Tell Me What’s Wrong

crying childPsalm 60 is a lament.  Israel’s life in the land was under threat by her neighbors.  The title connects the psalm to a military campaign described in 2 Samuel 8:13-14, a campaign which Israel won in a great victory over Edom.  But this psalm seems to have been written in the midst of that campaign, before the outcome was clear.

O God, you have rejected us,” they cried.  Worse, they said, God had brought a quaking, tearing, and tottering to the land.  As you read on, we very much hear “You have caused us to see things we never should have seen.  And we are staggering.  We have no footing.  We cannot stand.  How could you do this?”  This is the panic of a scared child.

And how does God respond?  Look at vv.6-8.  Not with scorn and derision (“Shut up!  I’m tired of listening to your sniveling!”).  But with a pursuit of their hearts.  In essence, saying, “Shhh…Tell me what’s wrong…Ah, don’t you know of my love and power for you?”

Which is just how God answers His panic-stricken people today.  Now think of the implication of this.  It means we don’t have to have our thoughts completely in order before we come to Him in prayer.  No, we just come to Him in prayer.  And He then begins to put our thoughts in order.  Just as with a scared child and compassionate parent.

That’s good to know.

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Clearing the Air on the Old Testament Law

herodTemple“What is the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament?”

“Does the Mosaic Law have anything to say to the modern Christian?”

“You can’t possibly take Leviticus seriously, can you?”

I’ve heard these questions (and many like them) on no few occasions.  Sometimes by well-meaning but misinformed folks.  Sometimes by ill-meaning and misguided folks.  And almost always in circumstances in which I didn’t have the ability to follow up on the conversation in ways that I would have liked.

I’ve half a mind to reformat this article into a tract, print it out, and have a few ready for the future – http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/making-sense-of-scriptures-inconsistency

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Supplements for the Weary Anxious Heart

providenceI’ve been mulling over some things pertaining to God’s goodness and greatness, His might and mercy, His wisdom and ways.  And my need to be ever steeping in those realities.

Apparently, I’m not alone in this.

Case in point, the lyrics from Matthew Smith’s song, “All Must Be Well” – http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/08/10/all-must-be-well/.   NOTE:  you can listen to the song and read the accompanying lyrics there.

Or, going a few years back (say to 1563), the first question and answer to the Heidelberg Catechism – something of an opening salvo to things necessary in the Christian life.

Q. What is your only comfort
in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own,
but belong—

body and soul,
in life and in death—

to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

 

Just those two sources – one musical, the other creedal – tell me something.  First, there is plenteous need for such reminders.  And, second, there is plenteous supply.

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Serving Jesus (and Others) in Troubling Times

I don’t usually just paste things in from other sources here but today’s piece from the C. S. Lewis Institutes warranted an exception.  See below…

tv remoteIn 1947, C.S. Lewis received a letter from Don Giovanni Calabria, a priest living in Verona, Italy, written in Latin. The priest had read an Italian translation of Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters, and wrote to Lewis in Latin since he did not know English. The letter was the beginning of a series of correspondence between the two men, all in Latin, that would last until the priest’s death in 1954. The letters were later published in an English translation.

In writing to Don Giovanni in the Spring of 1948, Lewis commented on the troubling state of the world at that time, and how to live in light of it:

Everywhere things are troubling and uneasy – wars and rumours of war: perhaps not the final hour but certainly times most evil.

Nevertheless, the Apostle again and again bids us “Rejoice.”

Nature herself bids us to do so, the very face of the earth being now renewed, after its own manner, at the start of Spring.

I believe the men of this age (and among them you Father, and myself) think too much about the state of nations and the situation of the world. . . .

We are not kings, we are not senators. Let us beware lest, while we torture ourselves in vain about the state of Europe, we neglect either Verona or Oxford.

In the poor man who knocks at my door, in my ailing mother, in the young man who seeks my advice, the Lord Himself is present: therefore let us wash His feet.

Today, via the internet and 24-hour cable news, we are continuously confronted with troubling news about the world. While Lewis’s letter was written more than 65 years ago, his words offer timely advice about how to serve Jesus and others today.

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Cutting through It

straight_through_maze_stockmonkeyThere are times one must simply cut through the haze of muddled thinking.  Or have someone help us do it.  C. S. Lewis has long been a guide for me through such fog.  In his sermon, “A Slip of the Tongue” (found in The Weight of Glory and the last one he preached) Lewis said:

For He claims all, because He is love and must bless. He cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, He claims all. There’s no bargaining with Him.

That is, I take it, the meaning of all those sayings that alarm me most. Thomas More said, “If ye make indentures with God how much ye will serve Him, ye shall find ye have signed both of them yourself.” Law, in his terrible, cool voice, said, “Many will be rejected at the last day, not because they have taken time and pains about their salvation, but because they have not taken time and pains enough”; and later, in his richer, Behmenite period, “If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.”

Those are hard words to take. Will it really make no difference whether it was women or patriotism, cocaine or art, whisky or a seat in the Cabinet, money or science? Well, surely no difference that matters. We shall have missed the end for which we are formed and rejected the only thing that satisfies. Does it matter to a man dying in a desert by which choice of route he missed the only well?

No, it doesn’t matter at all.  To die of thirst when the well was at hand is – no matter what other place you vainly sought for water – a tragedy.  And one about which Jesus pleads with us.  As the Lord said in Mark 8:34-36:

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

Which, of course, are really the words that cut through it.

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Let It Snow

20140303_121010Well, I suppose the title gave me away.  I like snow.  I like the look, the feel, the novelty, and the memories it brings.  I like thinking back to the days of yesteryear and the evenings spent on my Radio Flyer tearing up and down ice-packed streets on its wax-slicked runners.  I like remembering the night I joined in with a pack of other hoodlums in our neighborhood and – wanting nothing more than to see our winter joy continue on for a few more blissful days – attacked the poor man driving the snowplow with a barrage of snowballs.  I’m not sure he recalls that evening as fondly as I do.  PARENTAL DISCLAIMER:  The pastor has not lost his mind (not entirely).  I am not advocating the assault of public workers under any circumstances.  Not really.

For those who live in climates where snow falls in abundance each winter, it’s something of a commonplace.  The opposite, of course, is true for us here in “Tuckassee.”  Even more so for the writers of the Bible where snow was (and still is in that part of the world) something rare and had a more exotic and noteworthy feel to it.  I found the insights from The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (InterVarsity Press, 1998) helpful here.  Snow would occasionally fall in Jerusalem, which is situated on a mountain top.  But the sight of snow was usually from a distance, taking on a quality of transcendence (see Psalm 68:14; Jeremiah 18:14).  The rarity of such wintry weather is hinted at in the account of Benaiah, “a valiant man” and a “doer of great deeds” (see 2 Samuel 23:20).  One of his great deeds was to kill a lion in pit “on a day when snow had fallen,” a detail that would indicate the noteworthy nature of such a snowfall.  When the psalmist says that God “gives snow like wool” and “scatters hoarfrost like ashes” (see Psalm 147:16), the point seems to be at least partly that God can control even the mysterious and unknown.   In a climate where snow falls only once every several years and brings understandable hardship for those not prepared for it, snow is also linked to other hostile forces in nature – fire and hail, mist and wind (see Psalm 148:7).  Thus, the resourcefulness of the godly wife described in Psalm 31 is reflected in the fact that “she is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet” (see Proverbs 31:21).  In reminding Job of the mystery and power of His ways, God pointedly asks, “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow…which I have reserved for the time of trouble?” (see Job 38:22-23; 37:6)

But snow is mentioned in other ways in the Bible, especially the figurative.  Leprosy is compared to its whiteness (see Exodus 4:6; Numbers 12:10; 2 Kings 5:27).  There are associations to harsh cold (see Psalm 147:16-17; 148:8; Proverbs 25:13; 31:21) and yet also refreshing coolness (see Proverbs 25:13).  The inevitability of God’s purposes coming to pass is tied to the falling of snow to earth bringing growth to crops (see Isaiah 55:10-11).  And the destruction of the wicked is compared to the sure melting of snow (see Job 24:19).

The most well known image of snow, however, pertains to purity and especially the forgiveness of sins (see Psalm 51:7; Isaiah 1:18).  Indeed, there is also the transcendent brightness of God himself (see Daniel 7:9), the transfiguration (see Mark 9:3), of the angel at the resurrection (see Matthew 28:13), and of Christ standing amidst the lampstands (see Revelation 1:14).

It really shouldn’t surprise us that we would see so many references to natural phenomenon in the Scriptures.  It is, after all, a story of real times and places.  Nor should it surprise us that it lends itself to such rich imagery.  We can learn from this.  The Creator has left His fingerprints on all He has made.  Indeed, we can learn much of the Creator from what He has made.  Which should encourage us to open up our eyes a bit wider.

And pray for snow.

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2014 Book List – Part Three

library_of_congress_readingThe Pastor’s Kid (Barnabas Piper) – I learned of this in an interview with the author, the son of John Piper, on a podcast, Steve Brown, Etc.  While some of what he had to convey was clearly a product of his unique upbringing, the fact is that I married a “PK” and we have three of our own.  And this gave me a bit more insight into their experiences.

The Yearling (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings) – This novel grabbed me at several levels, especially with the love between a boy and his pet and then the loss of our childhood.  It’s a great work of American literature and I’m glad Andrew Peterson introduced me to it through his songs on Light for the Lost Boy.

Understanding the Land of the Bible: A Biblical-Theological Guide (O. Palmer Robertson) – I’ve had this on my shelf for years but picked it up only recently in preparation for a trip to Israel next month.  Robertson creatively gives the reader a guided tour of “the Holy Land” and its physical features.  Part One is an overview of the land and its regions.  Part Two gets into specifics – geographical features, climate and vegetation, towns and cities during successive periods.  Part Three examines the contrasting perspectives on the land as represented through church history.

Shatner Rules: Your Guide to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large (William Shatner) – I’m not sure if the “rules” in the title is meant to be a noun or a verb.  Given the whimsical boasting throughout, it could go either way.  Likely, only fans of Star Trek (or possibly Boston Legal) would spend much time perusing this.  But I was recovering from surgery this past summer and found it to be a suitable diversion on occasion.

The Case for a Creator (Lee Strobel) – Does science rule out the possibility of a Creator?  Or have recent discoveries made the existence of a divine being all the more likely?  Strobel’s talent as a journalist is evident here in the narrative sections that capture conversations with the likes of Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe, William Lane Craig, and J. P. Moreland.  Fairly accessible but somewhat technical in some areas.  That said, it would do the reader well to be well versed in those technical discussions.

When God Weeps:  Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty (Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes) – What’s the difference between permitting something and ordaining it?  When bad things happen, who’s behind them – God or the devil?  Those are serious questions demanding thoughtful answers.  Tada and Estes make for a good team – Tada having spent several decades in a wheelchair and Estes having been her lifelong friend – both biblically grounded and gifted writers.

A Severe Mercy (Sheldon Vanauken) – A deeply moving account of the author’s marriage, the couple’s search for faith, a lasting friendship with C. S. Lewis, and a spiritual journey through loss and pain.  I wasn’t familiar with this work until this fall but would heartily recommend it.

Cold-Case Christianity:  A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of Christianity (J. Warner Wallace) – This is one of those rare cases where I read the book before I ever read or heard the author interviewed.  Think of the claims of the New Testament Gospels as a “cold case”.  That is, events from the distant past for which there is little forensic evidence and no living witnesses.  How might it be considered from the vantage point of a detective skilled in homicide investigations?  An insightful read.

Serious Times (James Emery White) – A 2005 Evangelical Christian Publishing Association Gold Medallion finalist.  How can we make our lives matter?  We must know the times.  And lay hold of the means of grace in the unique times in which we live.  There’s a lot there in those less-than-200-pages.  And worth it.

Well, that’s basically it.  Another eclectic reading list compiled over the course of a twelve month period.  I’d stay and say some more about that but I already have a quite the “to read” list for 2015.  So I’d better grab a book and settle into a chair.

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