Why my Dad is my hero

A pic of US 35N on my way in to work this morning

This morning I woke up to 4 inches of snow that blanketed frozen rain on the ground. I started the truck first thing and then took a shower and got ready for the day. It was a long drive to work. I planned on taking double the time to make my normal drive here in Dallas. As a Michigan native, I am familiar with these kinds of conditions, yet when I drive here in this city, my fear mainly comes because of other drivers who only see these conditions one or two days a year and try to be a cowboy and brave the elements.

So, there was plently of time to think on the way in. I listened to the radio- mostly- but there were times when my heart raced as a pickup in front of me went sideways, or when I saw an 18 wheeler in the ditch. I kept saying to myself, my goal is to get there safely, not to get there quickly.

(This helped me to be patient as I thought of my wife and kids back at home. 2 of my children currenlty are battling the flu. I know that more than getting to a destination expediently, they eventually need me back home. So I was extra careful on my way in.)

As my tires rumbled over the chunky and icy ground, there were also times when my mind warped back decades in time. I recalled as a kid seeing my dad leave out the door every morning in the winter so that he could provide for us. I remembered one time when he was in a car accident on his way to work. He was driving a car that had recenlty been given to us by a family member. It was a total loss. But God provided another vehicle for us.

I also remember the many times my dad went under our trailer and took a heater, or heat tape or a hair dryer to thaw or water lines in the subzero weather. While I didn’t understand the signifance of that back then, as I look back now, I can have a greater appreciation of the amazing things my dad did to take care of our family.

At one point of time, I would have never thought of calling my dad a hero. As a child I did not understand our poverty. I was often bitter because we couldn’t afford the name brand clothing or food. I despised that we lived on government subsidies. I was humiliated by our living conditions. I was hurt often by the fighting and anger I saw in or home. Those memories will never leave. But they don’t have the same bite that they once had.

I kept driving. My mind kept wandering. My instincts were heightened as that pickup truck in front of me turned sideways. I was far back enough where I could slow down and go around and avoided the vehicle. Moments like these can be defining. I became more eager to make it to my destination safely, looking forward to working hard today and getting back to my family who needs me.

After I got to another point, the vehicles around me disappeared. There was a long stretch of road before I saw another vehicle. My mind went back to where it left off. I remember at an early age how my dad, even though he struggled with anger that I despised, always took care of us spiritually.

We were always in church- Sunday morning and evening and Wednesday. There were times he attempted doing devotions with us as a family. I remember those moments. My most vivid spiritual memory with my father was when he led my brother Tim to Jesus. I too knew that I was a sinner and wanted to be saved. So that day, as a 5 year old boy, I knelt at my bedside with my dad and confessed my sin to my Father in heaven and asked Jesus to come into my heart.

It was the best I knew how then to commit my life to Christ. That moment was a defining moment in my life. It has shaped how I view every aspect of my life. It has kept me from numbing my pain with sexual sins, alcohol, drugs, social life, technology, and whatever other idols I could have made. That decision has helped me to constantly return to Jesus when I have tried to find life in other places. That decision ultimately is what has helped me to forgive my dad and others who have harmed me over the years.

(I can still remember my dad weeping at my bedside, running his fingers through my brown childish hair one night because his heart was torn from the way that he constantly struggled with losing his temper. He hated his sin that he had difficulty controlling.)

As I pressed on toward my destination, I thought about heroes. I certainly did not want to be driving to work so early in the morning, especially as I was up several times last night helping my own son manage his symptoms of the flu, and knowing my wife would be home caring for both he and my oldest daughter who is sick with the same.

But I remembered how my dad was always faithful to do what it took to care for his family. I also thought of all the people who I may be serving today, how God would use me, like he used my own father, to be a light to others. So I kept driving. And I thought about all my dad did for me, and all he has done for others. And it dawned on me like never before what a hero my dad has always been.

Turkey Day, Football & Ferguson: Which Side is God on?

This Thanksgiving is going to be bittersweet for many. Many will enjoy the festivities, parades, playing flag or touch football in the yard with family and friends and then watch their favorite teams battle it out on TV.  This was a big tradition in my family.

But during this Thanksgiving, many of us might have hearts of despair and bitterness. The announcement last night by the grand jury in Ferguson only further cemented perhaps decades or even generations of inequality and injustice in your life. You might wonder what there is to be thankful for. Why did God ignore my pain once again? Whose side is God on anyway?Riot police clear demonstrators from a street in Ferguson

I ask the question, which side is God on? because if God has a side, I ultimately want to be on His side. And I suspect that everyone else who loves Him desires to be on His side too. That’s a good question, but as stupid as this might sound, asking that question is a lot like asking the same question when your favorite sport team is playing their arch rival. It’s crazy because half of the debate about Ferguson thinks their side lost and half thinks their side won. Neither side won. It wasn’t even a draw. The truth is that the game is still being played and from where I’m sitting, it appears that both sides are losing.

Last night, I was disappointed at the reaction from certain leaders within the church and community- some of whom are friends of mine- as they expressed their support or grievance in the decision that the grand jury reached. There is something disturbing in the reaction that goes beyond the verdict of the jury. It is sickening to think that the decision to not indict this officer means that the case is closed and we can parade and move on. It is equally sickening in the presumption of the officer’s guilt to bring evil upon innocent by burning their belongings, destroying their businesses, and inciting retaliation birthed in hate.

We need to be clear about one thing: The fight for freedom and justice is not over. I cannot even say it has truly begun. Many churches and faithful saints were calling on God last night, pleading with Him before the verdict was announced. But if our prayers were cheering on an internal seed that was rooting for an announcement of “innocent” or “guilty” more than a cry for justice and truth to prevail, then we have prayed for this situation in the same manner that we pray for our football or basketball team to win on game night. And you are going to be disillusioned in your interpretation of last night’s verdict. You will not see clearly.

When I have prayed for my teams in the past, of course I have asked God to find favor on them and to allow them to win. Sometimes they won and sometimes they lost. But really, that is not a good prayer. Here’s why. First, assuming that God favors one side over another is also assuming that God does not love the opponent. And that is not true.

Even in God’s election and sovereign decisions, God loves everyone. His desire is for the peace and salvation and blessing of every person. He died for everyone. That is clear in Scripture, but my point is not about the theology of salvation. No matter whether your skin is black or white or red or yellow, God is for you. He is on your side. He is also on the side of that person who is different than you, whether it is because of skin color, affluence, sexual orientation or other sociological distinctions. No matter what you go through and no matter what the outcomes are when it comes to justice, God is for you. He died for you. This is the side He is on. Are you on His side?

If you are on God’s side, your feelings and emotions won’t be shaken in any court verdict. Being on God’s side means that you entrust all judgment to Him. It means that He knows better than you. It means that you will seek what He seeks. God’s side in not the side that is rooted in pride, but in humbly pursuing Gods pursuits, even when they do not agree with your thoughts.

For many Americans, whom God loves passionately, there was extreme fury and rage toward the conclusion of the Ferguson grand jury. If this is you, then you likely wonder how so many people in the jury got it so wrong. You might wonder, where is God in all of this? Does He not care about justice and equality? Does he hate me or my children? Some of you might have taken matters into your own hands – maybe you have rioted and looted in your own heart. Some of you might begin to doubt God’s goodness and love.

For many other Americans, whom God loves passionately, there was great elation and sense of justice and peace in your household because you believe that the system got it right. If this is you, then you probably have publicly affirmed the jury’s decision. You are also more affirmed in the sense of God’s justice and love for you. You might think God is for you and let this season pass without giving thought about anything else. Your position won. You won. You feel justified by what you believe to be true.

But the question remains, which side is God on? I sincerely believe that God did not side with the blacks or whites last night. He was not with the majority or minority. He just wasn’t. He was at a different game, at a different stadium, cheering on a different team. God’s team was you. God was with you. He was on your side. He was fighting for you.

God was on your side because:

  • He sent Jesus to die for your sins and all the injustice you have committed against Him and against others.
  • Jesus’ blood also covered the sins and injustice committed against you and your family and loved ones.
  • Satan the creator and propagator of injustice and inequality has been defeated through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and will one day be completely consumed in hell by the final judgment of God.
  • There will be a day in court when the record will be exposed before the eyes of witnesses. Justice will be served forever.
  • Through Jesus Christ your eternity can be full of life and infinite joy and peace.
  • You are created with significance and have been granted the authority by God to be an agent for His love and justice in our world right now.

Yes, God is on your side. He is cheering for team You. In Christ, you are his chosen ambassador to carry the torch of love, mercy, justice and truth (Micah 6:8; 2 Cor 5:17-21). You are the one who is also called to walk in the ease of his yolk (Matt. 11:30) by submitting your cares and concerns and injustices to Him (1 Pet 5:7; Psa. 55:22). Being on God’s side means that you entrust all judgment to Him. So what does this mean for you?

First, if your side won last night, you are called to do more than the customary pat on the butt and shaking of hands with the losing team that happens at the end of each game. It might be that justice prevailed last night in Ferguson. It might be that it was grossly denied in a way that makes the angels of heaven ready to storm the gates of hell.

There is no denying the injustice that happens on a daily basis to the African American community. My friend Marcus who is a respected physician grew up in a godly Christian home. His father is a pastor and his family loves Jesus. He is not a trouble maker. Yet, despite all his faithfulness and the faithfulness of his parents to raise a good home, he still faced terrible injustice and inequality in his life because of the color of his skin. He shared with me how he has been pulled over by police simply because he is black. He has been followed and harassed in ways that I will never know because my olive skin is considered to be an “acceptable” tone for society.

I’m a white man. But, I’m sure his story is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the torments of the minority. And if any person just shakes their hands and walks away from last night’s announcement and thinks everything is well, that person is severely misinformed or extremely naive.

Conversely, if your team “lost” last night I am begging and pleading with you to do more than utter an insincere “good game” that happens at the end of each game. Our country and culture needs for you to rise up and be the stronger team, the better team. We sincerely need it.

The team that God is on is rooted in humility and love, even in its pursuits of justice. Jesus was faithful to you and me even until the end of his ministry on earth. When Peter cut off the soldier’s ear, Jesus rebuked him and healed his “enemy.” Resolving to violence and anger against the innocent only affirms and solidifies the wrong and evil beliefs of racism that still permeate the fabrics of our nation.

If you were one who was calling on God last night, and if you have experienced His love for you, and if you claim the name of Jesus Christ, then you absolutely have the responsibility to love your enemy and to pray for those who mistreated you. When you follow Christ, when you claim his name, you lose the rights to yourself. This is the hardest lesson to learn, the most difficult path to follow. Last’s nights issue is not a racial issue as much as it is a spiritual issue. Are we brave enough to sign up to be on God’s team? Are we willing to join his roster?

If you want God to be on your side, then you need to be on his side. I will know, the world will know, you will know God is on your side when you love like he loves. It is up to you and me. There has to come a point where you reach out to your enemy and love them like Christ loved you.

In our community, this means that community servants like police officers and leaders of justice passionately uphold the law and compassionately represent the afflicted- no matter the color of skin. It means that education and resources continue to be freely administered to free those who are seeking relief from their injustice. I have no problem with social services when they are administered with love and responsibility.

In our community it also means that the afflicted free themselves by forgiving those who mistreat them. The greatest way to win a man is by loving him. This might sound ridiculous but if the African American community lovingly reached out to the white man with love, it would go a long way in dissolving negative feelings and racism that pervade parts of this community. White communities should reject the temptation to simply move on and instead intentionally reach out to minorities.  We love Him because He first loved us (1 Jo 4:19; Rom 5:6, 8). Enemies are crushed by love.

Racism will only be defeated by love- not retaliation. Not public policy. Not the outcome of court cases. Not by increasing entitlements. Only by love. So, as a white person, who has really done the black community no harm, but as one who has even served the black community in some of the most underserved and unloved areas in our country, I am asking you to forgive my whiteness. Forgive me. I am on your team. I am on your side. You are my brother and sister in Christ.

I need you to reach out to me and to not retaliate. Be the greater person. Speak out against the violence and retaliation we are witnessing. You will change this world. You will conquer the lie of racism. Reach out to me.

Even so, I will reach out to you. I will receive you. I will care for you. I will love you. I will fight with you and for you for truth and love in our society. I need this from you. The game clock is ticking. We are both losing when we are against each other. It is Thanksgiving and I want our team to win. We are on the same team. Can we fight for love and freedom together? Don’t come to “my side.” Let us go together to His side during this Thanksgiving. And know that I am praying for you and walking with you through this season as best as I know how. May our team win!

When Jesus Reigns

Zechariah 5-9

Focus: Zechariah 8:20-23, The LORD who rules over all says, ‘It will someday come to pass that people–residents of many cities–will come. The inhabitants of one will go to another and say, “Let’s go up at once to ask the favor of the LORD, to seek the LORD who rules over all. Indeed, I’ll go with you.” Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the LORD who rules over all and to ask his favor. The LORD who rules over all says, ‘In those days ten people from all languages and nations will grasp hold of–indeed, grab–the robe of one Jew and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

I remember having various theological debates in college. Most of the time I would observe and listen, while others I would get dragged in to the discussion. It seems like the topic would often be about election, God’s sovereignty, and free will. These ideas are too big to get our minds around. But one thing I am quite sure of is that most of the time when Scripture is referring to election, God’s people Israel were involved. It is clear that God had a special love and a unique purpose for His people. After the fall of man in the garden when God implemented his plan to save humanity, through the promise and seed of Abraham, Israel became his chosen vessel for global reconciliation.

In this particular vision, Zechariah foresees a period of time when there would be international revival and repentance. This prophetic image was realized in part during the Pentecost when the Church was initially established. In Acts 2:5-11 we see a universal and overwhelming attraction of the nations to Israel’s God. However, the best is still yet to come. The fullness of this prophecy will be reached during the millennial reign of Jesus Christ as His presence and power is enunciated here on earth with a greater fullness than has been witnessed since His resurrection. At that time, people from all over the earth will be compelled and drawn by the fame of Jesus Christ.

What is just as amazing is how the Jesus glory will be manifested directly in His people because of His sovereign commitment to them. People will seek out the Jews, the people of God, because the Lord’s favor will be with them, and they will be the instruments to lead others to Jesus the Messiah who will be physically present in Jerusalem. What an awesome time that will be! At that time, the Lord’s people will be the chosen instruments for global reconciliation.

But what about now? Jesus’ disciples have already been strengthened with the glory of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in them. Jesus has told us, “I will be with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). We have the commitment of the Lord in us now, and we reflect His glorious presence as our life becomes reconciled with Him. When Jesus reigns in our life, we are healed from life’s hurts, habits and hang-ups. Then others who do not know Jesus will take notice and will also say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” Especially in this respect, the Lord’s disciples are his “plan A” to be His instruments of justice, mercy and righteous in a way that brings Him glory. There is no plan B. He has elected us for such a purpose.

How is the Lord’s commitment to you bringing Him fame to those around you who do not yet know Him?

U-Turn: a signpost for the spiritual journey

Focus: 1:3-4, “Therefore say to the people: The LORD who rules over all says, “Turn to me,” says the LORD who rules over all, “and I will turn to you,” says the LORD who rules over all. “Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the former prophets called out, saying, ‘The LORD who rules over all says, “Turn now from your evil wickedness, “’ but they would by no means obey me,” says the LORD.”

God’s love for His people is unlike any other love that I have ever witnessed in my life. Throughout the message of the prophets, we can see God practically begging His people to return to Him- not in a desperate sort of way, but in a way that demonstrates deep concern and yearning for their well being. God’s love for His people is truly remarkable.

In 1:3, the Lord said to His people, “Turn to me.” God wanted his people to return to Him with their whole heart. As I read this, echoes of Yahweh’s covenant with Israel ring throughout my ears. In Deuteronomy 30:1-3 the Lord promises Israel that when His people are taken into captivity in far away lands because of their disobedience, if they turn to the Lord and obey him with their entire mind and being, then He will have pity on His people and reverse their captivity! In other words, God said that if His people were ever found lost and lead to captivity in distant lands, then the only way back was to do a spiritual U-turn.

When Zechariah prophesied, Israel was far removed from the Land and God’s covenant protection. Centuries, kilometers and a broken relationship separated Israel from the Lord of the Covenant who had practically divorced them. Yet, Yahweh gives Zechariah a message to the decedents of His faithful followers who received the Covenant as they were about ready to set foot in the Promised Land. The message was, “return to me.”

While the more recent ancestors of Zechariah’s contemporaries had hardened their hearts against God and walked away from Him like an adulteress woman, God was reminding Zechariah’s audience of His promise to return to His people if they come back. Even while those present to hear Zechariah’s message may have only had an intellectual knowledge of the Promise, they were again being implored to return to the Lord with their whole hearts so that they could return to the Land and enjoy the freedom and fruit of the Covenant. God says, “Turn back!”

This teaches us a couple things. First, God has always initiated relationship with His people. We must only respond accordingly. Second, repentance never begins with a heart that is transformed. Repentance is the U-turn for the heart that is lost in captivity from sin. Therefore, no matter how screwed up our life gets or how far removed from God we try to run, we have the opportunity to be reconciled back to right relationship. God’s promise always remains for any remnant of people who trust in Him, even if they suffer because of the rebellion of others. So our hearts should not be discouraged if others will not turn back to the Lord when we do. God is faithful and will save those who love Him.

Celebrate Recovery in the life of Daniel

Focus: Daniel 9:17-19, “So now, our God, accept the prayer and requests of your servant, and show favor to your devastated sanctuary for your own sake. Listen attentively, my God, and hear! Open your eyes and look on our desolated ruins and the city called by your name. For it is not because of our own righteous deeds that we are praying to you, but because your compassion is abundant. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, pay attention, and act! Don’t delay, for your own sake, O my God! For your city and your people are called by your name.”

My wife and I have recently started attending a Celebrate Recovery program at Watermark Church here in Dallas. It has been an eye opening experience to say the least. So far I have learned that there are others out there who are as screwed up as me. There are many who are struggling with far more difficult things than I am, but one thing is true of everyone. We have all hurt people, and we have all been hurt by people. Celebrate Recovery is about making amends and finding healing from all the junk that hurts and hinders us in this broken world.

The reason I mention all this is because as I have been reading through Daniel, I have come to realize that this brokenness has extended throughout the ages, and so has the amends process. Daniel gives us a great taste of what part of the reconciliation process looks like.

In this passage Daniel is petitioning the Lord to answer his prayer. Daniel’s prayer focuses on the current broken state of the sanctuary (the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 722 B.C.) and the massive destruction to Jerusalem and its walls. Israel’s hurts and hang-ups were severe. Her sin of rebellion against God and committing idolatry and adultery with pagan gods were a breach of Covenant. The consequence was removal from the land, loss of blessing, and forfeiture of protection that was provided in the Covenant.

Just like in step 1 of the 12 steps of CR, Daniel was admitting on Israel’s behalf their inability to control their addictions and compulsions. Their lives had become unmanageable and desperately wicked. Romans 7:18 says, “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want!” Israel’s sins were too much for her to handle and they are what got her into trouble.

Like step 2 in CR, Daniel was recognizing Yahweh as the power greater than himself that could restore Israel. Philippians 2:13 says, “for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God.” Even while the Covenant brought cursing and discipline for disobedience, it also brought the opportunity for reconciliation. Deuteronomy 30:1-6 teaches us that God would be the one who would cleanse his people’s hearts and would himself restore them back to their land. Thus Daniel prays pleading on account of God’s compassion and not according to any righteous deeds.

In recognizing his own inabilities and those of Israel, Daniel was also making a decision to turn his life and will over to the care of God. (This is step 3 of CR, which is based off of Romans 12:1). His prayer was directed to Yahweh. Consequently, Daniel humbled himself (step 6 based off of James 4:10) and made a searching and fearless moral inventory (Daniel 9:15, 16 & 17) (step 4, based off of Lamentations 3:40), and he confessed them before God and publically before others in his writing. Step 5 of CR is to admit to God, to yourself, and to others the exact nature of your wrongs! James 5:16 says to confess your sins one to another so that you may be healed.”

There are 6 more steps in the Celebrate Recovery process, and each one of them can be highlighted in some way by Daniel’s prayer. Reconciliation is a process that is necessary because we live in a depraved world that is full of sin and deceit. We all have hurts, habits and hang-ups. We have all been hurt, and we have all hurt people. In Daniel’s case, just like all of us, his offense was against God. Daniel appealed to God knowing that there was opportunity for reconciliation built into the Covenant. We too have the opportunity to be reconciled with each other and with the Lord through Christ’s work on the Cross. I have to ask, where do I need to make amends with others in my life? How about you? Who do you need to reconcile with today?

God’s Recovery Program

Daniel 1-6

Focus: Daniel 2:44-45, “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will raise up an everlasting kingdom that will not be destroyed and a kingdom that will not be left to another people. It will break in pieces and bring about the demise of all these kingdoms. But it will stand forever. You saw that a stone was cut from a mountain, but not by human hands; it smashed the iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold into pieces. The great God has made known to the king what will occur in the future. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is reliable.”

Recently, my wife and I started going to Celebrate Recovery, a Christian 12-step reconciliation program for those who want to work through their hurts, habits, and hang-ups that have come as coping mechanisms to life’s pains. The problem of evil and the problem of pain are unfortunate realities in our broken world, but it has been encouraging to watch others find recovery and healing.

Daniel was a prophet who certainly had to deal with hurts and hang-ups. He was taken into captivity into Babylon. His family may have been killed or taken as slaves. He was displaced from his home. In Babylon, he was assigned to the royal service where he would enjoy the best foods and the luxury of palace living. That part sounds nice, but the trade-off to living in the palace meant becoming a eunuch in an era where there was no anesthesia. (They did this to protect the women living in the palace from foreigners.)

God used Daniel, a man who had been through a lot of pain- spiritually, emotionally, and physically- to foretell of one of life’s greatest events. Dreams carried huge weight in the day of Daniel, and it just so happens that King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and needed someone to interpret. God chose Daniel to be the man. Daniel 2:44-45 is the interpretation that God gave to Daniel and it tells of a kingdom that will overcome every earthly power. It is a kingdom not ruled by the broken leadership of people and one that will last forever. It was the prophecy of the Kingdom of Christ.

God is in the process of building His Kingdom. It is one that will last forever, a Kingdom where the pain of sin and death will not be. In this Kingdom, all of Christ’s faithful followers will find complete reconciliation and healing from their hurts, habits and hang-ups. This is the Christian hope. This is what our faith in Christ is about. While we may claim to have the faith to trust that He died on the Cross and rose again to save us from our sins, will we have the faith to trust His promises that He is preparing a place for those who follow Him? The faith rooted in the events at the Cross is foundational, but faith that trusts Christ’s promise of the everlasting Kingdom is functional. It is what moves us from this life to the next and is what proves our very faith in Christ on the Cross. Do we really trust that God will bring complete healing and restoration?

What is “the sacrifice of praise”?

Hosea 11-14

Focus: Hosea 14:1-2, “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for your sin has been your downfall! Return to the LORD and repent! Say to him: “Completely forgive our iniquity; accept our penitential prayer, that we may offer the praise of our lips as sacrificial bulls.”

While many of us think of the work of the prophets as hell, fire and brimstone preaching, it amazing to discover just how gracious the Lord was. When prophets would declare impending judgment on God’s people, it was really a call to turn back to Yahweh. But even if Israel did not repent, the rule of thumb was first the worst and then the best. While God would bring judgment on his people, he would always spare a remnant of people and announce a promise of future blessing and restoration. However, the heart of God was for his people to return to Him with all their heart.

In Hosea 14, we can see this pleading of the Lord through His servant Hosea. Israel was a nation that was suffocated with multiple treaties to multiple pagan nations. She was choked by her commitment to pagan countries and the gods they served, and her affection was so far removed from Yahweh, that she had no regard for Him. But in His mercy, Yahweh called out for Israel to repent. He was calling them to return their affections to him.

The prayer that Hosea gives to Israel is a great prayer. It is similar to what many would pray for salvation today. God wants us to acknowledge our rebellion against Him. We need to know that our hearts have deserted Him and it should be expressed to the Lord. If we are sincere about turning back to Him, God wants us to ask him to accept our prayer of remorse. When we are repentant, our heart should grieve over our actions. If we would pray like this and mean it, God would accept our prayer. God does not want empty religious works. If we are not sincere in our words and actions, he does not care if we read our Bible more, serve in His temple, or memorize a thousand verses. What God wants is the sacrifice of praise from our lips.

The sacrifice of praise is what we bring into the house of the Lord (Hebrews 13:15). It is a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2) of constant repentance and praise to the Lord for His grace. The reason why we would praise Him is first because of who He is, but in this context, we are to praise Him because He will forgive us and accept us back again. When we praise someone, it means that we accept him. When we praise someone, it means that he has our affection. When we praise someone, we verbally affirm in that person what our hearts deeply value. This is what God seeks from us when we give Him praise.

The Great Lover, The Great Pursuer

Isaiah 41-45

Focus: Isaiah 45:22-25 Turn to me so you can be delivered, all you who live in the earth’s remote regions! For I am God, and I have no peer. I solemnly make this oath- what I say is true and reliable: ‘Surely every knee will bow to me, every tongue will solemnly affirm; they will say about me, “Yes, the LORD is a powerful deliverer.”’” All who are angry at him will cower before him. All the descendants of Israel will be vindicated by the LORD and will boast in him.

Reading this promise that God gave to His people is stunning. God is making his case against His people’s infidelity, but even as he presents His case, he pleads with them to return to Him. Israel was an idolatrous nation. They worshipped idols and their hearts were preoccupied with other gods- Baal and Ashera. But the Lord demonstrates that there is no other true God besides Him. He is God alone. He has no peer. Yet, while Israel was unfaithful, He did not completely reject them. In fact, he pursued His people.

The God of Israel was great and merciful to His people. Even while their hearts wandered, He had great patience when they rebelled. Not only that, but God went after His people when they walked away from Him. He went after them like a lover who goes after his bride. God promised that Israel’s great affair with other gods would one day come to an end. She would be vindicated by the Lord and boast in Him. What does that mean?

Israel’s sin brought her into severe bondage. It ruined her. Yet, the Lord was compassionate and had a special love for His people- even when they went in directions that were not life giving. Even when His people rebelled against Him, God pursued them with His great love. Why? So that they would boast in Him.

There is nothing more life changing than when a person has messed up and has nowhere else to go. Their life is in chaos and there is no hope. And then another who is compassionate and merciful reaches out to that person who is hopelessly dead in their tracks. The guilty person is pardoned and accepted. The shame is gone, and the one who extended the hand is seen as a hero and deliverer who can be trusted. That is what God did for His people Israel. Ultimately he did it through the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 2 says that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father. Jesus Christ is God’s hand reaching out to His people. His death on the cross is the sacrifice that vindicates anyone who trusts in Him. No matter what we have done in life, God has still pursued us. He is the great Lover who pursues His people so that they will live in a way that brings life. It begins by accepting Jesus extended hand, releasing guilt and shame, and boasting in Him- the great Lover and Pursuer of our life.

Below is a video about what a Lover IS NOT:

God’s concern for the innocent and weak, marriage and divorce

Matthew 19:4-5, “[Jesus] said, ‘Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh?'”

imagesToday , as I write, I am going to try to proceed with sensitivity and humility, especially as I have dear family and friends who have suffered through the torturous pain of divorce. My heart is grieved because of the brutality that has been committed against the innocent in divorce, even by well intentioned people of the Church. And for the record, a lot of evil has been committed in the name of religion, especially when it comes to this topic. But, as I study this passage, I do notice a couple principles that are encouraging.

First, as God is extending His hand before man, pointing them down the path that leads to fullness and life, we will find that marriage between one man and one woman is a landmark that God wants us all to enjoy. As we study Jesus who is addressing the Pharisees cornering Him in a debate about divorce, what I hope we can see is that God is greatly concerned about the innocent and weak.

Jesus points back to God’s intentions for marriage. He says “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife…” For what reason? To find the answer we must go back to Jesus’ reference in Genesis 2 where God created Eve for Adam.

Back in the Garden….

One of the first responsibilities God gave to Adam was to cultivate the land. He was to take responsibility for God’s creation and he had the unique privilege of naming all the animals. As God was bringing the animals to Adam for them to be named, Adam discovered his need: there was not a suitable helper for him (Gen 2:20). That is, there was nothing that corresponded to him, no companion or anything that related to Adam.

God’s response to this problem was, “It is not good for the man to be alone. (Gen 2:18)” God said that he would make Adam a companion who corresponds to him. Man was created to do God’s work in relationship with another. From the beginning, marriage was created to serve each member in marriage. Each person in the relationship had a distinctive purpose. Not only that, but marriage was an institute created as a natural means of physical, spiritual, and emotional provision for the man and woman.

In the Ancient Near East, and at the time of Jesus, it was often detrimental for the woman to be divorced. Women who were divorced could not necessarily just get up and get a job to put food on their table. Their provision was solely dependent on their husband if they were married- or on their father if they were not married. For the woman who was divorced, she could not certainly count on her family to take her back into the household because assumptions made by the community about the divorce could bring shame on the family. So she would often be left destitute. It was not a good thing for divorce to occur.

Fast forward to Jesus…

So Jesus says, “What God has brought together, let no man separate.” Woman is God’s provision for man as a wonderful gracious gift to help him accomplish his tasks that have been given by God, and man is made to live with the help of woman. Two are better than one. Of course, in the intended circumstance, it would not be good to separate.

Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away? (Matt. 19:7) The Pharisees were asking why Moses allowed for divorce. The certificate of divorce was given to the innocent dismissed wife of a licentious husband. It was a certificate to document the divorce that was given to the woman so that she would be free to marry again. That way, if she chose to marry again, the original husband could not claim that he never divorced her and accuse her of adultery. Divorce was allowed as a way to protect and provide for the innocent who suffered on account of the hardness of heart of an unfaithful spouse.

The husband who divorced the woman did not necessarily dismiss her because of his own immorality. He could have done it for financial reasons or other motivations. In this situation with the Pharisees, I think that what Jesus was getting at is that we are to pursue Oneness in marriage.

When Jesus provides the exception for allowing divorce (immorality) he stresses that if a man divorces and marries another woman, he commits adultery. In this situation, it seems that Jesus was speaking against an individual who becomes infatuated with a person other than his spouse, or an opportunity for personal gain, and pursues another. The principle: lust and greed for another person or opportunity are not acceptable grounds for the violating member of marriage to divorce the other. We are to pursue reconciliation and oneness in marriage and to keep our vows before God and the community that we would love, protect and care for the one we married.

So looking at everything in context, I can see that we can draw a few humble conclusions or observations.

1. We are all the “innocent and week” in some sense. Because of God’s concern for us, he created marriage as a vehicle to accomplishing the tasks he has given us. Marriage was an institute created as a natural means of physical, spiritual, and emotional provision for the man and woman.

2. Divorce is not good. Even in today’s culture, divorce has shown to have detrimental effects on all members of a family. God does not want us to divorce per say, but neither does he want us to live together “undivorced” because of a contract. The goal is oneness. God wants us to pursue oneness with each other and fight for reconciliation against a hardening of heart that leads to divorce.

3. We must be careful to guard our hearts. Proverbs says that it is the “wellspring” of life. A hardened heart allows for lust and greed. This is essential because Jesus does not prescribe divorce, rather he prescribes faithfulness to God and the spouse. When we make vows, we are expected to fulfill them- especially when our vow is to love and care for another! Marriage is the most direct means of extending God’s love, justice and mercy. A hardened heart equates to a drift towards unfaithfulness.

While this text doesn’t necessarily speak to these principles, here are a couple others that Scripture does support.

4. We must be careful how we treat and perceive those who are going through a divorce or who have been divorced. Ultimately, especially for the Community of Christ, our responsibility is to simply love others and to be there for them. We do not ever know the big picture or a full picture of anyone’s marriage except the 1/2 of our own marriage- if we are even married. But if we know someone who is openly at fault causing a divorce, then we should do what we can to keep them accountable to their vow. If we know someone who is suffering on account of another’s hardness of heart– unfaithfulness- then we should love them and support them during the decisions they make through such difficult trials.

5. A lifestyle of habitual authenticity in community is vital to a healthy marriage. We need to be open about our struggles- the hurts, habits and hangups. The counsel of others can help us effectively deal with these problems that will plague any marriage. The problem is that such authenticity is rare to find and difficult to achieve and maintain. But the difference is like that of dealing with a scrape before it gets infected. An infection that goes too long without treatment will eventually cause the flesh to die. In such a case, amputation is inevitable.

Marriage will help us to see our scrapes. We need to show them to others who can help us treat them with the Biblical “ointment”- truth and love. Authenticity keeps us from hiding our wounds until they are infected. When our hurts, habits and hangups rule in our marriage, the marriage begins to stink like an infection before others. People notice. Left untreated, divorce is inevitable. So if you are struggling in marriage, tell someone before your infection gets worse!

Freedom

Psalm 65

Focus: 65:3 Our record of sins overwhelms me, but you forgive our acts of rebellion.

Recently, I was sharing with those I minister closest, and I was trying to encourage them to pick themselves up when they struggle in the flesh or at moments of unfaithfulness. The apostle Paul made it clear that the flesh and the Spirit are at war with each other, but how can we be free from the guilt we feel when we blow it?

If we are honest with ourselves, we are all like David. He recounts the reputation of God’s people. You can almost sense the sorrow in his heart when he writes, “Our record of sins overwhelms me…” Unfaithfulness brings a heavy weight that is burdensome to carry. How do we feel as we evaluate our life choices?

From our point of view, such an evaluation would be discouraging. However, there is no need to be stuck in the weights of guilt. David finished his thought with the reminder of God’s amazing grace, His faithful committed love. You can sense the relief of the burdens lifted when he recounts that God forgives our acts of rebellion.

So often we would like to continue to wear the shackles of guilt. We punish ourselves by refusing to live free after God has forgiven our transgressions. But such living is totally unnecessary. Can we also realize that God forgives our acts of rebellion? If God would forgive us of every sin and shortcoming we can remember, then we ought to forgive ourselves too!

God’s forgiveness of our sin gives us the freedom to live in right relationship with Him once again. Our forgiveness of our own mistakes gives us the freedom to give God the praise He deserves. When we have forgiven ourselves then we know that we have accepted God’s forgiveness, and we know we are free.