What Is Your “Why?”

Today is Thursday, the eleventh of August, 2022, in the nineteenth week of Ordinary Time.

May the peace of Christ be in your soul today!

Day 23,527

Only EIGHT more days until S turns 29!!

The temperature only got up to 98, yesterday, and it rained again, which, once again, dropped the temperature significantly between 5 PM and 7 PM. C said it rained so hard that she had to use her windshield wipers on high. It didn’t rain that much at our house. The ten-day forecast shows only three days over 100, and more chance of rain next week.

Last night, I made Beefy American Goulash for dinner. It was definitely a hit. And there was enough left over for a couple more servings. I plan to take one for lunch at work today. Oh. that reminds me . . . I have to start soup in the crock pot for tonight’s dinner. Be right back.

I’m back. Thanks for waiting.

The Texas Rangers exploded (not literally) in the top of the tenth inning, last night, to beat the Houston Astros 8-4. The game was tied 3-3, going into the tenth. The Rangers are now 49-61 for the season, still in third place, 21 games out of first place, and nine games out of a Wild Card spot. They have another game against the Astros, this afternoon, at 1:10 CDT, in Houston. Then they are back at home for three games against the Mariners and four against the Athletics.

The Boston Red Sox score was also 8-4. Unfortunately, the Sox were on the short end of that stick. The Braves won the game. Boston is now 54-58 for the season, sinking further into last place, seventeen games out of first place, and five games out of a Wild Card spot. They begin a four-game weekend series with the Orioles, tonight, in Boston. Oops. That was an assumption. This must be one of those weird make-up games for a game that was cancelled because of the pre-season lockout. It’s only one game, followed by a three-game series with the Evil Ones. And look! The Orioles have moved into third place! Shout out to kristianw84.

The LA Dodgers continue to roll on. They are on top of all three categories that I track, here. 77-33 record, five full games ahead of the Mets (the Yankees remain in fourth place), +236 run differential, and a TEN GAME win streak going! Vin would be proud. The Nationals remain on the bottom in two categories, with a 37-76 record, and a run differential of -200. I was wondering what the worst run differential in history was. The 1899 Cleveland Spiders had a run differential of -723. Anyway, the only category that the Nats aren’t the worst in is losing streak, currently owned by the Athletics with a five-game losing streak. The Red Sox have a four game losing streak. They now have a -36 run differential, while the Rangers keep bouncing around zero, and now have a +1.

It’s Thursday, so I’ll be working an eight-hour shift at the library computer center today, from 11:15-8:15.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Lord our God, grant that we may be your watchmen, who can understand what you mean for our time. We thank you for all you have already done, for every change to the good among the nations. For the nations must bow to your will so that nothing happens unless accomplished by you. Judge us wherever necessary. Open our eyes to see where we are wrong and where something does not go according to your Spirit. Be with us and give us strength. Raise up more watchmen everywhere, in every place and in every home. Wherever something happens to move people's hearts, let the watchmen proclaim, "This comes from God. It does not matter how much we suffer. This comes from Jesus Christ, who suffered and died, but who rose again." Raise up such watchmen among young and old everywhere on earth, to the glory of your name. Let there be a people who go to meet you with shouts of joy and thanksgiving. Amen.
(Daily Prayer from Plough.com)

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.
(Isaiah 52:7-8 NIV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for the good news, the Gospel of peace, and that our God reigns
2. for the willingness to open my eyes and allow God to show me when I am wrong
3. that God alone is who I wait for to satisfy the longings of my soul
4. that I strive for integrity and uprightness in my life
5. that His grace is sufficient in all things

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV)

Though the fig tree should not blossom, 
nor fruit be on the vines, 
the produce of the olive fail 
and the fields yield no food, 
the flock be cut off from the fold 
and there be no herd in the stalls, 
yet I will rejoice in the LORD; 
I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 
GOD, the Lord, is my strength; 
he makes my feet like the deer's; 
he makes me tread on my high places. 
(Habakkuk 3:17-19 ESV)

“You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the LORD.’ But I say, do not make any vows! Do not say, ‘By heaven!’ because heaven is God’s throne. And do not say, ‘By the earth!’ because the earth is his footstool. And do not say, ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the city of the great King. Do not even say, ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.
(Matthew 5:33-37 NLT)

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
(Psalms 1:1-2 ESV)

Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.
(1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 NLT)

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
(1 Peter 5:8 ESV)

May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.
(Psalms 25:21 ESV)


Here, we see a link between Jesus’s words in Matthew concerning making oaths (let your yes be yes and your no be no), and this verse in Psalm 25 about integrity and uprightness.

The psalmist is asking for a true heart, a pure heart, because that is how we must draw near to God. Don’t misunderstand . . . we do not need to be totally without sin before we can approach God, because that is impossible. Even though all our sins are forgiven and wiped clean, we are still not completely without sin. It is the motivation of the heart that is in question here.

“To meet with the Holy One, our heart must be wholly given over to His will.” (Andrew Murray) When we first begin to wait upon God, we find out how treacherous our hearts really are. It is difficult to dispense with ulterior motives when praying. I find myself questioning my own motives, frequently, when I pray.

Why, for example, do most popular prayer “formulae” begin with “adoration” or “praise?” Pardon my cynicism, but I think it’s because we foolishly believe that we can “butter up” God. You know . . . “If I praise Him first, maybe He’ll answer my prayer.” Are we so naive that we don’t realize that He can see right through that?

The question also arises, what are we waiting for? When we pray, do we desire God’s gifts and actions more than we desire Himself? These are hard questions, I know. Trust me, I know, because I have grappled with them, myself, and still do. I pay attention to the words I pray. Sometimes I catch myself uttering silly, meaningless phrases, “vain repetitions,” when I pray. And when I do, I stop, immediately and confess. Sometimes, I even stop saying words for a few minutes and simply contemplate.

I don’t believe this is shameful, though, beloved. It is human. It is the normal behavior of us who are dust. And He remembers that we are dust.

I do long “for a sense of His holy presence and nearness.” Sometimes, I thirst for a manifestation of God’s power. But what is equally important is to know for whom we wait. I am not waiting on any human being to satisfy the longings of my soul. I am waiting for God and God alone, because it is He alone who is able, He alone who is worthy.

This just took an unexpected turn.

The prayer word of the day is “why.” I think the article intended it to be a question of “why,” as in “why is this happening to me?” And that, of course, is valid. However, this morning, I choose to look at it differently. And that, hopefully, will explain why I included it.

In the Weight Watchers community, it is strongly encouraged that we have a “why” in our mindset. Why am I doing this program? What is my reason? What is my “why?”

So what is my “why?”

Why do I continue to believe when so many of my old friends seem to have left the path? Why do I wait upon the Lord?

It is because I have experienced the nearness of God. I cannot prove it. I cannot even prove that God exists, just as an atheist cannot prove that He doesn’t. But I can firmly say, as Paul says,

But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.
(2 Timothy 1:12 ESV)

And,

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:38-39 ESV)

Does this mean I never have doubts? Oh, heck no. I certainly do. And I’m honest enough to admit it, unlike some. Frankly, I don’t believe anyone who says that they have never doubted.

Nevertheless, I am convinced of the same things of which Paul is convinced. And I know that it is on God alone that I wait. It is God and God alone who is worthy of my allegiance, my adoration, my praise, and my worship. He alone is worthy of my service, which works itself out in service to other humans.

My “why” is because He is faithful and has been faithful to me, for sixty-four years, through my unfaithfulness and my doubts. As I said above, I have experienced His nearness, His presence. I have felt His embrace. Scoff if you will, but that is something that can never be taken away from me.

Today's sources:
Pray a Word a Day
YouVersion Bible reading plan
Daily Guideposts 2022
Power in Prayer, by Andrew Murray

Father, I am so grateful for You. You have been faithful to me, all these years, in spite of my own unfaithfulness. I still, to this day, sometimes wander off the path, and You are always there to guide me back, usually gently. And I remain convinced of Your care for me, Your love for me, and that nothing can ever separate me from Your love.

You alone are worthy of my praise. You alone created all these things that we sometimes think belong to us. Yours is the glory; Yours is the honor; Yours is the praise. It is on You alone that I wait.

I know that You will never leave me or forsake me, and, consequently, do not feel that I need to ask for that.

What I do ask is that I would be able to reflect Your love to the world. Help me to have those “beautiful feet” that spread the Gospel of peace to the world, that tell the world that You reign. Let me be a channel of Your grace and mercy to all people, and not just to the ones who I think deserve it. I believe You want us to love everyone as best we can, the way You have loved us.

Hallelujah, my God! All glory to You! Who can satisfy my soul like You? You are my “fountain;” You are my King.

Even so, come soon, Lord Jesus!


Grace and peace, friends.

To Infinity and Beyond

Today is Saturday, the twenty-fifth of June, 2022, in the twelfth week of Ordinary Time.

Peace be with you.

Day 23,480

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Love Conquers All Fear, by Daryl Madden

Turn to page of scripture
Through Spirit be aware
Strength within the Word
Love conquers all fear

For God’s all powerful
He’s is our ruler here
We know that God is love
Love conquers all fear

With angels in heaven
One voice rising clear
The Word of God is spoken
Love conquers all fear

Engrain it in my soul
This truth to declare
Through the grace of God
Love conquers all fear

This is a much-needed message in today’s world. The primary emotions that I seem to be seeing in our world are fear, anger, and hatred. It’s bad enough when these are coming from outside the church, but when I see them infiltrating the church, as well, it’s tragic. We need this message, badly. I am grateful to Daryl and his poems, and would love it if you would click on the above link and visit his site.

Lord our God, grant us courageous hearts, we pray. Grant that we may always find our strength and support in you and may bear with joy whatever the present days bring us. No matter how much evil occurs, we know that your peace is already prepared. We await your peace, and we are allowed to believe that everything will turn out according to your will and according to the good you have prepared for your people on earth. For in faith your people overcome the world, and at last through their faith others too may receive something from you and may lift their eyes to you, the God of truth, of justice, of salvation, and of peace. Be with us every day, Lord God. Help us. Bless us, and bless all who try to bring help where it is needed. Let us praise your name forevermore! Amen.
(Daily Prayer from Plough.com)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Romans 15:13 NIV)

Today I am grateful:

1. that love conquers all fears
2. for the peace that God has prepared for us; may we find ourselves able to walk in it now
3. for all whose mission on earth is to spread love, rather than hatred, fear, and anger
4. that our God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, infinitely more than anything we could ever imagine
5. for the faithful mercies of the Lord, new and fresh every morning!

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
(Mark 7:14-15 NIV)

And the king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, "Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom." And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders about Absalom. 

And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. And a certain man saw it and told Joab, "Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak." Joab said to the man who told him, "What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt." But the man said to Joab, "Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not reach out my hand against the king's son, for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, 'For my sake protect the young man Absalom.' On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof." Joab said, "I will not waste time like this with you." And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak. And ten young men, Joab's armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him. 

And behold, the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, "Good news for my lord the king! For the LORD has delivered you this day from the hand of all who rose up against you." The king said to the Cushite, "Is it well with the young man Absalom?" And the Cushite answered, "May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man." And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" 
(2 Samuel 18:5, 9-15, 31-33 ESV)

The word for today, in Pray a Word a Day, is beyond.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.
(Ephesians 3:20 NLT)

I love this verse, and I like looking at it in different versions. Oddly enough, none of them include the word “beyond,” even though one of the Greek words could be interpreted as “beyond.”

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
(Ephesians 3:20 MSG)

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,
(Ephesians 3:20 NIV)

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,
(Ephesians 3:20 ESV)

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,
(Ephesians 3:20 KJV)

In all of those translations, we get the idea. What God is able to do exceeds, abundantly, infinitely, beyond anything we could ever imagine, in our wildest dreams!

And not only is He able, but He wants to! He desires to lavish these things upon His children.

“For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
(Zephaniah 3:17 NLT)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
(Jeremiah 29:11 NLT)

This great love was, of course, most demonstrated in the unthinkable sacrifice that God made on our behalf.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
(Romans 5:6-8 NLT)

Think about people you love (or, if you prefer, animals that you love, cats, dogs, horses, whatever). Now multiply that by infinity. All the good things you want to do for those people or animals, multiply that by infinity, and that’s how much our God wants to lavish on us. Beyond all measure, beyond all expectation, beyond all imaginations.

To infinity and beyond.

Father, there aren’t enough words, nor is there enough space or time to adequately express my gratitude, right now. I’ve been sitting here, gobsmacked, for a few minutes, trying to put together something acceptable to pray and/or type, something that would convey what I’m feeling right now. But I have to depend on the Holy Spirit to translate what I’m feeling, and I’m grateful for that, as well.

Nevertheless, here I am attempting to do the impossible, to thank You for all of this. There are songs that have been written. “I stand amazed in the Presence . . . How marvelous, how wonderful, and my song shall ever be! How marvelous, how wonderful, is my Savior’s love for me!” (Charles Hutchinson Gabriel) “I stand amazed in all of Your glory, that You would die for me, I stand amazed. I stand amazed in all of Your glory, true love’s sweetest story, I stand amazed.” (Dennis Jernigan) “Amazing love, how can it be, that You my King would die for me! Amazing love, I know it’s true; and it’s my joy to honor You.” (Billy Foote, Jr.) “Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” (Charles Wesley)

Father, my heart and soul bow before You, in stunned humility, not as though I have never heard these truths, before, but because I am so apt to . . . not “forget.” I don’t forget. That’s not the right word. I don’t ignore them, either. I suppose “take for granted” is the best phrase. Forgive me for not walking in this love all the time. Draw me ever closer to You, to Your sweet mercies that are new every morning.

My God, I could go on and on. That “new every morning” bit . . . such hope; such joy; such gratitude that, no matter what happened yesterday, today is a new day, it’s a new morning, and Your infinite grace and mercies are fresh and new when I awake.

Why, O why, do we not walk in this more consistently??


The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
(Lamentations 3:22-24 NLT)

Then you can tell the next generation detail by detail the story of God, Our God forever, who guides us till the end of time.
(Psalms 48:13-14 MSG)

Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.
(Romans 12:11-12 MSG)

What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now!
(1 Peter 1:3-4 MSG)

” . . . and the future starts now!”


"God does not impose right solutions on us. God does not pull strings behind the scenes to engineer his will despite what we are doing and saying. He treats us with dignity, giving us the freedom to be in on what he does, to have a voice in the process. Prayer is our voices in the action of God. It is also God's voice in the actions of people."
(Eugene H. Peterson, On Living Well)

I have been navigating around the concepts of free will and predestination for decades. I have gone from being firmly entrenched in “free-will-ism,” to being a staunch “five-point Calvinist,” to somewhere in between the two.

Here’s the thing. God will not be put in a box. Calvinism and Arminianism are both boxes. God is infinite and eternal and won’t fit in either box. And it is arrogant of us to think that we can squeeze Him into a box.

There are people out there who claim to not believe in God, and one of their excuses is, “If God exists, why does He allow so much evil and suffering?” The answer to that is in Peterson’s quote. “He treats us with dignity . . .” And, truthfully, those so-called “atheists” don’t like the answer to their own question, anyway, because the solution would be that God creates a bunch of cookie-cutter robot-like people who never go against His will.

I purposely avoid current events (other than baseball and bowling scores and occasional celebrity deaths) in this forum, because my opinions about those things are not part of my job description. My opinions about what happened yesterday (trust me, I have them, and many people would be unpleasantly surprised to know them) are not relevant to anything I have to say here.

But know this. The one opinion that I have that I do believe to be relevant is that, no matter what happens out there, God is in control of all things, and He is working His plan. He is not surprised by anything that we humans do or decide. Remember . . . He exists outside of time, so He is already there.

So when we run around like fools, like “chickens with their heads cut off” because things didn’t happen the way we think they should have, we are exposing our lack of trust in God.

There is a reason that God has been constantly giving me this message, recently, that His love conquers all fear. I don’t know what that reason is, exactly, and, frankly, I’m not sure I want to know. I confess that, in my flesh, I am somewhat fearful of what is ahead of us, as a nation, as a world, as the Church. But, in my Spirit, I am confident that, come what may, God loves us and has us in the palm of His hand. And the worst thing that can happen to me is that I get sent Home.

And I will not align myself with the masses on either side of a political division. I am not Democrat. I am not Republican. And neither is Jesus. It may come as a shock to many people that the Son of God is not a Republican. I am a follower of the Son of God, who commands us to love one another.

To infinity and beyond.

Father, I praise You that You are working Your plan, and that it will not be deterred. There is no man, no woman, no president, congressperson, or any other ruler who can thwart Your plan for us. There is no dictator in any third-world country who holds any sway over what You have planned for this world. May You intervene in the hearts of Your people who act as though they believe differently. May You flood our hearts and souls with love, for one another, and especially for people who don’t believe the same way we do.

I thank You again, for the great love that You lavish on us. I pray that we would find ourselves both willing and able to turn that love around and point it toward our neighbors, toward our brothers and sisters in Christ, and toward those who have diametrically opposite political opinions from us. I pray that Your people would stop attaching themselves to political ideologies and, instead, focus on the life and teachings of the One whom they claim to follow. Turn all of us away from anything in our lives that could be considered an idol. And open our eyes to see those things, that we might forsake them out of love for You.

You love us to infinity and beyond . . . help us to do the same.

Even so, please come soon, Lord Jesus.


Grace and peace, friends.

Freely Justified

Today is Tuesday, the eighth of June, 2021

Shalom Aleichem!

Day 23,098

26 days until July 4

A co-worker and I were discussing how quickly time is moving. It’s not really. It move one second at a time, the same rate, 24/7. But yesterday felt like it whizzed by for me. I commented to her that I was hoping I had not fallen asleep at my desk, because the time seemed to be moving by so quickly. Her response was to say that, before we know it, the fourth of July will be here.

I need to do better at savoring the moments. Even those moments that I’m not exactly enjoying myself need to be savored. Every day is a gift. Every moment is a gift. I have done better at relentlessly eliminating hurry from my life. I don’t really “hurry” so much at work, these days. Doesn’t mean I work slowly, either, necessarily. But it’s a mindset. I work steadily and consistently, but I’m not hurrying. People who hurry all the time make more mistakes.

It’s raining again, this morning. It rained yesterday afternoon (or was that morning . . . or both?), as well. Meanwhile, the western United States is experiencing the worst drought that they have had in decades. Lake Mead, I hear, is at its lowest point since it was created, in 1935, by the Hoover Dam. We’re over here in Texas experiencing flash flood warnings, and rain like we haven’t seen since 2015, and the west is in drought conditions, with wild fire season rapidly approaching.

We are also beginning to hit temps in the low nineties, consistently. It looks like the rains will stop tomorrow or Thursday, with “mostly sunny” conditions, beginning Sunday, and stretching to the end of the ten-day forecast, and, likely beyond. More than likely this will be the last rain we see until August.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Let nothing disturb you,
let nothing frighten you,
all things will pass away.
God never changes;
patience obtains all things,
whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.

Amen.
(St. Teresa of Avila)

The one thing I ask of the LORD—the thing I seek most—is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, delighting in the LORD’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.
(Psalms 27:4 NLT)

Today I am grateful:

1. that I have been allowed to "live in the house of the LORD"
2. that I have the righteousness of Christ because of the faith that You have given me
3. that I am "freely justified" in Christ, all sins erased from my record
4. for Your amazing love, that You my King would die for me
5. that when I hope and trust in You, I can soar like an eagle, run and not be weary, walk and not faint

Scriptures and Prayers from Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the Year

ORDINARY TIME – WEEK 3 – DAY 3

INVITATION

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
(Psalms 133:1 NIV)

I am pausing, briefly, to meditate on God’s perfections, with the goal of my heart being to delight in Him and his marvelous deeds for His children.

BIBLE SONG

A song of ascents.

“They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,” let Israel say;
“they have greatly oppressed me from my youth, but they have not gained the victory over me.
Plowmen have plowed my back and made their furrows long.
But the LORD is righteous; he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.”

May all who hate Zion be turned back in shame.
May they be like grass on the roof, which withers before it can grow;
a reaper cannot fill his hands with it, nor one who gathers fill his arms.
May those who pass by not say to them,
“The blessing of the LORD be on you;
we bless you in the name of the LORD.”
(Psalms 129:1-8 NIV)

BIBLE READING

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
(Romans 3:21-26 NIV)

DWELLING: SILENCE AND MEDITATION

As I enjoy the presence of the Lord, this morning (know that this is not something that I am simply “parroting” from my devotional book; at this point of the morning, I take note of His presence, and I do find that I enjoy this moment, regardless of where my mind and spirit have been up to this point), I read these passages again, asking the Spirit to direct my thoughts and meditations.

The part of Psalm 129 to which I am drawn is the statement in verse 4, “he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.” 

I have never been “oppressed.” I am a white, American, middle-class male. I have had nothing but ease and entitlement in my life, compared to many other groups of people. Anyone in my classification who claims anything close to “oppression” is delusional. I dare say that no white, American, middle-class person could ever say they were oppressed.

Therefore, this Psalm does not resonate so much with me. In addition, the last half of it falls into that awkward category of “imprecatory” psalms, those which cry out to God for vengeance on enemies. I am hard pressed to pray in that way for anyone, especially since I don’t have anything remotely close to “enemies.” My only “enemy” is not flesh and blood.

But, through my salvation in Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, “he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.” Indeed, my relationship with “the wicked” is free from entanglement. That doesn’t mean that I don’t, at times, find myself in sin, sin that is brought on by temptations from “the wicked.” What it means is that I am free to not be there, and when I find myself there, it is of my own choosing. I am not a slave to wickedness. I cannot truthfully say, “I couldn’t help myself.”

Following that thought comes this famous passage from Romans 3. Verse 23 is part of the famous “Roman Road.” Evangelicals use it to prove that we are all sinners. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The problem, though, is that we too often stop and put a period at the end of that phrase, and the Bible does not have a period there. There is a comma at the end of verse 23, and there is also a comma at the end of verse 22. The complete sentence goes like this:

There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

We have righteousness from Christ, given to us by God, to all who believe (that’s the beginning of verse 22). Paul, I believe, is making several points, here. First is that our righteousness is not our own. In fact, we can never say that we have any righteousness that comes from ourselves. It comes by faith in Christ, which Paul says in Ephesians, is a gift from God, too.

The other point he makes is that the Jews have no place to feel special in this. “There is no difference,” Paul says, “between Jew and Gentile,” in this matter. Because “all have sinned.” All have equally sinned, and all are equally justified, both Jew and Gentile, “freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Freely justified.

Thank You, Father, for this state that I find myself in. I am freely justified by my faith in Jesus Christ, faith which You have gifted me. I have righteousness, but not my own. Any righteousness that I might find in myself is, as Isaiah said, “filthy rags,” compared to the riches in glory in Christ Jesus. I celebrate this, because I love You. I celebrate the righteousness that comes from Christ, and the fact that You have cut the chains that once bound me to wickedness, when, perhaps, I truly could not help myself when it came to sin. The work of Christ has erased all of that sin in my life, past, present, and, totally unfathomably, future. I praise You, O my God, for this marvelous truth!

God of good news,
I know I fall short in so many ways,
and then there's a nagging,
accusing voice in my head letting me know how incapable I am to set things right.
But today I plant my trust in the gospel,
your verdict that has proclaimed me innocent because of Christ--
approved,
righteous,
as if I'd never sinned at all.
Amazing!
Amen.
(Heidelberg Catechism 60)

BLESSING

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
(Ephesians 3:16-17 NIV)

He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!
(Psalms 103:5 NLT)

O Jacob, how can you say the LORD does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:27-31 NLT)

Ah, Lord, how true it is. My life is filled with good things. My cup overflows. And we were able to say this even as we sat around a fireplace with no power in our home for over thirty hours, the past February. Even as our swimming pool froze and equipment broke, and it took four months to get it fixed. Good grief . . . I have a swimming pool! That, in itself, is an undeserved blessing! Never mind that it was broken for months. You have filled my life with good things! My cup overflows! You are the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. You never grow weak or weary. You never sleep. You understand all things. And in Your majesty and infinite greatness, You condescend to give power to us who are weak and strength to us who are powerless. When we trust in You, we soar high like eagles. O, my God, help me to run and not grow weary; to walk and not faint. All glory to You, through the Son, and by the Spirit.

Lord, help me to heed the call to follow Christ out into my neighborhood and my workplace. I pray for the well-being of our communities, both physical and spiritual. I specifically lift up those, today, who work in government and law. Help them to know Your presence as they work and serve.

I pray for peace in our nation, peace in our world. I pray for racial injustice to end, and I pray for the pandemic to be over. Above all else, though, I pray for Your will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. For Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Amazing love, how can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?
Amazing love and I know it’s true
And it’s my joy to honor You, in all I do to honor You

(You Are My King, Billy Foote, Jr.)

Grace and peace, friends.

You Are My King

“But when the night is bad and my nerves are shattered and Infinity speaks, when God Almighty shares through his son the depth of his feelings for me, when his love flashes into my soul and when I am overtaken by Mystery, it is kairos–the decisive inbreak of God in this saving moment of my personal history.”~~Brennan Manning

Good morning. It is Sunday, November 30, 2014. 25 days until Christmas.

Today is Stay Home Because You’re Well Day. Sadly, it falls on Sunday, so I’m already staying home. However, it falls on November 30 each year, so maybe next year . . .

It’s going to be a beautiful day in North Texas, today, with the high temp reaching in the neighborhood of 80 degrees. It is 65 as I type this at 9:30 AM. The tasks planned for today include putting Christmas decorations in the front yard, putting the Christmas tree up, going to get Steph some new tennis shoes, getting our Christmas ornament for 2014, eating lunch at Fogata’s, and, if time allows, going to see Interstellar (the second time for me).

Yesterday was a pretty good day. Christi got the grocery shopping done, we had leftover Thanksgiving stuff for lunch (we’ve actually almost finished it all, already, which is amazing), and we finished season 8 of CSI on DVD. We went up to church by 3:30 PM to help with set up, then we had our prayer gathering at 4:45. I want to tell you, God is working in this prayer meeting! So far, we still only have about five or six people on a regular basis, and all of us are, in some way, involved in either leadership or ministry. I believe it’s going to expand, though. I really do. Last night’s was pretty incredible, as one of our leaders suddenly experienced a deep need for brokenness, and we all prayed over him. It was very intense and deeply moving. The worship service that followed was moving, as well. The worship music was inspiring and certainly led us (well, me, at least . . . I can’t really speak for anyone else, can I?) to worship, and Jacob’s message last night was one of those that grabbed me by the collar and shook me around a bit (figuratively, at least). More on that later.

After church, we got dinner at What-A-Burger, and watched the entire first season of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. I had heard that it was a fun show. It’s hilarious. Quite irreverent, but quite funny, too.

(Source: Christian History Institute)

It was on this date in 1170 that Thomas Becket returned from his six-year exile in France. Four weeks after returning to his post at Canterbury, he was murdered by knights of King Henry II.

Today’s birthdays include Kaley Cuoco, Ben Stiller, Winston Churchill (who did all the babies look like before he was born?), Bo Jackson, Dick Clark, Mark Twain, Billy Idol, Clay Aiken, Mandy Patinkin, Elisha Cuthbert, Colin Mochrie, Shane Victorino, Robert Guillaume, Jonathan Swift, Abbie Hoffman, Ridley Scott, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Andrea Doria, Oliver Fisher Winchester, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Efren Zimbalist, Jr., Richard Crenna, G Gordon Liddy, Bill Walsh, Paul Stookey, Roger Glover, and June Pointer.

Again, there are a number of notable names on today’s list. Kaley Cuoco plays “Penny” on Big Bang Theory, Ben Stiller is a well known comic actor, Mandy Patinking most famously played “Inigo Montoya” in The Princes Bride, Colin Mochrie is a comedian who was always on Whose Line Is It Anyway, Shane Victorino is a right fielder for the Boston Red Sox, Ivan Rodriguez, a catcher for the Texas Rangers, Paul Stookey was the “Paul” in Peter, Paul, and Mary, and Roger Glover was one of the bassists for Deep Purple. If you don’t know Winston Churchill, Jonathan Swift, Dick Clark, or Mark Twain, I’m not sure I can help you. Google is your friend.

Here is a clip of Mandy Patinkin and his most famous line from The Princess Bride.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL

Jacob has started a series on Christmas. It is called “All Authority: Connecting Christmas to the Great Commission.” The Scripture passage for the whole series will be Matthew 28:18-20, which is, of course, The Great Commission. Last night, we got through verse 18. Jacob is very good at pulling a wealth of information out of a verse or two of Scripture. In this case, we talked about Jesus coming as King. We don’t think about this very much, especially in our culture. But when you read the gospel accounts, he is constantly referred to as King of the Jews. Jesus is our King. He may have come the first time as a small baby, “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger,” but he was still King. In our culture, we are not comfortable with having a King. We love our “freedom.” In fact, many American Christians are guilty of idolizing those freedoms.

The opening premise of the message was this: The fact that Jesus came once, and the promise that he is coming again, beckons us to make disciples.

The three characteristics of a King are as follows: 1) A King has power. The King has power to command; in this case, he commanded light to appear out of nothing. I wonder how often we stop to think about this. I’m not sure we grasp the relevance of the fact that light was created before there were any other celestial bodies to provide it. Our King spoke into the darkness and created the light. This same authority is that which has commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations. I don’t know about you, but I came to the stark revelation, last night, that I have failed, miserably, to treat Jesus as King.

2) A King provides. Christmas is all about reconciling heaven and earth. Everything we need, Jesus provides. Just a few examples of the things we need: We need justice and peace. You don’t have to look very far to see that this is still desperately true. We need healing. Look at all the sickness and disease in the world. We need joy. Oh, how we need joy in our lives!! And we, as Christian people should be advocates for all of these things! But here is the catch, that we, once again, fail to realize, all too often. All of the things come with a King. We pray, as Jesus taught, “May your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as in heaven.” THERE IS NO KINGDOM WITHOUT A KING!!

3) Finally, a King pardons. The very beginning words of verse 18 are more important than we realize. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus came to them. Jesus came to these men, men who scattered in fear and cowardice when he was arrested to be tried and crucified. Some of whom, if you read the verse immediately before this one, still doubted! He had risen from the grave and appeared to all of them, and yet some of them still doubted! Yet he came to them, and treated them as if nothing had ever happened! This King pardons. All of us stand with these disciples. We have all rebelled. All of humanity has rebelled, and many of us who call ourselves Christians rebel on a daily basis. Yet he pardons and comes to us with grace, mercy, and a job to do.

(From The Divine Hours)

First Week of Advent

The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!
Psalm 118:27
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
Psalm 51:15
May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!”
Psalm 70:4
This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
Psalm 18:30
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”
Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together,
to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
There thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! “May they be secure who love you!
Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!”
For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say, “Peace be within you!”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.

Psalm 122
The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Almighty God, give all of us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the
armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came
to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his
glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:4-9

Today’s Gospel Reading

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Matthew 16:5-12

Jesus compared the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducess to leaven. These teachings, like leaven in dough, “can quickly permeate the church and corrupt its holiness.” (Reformation Study Bible notes) Jesus also addresses the fact that the disciples were concerned because they brought no bread. He had to remind them of the two miracles that they had recently witnessed. They still just didn’t get it.

We, too, must beware of the false teachings of religious hypocrites. It is necessary to be diligent in comparing anyone’s teachings to the Word. Just because something sounds good or sounds right does not make it so.

Today’s reading in Reflections for Ragamuffins is “When God Breaks In.”

When this happens, “we are plunged into mystery–what Abraham Heschel called ‘radical amazement.’ Hushed and trembling, we are creatures in the presence of ineffable Mystery above all creatures and beyond all telling.”

Have you ever experienced this? Suddenly you are “alone with the Alone.” When we become aware of the astounding feelings of love that the Almighty has for us, it is more than mere knowledge. How long have we sought refuge in “hand-clapping liturgies and cerebral Scripture studies,” only to receive “knowledge without appreciation, facts without enthusiasm?” Just as I commented on a brother’s blog recently, I have realized, a few years ago (maybe longer than that), that reading the Bible from cover to cover every year is not exactly a helpful exercise. Some would say that just reading the Bible, whether you take in any of it or not, is helpful. I won’t argue that, as there has always been a kind of mystical “aliveness” to the Scriptures, and reading them could never do harm. However, much more benefit is derived from delving deeper into a small portion than trying to read five or six chapters every day, and trudging relentlessly through Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Chronicles. If I may be so bold, eventually, it all begins to seem insignificant; simply a chore that must be done.

“But when the night is bad and my nerves are shattered and Infinity speaks, when God Almighty shares through his Son the depth of his feelings for me, when his love flashes into my soul and when I am overtaken by Mystery, it is kairos–the decisive inbreak of God in this saving moment of my personal history.” I am utterly alone (at least in terms of humanity) in this moment. I have two choices. I can “escape into skepticism and intellectualism or with radical amazement I surrender in faith to the truth of my belovedness.”

I experienced a bit of this last night, as Jacob was preaching about Jesus being King. I have not, perhaps ever, lived as though Jesus is my King. I fell on my knees in repentance and surrender. Jesus is my King, whether I acknowledge it or not. I cannot “make” him King, for he IS King. But I can surrender to his Kingly authority, and that is what I intend to do. But I must do it constantly, for my flesh will insist on rebelling. At the same time, I confess, too, that even in that realization, I never felt anything but love from my God! Isn’t that amazing? Jesus came to me, just as he did to his disciples all those years ago, and even though I had issues, even though I have rebelled, he loved me in his chastisement; he cared for me as he gave me instruction.

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.
You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.
Enter into the joy of your master.'”

Matthew 25:21

Ah, Lord! What are you doing to me? How do I respond to this? Last night, all I could do was fall to my knees and surrender to you, as I realized my plight of rebellion. Even in these recent years, as much as you have drawn me into this amazing prayer ministry, I have been rebelling against your Kingship. I cannot enjoy your Kingdom without submitting, surrendering to you as King. But how? How do I do this? I can only rely on you to show me, to make real to me the verse that I chose over a decade ago as my “life verse.” Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. (Psalm 86:11) Yes, Lord. Unite my heart, for it is divided. Even now, it is divided among too many things. There is only One. There is only You. Be my all in all; be my one true One. Teach me, Jesus; teach me. I am surrendered; I submit. You are my King. It is You, only You.

I pray for this day. I pray for the things we need to get done this afternoon. May our travel around town be safe and smooth. May we experience joy as we have lunch and shop for a few items. As we choose our Christmas ornament for this year, let it not be a seemingly random choice, but something with meaning that drives us closer to this mysterious intimacy with our King. I pray for restful fun as we take in a movie this afternoon, and then more good rest at home this evening, as we prepare for the week of work ahead.

As we go into this work week, may we love you, follow Christ, and share the Kingdom.

Your grace is amazing. Your love is overwhelming. You are my King.

Jesus is King. He just is. His Kingdom is coming, ready or not.

Grace and peace, friends.