Identity

homeless man 2

“I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…” (Isaiah 61:10, NIV).

There’s a man in my town.  I drive past him on a regular basis, too uncomfortable to stop and have an actual conversation.  He’s rough looking, unshaved, with skin worn and darkened from many hours in the sun.  He appears beaten down and tired from the many miles he’s paced on this particular stretch of road.  I imagine he has a story, that he would happily share, if only I would stop and listen, but I have places to go and people to see, who, quite honestly, I’d much rather spend my time with.

The man is easy to spot – perhaps you’ve seen him as well – as he adorns himself with two wooden signs, one in front and one behind, tied together with two strands of rope that wear heavily upon his shoulders.  The signs contain a crudely handwritten message that I can’t quite make out.  He’s a walking billboard, but the only advertisement he’s promoting is his dire predicament.

I really should stop, but I’m in a hurry.  I’m late for work and people are depending on me.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll have the time for a conversation, but if I do, I hope it will be brief and not too uncomfortable.  I’ll die if someone sees me talking to this guy!

As I drive by, I think for a few more moments about the man.  His entire identity seems to be tied to this sign, tied to his body.  I wish he could see his real self-worth, that he is loved by God, that he is forgiven, that he doesn’t need to be burdened by his past, his sin, or this sign.  Rather, he has been clothed in righteousness by a God who loves him and a Savior who bore a cross for him.  These are the words the man needs to hear.  And maybe I’m the one who needs to tell him.  But today, I am pretty busy.  Maybe I’ll stop tomorrow or the next day.  That’s what I’ll do.

Feed or Flee

flowers colorful in field

David and Joseph are key characters from the Old Testament of the Bible.  Each of these men played a major role in advancing the kingdom of Israel and continuing the lineage of the Messiah.  For one of these leaders, however, a moral lapse threatened to hinder God’s plan of redemption.

One day, David caught a glimpse of a beautiful woman bathing.  A glimpse turned into a gaze.  And a gaze turned into lustful action.  Although David discovered that the woman was married, he pursued an intimate relationship with her.  David tried to hide the affair and the resulting pregnancy by having her husband killed.

Joseph faced a similar situation, although in his case, he was the one being pursued, being invited into an inappropriate relationship with the wife of Potiphar.  When the married woman tried to seduce Joseph, he fled the room and the temptation.

We can learn a lot about resisting temptation from the examples of David and Joseph.  David chose to feed his temptation, watching Bathsheba bathe and then pursuing her as if she were his own.  Joseph decided to flee his temptation, literally running away from a potential affair with Potiphar’s wife.

Ultimately, our best example comes, not from David or Joseph, but from Jesus.  As the writer of Hebrews states, Jesus was “…tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15, NIV).  Jesus leads us by his example and, more importantly, he forgives us when we fail.

For the Birds

robin

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32, NIV).

God often uses unique experiences to remind us of his care.  Such was the case on a recent stay at my sister-in-law’s house in Nebraska.  Through a downstairs bedroom window, I observed a baby robin that had fallen into the window well.  The well was too deep for the bird to climb out and too narrow for it to gain enough momentum to fly away.  I soon recognized that if the baby robin was going to survive, I would have to rescue it.

I quickly devised a plan to scoop the bird from the window well.  When I stooped down beside it, however, it began to chirp wildly in fear.  Soon, I was bombarded by the baby robin’s family, who, unbeknownst to me, had been watching intently from a nearby tree.

After rescuing the baby robin, I reflected upon my harrowing experience.  The small bird had mistaken my best intentions at saving it for a desire to harm it.  Had the baby robin only known that I was attempting to help, it would not have so vehemently resisted.  Sometimes, we are like that baby robin.  We find ourselves in some sort of predicament, often of our own making, and we resist God’s well-intentioned attempts to rescue us.  We might cry out in fear, hurt, or rebellion, when, all along, God’s desire is to help us.

May we truly recognize that God is for us, not against us, and that he cares for us in a much deeper way than I cared for that baby robin.  May we cry out to him in heartfelt prayer, and may he rescue us from the deepest pit in which we find ourselves.

Rejoice!

sunrise and wheat

“…weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5, NIV).

As I write these words, we are in a difficult time in the history of our world.  The coronavirus pandemic is upon us, causing fear and uncertainty, sickness, even death.  What better time to turn to Scripture and look to God’s promises?

Written thousands of years ago, the message of God’s ever-present goodness is as relevant today as it has ever been.  In the above Psalm, King David writes that “…weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5, NIV).  Isn’t that a great description of the hope we have in our God?

Although the “night” may be long, rejoicing is still coming.  That’s the precedent of God.  Even Jesus experienced the “night” as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he faced arrest, and as he was beaten, broken, and hung on a cross to die.  Still, rejoicing came with the sunrise on that first Easter morning.  Through his resurrection, Jesus proclaimed that even death doesn’t get the final word.  Rather, the final word is one of rejoicing.

I don’t know how long this current pandemic will last, but this is what I do know – rejoicing is coming.  For followers of Jesus, we have the promise that whatever happens in this life, it is only a shadow of the life to come, in Heaven, where rejoicing will be complete.

I want to encourage you today to let this time of darkness be illuminated by the light of Jesus.  He is with you throughout the “night”.  Strive to patiently endure this time, knowing that a new morning is coming.  We have God’s promise of that.  So, rejoice!

When Mountains Fall

waters raging

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46:1-3, NIV).

With these words, the psalmist describes a frightening and almost unimaginable scenario, where the “waters roar and foam”, and the “mountains quake”, tumble, and crash into the sea.  In other words, about everything that can possibly go wrong is happening right before the psalmist’s eyes.  The world is literally turned upside down, as the mountains fall, and the seas rise.  Still, the psalmist remembers that God is his “refuge”, his “strength”, and his “help”, and he makes the conscious decision to not be afraid.  He realizes that, ultimately, God is still in control.

We live in challenging times.  As I write these words, our world is suffering the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.  Life, as we know it, has changed, and it doesn’t seem to be returning to “normal” anytime soon.  Still, God is in control.  And, while we may not understand all his workings, especially when it comes to the presence of suffering in the world, we can still trust and believe in him.

I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words, that “…(nothing can) separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39, NIV).  A pandemic of disease cannot separate us from God’s love.  Neither can our doubts, nor our fears, our pain, nor our questions.  Even our sin cannot separate us from the love and mercy that God shows us in Jesus.

When our world, like mountains, seems to be crashing down around us…  When the seas rise and threaten to overtake us…  When our world and lives are shaken to their core…  God is still in control.  Trust him, and do not be afraid.

Wait, Worship, and Witness

chains

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.  At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose” (Acts 16:25-26, NIV).

No one said that following Jesus would be easy.  In fact, Jesus himself told his disciples, “ ‘…In this world you will have trouble…’ ” (John 16:33, NIV), and that each of them was to “ ‘…take up their cross daily and follow (him)’ ” (Luke 9:23, NIV).  For Paul and Silas, this meant spending the night in prison.  Beaten and bruised, shackled and chained, the two were punished severely for their “crime” of sharing the good news message of Jesus.

Yet, Paul and Silas did something remarkable, even while confined to a dark, damp prison cell.  They worshiped God through prayer and singing, and their very act of worship provided a witness to the other prisoners.  We find out later in Paul and Silas’ story that a guard, entrusted with the task of watching the prisoners came to faith in Jesus, all because of Paul and Silas’ worship and witness.

Have you ever had to wait in less-than-ideal conditions under less-than-ideal circumstances?  Perhaps your “night in prison” refers to your desperate attempt to overcome an addiction.  No matter how hard you try to break the “chains”, you cannot free yourself from the grip they have on you.  Or, maybe your “night in prison” involves a disease or an illness, where you are simply too weak to fight off the ill-effects.  Whatever you find yourself bound to or imprisoned by, you can learn a lot from this story of Paul and Silas.

The way we wait, worship, and witness changes things.  At the very least, it changes us.  Perhaps the chain-breaking, prison cell-shaking, earthquake was merely coincidence.  Or, maybe it was a divine response to the worship and witness of Paul and Silas.  In either regard, let’s use times of waiting as a means to worship.  The world will see our witness and praise God for it!

Trust in God, and…

hand washing

I’m not for sure who initially coined the phrase, but it goes something like this – “Trust in God, and lock your car doors.” This advice tells us that we should trust in God, but that we should still take precautions in life. There’s a bit of a tension here. We are to trust God with every ounce of our being, while, at the same time, understand that we live in a world that is fallen.

In the present light of the coronavirus pandemic, the old phrase, “Trust in God, and lock your car doors” might better be presented as “Trust in God, and wash your hands.” Or, maybe it’s “Trust in God, and stop touching your face.” Whatever advice we choose to convey, the lesson is the same. We are to trust in God, but realize that God wants us to use common sense in how we live and interact with one another.

I would share just one warning – do not let your safety precautions become an idol in your life. Do not look to them for your ultimate safety or security. Jesus is the one who should be lifted up, held high, and looked to for that. Understand this – hand sanitizer never saved anyone from their sins. Hoarding bulk amounts of toilet paper never saved anyone from their sins. Social distancing never saved anyone from their sins. Only Jesus can save us from our sins. Please remember that!

The coronavirus seems to be spreading like sin throughout the world. Still, God is in control. Do not be afraid. We’ll get through this. In the meantime, “Trust in God, and wash your hands.”