God Speaks

An old puritan preacher once asked two very profound questions: “Does God speak?  And if so, what does God say?”  Profound indeed!

As Isaiah opens his prophecy, we’re told that his ministry spanned the reigns of 4 kings of Judah.  During this period of time, no doubt many proclamations were given, letters dictated and delivered and speeches given (God knows politicians like to give speeches!)

Isaiah himself had a lot to say during these many years as well (His is the longest prophetic book in the Bible).  He was a prophet of God with a tremendous calling to bring the hearts of God’s people back to the Lord.

All that said, it becomes immediately obvious who’s voice is preeminent:

vs. 2: “Hear, oh heavens, and give ear, O earth!  For the Lord has spoken…”

I am amazed at how often, and how clearly the Lord spoke to His people in Scripture; leading them, teaching them, instructing some in such minute detail as to leave us with the impression that these followers of old were hearing from the Almighty as we would hear someone across the table.  How can it be that we seem to hear Him so little?

I’m reminded of the scene at the mount of Jesus’ Transfiguration; how in the presence of Moses and Elijah, three of Jesus’ disciples (Peter, James and John) were so awestruck as to be speechless – almost.  One spoke up (you can guess), calling for monuments to be erected for Jesus, and His two guests (who represented the Law and the Prophets).  Well intentioned as they may have been, Peter’s words can’t truly capture the meaning of the moment, and even carry a caviat, declaring that: ”…he did not know what to say.” (Mark 9:6).  In that moment, the Lord spoke from heaven, encouraging Jesus’ followers not to speak, but to listen (vs. 7): ”…hear Him” the Father would say, referring to the Son – as if to say: ”Listen…and listen to the voice that matters most.” After all, it was His word that brought about the creation (Jn. 1:1-3/Gen. 1:3-30), and opened the door for our re-creation (Jn. 19:30).  That being the case, isn’t it worth hearing what else He has to say?

Does God speak?  The answer is a resounding “Yes.”  The answer to the old puritan preacher’s second question is a treasure to be discovered by those who can heed the words of another prophet, who said: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him.”

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End Date

I just entered my start-date anniversary into my Outlook calendar here in my little corner of the back-forty on the cubicle ranch.  In the process of adding recurrences (the yearly pop-up reminder commemorating the date of my incarcera…er, arrival), there is a choice pertaining to an “end date, with one option being “No End Date.”

(*sigh*)

Sitting here,  that simple checkbox stares me in the face, seeming less an innocuous interrogative than the diabolical plot of a maniacal madman, grinning through gritted, twisted teeth, like ivory towers; once beautiful, but now crumpled under the pressure of so much clenching – the cruel taskmaster conveying with crystal clarity his subtle but unmistakable threat that there is no forseeable end to my cubicular torment.

But, in the midst of my travail (over-stated as it is), I’m reminded that there is, in fact, a grand, final end date, and that each passing day brings me closer to seeing the One who set it.

Today would be a great day Lord…maybe today

For the Glory of God

Julie is listening to Handel’s Messiah.  This transcendent  masterpiece, thought written in a brief span of time (4 days?), was birthed out of great heaviness of heart, and brokenness of spirit. As I listen to this familiar, beautiful piece, I can’t help but consider that it is a worthwhile endeavor to seek to be excellent at whatever your pursuit, even under the most difficult of circumstances, for the glory of God.

Integrity

School’s out!  Summer’s here and the time is right for….well, swimming, summer camp, family vacations, slumber parties and in general, carefree living for the next few months or so (for the kids anyway.)

I used to live for summertime.  Truth be told, I was never really a great student as a kid, and so the thought of a 90-day “homework-release program” suited me just fine.  I was free – and not only from book reports and algebra tests, but also from the other pressures that often follow us throughout so much of our growing years.  Like a lot of young people, I was not only anything but a grade A student, but I was also never the star athlete, never first chair in band, never class president. I did, however, make the dean’s list once (ok, not the good one.) And, like so many kids trying to find their place, what I lacked in scholastic or athletic ability, I certainly did not lack in the desire to find a way to become popular…to be considered special.  For young people, there is such a danger in the temptation to compromise character in the pursuit of popularity.

Thankfully those years eventually pass into memory, and in time we become comfortable in our own skins.  But still, I have to say that I really don’t envy kids today.  As often as any time in history (if not more), young people have a desire to find and to be that which is authentic and real.  By contrast, and so similar to our own experience (if not much more), they are pounded with peer-pressure to conform.  What can a young man or woman do to survive with their integrity intact?

In the Old Testament book of Daniel (chapter 3), we meet three young men who were teenagers when they were carried off as captives to a foreign land called Babylon.  God had blessed them with health and wisdom, and consequently they were offered places of prominence as servants of that nation’s king.  However, in time, circumstances (and the king’s heart) changed and these three friends found themselves in a situation that tested what they were truly made of.  They were literally confronted with an ultimatum to get with the program (conform)…or die by being thrown into a fiery furnace. Talk about a “peer-pressure-cooker!”

Now, considering their circumstances, why not give in – and fit in?  After all, who would know?  And besides, “What happens in Babylon stays in Babylon,” right?  But “fitting in” meant casting off their character and, most importantly, denying the Lord Who had been faithful to them in so many ways.  While they clearly saw the high cost of non-conformity, they also recognized the much higher cost of compromise, and so they refused to give in…and were thrown into the furnace. But amazingly (albeit, not surprisingly,) the Lord stood with them in that place, and rewarded their commitment by delivering them.

It’s been said that integrity is best expressed by being the same person when nobody’s watching as you are when everybody’s watching.  That’s a pretty good definition, but it can still be hard to live out.  The good news is that God is always watching – He can’t take His eyes off of you, and He wants to help you walk in integrity. In many respects times may have changed, but the God Who stood with these young men of old has not – and He’ll stand with you…today!

New Life

The brief conversation is not widely known, but it took place immediately following the horrific events that had occurred upon a hilltop just outside of Jerusalem.  A man named Joseph, from Arimathea had made a request of Pontius Pilate, to take possession of the body of Jesus in order that he might give Him a proper burial in a tomb that his family owned.  Pilate was surprised by the request and asked Joseph why he would ever consider using this tomb, reserved for his own family, as a burial place for this crucified Carpenter.  Joseph assured Pilate that this was ok, because after all…

…it would only be for the weekend.

Tongue-in-cheek as that little story might be, it plays off of the reality that defines this season.  Spring is a beautiful time of year when creation awakens from its slumber, bursting with the splendor of new life.  And so it’s no wonder that in the mind of God, this was to be the time of year when His Son would overcome the cold, harshness of death and rise to newness of life.  His creation would provide the perfect analogy, a similitude in nature for all to behold; a view of the natural giving us a glimpse into a much greater supernatural reality.

Like the vibrant entrance of this season of rebirth, the thought of the resurrection of Jesus instills a sense of wonder.  Much as the season’s early buds demonstrate the beauty of renewal as they spring to life, in His resurrection, Jesus reveals the possibility of our being made new (2 Cor. 5:17).  A wonderful idea to contemplate!  And unlike the seasons that, bound to their unbreakable cycle, ultimately can’t help but change, the resurrection of Christ points to a glorious life that never ends.  It reminds us that we were created for more than just a season.

For so many of us who might have grown up in a Christian tradition of one stripe or another, the story of the resurrection is a familiar one, sometimes an all too familiar one – familiar enough to lose its poignancy.  For those who may have been brought up with a different spiritual (or non-spiritual) background, the accounts of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday might simply sound like a popular Sunday School story.  But in truth, this history-altering series of events that took place in relative obscurity outside of the Golden City two-thousand years ago make all the difference.  Jesus’ resurrection from the dead changes things.  It changes everything; from the way that the grand story ends, to the way that our daily stories unfold.  It leads us to the climax of the meta-narrative that has been the undercurrent of the whole of human history.  It opens the gateway to eternity.  It tells us that the One who died and lived to tell about it stands at the threshold of forever – alive.  And because He is, He’ll see to it that one day we will too.

So enjoy the holiday, and the season.  And as you bite the ears off of a few chocolate bunnies, celebrate.  No, even better, rejoice!

For He is risen, He is risen indeed!

This article appeared in the April issue of Magnolia Magazine.

Love Is A Verb

Some say it’s all we need.  It’s been called a “many-splendoured thing.”  Who would deny that this crazy little thing called love has been the source of more inspiration (and exasperation) than any other human emotion.  Singers have forever crooned about it, poets and bards have tried their hand at articulating it, nations have even gone to war over it.

Yet, in spite of the grandeur of so many endeavours and expressions performed in the name of Love, for many, this chief of emotions never grows beyond the emotional level and remains, at best, only a feeling.  And while early on, feelings and emotions can fuel so much, eventually relationships can run out of steam when emotions cool, and feelings begin to change.  And when a love that is rooted only in emotion begins to die, it can become a many-splintered thing, far from what it could have been; far from what it was intended to be.

A story is told of an old, married couple, Ma and Pa, who found themselves winding down one evening in their respective easy chairs, when Ma turned to Pa rather suddenly and asked, “Pa, Why is is that you never tell me that you love me?”  Pa thought about it for a moment and replied, “Ma, I told you that I loved you when we got married.  If anything changes, I’ll let you know!”

I hope that’s not how it is in your relationship!

This May, my wife and I will celebrate out 17th year together.  I won’t pretend that we’ve been married for 60 years, but thankfully we have learned a few things along the way in our journey together.  I don’t think of myself as any kind of expert, but if I may, it seems to me that love is not so much a thing to be possessed, but rather a lifestyle to be lived, based on a choice that is made.  In other words, love is a verb. To draw from a well-known source, love is, among other things, patient, kind, protective, trusting, hopeful, enduring and unfailing (1 Cor. 13); all words that describe something that is active, expressive, giving, and in most respects others-centered.  Love is something that, while wonderful to be spoken of, doesn’t rely upon words in order to be known.

I don’t hesitate to point to the Lord as the great example of this – of love in action.  He is the incarnation of the God who “so loved the world that He gave…” I find it fascinating, and even convicting that of all that is written of Jesus in the New Testament, we have no record of His having told His disciples that He loved them.  I don’t know that He didn’t at some point, but noticeably absent in Scripture is any scene where He meets with His closest followers to say…”Mathew, I love you.  John, I love you.  Peter, I love you.  Judas, well….”  Never-the-less, among his parting admonitions, Jesus could encouraged them to love one another as He had loved them (John 13:34).  Whether He ever actually told them straightforwardly or not, clearly Jesus had demonstrated His love for them to the extent that they were fully aware of it, and now had a model to employ in their own relationships.

Now that might sound a little academic in this season of flowers, candy and romance, but I wonder if it really is.  After all, real love isn’t confined to the emotion of a moment.  Rather, by its others-centered nature, it has the potential to flower into the adventure of a lifetime  Actually, if we loved the way Jesus taught and exampled, there would be far too much love to squeeze into one day-a-year.  If Pa had been like this, Ma wouldn’t have had to ask!

We all need love, true love, love that never leaves or forsakes. Love that lasts forever.  We need God’s love.

…not that you shouldn’t still bring home some flowers & candy!

This article appeared in the February 2011 issue of the Magnolia Magazine

New Beginnings

Well, chalk up another one for the record books… 

We commemorate & celebrate the passage of time in many ways throughout the course of our lives, but few milestones are as consistently poignant as the arrival of each new year.

Standing on this annual threshold has a tendency to provoke reflection, contemplation and assessment.  Most all of us innately see this moment as a point of re-calibration; and approach it as a launching pad for some pursuit that will help us to become new, improved versions of the self that we’d like to think we left behind with the turning of the calendar.  January 1st is the day of “This is the year that I…(fill in the blank)”  Whether it be a decision to quit smoking, embark on a new career or to (finally) get in shape, the first day of the new year provides us an annual starting gate for just such an endeavor.

We call it making a New Year’s Resolution.  We use the term “resolution” because it carries the idea of employing a measure of resolve in our quest to develop the chiseled abs, step out onto  the new career path or don the nicotine patch.  It implies being resolute in our pursuit.

That said, interestingly (albeit not really that surprisingly), by some counts, over ninety-percent of New Year’s Resolutions are not kept, and forty-five percent of those goals set out with such fervor on January 1st are abandoned by January 31st (the treadmill / coat-rack in my garage only serves to validate those findings!)  But, in spite of the statistics, most of us will leave 2010 behind in the hope that 2011 will mark the beginning of a new chapter.  We welcome the possibility of a new beginning.

I’m thankful for new beginnings.  And, if I can broaden our scope a little, I’m thankful that God delights in offering us fresh starts…and that He doesn’t limit their availability to a single day of the year.  Imagine telling your child, teary-eyed after running the bathwater until it’s overflowing down the stairs, that you’re not going to forgive her and resolve the issue until next year.  That’s a lot for your little princess to carry for the next 12 months!

The Apostle Peter was a good example of someone who needed a new beginning.  In the Gospel accounts, Peter had at one point been more vocal than anyone in his devotion to Jesus.  However, following his Master’s betrayal and arrest, Peter became fearful for his own life, and under the pressure of being associated with His Lord, he caved in and denied even knowing Him.  You know the story.

But equal to the depth of Peter’s fall was Jesus’ willingness and ability to restore.  Following His resurrection, the Lord went to great lengths to set His fallen disciple back on his feet (cp. Mark 16:7, John 21:15-17), wiping the slate clean and giving Peter a chance to start over.  As it’s been said, He truly is the God of the second chance.

Reflecting on the year now past, and considering what I might want to do differently as I look forward to the days that lie yet ahead, I’m reminded of a poem that I heard years ago by Kathleen Wheeler:

He came to my desk with quivering lip,
The lesson was done.
“Dear Teacher, I want a new leaf,” he said,
“I have spoiled this one.”

I took the old leaf, stained and blotted,
And gave him a new one all unspotted,
And into his sad eyes smiled, and said
“Do better, now, my child.”

I went to the throne with a quivering soul—
The old year was done.
“Dear Father, have you a new leaf for me?
I have spoiled this one.”

He took the old leaf, stained and blotted,
And gave me a new one all unspotted,
And into my sad heart smiled, and said
“Do better, now, my child.”

Welcome to 2011, complete with clean slate.  There are new chapters to be written.  How will your story read this year?

A very blessed new year to all!

This article appeared in the January issue of Magnolia Magazine