Sunday, April 29, 2012

Psalms for Sundays, XLII

You revive my spirit, refresh my soul and give strength for my body. Though my bones give out, you hold me up, and I worship you for your faithfulness and your goodness.

Who compares to you? Who has declared a word and seen it in creation? Everything that is comes from you. Only you, my Lord and my God. You are my Healer, the God who calls what is not as though it is and gives life to dry bones. You give life to me.

By your name, I declare the finished works and call what is in heaven to be manifest on earth. There is no other name on earth or under the earth by which we might be saved, but the name of Jesus.

The very sound of your name gives warmth to my heart and my soul sings. With a loud sound, I give honour and praise to God in heaven. Who am I that you acknowledge me? This is surely the greatest mystery, and yet I will not squander my position of daughter to the Most High God. Who in all the earth can understand this?

You, O God, are worthy of all glory, and honour and praise. Blessed be the name of the Lord, forever and another day.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Come On, Let's Celebrate & Have a Good Time

A kindly, faithful monk dies and is taken to the pearly gates in heaven. He is greeted by St. Peter, who says, “Because of your life of faithfulness, the good Lord would like to reward him. You may choose anything and I will take you there.” After some thought, the monk replied, “All my life, I loved to look into the Scriptures, now I would like to begin eternity being able to peruse through the original texts.” St. Peter escorted the faithful monk to the great library where the original works were stored and left the monk.
A few days later, a heart-wrenching cry reverberated throughout all of heaven and St. Peter rushed to the libraries, where the sound was coming from. Staggering outside, the monk gripped his robes and shouted, “The text said celebrate, not celibate.”
One of my love languages is gifts. I love giving gifts (and I also feel valued when I receive a gift). I especially love giving gifts to my Boy. You know why? It isn’t only because he’s my Boy (although that is a dominant reason), my Boy celebrates every gift he gets. Literally. He gets excited about anything and everything, which makes it even more enjoyable for me, the gift giver, and I want to continue to give him more gifts.

Celebration is one of the spiritual disciplines. On first thought, it might seem odd to be a discipline, but the Bible backs up the importance of celebration. The Jewish calendar year is marked by their celebrations, from Passover to Feast of Tabernacles and others in between.

This past weekend/week, my school hosted a group of students and interns from Bethel Church. It was a great week where we saw people have encounters with God – they were saved, healed and delivered. And then we celebrated the testimonies. If I learned one thing from the Bethel group, it’s the importance of celebration. Every miracle is worth celebrating, every salvation story deserves recognition.

Celebration helps us focus on what God is doing rather than on what isn’t being done. It builds faith, for both the speaker and the hearer. 1 Corinthians 14:25 says if an unbeliever comes in when the word of God is being spoken (testimony), he (or she) will be convicted, and begin to proclaim, “God is really among you.” As a witness of Jesus’ goodness, isn’t this what we want? To share and express the love of God to us and others – the easiest way is to celebrate.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to celebrate is because scripture tells us that the Lord inhabits the praises of his people. God literally dwells in the praise, in the celebration of his good works. And like I love giving gifts to my Boy because he celebrates every gift, God is pleased when we celebrate his goodness and his works and he will be inclined to continue to shower his gifts down on us.

If we are ho-hum about the gifts he pours out, he may pass us over in the future, in favour of another who covets anything from his hand. When Jesus has done something for us, I say to my Boy, “Give Jesus praise, because when we give him praise, it releases him to do even more.”

I want more, don’t you? Why not celebrate and see how God will respond.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Psalms for Sunday, XLI

There is a happy song in my heart; your love lifts me higher.

Invincible because you stand with me; I am not afraid of the future or all that it holds. I want to shout, “Give me your best shot,” because nothing can impede the purposes of the Lord. I am safe in your embrace; I am safe under the shadow of your wing.

I don’t cower like others who are fearful of the future. Everywhere around me, I hear people complaining, feel beat down but I have hope because I know you are faithful to your word. Not one word has failed; even now you are reconciling all things.

My God, you are strong and mighty. I will sing and declare your works. I will give you praise, all the days of my life. Let not a day go by when I don’t lift my face to heaven and proclaim the goodness of God. Even in the midst of trial, I am blessed because your presence surrounds me and all I see is your strength and my hope is restored and made new again.

Like a mother zebra that encircles her newborn to teach him to recognize her stripes, you hem me in and teach me to know you with all my senses.

How great is your love. It’s too wonderful for words and my heart cannot contain my joy. I shout. I shout again because the Lord is good and he is good to me.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Love, Actually

One thing I know and one thing I have not yet grasped is the same thing: God loves me. Life – all life, my life, your life – starts and ends with God’s love. In John’s gospel, John calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved” four times.  It seems audacious until you understand John, above the other disciples, understood something about Jesus the others didn’t fully comprehend. I don’t believe for a second John thought he was loved above and beyond the others, but he understood he was loved.

Peter, often the disciple I find most relatable, was quick to profess and demonstrate his undying love for Jesus but John understood he was loved by Jesus apart from his doing anything to warrant it. He was loved, period. He allowed and received the love of Jesus apart from what he could do in return.

I know this, you do too, probably. But recently my worship times were interrupted and/or cancelled and I’ve felt distracted or completely unfocussed during my Bible study times. And so often when I feel distracted, I give in to the distractions. Then I feel condemned, thinking knowing I’ve neglected Jesus, the One I love. I earnestly want to show him my love and affection but the cycle continues.

Easter came around and my thoughts turned towards the cross and his love for us and I knew I didn’t have a complete understanding of his love so I asked [once again] for him to make my understanding of his love for me new and fresh.

And then, on Saturday, I heard the reminder I needed – a repeat of a message I’ve been ruminating on for the past year. The secret of John – he was loved, beloved of Jesus. Isn’t that a great word, beloved? I am beloved. You are beloved. There isn’t any greater love, because his love is perfect. We could have fresh revelation of his love every day and we will never come to the end of his love. He is infinite and God is love and therefore his love is infinite – there is no end. His love doesn’t waver, it doesn’t increase or decrease; it is perfect.

It doesn’t matter what you do, or don’t do. You are loved.

A few days ago I finished reading a delightful youth fiction, A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. It’s a grand story of defeating evil, the Black Thing with the only thing weapon the character’s had but it didn’t have – love. We love because we are first loved and then truly love conquers everything.

I am so passionate about this message of love I want to give away 3 copies of the message that rocked my world – twice. It’s by Chris Gore, a pastor on staff at Bethel Church. It’s called The Secret of John. The first 3 readers to make a comment will receive a copy. For anyone else, I’d highly recommend making your own purchase through Bethel Church’s online store (click here).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Listen For God's Laughter

When my Boy was younger and someone or something frightened him he would look at me or his dad to gauge our reaction, and then he would react in kind. He needed reassurance. He knew he would be okay if mom and dad were nonplussed about whatever it was that startled him.

Psalm 2:4, The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them [who plot against him].

Psalm 37:13-14, The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked for he knows their day is coming.

Psalm 59:8But you, O Lord, laugh at them; you scoff at all those nations [my enemies who rise up].

We never outgrow our need for reassurance. We’re still looking around for someone in charge, someone who isn’t worried about calamity or fearful things. Unless we look to the Father, we will always come up short, but we can trust God and his reaction to evil is to laugh. Not because it isn’t there but because he’s not worried. Hahahaha.

We can respond in kind – we can laugh. Just like the Proverbs 31 woman, we can laugh at the days to come because no weapon formed against us will prosper. It’s a promise given to the servants of the Lord (Isaiah 54:17)

Have you ever considered how God laughs? I’m certain it’s not a polite chuckle. I’m sure God’s laugh is the deep-down in your belly kind of laugh; an infectious laugh. It’s a laugh once you get going, you can’t stop. I believe that is exactly how the Lord laughs at the plans of the enemy – an hilarious, gut-busting laugh. Even though you may have trouble, the enemy can do no long-term destruction because the outcome has already been decided. Jesus has overcome.

God has a plan for you that is prosperous and intended to give you a glorious future (Jeremiah 29:11). God’s plan cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2); the word he declares will accomplish its purpose (Isaiah 55:11). Isn’t it ridiculously good news?

Next time, when you feel overwhelmed and want to cry yourself into oblivion, listen for God’s laughter and join him.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Psalms for Sunday - XL

When I’m not myself, you know who I am.
When I don’t know where to go, you say, “Follow me.”
When I have questions – so many questions, you say, “Learn from me.”
When I’m overwhelmed and anxious, you release your peace.
When I’ve tried everything I know to do, you show me a new way.
When I cry, you comfort me.
When I laugh, you dance with the angels.
When I feel lost in the crowd, your eye is on me.
When I am unlovely, you love me.

Thank you, God.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

An Invitation to Die?

The cross is undoubtedly the most recognized Christian symbol. Easter has just passed and churches around the world celebrated the power of the cross. On Facebook, I read dialogues and comments regarding the preferences evangelical Christians have for an empty cross versus Catholics preference for a visual of Jesus hanging on the cross.

I grew up in an evangelical stream, so I’m more familiar and comfortable with an empty cross but as I contemplated it again, I wondered if the empty cross is an invitation to share in Christ’s death so we may also share in his resurrection (Romans 6:5). Because unless our sin nature dies, we cannot have any part of Christ’s inheritance because no one can see God’s face and live (Exodus 33:20). Therefore we must die, and the empty cross is the invitation to do so.

Of course, we are speaking spiritually, not physically. Christ’s sacrifice was enough to satisfy the curse of sin (Hebrews 10:14), and he now is sitting at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:3). If there was still work to do, he would be standing as would be the priests who served in the temple.

When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, he talked about being reborn. How can one be reborn without the first life passing away? 1 Corinthians 5:17 says we are a new creation, the old man is gone; in other words - dead. We are reborn into the spirit and live by the spirit – as Jesus did. This is the invitation of the empty cross.

Easter messages are full of God’s love and sacrifice through the death of Jesus on the cross. It’s an important message – central, in fact, to our faith. We will never reach the end of God’s love for us and there will always be more to understand about his love. Equally important is to understand we were co-crucified with Christ, by faith, so we are also co-raised and co-seated with Christ, by faith.

When we enter into a relationship with Christ, we are defined by everything he does. Just as he identified with our humanness, we identify with his death and resurrection, so we may share in his heavenly inheritance. What exactly does it mean, to share in his death and also share in his resurrection?

Dead men don’t sin, and resurrected men are held back by nothing. A seed can’t produce unless it dies to itself so new life can grow and reproduce an exponentially increased harvest. The empty cross is an invitation to do it.

The cross is more than a symbol to the suffering of Christ, it is also an invitation to us to be co-crucified with Christ, in order that we may be co-raised with him and seated in heavenly places.

Be blessed.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Friday, April 6, 2012

Thirsty Jesus

Jesus was thirsty – on the cross, when he hung condemned for our sins, he was thirsty. John’s gospel says he cried out. Only John’s gospel records these words. Luke’s gospel only speaks about forgiveness – both for his executioners and for the criminal dying beside him. Matthew and Mark share heart wrenching despair when Jesus cries, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But only John mentioned Jesus was thirsty.

It’s a random statement, don’t you think? Why would Jesus mention anything about his physical discomfort at all? And if he did, don’t you think it would make more sense to say something about the irritation the nails were causing? Or he couldn’t breathe? Or perhaps his head was throbbing? But John deems it relevant to record Jesus’ cry because he was thirsty.

In parallel passages from Mark 15:34-36 and Matthew 27:46-48, those writers record the despair Jesus feels. We know the writers were writing about the same moment based on the action of the people around the cross (to fetch a vinegar-soaked sponge) but John takes a different approach.

Have you ever considered the irony before? In John, chapter 4, Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman. She is drawing water from the well and Jesus offers her water – special, living water – so she’ll never thirst again. Now, this same Jesus who offered the Samaritan woman living water, is thirsty.

Is the parallel connecting now? Jesus wasn’t talking about physical discomfort. He was thirsty for the Father, for the presence of God. For his entire life, he walked as a man totally satiated in the Father but when he hung on the cross, he experienced true thirst for the first time. And he didn’t like it.

The need Jesus has for the Father is so great, and it goes unsatisfied. Think about your worst day, when you felt completely alone, forsaken. Nothing, nothing can compare to the despair Jesus experienced. The beautiful truth is we will never know that kind of despair, not even if you never acknowledge God or believe he exists. Jesus died so we never, never experience separation from God. Did I say never? We never will experience the same degree. Psalm 139 tells us we can never go anywhere outside of his presence – whether we go to the heights or to the depths, even there God will find us.

It’s amazing grace. Jesus was thirsty so our thirst could be satisfied.

Be blessed today because it is Good Friday.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

When You Have Done Everything...Stand

Some days I wake up with an overwhelming and persistent thought; this morning was one of those days. It’s remnant of a dream I can’t completely recall but over and over, I found myself reciting the last half of Ephesians 6:13, “and when you have done everything, to stand.”

It’s a reminder to me, for sure, but I believe it’s a word for many who are struggling with trials right now. To my right and to my left, friends and comrades in the battle are falling, wounded and beat up. They are too tired to get up and continue fighting; it’s exhausting and weariness sets deep in the soul.

The Holy Spirit reminds us (through Paul) to keep standing.  Standing may not feel victorious – it’s passive and not effective at advancing territory but sometimes standing is the victory. John Keating (portrayed by Robin Williams) from Dead Poets’ Society says standing reminds himself to see things in a different way.  

What different way could we see if we keep standing?

1 Chronicles 20:17, Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out and face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.

Interesting, don’t you think? Paul writes to put on the armour of God and when we have done all to stand your ground, to stand. Why? Because that’s when the deliverance of the Lord will come.

So if you are feeling beaten down and you’ve done everything you know how to do, stand and see the deliverance of the Lord in your situation.

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