Tag Archives: hope

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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“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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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 Meaning of Christmas

It’s inevitable this time of year.  People seem obsessed with “putting Christ back into Christmas”.  They seem to mean by this that we should put Nativity scenes up instead of Christmas trees, and that we should rant incessantly about spelling the holiday “Christmas” instead of “xmas”. Soon we will be asked to share memes if we agree that Jesus is the reason for the season.

Even now, perhaps there are some that are concerned that I might be taking too light a view on changing Christmas to “xmas”.  No, I’m not. “X” is simply a Greek chi, and for 2,000 years it has stood for the name “Christ.” Everyone relax.

I agree that at many times the holiday seems overdone, vain and aesthetically offensive. Christians are not immune to this charge.  There are only so many times that you can hear “Jingle Bell Rock” or “Mary did you know?”

On the one hand, people become obsessed with gifts, wrapping presents and staying busy to ‘get into the Christmas spirit”, and the marketplace takes advantage.  On the other hand are those who decry the commercialism of Christmas, and shout to “remember the true meaning of Christmas”.  Movies and stories abound, teaching us that the true meaning of Christmas is family, doing good to others, sharing, and basically remembering that we can make a difference with sacrificial works and putting others, primarily children, first.  

But did God send His Son into the world in the womb of the virgin in order to teach us better ways of being better people?  Did God really become flesh and dwell among us so that we could go to Walmart and buy plastic idols to put on our front lawn, patting ourselves on the back for putting Christ back into Christmas?  Not according to the Bible.

People have tried for thousands of years to “make a difference” and after a few well-meaning spurts of outward displays of charity they  immediately return to their vain, shallow, cruel and abusive lives.  The fact is that we are all so hopeless, powerless, vain, shallow, self-centered and sinful that there was absolutely no hope in humanity whatsoever.  Every single one of us from the fall of man until now is subject to death and misery.  We aren’t smart enough, loving enough, strong enough or good enough to do anything about it.

But our natural religion says that we can fix this mess by greater motivation, or bigger acts of charity.  We can make a difference by doing better things better, by loving more, by “remembering the true meaning of Christmas all year round”, or by electing people smart enough to fix all of our problems.

It never works and never has.  But as a dog returns to his vomit, we return to our folly.  Every year at Christmas we offer our incense to the plastic gods of our self-righteousness, pat ourselves on the back for being basically good people, cry over “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and try to convince ourselves that we really can make a difference if we just try harder.

But what if we really aren’t good enough?  What if there really isn’t anything that we can do to make a difference?  What do we do when something happens in our lives that leaves us devastated, and there isn’t anything that we can or could have done about it?

What sacrifice will you offer to your gods that will take away the pain, misery and emptiness of the vanity of life?

Now we can begin to see the true meaning of Christmas.  The angel told Joseph “You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins”.

It isn’t about the spirit of giving.  It isn’t about the message of Santa inside of each one of us.  It isn’t about our basic goodness and kindness, for we have none.  The fact is this:  We are so hopeless, vile and corrupt that there is no possibility of saving ourselves in any way.  If there is any hope for man, God must save him.  So God became flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary in order to take the curse of death upon himself.  He gives us His righteousness, for we have none of our own.  And He takes our vile rags on Himself, dying under God’s curse, so that we might live.

When He rose from the dead, He showed the world that the curse was finally taken away, and He now reigns until all of His enemies are put under His feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Fellow professing Christians, please quit fretting about “secular humanists” or Hollywood taking Christ out of Christmas.  We have been managing the mangling of the gospel just fine without their help.  When we send the message that it’s about nativity scenes, “xmas”, Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays, giving and works of charity, all we are doing is enforcing man’s natural religion: that we can make a difference by our efforts and good will.

If we could have made a difference in this world, Jesus would not have had to come. The baby in the manger was the eternal, almighty, glorious Son of God, “whose goings forth are of old”. Instead of teaching us the inherent goodness of man, it teaches the opposite. We were so lost and helpless that it came to this. God became flesh and came to save us. He became poor, despised, rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief in our place.  That was what we deserved – the outer darkness of hell. But Jesus took it upon Himself. Every child but one was born to live. Jesus was born to die.

Only when we get that figured out can we eat our bread with joy, drink our wine with a merry heart, live joyfully with our wives, and do what we can to relieve some of the suffering around us.  But this is only possible if we aren’t trying to save the world.  God will not give his glory to another, and there is only One Savior.  We will never save the world.  We will never HELP God save the world.  Only Jesus is strong enough, wise enough, good enough and loving enough.  All we can do is offer our lives to Him with gratitude and awe.  All we can do is wait and see the salvation of the Lord.

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Apricot Jam and Hope

We are a proud bunch.  I remember my youth.  I thought that any problem that came along I could fix.  I was pretty clever, healthy, able to hold down a job.  I was catechized when I was young so I knew my theology.  I figured that I had the answers to whatever life threw my way.

But I didn’t understand this: to believe the gospel is to declare war on the devil.  And the devil doesn’t let go of his kingdom easily.

I always knew that there was a devil and that he was our enemy.  Our catechism said so.  But he seemed far away and not really relevant to anything in my life.  I guess that I had the same view of God.  When it came right down to it, I got in trouble because I was foolish and if I would just be wiser, I could get myself out of trouble.

This is our human condition, isn’t it?  The Bible calls it pride.  We’ll take care of ourselves, thank you.  We can protect our families. We can save people if we just explain it right.  Just a little more love, a little more forgiveness, a little more hard work and everything will be fine.

But what do you do when the curtain of your life is pulled back a little and you see just how weak, helpless, poor, powerless and  blind you really are?

What do you do when God brings about something in your life that you can’t do anything about?  What do you do when God allows Satan to attack your family, your health – or even your faith?

You can gnash your teeth against God; you can shake your fist at the heavens; you can rage against the dying of the light.  Or you can mourn, cast your cares upon God and wait.

Jesus said, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

We tend to think the opposite.  A happy man is one who has a full pantry, a full bank account, health and youth, and an untroubled life.  Isn’t that the American Dream.  Isn’t that what we pay our politician to achieve for us?

But life doesn’t work that way.  God has something far, far greater for us than the baubles of this world.  He has reserved for us something far greater than wealth and health and friends and security on this earth.  What each of us really long for is to be in His glorious presence forever.  That is how we were made, and we will never have purpose and meaning in our lives until we are with our Maker, reconciled at last, standing as priests before Him.  And God would teach us to lift our eyes out of this earthly trough and learn to long for heaven.

This is why Jesus came in to the world, to take away our sin and reconcile us to God.  He came so that our eyes might be opened and our tongues loosened to worship someone far greater than our bellies and our health and our own desires.  And He will indeed bring us finally into the presence of the living God. But first our pride has to go.  What stands in our way so often is that we still like to think that we’ve got this life thing under control.  But as long as we think we are in control, we will never fully learn to trust God and lean on Him for all good things.

And the way we learn to put our trust in Him completely is when everything else is taken away.  First, we take up our cross.  We lose our lives so that we might find them.

What do you do when you think you have this life thing under control and then the rug is pulled away?  What do you do when wicked men have he upper hand?  When the righteous are ridiculed and persecuted and the wicked man is exalted?  What do you do when Satan runs amok and is too powerful? When he attacks your children through abuse?  When God takes away the health of a loved one?  When everywhere you turn there is no help, no earthly hope, no justice, no light?

All we can do is mourn and wait.  Sure, there are things that you are commanded by God to do.  Confront sin.  Alert authority when crimes are committed. Rely on the assistance of the church officers.  We can obey, but often we can’t fix anything.  That’s because it is only God who can fix what is wrong in this world.  We can’t fix it.  I can’t fix the world.

I can’t find the words to say in the face of tremendous evil.  I can’t wish you healthy.  I can’t make your pain go away.  I can’t wipe away your tears.
How I wish I could!  How I weep with you.

I mourn for the millions of babies slaughtered at the altar of Molech.  I weep for Meriam, about to be lashed and executed for her faith.  I weep for the hundreds of girls stolen and sold as wives to children of the devil.  I mourn for those who are persecuted and ridiculed for their faith.
I mourn for those who are chronically ill that cannot find help with the doctors.  I mourn for all those in constant pain.  I mourn for those who have been slandered and abandoned by their friends and families.

I mourn for our little ones.  I mourn for the hundreds of thousands of children in our country sexually assaulted each year – with no help, no way out.  Often, not even the church believes them, and when they do they don’t want to deal with it.  I can mourn for them.  I can help wherever I can. I can preach and teach against it. I can give a glass of cold water.  I can make meals.  I can offer a shoulder, and I do it gladly and without reproach.

But I can’t wipe away the tears.  I can’t stop the evil.  Only Jesus can comfort the mourners.  Only God can wipe away the tears.  Only God can bring justice and salvation.

So I’m making apricot jam.  I can’t find the right words.  My heart sinks within me.  But in this vale of tears, God brings what first seem like very small blessings – but they are tokens of Eden, foretastes of heaven.

The apricot, for example.  Such delight, such charm.  An apricot in season off of a northern California tree is something to be marveled at.  That we can preserve them in little jars to have all year is a wonderful thing.

God could have justly cast us all into hell.  God could have begrudgingly given us black bread and water and it would have been far more than we deserve.  But he gave us the apricot!  A token of hope.
This world is not all that there is.  We were created for something far greater and God has promised us that he will wipe away all tears and comfort all who mourn.
And as a token, he gave us the apricot.  Of course, not just an apricot, but all good things – wine to gladden the heart, oil to make the face shine, as the Psalmist says.

Life is very often not found where we look for it.  We look for something smashing; we look for those special moments that come along sporadically.  We look for that which is grand, exciting, magnificent.

And we miss apricot season.  God’s goodness abounds to us and we look the other way and say, “What else?”

The devil has declared war on God’s people.  He seeks to destroy and devour.  You will suffer tremendous pain and heartache on this earth, for Jesus promised that every Christian will have trials and persecution.

But He has also promised to comfort those who mourn.  To wipe away the tears.  He points us to something far greater than this valley of the shadow of death.

So I got up, closed my book, lifted my eyes to heaven in thanksgiving.

And now I’m making apricot jam.  God is so good to us.  Wait for Him.  He is coming again and all this will pass away.

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