Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In the Valley of Trouble, Dig a Well

"Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are the ways of them, who passing through the valley of Baca, make it a well; the rain also fills the pools. They go from strength to strength—every one of them in Zion appeareth before God."
--Psalm 84:5-7 (KJV)

Some time ago, after I'd preached on this verse, my friend, Jim Burmeister, loaned me a casette tape by Jack Hyles on the "The Valley of Baca."

Jack Hyles was snortin', yellin', narrow minded, independant, fundamentalist Baptist preacher. But a few years ago, he went home to glory and his rough edges have been sanded off. He's probably a gentle Wesleyan now.

I wasn't too eager to hear Hyles yell at me, so postponed playing the tape as long as I could.   Then, one day, on a long drive to St. Mary's Hospital in Duluth, I finally gave it a shot.   I was surprised to discover substance beyond the snorting,  Ol' brother Jack actually preached a very good sermon to me -- hollerin' all the way. My heart was blessed.  My soul was challenged.  "Though he is dead, yet shall he speak."

Basically, there were two points:

1. Everybody, sooner or later, has to go through the Valley of Baca.

Baca is the place of weeping -- sickness, sorrow, trouble, loss.

2. When you are in the Valley of Baca, Dig a Well!

Dig a well for those who will follow after you -- those who will experience the same sufferings. Don't just waste your trial -- dig a well to be a source of hope and blessing to others who will follow the same path.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Beautiful Prayer to Begin the Day

"Almighty and everlasting God, who is always more ready to hear than we to pray, and eager to give more than either we desire or deserve; Pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy; forgiving us those things that weigh down our hearts, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.
-- Leo the Great

Monday, April 21, 2014

Just Wait Until Tomorrow

A few years ago, after the last of four exhilarating Easter worship services, I turned to my elder associate, Pastor Ben, and joyfully proclaimed, “Isn’t this fabulous? I can’t imagine it getting any better! Being a pastor is pure joy!”

Pastor Ben grinned wryly and replied, “Just wait until tomorrow.”

Sure enough, Monday was another story. Pastoral counselor, Arch Hart, calls Monday “adrenaline letdown day.” Preaching and teaching pastor, Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, talks about “bread truck Mondays,” when the fantasy of delivering bread is far more appealing than continuing in the pastorate.

That Easter Monday, problems sprang up everywhere. I had to deal with a leadership squabble, a budget challenge, a marriage crisis, and a swarm of other difficulties.

I called Pastor Ben. “This is absolutely horrible! I can’t imagine it getting any worse. Being a pastor is pure torture!” He grinned and replied, “Just wait until tomorrow.”

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Looking for Jesus in the Gravy

A little girls seemed particularly interested in the gravy boat during Easter Dinner.  She examined it carefully stirring slowly -- as if she was searching for something.

"What are you doing honey?" her mother inquired.

"Looking for Jesus."

"Why are you doing that?"

"Because we sang about it in church this morning -- low in the gravy lay Jesus my Savior."

Friday, April 18, 2014

What Did Jesus Mean By "It is Finished"?

“It is finished.”

Those were the words Jesus Christ uttered as he hung, dying, on the cross. “It is finished!” What could he have possibly meant?

Failure Words?

At first glance, one might wonder if these were words of despair – quitting words. “It is finished! It’s a hopeless cause. I’ve failed. I quit.”

It would certainly be understandable if that’s what Jesus meant. Just think: he suffered the greatest injustice in human history. He lived a spotless life, but was sentenced to a traitor’s death.

He came to love – but was hated.
He came to help – but was rejected.
He came to heal – but was broken
He came to forgive – but was despised.
He came to bless – but was cursed. .
He came to bring life – but was brought death

Stepping into darkness and bearing another’s burden is difficult enough. It becomes nearly impossible, however, when the person who needs the help rejects it.

You could hardly blame Jesus if he had meant “I’ve had enough and I give up” when he said “It is finished.”

But that's not what he meant.

No, he didn’t give up on humanity. He didn’t give up at all. Despite the wickedness, hatred and scorn – he “loved them to the last.” He ended up on the cross precisely because he was not willing to give up! He loved them enough to pay the ultimate price. There was no quitting. There was no turning back.

The good news from Good Friday is that Jesus has not given up on you. Regardless of where you’ve been or what you’ve done, the Savior loves you and offers grace and forgiveness.

Fighting Words?

Another way you could interpret the phrase, “It is finished” is to say “I’m fed up! If this is the crummy way you’re going to treat me, then I am through with you.” Again, you could hardly blame Jesus if that’s what he meant.

People often say this when they’ve been hurt and pushed over the edge.

“I have tried and tried to save this marriage – but now it’s over. I’m through with you.”
“Son, I’ve waited up past midnight for you to come home one too many times. Pack you bags. I’m through with you.”
“You have messed up the accounts again. I can’t stand your incompetence. Clear out your office. I’m through with you.”

They treated Jesus in the most horrible way you can imagine. The worst suffering and disgrace you’ve ever faced pales in comparison to what Jesus endured. It would only be normal to fight against it and say “I’m through with you!!”

But that's not what he meant.

No, Jesus wasn’t at war with them. When he spoke about those who were committing such atrocity against him he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”

These were not fighting words They were reconciling words: words of peace and release.

Faith Words

When Jesus said “It is Finished”, he was not saying failure or fighting words. Instead he was speaking words of faith. He had done the job he came to do. He had completed his purpose.

Just like a construction worker who completes a bridge and says, “It’s finished.” That’s what Jesus was saying.

I have opened up the bridge – over the mighty gulf of sin and evil – to a right relationship with God. The work is finished.
I have opened up a way – a road to eternal life for whoever has faith and believes. (John 3:16) It is finished.
I have opened up the door – to life beyond death. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” It is finished.
I have opened up a new life for you. You can live in freedom and forgiveness.

It is finished!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

By Any Means

Since I read mysteries and action/adventure novels for fun, I was delighted recently to land a free preview copy of Chris Culver's new book, By Any Means via Net Galley.

Chris Culver, a masterful storyteller, did not disappoint.  He grabbed my attention by the opening lines and kept me burning the midnight oil to see what would happen next.

While investigating a double homocide, Ash Rashid, an unconventional police officer in Indianapolis, finds himself embroiled in controversy and danger as he uncovers an international human trafficking ring.   

A "make it up as you go" kind of fellow, Ash repeatedly runs into difficulties with his superiors who are more concerned with following protocol than catching the bad guys. 

A Muslim, Ash is observing Ramadan during the entire story.  I found the descriptions of this observance fascinating, as it is something unfamilar to me.

I appreciate how the author portrays Ash's inner struggles:  conflicts between demands at work and duties at home as well as a battle with alcoholism.

This is a very good read, full of twists and turns, reminding me somewhat of Michael Connelly (The Lincoln Laywer) and James Patterson (Alex Cross.)

The book will be available August 2014.


Praying the Seven Last Words of Christ

It is significant that Jesus prayed from the cross. Here he was, experiencing the worst torture a human being can endure, and through it all – he prayed.

 Most of us, in that moment of anguish, would succumb to the suffering, and our prayers would be diminished to one word: “Help!” Looking back upon the worst moments of my life, I’d have to say “Help!” is the most sincere prayer I’ve ever uttered.

 Yet, Jesus went beyond a prayer for help at Golgotha. His prayers from the cross reveal the intensity of his pain – yet, a deep love pouring from his heart. Instead of being consumed with himself, he turned his focus to God and others.

 The old adage states, “We all have our cross to bear.” In our moments of anguish, we can look to Jesus, and see how he responded in his darkest valley. A review of Good Friday events shows that Jesus did three things:

1) He pressed into prayer.
2) He poured out love.
3) He surrendered all to God.

 What an example for us! In deep sorrow and suffering, we, too, can press into prayer, pour out love, and surrender all to God.

 The prayers of Christ from the cross serve as an excellent model for our praying during this holy week:

 1) Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)

 Are you holding bitterness and resentment in your heart? Who has wronged you? Are you struggling to forgive? If you can’t bring yourself to forgive them, ask God to do the forgiving for you. Forgiveness is for our own benefit. Carrying resentment is like swallowing poison and hoping the other person will die.

 2) Today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)

Who is lost, broken and hurting? Pray for those who are suffering from their own decisions. Rather than judge them, love them. Remember we all need grace, and our past mistakes do not necessariy dictate our future. Focus on the life beyond this life, and how God’s love draws us to where we need to be. Trust those who are wandering to God’s care.

3) Behold your mother. (John 19:26-27)

Are you so consumed with your own pain that you are neglecting those closest you? What do your dearest loved ones need from you? Do you know how they’re doing? Pray for them. Love them deeply. Show them your concern.

4) My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mat. 27:46, Mark 15:34)

Admit your deep despair and loneliness. Where and when do you feel rejected and forsaken? This prayer comes from Psalm 22. Remind yourself that Psalm 23 follows immediately. We are never alone. In the darkest valley, God is with us.

5) I thirst. (John 19:28)

What is your deep seated thirst? What do you think you need to survive? Thirst for praise? Thirst for acceptance? Thirst for significance? Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

6) It is Finished. (John 19:30)

What needs finishing in your life? What have you begun, but not completed? What is God’s calling for you – his unique mission? Are you following it? If not, what stands in the way? What parts of you are still “under construction?” Be patient with others, they are still under construction too. “Be patient with me. God is not finished with me yet.”

7) Into your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke 23:46)

What do you need to release into God’s hands? Have you been trying to control outcomes and other people? Let them go. Release them into the hands of your loving father. Are you concerned about your future? Your past? Are you confused about your present situation? Are you struggling emotionally? Spiritually? Relationally? Physically? Surrender all to God.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Beneath the Snow, Flowers Grow

Black and white winter tends to chill us to the bone. Summer joys lie torpid in thick ice. Hopes hybernating.

Frozen in distant memory banks, spring flowers lie far beneath.
One wonders whether May will show her lovely face again.

But she will! She will! She always does!

Every spring, she springs, and sings, and brings new life.

The multi-colored days, pinioned by the bitter greys, will soon burst forth in light,

Winter is only temporary.  Beneath the snow, flowers grow.