Author Archives: RobertCummins

The Cross – Psalm 22

The Cross—Psalm 22: A Cry of Anguish and a Song of Praise—A Psalm of David Rob

Father, I feel like David in that it seems there is a great distance between my cries for freedom and Your deliverance. I pray day and night and see no answer, yet You are my Father and the Father to all who trust and follow Your Son.

My earthly father did not know You until the end of his days, yet You showed him mercy. He was stunned at the end of his life with Your kindness toward him and trusted You upon his death bed. He cried out to You and You adopted him. Yes, I will praise You for Your faithfulness!

As Your follower, I have been a reproach to my earthly family and an oddity to my fellow man. Behind my back they mocked, “He got religion when he was a loser and is now a religious fanatic.” They may think what they wish. I believe they, too, would follow Jesus if they had seen what I have seen. And I pray that they would see You in my life and in the life of my fellow believers. I pray they might understand the degree to which they are losing out and discover with us just how much You delight in them.

I am persuaded that You have known me before the womb. Your eye was upon me and Your hand protected me in the midst of my profound ignorance and rebellion.

You have been my God from my mother’s womb.

At one level, I know that You are not far from me when the pain in my body is intense, yet my fickle senses tempt me to think otherwise. Thoughts of abandonment try to bully me around. On some days they feel as though they might swallow me whole. Where is this pain leading me? How will I possibly keep it together if this continues? How will I cross the finish line if pain and pain meds reduce me to nothing? And then I recall:

 You were poured out like water, and all Your bones were out of joint; Your heart became like wax; it was melted within You. Your strength was all dried up like a potsherd, and Your tongue cleaved to Your jaws; and You were laid in the dust of death. Dogs surrounded You; a band of evildoers encompassed You; they pierced Your hands and Your feet. You could count all Your bones. They stared at You; They divided Your garments among themselves, and for Your clothing they cast lots.

No, Lord, You are not far off; You are my help, hastening to my assistance. I have never experienced any temptation that You did not experience in full. You may deliver me by divine healing or the surgeon’s scalpel. Whatever You choose, save me from any result that would cause my life to detract from Your glory. In these weeks preceding my surgery, intervene as You please.

I aspire to proclaim the excellences of Your name to a skeptical world and church. I see that You and Paul the apostle envisioned a church that lights up the world. I see that we will all eventually stand in awe of You as history proves out that You never abandoned anyone who was afflicted nor desired to hide Your face from anyone.

I profess Your rights to rule in my life and in all creation. We will see the day when, like my father, the afflicted will be more than satisfied by Your kindness and mercy. We who could not keep our hearts alive in our own strength shall see that You will sustain our hearts forever!

 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord’s and He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship, all those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, even he who cannot keep his soul alive. Posterity will serve Him; it will be told of the Lord to the coming generation. They will come and will declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, that He has performed it.

Father, I love You and thank You that You have never abandoned me. I am in awe of Your patience and kindness toward me. May this world see You through us who believe. May Your kingdom continue to come in increasing measure. Amen.

 

Loved By God (Friday) – Zephania 3:14-20

This morning something was wrong. My dog Millie knew it even before I did. As my eyes first came into focus, there she was staring at me with a sad appeal in her eyes. When I headed to the bathroom she was attached to my heels. “Good grief.” When I made my way to my truck, she was still clinging to me. She was NOT going to let me leave without her. “OKAY, WHATEVER! Get in the truck. Lay down, and shush!” At times this animal has seemed on the verge of speech. The UPS and Fed-X drivers are on a first name basis with her. Even when they aren’t delivering something to our house (which is rare) they pull into our driveway just to converse with her and give her treats. She knows how to work a yard.

As we were pulling out of our driveway, I got it. I knew what was bothering her. It was still dark outside at 7:00 A.M. and it was supposed to be light. Moreover, the sky flashed and boomed with great explosions. Her little dog heart knew intuitively that things were amiss. “Okay, Millie, I guess it’s you and me today girl.”

Recently I’ve been retreating to an upstairs loft I have in downtown Enid where I indulge, at least for a while, in the exquisite quiet if affords. There was a passage of Scripture I was considering this morning; it contained this verse:

The reproach of exile is a burden on them. (Zephaniah 3:18)

Apparently, today my teacher is a Golden Doodle. It dawned on me that it is dark out there in our culture as well and it is supposed to be light because its Creator, its ultimate Ruler is The Father of Lights.

As cozy as my gig is here in this bastion of conservative America, my little human heart (the one created in God’s image) tells me that in a very true sense, we humans as a whole remain in exile. We are not home yet. The Kingdom has not fully arrived. Our deepest and most immediate problem is that this is not a burden to us on most days. Our affluence is sufficient to insulate us from the more grievous expressions of our captivity. Really, is capitalistic-derived comfort the ultimate byproduct of God’s will accomplished on earth as it is in heaven?

Our American commitment to the pursuit of freedom and personal happiness seems to blind us to what the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like. Somehow, as children of light, our vision must come into focus, seeing the roots of unrighteousness for what they are, acknowledging the profound degree to which humanity is enslaved, and then most importantly, entreating God to liberate all of creation into his Life.

What does it mean to seek first the Kingdom of God? What does it really mean to spend all that one has and purchase that field which conceals the priceless treasure? Is this our story? To begin with, I believe this kind of seeking is going to require, at the very least, an honest appraisal of how dark our society really is. I believe on that day, when the children of light comes to terms with the earth’s vacuum of light, the tides of the battle will shift. I believe this world’s rulers and principalities’ days will be numbered when the Body of Christ collectively says, “The reproach of our exile is a burden upon us.” Then, armed with a new kind of motivation, a different kind of praying will emerge, praying that has the character and the intentions of God at its core.

In The Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd Douglas, the story of the importunate widow is highlighted. Recall she is the one who relentlessly pursues a verdict in her favor from an utterly uncaring and unjust judge. The author hits upon the notion that to receive the desired outcome (in our case—The Kingdom of God) one must have bloody fists, resulting from relentless knocking at all times, never losing heart (Luke 18).

We receive the encouragement to do this from verses 7 and 8:

Now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. (Luke 18:7-8)

Paul tells as much, too:

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

As illogical as it may seem (God being sovereign as He is), asking and seeking are integral to the expansion of God’s kingdom. As inconvenient as it may be, our petitions are essential to the ongoing removal of our reproach. Until every tongue confesses and every knee bows, reproach remains; God is not finished setting captives free. May He grant us what we need to live and to pray as citizens of His Kingdom, indignant until his will on earth finds its fullest as-in-heaven expression.

However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?

The God who created the universe and breathed us into existence does not need our prayers, as if these prayers are somehow what have been missing all along. Not at all. God invites us to participate in the Kingdom because it is a family business. He wants his heirs to take ownership and participate for the sake of their own joy. It is in this co laboring we come to know Him…and this is eternal life.

Father, as we pull out of the driveway, when we lay our heads down on our pillows, may we all get it. May we be bothered that darkness remains and that there is unwarranted reproach upon your name. Strengthen us to persevere as those who will seek your Kingdom, knowing the ambition originated with you and can only be sustained by you. May our hearts persevere until every tongue confesses that you are their Lord and willingly bows before you. Amen.

 

 

 

 

God’s Voice – Psalm 29

God’s Voice—Psalm 29

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; 

The God of glory thunders, 

The Lord, over many waters.

The voice of the Lord is powerful; 

The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; 

The Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, 

And Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.

The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; 

The Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth 

And strips the forests bare, 

And in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (Psalm 29:3-9)

Martin Scorsese’s most recent film takes its name, indirectly, from our theme this week: The Voice of God. It is called Silence, but to me it was like thunder. In fact it was deafening. The film effectively silences neat western constructs of the Gospel and the Great Commission. In Silence two young priests take off from Portugal with zeal to find their mentor, who has reportedly recanted while reaching out to the Japanese as a Catholic missionary. I will not ruin it by telling you the outcome, but I will warn you that it might be very hard for you to watch depending on your passionometer’s current reading.

Scorsese’s setting is the 17th century, but some things never change. In my hometown, a cadre of young zealots has its own God-construct underway. How did it get there? Its answer: God spoke it.

I notice that the promoters of this event are in their thirties and forties. Yes. I vividly remember those years. It was a season of zeal for sure. Passion was in my bones. (Something else is there now—I’m pretty sure.) I recall attending the late Bill Bright’s Prayer and Fasting Events in Kansas City and Los Angeles. My co-zealot and I even sought out Azusa Street—the birthplace of modern Pentecostal revivalism. I can tell you after my forty day fast (which I presumed was integral to God’s plans), I was truly ready to see Jesus do something big; I was also truly ready—as soon as possible—to devour either a Whopper or a Big Mac.

What’s a boy to do though with all that passion? At the very least we translate it into expectations. After all, if Paul (a guy who had seen Jesus) is on record that God desires that all men be saved and that he wants to do exceedingly above and beyond our grandest expectations, how shall we govern our longings and calibrate our expectations? Given the incalculable height and depth of God’s love, is there really any ceiling? Rescuing an errant priest or spearheading the next great awakening seems quite doable given God’s greatness and our zeal to see God be who we want him to be and do what we want him to do.

The movie Silence was a poignant and brutally painful reminder that God is a mystery, which not only strips the forests bare, but will also strip the soul bare of its neat and tidy religious constructs. That is likely why Job was included in the scriptures, so that we would not speculate from afar about God and his ways.

My 30 and 40-year-old friends and family cannot help but think I’m jaded about the supernatural and their coming revival. They would be right, at least as far as it has to do with my role as a catalyst towards those ends. I pray as fervently today for seismic outcomes as ever. The scope of my prayer is actually as large as it has ever been. The folly, to me, is the expectation that these grand events will prosper in proportion to my contribution or that of the local revival committee.

The thing that we zealots do not hear in the midst of our passion is just how much, due to our own hurts and needs, we confuse our voice and the voice of others with God’s. For me to confront my young friends would be unwelcome and probably unprofitable. Within the mystery of God, passion, zeal, tears, and screams are not wasted. In fact, they are probably essential. They are like the steam coming off the refining pot where the dross is being skimmed away and pure faith, with its enviable award, is being perfected. So, while we are asking, “How long oh Lord”, we shall still:

 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; The Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Father, while I am sobered by the possible depths of my delusions, I am, at the same time, comforted that Jesus is an exact representation of your nature. In Christ, I never saw anything that would make me cower beneath his glory and strength. I never saw anything that would cause me to fear the splendor of his holiness. That I might rest my head upon the chest of my God is my comfort and my glory. Amen.

Seek—Psalm 24

If I were to harvest the spiritual sentiment of the devout during the short span of my life as a follower of Jesus Christ, it might be captured by this notion: “Oh Lord, I want to be near to you. Draw me nearer Oh Lord.” Would they find comfort in King David’s words?

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? 

And who may stand in His holy place? 

He who has clean hands and a pure heart,

Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood

And has not sworn deceitfully. 

He shall receive a blessing from the Lord

And righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Psalm 24:3-5)

So the hungry, devout soul who wants to experience God’s nearness now has some tools in its hands if it can avoid fibs, get its heart pure, and keep its hands out of trouble. David seems to be promising righteousness and blessing to those who follow this script. David was devout in his context—the law-based monarchy of ancient Israel. However, I believe David’s council is unfit for followers of Jesus under a radically different and improved covenant. Even so, David may still assist us in his reference to the ancient gates.

Lift up your heads, O gates, 

And be lifted up, O ancient doors,

That the King of glory may come in! 

Who is the King of glory? 

The Lord strong and mighty,

The Lord mighty in battle. 

Lift up your heads, O gates,

And lift them up, O ancient doors,

That the King of glory may come in! 

Who is this King of glory?  

The Lord of hosts, 

He is the King of glory. (Psalm 24:7-10)

I’m not actually sure which gates David is referring to, but the most ancient one that comes to my mind is the one that exists between unspoiled Eden and Satan-ruled earth.

So He drove the man out; and at the east of the Garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)

Even Joni Mitchell expressed our longing for reentrance in her 1970 cultural anthem Woodstock: “We are stardust / Billion year old carbon / We are golden / Caught in the devil’s bargain / And we’ve got to get ourselves / Back to the garden.”

I don’t believe we can help Joni or the dreamers of any age by suggesting a course of self styled righteousness as a key to this ancient door. I believe that key has already been given to us in Jesus Christ, who is the Tree of Life. For those who have believed in him, Jesus, the King of Glory, has unlocked that ancient portal on our behalf, has come into our hearts, and has astonishingly made them his residence. We are now, individually and collectively, the temple of God on earth.

Sadly, even we believers continue in our dirges, lamenting the absence of God’s presence in our lives and in the affairs of man in our generation. Granted, longing is native to sojourners in a foreign land, but I wonder how much satisfaction and peace yet awaits the Church as she learns to actually rest in that presence of God she has even now as her new-creation inheritance.

Jesus Christ in now our life. We have been grafted back into The Tree of Life. This is a present-tense kingdom reality. However, the Tree’s sap does not flow well when we live as if that Tree is still guarded by cherubim and flaming sword, attempting to secure our righteousness with mere discipline. It is true:

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,

The world, and those who dwell in it. 

For He has founded it upon the seas

And established it upon the rivers. 

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? (Psalm 24:1-3)

It is not those who simply master a circumspect life. I am not immune from longing nor above exercising discipline (it is a fruit of the Spirit), but I elect to transfer as much of my angst as I can into prayer: that the Church would in fact demonstrate God’s glory to all who recognize they were initially golden—created in God’s image, yet disfigured in the Adamic devil bargain. Oh that the Church might demonstrate to the world what life lived out of The Tree of Life actually looks like. Thy will be done, oh Lord, on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus has in fact gotten us back into the garden. Paul knew this.

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. (Ephesians 3:8-12)

Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:25-27)

Christ lives in us. The King has reentered through the ancient gate into the temple. His glory is now present in us. In Christ, the new exodus is underway; the new creation has begun and his long awaited glory will one day be manifested in a people living out of the reality that Christ is their life. As I have said before, the kingdom has come and is coming.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)

Amen.

Devotion – Psalm 86

Show me a sign for good,
That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed,
Because You, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

There is a tension in me I pray will not dissipate, and it has its roots in this verse. It has to do with my desire that others might see the goodness of God. My strain has to do with the fact that men seem to carry on nicely without giving God a second thought. You might ask, “What do you care about their attitude toward God?” My answer: the scriptures have equipped me with a vision that places these people in great peril. I am not at ease with this, and I pray that I never shall be. But what am I supposed to do with this tension?

This evening will give me some release. Today is Valentines Day, but the Cummins use it as an excuse to gather our family in Christ around us. Our community of friends (which we think of as the Church) includes siblings from a dozen different denominations. It probably won’t catch on, but I would like to reclaim this occasion as Bride of Christ Day—a day where we acknowledge that we, who have been joined one-to-another in Christ, are the same community that was birthed in Acts 2. As a steward of God’s grace I would like for our gathering to convey to all the right personalities that the Church is neither a physical location nor an event. The Church is a family of holy and blameless children who are making their way together through this life as a bold statement of who God is and what he is like. This remains the kingdom mission of the original church. Paul put in nicely:

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly placesThis was in accordance with the eternal purpose, which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Ephesians 3:8-12

Daneille and I came to Christ in the awakening known as The Jesus Movement. Our earliest days as a married couple were lived in a community of believers who held many of their earthly goods in common. We did not own a building. We did not have a pastor, per se.  (However, even though they were not crowned with that title or compensated for their gifting, there were many pastors among us.) These believers were the spiritual aunts and uncles to our children. We educated our kids together and chose to work along side each other in a handful of vocations. Our gatherings often included teaching, but they almost always incorporated food and music. For us, church was never an institution. It was always family.

That they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. John 17:21

If the church is to ever live out the unity Jesus has called her to, she will have to reclaim and celebrate the irreducible minimums of New Testament life. Luke nailed four of them in one verse: “They all gave full attention to; 1) the teaching of the apostles and to; 2) the common life, to; 3) the breaking of bread and; 4) the prayers” (Acts 2:42 N.T. Wright’s “For Everyone” Translation).

This evening, much like the communion we read of in Corinthians, believers will gather in Jesus’ name. We will share a nice meal, wine, conversation, and a concert with Bob Bennett, whom I have dubbed the Troubadour Laureate of the Jesus Movement. As blameless children, we will innocently and boldly flaunt our liberty to all the spiritual principalities and powers that oppose Christ’s Kingdom—as well as to all the earthly institutions that want to promote His Kingdom.

Father, be gracious to us for we ache for your rule. Make our souls be glad! For you, Lord, are good; You are ready to forgive and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call on you. Give ear, O Lord, to our prayer, and give heed to the voice of our supplications. For you are great and do wondrous deeds. You alone are God! Teach us your way, O Lord. We will walk in your truth. Unite our hearts to love and fear your name. We will give thanks to you with all our hearts and will glorify your name. Amen.

Shaped by the Word – Psalm 1

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Nor stand in the path of sinners,

Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, 

And in His law he meditates day and night. 

He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,

Which yields its fruit in its season

And its leaf does not wither;

And in whatever he does, he prospers. 

 

The wicked are not so, 

But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. 

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

But the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1

To be blessed, according to the Amplified translation is to be fortunate, prosperous, and favored by God. However, this Psalm 1 blessing is a conditional one, dependent on who we associate with and our orientation to the law of the Lord.

How is a born again Christian, living out of a new covenant and a new life in Christ supposed to relate to conditional promises from the Old Testament? Let’s be honest: we cannot help but be attracted because of the richness of the promises, but do we really want blessing as our motive and obedience as our means? Do we really want to enter into a relationship with God that is dependent on us delivering the goods? What if one only meditated in the day and not the night or happened to keep company with the unregenerate? I believe I know the answer to these questions, but I tell you the truth, I believe every child of God is going to have to work the answers out for themselves.

I have friends who relate passionately to the Old Testament because of their attraction to prosperity. They are devout and seemingly beyond my appeal that there is a better way. Because I bought into it as a younger believer, I am sensitive to quid pro quo religion, where, if I do this or do that, I will position myself to receive God’s blessing.

It may sound arrogant, but I am a blessed man, before I ever pick up my Bible, because I have a new life in Christ. I am a child of God before I even read or quote the scriptures. By trusting in Christ, I was grafted into him—the Vine. The fruit I bear is directly related to this reality, not my adherence to the law of the Lord or my proclamation of it. The laws of the Lord originated out the Lord’s own being and you and I now live in that being and he lives in us. In Christ, we have the ultimate blessing. In him we are heir to everything he is and has. In Christ, we truly have an unfathomably rich inheritance. It is a huge step backwards to try and receive promises by virtue of our initiatives, compliance, or recitations.

If I just trashed your doctrine, you’re welcome. If I did, you are probably also thinking that Rob does not hold the scriptures or obedience in high regard. I promise I do, but I don’t think about them as a means to anything. My love of the scriptures and any inclination I have to live in harmony with them is a byproduct of the eternal life that is in me, which is compatible with the scriptures. I love his word because his word first loved me. When I obey his word, it is because his word already lives in me and beckons me, for the good of my heart, to agree and comply.

I am very familiar with the schools of Christian thought that have us confessing and declaring his word so that particular outcomes will be produced. I gave this theology a thorough test drive and found it incompatible with the new life that was in me. The very practicing of it placed God in a box that was much too small. Is God, our good, good Father, withholding his blessing until we incant his words as if they were some magical or mechanical trigger to release a blessing? If we proclaim his word, it should be because our soul exults in those words, not because we want something from God we cannot have otherwise. In him we have it all. He, the person of God, is our all in all.

God is a better parent than us. Did we withhold our children’s provision until they ask us with just the right words? The childlike, trusting heart I believe God wants to produce in us is one that simply trusts that he knows our needs and delights in meeting them. I think he likes us to ask, but, oh, the things we do beyond the childlike asking.

I am saying this as one who is feeling pretty desperate for some relief. Pain showed up on my doorstep 17 years ago in the region of my lower back and never left. It has just kept moving in on me a little at a time to the point where I’m not sure how to tolerate it any longer. That will sound like a pretty shabby confession to part of my faith family, but not to my Father. At this writing, he did not just recoil at my negative confession. I can’t explain why pain has been woven into my story but I am unwilling to credit my lack of faith or positive confession with its presence. If pain continued to encroach on my earthly comfort, would it diminish his goodness? Discredit his affection for me? Reflect poorly on his fatherhood? I echo a sentiment with Paul: “I speak as if insane” (from 2 Corinthians 11:23).

Until we are set free from these earthly bodies, which are so prone to decay and degeneration, what response does God want from us? What is he looking for in our hearts? All I know is that even sons sometime ask their Father why he has forsaken them only to discover that resurrection life is just around the corner.

Father, I pray that you would heal my body, specifically the degenerated, arthritic components of my spine. Please mend the nerves and the inflamed tissues that surround these areas. You are the healer of every facet of my being. And by the way, thank you for every minute of the previous 17 years. While I would not trade them for anything, please note that I am currently negotiable. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart—Psalm 73

I am writing from a Hilton Hotel patio appointed with the finest in outdoor furniture. It overlooks an enormous pool with its own lazy river. Beyond that there is a golf course appearing in the early morning light. The scripture for today?

But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, 

My steps had almost slipped.

For I was envious of the arrogant

As I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 

For there are no pains in their death,

And their body is fat. 

They are not in trouble as other men, 

Nor are they plagued like mankind. 

Therefore pride is their necklace; 

The garment of violence covers them. 

Their eye bulges from fatness; 

The imaginations of their heart run riot. 

They mock and wickedly speak of oppression; 

They speak from on high. 

They have set their mouth against the heavens, 

And their tongue parades through the earth. 

 

Therefore his people return to this place, 

And waters of abundance are drunk by them. 

They say, “How does God know? 

And is there knowledge with the Most High?” 

Behold, these are the wicked; 

And always at ease, they have increased in wealth. Psalm 73:2-12

I owe some thanks as well to another friend who faithfully sends me wake-up-from-your-materialistic-dream articles. Today’s just happened to reference Neil Postman’s prophetic “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” And what do I see just beyond the golf course? Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, of course. God’s timing is impeccable.

I am at the National Asphalt Paving Association’s (NAPA’s) annual conference in Orlando, which is the ultimate reminder that we are a nation governed by interest groups—not just people. This association and a thousand others are encamped at the D.C. gates of our nation to incentivize our leaders to create policy that is favorable toward their industry. I wonder where the National Association of Arms Dealers is having their annual conference?

By being here in Orlando—the Mecca of amusement parks—have my feet come close to stumbling? I could go down this road of self-reproach and condemnation; I know it pretty well, but I believe I will avoid stumbling better by entering into the sanctuary of God and casting my troubled thoughts upon him. From this place I gain perspective by simply reminding myself of things I know to be true about God. He does not discriminate against race, religion, gender, or even trade associations. This might be entirely self-serving, but I don’t believe God has written off every person or family here who has attained a degree of prosperity, as some schools of religious thought (and even this psalm) might propose. I know there are exceptions. I’m sure the imaginations of some in this crowd are running riot with ambition and pride, but there is something else going on here as well.

One gentleman received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the asphalt paving industry. In his humble and gracious acceptance remarks, he expressed heart-felt gratitude for God’s agape love—the indestructible and unmerited love that God had shown him in Jesus Christ. Then, as if it were an extension of the same, he acknowledged the people of this industry who had shown him a lifetime of phileo love—fraternal good will in the context of his chosen vocation.

This is not just a convention of prosperous people who are asking, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?” This group (if their applause for this man’s words means anything) seems to be keenly aware that God does in fact know and is due thanks for his blessings. I don’t believe these road builders can be classed in a wholesale fashion as “wicked people, always at ease, insulated from pain or death by their increasing wealth, setting their mouths against the heavens, with their tongues parading their glory through the earth.

What is going on here then? I suppose the same thing that is going on all over the earth. God is endeavoring to grow his kingdom, one heart at a time. His kingdom and the affairs of earth strategically overlap where he deems fit and often where his children are leaning into this reality. I’m trying to lean in.

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; 

I have made the Lord God my refuge, 

That I may tell of all Your works. Psalm 73:28

I had the opportunity to speak to an associate about Islam—the primary religion of his native country. From his childhood, he recalled coups regularly taking place and not-so peaceful transitions of government occurring overnight. While he doffs his cap to religion (as if there might be something going on with a higher power), he sees a grand conspiracy being underway with the religious (from whatever faith) as pawns in a huge game that is driven exclusively by man’s lust for power. We were interrupted by the event’s MC, who was calling us to attention for the Awards Assembly. Power… Is power the end game on earth?

The first wave of awards were given to those people and organizations who funded NAPA’s political action committee, which exists unapologetically to incentivize our nation’s leaders to share our vision of a well funded black (as in asphalt) infrastructure versus a white (as in concrete) one, or worse yet—an underfunded one altogether. One award recipient after another was paraded across the stage, receiving applause and plaques of proportional size for their level of contribution. Plaques and applause as incentives? I don’t sense that heaven is overlapping the earth too much here. In fact I think someone’s imagination may have run at least mildly riot in planning this part of the ceremony. Ugh… that was gross. Due to my flesh, which seems to regularly flirt with stumbling and failure, rarely does an hour pass that I must fall back onto my primary reality:

Nevertheless I am continually with You;

You have taken hold of my right hand. 

With Your counsel You will guide me, 

And afterward receive me to glory. 

Whom have I in heaven but You? 

And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. 

My flesh and my heart may fail, 

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:23-26

Father, I pray that neither my flesh, nor the flesh of any man, might prosper too long without your loving correction, lest we all run riot, more than we already have, in our imaginations. Before we are utterly swept away in some moment of terror like senseless and arrogant beasts, awaken us from our dream that you might become our end as well as our beginning. Amen.

 

Home (Sunday)—Revelation 2:17

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)

Our verse is laden with mystery: a new name and secret nourishment are promised to him who overcomes. And it seems, from this verse, to overcome one must first hear. Much is said in scripture about ears that hear or ears that do not. Why is this? What is it that opens ears? What keeps them closed? Jesus tell us: “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17). C.S. Lewis put it like this:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” …Those who seek find. For those who knock it is opened. (The Great Divorce)

The first step in overcoming is to hear, and to hear we must present ourselves to God as those willing to do his will. Once a man has given himself to God, saying, “As far as it concerns me, Lord, Thy will be done,” the ears are opened. God now has someone on whom his words will not be wasted. Someone may still protest, saying, “But… I cannot do God’s will; it is beyond me.” This is both a true and a false statement. Let’s allow Lewis to continue.

             To have faith in Christ, means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.

Now we cannot discover our failure to keep God’s law except by trying our very hardest (and then failing). Unless we really try, whatever we say, there will always be at the back of our minds the idea that if we try harder next time, we shall succeed in being completely good. Thus, in one sense, the road back to God is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, “You must do this. I can’t.”

The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become—because He made us. He invented us. He invented the person that you and I were intended to be… It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own. (from Mere Christianity)

I pray that we have ears to hear what Jesus is saying to the church in our day. Our overcoming depends on it. Becoming the light of the world depends on it. The Bride of Christ, having her lamp full of oil, is dependent on it. Since hearing is pivotal to overcoming, surrendering to God is foundational.

In the abandonment both Jesus and Lewis preach, there is a process of discovery in which we encounter the cross—that place where we die to ourselves and can say with clear conscience, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who now lives in me. This is why C.S. Lewis also said, “Die before you die, there is no chance after.”

The life of God is hidden from us, in large part, until we die – but not completely. When Christ’s life becomes our life, we know it because it is accompanied by a new identity. We know we are God’s and God is ours. In this place, slaves who were laboring to please the Master, become sons and friends to God. They have, in essence, been renamed and their labors to please God cease. And yet they bear fruit and overcome out of the new nature within them.

To find our way home, we must first give ourselves to God who is both our origin and our destiny. We must hand the title back to him. Then, our hearing will be opened; then we will begin to learn the many lessons he has for us in his school of obedience, where we will learn that (as Lewis has aptly put it) “It is not trying that is ever going to bring us home.”

Father, truly you are our hidden manna. And, you are the Good Shepherd who is guiding us home. May our hearts grasp that you alone are our Way, our Truth, and our Life. Amen.

 

 

Home (Saturday)—I Corinthians 15:50-58

As I consider Paul’s words I feel a tension, and I know why. He is talking about life after death, and I want him to talk about life before death. More accurately, I want him to talk about Life while living. Our passage seems to say we really don’t start living until the worms start eating. I don’t believe this is what Paul is saying. This will be a good place to employ our Bible Study 101 skills and ask, “Who is speaking and why?” A complete reading of 1st and 2nd Corinthians reveals that Corinth not only had theological problems: they also had morality problems.

Lies from pagan culture still had traction in the young church. Between bad theology and bad morality, there wasn’t much left to distinguish the Corinthian saints from the Corinthian pagans. This was deeply troubling to Paul—their spiritual father. His plan was to wade right into the middle of it, “determined to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Fully committed to winning them, the great apostle starts with a question:

 Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? (I Corinthians 15:12 The Message)

They were letting people say there was no such thing as a resurrection because various lies remained operative within their community. As Paul preached “nothing but Christ and Him crucified,” he was facing off with the principalities of Corinthian culture, which had reigned unchallenged for hundreds of years.

Paul was no stranger to these demons. At Mars Hill, most of the philosophers mocked him when he spoke of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Due to their philosophical strongholds, it was inconceivable to them a person’s earthly body could come back to life after it had died. The Epicurean philosophers were materialists, believing there was no existence beyond death. The Stoic philosophers taught that, at death, the soul was merged with Deity, precluding the need of a body. The Platonist philosophers taught the soul was immortal, but they denied the idea of a bodily resurrection.

The Greek word for resurrection is anastasis, which literally means, “to stand up again.” Resurrection means that a person will “stand up again” after he dies—that he will come back to life in a new body. This was the sword Paul drew. Sound doctrine was his primary weapon in combating the doctrines of demons. While he was correcting the specific errors of the Corinthians, he did not see the need to share the things about the resurrection, which he had shared with the Romans.

 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)

While he did not teach this to the Corinthians directly in our passage, he had certainly implied it when he told them they were new creatures in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). In God’s kingdom, which has come and is coming, Life is not just reserved as a post trumpet blast, when-the-dead-shall-rise experience. We have been raised up already. Christ is now our Life!

While it will not be the ultimate expression of resurrection life, Paul is keen that Jesus’ life be manifest in the lives of believers while still in their mortal bodies. He envisions the inner man standing up and expressing something eternal while still residing in the temporal. This happens as God is permitted to become the King of our hearts. As God succeeds as Lord in our innermost being, his kingdom expands.

 Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

If Paul were preaching his straightforward Christ-and-Him-crucified message to the western evangelical church, he would get push back from another set of principalities who hold that the real, substantive resurrection life begins only after we die. Due to this philosophical stronghold it is inconceivable to many Christians that Jesus will make much of a stand in his Church: “How much resurrection life is realistic, restricted as it is by fallen human nature?” Overlooking the new nature, in Christ, this church-based stronghold breeds passivity and a tread-water-until-then outlook. Where this doctrine persists, the troops remain in the barracks, awaiting reveille, praying they will not be left behind.

Right now, in Christ, we are raised from the dead (in our spirits) and we will be raised from the dead (in our bodies) at the appointed time. Resurrection life is planted like a seed in our hearts. By God’s grace, it takes root. That seed is Christ himself. There is no life other than his. This must be why Paul is so determined to preach exclusively about the resurrection. This message is the one that sets the stage for the believer to personally discover that Jesus Christ is literally all they have and all they need. He is, himself, our sufficiency. For our good and the Kingdom’s, he intends to become our all-in-all.

Father, thank you that in Christ our toil is not in vain. Manifest your resurrection life within us. Give this unbelieving world something fresh to chew on. Let them see newness of life in your family. Transform us, as you have always intended, not just in that ultimate twinkling of an eye, rather, over time, as we walk with you in the Spirit. Let this world see the perishable putting on some imperishable, and mortality putting on some immortality. Let them puzzle as they see our liberty in the Spirit, asking themselves, “Where is the sting of death in these people?” Take your stand, Lord. Amen.

Home (Friday)- Revelation 21:9-27

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. (Revelation 21:9-11)

How are we to respond to this? An angel, armed to the hilt, has invited John to see the Bride but then shows him a 1500 cubic mile structure. Its scale is overwhelming! The construction is jaw dropping! The universe must have been mined to acquire the building materials! But how is this the Bride? Weren’t we hoping to see a composite of persons (perhaps with a glimpse of ourselves included)? How is Revelation 21 supposed to motivate us? What should be our take away?

Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper.

The phrase  “was like” tells us John is using his limited and fragile vocabulary to depict something for which he has no words. Clearly, he has been swept up into the mystery. Symbolism is the best he can do. Unfortunately, mystery often leaves the western mind underwhelmed and perhaps even offended.

In the west, we love a concrete principle that fits neatly into our belief structure! Oh how desirable we believe another post-tensioning truth will be to our foundation! Yet John does not offer us a single stick of moralistic rebar. The logical religious mind may ask, “Then what is the point here?” Our pining for principles reveals our discomfort with mystery and I suspect, with God.

We think about God as if he lives up two or three flights of stairs from us when in reality the particulars of his realm are light years beyond our comprehension in every conceivable direction. Our minds, as it turns out, at least for now, are merciful buffers between us and God. We could not endure his glory for a moment.  John’s words have been spoken that we may grapple with them. They are to have an instructive impact upon us. As we wrestle with God’s glory in this passage we find we are graciously pinned in the first round. Our loss then becomes our gain – and our glory.

Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heardand  which  have not entered the heart of man. (1 Corinthians 2:9)

God saying, “My ways are higher than your ways” will no doubt be the understatement of all eternity. So much about God is a glorious mystery held in trust for his Bride. By merciful design we do not have exhaustive knowledge. Knowing all mysteries would undermine the need for faith – the only way we may please him while in these earthly bodies. Until that day (when we will know as we have been known) we have sufficient truth to live in. Even now, we have Jesus, the Light of the world – the exact representation of the Father, to illumine our path. We also have the Holy Spirit in us to teach and to guide.

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselorOr who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him againFor from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Sometimes God’s word is spoken to simply drive us to our knees that, from there, we may discover we live and move and have our being in Christ. We can then rest our exhausted heads upon his lap and hear him say …

Peace my child. Be still and know that I am God.

Father, even if we were to understand all mysteries, Jesus, not our knowledge, would be our foundation. Oh Lord, that you might convey to us your sufficiency and your presence independent of our substantial data base about you. Amen.