Centered in the Extremes

Daily Prayer for 7/22/2020 (Reflection on Ecclesiastes 7)

Father of mercies, still our hearts this day. Help us to trust you in the good times and the bad, for you are the maker of them all. All around us it seems the righteous perish and the wicked flourish; help us to trust you through it all. In a world that thrives on the extremes, help us stay centered in you. Bless us with your wisdom, strengthen us with your power, and help us discover the peace than can only be found in relationship with you. Through Jesus, our Lord and Savior, we pray. Amen.

Daily Prayer – 7/20/2020

God of all comfort, grant us peace. We pray that as Jesus calmed the storm on Galilee, you would also calm the storms of our lives. May you grant us faith over fear when we face the tumults of health crises, hateful political climates, and blatant injustice. Remind us that though this world is not our home, we do have a mission to fulfill here and now. And help us to show your kingdom, your power, and your glory through our lives this day. Through Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Morning Prayer for 7/13/2020

God of peace, teach us to live according to your will. May we learn your wisdom so that we may reach those dying in sin around us. May we receive your strength to build your Kingdom while living as foreigners in this land. And may we hear your voice above the noise of this world so that we may go wherever you call. Through Christ, our brother, Lord, and Savior. Amen.

What Kingdom Are You Building?

Let’s try a little eye-opening activity…

Look on Facebook at your previous five posts (or think about your previous 5 conversations with friends). 

Pay close attention to what you said, or shared with others, and then answer these questions:

  • What kingdom am I building with my posts? An earthly kingdom, or Christ’s Kingdom?
  • Were my comments an attack on others made in the image of God, whom Christ died for?
  • Since I am an ambassador of Christ, do people see his likeness in the way I talk to, or about others?

A few verses for your consideration:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. – Jas 3:9–10 NIV

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. – Mt 7:1–2 NIV

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. – 1 Jn 4:20–21 NIV

…God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. – 2 Co 5:19–20 NIV

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – Jn 13:34–35 NIV

“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. Lk 12:8–9 NIV

You either represent Christ in your actions, or the world in your actions. All the time. In every interaction you have. May we all represent our Savior well.

Worthless Idols & Temporary Kingdoms

For those who follow me on Facebook, you have noticed that I’ve begun writing prayers throughout the day (usually morning). I’ve only been posting those to Facebook, but will begin to post them here as well. I pray that this serves not to elevate my words, but to share my heart in hopes of moving you to prayer as well.

Father, the world is full of worthless idols that occupy our time and attention, and the earth full of temporary kingdoms that demand our allegiance. Captivate our hearts Lord, that we may keep our focus on your mission and use our energy to build your Kingdom here, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Morning Prayer, 6/15/2020

Finding Unity in Diversity

Most congregations don’t understand unity. We understand uniformity, but not unity. This is why we have so many church buildings, each full of people who are largely the same with very little difference. If you like this music, go to that church. If you like this translation of the Bible, go to that other church. Most congregations understand uniformity, but not unity.

The Apostle Paul sought unity in the church through diversity, a very different approach than we usually see today. Romans 14 speaks a great deal about how Christians find unity in their mission through Christ while still embracing different practices and beliefs! Though the setting is a bit different in Romans, the application is much needed in the American church today.

 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. 

Romans 14:2–4 NIV

Notice that Paul does not attempt to get everyone to see things the same way. Rather he reminds them that they all belong to Christ and will all be judged by God. It is not your job, nor my job to judge others (v. 13). Instead, Paul reminds the believers that everything they do should be focused on peace and building each other up (v. 19). And to further clarify that Paul expects the practices of the church to be diverse, he reminds people that wrong to feel pressured into doing things against their beliefs.

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. 

Romans 14:22–23 NIV

So how does this apply to today? As we come back together in our places of worship (as East Side has already done) we will have some that think we should have stayed open the entire time, and others that still don’t think it’s safe to meet in public. And Paul would say this is fine. And neither group should condemn or pressure the other. Wear a mask or not? Same answer. Join a peaceful protest? Same answer. Voting? Same answer.

There is room for difference of opinion in the Kingdom of God. There is room for difference of practice in the Church of Jesus. But there is no room for disunity, accusing, arguing, fighting, and disfellowshipping over these differences. Those don’t come from faith, but from sin (v.23).

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

Romans 14:19 NIV

Peace in a Chaotic World

This morning we turn our attention to Psalm 37. Though our situation differs from David, the wisdom of his psalm is needed today.

In this psalm, David laments the actions of wicked people who oppose him and his kingdom. David admonishes righteous behavior and trust in Yahweh for deliverance. It’s clear from the text that David and “the righteous” with him are deeply concerned about the “wicked” and “wrongdoers” prospering. This is David’s pressing issue.

And yet the wisdom of the Spirit that David records is the same wisdom our world needs today.

Do not fret…” 37:1
“Trust in the LORD and do good;….” 37:3
“Commit your ways to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this…” 37:5
“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret…” 37:7
“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it only leads to evil.” 37:8

Do you catch that last one? Fret/worry only leads to evil? Notice how David is encouraging us to have a quiet spirit? Yes his situation is different from ours, but the needed prescription is the same. When we choose fret and worry over trust in God, evil results.

Most people are displaying everything but a quiet spirit right now. As a nation we are simultaneously worried, angry, anxious, exhausted, and frustrated. The news media certainly doesn’t help.

I visited a news website today (which I never do) and learned from highlighted headlines that I should be very worried. If not about Coronavirus, then the upcoming election. If not about politics, then national safety because a foreign country may or may not have a new leader. And if there is a new leader, who knows who it will be and how bad it might get? And if you are at home and not concerned with politics at all, keep worrying! Someone shot at a house somewhere recently, so you should worry about your safety in your own home.

And all this was from less than a minute on this news website.

My encouragement to you, is the same as that of David through this psalm: pursue a quiet spirit and trust in God to save. Whatever worry, anxiety, or “fret” that comes from this life is nothing compared to the peace that is found by placing out trust, and hope in God. This is the prescription that our world desperately needs.

I close with the final verses of Psalm 37 as an encouragement for the week ahead.

Consider the blameless, observe the upright;
a future awaits those who seek peace.
But all sinners will be destroyed;
there will be no future for the wicked.

The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD;
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The LORD helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.

Psalm 37:37-40 NIV

May we choose peace, and take our refuge in God alone. Shalom.

What Bugs Bunny Can Teach Us About Following Jesus

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Matthew 7:1-2 NIV

A quick glance at Facebook has shown me that we need this reminder desperately.

Over the past few days I’ve read folks from all political backgrounds judging political leaders, judging neighbors, and judging complete strangers. Disagreement is not judgement. Judgement comes when intent is assigned by someone other than the key figure in question. Let me see if I can clarify using a non-political example.

Bugs Bunny stated this week that he will not be eating green beans for lunch today.

Now you may very much be in favor of everyone eating green beans at every meal. That’s fine. And you are free to express that opinion. Let me give you an example of a completely Christ-like way to do so.

“I disagree with Mr. Bunny’s choice to not eat green beans. I also realize that he has the ability to make choices for himself. Because I follow Jesus, I choose to love my neighbor, and I certainly consider Mr. Bunny my neighbor. I will be praying for him, his family and friends, and I will continuing to eat green beans at every meal. I encourage you to do the same.”

See how easy that was? We expressed our disagreement, but showed kindness toward Mr. Bunny, as well as shining the light of Christ.

Here’s an example of what not to do.

“Stupid Bunny won’t do what we all know he should do. He does this because he hates green bean farmers, hates Looney Toon Land, and doesn’t give a rip about you or me. And anyone who would support him is just as evil as he is.”

Notice how this example assigns intent to Mr. Bunny when Mr. Bunny himself never said why he isn’t eating green beans. Perhaps Mr. Bunny was simply out of green beans. Or perhaps he’s allergic. The idea that he would only do something because of the reason you have chosen to supply is judging him. Jesus says we should not do that.

Now this whole exercise might seem very childish, but it’s clear that this concept hasn’t been grasped by many, and therefore I don’t want to write anything that’s confusing. We are called to not judge.

Our job as followers of Christ is to love. Love those you agree with, and love those you disagree with. Love those you know personally, and love those whom you have never met. This is how people will know you are actually a follower of Jesus.

One last thought.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 7:12 NIV

Take a recent example from your own life. Maybe a recent conversation you had with someone. Perhaps a Facebook or Twitter post you wrote about someone. Would you want someone to talk about you the way you did in your conversation/post?

Let’s take it a step further. You will one day be judged eternally by Jesus himself (Mt. 25:31-46) And since he’s already told us that we will be judged in the same way we judge others (Mt. 7:1-2), then do you really want Jesus judging you the way you just judged someone?

As followers of Christ we are commanded to love one another (basically all of 1 John), and to not judge others.

May our thoughts, our words, our social media posts, and our conversations with others reflect the mercy we have been shown in Christ Jesus.

Daily Psalms – Psalm 2

Before you read this psalm in your Bible, first read 2 Samuel 7, and then turn over to Psalm 2.

Psalm 2 has no designation at the beginning of authorship as many of the psalms do, but Acts 4:25 tells us that David is the author.

Psalm 2 is a call for those who do not follow Yahweh to submit to Him, serving Him only. David also speaks of God’s “anointed” (lit. messiah) who is also His “son” who will rule over all the nations and punish those who stand against Him.

By reading this messianic psalm you can easily see why many felt like the Messiah would simply be an earthly ruler. Considering David’s life, there was a very practical earthly application to this psalm. David’s son (Solomon) would be anointed (as would every earthly king descended from David) and would face opposition as he came to the throne. David’s reign as king was full of opposition from earthly kings. Again, a very clear earthly reason for its writing.

But the eternal promise from God to David carries the application of this Psalm forward to future kings.

Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.

2 Samuel 7:16 NIV

This psalm is a reflection on the promise of God in 2 Samuel 7 to establish the eternal throne of David, and therefore extends to the kingly descendants of David, including Jesus.

Peter and the early persecuted disciples saw this psalm as applying to Jesus’ suffering at the hands of Pilate and the leaders of Israel (Acts 4:23-31).

Paul saw this psalm as being central to the message of the Gospel.

“We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:

“‘You are my son;
    today I have become your father.’”

Acts 13:32-33 NIV

The writer of Hebrews also uses this psalm to show that Jesus is greater than the angels (1:5) and that it is God who appointed Jesus as our ultimate high priest (5:5).

Our encouragement from Psalm 2 today is that our God is over all the nations, and the entire earth is his. He will rule through his Son, the promised Messiah, to bring about justice on the earth. But we must submit and worship His Son. Refusing to do so leads to our destruction. As David reminds us:

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalm 2:12b NIV

My encouragement to you is to spend some time in the Psalms. They are the story of God’s relationship with his people, and point forward to the coming of the Messiah. The New Testament writers saw the Psalms as essential to understanding the life, ministry, and reign of Jesus. Shouldn’t we as well?

Daily Psalms – Psalm 3

Even though this Psalm of David was written thousands of years ago, we can hear echos of Christ, as well as a lesson on how to pray during the Coronavirus pandemic.

LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.”

Psalm 3:1-2 NIV

David was anointed as the next king of Israel while Saul was still on the throne. God had rejected Saul as king, and now David finds himself surrounded by Saul’s army. The taunt “God will not deliver him” was intended to break David’s spirit into believing that God had somehow abandoned him. It’s as if his enemies were saying “There is no hope for you David! Even God has left you!” We can hear similar taunts as Jesus was crucified (Mt. 27:43).

But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain.

Psalm 3:3-4 NIV

The Hebrew here is difficult to translate, and the tense can work either in present tense (as the NIV chooses), but could also be translated in the past tense (as the ESV chooses). It seems to work better in past tense as David has already committed to God his requests in prayer and it is as if God has already answered him. Because David has faith that God will deliver, he treats his situation as if God has already completed the work.

Verse 5-6 remind us that God protects, even when we are the most vulnerable. No matter the size of the foe, or how helpless we seem, our God never sleeps and is never weak. We have nothing to fear because of the power and strength of our God. Also hear the echoes of resurrection. Though physical death brings us sleep, that is not our eternal fate. It is God who sustains.

David pleads for God’s deliverance to defeat his enemies decisively. And verse 8 brings us a powerful reminder.

From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.

Psalm 3:8 NIV

Deliverance comes from God alone. It will not be by our efforts that we overcome, but by God’s blessing alone.

This week as we are reminded once again that we are not in control, and we are surrounded by fear and foe, let us place our hope firmly in our God. Let us pray for deliverance, hope in resurrection, and rest in the assurance that he has heard our prayer and has already conquered on behalf of his people.

Shalom.