Today.

For at least the last decade I have chosen a word for the year. I have various blog posts written for each one since 2011–except for 2019, and I suspect that one was something about completion or finishing strong since I was at the end of my PhD journey. 2020’s word was wait. And did I ever learn to wait! I waited for responses to my 35+ applications to universities. I waited for direction and inspiration. I waited for a time when the whole family was together. I learned to value the waiting. I learned to work in the waiting.

2022 feels different. There is something coming, although I can’t explain why I sense it. Preparations need to be made. The time for waiting has passed; it is time for action. And action is not for the future; it is for today.

Today.

My theme verse for 2022 is Hebrews 3:13: But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. I’ll begin the year focused on Hebrews chapters three and four as a place to set anchor. I don’t know exactly what will come, but I will remain mindful that TODAY is limited in scope and breadth; action is required daily. It may be a blog. It may be a word of encouragement. It may be words added to this book on grace I’m compelled to write. Whatever it is, my goal for each day is to DO something for the Kingdom of Christ while it is still called today.

Let’s talk about grace in real life

Real talk here. Total transparency. I am writing about the need for grace, but I’m not always good about extending it.

Fast food chaos

When I’m not writing I work at a fast food restaurant. It’s a perfect side gig: I love my teammates, the managers are fantastic (and patient), the hours are flexible, and when I clock out, my time is my own. I even enjoy most of the customers, especially when I’m working the drive through line. A couple of well spoken lines, jokes that I can repeat multiple times, and often a laugh. The hours go by quickly.

On the down side, I am by nature an introvert, so by the end of a shift, I am utterly spent, which means I’m still trying to keep this job in balance with my real work (writing) and all the other things that make up a life. It’s when I am at the end of my “people-ing” that grace slips away.

For the most part, customers are soothed by being heard and by making their experience as pleasant as possible, no matter how chaotic the day becomes. Sometimes a smile is sufficient. Other times there is just no satisfying the customer: the line is too long, the drive-through is too busy (although, with an average wait time of under four minutes, it does move along), the drinks aren’t mixed correctly, the order is wrong (a fair criticism), and on it goes.

I had one of the never-satisfied the other day. I had just cleaned the empty dining tables, taken out the trash, and swept. I was washing my hands when a manager asked me to check the dining room because a customer complained there was “no where to sit.” I looked around; there was ample open seating. As it turned out, the customer wanted to sit at a table that had been vacated while I was sweeping. No problem. I pulled out the sanitizing wipes and made my way over. The I recognized the customer as a member of a church I used to attend. She evidently did not recognize me as she scolded the staff for not having enough clean table. I pointed out the half dozen clean and empty places as I began to wiped down the booth she wanted. She said, “I may change my mind when everyone gets here, but this is where I want to sit.” She didn’t move as I began to wipe down the table, which meant I could not reach to the far side. It would have to do; the line was long, customers were waiting for pick up orders, and every team member was running just to keep up. A moment after I cleaned the table she went to the register and asked for table coverings. She did not attempt to hide her displeasure when the team member informed her that this restaurant doesn’t have them. Moments later her family came in. Nothing was good enough. They wanted more napkins, more sauce, more salt, all of which was supplied by a series of employees. All I could think was that I knew this person claimed to be a Christian, was recognizable as a church member, yet treated employees with contempt and distain for not anticipating her expectations on a very busy day. When the family left, they left sauces and napkins untouched on the table. I admit, that last bit annoyed me.

Where was the grace? We were obviously working to make the dining experience pleasant for everyone who came in. Not a single employee was still; everyone was at full speed. Food was flying from the kitchen. The drive through cars sailed through. Most customers were cheerful and understanding of the inevitable order errors. Not this one lady that I recognized from church. Not an iota of grace.

And then I stopped short. Where was MY grace extended toward HER? I couldn’t know her circumstances. Even though she appeared to be a grandmother having lunch with her family, maybe there was something else going on. I don’t know–and frankly, it shouldn’t matter. As a Jesus follower, I need to show grace to others the same way the Father demonstrated grace to me, in spite of my failures and flaws.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

It doesn’t matter how much “people-ing” I’ve done, how busy I am, or how annoyed. I need to show grace to those people God puts in my path. Real life. Real truth. I’m working on it.

The saddest tweet

Started a new job at UPS today. And after a decade of getting exhausted, hurt, and having bad boundaries in church work, I never expected to be this happy to be a cog in a machine

12:42 PM · Sep 21, 2021

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I read this tweet the other day and it made me reflect on the grace we as congregants need to show our church leaders. Exhausted and hurt are not part of the description of pastoral work, but based on the comments in the thread that followed the tweet, it seems to be a common sentiment. Part of the reason may be self-imposed “bad boundaries,” as this post notes, but it is my observation that we generally don’t treat our pastors very well. We expect them to be on call, to do the work of the church, to teach, to counsel, to evangelize, and to deliver a dynamic and entertaining sermon every week. We often complain when other teachers in the church take the pulpit. We skip church when the senior pastor goes on vacation. We resent the sabbatical.

Of course, I am painting with a very broad brush, but I don’t think I am too far from the experiences of many senior pastors. Many pastors leave the ministry within a few short years of their callings, with 1,500 clergy leaving pastoral ministry every month (Barna Research Group). In fact, most clergy (up to 90%) across all denominations will not stay in ministry to retirement age. So, the question is, how can we, the lay congregation, show grace to our leaders, especially our senior pastors? How can we help them know they are appreciated, prayed for, and supported?

I think the first thing we as congregations can do is stop putting our senior pastors on pedestals and expecting them to be all things to all people.

The character of a pastor-shepherd must be beyond rebuke, to be sure, but scripture never places the entirety of church ministry on the shoulders of one man. In fact, the principle role of a senior pastor is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). The work is supposed to be carried out by the congregation, not the pastor.

Elders share the teaching and leading responsibilities of the congregation. They are godly stewards who give instruction and have authority within the local body to ensure that the responsibility of managing church policy, ordaining teachers, and being role models to the congregation. Deacons also share in the responsibility for the maintenance of the church and ensuring it runs smoothly. Dividing the load allows the senior pastor to focus on teaching the congregation so that they are able and confident to do the work of evangelism and discipleship.

What might that look like? Pastors should be free to allow elders to visit the sick, preside over weddings and funerals, care for the shut-ins, and meet the physical needs of congregants. We, as laity, should not expect our pastors to accept every invitation we offer, nor should we grumble when we are shepherded by our godly elders (Acts 11, 14; 1 Timothy; 1 Thessalonians 5; Titus 1; 1 Peter 5). We should rejoice when elders step in to teach from the pulpit; we gain from their knowledge of the word. Our senior pastors are called to equip us, not to serve us. At the same time, they are not Jesus; they are broken human beings just like us.

Secondarily, we must cooperate and submit to their leadership, being appreciative of the work they are called to do.

Yes, I used the word. Submit. But we are called by God to submit.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Hebrews 13:17 ESV

Included in the idea of submission is to esteem and appreciate the work our pastors do (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). We support them in our giving, paying them a fair salary so they are free to do the work. We seek to understand their vision for the church so that we are able to cooperate.

We can show appreciation through attention during teaching times, asking questions, sending notes of affirmation, and taking concerns to him directly. We demonstrate support by imitating his leadership and remembering his teachings.

The most important thing: Pray

Church leaders take on a greater share of spiritual attack than most of us because they are equipping us to do the work of the kingdom. We must be on our knees for our pastors, praying for courage, wisdom, faithfulness, and joy.

“Pray for your pastor. Pray for his body, that he may be kept strong and spared

many years. Pray for his soul, that he may be kept humble and holy, a burning

and shining light. Pray for his ministry, that it may be abundantly blessed, that

he may be anointed to preach good tidings. Let there be no secret prayer

without naming him before your God, no family prayer with carrying your

pastor in your hearts to God.” 

E.M. Bounds

If we as congregations begin to treat our pastors as shepherds instead of servants, perhaps we will see a resurgence in long-term relationships between leaders and churches. It may mean a loss to UPS, but what a tremendous gain for the eternal kingdom.

References

Akin-John, F. (2017) Biblical qualifications of a true pastor.

Bounds, E.M. (1990). The complete work of E.M. Bounds on prayer. Baker Book House.

Brewer, D. (2017). The importance of supporting your senior pastor.

Linton, G. (2021). A church’s responsibility to its pastor.

MacArthur, J. (1991). Biblical eldership. The Master’s plan for the Church. Moody.

Maxwell, J. (2019) Why pastors leave the ministry.

Rinne, J. (2014). 10 things you should know about church elders.

Tautges, P. (2011). Eight responsibilities of church members to their leaders.

Wilhite, S. (2016). Seven ways to care for your pastor.

Williams, M. (n.d.) What does the Bible say about the duties of a pastor?

Taste and see: Part five

The Lord is good

John 15:1-8; Psalm 34:8; 1 John 4:7-17; Galatians 5:22-23

The late 1960s were tumultuous times in the US. Not unlike today, there were protests and riots over political statements, racism, sexuality, and the role of the Church in society. In that chaos, Peter Scholtes penned the words to “They’ll know we are Christians,” based on his reading of John 11:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Just in case you need a reminder of the lyrics:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord -  We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
We will walk with each other; we will walk hand in hand - We will walk with each other; we will walk hand in hand
And together we'll spread the news that God is in our land.
We will work with each other; we will work side by side - We will work with each other; we will work side by side
And we'll guard each one's dignity and save each one's pride.
All praise to the Father from whom all things come and all praise to Christ Jesus, His only Son
And all praise to the Spirit who makes us one.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
And they'll know we are Christians by our love.

For King and Country has a lovely arrangement here.

And it’s true, we should be known by our love for one another. Jesus was clear that all the Law and the Prophets rest on two things: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39.) Love is the foundation upon which we build community, minister to the needy, embrace the hurting, and seek after the lost. Love is the first result of our abiding in the True Vine.

Just as grapes are the basis for all the essential elements of wine, so too, love is the basis for all the characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5 lists the essential elements: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Yes, we are known by our love, but get to know us individually, and our love consists of multiple nuances of grace.

See

The first step in wine tasting is to really look at the wine from all angles. Hold it up to the light. Tilt the glass and look for evidence of boldness and age. Good wine should be clear and brilliant, allowing the light to pass through unhindered by sediment or chemical imbalances.

Spiritually speaking, people should see the ways in which we love one another by how we manifest joy and peace in trying times. How do we respond to others who may offend us: is it with patience and kindness? How do we demonstrate goodness and gentleness to the hurting among us? When non-believers look at us does the light of Jesus shine through?

Swirl

Swirling the glass allows the wine to be agitated. A dense full-bodied wine will leave “legs” running the sides of the glass, whereas a light wine will not. Agitation reveals the believer’s depth as well. We grow more through trials than any other time when we rely on our faith. Jesus said that love is fully demonstrated when we are willing to lay down our lives for each other. He was clear that the world would hate believers because it hated Him (John 15:18). Suffering is part of living in a broken world, but Paul wrote to the Romans that this present suffering is nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed when Jesus returns.

Sniff

There are thousands of fragrance combinations in wine. Some, like mustiness or vinegar, indicate that the wine has gone bad. Other aromas indicate the flavors present in the wine and are often linked to terrain, temperature, and other elements of where the grapes were grown, how they were harvested, and how the wine was produced. Floral, herbaceous, and earthy notes recall the growing terroir, while fragrances of smoke, vanilla, chocolate, or coffee are likely from the barrels in which the wine was aged. Gregutt wrote, “The best wine aromas are complex but also balances, specific but also harmonious.”

While it’s never a good idea to go around sniffing other people, there is a pleasing aroma in the air when a Bible-believing, Spirit-filled, Jesus follower is in the room. Christ in us spreads the fragrance of grace and the aroma of knowing Him personally everywhere we go (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).

Sip

In the wine-tasting world the sip is the final arbiter of whether a wine is good or spectacular or somewhere in between. An excellent wine is “balanced, harmonious, complex, evolved, and complete” (Gregutt, 2015). Balanced wine means sweetness and sourness work in tandem to create a pleasing flavor. No one flavor should dominate a harmonious wine, and the taste should change even before you swallow, revealing depth and complexity. A truly complete wine leaves the taster satisfied.

In the sermon that inspired this series, Rainey talked about the complex character of the believer: a burst of love, followed by notes of joy and kindness, ending with an essence of goodness. Each of us is made up of all the elements of the Fruit of the Spirit in different proportions, and how we present ourselves in and to the world can either draw people to Jesus or turn people away from His Church. When we abide in Jesus, the fruit we develop becomes our witness to the world as it holds us up to the light. When we let the Light shine through us, we express a desire for everyone to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Good, Gold, or Best in Show

The largest wine competition is the Decanter World Wine Awards. The 170 wine judges tasted more than 18,000 wines over a course of about two weeks. Only Gold metal winners move on to the next tasting, where they may move to platinum. Platinum wines then move up for a final tasting to determine Best in Show. Most wines don’t even make it to the competition, and many of those wines are pretty good. But good is not great. And great doesn’t mean golden. And only one is Best.

There are good people in the world who do pretty good things, but they are still lost. There are good people in the world who do great things, but without Jesus, they are still bound by sin. Doing good and even great things is not enough to meet the demands of a Law that requires perfection. Romans 3:23 is blunt, “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Our attempts at home-made wine will never measure up to Best in Show, no matter how closely we follow the YouTube directions or how much money we spend on grapes. The only measure of Best in Show is Jesus, and we are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-25). Good people doing good or great things will still stand before the Holy One to make an account for their lives. Every flaw will be exposed. Every false flavor and impure aroma will be revealed. No one will be justified by works apart from faith.

It is for the sake of even those who do good or even golden things that we must continue to live out the Fruit of the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit, proclaiming peace by the blood of Christ, unified as one body with grace from above. When we who follow Jesus live out his command to love God and love others, we proclaim to the world:

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together!

 I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
 Those who look to him are radiant,
    and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
    and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.

 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
    Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Psalm 34:1-8

References

(2021, June 11). What am I tasting? Wine Spectator.

Gregutt, P. (2015) How to taste wine. Wine Enthusiast.

Hymnary.org (n.d.) Peter Scholtes.

Mason, O. (2021, June 25). Photo highlights: Decanter World Wine Awards 2021 judging weeks. Decanter.

Images

Collage elements from Digidesign Resort and my own design library

Taste and see: Part four

Tasting: The perfection of the fruit

John 15:1-8; Galatians 5:22; 1 John 4:7-17

Taste

Just a few days ago, Wine Spectator posted a “wine IQ” blind tasting game on their website. It posted a sommelier’s tasting notes and asked players to identify the variety, country/region of origin/appellation, and age based solely on the notes.

Tasting Note: Fresh and juicy, with good cut to the red currant and dried berry flavors that feature bright minerality. Ends with a creamy, well-spiced finish, with notes of dried green herbs.

Wine Spectator, June 11, 2021

Would you believe I got 3 of the four correct? And I almost selected Sierra Foothills instead of Sonoma County. The other correct answers: It is a California Merlot, 3-5 years old. But how was I able to identify any of the elements correctly? Let me explain.

The descriptors of “fresh and juicy” and “red currant and dried berries” told me it was a lighter wine. The options were Carignan, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Zinfandel. I’ve never heard of a Tempranillo, but I do know that Syrah is usually pretty “big,” with strong flavors, not “fresh and juicy.” Zinfandel is usually kind of peppery. Carignan is not very common, so that left Merlot, a variety I happen to like now and then. It’s not too sweet, not too heavy, and pairs well with lots of meals.

California produces Merlot wines all over the state, so I opted for that instead of choosing from Australia, France, Spain, or Washington. I may be wrong, but I associate Australia with bolder flavors, Spain with bigger wines, and Washington State with lighter, sweeter wines like Pinot Noir. There were only two appellations in California among the options, and I chose the wrong one. In retrospect, I should have gone with my gut because of the “notes of dried green herbs.” As for the age of the wine, “fresh” is usually attributed to younger wines, so that gave me 1-2 years or 3-5 years. Straight up guessed that one.

Fruit

Because wine is a product from grapes, it should always have some kind of fruit in the description. If the fruit is missing, you no longer have wine; you have vinegar. The Wine Spectator game is a regular feature. Some of the other descriptions include things like “cranberry core,” “apple and pear,” and “lemongrass, passion fruit, and Key lime.” Those essences of fruit are directly related to everything that has preceded the first taste, from the choice of terrain for the vineyard, the weather, the time of harvest, the processing, the aging, the bottling, and the storing. Every decision made by the wine-maker is captured in that first moment of release. As Jesus-followers, our fruit is revealed in first impressions as well. Jesus said that we can bear much fruit when we abide in Him. He prunes and nourishes us, and when we acquiesce to His work in us, the Holy Spirit infuses us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

As with wine, the fruit of the Spirit is complex, and even though the elements are the same, the way in which the essences manifest varies from believer to believer. Some people exude joy, while others are models of self-control. It is not that every Jesus follower is the same, but that the Spirit infuses each one with a unique combination of elements represented in that one Fruit of the Spirit. Above all, though, love must dominate. It is the first note, and the one on which all the others are measured.

See and Swirl

Sommeliers are professional wine stewards who spend years perfecting their senses of smell and taste so they can identify wines that will pair well with food. Only 269 people in the world have earned the title of Master Sommelier; the three part exam has been called the most difficult in the world because it requires demonstration of technique, palate, and theory across three days.

Of course, it is possible for the non-sommelier to have an educated opinion about a wine, especially if conditions of tasting are good: not too hot, not too cold, proper glass, and no outside odors (somehow even creating that list feels more than a little pretentious, but bear with me for now.)

The first evaluation is by sight. What colors are in the wine? Red is a color, yes, but it doesn’t actually say much. Look deeper. Is it a deep blue-purple red with gold tones as you hold it to the light? Is it more filled with shades of pink or bright ruby? Or, if you happen to be looking at a white wine, is is more translucent yellow or deep gold? The color will give you an idea of what to expect from the tasting; the richer the color, the bolder the flavor.

What do people see when they look at you? Do they see your joy? Your peace? Maybe your kindness? The color of your love is visible when you abide in Jesus. You present yourself as a reflection of God’s goodness with your countenance. Moses reflected the glory of God so brightly that he had to wear a veil when he came down from the mountain (Exodus 24:35).

Swirling a taste of wine begins to release the fragrance of aromatic compounds. Scientifically, swirling adds oxygen to the wine, allowing it to “open up” to its fullest flavor. Spiritually speaking, that is an interesting concept. When wine is bottled and corked, it is stable, and maybe beautiful, but only by open agitation does it begin to reveal its true character. We may want to live in a world where we blithely skip from rainbows to glitter, but the reality is, our character is revealed most when things around us spin. Trouble and trial bring to the front who we are at the core. Paul wrote,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subject to futility–not willingly, but because of him who subjected it–in the hope that the creation will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

Romans 8:18-21

When we are swirled in the glass of suffering, we “open up” to share the essence of the Fruit of the Spirit within us, not for our own good, but for the glory of God the Father! All the notes of joy and peace and patience–all the way to self-control are released so that others may sense the overwhelming love of Jesus in us and through us.

Coming next, part five: The first taste

References

(2021, June 11). What am I tasting? Wine Spectator.

Gregutt, P. (2015) How to taste wine. Wine Enthusiast.

Shade of a wine (n.d.). Sommeliers Choice Awards. Beverage Trade Network

Vinepair staff (n.d.). How and why you swirl wine in your glass. Vinepair.

Image credits

Central photo by Stephanie Loomis

Grapes and Bottles images by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Magazine template by Photobacks

Galatians

For the next few days I will ponder the book of Galatians.

Paul opens this letter with his credentials. As a scholar, I understand the importance of leading with my resume. If people are going to pay attention to my scholarship, I have to demonstrate my expertise early. That demonstration is also tailored to the audience. For me, especially right now as I look for work closer to home, it’s a matter of tailoring my cover letters to the job postings at universities. (I love my work and colleagues at UNLV, but it’s a long commute from Atlanta.) For Paul, it was a matter of reminding the Galatians that his authority was not based on his scholarship or birthright, but through Jesus Christ Himself.


Once Paul identifies his credentials, he opens with the gospel: the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us (1:4). Paul grounds what is to come in the foundation of the gospel. Paul is not about to lay down his opinion, but the plain truth. The age is evil, Jesus delivers us from it, and God gets the glory. Grace and peace are only available through the truth.

Paul was astonished (v 8) at how quickly the Galatians adopted a distorted and cheapened gospel. He may have been astonished, but Jesus explained in Matthew 13 that there would be people who turned away from Him and those who would be confused by other teachings. It still happens. There are still people who want to use christianity (lower case intentional) for their own glory and prestige. The prosperity doctrine teachers are the most obvious in this age. They teach a false gospel the Jesus wants everyone to be healthy and wealthy (but never wise). That may sound good, but it’s not Biblical. Jesus was clear that believers would suffer and struggle and live in dark times. He said he would send the Holy Spirit as a guide and comforter, but never did he say that life would be comfortable (John 14:25-31). 

While the prosperity doctrine is fairly easy to recognize, I think that there are two more dangerous false teachings that find their ways into mainline and evangelical churches. I call them the gospels of extremes. On one side are the legalists who focus almost exclusively on laws, commandments, and admonitions found throughout the Bible. On the other end are the liberalists who teach only mercy and grace without dealing with the consequences of sin. Both extremes misrepresent the true gospel: all have sinned (Romans 3), sin leads to death (Romans 2), redemption is through Christ alone (Romans 3, 1 Corinthians 15, Colossians 1), and eternal reconciliation with God is established in Jesus (Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 2, 2 Corinthians 5). Focusing on the laws of the Bible diminishes the work of mercy and love. Focusing on the grace of God diminishes His holiness, righteousness, and justice. The gospel is both mercy and justice, perfectly integrated in the person of Jesus. The gospel is neither a feel-good story nor a condemnation of people.


When we talk to others we must remain grounded in the gospel
in all of its fullness and mystery. Before we speak of any spiritual thing, we ought to pray, May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Then, we can speak as servants of Christ and God will be glorified.

Let justice roll

January 21, 2020

There are some days when I don’t have a solid plan for my Bible study. Having just finished Habakkuk, today was one of those days. Perhaps it was the recollection Dr. ML King’s work during yesterday’s holiday, but my eyes landed on Amos 5:24, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” And I found my lesson there.

Whenever a passage begins with “but” I go back to see the what behind it. In this case, God declared that He was not the least bit interested in rote traditions or cultural religion. In fact, He said He hated, despised, and would not look at them. He would not listen to the music, nor would He accept the offerings that came out of routine.

So I started thinking. (A dangerous pastime, I know.) What does cultural religion look like today? Why do we go to church? Is it to get out of the house? Social time (churchified as “fellowship”)? Securing a position or reputation? Because it makes us look good or feel good? To check off some imaginary box?


God is not impressed with our church attendance, our offerings, our preferred musical styles, our mission trips, or our outreaches. He wants our hearts to be connected to His will. It is so easy to fall into the habit of church and forget the mission.

Habakkuk was able to choose joy because he knew God. When we stop pursuing God, church becomes a cultural habit. Unless we actively pursue God, we will not be able to choose joy in difficult days. We will always pursue something, and if not the Lord, then what? Satisfaction? Security? Self-worth? If we go to church pursuing these things, we will not find peace or rest. We will become increasingly discontent, which leads to increasing self-centeredness.


Pursuing God means knowing His character (something we should be learning at church) and focusing on His kingdom, which manifests by the ways in which we do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8). When we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength we can truly love our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). THEN we can work for His Name to promote justice until it rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Joy is a choice

January 20

Habakkuk listened to the Lord’s plan for Judah in horror and confusion, but his knowledge of God’s character helped him work out his response. Chapter 3 is Habakkuk wrapping his brain around the juxtaposition of mercy and judgment in the circumstances of imminent catastrophe in order to save. He plead with God for mercy within wrath in verse 3, then described the Holiness and Glory of God before painting the picture of the ultimate destruction of evil. And then he recognized God’s purpose in the chaos: crushing the wicked and saving His people.


Habakkuk didn’t pretend to understand the hand of God. That’s good news for us. We don’t HAVE to understand. Habakkuk said, “I hear, and my body trembles” (3:16). He was not happy about what lay ahead. He knew it was going to be bad.


And yet. And yet. And yet, he made a choice to respond with joy in the salvation and strength of the Lord.

His circumstances didn’t change. History shows that Judah was captured by the Chaldeans who were then crushed by Babylon. It was a time of darkness and hardship and despair for the people, except for those who were faithfully committed to the Lord (like Daniel and his cohort). Habakkuk left his worry at the throne of the Lord, saying, ” Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength” (3:18-19). This is hard teaching. Does God want us to be happy? I have to say, not necessarily. He wants us to choose joy no matter what the circumstances, even when the circumstances do not make us happy. When we choose joy, we are looking beyond our current situation to God’s eternal plan, one of rich mercy, great love, and complete restoration in the fullness of time (Ephesians 2:4-9, Philippians 4:4-13; Titus 2:11-14).

Wait, what?

January 18, 2020

Wait, what? Habakkuk 1:12-2:20.


One of the things I love about the prophets is that they are just like most of us. God had just told Habakkuk that the Chaldeans were going to ransack Judah to deal with the evil people there. Habakkuk couldn’t make sense of it. He put what he knew about the character of God (everlasting, holy, pure, and righteous) next to the prophecy (righteous people swallowed by wicked, merciless conquest) and found nothing but cognitive dissonance.
While many people experiencing a similar cognitive dissonance become discouraged, despairing, or lose their faith altogether, Habakkuk chose to wait and watch for God’s explanation. He committed to standing at his watch post, standing at his tower, and looking out to see what God would say. How often do we give up on God when things are bad?

God DID answer Habakkuk. There’s no indication how long Habakkuk waited, but God’s answer came with both the ultimate fate of the Chaldeans AND the proper response of the faithful. The Chaldeans would eventually be conquered by Babylon. In the meantime, God told Habakkuk to wait for it (2:3), live by faith (2:4), be assured that the glory of the Lord will fill the earth (2:14), and that His character is unchanged (2:20). We, too, need to watch and wait for God’s long-term eternal plan to finally see true justice. It’s not easy. At all. We still ask, “how long will God stay silent while the wicked prosper?” I think part of the lesson of Habakkuk is that it’s okay to be confused. God doesn’t expect us to understand. And it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the questions, as long as we are committed to watching and waiting for the answers.

This is faith, living with insecurity while trusting God’s character. We are justified by that faith, which leads to peace even when life is hard and we can’t see how anything good can come out of our circumstances (Romans 5:1-5). Sometimes trusting God comes easily. Other times we hang on by the very tips of our fingers. We aren’t alone in questions and confusion, but when we are committed to waiting and watching, we will ultimately see God’s glory revealed (Habakkuk 2:14, Romans 8:18).

How long?

January 17, 2020

“How long?” Habakkuk asked the question sometime around 600 b.c.e. but we’re still asking. Why don’t you do something? Why do the wicked people seem to thwart justice and ignore the law without penalty?(My paraphrase of Habakkuk 1:3-4.) I read an article on Medium this morning that started with the notion that people really are pretty rotten by nature. Certainly Solomon thought so as he wrote Ecclesiastes. Our current era of anger, division, injustice, and violence is one in a steady stream of normal human affairs.

So, why doesn’t God DO something about it? That was Habakukk’s question, too. God told him, “Pay attention. It’s about to get real” (another ‘Loomisism’) and then laid out the plan. It was not exactly what Habakkuk expected (Habakkuk 1:5-11). In a nutshell, God was about to let the Marduk- worshipping, witchcraft-practicing, violence-loving Chaldeans conquer Israel. This conquest led to a Babylonian captivity that lasted a generation. Wait, what?

That doesn’t make sense (which Habakkuk says in verses 12-17), but that’s because Habakkuk (like all of us) was limited to a finite and limited understanding of human history and future.


Sometimes, when things look dismal, God’s work in our lives doesn’t line up with our expectations. It is during those moments that we need to remember that God’s thoughts and ways are so much more than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9.) The will of God is to draw each person into relationship, which can only happen through repentance (Isaiah 55:6-7). And sometimes we don’t pay attention to God’s holiness and ultimate justice until something drastic happens. It’s still really hard to wrap my brain around, to be honest. But that’s where trust in God and faith in His character has to take precedence over our own limited understanding. (Romans 3:21-26).