Category Archives: Hope

Rejoice Always!

There are a lot of people opening up about the abuse that they have suffered.So many must be feeling triggered right now. Holidays are so hard for so many – reminders of betrayal, heartache, loneliness – that we live in a cursed world full of injustice, lust for power, greed. Many are perhaps suffering from illness or ongoing pain. Many have gone to the church for help only to be attacked, shamed and abused in the house of God!

And yet we also see the command of God to rejoice always! How can we do this?

Here is a list of things that we can truly be thankful for, even in the whirlwind of this life in the flesh.

  1. We have been completely washed by the blood and Spirit of Jesus. On particularly rough days, I imagine the meaning of my baptism as I shower. Just as this cool, refreshing, cleansing water is cleaning my body, I really and truly am washed by the blood of Christ. I am clean completely in the eyes of God. He doesn’t see me as I see myself, or as others see me, but as a new creation, fit to enter his presence – clean. He sees me the same way that he sees Jesus – his well-beloved Son.
  2. Because I am in Christ, God loves me with an almighty, infinite, unchanging eternal love. So I can rest in him. Because he is almighty, there is nothing outside of his power. Because he is unchanging, nothing can remove me from his hands.
  3. He sets the lonely into families; he frees the prisoners; he heals the sick; he feeds the hungry. He cares for my broken-down body. He is at work in me and I am fearfully and wonderfully made! His faithfulness is everlasting – unchanging, almighty, infinite.
  4. God is just, and this is a cause for rejoicing! On this earth, justice always comes short. The wicked prosper and the righteous are oppressed. Ahab gets rich and Naboth is stoned and everything seems completely upside-down. There is even great wickedness in the house of God! But God told us there would be. And God told us that he will not forget. He sees it and there will be a reckoning. God’s judgment will be infinite, almighty and unchanging. He will thoroughly clean his threshing floor.
  5. Sometimes we tie ourselves into knots trying to figure out how a just God squares with an evil world. But since 1 and 2 above are true, we can stop trying to figure it all out, and just rest – knowing that God is not fooled, is not swayed by trends and opinions, and already has this sorted. Our job is to wait and hold to Christ. The secret things belong to him.
  6. And the day will come when Jesus will descend with a shout of the archangel and the blast of the trumpet. His people will be gathered together and meet him in the air, and descend triumphantly with him. They will be vindicated before everyone. Every slander will be revealed for what it is, every murderer and reviler exposed, every abuse and every degradation exposed and left without excuse. There won’t be any “mistakes were made” or “besides, I’m gay” or “we were protecting the ministry” or “everybody did it back then”. There will be only perfect justice.
  7. And God’s people, united to Christ by faith, will be vindicated before the world. Every glass of water given freely, every meal shared, every kind word, every prayer – not to prove anything to God, but to reveal God’s people for who THEY are. Slander and reviling and gas-lighting will all be destroyed forever. God knows his own, and his works in his own people will be revealed before the universe.
  8. And there will be no more curse. No more loneliness, no more wickedness and strife, no more illness and pain, no more death, no more lies.
  9. The day will come when we will crush the head of the serpent under our feet and reign over all things forever and ever.
  10. No matter how weak we are on this earth, no matter how many have trodden us underfoot, no matter what we have suffered, we are more than conquerors in Jesus Christ. In him there is no more male and female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, but we are all one in Jesus Christ. We share in his sufferings together. We share in his glory. We will reign with him over all creation forever. How astounding is that??

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Filed under Gospel, Hope, Thankfulness

How does God see me?

The day is going to come when Jesus will come again and we will all stand before his judgment throne. We will be judged on our works.

This means that we have a problem. To illustrate that problem, take out a blank sheet of paper. On this sheet of paper, write down every sin, mistake, error in judgment, and failure that you have ever committed.

Wait.

Before you start, put down Adam’s sin in the very first spot. When you were conceived, you already had this one on your account.

Now, start with the things that keep you up at night. The kind words you should have said. The ugly words that you did say. The lingering looks over the girl walking by you and the horrible things that went through your mind.

The time you really enjoyed that tiny piece of gossip, destroying someone with your hateful tongue. Maybe the time that you were unthankful to God and doubted his goodness. Add your road rage, your hateful words at the customer that is standing in your way. Add your thoughts of rage against your server or cashier for being an idiot and a moron.

And those are just the things you did and didn’t do. What about who you are as a person? Your first thought isn’t about the glory of God; it is about your own glory. Your first love isn’t the love of God, it is a love for yourself. You don’t wish your neighbor to have success, even if it means you don’t. You want to be first. You don’t want to worship the God who is; your first thought is to worship a god that you like better than the one true God.

Maybe you try really, really hard to love God. Maybe you really want to be a better person, so you have learned to reign in your tongue.

But you still have sleepless nights, don’t you? You know that when Jesus comes again, all of those thoughts will be revealed to the whole universe so that every mouth will be stopped. There won’t be any more excuses. They weren’t indiscretions; they weren’t inappropriate gestures; they were sins, affronts against almighty God and worth his eternal wrath.

And you can’t do anything about it.

Write them down on your piece of paper. Remember that all of the ones that you missed, or excused, or forgot about, God already has written them down. He will never acquit the guilty.

Now think about Jesus. Look at the law. He kept all of that perfectly. Imagine never once failing to act according to perfect love. Imagine loving God with all of your heart and mind and strength, and never once failing. Never saying a cruel word. Never rejoicing in gossip. Never abusing and defiling, even in his mind.

It’s hard to imagine because we have no experience of it. We don’t know what it is like to NOT be corrupted by sin. But we have the law. We have the proverbs – God’s description of wisdom – a character reference of Jesus, the Wisdom of God made flesh.

Imagine perfect righteousness, spotless holiness, and unflagging wisdom written in a book.

Now you have two ledgers. You have the works that you have done and have failed to do. It’s pretty ugly. And you have the works that Jesus did and the sins that he refused. It is beautiful, wise, holy, without blemish. It is clean.

When Jesus stood before Pilate, Pilate declared him innocent. Pilate knew that he had done nothing deserving of death. As the temporal judge, he bore witness to God’s judgment: Jesus committed no sin and had no guile in his mouth. But because of Pilate’s character and the treachery of the Jews, Pilate condemned him to death anyway. But when it came time to write up the charge and nail it to the cross, Pilate had a problem. He didn’t have anything to write.

So he wrote, “The King of the Jews” in order to insult the Jews. He refused to change it.

God says this:

13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. (Col 2:13-15 KJV)

Even though Pilate had nothing to write on Jesus’ cross, God did. He took that ledger that you just filled out. Your sinful nature, every sin that you committed and every deed of righteousness that you failed to do. God even took the ones that you didn’t add, the ones you didn’t know about, the ones you excused and justified – he took them all and nailed THAT to the cross of Christ.

The charges were against YOU. The condemnation fell on Jesus.

“What thou, my Lord, has suffered

Was all for sinners’ gain

Mine, mine was the transgression,

But thine the deadly pain” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux)

What happened to the other ledger – the one with Jesus’ perfect righteousness? It’s the book that is opened when I stand before God on the judgment day. Every work that he did, every perfection, every spotless act of beauty and wisdom, is put on MY account.

It isn’t how much I loved God in this life. It is how much Jesus loved God.

It isn’t how much I desired God or lived a life of Christian hedonism. It is HIS perfect righteousness, faith, and obedience, put on my account.

It isn’t how much I persevered or how tightly I held on. It isn’t about the strength of my faith or the purity of my faith. It is about the strength and purity of my savior. With my empty hands, I cling to him. With my filthy heart, I cry out for mercy. With my sin-filled tongue, I call to Him.

His righteousness is mine. My sin and filth were put to death on his cross, and that puts to death the bondage and power of the devil. That great exchange will always lead to a changed life, but the changed life will always fall far, far short of the righteous requirements of God. The only thing that will EVER stand before God is the perfect righteousness, holiness and satisfaction of Christ put on my account.

If only I accept it with a believing heart.

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Filed under Faith, Gospel, Hope, justification, Sin and Grace

The Humility of Caleb

“But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it. (Num 14:24 NKJ)

I’ve been thinking about Caleb lately. Caleb was a slave in Egypt and saw the plagues that God brought on them. He cheered when the Red Sea covered Pharaoh. He sang Miriam’s song of Redemption. He watched his nation under the watchful hand of God travel through the wilderness. How he longed to receive his inheritance!

When the congregation came to the border, ready to invade and take their inheritance, they rebelled. They were afraid of the giants in the land.

And Caleb’s hopes fell. His desire and expectation crushed. And then God spoke to Moses. “Caleb will enter. He was faithful.”

But he had to wait for 40 years. And the worst thing about it was that there was nothing he could do about it.

The other thing that I’ve been thinking about is humility.

Humility is learning that the world is about God’s glory, not your own. Humility is understanding that without the positive decree of God, you won’t take your next breath. Humility is knowing that our God is in the heavens, and does whatever he pleases.

Without humility, no one sees the Lord, for he will not give his glory to another. God resists the proud, but gives strength to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).

But having a theoretical knowledge of humility isn’t enough. Humility must be experienced and learned. For pride is so deeply engrained that we don’t even know it is there. Since God loves us and has promised us the inheritance, he has ways of showing us our pride and calling us to repent of it. And one of the sneakiest forms of pride is revealed when God brings something into our lives that is bitter and difficult, and there is nothing we can do about it.

When we are faced with giants, mountains, Pharaohs, armies; when the dark valleys and black clouds cover everything; when the hurt is too deep, we want to fix it. We want it to stop.

Most of the time, we can find a solution. Most of the time, we can find comfort and peace. Most of the time, there is something that we can do. We get hungry, we eat. We get thirsty, we drink. We get hot, we go swimming. We get cold, we put on a jacket or start a fire.

But we don’t learn humility that way. Humility comes when we are hungry, thirsty, cold, tired, and there is nothing to do about it. Humility comes when the black clouds and giant soldiers block the inheritance and we aren’t strong enough. Humility comes when difficulty becomes unbearable, and there is no solution.

That’s when we go to our knees and cry out to God.

But what about those times when God seems to be silent. What about those times when we know the promises of the Scripture, but we don’t see them anywhere on the earth. What about the times when God’s providence tells us to wait?

This is where Caleb and humility cross paths. Job is known for patience; Elijah for prayers; Samson for strength; Solomon for wisdom.

Caleb should be known for humility. He knew that he didn’t have the strength to overcome the giants, but he knew that God could. His humility gave him courage. But when everything collapsed, and God told him to wait, he waited. His humility was then tempered in the wilderness for forty more years.

We see his character revealed again, forty years later. He said to Joshua, who was now the leader:

7 “I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as it was in my heart.
8 “Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt, but I wholly followed the LORD my God.
9 “So Moses swore on that day, saying,`Surely the land where your foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children’s forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.’
10 “And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five years, ever since the LORD spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old.
11 “As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in.
12 “Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said.” (Jos 14:7-12 NKJ)

He was ready. He was 80 years old, and ready to drive out the giants. The Anakim were the biggest and baddest of them all, but Caleb was ready. For forty years, he didn’t rail against God. He didn’t become angry towards his brethren, but still called them brethren. He told the truth about them, but held no hatred in his heart. He waited patiently for the Lord’s time and when God said “now”, Caleb was ready and eager. Did I mention that he was 80 years old?

This is the humility of Caleb. What do we do when faced with a tremendous trial and our hope is deferred? What do we do when that which we long for seems so far away? What do we do when there is nothing that we can do except endure the pain? What do we do when we have exhausted everything that we know to do, when we have said all that there is to say, done everything there is to do? What do we do then?

Wait. You can’t fix it, but you can join Caleb and lift up your eyes to heaven where Christ already is. The inheritance is certain because God promised it. The inheritance is certain because God cannot lie. The inheritance is certain because Jesus died for us and rose again and is even now at the right hand of the Father.

But on this earth, everything is still under the curse. The tears aren’t wiped away until he comes again. The whirlwind still rages all around us. Do what you can, but know this: you can’t fix the curse. You don’t understand the power of sin. You can’t change a heart. You can’t even change your own heart. But you can pray and wait and love. That’s humility and it is only learned the hard way.

You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord. He is their help and their shield (Psalm 115:11).

A proud man thinks he can fix anything. Humility is learned when the giants come, and God says, “Not now.”

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Filed under Hope, Patience, Prayer, salvation

Call Upon the Name of the Lord

We don’t know exactly when Joel wrote his prophecy. But we know that the people of God had suffered a tremendous plague of locusts. One swarm of destroying swarm right after the other, and the people of God called upon every god and every power that they could think of. But they didn’t call upon the name of the Lord.

God had warned them. He had given them the greatest thing anyone could ever hope for. He gave them Himself. He said, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” What an astounding thought! That the creator of heaven and earth, the only power there is, the giver of life and all good things, would call himself “our God!”

And yet, when things got tough, they called on every idol, every creature, every trick in the book, and never once called on the name of the Lord.

And God warned them again. There is no other savior. There is no other deliverer. There is no other strength. There is only the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and He has offered himself to us and calls Himself “our God.”

And the day will come when God will come in judgment and everything unclean and defiling and wicked will be destroyed,

“But whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” That God would stoop to save the likes of us is a thought that staggers the mind. But He does. In fact, He became flesh and took the wrath of God against sin in His own body on the cross. And He did this so that He could truly be our God, and we would be His people!

And the gospel goes forth to every tribe, every kingdom, every people. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Only now it is made more clear than it was even in the Old Covenant.

Paul told the church at Corinth that the church is made up of everyone “who calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus.” He knew what he was saying. He wasn’t inventing a new god, for there are no other gods than the God of Abraham. He was saying that Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, crucified in Jerusalem, who rose from the dead and ate and drank with his disciples was none other than Jehovah, the God of Israel.

And whoever calls upon His name shall be saved. There is  no other hope, no other name given under heaven than the name of Jesus.

So when you say you are a Christian, do you also call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ as your only hope of salvation? Do you call upon Him when you are out of hope? When the world is dark?

Or do you look to everything else, as Israel did of old?

Where do you turn for justice? Where do you turn for healing? Where do you turn for covering for your shame?

Where do you look for beauty and hope and goodness? Where is your heart most satisfied? Are your affections on this earth, or does your heart long to be where Christ is, at the right hand of God?

God will not give His glory to another. He won’t share it with his creatures. It is His will that Jesus Christ be praised from the rising of the sun to the going down. It is God’s will that Jesus Christ be exalted in the hearts and minds and affections of all who claim His name.

So this world tends to fade in the hearts of those who love Jesus. This world is seen for what it is when the heart is turned towards Christ. It is under a curse. It is full of madness and folly. Pain and illness and disappointment, and even times where we are close to despair, cling to our skin. The smell of our failures and cruelties and wickedness overpower our senses. Our longing for beauty and goodness and love leave us gasping. And in those times, when we have nowhere else to turn, we call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Lord, save us!”

And that is where we ought to be, and it is good.

For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus shall be saved.

Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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Filed under Gospel, Hope

“Just Keep Quiet, Sister”

Recently I’ve been meditating on the rape of Tamar and the coming of the Christ. These two are connected.

This might need some explaining. King David was anointed by God Himself. He was the king “after God’s own heart.” After the oppression and abuse against him by King Saul in 1 Samuel, your heart is cheering as David is finally anointed king. The good guys won! You expect the fairy tale ending, “And they all lived happily ever after…”

But the accounts of Israel’s history rarely end that way. Ever since sin entered into the world, our stories never end well. David was a righteous king – compared with Saul. But he was never really the point of the account. If salvation could come by government, David’s kingdom would have succeeded and Christ need not have come. But the problem with the world is universal. Not even David is immune. The sin that lies in the heart of every man also lies in the heart of David – and not “sin” in the mild “everyone sins” kind of way, but hateful, ugly, destructive and vile sin.

Like every good story teller, the author of 2 Samuel doesn’t just give us a treatise on total depravity and our need for a greater king and greater savior; instead, he shows us. David’s fall into murder and adultery has consequences for his whole family, including his virgin daughter, Tamar.

Tamar is beautiful, which means she is a target for the kingdom of the devil who hates beauty. Her half-brother Amnon is consumed with lust for her. His lust is not a lust for her beauty, but the lust of a hungry wolf in the presence of a sheep. His lust to kill, consume and destroy has been sexualized, which is what rape is.

He is constricted by Tamar’s position as a daughter of the king and one thing a man like Amnon hates is to be restricted by anything. He has two conflicting beliefs going on. First, he believes as the crown prince that he is entitled to whatever he wants. And second, the king has the authority to command. So what happens when the king’s rights conflict with the prince’s “rights”? It is this conflict that consumes Amnon and makes him sick. To Amnon, Tamar’s personhood and will don’t even enter into it. She’s just an object to be used.

Amnon, like all wicked men, has an advisor that promises to help him through the dilemma. Jonadab says, “Go to your sick bed. When your father comes to visit, ask him to send Tamar to nurse you back to health.”

And Amnon does. We are not told why David didn’t see through such a ridiculous ruse, but based on simple observation, we can make an educated guess. People have no problem confessing total depravity when it comes to people that are different than they are. If one is outside of your circles, you have no problem with confessing their corruption. It is easy to see the sin of Philistines, Moabites – even those of other tribes. The sins of Benjamin are easy to see if you are from Judah.

But where it hits hard is when you are confronted with the total depravity of your children, your brothers, your sisters, your church. “Those kinds of things don’t happen in Israel!”  “Not in my church. Not in my family. Not in my tribe.”

But sin doesn’t give us a pass because of who we descended from. In fact, it is the opposite. It is precisely because of who we descended from that we are all conceived and born in sin.

Even Amnon. Would David have allowed a non-family member to be alone with his daughter under such a flimsy excuse? I think not.

At any rate, David commands Tamar to attend to her brother. Tamar makes food for poor, sick Amnon and he watches her. She brings the bread to him, but he refuses to eat. Then he sends everyone else out of the room.

Tamar stands there alone, afraid, powerless. He commands her, “Come here. Lie with me.”

She protests strongly. “A thing like this shouldn’t be done in Israel!”

She begs him. She pleads for him to remember pity. “Where will I take my shame? I will spend the rest of my life ashamed and reproached. Unable to marry. Unable to live. What will I do? Who will take this shame away from me if you do this horrible thing.”

She pleads with him to remember his own reputation. “You will go down as a fool in Israel! Why would you do such a thing?”

She even gives him a desperate alternative, “Ask our father to give me to you as wife. He won’t withhold me from you!”  It seems desperate, but it is her only option in that culture before Christ. If she is raped, no one will marry her. She will be cut off without children, without protection, without support. She will have nothing but shame and reproach. Even today, in many cultures a girl who is raped faces excommunication from her family, her people, and sometimes is even tried and punished as an adulterer. The devil’s kingdom is ugly, hateful and cruel. How many women do we know who have been driven from their churches and families even in America because they were raped?

Amnon refuses to listen. He wants to destroy her innocence and beauty. His destructive desires are sexually charged. He is not lusting after her beauty. He is lusting after her destruction. So he forces her, because he is stronger than she is. And he rapes her.

The word “forces” is the Hebrew word, ‘anah, which means to afflict, oppress, humble. We will come back to that word.

After Amnon is done with her, he hates her. He hated her before, but now he has what he wants from her. He says, “Get up and get out.”

She weeps. She pleads. It is now clear to Tamar that it was not an act of extreme love gone bad, but an act of hatred and destruction. All rape is about destroying the image of God. It is never about love or even desire. It is about hatred and defacing God’s image.

Amnon calls in his servant and has her thrown out of the room. She leaves the room in tears. She tears her robe – the special robe of honor worn by the king’s daughters – and flees to Absalom’s house. Absalom is Tamar’s full brother.

Absalom immediately knows what happened and tells her, “Be quiet. Don’t take it to heart. He’s your brother.”

God gave men and women a wonderful gift when he created them. It was a gift of communication. Words and thoughts, the ability to hear, to meditate, to express. It is unique to man out of all creatures under the sun. We can open our lips, choose words and fellowship with one another and with God. We can talk about our feelings, our likes and dislikes.

We can use words like “love”; “joy”; “peace” – as well as “hatred,” “ justice,” “abuse.”

But the devil and his kingdom hate God and hate his image. He seeks the destruction of the voice, of the personhood, of the will. He seeks the annihilation and defacement of beauty and love.

The most effective way to achieve all of these goals of the devil is through rape. For this reason a rapist was not allowed to live in Israel under Moses’s law. There wasn’t anything to be done with him. A man who rapes is a man completely given over to the power of the devil and must be removed from society.

And rape removes the voice. Where will she take her disgrace? Does she have two or three witnesses? Does she have the courage to stand up to her attacker in an assembly of men who in her mind are just like her attacker? She tells her church, and is told to just be quiet. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t ruin the ministry. She tells the magistrate, and is often left just like Tamar. David knew about it. He was angry, but did nothing.

Her choice is gone, because he is stronger than she is. Her voice is gone – silenced by threats, intimidation, coercion. Where will she take her shame?

This is the hopelessness of the kingdom of the devil. After Absalom takes Tamar into his house, we are left with this: “And Tamar lived with Absalom, desolate, in her brother’s house.” She then disappears from the sacred record – except in the mind of God.

Her question still hangs in the air, leaving us empty and hungry for a solution. “Where will I take my shame?”

Many centuries later, Isaiah comes on the scene. He writes,

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. (Isa 61:1-3 ESV)

The good news, the gospel, is proclaimed to the “poor”. The Hebrew word, as you may have guessed by now, is ‘anah – Afflicted, forced, humiliated, poor

And who is this one of whom Isaiah speaks? Does he speak of himself or does he speak of another?

When Jesus of Nazareth began to preach in Capernaum, he opened his Bible to this passage and read it. Then he said,

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luk 4:21 ESV)

Do you see? Do you see that Isaiah is giving the answer to Tamar’s question? Do you see those for whom Jesus came? He came into this world in the womb of another virgin daughter of Israel. He came for all who have been broken, bowed, and afflicted. He came for those who have been abused, raped, and humbled. He calls to the broken-hearted, those with no strength, and those who have been the victims of every Amnon of this present world. His gospel is for the weak, the downtrodden – those who mourn.

He never told the outcasts to “be quiet”. He spoke with them. He listened to them. But more importantly than all of that, he brought to them good news. He came to set his people free. He came to give a voice to the voiceless, justice to the oppressed, mercy to the repentant. He came to set the prisoner free.

I know that the world is full of those who are like Tamar. I know many of you personally and see the gospel of Jesus alive in you. Christ has indeed fulfilled his promise and proclaimed the good news to you and has called you his own.

If Tamar’s story is yours and you do not know Jesus, learn of him. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. He hates Amnon, and destroyed the power of the one behind Amnon on the cross. He bore the curse in his own body and then rose from the dead, proclaiming the season of God’s favor to all who are hopeless and voiceless. He came to restore the damaged image of God in you – to restore your beauty, your voice, your will, your courage.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made, a daughter of the king who will never look away and refuse you justice. You have your voice restored to confess his name. You have your will restored to choose for yourself whom you will serve. Have the courage to come out of the kingdom of oppression and darkness and bondage and follow your savior.

If we call ourselves Christians, should we not strive to imitate our Lord? Do we follow him and give the gospel to the Tamars of the world – justice and mercy and renewed hope? Or are we more like Absalom; “Be quiet, sister; don’t take the matter to heart.”

May God give us the courage to proclaim faithfully the gospel of the kingdom of Christ, even when the kingdom of the devil threatens and fumes. May we stand firm.

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Filed under Abuse, Christmas, Gospel, Hope

When the world is topsy-turvy

I’m sitting by her in my usual spot. She’s had a worse day than usual. She has more pain than I have ever known, and she lives with it constantly.

We heard of a treatment that we are going to try, if we are accepted. The details don’t matter.

The question is this: what happens when you are out of options? At what point do we say, “This is all we can do.”

Do we just live with it? What if this treatment doesn’t work? There are other possibilities. What if they don’t work.

What if…

What if…

What if…

And then we read this:

As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. (Ecc 11:5 ESV)

There is so little that we know, as humans on this earth. We can’t figure out the most basic things. The other night, I realized that I have never even seen my own back. Mirrors don’t count – they’re backwards. (My wife tells me that this is why I don’t sleep).

If we can’t know how bones form, how the little life is formed in the womb; if we don’t know the simplest things of this life, how can we know the future?

I think this is why God forbids us to worry. It’s really idolatry. We pretend that we have access to that which God alone knows. He tells us instead to trust.

So we’ll trust. We’ll place ourselves in His hands.

We know that he didn’t spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all. We know that he will not forsake us, or ever leave us.

And here, on this earth, that is enough. The day will come when this curse will be taken away, and there will be no more tears.

Until that day, we’ll go one day at a time. Solomon goes on to say,

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. (Ecc 11:6 ESV)

We’ll continue to do what God has given us to do and take one morning and one evening at a time. I’ll try to write when I can. I’ll prepare sermons beside the bed. I’ll counsel from my phone. I’ll help wherever I can.

But tomorrow is too big for me. I better leave that in the hands of the one who died for me, and rose from the dead, who promised to walk with me, even through the valley of the shadow of death.

And the day will come when we will both be at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

That’s enough for me to know right now.

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Alone?

2 Kings 6:1-23

The Syrian army was brutal. Their oppression of God’s people was relentless and cruel. The helpless were carried away captive; the poor and the weak were the first victims.

Like a lion, the devil’s army seeks to separate the weak from the herd and then go in for the kill. The tactic is very successful. This was also practiced by the Syrian army. Divide and destroy. Pick off the weak.

Even though Israel had a wicked king who refused to bend the knee to the God of Israel, the LORD still had pity on his people. When Ben-Hadad, king of the Syrians, would plan a secret raid on an unprotected village, God would tell his prophet Elisha of the plan and Elisha would warn the armies of Israel. The villages would be spared. But Ben-Hadad was convinced that there was a traitor in his inner circle.

When Ben-Hadad found out that there was a lone voice protecting the weak from destruction, he set his mind on destroying that voice. He sent his armies to destroy Elisha so that he could continue his policy of destruction, lies, and oppression unhindered.

But God had other plans.

The Syrian army approached Elisha’s village. The thundering of the feet, the shouts of the commanders, the snorting of the horses, the clanging chariots. How terrifying for Elisha!

Elisha’s servant goes outside and sees the tremendous army surrounding the village and is overcome with fear. “Alas, Master, what shall we do?”

Have you felt that same fear? Have you felt surrounded on every side, utterly alone and forsaken?

Has a well-meaning friend said, “Don’t worry. God won’t give you more than you can handle”? You know better, don’t you?

The fact is this: the armies of Syria were far, far greater than Elisha and his one servant could handle.

And the armies of the world, the devil and our own flesh are far, far greater than we can ever handle. Our enemies are fierce and relentless.

But then look at what Elisha says,

16 And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. (2Ki 6:16)

Let those words sink in your ears. Meditate on them in your night terrors. When you are forsaken and alone, remember them.

Those who seek your life to destroy you are strong, relentless and fearless. They are greater than you can bear.

But fear not. There are more with you than there are with them.

Elisha’s servant responded like all of us do. He counted what he could see. Two. There’s two of us. Now, Elisha, look at the chariots, the horsemen, the cavalry, the infantry. Are we having math issues here?

No. We aren’t having a problem with math. We are having a problem with perception.

17 And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. (2Ki 6:17 KJV)

And you may say to yourself – well, that’s Old Testament. I’m not Elisha. But the inspired author isn’t just relation history, he is also relating theology. The fact is this: Christian, there are ALWAYS more with us than there are with them, and the scripture is full of this. Look at this sampling of passages:

17 The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place.
18 Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.
19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. (Psa 68:17-19 KJV)

You, Little One, you are not powerless; you are not weak; you are not alone. You are in Christ, the king of kings and lord of lords. He is the creator and sustainer of the universe and the captain of the Lord’s army.

His name is the Lord of Hosts. That is, the Lord of Armies. He is the commander of the Lord’s army, which ever surrounds each of us, for he knows us by name.

There are indeed more with us than there are with them.

11 For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
12 They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. (Psa 91:11-12 KJV)

For this reason it is a terrible thing to hurt and have contempt for any member of Christ’s church, for he takes it very personally.

10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. (Mat 18:10 KJV)

And when it is our Master’s will to call us home, we don’t even do that alone, but are carried into heaven in the arms of the angels of God.

22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; (Luk 16:22 KJV)

So quit doing math with the eyes of the world. You may feel lonely, and despised, and rejected. You may think that there is no one else, that you alone bear your burden. You may feel as if you enemies have gone over your head and that this battle is too great for you.

And you would be right. The battle is too great. But there are always more that are with you than are with them.

God would have us lift our eyes to his throne room, where Christ is seated. There we see that we are not alone in worship, in love, in adoration. Our voices are joined by the angels, prophets, apostles, martyrs and all who have claimed the name of Christ:

9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
11 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;
12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
14 And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever. (Rev 5:9-14 KJV)

So take courage, Little One. Lift your eyes up where the Lord of Hosts is. He reigns forever and ever, and there are always more with you than with them. The destiny of the serpent and his followers is eternal destruction. But your home is with Jesus forever. Who can separate us from his love.

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The Samaritan Woman

17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:
18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.
19 The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.
20 Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.
(Joh 4:17-20 KJV)

 

Jesus and this Samaritan woman were having a conversation about water. Jesus invited the woman to ask for living water – that is, water that gives life, that quenches thirst permanently – and the woman asks for it.

Then Jesus tells her to call her husband. The standard interpretation is that Jesus is confronting her fornication, and the woman gets uncomfortable with that and changes the subject. That was how I always viewed it, until I started asking questions of the text.

If this is what Jesus was doing, why did he allow her to change the subject? Shouldn’t he have pressed on until she repented?

Then I understood something. Jesus knows the heart, but we have to ask questions. Jesus knows perfectly what is going on, but we need to explore.

The assumption that Jesus is confronting her sinful fornication is the assumption made by men from the perspective of men. If this was a man that Jesus was talking to, then the assumption is that the man has kicked out his wife five times looking for a younger or prettier model. We get that. But in that day, a wife didn’t have many options. Where would she go? How would she feed herself? What will she do?

Further, a wife didn’t divorce her husband; a husband divorced his wife. And this happened to her five times. She continued to marry the same kind of man, a man who didn’t know how to love, and continued to reap the same results – just as she kept coming to the well to drink the water. Eventually, she thirsted again.

Her quest for acceptance, security, intimacy and love led her to seek out the same kind of man over and over again. Eventually she gave up, decided that she wasn’t worthy of the dignity of marriage and simply let the sixth man use her as he saw fit. That was all she was worth. Her deepest longing would never be filled. But Jesus would change all of that.

Jesus, seeing the heart, knew that her problem was a problem of worship. She sought her healing and worth in the arms of men – one marriage after another; and she was discarded, one after another, by the same type of man. She thought that the next time her thirst would be filled. But that dream was as futile as thinking that water from the well would quench her thirst forever and she would never have to draw again.  The reason we have to keep drawing water from the well is that the water of the earth can’t ever fill what we thirst for. The problem with the woman wasn’t lust and fornication. It was a problem of worship. The god she worshiped had her in hard bondage, a never ending cycle of abuse, degradation, and despair, until finally she required nothing, demanded nothing, and allowed herself to be used and discarded as a useless thing.

But Jesus saw a prodigal daughter, a woman in God’s image, and restored her in the area she needed the most: the area of worship. Jesus didn’t allow her to change the subject. We just need to see what the subject WAS. The subject they were talking about was thirst, and Jesus pinpointed her true thirst with one simple question: “Go call your husband, and come here.”

When true worship is restored, the bondage and cycle of degradation and abuse cease. He came to proclaim deliverance to the prisoners, not to harp on women like a Pharisee. He came to bind up the brokenhearted, and he saw in the women one who was brokenhearted. He didn’t stop at the outside of the cup; he went to the heart.

Did Jesus confront her sin? Yes, of course he did. But her sin wasn’t that she was a fornicating tramp who didn’t know how to keep a husband. That’s reading into the text what isn’t there. Her sin was deeper than that. It was a problem of worship.

Jesus didn’t let her off the hook on that one. He pointed his finger right at it, then when she confessed that he was right (“I perceive that you are a prophet”), he continued to do what he told her he would do, and gave her living water. But instead of falsely accusing her of something that she didn’t do, he went right to the heart of the issue, because it wasn’t his intention to further degrade her and humiliate her, it was his intention to restore fellowship with God, and this fellowship must be in spirit and in truth.

If we wish to evangelize as Jesus did, we have to learn to know people. Jesus saw the heart, but we have to ask questions and learn how to listen. Then we need to point them to the only one that can give living water. Too often I fear we settle for telling everyone what is wrong with them – but we usually get that part wrong. The heart of the matter is worship. We need to get to the heart, and that can only come with time and patience.

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The Anchor of the Soul

From John Calvin – on Hebrews 6:19-20

“It is a striking likeness when he compares faith leaning on God’s word to an anchor; for doubtless, as long as we sojourn in this world, we stand not on firm ground, but are tossed here and there as it were in the midst of the sea, and that indeed very turbulent; for Satan is incessantly stirring up innumerable storms, which would immediately upset and sink our vessel, were we not to cast our anchor fast in the deep. For nowhere a haven appears to our eyes, but wherever we look water alone is in view; yea, waves also arise and threaten us; but as the anchor is cast through the waters into a dark and unseen place, and while it lies hid there, keeps the vessel beaten by the waves from being overwhelmed; so must our hope be fixed on the invisible God. There is this difference, — the anchor is cast downwards into the sea, for it has the earth as its bottom; but our hope rises upwards and soars aloft, for in the world it finds nothing on which it can stand, nor ought it to cleave to created things, but to rest on God alone. As the cable also by which the anchor is suspended joins the vessel with the earth through a long and dark intermediate space, so the truth of God is a bond to connect us with himself, so that no distance of place and no darkness can prevent us from cleaving to him. Thus when united to God, though we must struggle with continual storms, we are yet beyond the peril of shipwreck. Hence he says, that this anchor is sure and steadfast, or safe and firm. It may indeed be that by the violence of the waves the anchor may be plucked off, or the cable be broken, or the beaten ship be torn to pieces. This happens on the sea; but the power of God to sustain us is wholly different, and so also is the strength of hope and the firmness of his word.” (John Calvin)

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Because she mattered

Luke 8:43-48

43And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any,44came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched.45And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?46And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.47And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately.48And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.

Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, had begged Jesus to come to his house to heal his only daughter, who was dying. Jesus agreed and they began to make their way through the crowd. The crowd pressed him from all sides. It was slow going. A jostle here, an elbow there. Besides the regular crowd hassle, Jesus was also quite famous at the time. Everyone wanted to touch him, to be near, to see him.

He makes his way. Suddenly, he stops. Everyone else stops. Jesus is looking around at the crowd.

“Who touched me?”

A silence descends. Maybe they didn’t hear the question right. It was a strange question. They were in the middle of the crowd, shoved and jostled from every side, and Jesus says, “Who touched me?”

When Jesus persists in looking around and asking, Peter finally wonders. “Jesus, we’re in the middle of a crowd. Everyone has touched you.”

Jesus continues. “No. You don’t understand. Someone touched me. I felt power go out from me. Who touched me?”

We know that Jesus is true God and knows all things. We know that the grace to heal is not accidental. Jesus healed this woman and did it on purpose, knowing what He did. So why did he say, “Who touched me?”

Jesus also told us to pray, and said “You Father knows what you need before you ask.”

So why pray? Hold that question a moment. Let’s go back to the crowd.

We have the advantage of the readers. We know who touched him.

A woman with an issue of blood for 12 years touched him.        Under Moses’ law, a woman in the time of her cycle was ceremonially unclean. She could not enter into the congregation of the Lord until her time was over and she was cleansed. Further, anyone who touched a woman in the time of her cycle was also ceremonially unclean and could not enter into the congregation of the Lord. She had been ceremonially unclean for 12 years.

12 years.

12 years of being able to touch no one. 12 years of spending every penny she had on doctors and being told that there was nothing to be done. 12 years of being excluded from her family, her friends, the worship of the Lord.

12 years of loneliness, isolation. She was an outcast, unclean. She was used to the look. You know the one. “Stay away from me. You’re unclean. You’re not worth my time. You’re not even worth God’s time.”

The rabbis had a prayer. “I thank God that I am male, Jewish and free.” No one else was worth the time.

Especially not this woman – an endless flow of blood. Outcast. Unclean. Stay away.

If you have ever experienced being an outsider, you know how this woman felt. She was excluded from every circle, every gathering, every fellowship. If you have always been in the circle, you have no idea.

You don’t know what it is like to never be welcomed, never be accepted. To always be the odd one out, the “outsider”. It’s our worst fear come true. That we are no good. Not fit for company, either with God or man. Weird. An outsider. “She’s just not ‘our kind of people’”

She had had this for 12 years. Not our kind of people. An outsider. Unclean. Outcast.

12 years.

By now she had given up. She was now used to being alone and outcast – at least, used to pretending and surviving. But she hears about Jesus. She truly believes that he has the power to heal her.

But she has been an outcast for 12 years, and those habits do not easily turn themselves off. She would not again risk the contempt and scorn of the included, the clean. She would not speak. She would not draw any attention to herself. She would just sneak through the crowd and touch his garment.

And she reaches out, touches his garment and the whole world stops.

The first thing that she notices is that she is completely cleansed. She feels the power. She feels the healing. Everything has changed. She is like a schoolgirl again!

The next thing that she notices almost immediately is that everything is silent. Everyone is looking around. And Jesus is asking, “Who touched me?”

It like the worst nightmare for one who has been a pariah for 12 years. She is used to the shadows and now the spotlight is on and pointing right at her.

She shakes her head and tries to slink away. But the Master persists.

Now he is looking right at her (see Matthew 9:22). Who touched me?

Why? Why didn’t He just let it go? He had already healed her and given her life back! Why is he persisting on saying “Who touched me?”

The answer is here: this woman had been an outcast – filthy and unclean for 12 years. Nothing will make you feel more filthy than actually being filthy. There wasn’t anything that she could do about it. But Jesus came to collect his sheep. He came to call out a people for his name. He came to deliver His people from their sins – so that they might KNOW the Lord.

Think of this: God doesn’t just save us from our sins. He doesn’t just heal our iniquities. He actually delights to call us his bride, his people, his children, his sons and daughters!

But this woman has been unclean for 12 years. What she has to say isn’t wanted. Isn’t needed. She isn’t’ worth the bother. People quit listening to her years ago. People quit caring years ago. All she had left was sneaking through the crowd and touching the hem of the garment. If she could just be healed, she would go away, no one would be bothered, and everyone could go about their lives.

But Jesus came to call His people home. He wouldn’t let this one get away. She needed to know that HE had the time to listen. That he cared, that he would stop just for her. That she mattered to HIM. That her life was redeemed from the grave and it was important to him.

To Jesus, she wasn’t a nobody, she wasn’t an outcast – for He had taken that away.

This is the beauty of the doctrine of election. God chose ME. He doesn’t love everyone in general, for that would mean that He loves no one. He loves ME. He chose ME to be His bride.

This is what the woman needed to know. Not only did Jesus heal her, but Jesus loves her, hears her – has betrothed Himself to her forever.

She needed to know that His blood would take ALL of her sickness and weakness and uncleanness and nail it to the cross forever so that she could live, so that she could know the Lord.

And how can you KNOW the Lord if you don’t talk to him?

So He looks this unclean, outcast woman in the eye and says “Who touched me?” And she falls on her knees and tells him everything.

That she has had this horrible uncleanness for 12 years.

That it hurts; that she is weary and desperate and helpless.

She tells him her pain and her hurt and her losses.

She tells him what it is like to be outcast and alone.

How it feels to spend every penny on doctors and they can’t help.

We were created to be in fellowship with God. We were created with ears because God hears. We were created with tongues and breath and mouths because God speaks. And we were created with the gift of speech so that we could talk with God Himself – a God who speaks. And a God who loves to listen! He delights to hear our prayers!

Jesus didn’t suffer the pains and torments of hell so that we could just touch his robe and slink away. He won’t let it happen. He will say, “Who touched me” until he is looking right at us. He redeemed us from our sin and misery; He calls us His own; He has betrothed us to Himself forever – and He desires that we talk to Him.

Think of it! The Creator and Sustainer of the whole universe offered Himself for ME because He loved me and wants me back in fellowship! He wants me to talk to Him. He wants us to always and forever acknowledge that we have absolutely nothing apart from Him; every good thing comes from His hand alone.

And further, He desires that we know that He is willing to save, being our heavenly Father, and able to save, being almighty God.

And He keeps saying, “Who touched me…” looking right at us until with fear and trembling we fall down on our knees before Him and finally tell Him everything.

Everything. Our pain, our longings, our frustration, how many years it has been, what it is like to be despised, outcast, unclean…

What it feels like to spend our last penny on doctors who can’t help. What it is like to struggle against sin and misery and how we long to overcome it. How much we long to be in His presence, clean and whole and healed. We tell him of those who persecute, of those we long to be reconciled to. We tell Him of our hurts and the hurts that we have caused others. And as we are telling Him we learn a little more about what it means to KNOW the Lord

Notice also she tells him how she was healed immediately. We pray because it is the chief part of thankfulness. Jesus did it. Not her. There wasn’t anything she could do. She didn’t deserve His kindness and mercy, but He was able and willing and actually healed her.

He redeems our life from destruction and crowns us with lovingkindness and tender mercies, so that we might know Him. So that we might talk to him.

As Calvin says, we enter into holy conversation with God Himself. And in this conversation we also hear the voice of God in the holy Scriptures: “Go in peace; your faith has made you whole.”

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