Considering Steadfast Love

typewriterOccasionally, I compose short pieces for our church bulletin. While most would consider 250 words or less shorter than the ideal blog post, allow me to share one such recent post below. If such articles are useful to you or your church for similar use, consider permission granted. Please just tag on my blog address for the sake of reference.

 

I was recently in Psalm 107, following along while listening to an online audio Bible. As I listened to the reader’s voice, a refrain emerged from the text, providing a natural focal point for my attention. Four times over (verses 8, 15, 21, 31), the writer urges us:

“Let them think the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!”

The closing line presents this slightly altered form:

“Let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”

I find value here. There is a reminder to linger, to mentally sit with the reality of God’s steady and unfailing affections toward us.

Life is fast, and days are full. Ideas and emotions, opportunities and obligations – these blast by and through us at blurring speed. And so the psalmist calls us to consideration of something secure and unchanging, something that holds us fast even when our grip feels like it is slipping.

Today friends: Breathe deep. Sit still. Open hands.

And consider the stable and stabilizing passion that flows from the Father’s heart toward you. Take root. Lean in. Consider it.

Sabbath: God is For Us

Slide1Our church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

In clarifying the intent of the Sabbath commandment, perhaps Jesus offered no more definitive statement than his words in Mark 2. In one sentence, he expresses the extraordinary goodness of God as seen in the laws He lays down: “Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man.”

BigRedBallsWhenever I’m in need of a chuckle, I search for footage of the TV show “Wipeout”. Contestants trying to navigate the “big red balls” is a personal foolproof recipe for laughter. I imagine the backroom glee that the course designers must experience as they dream up obstacles and traps through which to push willing contestants. They aren’t setting out to create smooth, trouble-free “walks in the park”. They are looking to sabotage participants. Maximize slippery and surprising, minimize success – that’s the formula for great wipeouts. And the name of the show is no accident.

As fun as that job might be, God is nothing like a “Wipeout” designer. He has no interest in creating a system and then recruiting participants (victims) to fail their way through. He hasn’t set out to create unnecessary burdens, diversions, or challenges. Instead, He births children, each one bearing His divine image. Then He sets out to meet their every need! He custom-made us, then chose us as His own, then created guides for vibrant health and life.

If anything regarding Sabbath is to be perceived clearly, it is this: Sabbath is for us!

Sabbath is for us because God is for us, and every gift from His hand is for us.

Any understanding beyond that is misunderstanding.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Have you typically considered Sabbath as a gift or as a burden?
  • If you did view Sabbath as a gift, how might you “open it”?

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Sabbath: Butcher Jesus Loves Sacred Cows

Slide1Our church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

Jesus-Heals-on-the-SabbathI often muse at how Jesus pushed the issue of the Sabbath. Within the Gospels, we have thirty-seven accounts of Jesus performing miracles. Straightforward statistics would suggest that one-seventh of those acts would have taken place on the Sabbath; however, we find seven Sabbath wonders, among these stories. While this isn’t overwhelming, it does paint for me a picture of a feisty Saviour. He didn’t need to heal on the Sabbath. If he would looking to be “meek and mild”, he could slotted his signs differently in his daytimer. But I imagine him eyeing the Sabbath with anticipation – not just for the rest that was to accompany it, but for the riling that he foresaw as well.

What was Jesus trying to do?

He was trying to take issue.

Jesus has a problem with people distorting the ways of the Father with too-small visions. Jesus gets worked up when life-giving gifts are mutated into death-dealing burdens. These types of silliness make Jesus angry. They also make him hungry. Such fiascoes awaken Jesus’ taste for blood – but not yours. If anything, Jesus’ dealings concerning the Sabbath give clear indication that he loves to butcher sacred cows.

BBQ JesusWhen we begin to value things more than God values them, yet expend energy convincing ourselves that our assessment is right in line with God’s, then our sacred cows come into view. And everyone has a sacred cow. Most of us own ranches full of them. One of Jesus’ hobbies is slaughtering them. After he does, he slathers them in his secret sauce, grills them, and feeds them to us. And then he lovingly watches us squirm as we awaken to the realization that our beloved Betsy’s bell isn’t clanging anymore.

Future posts will look at the practical side of Sabbath: What does it mean? How should we view it in this time and place? How might one observe? What does it mean to keep it holy?

But for today, let’s just admire the Sabbath as a still-live grenade. In his day, Jesus occasionally pulled its pin and rolled it into people’s foxholes just to see them scatter and take stock. In that sense, Sabbath will forever hold value as a case study on the eagerness of Jesus to challenge distorted values, question misplaced priorities, and nudge people to seriously consider whether they are tapped into the full life-flow of their Maker.

If that’s all Sabbath means today, it’s quite a lot.

But I suspect that’s not all Sabbath means today.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • Why do you think Jesus liked to “mix it up” on Sabbath?
  • Ever had an experience when it felt like Jesus was hunting down one of your sacred cows? Did he succeed?

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

Sabbath: Why We Stopped Resting

Slide1Our church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

tencommandAs a child, I don’t remember any mention of Sabbath. I memorized the Ten Commandments for bonus points at Bible school one summer, so obviously the word was in my vocabulary. But I don’t recall ever giving much consideration to how this ancient-sounding term might be meant to impact life today.

But Melanie changed that.

She and her family were some of the finest people I knew, and I counted her among the classmates that I most genuinely enjoyed in high school. Her family drove quite some distance to be active in an Adventist church. If the weekly commute wasn’t noteworthy enough, they worshiped on Saturdays. How weird was that! And they used the word Sabbath – it was a legitimate term, still alive in their mouths as they lived out their days in the 20th century.

WWF-Superstars-cerealSo I asked the question that every kid asks when they encounter a way of living different from his own: “Why don’t we do that?” Truth be told, I was desperately hoping we wouldn’t begin going to church on Saturdays; that would have ruined my sporting life and cheated me out of the Saturday morning cartoons and WWF served up by our three TV channels. But this was one of the earliest instances where I met someone else who valued the Bible and loved God and desired to please Him, yet did so in visibly different ways. What to do with that?

Back to Sabbath: I got my answer. Now you should know that I grew up in a fellowship of churches who prided ourselves on seriousness about Scripture and a fierce commitment to “New Testament Christianity”, a long-standing goal within the Restoration Movement from which my childhood church had sprung. In a sentence, this form of “restoration” was a deeply-convicted drive to (wait for it) restore the first-century church. (I confess to having a long list of questions about this entire venture of restoration, but that will have to be another set of posts. In this space, I share this only to provide context for what comes next.)

I don’t know who voiced it. It may have been my parents. It might have been our preacher. It may have even been whichever adult was teaching my Sunday school class at the time. The particular voice doesn’t matter, for the answer rang true from the collective consciousness of our congregation.

Q: “Why don’t we observe Sabbath?”

A: “Because Jesus didn’t say we had to do it.”

One could do lifelong study on how Old Testament laws are handled in light of the New Testament. One current example that highlights the issue well is found in the red-hot discussion around homosexuality. Many note that the Bible explicitly speaks of homosexuality only a handful of times. Some then make the move of attempting to undercut the majority of those passages, from the Old Testament, by highlighting inconsistencies in how we handle Old Testament laws. “God hates gays” (a statement I’ve never actually heard from the lips of any Christian I know) gets rebutted with “Well, God hates shrimp too.” Sharp-witted way of stating, “We’re obviously not heeding some of these old rules. Can’t we just toss them all?”

(For a brief-but-helpful explanation of how to handle Old Testament laws with integrity and consistency, Tim Keller offers these guidelines.)

How does this speak to Sabbath? It attempts to decode the meaning behind, “Because Jesus didn’t say we had to do it.” (JDSWHTDI) For some, Sabbath has been dismissed; it’s viewed as expired, unnecessary, burdensome, even unhelpful.

I don’t see it that way.

7_playing_cardsIf I had a handful of JDSWHTDI cards, I confess that I would not slap one down on the Sabbath discussion.

If the discussion revolved around cutting bacon from our diets, I’d lead the charge on playing our JDSWHTDI cards. If stoning rebellious children were the topic, loving parents the world over would lay down their JDSWHTDI cards. If circumcision were put forward as the chat of the day, you can already hear half the population slamming down their JDSWHTDI cards!

While joking somewhat, I am serious when I say: I think we need better reasons to disregard Scripture’s teaching of Sabbath. When your Maker puts out a call to regularly rest, to habitually slow, to set periods aside when “More God” is the only item on your task list – that seems to me like a time to put away your JDSWHTDI card, and instead to play your IDTUHTMTS card.

“I’ll do that until he tells me to stop.”

Just a thought.

leaveacommentYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • What do you do with the concept of Sabbath?
  • Practice it? Wonder at it?  File it away?

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page.]

It Works!

poetry_imageI’ve always wanted to love poetry.

Many people I admire are poetry-lovers; I feel certain there is something to this. Already, I appreciate well-honed language and acknowledge the superior-to-the-sword sharpness that text can wield. However, apart from limericks, Silverstein, and Seuss, I confess to being a poetry failure. I struggle to enter and enjoy it as I wish I could.

But Daniel Ladinsky may be changing that.

An acclaimed expert on mystical poetry of the ages, Ladinsky spends many of his words translating these provocative pieces or creating his own, based upon the classic works he discovers. His book “Love Poems from God” is one of the only poetry books I own, once I get past Green Eggs and Ham and Mother Goose.

Over a year ago, he blogged a typical-for-him piece titled, “Maybe the Best Lay in Town is a Poem”, a title that strikes me as a hard-to-ignore invitation into poetry-land! Below is one of his offerings.

It Works

Would you come if someone called you

by the wrong name?

 

I wept, because for years He did not enter my arms;

then one night I was told a secret:

 

Perhaps the name you call God is not really His,

maybe it is just an alias.

 

I thought about this, and came up with a pet name

for my Beloved I never mention to others.

 

All I can say is–it works.

 

Before dismissing Ladinsky’s poem as a non-sensical invitation to creating names for the Creator, consider a few portions of Scripture:

Remember that when Moses asked for ID, God’s choice of revelation revolved around the name of Yahweh. The strictest Jews still utilize the vowel-less and un-pronounceable YHWH to speak of the Divine One. In Moses’ burning-bush encounter, the emphasis hangs on the name’s meaning: “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be” or “I am all that I am, and you can’t conduct it or control it”. (That last one is my loose translation.)

Beyond Moses, you have Jesus adding the consistent call to address the God of the vowel-less name as Abba — Daddy, the One your trust more than any other because His perfect love is evident in every dealing.  Most of us (even those of us with great fathers) need to bring our imaginations into that equation, to redeem “Daddy” as a name void of disappointment or worse.

Then toss in Paul and his urging to trust the Spirit’s translation skills when we pray.  Paul would argue that every one of possesses desires, urges, and longings that reside beyond language. Carry inexpressible cargo might stress some; Paul says, “Sweat not! Just groan.”

When I swirl together these experiences and teachings of Moses, Jesus, and Paul, I find myself arriving somewhere near to Daniel Ladinsky, with an awareness that my names for God often limit, more than free, my interactions with Him.emmanuelle

[As as example: We were recently discussing God with our kids, pointing out that “Daddy” is a name He loves for us to use because He is like the father of everyone. Our five-year-old accepted that easily enough but asked, “Why isn’t there a special Mom too?” So we described the body-less God whose qualities are beyond “boy or girl”. At age five, she’s already noting the linguistic limitations of even a small word like “Him”, in speaking of the Holy One.]

So for today, get on-board with Ladinsky. Recognize some of the names you use as nicknames at best, and draw close to God as the One who will be exactly Who He will be. Groan if you need to, and whisper confidently, even affectionately, to the One who is nearer to you than your breath.

With Ladinsky, you just might agree: It works!

Losing Faith (Part VI): Less than Certain

NOTE: This post of an ongoing series titled, “Losing Faith”. Previous posts can be seen HERE.

certainty

I love certainty.

Great comfort arrives when pieces fit snugly together. If I have must have letters, let the I’s be dotted and the T’s be crossed. If I must have ducks, let them be in well-straightened rows.

That said, it’s easy for me to enjoy the opening chapters of Scripture. Genesis 1-2 contain the poetic telling of the world’s origins. In three words: Creator calms chaos. A state of lightless emptiness receives form and fill. Perfect pieces are shaped and snapped into one another. God called it good, and my order-loving self rejoiced.

However, Yahweh’s demolition skills are also exceptional when He notes the need. Genesis 6 begins the story around Noah, in which God unravels the intricate stitching of the Creation account. Re-creation is preceded by un-creation. I can sketch this logical need with clarity, but I failed to consider what such swirling floods would feel like when my own feet were swept away by the current.

Faith and Certainty

You see, the trouble is that faith and certainty are mutually exclusive. The quest for one endangers the other. More than that, the demand for one executes the other. The term “faith” is found 400+ times in the Bible (depending on translation used). In turn, one could reasonably conclude that certainty is therefore not a central experience to those who desire interaction with God. He has never dealt in that currency.

When Jesus called his first disciples, we read that they left behind nets and fathers and tables and what-not. They had no idea where Jesus was taking them or what would unfold along the way, but they held no illusions that they could both stay and go. There is no option of receiving without releasing.

Over the last few years, God has asked me to release my mind.

That sentence is begging for misunderstanding.

What I Do Not Mean

I am not speaking of believing blindly, of tossing aside one’s discernment, or becoming foolish or reckless or stupid. Our brains are glorious gifts, capable of shocking possibilities. I am certain that God wants them used to their fullest potential, and I am set on faithfully stewarding the one in my skull.

God’s nudge that I “let go” wasn’t a prompt to stop thinking. It was a loving lesson delivered vividly multiple times in the past four years. Even the slowest student starts to soak up a message after that type of immersion. What did I soak up?

My mind holds me back.

Trust me when I say that arriving at those five words required a climb-Mount-Everest type of trek for this fellow. Far easier to type it than to travel it.

Speaking of Typing

typingSurprisingly, the act of typing provided one of the breakthroughs. There is a sweetness to hitting one’s typing-stride. Keys are clicking, phrases are forming, and Creation ex nihilo is unfolding. My dust hands, tapping on Steve Job’s handiwork, are forming a never-seen-before reality. Wow!

But I have noticed something. I make more typing errors when I am thinking about the task. When eyes survey the keyboard, mistakes increase. Typing, at its fastest, happens more quickly than my brain can track. Demanding a mental log of the actions taking place is akin to tying an elephant to a Ferrari’s back bumper. Within this task, better to check the brain at the door and let muscle memory dating back to high school typing classes (Yes, I am old enough to have had typing classes!) carry the load. For here, my mind holds me back.

Typing is not the only such realm.

A Knowing Beyond Knowing

Within the spiritual dimensions, the mind—with all its power—can actually serve as anchor rather than compass. The demand for certainty is an inside insistence of one’s own sovereignty. Nothing in this post is a criticism of philosophy or science or religion or any other intellectual discipline. This is simply a statement of surrender from one man whose spiritual experiences have long ago left his head spinning. There is revelation beyond reason, and there is life above logic. And if one wishes to engage on those levels, his grip for control will have to break. One cannot stay and go simultaneously.

Mystery is the gap where Divinity lives. Strive ruthlessly to eliminate that space, and you will bulldoze the residence of the Divine in your life.

Or He might hijack the bulldozer and head your way!

1273bulldozer

 

Losing Faith (I)

Lost FaithMy friend Nic wrote this post several months back: Losing Faith.

I confess that it’s had me spinning some knotted thoughts in a mental back room since then. A few of them revolve around the lost faith Nic describes.  More of them center upon the faith that I have lost along the way.

So mark this post as a starting point.

If you wonder what one pastor’s faith-losses look like, come on back. If you know of others who are questioning or seeking or searching for how faith ties into real life, send them a link.

Now that I’ve put out the invitation, my back burner has officially been moved to my front burner!

Next post: The Faith I’ve Lost.