walkinword2017

Keeping It Real - Revelation 3:1-6

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
— Revelation 3:5

Sardis was one of the seven churches to written to at the beginning of revelation. Each church was guilty of a particular sin that needed to be exposed. Sardis lacked authenticity, filled with scammers, posers, and frauds. Unlike other churches that were constantly under duress from opposition like false teachers and cults, Sardis didn't seem to have the same outside pressures. Nonetheless, God saw them as a church filled with the living dead, having all the vestiges of life but no true heartbeat beneath it all. Hence the "wake up" in v.2 and 3, a command often used in Scripture to call forth believers to rise from a sleepiness that leads to eternal death.

A historical point of Sardis proves to illustrate the lull Sardis dwelled in. Sardis prided itself, thinking it could not be overcome. It sat on top of a gigantic bluff, surrounded by cliffs on three sides, fortified by high walls. Yet at the time of this letter, Sardis had already been sacked twice. Both times, invading armies climbed the cliffs and walls and overtook the city because no soldiers or watchmen had been stationed. Her own blindness and self-delusion had led to her physical downfall more than once. God was now pointing out her spiritual foolishness. What did Sardis have to do?

1. Remember and return to the gospel.

In v. 3, John reminds them to, "Remember, then what you have received and heard." They had not only forgotten the free grace of the gospel, they had forgotten how they had received it. It wasn't something they had deservedly earned, not something that had welled up from within, a newfound, homegrown philosophy that their wisest and brightest had come up with. No, it was the joyous news that had come from heaven to earth, from outside their walls into their city, from God to man, that Christ had come and everything was now changed. v.4 charges them to "keep it," letting it simmer in their hearts and minds so they might be transformed by God's truth and the Spirit's work. Clearly this was not happening for the Spirit brings new life to all things, not delivering death and decay. 

2. Repent and turn from their ways.

Sardis was called to name its sin for what it was, to see it clearly, to turn from it, and return to their Savior. God's appeal to them came in reminding them that Jesus' return is unknown yet imminent. This city had sacrificed this future hope of Christ's second advent and its present implications for how they should live now for current comfort, worldly status, and foolish gain.

3. Rejoice that God still perseveres with his people.

The good news amidst all of this was that there were still some in v.4 who had kept the light burning. A remnant in a city that was floating away who continued to be faithful, remaining clothed in the righteousness of Christ. A people who desired to pursue the purity of a life lived in gratitude to grace rather than satisfaction of one's belly. It was their names that God remembered, never to be blotted out of his book of life, uttered from the lips of Jesus as he plead and prayed on their behalf. Sardis was called to embrace this reality again, to know hope was still held out for them, that their God still desired to run with them.

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To what degree does has your heart drifted in the same way the people of Sardis did? Do you feel as if you don a spiritual mask and that others see you differently than who you know you truly are deep down inside? How much of your faith is rote habit and duty and devoid of delight? Are you the same privately as you are publicly?

Wake up! Remember the gospel, repent of your falsehood, and rejoice in Christ. Our God has more grace than you can ever understand. May you find that to be true as you strip yourself of everything that you've used to hide and put on the righteousness of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Faithful to the Unfaithful - Hosea 3:1-5

And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”
— Hosea 3:1

Few people look forward to marriage if they think their partner is highly likely to be unfaithful in the future. Nobody marries someone who has proven to be unfaithful in the past, is currently being unfaithful, and is highly unlikely to continue this behavior in the future. Yet this is exactly what God called Hosea to in marrying Gomer. Gomer was ransomed by Hosea, at his own cost, called to buy her back from her pimp.

This marriage was an illustration of God's embrace of Israel. Despite her adulterous behavior, God had pledged himself to chase her down, redeem her, and love her, even as she continued to call out to other suitors. Understand what is proclaimed here; God will love her even while her unfaithfulness remains ongoing. He wants her even when she wants nothing to do with him.

For a majority of us, there is not a single relationship in our life that reflects this kind of radical love. Your employer most surely would not keep you on board if you collected checks while doing work for another company. Your friends won't be so friendly if you're regularly dismissing their overtures and telling others how much you don't want to be around them. Even your spouse will sometimes confirm their love for you in order to get you to do something. "You know, if you love me, you'll....." And chances are, you have strings attached to your affections for every person in your life.

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This is not the case with God's love for us. His care and concern for us is entirely unconditional. Even with our rebellious dalliances, God does not give up upon us nor change the manner in which he engages us. He is with us even when we do not want to be with him. Our God does not give up on us. Nor does he stand by and let us continue on our own way. He fights for us, he appeals for us, he stands by our side. He loves without reservation. It is this love that changes us and perseveres in us until the day we are made perfect by his love. 

Valley of Death to Life - Ezekiel 37:1-14

Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.
— Ezekiel 37:5-6

God's promises for his future plans for his people came through various forms in the Old Testament. Few could possibly be more vivid and straight-forward as what's seen here in Ezekiel 37. 

Ezekiel stands over a valley of the dead, carrion long picked clean, littered with the evidence of death. Every modern movie or TV show that has a scene like this usually elicits terror of some sort. A reminder that our hero has taken a wrong turn and ended up in a dangerous place or the villain has arrived home or about to bring more deathly life to death. 

Yet amazingly enough, in Ezekiel, this valley will be a demonstration of the power and plan of our God. A reversal that upends the terror of death, a warning shot to hell that heaven is coming. Instead of hinting at an impending darkness, God declared his intentions for those he loves.

He will speak his Word over death and his children will come alive. He will breathe life into their souls. He will put his Spirit in his people. Whatever notion there is that Israel will save herself is tossed out the window. Any idea that the church will revive itself is impossible. God will do it.

And he did it. Jesus was the Word made flesh (John 1:14), come to put death to Death and breathe life to death. He embodied that which Ezekiel witnessed in the valley of death, the firstfruits of what would now become true for all who looked to him by faith.

It also became a reality that we can now experience in small ways every single day. For the same Spirit that raised Christ from the grave is the same Spirit that made these dry bones come to life. That same Spirit is also the one that is at work in the hearts of God's people, bringing the gospel to bear, gifting faith so vibrant and real to us that we are brought to spiritual life and know its fruits even today. 

You were dead in your trespasses but have been made alive together in Christ, all by grace (Eph. 2:5). We see the world in color, no longer in black and white. It means not that things are perfect now nor that we will not mourn or suffer. But it means that we do not endure all these things like those who have no hope. But we know that in God, life can always be brought out of death. Things as they seem will not always be how they are. The cross tells us so. The dry bones tell us so. 

Walking in the Word: James 4:13-17

Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’
— James 4:15
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It's somewhat fitting to have read this passage while on a pastoral planning retreat. The main thrust of our time was directed toward looking at where we believe God is leading Grace Alameda in 2018 and beyond. 

Good planning doesn't just set forward future goals but also considers the steps that must be taken to get there. A weightlifter doesn't just say, "I'm going to bench 600 pounds," and then just pumps away but plans for it. He/she would have a lifting regiment, a diet plan, a workout schedule. City planners don't decide there needs to be a bridge across a water and order one on Amazon. They have to figure out construction schedules, bring in the right architects and construction workers, shuffle traffic patterns.

It would seem in some way though that our passage in James speaks against this idea. That declaring what you want for the future and planning steps to get there is an unwise endeavor for we are "a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." There is much truth in that. This passage however isn't necessarily directed at those who make plans, nor is it against working and looking toward the future. Instead, it focuses on two other important issues.

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First, it's less focused on plan-making and more on the motivation for why we plan. If you consider the earlier parts of James 4, James rails against worldliness and deception, those who are in business solely for themselves at the expense of their neighbor. After our passage on the foolishness of looking to the future, James then speaks out against the rich who glory and flaunt their wealth. Note that in James 4:13, James posits the idea of someone focused on working toward the future for the specific purpose of making a profit. He has in mind one who invests for selfish reasons, not one who plans for the future. The sin is in the motivation for future planning. It is not done in consideration of what theLord wills but centered on one's arrogance, one's self-confidence in his/her ability to profit off others apart from the goodness and grace of God.

Second, the other issue to be drawn forth here is the importance of faithfulness. Bodybuilders prepare but their success is dependent on how faithful they stick with their plan. City planners have ideas but they are never brought to fruition if they are faithful in following through. Our Lord cares and values our desires and dreams when they are God given. Yet the fact is God cares much less for what we're able to accomplish ahead and more for the manner in which we accomplish anything right now. It is our faithfulness that matters to Him, complete reliance in pursuing that which the Lord wills, that which keeps us from boasting in ourselves but in God, that which knows and does the right thing and avoids sin. 

This means we can hold all our dreams and hopes loosely, desiring them in submission to the Spirit's leading, trusting our God when He moves us away from there. What we are to cling tightly to instead is the gospel of Christ in every day life, resting in His grace, loving our neighbors, being good stewards of what we have now. So take no fear; plan away. Only remember Proverbs 16:9. "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps."

Walking in the Word - Hebrews 12:18-29

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
— Hebrews 12:22-24
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In a bumper-sticker evangelical culture, emphasis is placed on how close we can get with God. The entire thrust of the Christian music and book industrial complex has found its greatest successes (both financially and in general popularity) producing content that attempts to nourish one's closeness with God. A majority of it leans on the side of emotional appeals which, though not entirely wrong at all, must be carefully wielded else we end up presenting to the world a faith that really is just a mishmash of feelings. Our worship services have followed suit in many ways, gearing services to evoke experiences that one can personalize and take home with them. Again, done in the case of contextualization and reaching a particular people in time and place is a wise and helpful thing. But done for the purpose of achieving the lowest common cultural denominator often takes away from the glory, splendor, and awe of worshiping God with His people. By getting rid of any sense of the transcendence of our God on Sundays, we've kitsch-ed up any sense of His immanence inworship as well.

Hebrews 12 makes known that worship is a place of grace, not one of judgment and fear. God is not unapproachable or impenetrable as He often was in the Old Testament but inChrist, we can now approach the throne in His love and mercy. What this isn't however is a free-for-all where all distinctions are thrown out the window. God is still God and we are still not. The Creator and creature are still two different things. Our responsibility is not to form and fashion worship to our own desires and in our own image but to come to God based on His terms.

By no means am I advocating that there must be one golden way of doing all this and that we are the church that gets it right. But what I do believe is important is we understand who and what we are engaging with in Sunday worship. We approach the throne, welcomed, washed, and waiting for our Savior. There is an element of joy, party, and enjoyment that must be there yet it should be tempered by reverence and awe. These are not dichotomous categories but can be all expressed at one point. The challenge we have in our hearts is to consider where we are as we come before God, gathered with our fellow saints. 

Our God is a consuming fire. Everybody loves to hang out around a bonfire, gather, and rejoice. The danger comes when someone begins to play with it, trying to control that which cannot be controlled. Let us worship with the confidence that we our in His good grace because of our Savior Jesus Christ. May we be shaken as we encounter our Lord every Sunday so we might know and value that which He cares for and the rest would fall to the wayside.

Walking in the Word - Proverbs 18:24

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
— Proverbs 18:24
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At this point, it's hard to argue against the idea that a whole host of technological applications and tools have driven us more and more inward, away from real, physical, social points of contact. Every social survey results in Americans hitting the lowest levels of personal happiness and the highest levels of loneliness in the past century. Facebook and Instagram gives us the veneer of social interaction and engagement when they ultimately are acceptable forms of peacocking and peeping. The excitement of virtual reality and goal to be in every household leads people to stay in. Before, you'd be happy to get take-out sent to your house in 30 minutes to substitute a meal for the night. Now you can have a week's groceries sent to you so you never have to stand at a register again.

Now granted, you're probably not looking to be friends with the supermarket cashier. But what perhaps has changed as a cultural value is our definition of what makes a friend. In many ways, every person has the ability to make connections and be acquaintances with many people at once. What our culture might slowly be losing perhaps though is the ability to make deep, long-lasting friendships. 

Friendships share a common horizon, walking toward the same goal. They may board at different ports but they disembark at the same place. (Get it? Friendship? You're welcome.) Acquaintances will want you because of what you offer, what you can give. If these are the companions you keep, they will wear you down and out because they are not going where you are headed. A friend walks with you to where it is you both desire to end up.

The beauty of gospel-centered friendships is that the horizon has been delineated for us. God has made clear that we are to be iron sharpening iron, loving one another so that we may each become more like Christ until the day when Christ returns and His Spirit transforms us to be finally and perfectly that. This is how God knits our heart in fellowship to one another, that we might stick close to one another to His glory. This is gospel-centered friendship.

Do you have this in your life? What would it look like to have these kinds of friends in your life? How might the Lord bring these people into your life? And what kind of barriers or blindspots might you have that keep you from engaging in these types of friendships?

 

Walking in the Word 2017 - Esther 4

And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
— Esther 4:14
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There are those who submit to the idea of coincidence. That the advantageous events of our lives are purely a product of being at the right place at the right time. On the other side, there are those who believe in fate. That things were simply meant to be, that an unknowable force has brought things to be the way they are. Scripture has always proclaimed a third way. That there is a sovereign God who created all things and controls all things but does so in a way with intimacy and intricacy, with care and integrity, for one large, grand purpose that stands over all the events of human history.

The ancient Greeks used two different words to talk about time. Chronos referred to time as a sequence or passage, the seconds that tick away on a clock, the rising and setting of both the sun and moon. Kairos was the term used for particular moments in time where purpose and meaning converge in an indescribable way. 

Kairos is the word used here in Esther 4:14. Yes, Esther may have become queen because of her beauty. Her position close to the highest levels of power and privilege had less to do with any of her own abilities and probably more to do with quality genes and a lovely disposition. And yes, so much of the situation her people, the Jews, faced in that moment were out of her hands. Nonetheless, Mordecai highlighted and Esther understood that when her people reached a crossroads with this foreign kingdom, she was now placed in a unique place and time that was more than just dumb luck or destiny. The Lord, mysteriously never mentioned in the ten chapters of Esther, has raised her up precisely for a time such as this. It is not that she has a moment now to shine but she finally realizes the calling she is to fulfill.

Our Savior Christ, fully human and fully God, lived a "kairotic" life. He knew the purpose for which He was sent and sought to honor His Father with every breath and step He took. There was no moment of resignation to out of control circumstances in the person of Christ but a submission to the sovereign will of the God who had sent Him and for whom He lived for. Faith and trust and love meant walking in step with without fear or doubt of His Father's presence with Him. It's a far cry from Esther's statement in v.16, "If I perish, I perish," but a march down the road to Calvary to His own crucifixion for our sake. 

As "the joy set before him" (Heb. 12:2), Jesus' life and death for our sake means we are redeemed into a new life that does not measure our lives by the chronological passage of time but a kairos understanding of each day of our lives. We are to take stock of the context and place in which God has us in and ask ourselves, "How might God call me to faithfulness given where I am at today?"

The truth is that very often means simple, everyday calls to spiritual obedience; being great at your job, loving your family properly, spending time in Christian disciplines, hanging out with your neighbors. But let us not avoid considering that perhaps you're divinely appointed to speak with the homeless panhandler. That you have a particular platform to address racism, sexism, or prejudice. That even unfortunate circumstances might be pregnant with purpose, where a flat tire that leads to honest conversation with a stranger. Faith not only acknowledges that this world doesn't revolve around us but recognizes that it revolves around the God who holds all of us in His loving, gracious hands. May we make the most of our days not for ourselves but in faithful service to the God who puts us in our particular place and time and around particular people for good and right reasons.

Walking in the Word 2017 - 1 Timothy 4

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
— 1 Timothy 4:12

Timothy grew up spiritually under the hand of the Apostle Paul. He learned to minister and preach by Paul's side. He sailed with him on his missionary journeys, planted churches with him in far off places, and became a messenger on Paul's behalf. Ultimately, Timothy became a church planter under Paul's tutelage. These letters to Timothy are evidence that God's leadership often doesn't come put together perfectly as spiritual superheroes ready to save the day. Instead, like everyone else, godly leadership requires seasoning, guidance, wisdom, and huge amounts of grace.

In many ways, I often feel at times that my ministry life has mirrored Timothy in many ways. (I most certainly have never identified much with Paul's personality or struggles!) The picture Paul paints of Timothy as he writes to him is a gifted and talented brother in Christ who doesn't entirely recognize it. He seems meek and timid in a manner that sometimes sounds like it borders on a self-preoccupation with what he's incapable of. Whether it's purely a mental block or what some scholars point to as his regular physical ailments, what Timothy doesn't come across as is a spiritual lion. I've often feel a lack of confidence, a fear of others, and a personal inability to do what I'm called to do. 

I've taken cues from how Paul loves Timothy through these perceived weaknesses in learning to grow in these areas of my own ministry life. Here are a couple of thoughts:

1 Timothy 4:8, "Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." As a seminary professor once told my pastoral theology class once, "What the congregation needs most from their pastor is their holiness," meaning stay the course. Pursue Christ, know Him in every way, every day, and do not allow yourself to get spiritually lazy and out of shape. Put in the sweat and feel the soreness of spiritual discipline and exercise. A dependence on spiritual gifting only serves to make one unwilling to persevere and fight when talent no runs out.

1 Timothy 4:10, "For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." Ministry isn't about me. It's not about Timothy. It's about God in Christ and making Him known to all. It's about trusting and hoping that in my own inability and failure, God will make much of Jesus. It's through my stumbled and jumbled counsel that God brings gospel healing to broken people. It's through Timothy's timidity that the power of God is manifest.

1 Timothy 4:12, "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." This doesn't exactly mean, "Forget the haters." What it does mean is be faithful in that which God has called you to be faithful in and let no judgment fall upon you in things only God has control over. Fear no man but God, delight in no other opinion but only in the Lord's opinion of you in Christ. Live in light of His grace for you.

1 Timothy 4:16, "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." Remain in the Word and let God's truth light your path. Even if those you serve do not desire your leadership, continue to bring them the Word. This is your calling, where God has placed you, where He wants you. Rejoice and recognize the privilege you have to declare His glories to the world.

Weakness is strength in the economy of God. Our timidity shines light on God's boldness. This certainly was the case for Timothy. I pray that whenever I'm called home, it will be the case for me too.

Walking in the Word 2017 - Luke 12:22-34

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
— Luke 12:32
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Back in 2009, ads were placed on the sides of buses by atheists that had the following slogan: "There's probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life." It's quite the catchy line. Yet it's not very helpful. 

Have you ever talked to someone who left the house and fears they left the stove on or the garage door open? Aside from hard evidence, how do you attempt to assure them? You might try to get their mind off the doubt by changing the subject. You might tell them that this is something that never happened in the past, why would you do it now. You know what doesn't work? Telling them to stop worrying. Because if you tell someone not to worry, all it does is exacerbate their worry. 

When the stakes are high (as if possibly burning down your house isn't high enough), to tell someone to not only stop worrying but to instead enjoy life can seem a bit trite and in most situations downright cold. "Stop worrying and enjoy life" is horrible consolation for someone who thinks they're next to be laid off or is waiting for a cancer diagnosis. 

So to flippantly expect people to stop worrying about if their lives are actually ruled by a supernatural being more powerful, infinite, sovereign, wise, and omniscient than them who just might care about how they live and given them a purpose for living or realize they're just a pile of atoms and energy, slowly falling apart with no rhyme or reason, aimlessly hurdling through space and time seems callous and unhelpful. 

Frankly, if you're an atheist, you need to be worried. Because you have to make every moment of your life. You need to recoup every second. It needs to all count, it has to matter at every moment because your value, worth, identity are being redeemed and purchased by whatever it is you're shedding blood, sweat, and tears for. It's always on the line, all of it. Even when you party, party hard, party right, party so it's epic and memorable because if it ends up being a lonely night with Netflix and Domino's pizza, you'll probably consider it a fail in light of how hard you worked during the week. You have to carpe diem the heck out of everything you do. But don't worry. Just enjoy it. 

It's been said that worry for the Christian amounts to practical atheism. It makes sense right? If you believe in a God that's in control of all things, then why be overly preoccupied about all the details of life? Understand however that this isn't simply a call to fatalistic living. The Bible isn't telling you to let go and float into nothingness. Instead, we're pointed to Jesus Christ to see that He's won for us all things by His life, death, and resurrection. If God's pleasure is to give me His whole kingdom of heaven and earth and everything in between, then I don't need to fret over any earthly sandcastles I keep trying to build. Unlike the atheist bus ads which tell me not to worry and enjoy life with no place to set my feet firmly on, the gospel tells me to plant two feet firmly in Christ and know that He will never let my feet slip.

When I was a kid and asked for something from my dad, he'd always launch into a short parable about how if we were on a sinking boat together and there were only one life jacket, he'd give it to me. (He's not very good at answering yes/no questions.) He's told me this enough times now where he's mercifully shortened his answers to, "I've already given you my life jacket." It's his way of telling me to not worry and that he'll help or provide or whatever it was I need.

How much more can my Heavenly Father accomplish! How much more can He comfort and assure me that I need not worry! Because He points me to Jesus and says, "I've already given you my life jacket. What more do you need?" 

Walking in the Word 2017 - Psalm 137

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
— Psalm 137:4
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Many of us find ourselves dragging our feet to get to church because life has been hard. The circumstances we find ourselves in can often overwhelm us, where we sense a cloud over our hearts in ways that leave us helpless, broken, and discouraged. Whether you're experiencing real, physical oppression and pain or invaded by an indescribable, untraceable malaise, nobody wants to walk into a church and have to turn a switch on and pretend to be joyful. It's hard to say hi to familiar faces, much less new ones. Your motivation to sing out loud or stand and clap or even focus all get sucked into a hole of sadness and sorrow. 

You're not alone. Not only because I've felt this many times, even as a pastor preaching on a Sunday. But because the Bible shows us this picture as well. Psalm 137 is traditionally categorized as a psalm of lament. It clearly describes a particular time and place in history; the Israelite exile in Babylon. Here, the people are captives of a foreign nation, removed from their Promised Land, cast down to the lowest rung of the social order, with no sign of change to come. This psalm is one of many that address this dark time of this people's soul as they cried out to God in their pain and suffering.

Yet this lamentation of a psalm gives hope in a way that should give the struggling Christian hope to sing on a Sunday. Psalm 137:1-4 finds the psalmist wondering aloud how one could possibly sing at all when they're in captivity. Yet this all sets the scene for v.5-6 where the psalmist exclaims aloud, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!" In essence, the psalmist says, "Hope in hope that God remains true to His promise." God's promise was that the people would always live in the Promised Land. Having been taken out, it seemed to the Israelites during their Babylonian bondage that they would never have a shot at reclaiming it again. Yet hope in the hope of God. If the psalmist were to lose that hope, he prays that he would never sing again and his heart lose the ability to play any instruments.

Hope in the hope of God. In your darkness and weakness, God calls upon you to hope in something with more assurance than the psalmist had. We are guaranteed the same Promised Land as the psalmist yet made proof positive and fully secured by the blood of Jesus Christ, confirmed by the Spirit. In Jesus, there is always a song to sing, even when you have no strength left to sing. There is always a place to praise, even when your circumstances leave you downtrodden. This is only because our ultimate happiness lies not in the solutions to our situations or experiencing only the best this world has to offer but our identity in and union with Christ. It is knowing that we are loved by the Father regardless of how much we hate what has happened to our lives. The truth is we sing not because we're happy to sing. But in our brokenness, we sing because we have to sing. We have no choice but to sing, to be led back to the Father, and allow our memory to minister God's grace in Christ to our own hearts.

Now as for the rest of Psalm 137 with its proclamation of doom, destruction, and the dashing of foreign babies on rocks? We'll save that for another devotional. ;)

Walking in the Word 2017 - Luke 8:4-15

As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
— Luke 8:15
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It's summer and we've begun to go outside, take our vacations, lounge with friends, and enjoy a slightly slower pace of life. We can dictate so much more of what happens, how it happens, and when it happens. Everybody wants to be out and about, soaking in the sun and re-connecting with people. 

Church attendance dips like crazy during this time of year. This isn't a bad statistic necessarily on its own. People go on vacations with their families or attend weekend weddings, hopefully attending another Sunday services in far-flung locations. Churches generally recognize that and either ramp up programmed activities like crazy with kids camps and all-church picnics to keep families close by or ramp down and let people operate at a slower pace, allowing them to organically connect with others. There's no right or wrong way for a church to respond to this season. 

From a pastoral perspective, our concern isn't whether we provide a ton of options or not enough options for your family to stay connected during the summer. What we care about is that this is the time of year people go into spiritual drought. The extra free time usually turns us inward, focused on our own personal development, our own recreation, our own kingdoms. It's easy to avoid taking the time to do the hard work of caring for the soil of our hearts, cultivating our spiritual lives, and allowing the Word of God to take root in our hearts. Our spiritual disciplines easily get cast aside for beach trips and barbecues. 

When something takes root, it doesn't come out easy. It doesn't get ignored but will always sprout and flower again. God's Word does exactly that but only if the soil is prepared, packed, and watered properly and regularly. Summertime is actually an ideal time to do that. You can take the Word with you anywhere and spend time thinking, praying, and memorizing it. On your long drives to your vacation destinations, getting a tan on the beach, sitting out on the porch on a cool summer night. It's work, sure, but the fruit it bears is wonderful. Take the time in this season to care for your soul by caring for your heart's soil and planting the Word in it.

One other note about this passage to point out. When it comes to sharing the Word with others and talking to them about Jesus, this passage is a real encouragement. Note that the sower doesn't pick and choose where he sows but is promiscuous in sowing seed. He throws it on all surfaces. While this isn't the main point and purpose of the parable, I find it interesting that Jesus doesn't show the sower to be a careful planner. In fact, many people would accuse this sower of being wasteful and unwise. It's a reminder however that our God shows no favoritism and wants His gospel to made known among all, regardless of where they are, what they are, and in what condition they happen to be in. Our call to evangelize is not limited to those that are "prepared" or "ready" or "ripe". We are to proclaim the Good News of Christ to anyone and everyone. The burden for whether the seed takes root in the lives of those who hear is not ours to bear but God's and theirs. As you have opportunity to live life alongside your family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers, may you sow the seed of the Word no matter who you come cross!

Walking in the Word 2017 - Philippians 3:10-14

"But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." - Philppians 3:13-14

One of the most interesting gadgets that have grown in popularity over the past half year utilizes the lowest of technologies. Fidget spinners are a hot item right now for kids and teens everywhere. Their emergence and popularity is thought provoking for a couple of reasons. There is a branch of the scientific community that believes it's important for children with ADHD and autism to have outlets for nervous energy. (Let's set aside the bigger debate of what qualifies children for ADHD and autism in today's world for now.) They argue that fidget spinners allow that to happen in a simple, less intrusive way, that is much healthier than sticking kids in front of iPads with headphones on and beaming in Netflix. 

Conversely, there are those in the scientific community that argue against them, saying they simply serve to be a new-old form of distraction. It keeps children from paying attention in class to their teachers or listening to instructions from parents. In essence, it does the opposite of what proponents says it helps does. 

The ultimate issue in all this is solving the problem of how do we keep children from being distracted? How do they stay focused, not anxious but single-minded? It's a tough question because ultimately, as an adult, I'm not a paragon of steadiness and steadfastness. I'm all too quick to grab my phone at the first sound it makes, follow rabbit trails of curiosity online with news, culture, and theological articles, or even wander into momentary daydream sessions where my mind goes as blank as the wall I stare at. Focus in this day and age, amid our cultural milieu, is difficult. 

Paul didn't seem like he needed a fidget spinner, even if it seemed like he needed to relax from time to time. One reads this passage in Philippians and can only come away in wonder at the resolve and perseverance of a man caught up in Christ. All his accomplishments, all his personal desires, all his social qualifications were considered trash in light of his Lord. He wanted to be first place, but only if he were racing to Jesus.

This is the kicker: Paul did not daydream but he did dream. Dreamed of knowing Christ as intimately as possible. Knowing Jesus in suffering, knowing Him in His death, knowing Him in His weakness. Only by doing so could Paul know Christ in His strength, in His resurrection, in His perfection. To receive the "prize of the upward call", Paul had to know the downward reality of Christ in his own brokenness, failure, and death to his own dreams. Only there might he begin to run the right race, to sprint the correct direction, to follow in Christ's steps. 

It is this reality that we so often can't handle. We want to know Christ but not in His suffering. To go up, we must first be brought down. So we want fidget spinners, Netflix, iPhones, television shows because they distract us from the race God is calling us to run. We say we want to be single-minded but our hearts deceive themselves. Instead we settle for basic, worldly distractions, pain-numbers and pain-escapers that don't allow us to engage the deepest recesses of our hearts and need for Jesus. God's call is so much more than what we've settled for. It's a life-long pursuit of knowing God in Jesus Christ with an intimacy that is unmatched by anything this world can offer. What is distracting you today from pressing on toward the goal of Christ?

Walking in the Word - 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

"I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married m an is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman  is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord." - 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

I'm about a month and a half away from getting married, entering into a new season of life. And while in we live in a time where getting married "later" is the new normal, there are other norms that inform when one should be getting married. Coming from an Asian cultural and being the firstborn son of a firstborn son, there was both unspoken and violently exclaimed pressure to find someone foolish enough to take this next step with me starting from my late 20s. Add to that the societal pressures of watching your closest friends slowly drift away because of new commitments in their lives as they get married and have children. 

Yet the part I wanted to reflect on most that sits nearest to my heart is the aspect of being a single male pastor. As Paul reflects, the single male pastor might be the most fully devoted and sold out believer dedicated to service for the Lord. Yet it's amazing how in many conversations I've had with other single men in ministry, we're often derided and cast aside by others because of our lack of a marital status. 

Some top hits because it's fun to give examples:

1. Having a congregation member directly tell me they didn't respect me because I wasn't married and that I wasn't a real pastor.

2. Going up before a presbytery meeting to introduce myself and the very first question asked regarding my qualifications for ministry was if I was married and why I wasn't married yet.

3. Being told by another pastor in a church that a couple didn't want to talk to me about any of their personal issues because I was single and couldn't possibly speak into their lives.

Of course these examples aren't the norm. By and large, I'm blessed and encouraged and empowered by so many of those I serve over, alongside of, and under. I simply know though that what I've experienced above is no different than what many single pastors have experienced as well.

Look, are their creepy single male pastors? Absolutely. And they ruin it for the rest of us. But there are a ton of creepy married ones too. So being single doesn't make you creepy. Being creepy does. That's not an issue of life stage, that's an issue of character. Some might say, "Well marriage is the same thing right? An issue of character?" Well, no, not really either. Spend enough time around married men when their wives aren't around and you'll realize that this definitely isn't the case either. 

Ultimately, the point I wanted to reflect on in this weird post is that as I get ready for marriage, there are many people who will see this as a graduation. They congratulate me and wish me well and talk about how much this will be of benefit to me. And they're absolutely right. Even in the short period of dating and engagement, I've learned and discovered so many things about myself that I definitely would not have realized apart from my fiancee. I've been educated on so many aspects of relationships that I wouldn't have figured out on my own. And there's so much more to go, much more to learn. And all this will help me grow as a pastor.

Yet I know some might disagree with me in saying this but I refuse to believe marriage will make me a better pastor. Only a different one. I don't think marriage makes a Christian better, only makes them understand faith from a new perspective. Marriage surely will sanctify. But so does singleness. What the Lord has always cared about is whether in platonic or covenantally bound relationships, He is honored and glorified and kept first. 

The new challenge before me is learning to do this with someone else as one. To be a pastor while learning to balance this with caring for my wife. It will be strange, weird, and wonderful. Marriage will surely teach me in its own way to love and depend on the Lord more. Yet know and understand that so many of my single brothers in ministry have their own knowledge, their own experience, and their own struggle that has formed and made them to be the servants that they are. There is much to gain from allowing them into your lives and we would be wise to ask them to do so.

Walking in the Word 2017 - 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

"I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who  gives the growth." - 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

Pastors love comparing and contrasting. We can be egregiously defensive and overly protective. We hate criticism and being evaluated by others. Tell us about your marital strife, your financial problems, your spiritual doubt and we'll rush to your side and be ready to minister to you. But don't you dare tell us about how much you loved the worship service of the church down the street or that Reverend So-and-so whose sermon you listened to was one of the best you heard all month. Because we're the jealous type.

There were all kinds of divisions within the Corinthian church that sent groups of people scattering in all directions. One of the big ones was the issue of which "spiritual leader" people chose to follow. Dispute arose about whose message should have the most sway. The dirty secret for a lot of us in ministry is that while most of us can put up a front of respect and equality for co-laborers in the gospel and even say a nice word or two about others, deep down, there rages a pride monster that wants to be fed. It's a sinful desire that wants to be wanted, that desires influence and power because MY VOICE NEEDS TO BE HEARD. 

Paul's voice in this passage is so refreshing. It's a man who is self-forgetful, who is so filled up in Christ that he's fine with not being front and center. He's ok with not getting credit, deserved or undeserved. He knows who he ultimately must answer to, who deserves the glory, honor, and praise. 

Furthermore, Paul goes a step further and demonstrates a kingdom-mindedness that gets lost within pastoral ministry. Not only does he refuse to see Apollos as a threat to his work, he recognizes and acknowledges the benefit and blessing of Apollos' ministry. He celebrates it and sees them working alongside each other though they don't intentionally do so. I cannot begin to re-tell all the stories I have seen firsthand of pastors who are pent up with anger, saying, "How dare they plant their church in my neighborhood," the spiritual equivalent of GET OFF MY LAWN. It's silly to think that while we teach that life in the Christian faith is entirely a work of God from beginning to end yet we often don't see our church work in the same light. 

God's power is strong enough to work in many people in a myriad of surprising ways. God's grace is surprising enough that we should always be in awe and appreciation of what He does in the lives of others through God-given talents and gifts. God's love is deep enough that we can rest assured that in Jesus, we don't need to mark our lives by performance or personality. God's mercy is real enough that even when we get caught up in building our own kingdoms instead of rejoicing in God's, there is forgiveness for our foolishness.

Walking in the Word 2017 - Matthew 28:18-20

"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'" - Matthew 28:18-20

It's a well-worn passage that any regular churchgoer has come across. Jesus' call to the apostles to take His message to the ends of the earth, to baptize and make disciples of any and all they come across so that they may come to faith and obedience in Christ is echoed during many a Sunday service and missions conference. The Great Commission, as we call it, carries great weight in giving believers a clear command to hold in their heart as they think about what following Jesus means.

Yet what often gets lost in our singular focus on this central verse are the two verses before and after it. One of the chief lessons you see in Scripture is that imperatives are always preceded by indicatives. Another way to put it is that God commands only after after God first comforts. All too often, the temptation for believers is to have the mindset that now that we're saved by grace and trust in Jesus by faith, let's go back to living by the law, checking off commands as we fulfill them one deed at a time. A slave that is set free but then chooses to have chains placed back on himself was never truly set free in the first place. 

The danger of the Great Commission is divorcing it's command from it's surrounding comfort. We live in a context where evangelicals regularly leverage their version of Christianity in cultural wars that influence the parts of the country they inhabit. The disciples didn't exactly have that kind of power. Jesus was telling a ragtag collection of twelve outcasts to go and share a completely counter-cultural message that would put them at risk of suffering, pain, and death. Even if Christians today went door-to-door doing evangelism, we generally don't have to worry about those repercussions.

This is why the comfort Jesus provides around this command matters and why we should meditate and delight in it as we think about it. To have the resurrected Christ, with fresh wounds in his wrists and feet, proclaim that He has authority over heaven and earth means something. There's proof behind that statement, an undeniable power that then feeds into His command. Likewise, when Jesus, who hundreds, if not thousands, saw crucified, comes back from the dead and says He will be with them, always, to the end of the age, you have a statement that can be taken to the bank. It's as sure and real as you can possibly get. This is the reality that empowered the disciples to be the first church planters. It wasn't techniques or four spiritual laws or charisma or rhetorical ability or sheer will that became the fuel for their fire. It was the truth that Jesus was King and would reign forever.

Indicatives before imperatives. Comforts before commands. As you read the Word and come across inspiring and motivating commands from God, just remember there is always an underlying truth about who God is or what He's done as seen and accomplished in Jesus Christ that forms the foundation for what He fills us up to do by the Spirit. We live not out of those commands but out of those comforts, knowing that as we rest and are restored by grace through faith, the more we actually become like Him and live like Him and naturally obey Him in what think, say, and do.

Walking in the Word 2017 - Psalm 67

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. - Psalm 67:4

So for all you armchair Bible interpreters who want a neat way to hack the Psalms, I give up a simple little tip for unearthing the main point of almost every psalm. Just look at the middle. I know, mind-blowing right? It's a secret that's out in the open, a little too obvious to be true. Old Testament Hebrew constantly uses literary sandwiches with an A, B, C, B, A type pattern (what nerds call chiasms). If you think about A being the bread, B being your condiments, lettuce, tomatoes, then C is the meat, the main reason why you're biting into the sandwich in the first place. You need A and B to add a little pep, texture, flavor but what really feeds you, what sticks to the ribs, is going to be C. This typically ends up being the thesis of any Old Testament passage and regularly works for the psalms. 

So a quick application of this to Psalm 67. Look at the first and last verse; a call for God to bless His people. Go a verse in from the ends, v.2 and 6. They speak of the earth as a whole responding to God. Take a quick pause and note how v.6-7 are a form of response to the call in v.1-2. The people pray that God would make His face shine on the people and that the earth would know His ways in v.1-2 and in v.6-7, the earth has received God's blessing and the earth is called to respond in kind.

Now move into v.3 and v.5. They're exactly the same, calling upon the people to praise the Lord. It's like walking between the two pillars that form a gateway to glory, as if they're guarding and protecting the treasure of truth that lies in between them. That would be v.4; "Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon the earth." It's an exclamation of God's desire for this whole world, that any and all would come to sing His praises. That the world would be witness of God's greatness and respond in kind. It's a pre-Revelation picture of the new heavens and new earth. It's glorious, awe-inspiring, and worth rejoicing over. In a time where we're concerned about civil authorities both near and abroad, where it doesn't seem like this world can get along, we are reminded who is truly in control and how all things are in His hand. His faithfulness, sovereignty, and righteousness cannot be impugned upon by any earthly power. Instead, God's people have a place to give thanks and reason to call the nations to do the same.

The beauty of all this is how the structure of the poem builds up to v.4. Our appreciation of the psalms should go beyond picking out one pithy verse that brings us comfort or gives us fuzzy feelings. But a little simple interpretive legwork can sometimes bring out even greater delight in the book of God's songs and prayers.

Walking in the Word 2017 - Numbers 30:2

If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. - Numbers 30:2

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In reflection of our sermon this past Sunday and the story of Jephthah, this verse is applicable. Jephthah's horrendous vow is central to the sadness of Judges 10-12, the foolish cry of a wayward savior. There is brashness and insolence in proclaiming what you plan on accomplishing for God, especially when exclaimed with an expectation that God fulfill His end of the bargain. God is not interested in fair exchanges, a right reserved not only for a Creator who rules over His creation but also for one who offered up His own child's perfect righteousness, holiness, and purity in order to take on our disgrace, sin, and death. 

You would figure a man as knowledgeable regarding Israel's history and God's dealing with her would have some understanding of His law. It wasn't pure duty to this verse that bound Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter as there were ways out. Leviticus 27:1-8 speaks of prices to redeem a human life from vows. More importantly, as was mentioned on Sunday, what Jephthah missed was the grace of God and unrelenting love for Israel. To cover a sin with another sin solves no problems but Jephthah saw this as the only path. He couldn't understand that there is forgiveness available for God's people. There was no reason to follow through on a terrible vow to the Lord if there were ways to avoid fulfilling it.

It all points to the deeper heart problem of Jephthah. When you fail to embrace God's grace but operate on a merit-based plan with Him, then you make demands of the Lord in the form of vows. You might make promises to God with a desire to honor and glorify Him with your obedience and love yet what often lies beneath all that is a functional profession that God can be controlled and at times is in your debt. And any god that can be placed in a box is no god, rather it makes you god. And if that is the case, why are you making vows to anyone else?

How are we to live then? James 5:12 makes it clear; "But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your 'yes' be yes and your 'no' be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation." God doesn't expect us to make promises to Him. The gospel doesn't save us so we can make vows, promises, and oaths to God about what we're going to do for Him but it frees us to rest, love, and live out of the promises God has fulfilled, is fulfilling, and will fulfill in the face of His Son, Jesus Christ. Nothing you perform or accomplish for the Lord increases His love and delight for you when you live by faith in Him. All it does is help us recognize and receive more of His unfathomable desire for us. It is so easy to fool ourselves into confessing one thing but functionally living in another way. We must remember faith is not a place where we have to prove ourselves to God and vice versa but is the swimming pool of grace on a hot summer day where we wade, dive, and float to His delight.

 

Walking in the Word 2017 - Psalm 54:1-7

With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good. - Psalm 54:6

This is a psalm of David, prayed while on the run from Saul. The Ziphites, that band of snitches, were revealing David's hiding places to Saul, never allowing a fugitive David to rest. It is in the desperation of the soul that he prays this psalm. 

The key theme for David in this psalm is the power of God's name. After all it's about who you know right? We've surely been in situations where you've met someone and don't know anything about them but when they give you the name of someone you both know, there is some association, some connection that is made. The name alone doesn't identify that you each know the same person but does more than that. It provides inferences on whether the person giving the name is trustworthy, likable, or trustworthy. Such is the power of a name. 

I have a difficult first name to pronounce and have had it slaughtered by well-meaning substitute teachers and salesmen on a regular basis. When I was younger, I adopted an "American" name that made it easier for others. It didn't last long because at the end of the day, it simply wasn't me. There was no reference point for the name beyond simply giving native English-speakers to identify me. 

There is power in being named. Parents name a child because he or she is their creation. We name our pets because it is our responsibility to care for them. There is an authority inherent in naming others. People change their last names because they don't want to be associated with their family's painful past or are looking to forge a different future with a new one in marriage.

Only one being has never been named by another for he was never birthed and has no father nor mother. He has no beginning nor end but always was, is, and will be. None has power or authority over him for he named himself. He is the Lord, Yahweh, Jehovah, I AM.

The beauty of this psalm is the build up to God's name. David prays and uses "elohim" in speaking to God, even as he calls upon God, "Save me by your name." He repeatedly uses this term to refer to God in this prayer as he recalls the character and compassion of his God. It's as if David's tapping the ground in his prayer, trying to make sure he's on sure footing, before he confidently takes his stand in the name of his Lord, which happens in verse 6. As the first 5 verses bubble up, David erupts in verse 6, exclaiming YAHWEH. You can imagine the cry this was. I simply can't see this being whispered to himself or said in his own head but had to have been yelled out.

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The fears and anxieties of the present and future give way to confidence in the true name of the Lord and the victories and comfort David has experienced in the past in the hands of our Lord. In so many ways, this provides one possible pattern for our own prayers. So much of our time is often spent on calling upon God to address our current troubles and future anxieties yet so little is spent on the exclamation and outburst of praise and hope that comes from remembering God's faithfulness in times gone by. 

We also live in a time where God's name is used in vain, a curse word muttered under the breath of the frustrated. What weight does the name of the Lord carry in your heart? What comfort does it bring to your soul? To hear that the Lord is near in your struggles, to hear that the victory is the Lord's in your defeats? This is what David experienced and what God desires for us today. Trust in His name.

 

Walking in the Word 2017 - Matthew 21:1-11

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Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, "Who is this?" And the crowds said, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee."  - Matthew 21:8-11

Expectations are a hell of a thing. Misplaced expectations bring hell to things. When Jesus made His way back to Jerusalem, He was returning to a dry powder keg.

Many Israelites had grown tired of Roman occupation and desired to get out from under the thumb of Caesar. Dissent fermented among the people putting the civil authorities on high alarm for any military powers or coup attempts. Meanwhile, the spiritual authorities of the time were on the lookout for messianic claims, those who would dare go against their teaching and usurp their sway over the people. Any threat was to be put down and recently, the itinerant preacher who supposedly was borne of a virgin had been causing problems. 

Jesus stepped into this mess. He did not command the people to spread their cloaks, to rip down palms, and to sing His praise. He most certainly didn't ask for them to put on this show when many of those who bowed their head would later spit on Jesus' as He trudged His way down the road to Calvary. It was simply what they expected. 

I'm sure we've all felt the sting of both sides of the coin. Failing to live up to the expectations of others can bring on guilt, shame, and force us into a shell of fear. Never having our expectations met often leads us to sadness, anger, and frustration. Nobody wants to live in either of these worlds. You might think that the answer is to never have expectations. But that's impossible. Nobody can operate in a person-less vacuum. Even if you were to divorce yourself from any meaningful relationship in the world, you still have expectations of the waiter you order food from and the mechanic who works on your car. We even have expectations placed on things. You expect your oven to properly heat up your leftovers and your smoke alarm to go off when your oven doesn't meet your expectations.

Jesus didn't make it possible for anyone to take a wait-and-see approach. You either liked Him or you didn't, thought He had some valid things to say or called Him a fool. There was no in-between. What makes this all so interesting was how Jesus utterly failed every single definition and expectation that was placed on Him during the triumphal entry. Nobody grasped the importance of what was about to happen, of where this road was leading, not even Jesus' closest friends, the disciples.

A good test of your value system is what happens when your expectations aren't met. What crushes you when it doesn't go your way? What gets your hopes highest? What keeps you up at night when you don't know how it's going to turn out? It's generally an accurate sign of where your treasure is.  

When Jesus died, those who had the most hope in Him were crestfallen and depressed. They mourned, rightfully so, the death of their friend and brother. Even more so, they mourned the death of their hopes and dreams. Yet the beauty of the cross is that the very symbol of their disappointment and destruction of their greatest expectations would turn out to be the very symbol of love, grace, and hope that would blow away any and all expectations. At the cross, justice and mercy embrace as reunited lovers. Death, thinking it had struck its eternally fatal blow, kowtowed before the fount of eternal life as she flowed freely.

Faith in Christ doesn't guard us from disappointment, failure, or frustration when it comes to our expectations. What it means though is that we may be defeated but never destroyed. We may be broken but never irredeemable. For God's economy doesn't work like the world's. Our weakness becomes His strength, our foolishness His wisdom. With God, we may not get what we want but we very often receive what we need. The ultimate expectation we should live with is that our God is with us, for us, and delights over us. We should expect to be surprised by His grace and rest easy knowing He loves us.

Walking in the Word 2017 - Matthew 4:1-11

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But he answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
Matthew 5:4

God doesn't rest but neither does our adversary, Satan. Though the victory has been won in Christ and the result is firmly in heaven's hand, Satan still attempts to steal battles here and there. The devil's desire is to tempt us, trick us, and trip us, to divert our gaze away from the Lord and lead it to lesser things, most often which is ourselves.

The wilderness Jesus walked in was not a lovely walk down a tree-lined path, with birds chirping and a soft wind brushing His skin. It was trudging under the hot desert sun over dirt, dust, and rocks. And after 40 days of fasting, the hunger had to have been gnawing at all His insides.

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Addiction recovery counselors often tell people about the acronym HALT: hungry, angry, lonely, tired. These are the four overwhelming emotions that often lead a person back into using a substance, or in the case of the Christian, falling into sin. Jesus was definitely hungry, clearly tired, and probably lonely. That's when Satan came along.

The devil attacked in every which way, appealing to provision (feed yourself), pity (fail yourself), and pride (flaunt yourself). Yet Jesus would not take the bait.

Instead, Jesus defended Himself with the sword of the Spirit, looking not to His own strength and wisdom but depending on God's very Word to be strong and wise for Him. Satan even quoted Scripture to Jesus, perverting it as only the devil can, yet Jesus would resist for He knew his tactics. More importantly, He knew whose voice mattered most.

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Understand that committing to read the Bible in a year isn't just a monumental task that you want to check off your list. It is spiritual preparedness. You are practicing the chord progressions, taking your practice swings, and every other analogy for getting ready. Because when the salacious whispers of sin float your way, you must be ready to act. Knowing the Word, memorizing it, meditating on it, and marinating in it before that moment strikes makes a difference. Being familiar with the lay of the Bible's land, knowing what promises and truths you need to rest in matter. This is why journeying in the Word together is good for all of us. After all, it was good enough for Jesus in the midst of His battles.