More Than the Watchmen Wait for the Morning…

The author of the 130th Psalm cries out to God for mercy. He pleads for God to hear his voice and be attentive to his cry. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+130&version=NIV

But then, he does three important things: He recounts what he knows of God’s character, he waits, and he hopes.

Sometimes, when I cry out to God, I expect God to reveal Himself to me with an immediate and positive answer. And, occasionally, God does answer prayer with a dramatic and instant result. But most of the time, God answers first with silence. Not because He is cruel or uninterested or too busy to acknowledge my cry. He gives me time to reflect– on His nature, and the nature of my need. And He gives me time to find peace and trust in the middle of the storm.

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I spent much of yesterday crying out– I am frustrated with the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. I am angry at the misinformation and conflicting reports; I don’t know what to believe about staying put or venturing out–is it allowed? Is it safe if I wear a mask? Can I go to the park or beach? When can I re-open my shop? Can I make the payments until it can be re-opened? When can I safely see my family and friends again? Will it be safe to hug them? And I am frustrated with the way I see people treating each other– yelling, screaming, eager to condemn everyone else’s behavior while justifying their own. And I find myself saying and doing the same thing from the relative safety of my computer screen– after all, I can’t yell at anyone to their face if I can’t leave the house, right? But I can let my 300 closest friends know how heartless and selfish they are if they don’t see things my way! They’re KILLING people! They’re betraying family members! They’re living in fear! They have no compassion! And I cannot make them do what I think is right!

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But when I stop the crying and carrying on, and justifying, and finger-pointing; when I stop to remember who God is, and who I am, I remember that God IS attentive. And not just to my frustration, but to everyone’s needs– the person who is living in terror; the person who is suffering pain, grief, agony, and loss; the person who is defiant and uncaring and angry. God is attentive, but He is also overflowing with mercy. If He kept records– if He only looked upon mankind to find evidence of our guilt or to pour out shame and punishment– who could stand? Who would have the authority to tell God how He should direct the universe? Who could say that they were more capable of dispensing life and death, health and sickness, mercy and justice? Would I? It is no little thing to cry out to the God of the universe. And yet, God listens attentively to our every cry. Especially when we cry out to Him for mercy, for wisdom, for peace, and for healing. His answer may not look like what we expect, but He never fails to listen in Love.

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And as I contemplate God’s power, wisdom, compassion, grace, and authority, I can wait. And that doesn’t mean that I sit in a lotus position and stop seeing the pain and chaos and death. Or that I count to ten and hold my breath. Or that I set a timer and think happy thoughts for 20 minutes. No. I wait like a watchman– like a sentry waiting for whatever may happen– alert and ready to do my duty. And I wait like a watchman for the dawn– for the light of day to see clearly; for the end of my watch, when there will be rest.

This season is difficult, but it will end. It will give way to a new dawn– with new challenges! But just as the Psalmist tells Israel, I know I can put my hope in the Lord, for “with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption (v. 7). If I cry out, knowing that God is willing to listen and able to save, but I don’t stand firm in hope, I can still be swept away by the winds of doubt and the current of angst.

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Cry out–then reflect, wait, and hope.

Resent, Relent, or Repent…

We’re getting ready to enter the Lenten season–six and a half weeks of reflection and preparation before Easter. Lent is not a celebration in the traditional sense– it is solemn and reflective, personal and, sometimes, painful. It is a time of getting “real” about our sinful condition. The Bible says we have all fallen short of the Glory and Holiness of God (Romans 3:10) and deserve God’s wrath. The natural consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and permanent separation from the goodness of God.

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There are many ways we can react to this reality. I know many people who resent God’s Holiness and His laws. They do not want to face God’s righteous judgment; they believe that God’s laws are cruel and unjust, and that they do not have to answer to anyone greater then themselves.

Others want to bargain with God. They feel that if they relent– if they set a goal to do more good than harm, if they strive to be better than “the next guy”–God will weigh their good deeds in the balance and judge them in comparison with how bad they “might have been.”

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But God doesn’t judge on a curve– He doesn’t judge us by our measure, but by His. And none of us “make the grade.”

If that were the final word– the end of the story– there would be no reason to relent, and it wouldn’t make any difference if we were resentful. But God, from the very beginning, designed a different outcome. His judgement is just, but it is not without hope or remedy. God Himself has given us the chance to change– to repent. Repentance is agreeing with (not resenting) God’s judgment, and responding (not bargaining) with changed behavior and a changed attitude.

Lent begins when we confront the great gulf between God’s Holiness and our sinfulness. It stretches through the realization that sin and its consequences surround us, hem us in, and poison our world. It is a time of sadness and gaping loss, when we long for healing, for hope, and for a home we’ve never seen. It is a time for reflecting on the cost involved–not just in human suffering, but in God’s suffering as a human. God, who could have, in His righteousness, destroyed even the memory of mankind, chose to share our sufferings– hunger, cold, exhaustion, rejection, heartbreak, betrayal, death– to that we could be delivered into everlasting life.

Lent ends as we remember Jesus’ death and burial– His ultimate sacrifice for our debt. It ends with a shattering trumpet-blast of hope and joy on Easter Morning. Our sadness and loss is NOT the end– Sin’s power and poison are illusory. They have no power over our Great God.

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It can be tempting to respond to our present circumstances with resentment. It can be tempting to relent in our rebellion– trying to bargain with God, and minimize the cost He had to pay, trying to pay the price ourselves with a show of good behavior and a superficial devotion.

But God’s great Love and Mercy should draw us to worship and true devotion. As we reflect on the great gulf between sin and holiness, it should cause us to gladly repent– to lay on the altar all the substitutes and lesser things that keep us from full communion with the Lover of Our Souls.

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Our prayers during this season may be difficult. They may be filled with grief, loss, and pain. But they may also be filled with hope and joy as we anticipate the gift of Grace. And they should be filled with praise. After all, Lent is a season; a season to reflect, a season to repent, a season to mourn, but a season with a beginning and an end; a season that gives way to celebration and a sure hope of resurrection!

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Christmas is a time of joy and light. But the time of Advent is often a time of somber reflection. We remember a time we have never known– a time before the coming of Christ the Messiah– a time before the mysteries of Heaven were revealed and before the victory of Salvation was accomplished. Advent reminds us of the spiritual darkness that existed before God, in human form, in humble obedience, and in sacrificial love, became the Light of the World, and the Hope of All Nations.

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Before the bells rang, and the angels sang; before the kings brought gold and the shepherds ran to tell the news; before there were Christmas Carols, Christmas decorations, or Christmas pageants– there was solemn silence, fear, dread, and waiting. God had been silent. The prophets had been silent. The world had grown hard and cold.

Jesus stepped out of the unfathomable glory of the Highest Heaven– surrounded by armies of angels all worshiping Him and ready to do His bidding. In an instant, He became a helpless fetus inside a helpless young woman, a subject of the Roman Empire, and at the mercy of her culture. Her fiance could have repudiated her; her parents could have disowned her; her community could have had her stoned to death, along with her unborn child. No one, even those who were anticipating the arrival of a Christ, was expecting this tiny baby growing inside the womb to change the course of history.

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He was born in obscurity, in ignominious squalor. He was the Lord of All Creation, wrapped in rags and laid in a feeding trough in an overcrowded city at tax time. There were no bells or carolers, no glittering trees or festivals of lights, no sounds of joy and celebration– not in that manger in Bethlehem. Instead, there were strangers pushing and shoving, shouting, and snoring in the inns and houses and streets, being watched by soldiers and pickpockets alike, as they made their way through narrow, unfamiliar streets and tried to lock out the worry and danger and dread. There may have been silence in the fields and valleys outside of town, but not near the stable where Jesus was born. No. The “silence” we sing about during Advent is the silence inside our own hearts– a call to “be still,” and know that this baby we celebrate is God Incarnate. He is the One to whom every knee will one day bow, and every tongue confess that He is LORD.

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In the stillness and silence of Advent, in the darkness lit only by candles and faint hope, we being to understand the contrast. We re-imagine what came before the joy and hope and eternal clouds of witnesses shouting, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” We remember the days and years before the angels sang, and the star danced across the night sky– before the shocking crucifixion and the glorious resurrection of this still unborn Savior.

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Let us spend these days of Advent preparing our hearts for the true wonder of Christmas. It doesn’t come in the wrapped packages under a festive tree, or in the feasting with friends or family. It doesn’t come with sirens and parades, or speakers at the mall blaring out favorite tunes. It doesn’t come in the majesty of a Cathedral ringing with the voices of a choir and organ. It comes when the silence and darkness of our sin and dread are pierced with the overwhelming glory of God With Us– Emmanuel is coming! But for now, for these moments, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.

This Little Light…

Yesterday, I wrote about reflections– about being a reflection of God’s character in a dark world.  Today just happens to be the 49th anniversary of the first moon landing, so I’d like to revisit yesterday’s theme, but with a slightly different analogy.

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Mirrors, lakes, glass, and more can be used to reflect both light and images.  The moon reflects light from the sun to light our way at night.  God created it to do just that, and I believe that God never wastes an opportunity to teach us lessons in nature.  So I want to look at just some of the ideas that occur to me about how the moon can teach us about reflecting God’s light in our darkened world.

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First, the moon generates no light on its own.  The moon is NOT the sun– it does not and cannot generate light or heat.  On its own, it is lifeless and cold.  But because of where it is, and what it is, it provides light, acts on the oceans to create tides, and helps us chart the weeks, months, and seasons.  The moon doesn’t act independently, but it has purpose and beauty in reflecting the sun and following its prescribed orbit around the earth.  If the moon were smaller, farther from the earth, nearer to the earth, or different in its nature, the effect on the earth and on all life would be devastating.

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Second, the moon can only reflect the sun’s light when it is in position to do so.  Moonlight is different every night because of its changing position.  We have names for all the many phases– full moon, half-moon, quarter moon, crescent moon, new moon, and so on.  Even more dramatic are the eclipses– when the world comes between the sun and moon, we get a lunar eclipse– the moon is shadowed because the sunlight cannot reach it– the world gets in the way.  And, if the moon comes between the sun and the earth, there is a solar eclipse– the world becomes dark as the moon gets in the way of the sun’s rays.  There is a good lesson here to us.  If we are to reflect God’s light and character to the world, we cannot afford to let the world block out our light source.  Worse, we cannot reflect light to the world when we step in front of our source and block out the Son!

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Third, the moon can be visited– it can be mapped, studied, comprehended.  We can look directly at the moon, stare at it, look at it through a telescope, and not go blind.  We can send people in rockets to walk on the moon, take samples of its dust and rocks, plant flags on its surface, and even leave trash on its surface.  There is still mystery and fascination to be found on the moon, but it doesn’t have the glory and awe of the sun.

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Another interesting observation– there is no moon, nor need for it, in Heaven.  There will be a new heaven and a new earth, but there is no mention of a new moon.  There will be no seas (no tides), and no night.  We will no longer be a reflection of God’s character to a darkened world– instead, we will be living in the actual light of His presence.  What an awesome thought!

Obviously, like most analogies, there is no perfect correlation here.  These are just some random thoughts and observations, and I’m no scientist or theologian.  But, today, as we (hopefully) enjoy some time in the sun, and tonight as we reflect on the moon, I pray that we would get a special glimpse of His glory, and that we may use any opportunities that come our way to reflect it.

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Reflections…

Matthew 7:7-12 New International Version (NIV)

Ask, Seek, Knock

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

God created us in His image–when we look at someone else, we see an image of Almighty God, albeit one distorted by sin and the effects of a fallen world.  Jesus came to be a perfect reflection of the Father, and to restore our ability to more accurately reflect Him in the world around us.  As one who was able to perfectly fulfill the Law, Jesus summed up the Law and Prophets in a simple phrase we call “The Golden Rule”– Do to others what you would have them do to you.  We all want people to respect us, to help us, to believe us, to listen to us, to encourage us, to share with us, and to live in peace with us.  We also want people to respect our boundaries and privacy, and to forgive us when we mess up.

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Unfortunately, we are more often a reflection of the evil around us than the God who made us–we treat others with disdain; we cheat and lie (or tell half-truths); we point fingers at our “wicked” neighbors, while giving ourselves a “pass” for our own “shortcomings”.  We put others down, make fun of their mistakes, spread rumors, and call them names.  We take advantage of them, make demands of them, use and abuse them.  We hold grudges, we “unfriend” them, and we exaggerate their faults to others.  In fact, we spend time complaining about how badly others treat us, while passing that same treatment on to someone new.  And we don’t even see the hypocricy–in ourselves!

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There is another simple phrase–“Hurt people hurt people.”  In other words, people who are carrying hurt and bitterness pass it on to others.  They see insults in the most innocent phrases; they hang on to grudges and suspicion; they criticize and condemn others; they spread anger and hatred and negativity.  They see evil intent in everyone else’s words and actions, and justify the evil intent of their own by pointing their fingers.  Many people do it while proclaiming their own “righteousness.”  “I just tell it like it is—I call ’em as I see ’em.”  “I just think you need to know…”  “If you treated me better I wouldn’t have to be so mean/angry/ etc.”  “You’re what’s wrong with this world..”  “I deserve better than this..”

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It’s little wonder, then, that so many people have a distorted view of God– they believe he’s harsh, unforgiving, critical and demanding, just waiting for them to mess up so he can punish them.  They believe this, in part, because sin twists our ability to see the truth.  But they also believe it because they see these characteristics in the very people who proudly (even arrogantly) carry the name of Christ.

“Do to others what you would have them do to you…”  “Ask, and it will be given to you….Knock and the door will be opened to you.”  God is not harsh; neither is he a doormat.  He wants us to live in harmony and peace– not demanding or stealing, but asking and giving generously.  He wants us to speak the truth in love, not justifying ourselves at the expense of someone else, or jumping to conclusions or snap judgments.  He wants us to knock on doors– not break them down or walk away in isolation; not locking everyone out or dragging them inside our space against their will.  Jesus modeled how we are to live.  He had no home, but welcomed those who wanted to follow him, and accepted invitations from Pharisees and sinners alike.  He spoke harshly only to those who were harsh and arrogant, but he did not provoke arguments, and he spoke words of healing to those who were hurt, even those who mocked him.  He had only what he carried with him, yet he withheld nothing that he could give when it was in his power to do so– sharing his food, sharing the wisdom of parables, sharing his healing touch and compassionate heart.  He mentioned Hell more than any other Bible figure, but never with relish;  His desire is that all might repent and escape their just punishment.  Hurt people who encountered Jesus were transformed by his presence.  They still are being transformed!  But transformed people should be the ones to stop spreading hurt, shouldn’t they?  If hurt people hurt people, shouldn’t transformed lives transform lives?

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As I prepare to pray, today, I need to go back and reflect on how I reflect God’s character–Am I distorting His image?  Am I hurting people, or pointing the way to the One who can provide healing and transformation?

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Lord, help me to see you clearly, and reflect you more accurately to a dark and hurting world.  Help others to see in me your compassion, your love, and your desire to heal and restore.  Help me to reflect on all the good gifts you have given– joy, peace, hope, redemption, patience, kindness, self-control, love, perseverance, gentleness, goodness, trust, wisdom, truth, newness of purpose and life; help me to reflect those same good gifts as I go through this day that you have made.

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