Posts tagged ‘God’

The Beauty of Simplicity

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In our complicated world and time, simplicity can be a blessing.

When the prophet Isaiah is preaching, the people of Israel accuse him of insulting them with his simple teaching. They scoff at him and ask:

Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast? For it is: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there. (Isaiah 28:9-10)

The people of Israel accuse Isaiah of trying to teach them the ABCs and 123s of theology when they fancy themselves to be graduate-level students. They are not dopey youths; they are highly educated and enlightened adults. So, they scoff at Isaiah.

What they do not perceive is that it is not merely Isaiah who is trying to teach Israel the basics. It is God Himself. But since they will not listen to Isaiah, God will use foreign invaders to get through to His people. These invaders will conquer Israel and carry them off into exile until they learn to listen to God. Isaiah warns:

Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people. The word of the LORD to them will become: Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there. (Isaiah 28:11, 13)

As we read the rest of Isaiah, we quickly learn that the Israelites were not heeding God’s most basic commandments. They were worshiping idols, plundering the poor, and abusing the vulnerable. The Israelites did not need a graduate-level course in theology, even though that’s what they demanded. Instead, they needed to obey what they already knew to do.

As we enter into a new year, Isaiah’s message of simplicity presents us with a question: what simple things are we overlooking in our lives to which we need to attend? Have our hands become stingy or our words become prideful or our thoughts become lustful or our relationships become callous or our prayers become rote or our hearts become cold? To us, Isaiah would also say: “Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there.” A little attention here and a little attention there to even the most elementary matters in our lives can go a long way.

Often, a new year is an opportunity to set lofty goals and make grandiose resolutions. If you have such a goal or resolution, I certainly don’t want to dissuade you, but I do want to invite you, along with whatever big project you plan to tackle this year, to continue to consider the smaller and simpler things in life that need your attention and affection. Attention to small things can make a big difference. So, begin with those. And remember: those small things are gifts from a big God.

January 3, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The True Transfiguration Tabernacle

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If you look closely, you’ll begin to notice that the story of Christmas isn’t found only in Jesus’ birth, but all over His life.

In Mark 9, Jesus takes His three closest disciples – Peter, James, and John – up a mountain for a “spiritual retreat” of sorts. But while they are enjoying and reflecting on the sight of Israel from the summit, Jesus is transfigured:

His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. (Mark 9:3-4)

This was not a sight for which the disciples were prepared. But they knew they were in the midst of a transcendent moment. Peter responds in a way that, though it might sound strange to us – would have seemed perfectly logical and appropriate to him:

Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah. (Mark 9:5)

Peter sees Jesus with Israel’s greatest lawgiver – Moses – and Israel’s greatest prophet – Elijah – and his response is to suggest a building project. What is Peter thinking?

The word translated as “shelters” is, in Greek, skene, which refers to a “tent.” The most famous skene in Israel’s history is introduced in Exodus 25 and 26 when God gives Moses instructions to build the tabernacle, which was the tent in which God dwelled. The tabernacle cast a long shadow over Israel’s history, especially when coupled with a mountain, because the pattern for the tabernacle came from God when He spoke to Moses from a mountain (Exodus 26:30) and this tabernacle eventually gave way to a more permanent structure in a temple, which was built on a mountain (Isaiah 2:3).

So, when Peter suggests building skenes for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah on a mountain, he senses he is part of a divine encounter just like Moses was. And when the divine shows up, tabernacles are in order.

But what Peter suggests never comes to pass. Instead:

A cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. (Mark 9:7-8)

It turns out that tabernacles were not needed for this divine encounter because there was already a tabernacle there.

And it’s this that takes us to Christmas.

In John’s version of the Christmas story, he speaks of Jesus as the divine Word, and says: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14). The Greek word behind the phrase “made His dwelling” is skene. When Christ was born, He was God’s tabernacle – His dwelling place – among us. Peter didn’t need to build some tabernacles on that mountain because Jesus was the tabernacle on that mountain.

The promise of this season is that God does not remain aloof from His creation or creatures. He comes to us. He sends the man, who as Matthew’s account of the Christmas story reminds us, is “Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23). Of the many promises this season provides, perhaps the most precious is this:

We are never alone, for God has sent a tabernacle in Jesus.

December 6, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Preemptive Thankfulness

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It has become a tradition on this blog during Thanksgiving week to take a moment to reflect on a Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation. Thanksgiving is a holiday birthed by our history and in our land and, each year, the president issues a proclamation meant to focus our attention on all the reasons we have to be grateful.

This year, I’d like to take a moment to remember a Thanksgiving Proclamation that was issued after Thanksgiving on December 26, 1941 by President Franklin Roosevelt. He had issued a more traditional Thanksgiving Proclamation on November 8 of that same year, but then, in light of the vicious December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor that lurched us into World War II, President Roosevelt felt the need to issue a second Thanksgiving Proclamation. It read thusly:

It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord.” Across the uncertain ways of space and time our hearts echo those words, for the days are with us again when, at the gathering of the harvest, we solemnly express our dependence upon Almighty God. The final months of this year, now almost spent, find our Republic and the nations joined with it waging a battle on many fronts for the preservation of liberty. In giving thanks for the greatest harvest in the history of our nation, we who plant and reap can well resolve that in the year to come we will do all in our power to pass that milestone; for by our labors in the fields we can share some part of the sacrifice with our brothers and sons who wear the uniform of the United States. It is fitting that we recall now the reverent words of George Washington, “Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection,” and that every American in his own way lift his voice to heaven. I recommend that all of us bear in mind this great Psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me I the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Inspired with faith and courage by these words, let us turn again to the work that confronts us in this time of national emergency: in the Armed Services and the Merchant Marine; in factories and offices; on farms and in the mines; on highways, railways and airways; in other places of public service to the nation; and in our homes. Now, therefore, I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, do hereby invite the attention of the people to the joint resolution of Congress approved December 26, 1941, which designates the fourth Thursday in November of each year as Thanksgiving Day and I request that both Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1942, and New Year’s Day, January 1, 1943, be observed in prayer, publicly and privately.

Shortly after Thanksgiving Day 1941 and what was at that point the worst attack on American soil in its history, President Roosevelt issued a proclamation already looking forward to Thanksgiving Day 1942 – nearly a year in advance.

Such a proclamation might, at first, seem tone-deaf. After all, who feels thankful when mourning so much loss, as Americans were after Pearl Harbor? Such a proclamation might also feel premature. After all, by the time Thanksgiving Day 1942 rolled around, wouldn’t the president’s proclamation from the close of 1941 have been long since forgotten? But, despite such concerns, this proclamation was needed.

Gratitude is needed most when history does its worst. For it is at these moments that gratitude focuses us – not so much on what we do or do not have, but on the One to whom we are called to be thankful. Gratitude needs an object. And, as President Roosevelt reminds us in his declaration, the object of our gratitude is rightly God.

It is no secret that 2021 has been a trying year. A pandemic has worn on longer than any of us desired or expected. Political, social, and cultural unrest, upheaval, and distrust have run rampant. And our economic future feels uncertain. How should we respond to times like these? Let’s take a page from President Roosevelt’s book and be preemptively thankful. Thankfulness is not a product of our circumstances, but an orientation of our hearts toward the One who receives our thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving.

November 22, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Permitting and Preventing Suffering

Credit: Job and His Friends by Ilya Repin (1869)

Last week on this blog, I referenced Job and his yearning for resurrection after all the suffering he had experienced. Resurrection to new life after and apart from all the trials and pain we encounter in this life is our ultimate hope. But in the meantime, we still need strength to endure the trials and pain we encounter in this life.

At the beginning of Job’s story, Satan accuses this righteous man before God of only living for God because of what he gets from God:

Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out Your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face. (Job 1:9-11)

In response, God, instead of striking Job, leaves it to Satan, but adds one critical caveat:

Everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger. (Job 1:12)

God sets up a tension with these words. At the same time He permits suffering, He also prevents suffering. Later, when Satan wants to kill Job, God responds:

He is in your hands; but you must spare his life. (Job 2:6)

Again, God permits suffering while also preventing suffering – the ending of Job’s life.

When we suffer, this tension can give us tenacity. While we may remain confused as to why God permits some suffering, we can also rest assured that God is also preventing some suffering. The trouble we have when God prevents suffering is that we don’t know that God has prevented it because we never had to endure it. But even if we cannot immediately know or see when God has prevented suffering, we can be thankful that God does, in fact, prevent suffering. He has told us He does in Job’s story.

It is tempting for us to complain and even curse God when He permits suffering. But as with Job, when God permits suffering, He also has a purpose in suffering. In Job’s case, when he refuses to curse God amid his pain, Satan is proven wrong. His accusation against Job – that Job loves God only because of what God has given him – goes down in defeat. Thus, the suffering that Satan brings on Job is the same suffering that defeats his accusation against Job. So it is with Christ. The suffering that Satan delighted in when Jesus was in agony on a cross is the same suffering that defeated him – along with sin and death – when Christ died on the cross.

May we, in our suffering, pray for God’s purpose when God permits it and give thanks to God when He prevents it. He really does know what He’s doing.

November 15, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

When the Heavens Open

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The prophet Isaiah requests of the Lord:

Oh, that You would tear open the heavens and come down. (Isaiah 64:1)

As Isaiah makes his request, he is remembering when God met with Moses on Mount Sinai, giving him His law, and the mountain trembled in fire and smoke:

When You did awesome things that we did not expect, You came down, and the mountains trembled before You. (Isaiah 64:3)

Though the people trembled when God gave His law, they did not obey His law, and so God has hidden Himself from people:

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on Your name or strives to lay hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and have given us over to our sins. (Isaiah 64:6-7)

Because of Israel’s sin, rather than rending open the heavens and coming down, God has closed up the heavens and gone home. So, Isaiah ruefully asks:

How then can we be saved? (Isaiah 64:5)

Around 730 years after Isaiah mourns God’s hiddenness in heaven, the Gospel writer Mark records:

Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)

In Christ, the heavens are torn open once again as God returns to His people once again. But that is not all that is torn.

When Christ dies on a cross, Mark recounts this scene:

The curtain of the temple was torn open in two from top to bottom. (Mark 15:38)

The curtain in question is the curtain that guarded the Holy of Holies – the place where the ancient Israelites believed God dwelled. When Christ died, it was torn open so God’s inner sanctum could be seen by all and any.

It turns out that God does eventually answer Isaiah’s prayer. But He answers the prophet’s prayer in a greater way than he could have ever imagined. Not only does God tear open the heavens and come down, as is revealed when Jesus is baptized, He also tears open the curtain to His own inner sanctum so that we may go in, as is revealed at Jesus’ death. Because of the cross, we can walk right into the place of salvation.

The heavens that once separated us and God separate us no more. God is with us – and, one day, we will be with Him.

October 25, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Meeting With God

Jacob's Ladder, Bible, Line Art, Landscape, Biblical
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There is an interesting line in Galatians about how Moses received God’s law:

The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. (Galatians 3:19)

When God gave the law to Moses, He mediated it through angels.

Angels regularly serve as mediators between God and people. When God has a message to deliver to a young maiden named Mary about how she will bear God’s Son, He delivers it through an angel. When God wants to notify her husband-to-be that the son in his fiancé is miraculously conceived, He sends an angel to deliver the news. When God wants to take the apostle John on a tour of heaven, He does so using an angel.

In Genesis 28, Jacob is at a low point in his life. He has become a fugitive from his home and family because he stole the family inheritance that rightly belonged to his older brother, who, when he found out, vowed to make Jacob pay with his life.

One night, while Jacob is camping out in the middle of nowhere, he has a dream:

He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. (Genesis 28:12)

As theologian Richard Bauckham points out, the stairway Jacob sees is probably climbing the side of a ziggurat, which was a tower commonly built in ancient Mesopotamia that was meant to “touch heaven,” as it were, so that the peoples of that day could ascend it and meet with their gods.

But Jacob’s dream comes with a twist. As in so many other dreams and visions, there are these angels, who one assumes are there to mediate Jacob’s meeting with God as he climbs the stairway on the ziggurat. But this dream is different:

There beside him stood the LORD, and He said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.” (Genesis 28:13)

In Jacob’s dream, God is not at the top of the ziggurat, waiting for angels to mediate his meeting with Jacob. Instead, He has come to the bottom of the ziggurat – to where Jacob is – to stand “beside him” and to meet with him directly.

When Jacob realizes what has happened, he declares:

“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16-17)

It turns out that Jacob is only partially correct in his analysis of what has happened. Jacob believes the Lord was “in this place” – the place where Jacob happened to be sleeping that night. He perceives his meeting with God as a chance encounter. He just happened to stumble across the place where God was.

But this is not what God tells Jacob when He speaks to him in his dream. He does not tell him that He dwells in a place, but instead that He desires to dwell with His people:

“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.” (Genesis 28:15)

God has not bound Himself to a map, but to mortals. This is why when God wanted to demonstrate His presence most fully, He came to mortals in a mortal who brought immortality by His resurrection.

God is with us. We don’t need to climb a ziggurat or wait for an angel to meet with Him. For we have met God directly in His Son. What Jacob got a glimpse of, we have received the fullness of.

August 30, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Shadow-Side of Freedom

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Last week, the latch on our backdoor handle got stuck. After working it loose, I discovered that the whole handle was worn out and needed to be replaced. I groaned inwardly because I am not known for being handy. To put it mildly, I am “home improvement compromised.” But, after trudging to Lowe’s to purchase a new handle, I scoured YouTube and found a guy with a thick southern accent who walked me through the process of replacing a door handle step-by-step. Everything was replaced, rekeyed, and ready to go within a few minutes. And I was more than a little thankful for the YouTube handyman who was wiser to the ways of door handles than I was.

In a famous 1946 lecture, existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre quipped:

Man cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself. He discovers forthwith, that he is without excuse.

Sartre argues that when it comes to living, you just have to “figure it out.” He goes on to tell the story of a young man, who was once a student of his, who struggled to decide whether to stay and care for his mother in Paris or join the Free French Forces and fight the Nazis. Sartre asks of this young man’s moral dilemma:

What could help him to choose? Could the Christian doctrine? No. Christian doctrine says: Act with charity, love your neighbor, deny yourself for others, choose the way which is hardest, and so forth. But which is the harder road? To whom does one owe the more brotherly love, the patriot or the mother?

If values are uncertain, if they are still too abstract to determine the particular, concrete case under consideration, nothing remains but to trust in our instincts.

According to Sartre, this young man was just going to have to “figure it out.”

Sartre concludes his lecture:

Life is nothing until it is lived; but it is yours to make sense of, and the value of it is nothing else but the sense that you choose.

Sartre’s lecture, at first glance, carries with a lucrative offer of freedom. There is no higher authority of power, he argues, to which you can appeal to make life’s decisions than yourself. You can choose for yourself by looking to yourself. But, as my door handle experience reminded me, there are times where looking to yourself is not freeing, but frightening. Sartre admits as much when he says:

Man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything he does.

Too much freedom, it turns out, can feel like condemnation because, as initially nice as it may be to jettison a higher authority who looks over your shoulder and tells you what to do, you are still not truly free in one very important way – you are not free not to choose. You must choose something and then live with the consequences of your choice, no matter how awful. Everything rests on you, and you just have to “figure it out.”

The promise of Christianity is not that it removes or avoids all human responsibility and choice. There are plenty of calls in the pages of Scripture for humans to live morally and to choose wisely. But all of this human responsibility is placed inside a larger story of divine sovereignty. God is ultimately in control, offering guidance so that we may make righteous decisions and offering forgiveness for all the times we do not. We are not left merely to our own devices to “figure it out.”

One of the implicit criticisms Sartre levels against Christianity is in the story of his young student who is trying to decide between remaining in Paris to take care of his mother or joining the Free French Forces to fight the Nazis. Sartre explains that divine guidance will do this man no good because there is no divine guidance to tell this man what to do:

What could help him to choose? Could the Christian doctrine? No. Christian doctrine says: Act with charity, love your neighbor, deny yourself for others, choose the way which is hardest, and so forth. But which is the harder road? To whom does one owe the more brotherly love, the patriot or the mother?

But Sartre misses something in his characterization of God’s guidance. The young man in Sartre’s story faces two choices that could be considered moral. But just because there is no divine command that will make this young man’s particular decision for him does not mean that there is no sovereign help.

The Psalmist says:

The LORD is with me; He is my helper. (Psalm 118:7)

A lack of specific guidance from God about a specific decision does not mean that there is a lack of the presence of God through every decision. God will be with us – in our best decisions and our worst – with a freedom that removes burdens instead of one that creates them. For even when we don’t know what to do, He will help us through, and He will work things out, even when things – or when we – go astray. We don’t just have to “figure it out.” Instead, we can trust in Him.

March 8, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Texas Snowstorm

That was interesting.

I’ve lived in the Lonestar State since the mid-90s and I’ve never seen anything even close to what Texas just experienced. The snow in San Antonio – where I live – was beautiful. The power outages, frozen pipes, icy streets, and water pump failures that followed were not. An arctic air mass pushed way south and brought Texas record-shattering low temperatures that, in many areas, dipped into the single digits. The rock bottom temperatures managed to freeze out coal and gas power plants, a nuclear power plant, and a host of west Texas windmills, which forced the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the power for the state, to quickly ration power in order to prevent a catastrophic blackout that could have stretched on for months. Everyone who was not part of a grid that provided power to critical services like hospitals was left in the dark – and in the cold.

A natural disaster like this is certainly perspective-shifting. On the one hand, this kind of weather, and the havoc it brings, can make you feel powerless. Human ingenuity can constrain – but it cannot restrain – the effects of the natural world. On the other hand, a disaster like this can remind you of the things for which you should be thankful, but that you also usually overlook. Reliable power. Running water. Climate control. You don’t notice these things until you don’t have them.

Of course, a time like this can bring out the best in people. Neighbors did help neighbors. People who had power opened their homes to those who did not. The long line I waited in to buy groceries at a dark H-E-B that had only enough generator power to operate a few checkout lines was full of generally chipper and friendly people who were thankful that the chain was doing everything it could to provide Texans with the staples they needed.

In Acts 27, the apostle Paul is sailing for Rome when he encounters a massive storm. For fourteen days, Paul and the crew on the ship hang on for dear life. They finally wash ashore on the island of Malta, where they encounter some friendly residents:

The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. (Acts 28:2)

I’ve come to appreciate a good fire when it’s cold.

But just when it looks like Paul’s luck is finally changing, tragedy strikes again:

Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. (Acts 28:3-6)

Of course, Paul is neither a murderer nor a god. But he does serve the one, true God – the God who saw him through this terrible storm. And this is what Christians still believe – that for every crisis, every storm, and every difficulty, there is a God who sees us through. And even though He doesn’t protect us from every tragedy, He is present with us through every tragedy.

As Texas’s power grid continues to stumble back online, there will be changes to the grid that will need to be made, officials who will need to be held accountable, heroes who will need to be thanked, and people who will need our help. But through it all, we can be thankful that the God who made the world – and us – cares for us. This is why He sent the One the prophet Malachi called “the sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2) – Jesus Christ – to us.

The “sun” sounds awfully nice right now.

February 22, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Practicing Contentment in 2021

File:The Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah 498. Moses finishes building the tabernacle. Exodus cap 40 v 33. Mortier.jpg
Moses finishes building the tabernacle
Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible Illustrations

As the Israelites wind their way through the wilderness on a trek to the Promised Land, they construct a tent of meeting. This is the place where Moses goes to meet directly with God. The tent is quite elaborate, containing yarns, fine linen, gold, silver, and bronze. Because a project of this magnitude is costly, Moses begins the project with a capital campaign of sorts where:

Everyone who was willing and whose heart moved them came and brought an offering to the LORD for the work on the tent of meeting. (Exodus 35:21)

By all accounts, the capital campaign proves to be wildly successful – so much so that they wind up raising far more than they need for the completion of the tent of meeting. As the workers are assembling the tent from what has been brought, they say to Moses:

“The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the LORD commanded to be done.” Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work. (Exodus 36:5-7)

The workers receive a windfall of gifts for their work on the tent of meeting. But what is really important is this: they recognize the windfall. They know they have more than enough.

It’s hard to recognize a windfall. We are too easily tempted, no matter how much we have, to always want more – and to believe we don’t yet have quite enough.

In Luke 3, John the Baptist preaches about the impending judgment of God. In response, the listening crowd asks:

“What should we do then?”John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:11-14)

To avoid God’s judgment, John calls the people to be content with what they have and not hoard more than they need.

As we head into 2021, a good resolution to make might be this:

I will practice contentment.

After all, as we reflect on 2020, it can be tempting to focus on all the things we didn’t get:

I didn’t get a raise because my company is struggling financially.

I didn’t get to keep my job because I got caught in a round of layoffs.

I didn’t get to spend time with my family over the holidays because of social distancing.

I didn’t get to go out to eat or go much of anywhere at all because so many places were closed.

I didn’t get more time with my loved one because COVID-19 took them.

All these things may be true – and some of them are downright devastating – but they’re still incomplete. Because at the same time there is much we are lacking, there is much we still have:

I still have a job even if I didn’t get the raise.

I still have the wherewithal to look for a job even if I lost my old one.

I still can see my family on Facetime even if I can’t be with them in person.

I still can order food in even if I can’t go out.

I still have loved ones who are with me and God now has a loved one who is with Him.

Statements of loss, with some practice, can turn into reflections of contentment.

No matter what this year may bring, of this much we can be sure: God will provide. And, more than likely, He will provide more than enough. Perhaps we should take some time to recognize that we might just be sitting on a windfall.

January 4, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

“Let us” vs. “I will”

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Tower of Babel (Vienna) - Google Art Project - edited.jpg
The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel (c. 1563) / Wikipedia

Human arrogance is nothing new. It’s as old as sin itself. Adam and Eve, after all, were tempted into sin by a delusion of grandeur – if they broke a command of God, they could “be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

Another early instance of human arrogance comes in the form of an infamous building project:

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:1-4)

The arrogance of humanity in this project can be summed up in two words:

“Let us.”

“Let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly,” they say. “Let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves,” they plan. They believe that there is nothing they can’t do. They don’t need God when they have a “Let us.”

When God discovers the people’s plot, He stops them by confusing their language so they can no longer communicate with each other, which is why we now call this building project “Babel – because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world” (Genesis 11:9). But God does not merely judge these people by confusing their communication. He does something else. He does something more. He tries something better.

In the very next chapter of Genesis, God calls a man named Abraham and says to him:

Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:1-3)

God is not only promising to bless Abraham here, He is also working to undo the calamity of Babel by responding to humanity’s arrogant “Let us” with two words of His own:

“I will.”

“I will give you a new land,” God explains. “I will make you into a great nation,” God declares.

On the one hand, the words “I will” can trouble us, because what God will do always outdoes and overcomes what we might want to do. On the other hand, these words of God are a great promise for us. They remind us that our accomplishments, our worth, and our lives are not in our hands. We do not live by what we do. We live because of what God has done – and will do – for us.

At a time like this, the temptation to say “Let us” can become overwhelming. “Let us get a raise so we can live more comfortably.” “Let us airbrush our lives on social media so we can present ourselves perfectly.” “Let us win this presidential election so we can beat our opponents into submission politically.” What we need most at a moment like this, however, is not another “Let us.” We need God’s “I will.” “I will provide for you.” “I will grant you My perfect righteousness.” “I will be your perfect king and your loving heavenly Father.” His “I will” always works better than our “Let us.”

The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

October 26, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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