Wednesday, September 30, 2009

God speaks

Hebrews 1:1-2: "Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds."
I sometimes hear people discussing the question, "Does God still speak to people?" Or more personally, "Does God speak to me and if so, how?" One of our deepest needs is to hear from our Creator. We are hungry for direction and guidance in our lives.
We are blessed that God has not left us scratching our heads over how and if God speaks to us. God has made it clear to us that His word and words for our lives are contained in the Bible.
God spoke to the Jews through the prophets of the Old Testament. These were human mouthpieces for the word of God. But as the Scripture above declares, in Jesus, God is speaking to us through His own Son, the Living Word of God. A comparison could be drawn to the voice of a king in ancient times. A king might send an ambassador to speak his word to another king. But if the king sends his own Son, the message is regarded as more directly given by the king. The son would be expected to share the exact words and perspective of the king.
If you are wondering today, "does God still speak?" then you have to go no farther than your Bible. Have trouble understanding the Bible? Then I recommend the New Living Translation. Check it out at

Monday, September 28, 2009

hardness of heart

Mark 10:4-5: "They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you."
This statement by Jesus takes place in the midst of a dialogue he is having with the Pharisees (religious leaders in Jesus' day). Actually, it comes in the midst of their attempt to "test" Jesus, hoping that Jesus would violate the Law of the Jews in his answer so they could charge him with something. The question is about divorce. It seems that even in Jesus' time, there was a range of reasons for divorce, some more serious than others. (Of course, in Jesus' time, it was only the men who were legally allowed to initiate a divorce).
The Pharisees cite the law that Moses communicated to the Jews which allowed for divorce. They thought they were citing the clear guidelines of the law. But Jesus response is off-putting. "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you." He goes on to say that God created us male and female for each other in marriage. And most shockingly, Jesus tells his disciples later that whoever divorces his wife and marries again commits adultery against his (first) wife.
Jesus' words are strong. I must confess to you that I do not like dealing with this passage of Scripture. Why? Because I have known many good Christians who have experienced very painful divorces and subsequently had happy remarriages. I also have known of abusive or adulterous situations where divorce was clearly a sad but necessary outcome.
There is no way to water down Jesus' words. They are serious. Divorce is a serious thing, as any of you who have experienced it can testify.
But if you have already divorced and remarried, I do not think this Scripture is there to condemn you. If you have already divorced I do not think Jesus would forbid all remarriage. No one can go back and change the past as much as we would like to. What this Scripture says to me is that relationships matter to God, especially the marriage relationship. Jesus is pointing out our human condition: we tend to become "hard of heart" sometimes. This means to be selfish, unforgiving, prideful, etc. When we allow "hardness of heart" to prevail in our marriage (or with friends, relatives, co-workers, classmates, etc.) then we are headed for trouble.
Jesus would help us to love, forgive, and live at peace with one another, especially in Christian marriages. There are valid reasons for divorce. But as far as it lies within your control, accept Jesus' challenge today to love, to be giving, to forgive, to live at peace with one another. If we let him, Jesus can soften our "hardness of heart."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

His Story

"If it had not been the LORD who was on our side--let Israel now say--it it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us" (Psalm 124.1-2)
The psalm writer is recalling national history or more exactly, His story, the story of how the LORD had delivered them through national crises and attacks by enemies. The writer understood that remembering was important. In fact, it was crucial to the continuance of the community of faith. To remember God's deliverance was to refocus the individual and corporate heart on God. It was to refocus people on following God as the LORD of all.
This psalm could be written about our history in America as well. America's story is also His story, the story of God's deliverance for a people. Just like Israel, we are not perfect. There are some big blemishes on our past like the slavery and segregation of African Americans and our treatment of Native Americans. But there is also story after story about how God delivered us in the midst of unbelievable odds. How could this upstart group of thirteen rag-tag colonies beat one of the greatest military forces in the world? Go back and read some history of the Revolutionary War and I predict you, like me, will be amazed all over again.
This psalm could also be written about our individual faith stories. Each of us has a story of how God brought us through. It is worth remembering that today! What time in your life can you look back on and see that your history is His Story?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

streams of water

Psalm 1:3: "They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper."
I love the image the psalm writer gives in this verse, "like trees planted by streams of water." What a powerful and peaceful image of God's provision and sustenance! And what is the psalm writer describing? "
those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night" (Psalm 1.1-2). The writer is describing the life of those who choose the Lord's way instead of the way of wickedness, sin, and those who mock God. This Scripture is a promise, and assurance that if we follow God's chosen way of life for us, then we can trust that everything will work out, that God will provide for us, even that we will prosper.
As I encounter this Scripture today, I am left with this challenge and assurance: am I yielding my life to God's chosen path for me today? This means surrendering my life to God's will and way. If so, then I am promised that God will provide everything I need. And so are you!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

prayers for leaders

" I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." (1Timothy 2.1-2)
This is certainly a tumultuous time politically in the United States. I am not sure I recall a time in my life when a congressperson yelled out, "liar," in the middle of a presidential address. Perhaps it was deserved, perhaps not. There are certainly a lot of strong feelings and opinions on both sides of the political aisle these days, not to mention those who feel that they have no one speaking for them in government. I am not writing to side with either the democrats or republicans or the independents.
I am writing because I feel Christ calling me once again to this great verse from 1Timothy. In it, the Apostle Paul (leader in the early church), is calling all followers of Jesus to pray for all leaders in all governments. It is worth noting that, at the time Paul wrote this, there were no kings who were followers of Jesus. Isn't it interesting that Paul calls for prayers for governmental leaders who are not even Christian?
So, I remind you today to pray for our elected leaders. Whether we voted for them or not, they are in positions of incredible influence from the office of president to the local school board representative. Would you join me today in praying for them (whether they be democrat, republican, or non-partisan)? Let's pray that God's will be done in and through them and in our country!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sweet law?

Psalm 19.9b-10: "The laws of the LORD are true; each one is fair. They are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold. They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb."
We don't usually think of laws as sweet. Sometimes, we may even be tempted to think that some laws are just plain ridiculous. Take for instance the law that prevented a Tulare, California eight year old from operating a lemonade stand. That's right. An eight year old was forced to shut down her neighborhood lemonade stand due to a city ordinance. Then there's the law in Alabama that outlaws opening an umbrella on the street because it may spook horses. (I wonder how many people still ride their horses into town in Alabama!)
God's laws are different. They are not meant to curtail our fun. They are not outdated ordinances from a far gone era. God's laws are sweet, even sweeter than "fresh honey dripping from the comb." How so? Because they are the boundary lines that hedge off dangerous lifestyles that lead to suffering and death. They are the "guard rails" that protect us from a fall down a steep cliff of sin. They are sweet because they show us the way of life that leads to real life, abundant and pure.
Think about God's law today, not as a hindrance to your life, but as an entrance into life:
1. Have no other gods before the One True God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)
2. Don't make idols (of money, possessions, etc.)
3. Don't take the Lord's name in vain (either by cussing with God's name or by using God to justify something that is not of God)
4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy (Worship and be with other Christians on Sundays. Take a break from work and rest.)
5. Honor your father and mother (and your fathers and mothers in the faith)
6. You shall not murder
7. You shall not commit adultery (sex is for marriage only)
8. You shall not steal
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (make sure what you say about others is completely true)
10. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor (be content with what blessings God has given you)
Remember that these are God's protective rails to keep you from falling off the steep cliff of sin. And they are sweet!

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Mark 7:27-28: "(Jesus) said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."
In this Scripture, we meet a woman who we are told is a Gentile (a non-Jew) of Syrian-Phoenician descent. Jesus has left the territory of the Jews, God's chosen people, and entered a territory with other kinds of people. He enters a house, perhaps to rest from his journey, but instead gets approached by a woman whose daughter is plagued by an evil spirit. She requests that Jesus heal/exorcise the demon from her daughter. Jesus gives a curious response, calling the woman's people dogs. This is a challenging statement for us to deal with because we usually see Jesus being inclusive of all kinds of people, even those who are outcast by others. Why would Jesus use such a derogatory name for this woman's ethnic group?
Most scholars think that Jesus is pointing out the order of his ministry: to Jews first, then to non-Jews. In many places we learn that the good news has to go out to the Jews (God's chosen people) before it can go out to the rest of the world. This makes sense if you consider the special covenants God had with them, covenants promising to deliver them, to save them, to give them an eternal inheritance.
What is most interesting in this Scripture, though, is the woman's response to Jesus: "
Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." She is not disagreeing with the order of Jesus' mission (first to the Jews, then to others). She doesn't even take offense to being called "a dog." Instead, she is persisting in her request that Jesus give some kind of spiritual help to her daughter. You can see her persevering love, the love of a good parent. What good parent would not go any distance, persevere any amount of time, provide any kind of help they could for their hurting child? What a model of parenthood this woman is! Even when it seemed she was turned down by Jesus, she persisted out of pure love for her daughter! And the rest of the story? "Then (Jesus) said to her, "For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter." So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone." The purpose of this story is to show the result of persistent prayer.
So, parents, persist in your prayers to Jesus for your children! They are powerful indeed! If you have no biological children, pray for the children and youth of the Church and our society today! Those prayers are powerful too!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


"Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time on and forevermore." (Psalm 125.1-2)
Mount Zion is the hill in Jerusalem on which the Temple of Almighty God was built. It was a holy place. Jerusalem is located amidst a region of mountains. It is surrounded by a mountainous region.
Recently, I was watching a documentary about the mountains of North Carolina. A senior resident of the region (who had lived there her whole life) said, "When we grew up, we were told that the mountains are our friends; they are here to protect us. I suppose that even now, when I can look around and see the mountain range, I feel safe and secure."
What a great image of God's protection of us! For surely, God surrounds us. As another psalm declares,
"You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night," even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you."
There is nowhere we can go in all the Universe, no dark place, no desperate night, no dark valley, where God is absent. God is always there, encircling us with love and grace, like the mountains around Jerusalem.
May that assurance give you peace this day!