The God Who Sees Me

oasisGenesis 16:1-16

“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her:  ‘You are the God who sees me, for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.”

Hi!  It has been a while since my last post, but I have been settling into my new position at Grace Bible Church in Lucas, Ohio.  It has been a wonderful experience and I have been blessed beyond measure with the kindnesses of these people.  I finally got around to updating my website page.  I changed my banner to a picture of a goldfinch.  (They are swarming my birdfeeder right now.  Didn’t see any of these of TN.)  I also got around to changing my address and time zone from Middle Tennessee to Middle Ohio.

It is amazing after a move how many times you have to update and change your address to inform others of the change.  There may be many readers of this blog that were not even aware of the change.  One thing for sure:  My Heavenly Father was aware.  And He was there to oversee every step Janine and I took on this pilgrimage northward.

Today’s passage is from Genesis 16.  Hagar is fleeing the wrath of Sarai.  She is partially wrong… partially wronged.  (Aren’t we all at times?)  But whatever the degree of fault or innocence… she was genuinely hurting.  She stops by a spring in the desert in her effort to escape her situation and “The angel of the Lord” meets her there.  Isn’t that like the Lord to meet us at the sight of our own humiliation?  That day, she is refreshed by more than the cool water of the spring that day… but by a visitation of the Divine.  “You are the God who sees me!” she cries out!

I remember hearing the story of a pastor who was caught in the midst of turmoil in his church.  One day when he could not take the pressure and pain any longer, he went into his back yard, waved a handkerchief toward the sky and exclaimed:  “God!  Did you forget where you put me?”  Job in the midst of his affliction once asked:  “Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?” (3:23)  Calamity and adversity can cause one to feel invisible… even to the eyes of the Almighty.

I want to take the next few blogs to draw you closer to a spring in the desert.  I sincerely hope my words will be a refreshment to your soul as you stop to search for answers and to collect yourself for the rest of your journey.  I know that my words will not change any of the  circumstances that have brought you to this place.  But I want to remind you of the God who sees.  Sometimes it is knowing you are not hidden from God that can make all the difference.

 

 

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A Wineskin in the Smoke

Psalm 119: 81-88wineskin

Came across an interesting verse in my daily Scripture readings yesterday.  Psalm 119:83 – “Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,  I do not forget Your statutes.”  Not sure why I have never seen this verse before.  It is probably because it is buried among 176 similar sounding verses within the longest chapter in the Bible.

What did this expression mean and why did I feel like it describes me right now?  The surrounding context is a Psalmist that is facing hardship.  His soul is languishing for deliverance (v.81) and He asks God:  “When will you comfort me?” (v.82)  He then says he feels like a wineskin in the smoke.  Now in the culture of the day, wine was stored in animal skins.  These skins if stored indoors with a fire present would become dry, then blackened and eventually would crack and become useless.  Good word picture, huh?

In the midst of feeling as used up and worthless as a discarded beverage container, he adds:  “I do not forget Your statutes.”   God’s word alone is the balm he needs for his wounds.  He might feel forsaken by man, but the Word says God has not forsaken him… and he is banking his life on it.

Sometimes, a word of Scripture can help when nothing else will do.  N. T. Wright remarks:

“Some parts of the Bible are best drunk like a large glass of water on a hot day—in other words, large quantities at a time—while others, such as many parts of the letters, are best sipped and savored, drop by drop… (always remembering that, especially in a letter, every verse means what it means in relation to the whole thing, not on its own.  But the point is that reading the Bible is habit-forming:  not just in the sense that the more you do it the more likely to want to do it, but also in the sense that the more you do it the more it will form habits of mind and heart, of soul and body, which will slowly but surely form your character into the likeness of Jesus Christ.”  (After You Believe, p. 262.)

Barely holding it together?  Too weary, you think, to turn to the Bible?  His Word is a lamp (v.105) and it can provide you the light of hope you need… even in the midst of the smoke.

“Sir, Will You Please Run With Me?”

Marine KerrEphesians 6:21-22

“But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you.  I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts.” (Emphasis on the word “comfort” is mine.)

Just read the story and saw the picture (see left) of Lance Cpl. Myles Kerr and his memorable run in the Jeff Drenth Memorial 5K footrace in Charlevoix, Michigan last weekend.  He didn’t technically “win.”  He came in dead last in his age group.  But he is a true winner in my book.

When 9-year-old Boden Fuchs  began to struggle in the race and then became separated from his group… he spotted the Marine.  Boden asked Kerr, “Sir, will you please run with me?” Kerr agreed to run with him and stuck with him until he completed the race.  Kerr finished at 35:43 minutes (five seconds behind Boden).  He may have lost the race, but he won over many heart.  The above picture received over 200,000 Facebook likes and was shared close to 10,000 times.

And what was the response of Kerr after all the praise?  He sent out a tweet that read:  “I was just doing what any man would do, but thank you!”— Myles M. Kerr (@Myles_Kerr)

Wow!  His actions remind me of the NT virtue of encouragement.  The Greek word is parakeleo.  It comes from “para” meaning “alongside” and from “keleo” meaning “to call.”  This strong and rich adjective can mean many things: comfort, exhortation, admonishment, instruction, teaching, begging, beseeching and, of course, encouragement.  In the above verse from Ephesians, Paul sent Tychicus to parakeleo… to come alongside… the Ephesians.  What an awesome word picture this is!

In fact, in the upper room, when Jesus teaches about the Holy Spirit, he refers to Him as the parakeletos… often translated, the “Helper” or the “Comforter.”  The Holy Spirit, much like the marine mentioned above, runs alongside us… exhorting us… begging us.. instructing us… comforting us… encouraging us… to keep running and to finish our race.

And if I am reading Ephesians correctly… it is a quality that we are to display ourselves.  Like Tychicus, when we hear:  “Sir, (or Ma’am), would you run with me?” we are to break off, adjust our pace to cadence, and help the struggling runner to complete their race.  Not for glory or praise, but because it is what “any man (or woman) would do.”

Know anybody that needs you to run with them today?   A teenager?  A close friend?  A widow?  Come along side them… and let them know they are not alone!  We are all in this race together!

And then realize that you are not alone either… the Comforter runs beside you… encouraging and leading you to the finish line and home!

Taking Your Response to the “Christ-like” Level (A Christian’s Response to Evil – Part 5 of 5)

forgivenessMark 11:25

Typical response to evil in this world:  bitterness.   Our Christ-like calling:

Forgiveness…

As Matthew West put it in his recent song: “It’s the hardest thing to give away.  And the last thing on your mind today.  It always goes to those that don’t deserve.  It’s the opposite of how you feel when the pain they caused is just too real.  It takes everything you have to say the word.”

I’m not going to suggest to you that this will be easy.  This is Christianity 401.   An advance course.  You need a little righteous anger, a little enduring hope… in order to get to Christ-like forgiveness.  But it has to come.

There is a whole host of Scriptures I can share at this point, but one will do…  Mark 11:25 – “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”

Christ hasn’t called you to some mamby pamby religion.  The one who said “Come follow me” walked the Via Dolorosa.  He let his enemies beat him mercilessly and murder him on a wooden cross and used one of his last breaths to pray:  “Father forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”

You might be thinking right now:  “I CAN’T FORGIVE!”  (You may be one of those people for whom it does NOT come easy.)  You are right… you can’t forgive.  You have to let Christ do it for you… and through you.

He is working even now to reconcile the world to himself and calls us to be ministers of that reconciliation.

God can change the hardest of hearts.  While the world cries out for vengeance… we cry out for justice… and offer hope to both the victims and amazingly to the perpetrators as well.

Philip Yancy in his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” wrote: “…in the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am. By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out. I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.

One of the most moving interviews I have ever witnessed was that of Robbie Parker, the father of Emilie Parker, one of the grade school children killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary story.  He was a believer that reached out to comfort victims, to offer hope to those in need and to  offer the first words of forgiveness just a day after the tragrobbie parkeredy.  Here is a portion of what he had to say to reporters:  (see video at http://www.godvine.com/Father-of-a-Sandy-Hook-Victim-Offers-Forgiveness-to-the-Troubled-Shooter-2560.html)

“It’s an horrific tragedy, and we want everybody to know that our hearts and our prayers go out to them. This includes the family of the shooter. I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you. And I want you to know that our family and our love and our support goes out to you as well. At this time, our thanks go out to so many people, so many friends and family. And complete strangers who we don’t know. For all the love, condolences and is support that you have given to us.

My daughter Emilie would be one of the first ones to be standing and giving her love and support to all those victims. Because that’s the type of person that she is. Not because of any parenting that my wife and I could have done. But because those were the gifts that were given to her by her heavenly father. As the deep pain begins to settle into our hearts, we find comfort reflecting on the incredible person that Emilie was, and how many lives she was able to touch in her short time here on earth. Emilie was bright, creative and very loving. Emilie was always willing to try new things, other than food.

Here at the church last night, there was a special meeting, and I was given an opportunity to be able to speak at that, as well. And in that, I just mentioned that, you know, the person that chose to act in this way was acting with a God-given right that he was given by God to — with his own free agency. And that free agency is given to all of us to act and choose to do whatever we want. And God can’t take that away from us. And I know that that’s something that he was given and that’s what he chose to do with it.

And I know that God can’t take that away. I’m not mad. Because I have my agency to make sure that I use this event to do what I can to do whatever I can. So, I want to make sure that my family and my wife and my daughters are taken care of and that if there’s anything that I can do to help anybody at anytime, anywhere, that I would be willing to do that.”

Not mad… but resolved to serve.  That is the response of a mature believer.

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This concludes my “A Christian’s Response to Evil” series… please comment if it touched you in any way.  Thanks again for reading!

Overcoming Compassion Fatigue

A Christian Response to EvilGalatians 6:9

This is the third in the series “A Christian’s Response to Evil.”  In this series we are looking at common responses in a season of terror and how we as believers need to be responding.  Last post I wrote that the common first reaction to evil is rage… but how our response needs to be Godly anger or resolve.

In this post I want to address the common response in the wake of tragedy of weariness or compassion fatigue.  The last 7 years in American history have shaken up all of us.  Clackamas Town Center, Oregon shooting (12/11/12)… Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin (8/5/12)… Aurora, Colorado theatre shooting (7/20/12)… Cafe Racer Espresso shooting in Seattle, WA (5/29/12)… Oikos University shooting in Oakland, CA (4/2/12)… Chardon High School shooting in Chardon, OH (2/27/12)… IHOP restaurant shooting in Carson City, NV (9/6/12)… Safeway shooting in Tucson, AZ (Rep. Gabby Giffords shot in the head) (1/8/12)… Fort Hood Shooting (11/5/09)… Virginia Tech Shooting (4/16/07)… Amish Schoolhouse shooting in Lancaster, PA (10/2/06)….  that is just seven years back… and I didn’t include all of the mass killings in the list.

If you are like me when you heard about the Boston Marathon bombing last week your first thought was:  “Again?”  It is so easy to want to give up on caring… to get tired of helping.  Because the tragedies don’t end.

Last Monday in Boston someone literally blew up the finish line.  Weary runners that had been on the course for 4 hours… exhaustionwith the end in their sights watched as chaos ensued.  Have you ever felt that way about life?  You help and help and there seems to be no keeping the darkness back.  Then… there goes the finish line.  You want to sit on the track and cry.  You reach the point that your heart shrinks and you want to go back to caring for  “me and mine” and leave all that saving the world stuff for somebody else.

The Scriptures teach that as believers we are not to “… lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”

Jesus taught us to go an extra mile.  Some of the runners at the marathon crossed the finish line and didn’t stop running until they ran to the nearest hospital to offer blood.  Some dehydrated runners in medical tents with IV’s in their arms, ripped them out to clear the tent for the wounded.

Let me ask you, believer… “What extra mile are you running?”  For the hurting, the downtrodden, the exploited, the lost in this world.

Romans 12:17 & 21 teaches us: 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. …21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  The goodness that comes out of you thwarts the efforts of the “terrorists.”  So give, help, serve and love.

How can I help a city that is 1,100 miles away?  You can start by helping your neighbor across the street.  Don’t lose heart… instead offer  a compassionate “extra mile” kind of compassion.

Mark Buchanan in his book, The Holy Wild, shared an excerpt from a letter written by a missionary couple in Brazil:

“Driving through the Christmas traffic, fighting the drizzling rain, I chanced on a four-year-old little girl.  She was wet and cold and shaking.  Her clothes were ragged, her hair was matted, and her nose was running.  She walked between the cars at the stoplight, washing headlights because she was too short to wash windshields.  A few gave her coins, others honked at her to get away from their vehicles.

As I drove away only some fifty cents poorer, I raged at God for the injustice in the world that allowed the situation.  “God, how could you stand by, helpless?”  Later that evening, God came to me softly with that still small voice and responded not in like kind to my rage, but with tenderness, “I have done something.  I created you.”  (The Holy Wild, pp.  86-87.)

God hasn’t moved the finish line.  The finish line is Christ-like character.  And every crisis is another chance to grow in His grace.

A Christian’s Response to Evil

CaringProverbs 6:16-19

Not sure where you were when you heard the news on Monday.  I was at the church office.  My tablet buzzed on the desktop like when I’m getting an email.  But it was actually an update from my USA Today app:  “Blasts heard at the sight of the Boston marathon.”

I knew.  I just knew.  This was going to be bad.

And as the story poured out over the news the next few days… like you, I was in shock.  And I was filled with sympathy for the victims,… But also there was this angry, cranky thing that began to develop.  This normally calm and collected, peace loving pastor was getting increasingly hot.  It was kind of  a simmer because it was a “I’m in denial” kind of mad.  Eventually I was able to get in touch with my feelings.

And I took them to God.

Reading my Facebook newsfeed it seemed that everyone from my family members to friends to complete strangers and even corporate entities were offering words of comfort to the people of Boston.  But even so… there was this underlying bubbling up of rage.

One late night comic said:  “I know it is my job to make you laugh.  And I know some people need to watch TV or something to get their mind off of such things.  But I don’t want to.  I’m angry.”

Tuesday, as I was working on my Sunday sermon, I became increasingly convinced that I needed to change my topic from Christian friendship to the subject of evil.

I don’t usually preach topically.  I don’t usually preach on current events.  But I believe that some needs need to be addressed from the pulpit.  Not just because of Monday’s events… and not just because of the increasing onslaught of violence America has been experiencing, but because we as believers need to be prepared to talk to our neighbors, our co-workers, our hair-cutters, our unsaved family members, etc. in a time like this.

Many lives were saved at the Marathon that day because of a large number of first responders already present there at the finish line.  Not only were they close to the events to offer aid but these workers and others at Boston area hospitals had already been training for just such an unfortunate event for years.

How about us?  Are we as believers prepared if something like this happened close to home? At a Titans game?  At our block party?  In our family home?  What is the right response?  I’m pretty sure seething about it isn’t the solution.  So I went to the Scriptures.

Over the next few week or so, I will humbly offer some of what I found.  I hope it is a comfort.  For now, I have posted an old sermon of mine (“How God Will Deal With Evil”) on my sermon download page.   I included an article by Mel Lawrenz, titled:  “Facing Treachery, Again” on my “Around the Web” page (see tab above).   And Sunday from the pulpit I will preach on this topic and hope to post that sermon next week as well.

In the meantime, I want to share where God stands on Boston’s events.  He stands against those behind this terror (as of this writing, one suspect is dead and the other is in hiding).  Out of the seven things Proverbs 6:16-19 says that God hates are:  “…hands that shed innocent blood.  A heart that devises wicked plans.
and “Feet that run rapidly to evil.”

As to how God feels toward the victims?  Psalm 34:18 – “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  As those who claim to be God’s children… let us prepare our hearts as we near those hurting in our world today.