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A Man Like Joe

 

The Christmas story (the REAL one, not the movie about the Red Rider BB gun) is absolutely amazing.  As Andrew Peterson (one of my favorite artists, and one you should check out!) subtitled his Christmas Album:  it’s “The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ.”  The key word being “true”.  It’s fantastic, phenomenal, mind-blowing…but it’s true. 

One of the things we easily forget is that, being true, this story involves real men and women, in real placeswith real problems.  I was thinking about this today as I read the old, old story in the Gospel of Matthew.  As I read it, a few things stuck out to me.

First off, when Joseph found out that Mary was with child, he had in mind to “put her away privately.”  Joe was upset.  How would you feel?  You find out your bride-to-be is expecting, and you know you’re not the dad?  I know how I’d feel, and “quiet” is not a word I’d used to describe it.  Put in that situation,  Joe didn’t react rashly, or quickly.  Matthew tells us that “he thought about these things.”  He took time to pause, to consider, to wait.  

How often do we rush a decision, basing it totally on emotion and the moment, and end up with a hot mess on our hands?  Maybe it would be better to take time to pause, to wait on the Lord, to think about things. Be a man like Joe.

Secondly, notice that God sent Gabriel to tell Mary the plan prior to it coming to pass.  Joseph is told after the fact.  Why?  Well, no doubt to help Joe realize what we all need to grasp:  God’s ways are not our ways.  Here are two people smack in the middle of The Greatest Story Ever Told, and one is given a heads up, and the other is not.  Most times, life happens without our consent.  God’s plan is rolling out, and we may get a heads up, or we may just be riding the wave.  The question is not if we’ll be involved.  The question is how will we react when we find ourselves in the middle of it. Joe reacted justly, righteously, humbly, faith-fully.  I want to be a man like Joe.

Thirdly,  I realized something else:  God’s plan was not something that would be easy for Joe, or Mary, to be involved in.  It was going to be hard.  They were going to be the scandal of the town, the country.  They would be talked about, pointed at, scorned.  But through this trial, God would be glorified.  Through this trial, history would be changed…forever.  What about what you’re going through?  What about the trials you find yourself in?  Are we willing to say “not my will, but Thy will be done?”  Are you willing to trust God at His Word?  Joe did.

I want to be a man like Joe.

 

 

Great Expectations

 

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(The following was taken from part of a devotion I shared with the Men’s Ministry of our church last night.  I figured I’d share it here with you)

There are many things that have changed about Christmas in my lifetime.  Christmas music starts getting played before Thanksgiving, and they stop as soon as the calendar rolls the 26th of December.  Stores that used to be closed on Christmas day now open early for after Christmas sales (yet it’s not AFTER Christmas at all!).  Stores that once greeted you with a “Merry Christmas” have gone pc.

But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed regarding Christmas: expectations.  My kids certainly have expectations. They have a list of them. I have expectations! We all do.

In fact, all the way back at the beginning, there were expectations for how the coming of the Messiah would play out, how it would go.  But it didn’t quite go the way everyone thought it would.  It’s a story filled with the unexpected, to us anyway, because God’s ways are not our ways. 

The expectations began immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve.   God made a promise:  He would defeat the serpent, He would repair what had been broken.  He would restore what was lost.

I love how the NIV translates Genesis 3:15:

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel.”

The expectation of this prophecy, this “protoevangelium” or “first gospel”, first good news, rings down throughout all of Scripture.  God was weaving and winding the history of His people Israel to accomplish this promised defeat of the enemy.  From the slavery in Egypt, to the taking of the Promised land, to the disobedience and subsequent captivity in Babylon, to their return to the Land, God was working His plan.

And through it all, the prophets proclaimed promises of the Hope to come, the Messiah, who would save God’s people, who would, in fact, crush the head of Satan,  set His people free, and establish his kingdom forever.

Expectations were high.

Take Micah 5:2

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”

Or how about Isaiah 9: 6-7:

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty GodEverlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”

And lastly, Malachi chapter 3, says:

Behold I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me, and the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple.  Even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold HE is coming.”  

His coming is promised and then…..400 years of silence.  400 years of waiting.  400 years of wondering. I get uptight if God makes me wait for a few days for clarity…400 years????  That’s nearly twice as long as the United States has been a country!!!

Talk about expectations…. You’re a Jew in the first century.  Your people are under subjugation to the Roman Empire. God hasn’t spoken in 4 centuries.

If YOU’D grown up hearing the prophecies and hoping for God to send the Messiah, what would you be expecting?

I think you’d be looking for big things.

I think we’d all be looking for a conquering king.

Who expected God to come to earth to save mankind, as a BABY?  

Who expected  His coming to be announced, not in palaces and before kings, but to a a few shepherds on a Judean hillside?

Who thought that the God who flung the stars into place would come down to dwell among men, that He would in fact become a man?  Or that He would choose as His mother a lowly peasant girl, and not a queen in a palace?

I guarantee that no one was expecting a baby in a manger in Bethlehem.

And yet, to the lowliness of the manger comes the glory of God.  From the quiet of the Bethlehem night comes the preliminary shout of victory.  For the tiny baby is the Conqueror of death, the Promised One who will crush the head of the serpent.  From this humblest of beginnings comes the most awesome of victories.  

Not what anyone was expecting.

The trouble is, while we say God’s ways are not our ways, our expectations differ greatly.  And God rarely does things the way we would expect, or  the way we want. We often miss what God is doing, and where He is moving, because it’s not what we expect.

Remember: The religious leaders missed it.  The Pharisees and Sadducees, the most learned men of the day, missed it. They couldn’t wrap their minds around the plan God had.

Take the prophecy from Isaiah 7Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Immanuel (God with us).”  Now, to us, that is CLEARLY speaking of the prophecy fulfilled in Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, right?  But what did the leaders see?  A scandal…a young girl who’s finance wanted to “put her away quietly.”  

They expected the conquering King, not a baby boy Who would grow to be a suffering servant, die on a Roman cross for their sins, and rise again, forever defeating death, hell and the grave…fulfilling that earliest of prophecies from Genesis 3.

And we, just like the religious of old, often miss what God is doing today.

We expect God to provide a new job, when He intends to use you right where you are in your current job.

We expect God to get the glory through miraculous healing, but He’s choosing to do something even more miraculous through the fellowship of His sufferings.

We expect God to give us a prominent position, and then He asks to serve the least of these, or in a role we certainly would not have chosen.

Do not despise the small things.  Do not look down at where God has you, at what He’s doing, because He has a plan.  Do not allow your expectations to prevent you from missing God’s will.

This Christmas, take time to consider what He has done, and look forward to what He is doing.

Let God’s plan replace your expectations.

Give Thanks

Last night, my kids finally convinced my wife and I to drag out the Christmas tree and begin decorating.  As the night wore on, one by one, they faded, leaving my wife to finish the job (I’m not much help placing ornaments, I fear).

Before I turned in for the night, for a few moments,  I sat in our living room, illuminated only by the lights from the tree, and gave thanks.  And not because tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  No, what spurred this thanksgiving session on was my son.  He would grab ornaments and show them to me, asking me who they were (or in his words “who’s this fella dad?”).  My girls did the same, although to a lesser extent.

The end result was a trip down memory lane, over the past 17 years of my marriage to my wonderful wife, and back into the foggy days before we met, all the way to my childhood.  You see, the amazing thing is for me to look back over my life and see just how God blessed me, even when I didn’t know Him.

Sitting there in the almost-dark, with my kids asleep upstairs and my wife tidying things up before bed, it hit me just how good He has been to me, and in that moment of quiet, a wave of gratitude for all God has done swept over, and all I could say was “thank You.”

We don’t need a special day to say thanks.  We don’t need a turkey, or a football game, or cranberry sauce (that no one eats).  No, we just need to take the time to stop, reflect, and say thanks. Cause seriously, if you have the ability to be reading this post, you have MUCH to be thankful for.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!  For His mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 118:1)

 

Heart Cleaning

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My pastor has been in 1 Cornithinans 5 the last few weeks, speaking about the carnal Christian.  The Lord has had me doing some soul-searching in my own life of areas in which I am carnal.  Last night, He took me, yet again, to Psalm 51 last night, and specifically to verse 10:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
 
I think one of the dangers of the Christian life is complacency, of feeling as though we have arrived.  We can very easily go from being the tax collector, beating our breasts in sorrow for sin, and unable to even lift our heads, to a sin-sniffing, self righteous, law wielding Pharisee.  All the while, in our self-righteousness, we can completely miss our own glaring sin as we look for the specks in our brothers eyes.  Why?  Well, because we so focus on outward sins, or on the things we once struggled with, we fail to see that our heart is still deceitful and wicked, that we have this massive thing called “pride” that has grown down inside our hearts and has spreads out it’s tentacles into so many different areas of our lives.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
 
That’s my prayer.  That the Lord would show every one of us all the areas of my heart that are still carnal, that still cling to the flesh.  And I’m not just talking about sex.  I’m not just talking about pornography.  I’m not just talking about drugs, or alcohol, or whatever sin held you in the past.  YES!  Deal with those!  Get rid of those!  But don’t grow prideful in the process.  Don’t allow the work God has done in you to make you think “you’re all that and a bag of chips”, as my pastor says.
Remember DAILY your need for a Savior, your desperate need for forgiveness, and that that forgiveness was only made available to you due to the mercy and grace of God the Father, shown so clearly in the death of Jesus on the cross for your sins.  Remember that Jeremiah 17:9 is still true “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” 
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
The longer I walk with the Lord, the more I realize how Holy He is…and how NOT I am.  But the amazing thing?  He still loves me!  He still loves YOU!  He wants to work out HIS will in us, and praise God, He will continue to plow the ground of our hearts by His Word and His Spirit.  Or, as Paul said:
“He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

Breaking Bruised Reeds

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Isaiah, prophesying of Jesus, wrote these words:

“He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. 

A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoking flax He will not quench…”

Think of Jesus’ interactions with the hurting and the broken, with those people viewed as “sinners” by the “righteous religious” folk of His day (even though we are ALL sinners, and our righteousness is just a filthy rag in the eyes of God…but that’s another blog entirely).  Was he harsh?  Did He shout?  Did he condemn?

The answer is no.  He IS love.  He is the epitome of kind.  He is full of compassion for them.

Psalm 145:8-9 says “The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy.  The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.”

Now, on the flip side, Jesus had some harsh words, but they were reserved for the self-righteous religious, the Pharisees, for those who looked down their noses at anyone and everyone they viewed as less holy than themselves, at anyone who was “a sinner.”

Jesus didn’t take kindly to their reactions with the weak and hurting, the sick and broken, of their expectations of perfection which they (falsely) thought they had attained.  He didn’t care for it at all, and He bluntly told them so:  “Woe to you also, lawyers!  For you load men with burdens too hard to bear and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers!” (Luke 11:46)

I ask this because the Lord recently brought them to my attention through my interactions with others.  When I’ve encountered a “bruised reed”, a person who is hurting and broken, have I handled them gently, kindly, honestly, yet lovingly?  The truth is that I can find myself acting more like a Pharisee in these situations, rather than acting like Jesus.  And that’s a problem.

Think over today and how you spoke to your spouse, your kids, your co-workers, anyone you had contact with.  Would you say your words were gracious, full of compassion?  Were you slow to anger and great in mercy, or did you fly off the handle at the slightest infraction of your “law”?  Did you expect more of someone else than you expect of yourself?  Do you ask for grace, yet react in a very un-gracious way?

I don’t write these things to condemn.  I write them because God has been dealing with me on this very point. It’s not that we shouldn’t speak the truth, but the truth must be spoken in love.

Proverbs 15:1 says “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

I’ve found that we like to apply that wisdom to the words of others, but not abide by it ourselves.   When I look at that picture above, of the piece of wheat that is barely hanging on, it hits me that it requires extreme gentleness not to break it off.  A strong breeze would do the trick.

In the same way, it wouldn’t take much for a harsh word or a quick temper to break the “bruised reeds” I’ve encounter in my life.  I shudder to thank of the ones I’ve knocked over in my foolishness.

But praise God, the same mercy that was poured out on the cross for my sins is more than enough to cover these things as well! God is bringing them to mind not to condemn, not to shame, for that’s not loving at all.  No, He’s bringing them to mind to correct and to re-shape me in His image.  His grace is sufficient for our every weakness, and I’m pretty sure that includes this area as well as any other.

Lord, thank you for your grace and your compassion on me, a sinner who has done nothing to deserve it.  Forgive me for when I have not responded to others as You would.  As I have received grace from You, please allow me to give it to those who cross my path each day.  Help me see them with Your eyes, not mine.  May my Words be filled of the kindess of my Savior.  

It’s All His

Yesterday at church, we sang one of my favorite songs, “Great Are You Lord” by All Sons and Daughters.  It’s a very simple song to play, and as such, it’s one that I can get beyond worrying what chords I’m playing and focus on what I’m singing a little more.  The chorus is so simple, yet so incredibly profound:

“It’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise, we pour out our praise to You only”

As we sang that together, as we lifted our voices, several hundred of us all singing the same thing, it hit me that this, this simple act of worship, just taking in a breath, filling our lungs, and then pushing it out as praise, is completely, totally, and utterly dependent on God’s grace and goodness.  We sing it, “It’s YOUR breath in our lungs” but do we really get it?

The fact that I can take a breath is His goodness to me.  The fact is, I woke up this morning and drew a breath, and His mercies were new again, regardless of my deserving them.  Or that my heart and lungs and brain all worked together through the night to keep me alive, with no effort on my part…grace.

Or that my ears could hear the notes of the music we were playing, and could then help me to sing along on key (mostly)…all Him.

Or that my vocal chords could work together to utter the right words as my breath pushed through them…all His grace!

Or that my legs worked, and I could tap my foot along to the groove of the song…His grace again!  My hands and fingers worked to play the chords, no matter how simple they might be…IT’S HIS!

You see, it’s not just that His breath is in my lungs.  Genesis 2:7 says “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.  My whole LIFE is His.  Everything I am, it’s His! Psalm 139 says “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb” (vs. 13) and then “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.  And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” 

Everything I am, everything I have, every breath I breathe and every song I play…they are His.  He gave them to me in the first place.

What else could I do but return them to Him in praise?

(If you’re interested in the song, you can find it on itunes here)

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See that guitar pick?  My bride got it for me on Father’s Day,  found a frame for it and put it on my nightstand.  Every morning when I wake up, I see that pick.  Every night when I lay down, it’s there, reminding me that this lovely lady believes what it says:  “I’d pick you every time.”

There’s no way you could know how much that means to me.  When I see that, I’m reminded of all the times when she has, in fact, chosen me, over and over again.

She had her pick of beaus back in the day…and she picked me.

Early in our marriage, when the only kid she had to worry about was me, when I put her through a LOT…she picked me.  When the world would have told her to drop me like a sack of potatoes…she picked me again.

On the days when I’ve not been the lovable, wonderful chap you all know..she still picks me.

When I’m depressed, discourage, down and out, she picks me.  When I’m not much help around here, or stuck in a cocoon of self..she pics me.

When I’m at my worst…she still picks me.

And I can’t tell you how glad I am that she does!

Proverbs 18:22 says “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord.”

Then in Proverbs 31:10: “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.” 

Me!!! This guy!  I DID!

And I am so grateful and thankful for her.  She picked me!

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