A Shared Life with God (August 20)

Scripture:        Jeremiah, chapters 48-49; 1 John, chapter 1

1 John 1:1-4 (TM) – From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in – we heart it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified with our own hands.  The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us.

We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.  Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too.  Your joy will double our joy!

Observations: In his introduction to the Johannine letters in The Message, Eugene Peterson says, “The basic and biblical Christian conviction is that the two subjects” – love and God – “are intricately related.  If we want to deal with God the right way, we have to learn to love the right way.  If we want to love the right way, we have to deal with God the right way.  God and love can’t be separated.”  The writings of the apostle John – the Gospel, his three letters, and the Revelation – all revolve around the simple fact that Jesus came to reveal God to us.  In the Gospel, Jesus tells Nicodemus that God did this because of love.  And John begins this letter by reminding his readers that he was there from the very first day– so when he tells them about Jesus, they can trust that he knows what he’s talking about.

The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen!  In the Prologue to the Gospel, John says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The point is that the Word, Jesus Christ, came to embody the life and character of God to us.  God is not just sitting “up there,” unconcerned about humanity; he is not waiting with lightning bolt in hand, ready to strike us down; he has appeared to us in the person of Jesus, and he has revealed his love to us in the fact that Jesus gave his life for us.

We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you… When we have a life-altering experience – whether good or bad – we feel the need to talk about it.  We share warnings based on the mistakes we’ve made; we share the joy and the excitement that we feel when we’re “on top of the world.”  That’s a natural part of our humanity, our shared experience of this life. As followers of Jesus, we share our experience of the life that we’ve found in Jesus because that’s what he’s called us to do – but we also do it because we can’t help but talk about the most incredible experience we can imagine.  We’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.  

Think about that:  communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.  Sharing life with God and his Son.  What could be better than that?  If we think there is anything in this life that is better, it’s simply because we’ve never really experienced that sort of communion with God.  

Jesus experienced that life of communion with God; he invites us to share that life.  He modeled that life for us, and everything that we see in the life and character of Jesus reminds us that there could be no better life than that.  John isn’t inviting his readers to share that life because he’s trying to build an organization; he invites them to share that life so that they will enjoy it.  Your joy will double our joy reminds us that heaven rejoices every time someone finds their way home to God, and we have the privilege of sharing in that joy!

Application:    God is reminding me to stay focused on “love and God,” as Peterson puts it in his introduction.  We cannot experience real joy and peace in this life without being in relationship with God; that relationship revolves around love.  God loves us, and he calls us to love others.  As we grow in our love for him, we long to share the joy and peace that we’ve found with others, because we know that there is nothing better than that!  In the midst of all of the other “stuff” that fills our schedules and overwhelms our minds, we need to remember: “love and God.”

Prayer:  Father, thank you for reminding me that I don’t need to complicate matters; you call us to know you, to love you, and to love each other.  If I really love others, I’ll happily share the joy that I’ve found in you, because I want them to experience it too.  Help me today to love others more, and to recognize the opportunities to share your love with them.  Amen.


“Keep Your Eyes Open for God” (August 19)

Scripture:        Jeremiah, chapters 45-47; Psalm 105; John, chapter 21

Psalm 105:1-8 (TM) – Hallelujah!  Thank God!  Praise him by name!  Tell everyone you meet what he has done!  Sing him songs, belt out hymns, translate his wonders into music!  Honor his holy name with Hallelujahs, you who seek God.  Live a happy life!  Keep your eyes open for God, watch for his works; be alert for signs of his presence.  Remember the world of wonders he has made, his miracles, and the verdicts he’s rendered – O seed of Abraham, his servant, O child of Jacob, his chosen.

He’s God, our God, in charge of the whole earth.  And he remembers his Covenant – for a thousand generations he’s been as good as his word.

Observations: The phrase that caught my attention today is, “keep your eyes open for God.”  There are more people living in the world today than ever before. Traverse City, where I live, is much larger than the place I moved 20 years ago, and locals would say that it had already exploded before I even got here.  The point is that there are more people all around us – more activity, and more noise than ever before.  But in the midst of it all, God is at work.  Each of those people that we see each day is a child of God, a person for whom Jesus died – they’re either people who have been redeemed or they’re lost sheep that God desperately wants to bring back home.  He’s at work all around us, and he challenges us to keep his eyes open for him.

So what do we do?  First, we acknowledge God:  Praise him by name!  Tell everyone you meet what he has done!  It’s not enough to keep to ourselves, to not cause problems, or to try to have a good attitude; we need to intentionally acknowledge and honor God for what he has done. Every day God blesses us; we have no shortage of reasons to praise him.  We live to glorify God – to praise him and tell others about him.  Tell everyone you meet what he has done.  We never know who needs to hear how God is at work; we never know how the Spirit is at work in other people’s lives.  We need to praise God, and trust that he will use that praise for his purposes.

Second, watch for his works; be alert for signs of his presence.  As we grow in our understanding of God and the way that he works, we will come to recognize when he is at work around us.  The Spirit will show us how God is at work, and will help us to understand what he wants us to do.  Sometimes, he opens a door for us to tell someone else about him; other times, he will lead us to demonstrate his love for them in a tangible way; still other times he just wants us to pray.  But if we’re not watching for his works and signs of his presence, we may miss the task he has set before us.  Of course, this means that we will need to intentionally slow down, to stop allowing busyness to overwhelm us.  Our culture has come to equate busyness with importance and achievement, but the fact is that God wants something better for us.  God wants us to learn to live his way – the way that Jesus modeled for us.

Finally, God calls us to remember – remember the world of wonders he has made, his miracles, and the verdicts he’s rendered. All of us have those foundational events in our lives – the “big things” that God has done that we come back to when we need to refocus and reorient our lives.  For the Israelites, the covenant which God had made with Abraham and the Exodus were two of those “big things” that formed their identity as the people of God. The rest of Psalm 105 tells how God led the people of Israel to Egypt, and then brought them out again in the Exodus, preserving them as a people and establishing them as a nation.  We need to remember that in our lives, our “big things” are just as important in the foundation of our lives as the covenant and the Exodus were for the Israelites.  

The reason that those “big things” are so important to us is because they remind us who we are; they bring us back to the basics when we find ourselves overwhelmed by the situations of life.  And who are we?  We’re children of God:  He’s God, our God, in charge of the whole earth.  And he remembers his Covenant – for a thousand generations he’s been as good as his word.

Application:    God is reminding me today that I need to be more intentional about noticing what is going on around me. He is always at work – in John 5, Jesus says that the Father is at work to this very day.  If I allow myself to get too consumed with what I’m doing, I might miss the ways that he is at work and the  opportunities that he sets before me.  That doesn’t mean that I can just sit around doing nothing, of course; it simply means that I don’t allow my schedule to hinder my ability to sense what God is doing.  And one of the ways that I can do that is to live in an attitude of praise for what he has done, and for what he is doing.

Prayer:  Our Father, you are our Father – you have redeemed us and adopted us as your own. Thank you for the blessing of life through your Son, Jesus Christ.  Thank you for another day, and the opportunities to serve and glorify you. Thank you for the blessings of life, love, family, friends, freedom, and purpose.  Help me today to honor you in everything that I say and do.  Amen.

Cherish and Relish (August 16)

Scripture:        2 Kings, chapter 24; Psalm 112; Jeremiah, chapter 22; John, chapter 18

Psalm 112 (TM) – Hallelujah!  Blessed man, blessed woman, who fear God, who cherish and relish his commandments, their children robust on the earth, and the homes of the upright – how blessed!  Their houses brim with wealth and a generosity that never runs dry.  Sunrise breaks through the darkness for good people – God’s grace and mercy and justice!  The good person is generous and lends lavishly; no shuffling or stumbling around for this one.  But a sterling and solid and lasting reputation, unfazed by rumor and gossip, heart ready, trusting in God, spirit firm, unperturbed, ever blessed, relaxed among enemies, they lavish gifts on the poor – a generosity that goes on, and on, and on.  An honored life! A beautiful life! Someone wicked takes one look and rages, blusters away but ends up speechless.  There’s nothing to the dreams of the wicked.  Nothing.

Observations: What a contrast between Psalm 112 and God’s message in Jeremiah 22:  “’Doom to him who builds palaces but bullies people, who makes a fine house but destroys lives, who cheats his workers and won’t pay them for their work, who says, “I’ll build me an elaborate mansion with spacious rooms and fancy windows.  I’ll bring in rare and expensive woods and the latest in interior décor.”  So, that makes you a king – living in a fancy palace?  Your father got along just fine, didn’t he?  He did what was right and treated people fairly, and things went well with him.  He stuck up for the down-and-out, and things went well for Judah.  Isn’t this what it means to know me?  God’s Decree.  ‘But you’re blind and brainless.  All you think about is yourself, taking advantage of the weak, bulldozing your way, bullying victims” (Jeremiah 22:13-17, TM).  As God is preparing to send Judah into exile, the judgment makes clear the reasons why.

Psalm 112 is the remedy, the road-map for those who want to live God’s way. First, Cherish and relish his commandments.  When we’re looking for “loopholes,” looking for excuses to not do what God says, we’re not cherishing and relishing.  “Cherishing and relishing” means that we enjoy living God’s way, that we look for ways to embody the presence of Jesus in the world.  No matter what commandment it is – gathering for worship, bringing the tithe into the storehouse, loving your enemy, turning the other cheek, welcoming the aliens and strangers among us, caring for widows and orphans (just to name a few) – they all flow from the ultimate command to love God and neighbor, and the God-honoring life “cherishes and relishes” every opportunity to demonstrate our love for God and neighbor.

The good person is generous and lends lavishly; no shuffling or stumbling around…they lavish gifts on the poor – a generosity that goes on and on.  A lot of people think of churches as “always asking for money,” but the fact is that God’s Word talks a lot about our attitudes toward money and material things. The key is that God’s way is for us to be generous, and as we live generously, he enables us to do it. Everything we have came from God; everything we have belongs to God.  “Generosity” is simply being willing to allow God to direct what we do with what he has given us, and is one of the most “every-day” ways that we demonstrate that we cherish and relish his commandments.

The promise that shines through Psalm 112 gives us hope and joy, leads us to join in the “hallelujah!” that begins the psalm: Sunrise breaks through the darkness for good people – God’s grace and mercy and justice!  What more could we ask for than God’s grace and mercy and justice?  And he has already given those things to us; so why would we ever hold anything back from him?

Application:    God is reminding me today that he calls us to a life of faith.  Faith, at a very basic level, means that I honor and obey God because of what he has already done – because he has demonstrated that he can be trusted.  I don’t tell God, “If you give me this, I’ll do that”; I tell God, “I’ll do what you are telling me to because I trust you. If you ask me for my last dollar, I’ll trust that you’ll give me another one when I need it.  If you ask me to go somewhere that other people might not go, I trust that you’ll protect me.  If you call me to speak, I trust that you will work through what I say for your purposes and your glory.  You don’t have to prove yourself to me; help me today to prove that I trust you.”

Prayer:  Father, that is my prayer – that you would help me today to prove that I trust you. Help me to sense your leading, to know what you want me to do – that your will may be done in me, and your kingdom come more in my life and my world.  Help me to recognize the ways that the enemy seeks to entangle me in the thoughts and desires of this world, and help me to turn away from those things that would keep me from following Jesus.  Help me today to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow him – and to cherish and relish this life of following.  Amen.

Embodying Jesus (August 15)

Scripture:        Jeremiah, chapters 18-20; Psalm 93; John, chapter 17

John 17:6-12 (TM) – I spelled out your character in detail to the men and women you gave me.  They were yours in the first place; then you gave them to me, and they have now done what you said.  They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that everything you gave me is firsthand from you. For the message you gave me, I gave them; and they took it, were convinced that I came from you.  They believed that you sent me.  I pray for them.  I’m not praying for the God-rejecting world but for those you gave me, for they are yours by right.  Everything mine is yours, and yours mine.  And my life is on display in them.  For I’m no longer going to be visible in the world; they’ll continue in the world while I return to you.  Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life that you conferred as a gift through me, so they can be one heart and mind as we are one heart and mind.  As long as I was with them, I guarded them in the pursuit of the life you gave through me; I even posted a night watch.  And not one of them got away, except for the rebel bent on destruction (the exception that proved the rule of Scripture).

Observations: I’m no longer going to be visible in the world; they’ll continue in the world while I return to you. That’s about as clean and concise a description of what our task is as you’ll find!  Paul refers to us as the “body of Christ,” and the concept is the same: Jesus has returned to the Father, but he promised to be present in us, and we’re called to mediate that presence in the world – to embody Jesus.

Jesus understood that it wouldn’t be easy for the disciples to do that – and he understood that it wouldn’t be easy for us to do it, either.  Later in chapter 17 he prays for those “who will believe in me because of them [the disciples] and their witness about me.”  In chapter 20, after his resurrection, when “doubting Thomas” sees Jesus and believes, Jesus says something like this:  “You believe because you’ve seen me; blessed are those who haven’t seen me and still believe.”  Jesus understood that it isn’t easy for us to embody his presence; he’s just finished telling the disciples in chapters 14-16 that the world would hate them because it hated him first.  It’s not easy because we have an enemy who is seeking to tear us down; it’s not easy because we still battle the challenges of being having spiritual life in mortal bodies.  C.S. Lewis described us in The Screwtape Letters as “amphibious” – part spirit and part flesh. We continue to face those challenges throughout this life; Jesus faced them when he walked among us.  As the writer of Hebrews said, he was tempted and tested in every way like we are, yet did not sin.  Following Jesus does not exempt us from temptations and trials, but it does provide us with the strength and the ability to overcome them.

Part of that strength is reflected in what Jesus prays toward the end of the passage I’ve quoted above:  Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life that you conferred as a gift through me, so they can be one heart and mind as we are one heart and mind.  We can take heart in the fact that because Jesus prayed that God would guard us as we pursue this life, that God will do exactly that!  Our part is to pursue this life of following Jesus.  As Jesus puts it at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in The Message:  “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living.  They are foundational words, words to build a life on” (Matthew 7:24, TM). When we work his words into our lives – when we build our lives on Jesus – the Holy Spirit empowers us to embody Jesus’ presence in the world.  And the world definitely needs to see Jesus!

Application:  God is reminding me today that Jesus is interceding for us at his right hand (1 John 2:1), praying that the Father would guard us in this world as we pursue the life which God has given to us through Jesus.  In the same way, we need to pray for each other, encourage each other, and share this life that he has given us so we can be one heart and mind just as Jesus and the Father are.  That’s why our participation in the body of Christ – through worship, fellowship, ministry, study, and prayer – is so important.  Without those things, we’re trying to live the life that Jesus gave us in some way other than what he has shown us.

Prayer:  Father, we thank you today for the knowledge that Jesus is praying for us at your right hand.  We thank you that you will guard us as we pursue the life he made possible, the life he has called us to share.  We know that the forces of evil and the prince of this world are seeking to drag us down and destroy us, but we praise you that you are greater than he is, that Jesus has already defeated him.  Help us to walk and rejoice in the life and the freedom which are ours through Jesus Christ, and so embody his presence in our world.  Amen.

“Take Back Those Words” (August 13)

Scripture:        Jeremiah, chapters 13-15; John, chapter 15

Jeremiah 15:15-21 (TM) – You know where I am, God!  Remember what I’m doing here!  Take my side against my detractors.  Don’t stand by while they ruin me.  Just look at the abuse I’m taking!  When your words showed up, I ate them – swallowed them whole.  What a feast!  What delight I took in being yours, O God, God-of-the-Angel-Armies!  I never joined the party crowd in their laughter and their fun.  Led by you, I went off by myself.  You’d filled me with indignation.  Their sin had me seething.  But why, why this chronic pain, this ever worsening wound and no healing in sight? You’re nothing, God, but a mirage, a lovely oasis in the distance – and then nothing!

This is how God answered me: “Take back those words, and I’ll take you back.  Then you’ll stand tall before me.  Use words truly and well.  Don’t stoop to cheap whining.  Then, but only then, you’ll speak for me.  Let your words change them.  Don’t change your words to suit them. I’ll turn you into a steel wall, a thick steel wall, impregnable.  They’ll attack you but won’t put a dent in you because I’m at your side, defending and delivering.”  God’s Decree. “I’ll deliver you from the grip of the wicked.  I’ll get you out of the clutch of the ruthless.”

Observations: A couple of weeks ago, I reflected on the fact that it seemed that God was leading me toward passages of correction for his people, and I mentioned that I felt a little bit like Jeremiah. Today’s passage really hit home for me, because Jeremiah finally reached the place where he couldn’t take it any more. “You’re nothing, God, but a mirage, a lovely oasis in the distance – and then nothing!”  As we see in the earlier chapters in today’s reading, there were prophets all around who were telling the people that everything would be all right, “that there’s nothing to worry about” (14:13, TM).  Jeremiah was the one voice that went against the flow; while all the others were telling the people not to worry, that God would never abandon them, Jeremiah was telling them the opposite.  Apparently, Jeremiah was okay with that, but in the passage I’ve quoted, it appears that on top of the rejection and hatred of the people, Jeremiah was now suffering from some physical ailment:  “why, why this chronic pain, this ever worsening wound and no healing in sight?”  It’s easy to see Jeremiah’s logic:  “I’m exposing myself to ridicule and hatred by proclaiming your message, a message that no one wants to hear.  The least you could do is heal this physical problem I have!” (That’s not unusual, of course; Elijah had the same attitude after the contest on Mount Carmel, when Jezebel threatened him; he ran to God and said something like this: “All I’ve done is stand up for you, and I’m the only one left. And now Jezebel’s going to kill me; you might as well just kill me now and get it over with.”) And when God didn’t heal him, when the pain just kept getting worse and worse, Jeremiah finally cracked:  “You’re nothing, God, but a mirage…”

God understands our pain and our frustrations.  He has given us all kinds of words in the Psalms to express our pain, our grief, our despair, our frustration – all of the range of emotions. But what we cannot do is accuse God, or deny that he is God.  God’s response came quickly to Jeremiah:  “Take back those words, and I’ll take you back.”  Those nine words speak volumes!  First, notice that God told him to “take back those words.”  We’ve all heard the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  That’s a lie, of course; names do hurt, words do hurt. Of course, our words don’t “hurt” God in the sense that angry and bitter words hurt us.  God tells Jeremiah to take those words back because they’re not true.  To say that God is nothing, a mirage, is to deny that God is God – a violation of the very first commandment, a denial of the Shema that every Jewish person was taught to recite: “Hear, O Israel:  the Lord your God is One.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, my paraphrase).  To say that God is nothing, a mirage, is a rejection of everything that Israel had stood for throughout the ages.  That’s why God tells Jeremiah to take those words back.

Notice also that by saying that God was nothing, a mirage, Jeremiah was saying what the people had been living – the very reason that Judah was now headed for destruction and exile.  The people acted as though God wasn’t there, that his commandments didn’t matter, that there were no consequences to their idolatry and disobedience.  God understood that if Jeremiah started to think that God was nothing, he would soon begin acting as though God was nothing – and he would be no different than the rest of his countrymen.

Also, notice that God says, “Take back those words, and I’ll take you back.”  The fact that God needed to “take Jeremiah back” demonstrates how serious Jeremiah’s accusation against God was.  Words mean things.  When Jeremiah said that God was nothing, a mirage, it was a rejection of God and God’s plans and purposes.  Just as Jeremiah’s words meant something, God’s words mean something – and the fact that God needed to “take Jeremiah back” means that Jeremiah had separated himself from God.  That’s a reminder to us that our words matter, our attitudes matter, and our actions matter.  We can get so focused on actions that we ignore the spiritual damage that is being done by our words and our attitudes.  That’s why Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said, “You’ve heard it said, “Don’t murder…don’t commit adultery…But I say that if you are angry with your brother or sister, you’re guilty of murder…If you look at another’s spouse with lust, you’ve committed adultery in your heart…”  As The Message says, “Don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed.  Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body.  Those leering looks you think nobody notices – they also corrupt” (Matthew 5:27-28, TM).

“Take back those words, and I’ll take you back…Use words truly and well. Don’t stoop to cheap whining.  Then, but only then, you’ll speak for me.” I’m not suggesting that Jeremiah’s complaint had completely broken his relationship with God – after all, God said he would take Jeremiah back if he took back his words, which means that God recognized that Jeremiah didn’t really mean what he said. But if Jeremiah didn’t take them back, those words would take root in him – and that would break his relationship with God.

Application:  Our words matter. They have the power to impact others, and they have the power to impact us. If we’re going to live for God, and speak for God, we need to use words truly and well.  We need to guard our hearts and our words to make sure that we’re not separating ourselves from God by adopting attitudes that do not honor him.  Our actions are important, to be sure, but as Jesus pointed out, our actions are simply the overflow of what is in our hearts.  If we guard our hearts, God will enable us to live the way he wants us to live. God is reminding me today that we need to use words truly and well, because that is the way that we reflect his presence and authority in our lives.

Prayer:  Father, thank you for reminding me to “use words truly and well.”  Our world seems to think that words don’t mean anything; your Word reminds us that our words are the overflow of what is in our hearts. Help me today to use words truly and well, so that I can speak for you as you give me opportunity to do so.  Amen.

“Don’t take the godless nations as your models” (August 12)

Scripture:        Jeremiah, chapters 10-12; John, chapter 14

Jeremiah 10:1-10 (TM) – Listen to the Message that God is sending your way, House of Israel.  Listen most carefully:  “Don’t take the godless nations as your models.  Don’t be impressed by their glamour and glitz, no matter how much they’re impressed.  The religion of these peoples is nothing but smoke.  An idol is nothing but a tree chopped down, then shaped by a woodsman’s ax. They trim it with tinsel and balls, use hammer and nails to keep it upright.  It’s like a scarecrow in a cabbage patch – can’t talk!  Deadwood that has to be carried – can’t walk!  Don’t be impressed by such stuff.  It’s useless for either good or evil.”

All this is nothing compared to you, O God.  You’re wondrously great, famously great.  Who can fail to be impressed by you, King of the nations?  It’s your very nature to be worshiped!  Look far and wide among the elite of the nations.  The best they can come up with is nothing compared to you.  Stupidly, they line them up – a lineup of sticks, good for nothing but making smoke.  Gilded with silver foil from Tarshish, covered with gold from Uphaz, hung with violet and purple fabrics – no matter how fancy the sticks, they’re still sticks. But God is the real thing – the living God, the eternal King.  When he’s angry, Earth shakes.  Yes, and the godless nations quake.

Observations: Don’t take the godless nations as your models.  It seems so obvious!  The people who had been called by God, redeemed by God, led by God, established in the land by God, and prospered by God instead chose time and time again to be like the other nations around them.  They wanted to worship the gods of those nations.  They wanted a king like those nations.  They made treaties with those nations, putting their hope and their trust in them instead of God.  God’s charge to Judah through Jeremiah still applies to us:  Don’t take the godless nations as your models.

It goes further than that, though; as God’s people, the Church must not take the godless people and organizations around us as our models. We are so quick to try to apply secular business and organizational principles to the Church, thinking that those principles will make us “better” or “more effective.”  But relationships can never be measured or evaluated based on what is “effective.”  Relationships are about time, and commitments, and emotions, and all those very real things that cannot be governed by management principles.  The example that Jesus set for us focused on relationships.  He spent the majority of his time with 12 men, teaching them by his words and his example. He kept his relationship with the Father his ultimate priority – so much so that every decision and every action was in response to the Father’s direction.  

Our New Testament readings right now are in John’s Gospel, and one of the themes that runs through John’s Gospel is the idea of Jesus’ “time.”  On a number of occasions, he responds to people by telling them that his time had not yet come. He did things that looked like they didn’t make sense – like going through Samaria on his way to Galilee (John 4) – because he was completely responsive to the Father’s leading.  When the people of the village of Sychar came out to him and begged him to stay with them, he stayed for two days – two days that were not originally on his itinerary, two days that delayed his arrival in Galilee – but those two days were life-changing for the people of the village. Don’t take the godless nations as your models.  Don’t allow the world’s principles and practices to become your principles and practices. In the end, those practices and principles are nothing but “deadwood gods” – no matter how fancy the sticks, they’re still sticks.  And no matter how much the world may clamor for efficiency and productivity, God still calls for our unfettered obedience and complete allegiance, because God is the real thing – the living God, the eternal King.

Application:    God is reminding me today how counter-cultural genuine obedience is.  As the voices of our world clamor for attention and vent their anger and frustration in order to “be heard,” God calls his people to be still and know that He is God.  There is work to be done in our world, to be sure; there are people to love and injustices to be corrected, and God calls us to join him in those efforts.  But we cannot lose sight of the fact that God is the real thing, and the powers and principles and practices of the world are nothing more than “deadwood stick-gods.”

Prayer:  Father, I praise you today because you are the living God, the eternal King.  You are the God “whose power made the earth, whose wisdom gave shape to the world, who crafted the cosmos” (Jeremiah 10:12, TM) – and you hold everything in your hands.  Help me today to hear your voice, to sense your leading, and to do what you put before me that your name may be glorified.  Amen.

“If He Loved Him So Much…” (August 9)

Scripture:        Jeremiah, chapters 3-4; John, chapter 11

John 11:33-34 (TM) – When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him.  He said, “Where did you put him?”  “Master, come and see,” they said.  Now Jesus wept.  The Jews said, “Look how deeply he loved him.”

Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying?  After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.”  Then Jesus, anger welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it.  Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”  The sister of the dead man, Martha, said, “Master, by this time there’s a stench.  He’s been dead four days!”  Jesus looked her in the eye.  “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” Then, to the others, “Go ahead, take away the stone.”

They removed the stone.  Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, “Father, I’m grateful that you have listened to me.  I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here I’ve spoken so that they might believe that you sent me.”  Then he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”  And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face.  Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him loose.”

Observations:  This story is one of those familiar ones that we often read over quickly, because we’ve read it so many times that we could probably quote most of it from memory.  Nearly every funeral service I perform contains part of the story of Lazarus:  “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (11:25-26). Because the story is so familiar to us, because we know how the story ends, we zip through it because we assume that there’s nothing new there for us.

But we know that when we read and listen to what God is saying, he is able to bring new insight out of these old familiar passages.  As I read through John 11 today, I was struck by Peterson’s rendering of the response of some of the crowd to Jesus’ tears. Other translations don’t seem to put the comments quite so bluntly.  For example, the NLT says, “But some said, ‘This man healed a blind man.  Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” (11:37). Peterson, though, makes these remarks much more pointed:  “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.”  

It is that phrase, “if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something” that catches my attention today.  It is the same lying, accusing phrase that Satan loves to use any time we’re going through a difficult situation, any time we’ve suffered a loss, any time that things don’t work out quite like we’d want.  “If God loves you so much, why didn’t he do something? Why doesn’t he do something?”

He did.  He told them to roll back the stone, prayed to make it clear that he wasn’t claiming this power for himself, but for God, and then called Lazarus out of the tomb.  He had told the disciples earlier in the chapter that “this sickness is not fatal” (11:4, TM), and then he went to Bethany and proved that death doesn’t have the last word.

Of course, that just gives Satan more garbage to throw around: “He did it for Lazarus; why didn’t he do it for your loved one?  If he loves you so much, why didn’t he heal your spouse, your parent, your child, your friend? If he loves you so much…” 

Satan is the accuser. Not only does he accuse us; he also accuses God.  But all of his accusations, and all of his lies, are just distractions to turn our attention away from God and away from the truth.  The truth is that physical death is not the end of the story. When we forget that – when we act and speak as though this life is the ultimate value – we can easily succumb to the temptation to accuse God, to wonder why he didn’t do something.  “If he loves me so much, why did this happen to me?”

But this life is not the ultimate value; death is not the end of the story.  “The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live.  And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all” (11:25-26, TM).  As Paul puts it in Romans 5:6-8, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.  Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (NLT).  The answer to, “if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something?” is simple:  He did.  And every time Satan tries to peddle that lie to us, we need to remember that Jesus already has done something – something that changes everything. That doesn’t mean that we don’t hurt, that the pain of losing someone is not real, and not valid; it just means that we recognize that someday, he will wipe away every tear: “I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: ‘Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone – all the first order of things gone” (Revelation 21:3-4, TM).

Application:    God is reminding me today how easy it is for us to get distracted and start listening to Satan’s lies.  The phrase “if he loved him so much” comes straight from the pit, because God has already demonstrated his love for all eternity by the greatest gift of all – the forever life that we have in Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we can never allow ourselves to lose sight of the eternal perspective.  We are to live this life in ways that glorify God – enjoy life, experience all the goodness that God gives – but we must never be deceived into thinking that this life is the ultimate value.  It is but a shadow of the real life to come when we see him face to face and are transformed into the real selves that God created us to be. We get glimpses of it here, but as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “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!” (TM).  For now, we keep peering through the mist, looking for the signs of his work and his love, knowing that someday, the fog will be cleared away and we’ll see it all in the light of his presence.

Prayer:  Father, thank you for reminding us today about Satan’s lies and his use of the accusing statement, “If God really loved you…”  You do love us, and you demonstrate that love every day!  Help us to recognize your love, and to understand it more fully each day as you lead us toward that day when the fog clears away and we see you face to face, and you wipe away every tear and make your home with us.  Amen.