to what needs to be changed or corrected in us. He goes so deep, yet He remains so tender.

The Lord has been so intense with me for last few months, showing me how little I trust Him, how impossible it is for me to want His plans, yet how faithful He is to convert my heart to long for what is good. How many of us like junk food, yet would be offended if offered a carrot to satisfy our cravings instead? That is the way my interaction with God has seemed. He wants to feed me and see me satisfied, but He’s never content to use just what’s on hand in my pantry. He is looking for substance that is more than what I’m used, more than I’m willing to wait for or chew on.

I like what tastes good, what feels right and what looks appealing; God keeps on introducing what tastes too-natural, feels strange and looks like I’m going to have to get used to less in the sights department. So, needless to say, it’s taking me time to get used to all these new delicacies, a lot of time. This is not to say that it is impossible, I’m just not always sure whether I even want it to be possible.

I struggle with what God wants, in light of what I want. Why does He always have to have a completely different agenda than I do. I think it would be nice if we could meet in the middle somewhere. Why does He have to insist on acting as if there is such a great divide? I really think it could be simpler.

But, then again, this is all said in an attempt to manipulate God to rearrange His will to be more comfortable for me. I hate the idea that He won’t change for me; that He won’t look at me, take pity and say, “You know, I really should be easier on the girl; she’s only asking for a little lee-way.”

But, if I truly knew the magnificence of His plans, if the eyes of my heart were not so veiled by sin, would I still demand His change? Would I still think His integrity was less than my selfish whims? Would I trust myself less, and cling to Him with all my strength? What I forget about myself and what I want and strain to experience all I can of Him and what He has, rejoicing that I should know anything of Him?

Realizing this makes me wish I was there now. I want God to be everything to me, like the world I know won’t exist without Him; like I’m a rag-doll who can’t be loved unless He’ll choose to play with me; like the symphony of life is playing, and I’m lost if He won’t teach me the part I have to play.

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care — then do me a favor: agree with each other, love each other, be deep spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came he set aside the privilege of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death — and the worst kind of death at that — a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth — even those long dead and buried — will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

Do everything readily and cheerfully — no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ’s return. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.

Even if I’m executed here and now, I’ll rejoice in being an element in the offering of your faith that you make on Christ’s altar, a part of your rejoicing. Whatever you do, don’t feel sorry for me.

And that’s about it, friends. Be glad in God!

Philippians 2:1-18, 3:1