Thirsting

Psalm 42; Matthew 5:6

Psalm 42:1

Deer are simple creatures. They are usually skittish, running from perceived danger in a zigzag to confuse predators. They hide by melting into the landscape around them. But when the predators press in and neither running nor hiding work, deer head for the water. They instinctively know that water will hide their scent so they will avoid be chased further. Water also quenches their thirst after a long chase.

It is this kind of longing that the psalmist describes. He is exhausted by the attacks of his enemies and by the taunts of his people who challenge him, “Where is your God?” All the psalmist can think about is finding the waters of God’s righteousness where he can find safety and satiety. He knows the Lord is there; he ends the psalm determined to praise Him in spite of his fear, his depression, and his circumstances.

When we hunger and thirst for righteousness in this way, God is faithful to meet us where we are (Matthew 5:6). He alone can satisfy our deepest needs and He alone can calm our fears no matter what our circumstances may be. In Him we find protection and peace. No matter how dark our days feel, He is with us. His righteousness ensures justice; we can trust His faithful love for us. Even when we feel lost in the dark, we can praise Him, knowing that His righteousness will prevail.

Whose house?

Haggai 1:4-10

Busy, busy, busy. That’s how we behaved in February. In March a pandemic shut us all down. We couldn’t busy ourselves with activities that improved our social standing (in church and out) and we had an opportunity to reframe our priorities, draw near to the Lord, and decide how to approach a post-Covid normal.

So, months later, where are we? Where am I? I know I’ve been mindful in my time in the Word. Still, life keeps happening. Appointments and work and family and all the day-to-day responsibilities threaten to take over my time. It is an act of discipline to put aside the demands on my time, but it’s increasingly important that I insist on building the Lord’s house and not my own.

When I faithfully put Him first, God will take care of my needs for His glory.

Everything

2 Peter 1:3

Everything we need. When we know Jesus, we don’t need to know anything else to live a life devoted to justice, mercy, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Remember that. Remember that when you read angry social media posts so you do not respond in kind (pointing at myself, here). Remember that when stuck at home for the millionth day with cranky kids and work deadlines (even more when the cranky kid is you). Remember that when heated arguments among your friends threaten relationships. Remember that everytime you feel ambushed for your opinions. Remember that when you feel self- righteous about your opinions.

God has given you everything you need. His power (not yours, not denominations, not political parties) calls us to Him for His glory and His excellence. Walk worthy of that call (Ephesians 4).

Joy comes in the mo(u)rning

Matthew 5

Mourning is exhausting. The emotional toll it takes seems to be much greater than any physical task. Perhaps it is because physical work has an end in sight and a finished product. But mourning? It feels like wave after wave of grief without end.

Mourning is a time when we need to draw in to the Lord. Whatever its source, mourning and lament have a role to play in healing and restoration, even when it feels impossible.

But God promises comfort. If mourning is death by a thousand small cuts, healing is restoration to life by two thousand small moments. It may be a child’s laugh, a pause by a river, the smell of summer grass or winter’s fresh bread. We need to be mindful of the moments in our mourning so we recognize the hand of God in the middle.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

No matter what

Psalm 27

I am calling this the Psalm of “no matter what.” As I read it this morning, all I could think was that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39). In this psalm, David lists all the ways God is with us no matter what.

Verses 2-3 No matter what, God knows exactly what is happening to and around us.
V.4 No matter what, we have access to the temple of God.
V.5 No matter what, God will protect us.
V.6 No matter what, we can choose joy.
Vv. 7-10 No matter what, God will not abandon us.
V 11. No matter what, He will teach us
V. 12 No matter what, God is GOOD.
V. 13 No matter what, we can be strong in the waiting.

Wow! Of whom shall we we afraid indeed? (Psalm 27:1; Romans 8:31

Redemption

Psalm 130

“Out of the depths I call to You…”
Seven months into a pandemic followed by multiple catastrophes, both natural and human fueled, there is still no end in sight. Many of us are drowning in the depths of job loss, illness, online school, wildfire/hurricane, and Zoom fatigue. We miss our church families, our large family gatherings, and attending events the way we did a year ago.

God hears.

He hears our pleas for mercy. He hears our cries of repentance when we offer them. He attends to the needs of His children.

“I wait for the Lord “

We wait.

We wait for the Lord as we hope in His word. We know there is forgiveness. We know there is mercy and redemption.

We hope.

With the Lord there is steadfast and faithful love. Even though we may not see the end of the road, we can trust Him. There is purpose in the pain. His love will overcome all the evil around us.

“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope…Jesus”

Hold tightly to His Word; God is just and true in all His ways. He hears. He knows. He is at work.

Structural integrity

Proverbs 14:2

The structural integrity of a bridge is the difference between a safe crossing or a catastrophe. Similarly, the structural integrity of our character is the difference between wisdom and mindelessly following foolishness.

How are you maintaining your character? Living in chaos makes integrity more important than ever. To withstand the pressures of a destructive culture, we must stand firm, rooted in the unchanging Word 

Grounded in love

Romans 5:5

“Hope does not put us to shame.” (ESV) What does that mean? Why should hope be shameful?

I pondered this notion until I realized that it happens all the time. Social media posts about prayer become targets for ridicule. Hopeful people are sometimes treated like they don’t know or don’t care about human suffering. Sharing good news gets contradicted by “but what about.”

The hope here is not a blithe Pollyanna response to life and its hardships. It does not ignore the realities of suffering. It does not belittle fear. It understands that people can be cruel, bigoted, and unjust. However, this hope DOES allow us to recognize God at work.

This hope allows believers to act in love in spite of the evil around us. Hope encourages us to reach out to those who suffer with compassion. Hope lets us come alongside others and walk with them through the challenges of living in this world.

In short, hope produced by character through enduring suffering with joy opens the way for God to work in us and through us for His glory. How? He works in and through because we are grounded in His love instead of our fear. God’s love pours into our hearts and we act out of His love.

Endure

Romans 5:4

So, since we have decided to choose joy in suffering (joy, not happiness) because we know it will lead to endurance, we still wonder, why? What is the point of endurance? Especially enduring suffering?

Paul didn’t stop with endurance through suffering; endurance also serves a purpose. Endurance produces character. Endurance makes us better people. It teaches us empathy. Character means we are learning to see God as the Sovereign Lord and we are mere specks in the vastness of time and space. Specks that the Creator has called by name.

Suffering and enduring draws us deep into a relationship with the Father, and it is in that relationship that we develop an accurate view of ourselves. Seeing ourselves from the Lord’s perspective develops godly character and allows us to understand that we are part of a greater humanity.

Our individuality makes the Body beautiful, but as part of the Family of God, we are more than the sum of our parts. The wholeness of our individual character as part of something greater than self- that produces hope.

Choose joy in suffering

Romans 5:3

Rejoice in suffering. Now that sounds fun. Don’t we have enough to deal with right now with pandemic and racism and Zoom fatigue and hurricanes and wildfires? And we have to be joyful about it?

In a word, yes. We don’t need to be happy about suffering, but we can choose joy over anger, bitterness, and dwelling in misery. Suffering has a role to play in our lives. The most important thing suffering can do is drive us to the Father (James 1:2-5). That alone should be a sufficient reason to choose joy in the middle of the mayhem.

Paul added that suffering produces endurance. As a runner, I get that. I suffer through long runs on hot and humid days so that I get a stronger and faster and able to go a little farther than ever before. Look at how much we have learned the last six months. We have not gathered together at church or small groups, but we have learned to stay connected in other ways. I look forward to attending services as much as anyone, but I also see the value of having to be intentional in community. When social club church is shut down, deep and powerful ministry can be unleashed.

Suffering isolation teaches us how much we need each other. We can endure almost anything together, but when we must fully rely on the Father we witness His faitfulness in new and exciting ways. That should motivate us to choose joy.

In choosing joy, we need to come alongside those who struggle in the hard time. We can use technology to send a quick message. We can make a phone call. We can mail a letter. We can order groceries or flowers or any number of things online and ship them to the people we know who need a hug. In enduring hardship with joy, we have an opportunity to be the light in the darkness that Jesus calls us to be.