But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. Titus 3:4-8 (emphasis mine.)
As a dad with three man-sons, my wife and I have to insist on certain kinds of behavior from them: “Stop jumping on the bed; slow down; wash behind your ears; tell the truth; leave the frog in the pond; say you’re sorry; go to sleep; drink your milk; say your prayers; stop and think . . . ,” all with varying degrees of compliance.
Why do we do that? Continue reading “Next.”
“. . . and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord . . .” 2 Chronicles 5:13
Solomon has just completed the construction of Israel’s first, permanent temple. This passage is one sentence from many that describe the grateful king’s dedication ceremony. As a musician, I notice passages like this, and they stop me in my tracks. In this scene, there were 120 priests participating, each with a trumpet. That’s an impressive ensemble if only for scale, but what stuns me here is not the size of the group but what they were doing: they are playing in unison – all together – same notes, same rhythms, same volume. They are one.
How did they do that? Continue reading “Unison.”
“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” John 13:17
When I was a boy, I had a monthly subscription to the magazine, Sports Afield. It was an awesome magazine, full of colorful pictures of wide-eyed, antlered deer in deep woods, huge bass splashing on a line a foot above the rippled surface of a country pond, profiles of tough men telling dangerous hunting stories. I loved their daring journeys through desolate mountain passes. As I read these articles and saw these pictures, I was transformed into a great hunter/fisherman/outdoor expert. I loved it. Among the courageous, I was one of them. This was my personal catelogue of adventure.
There was just one problem: I didn’t actually do any of it. Continue reading “Vicarious.”
“And Moses said to Korah, ‘Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also?'” Numbers 16:8-10
Too small a thing . . . a group of people among the now-freed slaves of Egypt, the Israelites, had become discontented with their lot in life: it was no longer enough to be singled out among the hundreds of thousands to serve God in the daily work of worship in the tabernacle: they wanted more, and they were going after it.
What do you do when you are discontent and want more from life than you have? Continue reading “Too small.”
“. . . always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 3:7
Remember the last day of school when you were growing up?
Etched in my mind are wonderful memories of textbooks stacked on tables, empty spaces on classroom walls where posters and signs from the year had been removed and stored for the next group of young minds, and taking a paper sack to school in which to carry home the broken pencils and wrinkled contents of my desk. The spirit in the school was light and forward-looking. (The teachers seemed especially happy, for some reason.)
My elementary school was in the middle of rolling farms bounded by thick stands of woods, so the months of May and June were rich with bright sunshine and the sounds of surrounding meadows returning to life. Through open windows everywhere came the humid scent of blooming trees, honeysuckle and newly mown grass. Our three-room school was steeped in it.
These were the signs that said the time of learning was ending: the time of trying was beginning. Ready or not, we were free.
But free for what? Continue reading “School’s out. “
“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.'” Revelation 21:5-6
There is something about the start of a new year that is transforming. New day, new month, new year, (new budget-ha!) And for me, it helps when it is sunny on New Year’s Day. We’re at the top of the calendar with 364 days to come. It’s an adventure.
But what if it isn’t sunny that day, or on January 2nd the budget still doesn’t pay the bills, or the 364 days to come are known to be already brimming with likely pain, overwhelming challenge or stinging regret? What do we do when the coming year is merely new, but not . . . happy? Continue reading “All things new.”
“For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” Psalm 95:7-9
So often, the Psalms are a real source of comfort and peace to weary travelers. We love to read them when we are discouraged or confused. Often, when we can’t find the words to express our frustration or anger, the Psalms stand as testaments to the durability of prayer and our easy access to a caring and engaged Heavenly Father. But sometimes, as in the 95th above, the Psalms can stand as a warning: a barricade to steer us away from the sharp and dangerous edge of a steep mountain.
What happened at Meribah?
Continue reading “Living in Meribah.”
“For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 25:55
Our western culture is at war with our faith. Living in America makes serving others really difficult. We are taught from an early age that we live in the land of opportunity (and we do). As young people, most are encouraged to “follow your dreams” (and many do). Here is another one: “Reach for the stars!” While these statements are each motivating, exciting and sound really good, there is a problem, and it’s a big one: they aren’t the Gospel. Continue reading “Good work.”
“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” John 5:30
This statement is powerful because of what it says, but amazing to me because of who said it. It was spoken by Jesus, the Son of God. He can do nothing on His own? Really? Him? Nothing at all?
If this is true, and He is perfect in His omnipotence, what does that mean for me, an imperfect man, mortally vulnerable and finite? What is the teaching here? This lesson started for me several years ago on a trip to the East Coast. Continue reading “36,000 feet and climbing.”
“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.'” Luke 2:10
When I was a boy, I had an image in my mind of God that was built around the ideas of his power and his greatness. He was a distant person who was busy tending the mechanics of the universe or the trajectory of nations. He was big. I was small. He was loving, but in a miffed kind of way, because we, as people, had really screwed up his plans for the perfect and beautiful world that took him six whole days to build. If anything, he was reluctant with his attention: when I would seek his help, I was an interruption. He wasn’t smiling. Continue reading “Newsflash.”