Say Something

First it was Buffalo. Then, last week, Uvalde. In total, 31 people lost their lives. The pictures, stories, and stunted potential of so many precious people is heart-rending.

Again and again, we ask: Why can’t we stop this? And again and again, we discover all sorts of signs were there that deadly trouble was brewing. Law enforcement referred the Buffalo shooter for psychiatric evaluation because of his macabre musings. Days before the Uvalde shooter commenced with his massacre, he sent disturbing social media messages to random teenage girls in Germany and California. So, we ask again and again: If the signs were there, why didn’t someone intervene?

When Eve falls to the twisted temptations of a talking snake to eat some divinely forbidden fruit, not only does she partake, “she also gives some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6). Adam was with Eve the whole time she was conversing with a snake, which, in and of itself should have been a signal to him that something was drastically amiss, but he didn’t say anything. The warning signs were there, but Adam never intervened. And the result was death as sin came into the world.

At the heart of the Christian message are people who saw something – and said something. As one of Jesus’ followers, Peter, explains:

We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Because these first followers of Jesus said something, the world was changed – and lives were, for eternity, saved.

As debates continue to rage over the police response in Uvalde and over how to address and prevent these mass shootings more generally on the local, state, and national levels, on a personal level, if we see something, we need to say something. And we need to remind others to do the same. What we say might just be what saves a life – or many lives.

For those who are grieving because they have lost loved ones in these depraved shootings, here is a promise: the God who sees them and loves them will say something. And what He says will be life-restoring:

Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. (Ephesians 5:15)

The losses we have endured are unspeakably evil, but they do not have the last word. This is the last word: Christ is risen – and so will they.

May 30, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Water and New Life

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When God is first ordering creation, He begins with a formless, watery blob:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:2)

But the watery blob does not last long. He separates the waters up above from the waters down below, and He separates the waters below into land and water:

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” … And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:6-8)

The separation of these waters eventually sets the stage for God to give life to human beings:

God said, “Let Us make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

When God rescues the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt, they quickly find themselves backed up against the banks of the Red Sea, being pursued by the full force of the Egyptian army, and being terrified at the prospect of their impending slaughter:

“Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:11-12)

But then God steps in and redoes what He did at creation – He separates the waters of the Red Sea and forms dry land:

The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (Exodus 14:21-22)

The separation of these waters sets the stage for God to rescue His people and give them a new life.

Over the past few months at the church where I serve, I have been privileged to witness and be a part of many baptisms. In baptism, God does once again what He did at creation and at the Red Sea. Waters are separated by pouring or dipping, and the separation of these waters is the stage on which God promises to give people life – new life as His children:

We were therefore buried with Christ through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4)

With water, God not only creates, He recreates. And He does so intimately – personally – for you. If you have not been baptized, now is your time! If you have been, give thanks to God for His creative work in you. It’s a beautiful gift of His love for you.

May 23, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

What Does God Think of You?

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In Daniel 4, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, loses his mind. In punishment for his pride over his accomplishments as king and his power over his kingdom, God strikes him with a bout of insanity that causes him to believe he is a wild beast:

He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. (Daniel 4:33)

God restores Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity when, instead of reveling in his pride and power, he looks toward heaven and praises his Maker:

I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified Him who lives forever. (Daniel 4:34)

His song of praise to God is particularly notable:

His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)

Nebuchadnezzar’s ad hoc worship song sounds pious, but its theology is a bit off. The Psalmist asks:

LORD, what are human beings that You care for them, mere mortals that You think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow. (Psalm 144:3-4)

The Psalmist admits that, before God, humans are nothing. And yet, he also marvels that God cares for them and thinks of them anyway.

Nebuchadnezzar sings:

All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. (Daniel 4:35)

But this is not how God regards people. He cares for them and thinks of them. In fact, He cared for Nebuchadnezzar so deeply that He personally disciplined him in his pride so he could learn the value of humility. Certainly, being struck by insanity did not feel to Nebuchadnezzar like God regarded him as much of anything. But Nebuchadnezzar was wrong. What felt like abandonment by God was a gift from God to, ultimately, sanctify him.

We, too, are regarded as precious by God. When things turn hurtful or hard, it may not feel that way. It may feel like we are nothing to God, or perhaps like we have been abandoned by God. But even times of trial can be used by God to sanctify us.

The Psalmist is right. God cares for us and is mindful of us – so much so that He sent His one and only Son to us.

May 16, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

No Longer Shut Out

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At the end of the book of Exodus, Moses and Israel have just set up the tabernacle – the place where God dwells. But when Moses tries to enter it to be with God, something unsettling happens:

The cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34-35)

Moses cannot enter to meet with God.

The Psalmist asks:

Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in His holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. (Psalm 24:3-4)

The Israelites do not have clean hands or pure hearts. They are recalcitrant and rebellious. As Exodus 32 recounts for us, they have sworn by idols. They cannot stand in the Lord’s holy place because of their sin.

The book of Exodus, then, leaves its reader wondering if God’s people will ever be able to meet with God. Or, has God cut them off because of their sin?

John’s Gospel opens with this description of Jesus:

The Word became flesh and made His tabernacle among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The Israelites were barred from standing in God’s holy place by His glory. Jesus comes to us as God’s holy place and freely shows us His glory. How? By grace and with truth. John 1 is the answer to Exodus 40. Despite our sin, we are not blocked from being with God, because God has chosen to be with us in Christ.

May 9, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Daily Bread

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As inflation continues to wreak havoc and interest rates rise, the future can feel uncertain and even ominous. Before I wrote this blog, I checked my stocks. They were all red. My stocks weren’t the only things that sank. My heart did, too.

And yet, in the midst of uncertain times, we are called to trust God with our resources. In fact, we are called to trust that God will give us all the resources we need. We are called to believe that God will answer our prayer: “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

Jesus’ words from this famous in line in the Lord’s Prayer echo a story from ancient Israel. In Exodus 16, God feeds the Israelites with bread from heaven as they wander through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land:

The LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow My instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” (Exodus 16:4-5)

God provides the Israelites with all the resources they need. But His provision comes with a provisio – they are only to gather what they need for each day. It is daily bread. And on the sixth day, when they are to gather what they need for two days, this is so they might rest on the seventh day.

Unsurprisingly, the Israelites struggle to follow God’s instructions. Some try to gather more than what they need for each day:

Some of them kept part of the bread until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. (Exodus 16:20)

Others, instead of saving bread so they can rest on the seventh day, try to work every day:

Some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. (Exodus 16:27)

The Israelites’ struggles mirror our own struggles. On the one hand, like the Israelites who tried to hoard bread, we can fail to trust God for what we need each day. On the other hand, like the Israelites who failed to sufficiently save bread and tried to work on the seventh day, we can also fail to save for tomorrow so we can enjoy rest one day. Gathering and saving. Working and resting. And, above all, trusting. These are the pillars of stewarding what God has given us.

The Israelites lived in a world where resources could feel scarce. We do, too. But just because resources feel scarce doesn’t mean they are scarce. God still provides. We are called to trust that. We are called to trust Him – even in a time that can feel uncertain.

May 2, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Don’t Destroy Yourself!

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In the book of Exodus, the Pharaoh of Egypt seeks the destruction of the Israelites because they “have become far too numerous for us” (Exodus 1:9), and he is worried that “they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country” (Exodus 1:10). In response, Pharaoh issues an edict: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live” (Exodus 1:22).

It is at this time a Levite woman gives birth to a son and, at first, attempts to hide him so he might not drown in the Nile:

But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. (Exodus 2:3)

This brave mother follows the letter of Pharaoh’s edict to throw her son into the Nile, but with a twist. She places her son into a basket, and then places the basket with her son into the Nile. Famously, this basket boy survives and grows up to become Moses – the one who rescues the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt.

In a showdown with another Pharaoh of Egypt that takes place some 80 years after Moses was first placed into a basket as a baby in the reeds of the Nile, Moses and the Israelites find themselves backed up against a sea called the Sea of Reeds, which we know today as the Red Sea (Exodus 13:18), with Pharaoh and his army coming to destroy them. But just like God protects Moses from the waters of the Nile when he is placed among the reeds, God protects Israel from the waters of the Sea of Reeds by splitting them into two, so the Israelites can pass “through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left” (Exodus 14:23). But when Pharaoh and his army try to pursue them, “the water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen – the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived” (Exodus 14:28).

Pharaoh sought the destruction of the Israelites by declaring that they must be drowned among the reeds of the Nile. But instead, he himself is destroyed by being drowned in the Sea of Reeds. Pharaoh’s berserk desire for destruction only destroyed him.

When we are slighted or hurt by someone, it can be easy for us to wish for – and, perhaps, even work for – their destruction – the destruction of their job, their reputation, or our friendship with them. But our desire for destruction – our desire for vengeance – more often than not, only destroys us. The bitterness and anger we harbor toward someone drowns our souls. This is why Jesus says, “If you hold anything against anyone, forgive them” (Mark 11:25). Jesus does not just say call for forgiveness in an effort to let someone who has upset us or hurt us off the hook. He calls for forgiveness to let us off the hooks of our own dangerous desires for destruction that will, if left unchecked, only destroy us. God doesn’t want our souls to get trapped in a vengeful Sea of Reeds.

So, who is God calling you to forgive today? Remember, forgiveness not only helps someone else; it rescues you.

And you’re worth rescuing.

April 25, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Resurrection Trouble

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Easter is hopeful and scandalous all at the same time. It is scandalous because its message insists that what we think we know about death – that it is inescapable – has been escaped by Jesus. It is hopeful because there is something about death’s demise that strikes in us a chord of longing.

Sadly, the message of Easter – that Christ has risen in space and in time and in His body – has often been reduced to little more than a message about general hope for tomorrow and a slightly more spiritual-sounding non-descript existence after death. But it was not this way in the beginning. As N.T. Wright explains:

Death is the last weapon of the tyrant, and the point of the resurrection, despite much misunderstanding, is that death has been defeated. Resurrection is not the redescription of death; it is its overthrow and, with that, the overthrow of those whose power depends on it. Despite the sneers and slurs of some contemporary scholars, it was those who believed in the bodily resurrection who were burned at the stake and thrown to the lions. Resurrection was never a way of settling down and becoming respectable.

The resurrection caused trouble in that world – and it can still cause trouble in this world.

To the tyrant who murders to secure your power – the resurrection will destroy you.

To the disease that saps and sucks the life out of bodies – the resurrection will undo you.

To the hopelessness and helplessness and grief that can set in when a loved one dies – the resurrection will conquer you.

To the devil himself – the resurrection has already defeated you.

This is what we mean when we declare, “Christ is risen.”

And He has, indeed. Alleluia.   

April 18, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Help Needed

Moses had gotten himself in too deep. As he and the children of Israel were traveling through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, he had not only taken on the role of leader, but of judge:

Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. (Exodus 18:13)

The Israelites were going a bit stir crazy in the wilderness, and they were getting into so many disagreements and disputes with each other that Moses was spending all day trying to arbitrate their altercations. He had time for nothing else.

When Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, comes to visit his son-in-law, he is impressed by what God has done for Israel, but is concerned over what Moses is doing with Israel. He says to Moses:

What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. (Exodus 18:17-18)

Jethro knows that Moses needs help. He cannot judge alone.

Jethro’s words hearken back to God’s words when He saw that the first man He created, Adam, had no one to help him through and with life:

It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. (Genesis 2:18)

So, God created Eve.

In a world where it is noble to be a self-made person and self-sufficiency rules, Jethro reminds us that our limits are blessings. We cannot do it all. We need help. Contrary to our cultural myths of independence and autonomy, it is not good for us to be alone and to try to carry every burden alone.

We don’t always like to hear this, because our limits humble us. Sometimes, we’d prefer to live under a delusion that we are, if not theoretically and theologically, at least functionally omnipotent. But our limits are ultimately meant to bless us. Because they create opportunities for us to form relationships with others who we need – and who need us.

Who do you need to ask for help? The help you ask for may just be the start of a beautiful friendship that you need. And that is good.

April 11, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Thorny Lies

Satan loves to send malicious messages. This was something the apostle Paul struggled with. When writing to the church he planted in Corinth, he admits:

I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. (2 Corinthians 12:7)

Paul struggled with a thorn. Exactly what this “thorn” was, we don’t know. Some people think it was a physical malady like a loss of sight while others conjecture that he battled some spiritual temptation. Whatever it was, Satan used this thorn as his messenger to torment Paul.

Satan does the same thing with us, too. When we struggle with and suffer from life’s thorns, Satan loves to say:

        “This thorn is because God is angry at you for a sin.”

        “This thorn means God does not care for you.”

        “This thorn proves you are unworthy of others’ love.”

        “This thorn will never end. You’ll be miserable forever.”

Have you ever struggled with thoughts that sound something like these? Satan is tormenting you with his malevolent messages.

Do not believe them. Do not believe him.

Paul certainly doesn’t. Because at the same time Satan is seeking to torment Paul with his deceptive messages, God is speaking loving words to Paul:

My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

God responds to Satan’s lies of human worthlessness with the truth of His worthiness, which He gladly and freely shares with us out of His grace. When Satan tells us we are insufficient, God reminds us that His grace is wonderfully sufficient.

Satan may try to speak to us through thorns, but these thorns, instead of destroying us, are taken for us. They’ve all landed on Jesus’ head. And, in exchange, He gives us grace.

Believe that. Believe Him.

April 4, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

“Very Good”

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Creation was never intended to be what it has become. Wars. Disease. Hunger. Refugees. This world has come a long way from what God called “very good” when He first made it (Genesis 1:31).

When Jesus arrived, part of His mission was to restore what God had made “very good” to its intended and original state. This is why Jesus preached peace, healed disease, fed the hungry, and gave a place in His kingdom to the displaced of the world.

The German theologian Jürgen Moltmann captures this mission in Jesus’ ministry well when he writes:

When Jesus expels demons and heals the sick, He is driving out of creation the powers of destruction, and is healing and restoring created beings who are hurt and sick. The lordship of God, to which the healings witness, restores creation to health. Jesus’ healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only truly “natural” thing in a world that is unnatural, demonized, and wounded.

What Jesus does, Moltmann argues, is the work of recreation in a world where the destructive and demonic powers of de-creation are hard at work.

This begs a question: where has your life been de-created? Are you struggling with a sin? Is your body ravaged by illness? Are you mired in depression and despondency? Are you somehow unable to provide for yourself or your family adequately?

At moments like these, we often pray for miracles – acts of power that are supernaturally wrought by God Himself. But perhaps we also ought to pray for Genesis 1:31 to come to pass in our life. Perhaps we should pray that the most natural thing fathomable would come to pass in our lives – that we, and the world around us, would be restored to its God-ordained and God-intended created state – that of “very good.”

March 28, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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