Sunday, December 27, 2009

Home For Good

God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I'm not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd's crook makes me feel secure. You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I'm back home in the house of God for the rest of my life. (Psalm 23, The Message)

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Like many veterans of World War II, my father didn't speak extensively about his time in the service. He served in post-victory Tokyo in an administrative role, and I'd reckon that is why we do at least have some stories of his time there, unlike so many other families with fathers who saw hard combat and wished to forget about it. Still, there are some stories that I can recall these many years later.

One story in particular sticks with me, especially since I am writing this post around Christmas time. Dad told of the barracks full of young soldiers, so many barely out of high school, lying on their respective bunks and sobbing into their pillows as the radio played "I'll Be Home For Christmas." It can be an emotional song for anyone, but for young men stuck thousands of miles from home, it is especially so.

But even when we are far from our homes and long to be back with loved ones, we must remember there is a far better, more permanent home waiting for us. The 23rd Psalm, along with so many other passages (like John 14) tells us we are to look for something else at the end of this life ... something that will endure beyond our wildest imagination.

Just over a week ago, our church family lost a dear saint. Hazel (a.k.a. A.D.) was 95 years old. She had lived a full and obedient life to her Savior. And, while her passing was still unexpected and the news came as somewhat of a shock, I couldn't help but think that she had reached what she longed for. And, to top that off, she was home for Christmas! Oh, the sheer joy of an Advent season experienced in direct worship of the One for Whom we lit the candles in the first place. Home for Christmas ... for the very first time, never to experience the aches and pains of this temporary place again.

There is a certain exquisite joy in the way David writes the end of Psalm 23. Of all the sermons and illustrations I've heard given on it, one stands out in particular, especially given the promotion of our beloved A.D. this past week. S.M. Lockridge, in a way only he can bring a passage to life, keys in on the more traditional translated word "dwell" in the last verse. He begins to get fired up about it, saying it doesn't say "tent" or "tabernacle" ... it says DWELL! God has promised guidance, direction, correction, instruction, provision, and protection for us throughout our entire life as we walk with Him. And then comes the big finish. We get to go home for good and dwell in His very presence.

As we celebrated A.D.'s life and mourned our loss, I couldn't escape the rapture of the thought. She's home for Christmas. She's dwelling in the presence of God. All that was temporary, broken, and painful has slipped away like a shadow in noonday sunlight. She is home for good. And as I walk along my own Crooked Path, my pulse quickens and my steps feel just a little lighter. God has a place prepared for me as well, and He will take me home for good at some point. That's an absolute guarantee.

* * * * * * * *
  1. Are you struggling today under the weight of your life and the circumstances around you? Do you find it hard to see past the next steps?
  2. Have you considered what it must be like to finally reach home for good? Are you confident that God is good enough to "get you through" until that time?
  3. Are you in tune with your Father enough that when you are away from Him as you are now, your heart aches like those servicemen in Tokyo? What is at the center of your longing?
The Message – Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Deaf and Blind - All For The Better

"Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see! Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the servant of the LORD? You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing." It pleased the LORD for the sake of his righteousness to make his law great and glorious. But this is a people plundered and looted, all of them trapped in pits or hidden away in prisons. They have become plunder, with no one to rescue them; they have been made loot, with no one to say, "Send them back." Which of you will listen to this or pay close attention in time to come? Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways; they did not obey his law. So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart. (Isaiah 42:18-25, NIV)

* * * * * * * *

God’s prophet Isaiah is carrying a pretty desolate message to Israel. They are condemned as a people without sight and hearing … but they would be better off deaf and blind and committed to the Lord then hearing and seeing with nothing to show for it. God goes so far as to say they have been looted and plundered by others and He will pour out his anger on them. And even then, they won’t listen to Him or seek His face. It’s an odd passage, I know, but I think there is a bigger point to be made here.

I happen to be writing this during the last week of Advent. The fourth candle to be lit (traditionally for the theme of love) still hasn’t burned, but so many are burning their own candles at both ends. We hurry and scrape and claw … and for what? We try to accumulate more “stuff” that we don’t need, and all too often ignore what is going on right in front of our faces. I’m afraid that my sight and hearing aren’t that much clearer than the sight and hearing of Isaiah’s audience. I’m just as guilty of paying too much attention to the wrong things and not enough to the One Reason we will light that final Advent candle. If I’m not careful, I could suffer the same fate as Israel.

I am privileged to know a young song writer by the name of Jess Ray. God has given her some incredible insight and a great passion to make Him known to everyone she meets. She wrote a song that I believe fits this theme well, and is the very reason I chose the title and passage I did for this entry. The song is simply titled That I Might Love You and it speaks of all the disoriented distraction this world offers against a soul’s desire to go intentionally deaf and blind so God’s love can become real. Here are the lyrics:

It calls to me and I so easily listen
To a world that’s quickly, and surely falling to pieces
There’s no foundation, no rock to keep me steady
Just lies and poor melodies, Rising up from here.

So make me deaf that I might hear you
Make me deaf that I might hear you, that I might hear you

They dance for me and I choose to believe
In the images of fiction and the crooked men,
Selling their lies to me, telling me I’m free
But there’s no foundation, No rock to keep me steady
Just false advertising, stealing my eyes away from you.

So make me blind that I might see you
Make me blind that I might see you, that I might see you
So make me deaf that I might hear you
Make me blind that I might see you, that I might love you

It is a plea I want to say with all my heart and mean it. If I do so sincerely, my travels on the Crooked Path will be focused more on God and less on me. He will increase; I will decrease. And that truly is the reason we light the candles on the Advent wreath … so we can reflect on Christ and the Way He alone provides.

* * * * * * * *
  1. What are you hearing these days? Is it drowning out the message God has for you, the one that will truly enrich your life?
  2. What are you seeing these days? Do you find yourself blinded to God because of all the glitz and glitter the world is trying to sell?
  3. Are you willing to risk going deaf and blind to everything and everyone but God so you can focus on Him and find He is the only Love you will ever need?

NIV - Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Seeking a Sign of Joy

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:1-11, NKJV)
* * * * * * * *
Do a quick search on the word “joy” in any version of the Bible, and you will return dozens of references. Almost every passage or verse will note some object or event that either brings out joy or is intended to be an occasion of joy. Among these passages, is the one noted in this entry about the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. To say that particular source of joy has had a profound impact is an understatement.

In ancient times, when men went out to battle, they set up encampments in tents, often in some way or another encircling the command tent. It was the rallying point for orders and leadership. The general (or other commander) gathered there with his closest officers and advisors to plan what the army would or wouldn’t do during the course of an upcoming skirmish. The soldiers would see the flags and banners of their country and other symbols letting them know what was happening.

They would also be searching for a different sign, often with great anticipation. If, above all other flags, they saw the banner of their king, it was a cause for them to take heart and rejoice. Like the Magi, they recognized the banner of their leader and they would rally to him in a fresh way. Their king had taken up residence among them and would lead them personally into the battle.

When I was in college (oh so very long ago), I had the privilege of singing in one of the vesper choirs. Our accompanist was a talented woman who wrote, among other things, Christmas carols. One of these carols spoke of that special star rising up and bringing joy to all who saw it and recognized its significance. If I can recall correctly, the refrain went like this:

The weary men of war rejoice!
Look up, behold, a star.
Rise up, the King of all takes residence
In mortal halls tonight.

I think this captures the joy those Magi must have felt. They had studied the skies, ancient texts, and who knows what manner of sources for one specific purpose. They were looking for the sign indicating the promised Messiah King had arrived. And, when they saw it at long last, they spent the next couple of years following it to Judea. The fact that they stopped to inquire of Herod may indicate that the start “hid” from them for a time, which leads to the climax Matthew notes in this passage. When they came out from Herod, the start shown once again and guided them to their final destination. And that was a cause for great joy.

As I travel the Crooked Path, I need to look diligently for the signs of what God has in store for me. Some will be plain and some may be a bit obscured at times. But the signs will be there. And just like the Magi, I will find a sense of joy in them, because they point me to the only One who is the source of true joy, rest, and gladness. My King has taken up residence with me and the path I walk doesn’t seem so difficult anymore.

* * * * * * * *
  1. What sign are you looking for? Is it a sign that, when you see it, will cause you to rejoice with great joy like the Magi?
  2. If you look toward the center of your life, what banner is flying there? Is it a banner that causes you to take heart and rise up with renewed strength?
  3. Have you, like the Magi, been following a sign only to have it disappear for a season? Has that caused to you re-evaluate what that sign represents? Is it something you truly believe God will bring back and use to point you to Him?

NKJV - Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Lead, Inhabited, and Followed

Awake, awake, clothe yourself in your strength, o Zion; clothe yourself in your beautiful garments, o Jerusalem, the holy city; for the uncircumcised and the unclean will no longer come into you. Shake yourself from the dust, rise up, o captive Jerusalem; loose yourself from the chains around your neck, o captive daughter of Zion. For thus says the LORD, "You were sold for nothing and you will be redeemed without money." For thus says the Lord God, "My people went down at the first into Egypt to reside there; then the Assyrian oppressed them without cause. Now therefore, what do I have here," declares the LORD, "seeing that My people have been taken away without cause?" Again the LORD declares, "Those who rule over them howl, and My name is continually blasphemed all day long. Therefore My people shall know My name; therefore in that day I am the one who is speaking, 'Here I am.'" How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, Who announces salvation, and says to Zion, "Your God reigns!" Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, they shout joyfully together; for they will see with their own eyes when the LORD restores Zion. Break forth, shout joyfully together, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God. Depart, depart, go out from there, touch nothing unclean; go out of the midst of her, purify yourselves, you who carry the vessels of the LORD. But you will not go out in haste, nor will you go as fugitives; for the LORD will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard. (Isaiah 52:1-12, NASB)

* * * * * * * *
When chatting with a good friend the other night, she mentioned a verse that God had impressed on her mind. She quoted the text “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of (her) who brings good news …” and I did a quick search of one of my favorite sites to find the reference. I spent the next few minutes reading the rest of what Isaiah wrote that we have in our Bibles as chapter fifty-two. I was familiar with what Cathy quoted, but the rest of the passage is what made the impression on me.
God is making three distinct promises to His people. He declares Himself faithful and that He will take up their cause and fight for them. His “holy arm” is bared in a show of strength and power. He is not going to let what has gone on (throughout history in Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, etc.) go without notice and without being avenged. He is going to restore Zion and be a comfort.
In restoring Zion, He is promising to dwell with His people once again. While He will go out and fight for them, it is what He will do in providing peace and safety at home that will have the greatest impact. What has been laid to waste will be raised up again and the nation will be made whole as He originally intended. God has spoken and will continue to speak on Israel’s behalf.
Finally, as God leads them out, He also promises to be their “rear guard” as they go forth. He commands them to stop mourning, purify themselves, and go forth in freedom, no longer as bound slaves. God “has their back” and they have no need to fear anymore.
So, how about us today? Do we really experience God leading, inhabiting, and following us? He still does, you know. He is providing in miraculous ways every day, even though it looks just ordinary to us. The God of all Heaven has already sent Jesus to pay the penalty for our sin and redeem us out of bondage. He has gone before us and fought our unwinnable battle. He indwells us in the person of the Holy Spirit, giving us the ultimate sense of peace and joy and communion with Him. He not only leads us, but He follows after us, protecting us from anything or anyone who may try to overtake us from behind and try to destroy us.
As we travel our Crooked Path, we have a God and Savior who is intimately and passionately involved with us! That thought alone ought to make us break out in a joyful song of praise. No, our path isn’t easy all the time. But we do not walk alone … we always have a Leader to follow … and He follows us to pick us up if we stumble as well. I’d say that is news worth spreading.
* * * * * * * *
  1. Are you still looking at your chains, wondering why they seem like they are still locked? Do you feel bound and alone, even though God has declared you free?
  2. What does the concept of having a “rear guard” mean to you? Is it a comforting thought to you knowing that somebody is watching behind you, so you can focus on what is ahead?
  3. Are you ready to go shout out the Good News of a personal Redeemer who is in the business of restoration? Your God reigns … what keeps you from acting like it?

NASB - Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.