Category Archives: Encouragement

Nemesis

In Greek mythology Nemesis was the retribution goddess that brought justice and consequence against those who yielded to pride or exploitation. Her name literally meant, “to give what is due” and she ensured that people got what they deserved.

She was portrayed as a winged goddess with a whip and dagger, the perfect equipment for tracking people down and disciplining them severely.

In our day and age it can often seem like justice is forever postponed or delayed. We know that Nemesis is a myth, but we long for the reality that the myth proclaimed. Why does evil seem so entrenched? Why does injustice so often rule the day? When will oppressors get what they deserve?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that this would not always be so. Indeed, he said, “Evil carries the seed of its own destruction”[1] and it’s true. History is replete with the accounts of oppressive empires that flourished for a season and then sunk into ruins. Today, tourists take pictures of those ancient remains.

Evil will not prevail. Human suffering and exploitation will not get the final word. God is just and the Scriptures remind us that a day is coming when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).

Until that day, we have the honor of extending God’s love and justice to our spheres of influence. We get to see the incremental advance of goodness, kindness, and faith, knowing that someday, like Pharaoh’s army on the seashore, the forces of injustice will be fully and forever swept away. Let’s carry on as unflagging ambassadors of God’s faith, hope, and love.

[1] Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, Philadelphia: Fortress Press: 1963, p.83.

A moral obligation to be intelligent

Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing…” (Luke 23:34)

In his book Strength to Love Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that it was not merely sin that nailed Jesus to the cross; it was also ignorance. “The men who cried, ‘Crucify him,’ were not bad men but rather blind men. The jeering mob that lined the roadside that led to Calvary was not composed of evil people but of blind people. They knew not what they did. What a tragedy!”[1]

History is replete with accounts of men and women who engaged in woeful behavior based largely in either ignorance or misunderstanding. Mankind’s historical inquisitions and persecutions had strains of ignorance and intellectual blindness running through them that made their outcomes doubly tragic: they were evil, yes, but they were also uninformed. Misunderstandings of science, racial equality, mental illnesses, and many other things have led to oppression, enslavement, and misguided notions that have traumatized the human race.

We are called to be better. I think we should ponder these words from Dr. King and consider where they might apply to our perspectives and our engagement with the world: “Sincerity and conscientiousness in themselves are not enough. History has proven that these noble virtues may degenerate into tragic vices. Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. The church must implore men to be good and well-intentioned. But devoid of intelligence, goodness and conscientiousness will become brutal forces leading to shameful crucifixions. Never must the church tire of reminding men that they have a moral responsibility to be intelligent.”[2]

Let’s commit today to redoubling our efforts at being good, just, conscientious, and intelligent.

[1] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The Strength to Love, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), p. 43.

[2] Ibid., 46.

Eucharistic living—YOU are broken bread and poured out wine

The centerpiece of many Christian traditions is Communion/Eucharist—the bread and the wine, ancient symbols of Christ’s redemptive suffering for the healing and quickening of the world. What we sometimes overlook in our various approaches to the Eucharist; however, is the fact that Jesus is not the only bread and cup—you are too.

In his classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers draws a direct connection between the Eucharist and Christ’s followers, stating that we have been called to follow Jesus’ lead in pouring out our lives for the world.

Broken bread and poured out wine—that’s what we have been called to be in the service of others. Just as the Apostle Paul viewed himself as a drink offering “poured out” on his followers’ faith (Philippians 2:17), so we are to live sacrificial lives that enrich the lives of others.

There is a mandatory rhythm attached to Eucharistic living, however. We cannot pour out indefinitely without being replenished ourselves. If we try to live lives of overextended, unsustainable service we court burnout and disaster. Rather, we must embrace a Eucharistic rhythm wherein we are broken and poured out, but then get replenished and reassembled by the grace of God.

If you have been withholding your service to humanity, it’s time to engage again. But if you’ve been engaged for too long without allowing your soul to heal, it’s time to get restored. No one can give forever or run without stopping—we give then receive; we run then we rest. Eucharistic rhythms ensure that we can do this with great health throughout our entire lifetime.

Weary yet pursuing

“So where you on the Richter scale, babe? How are you on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Jessica asked me this question the other day, and it wasn’t nearly as easy to answer as it might initially sound. I had to answer it on multiple levels.

I had to answer it practically. Practically, experientially, I wasn’t doing great. If life is a series of peaks and valleys then I think I was scraping the bottom of a valley somewhere. From a practical, factual perspective, I probably logged in between a 2 or a 3.

I also had to answer it emotionally. Surprisingly, my emotions were significantly higher than my factual reality—probably somewhere around a 6. However, before you conclude that I’m too out of touch, or living in a dream world, I should probably mention that my emotions were tied to my third answer.

I also had to answer Jess’ question positionally. I told her, “My circumstances are a 2.5; my emotions are a 6, but my determination is a solid 10. It’s true that I’m a little weary, but my posture, my position—my commitment to keep on running—has never been higher.”

There’s precedent for this in the Bible. After Gideon and his troops routed the Midianites in Judges 8:4 they were described as “weary yet pursuing” and something interesting happened. Divine strength found them as they ran.

Sometimes we can Sabbath (we can regroup, recoup, and withdraw), but sometimes life requires us to run all night. If you are in a running season, please don’t stop and don’t despair. God’s grace knows how to find you even while you run!

Why isn’t goodness more satisfying?

Stolen water is sweet; bread eaten in secret is delicious!

That’s what the ancient proverbs writer said, and it still rings true today. We, humans, love the illicit and the forbidden.

Why is this?

Why is forbidden fruit so tempting? Why do we crave the things that aren’t healthy for us? Why do we want what we probably shouldn’t have?

The answer is…we actually don’t. We don’t want the illicit; we don’t want the counterfeit—we actually DO want the authentic and the good.

The problem is that goodness usually requires some up-front payment, whereas the illicit doesn’t charge us until a little later on—it’s like a quick and easy credit card transaction that satisfies today but makes us pay tomorrow. Goodness and beauty make us work for it on the front end, and if we aren’t willing to pay that price we’ll turn to lesser substitutes that can hurt us on the back side.

King David understood this. Throughout his life, he walked both paths: the illicit and legitimate, and his conclusion was clear. True satisfaction (the kind that lets you sleep at night and brings life to your soul) only comes from what is good. In fact, David said that when our desires touch God’s goodness it’s so satisfying that it’s almost like we start aging in reverse. He said that God “satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagles” (Psalm 103:5).

Jesus agreed with David. He said the Kingdom of God—the reality of the goodness of life in God—was like a treasure buried in a field. It took some work and it cost a life to find it, but once found, it was worth every cent of payment.

Meanwhile we groan

At Grace Church we just finished a church-wide 90-day reading campaign where we read all of the words of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. The unique thing about this reading plan was that we only read Jesus’ words—we ignored the entire surrounding context.

I know. I know.

We’re not supposed to read the Bible that way. We’re supposed to understand the Scripture’s context so that we don’t misinterpret or misapply its message. We’re not supposed to lift an isolated passage out of context or we run the risk of “proof-texting”. Even so, it was very powerful for me to read Jesus’ words all by themselves. Hearing Him say, “I am willing; be clean” or “I have chosen you” or “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven” and just absorbing those words was exhilarating.

Although I don’t generally advocate a “proof-texting” context-less reading of Scripture, I had another experience today where a single phrase of Scripture lifted up off the page and spoke to me. In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul was painting a vivid picture of our promised eternal state with God, and then he said, “Meanwhile we groan” (verse 2).

For some reason that phrase spoke to me on multiple levels:

  • Our ultimate hope is secure…but meanwhile we groan.
  • The Gospel keeps advancing in our lives…but meanwhile we still groan.
  • God will finish what He has begun in us…but in the mean time we still endure some groaning.

This isn’t pessimism! This isn’t a gloomy, Eeyore perspective on life. It’s a validation of our groaning. It’s recognition that sometimes—even amidst God’s potent promises—there is a groaning in this life that has to be endured.

Please be assured that our groaning isn’t the final word—rejoicing is. Victory is. But in the meantime, we groan. We groan as we wait for His unveiling…we groan as we wrestle with sin, temptation, and compromise…we groan as we fight for the liberation of the human soul…and we groan, knowing that He is beside us in our groaning.

The Mercy Seat

If you had to customize a seat from which you would conduct your business and engage in all of your daily conversations what kind of chair would it be? Would it be simple and comfy or stately and professional? Would it be economical and efficient or perfectly aligned to fit your hips, lower back, and spine? Then, if you had to name your seat, what would you call it?

Personally, I’ve never given much thought to crafting and naming my ideal seat, but there are some people, including God, who have.

Jesus said, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:2). When Pontius Pilate gave his ruling against Jesus Christ he was sitting on “the judge’s seat” (John 19:13).

Do you remember anything about God’s seat? Do you remember what it was called? Out of all the names that God could have rightly given His seat—out of all the virtues that His seat could have represented—He chose this: The Mercy Seat.

When God gave Moses instructions for the creation of the Ark of the Covenant, He told Him to make a “mercy seat” as the covering for the Ark (Exodus 25:17, ESV). This mercy seat would be positioned in between the gold sculpted cherubim, and God said, “There I will meet with you, and there above the mercy seat…I will speak with you” (v.22).

Is that incredible?

That’s where He sits when He wants to talk to you. That’s where He’s reclining when you pour out your heart to Him and petition Him with your prayers. I would understand if His seat was called judgment. It would make sense to me if His throne was named righteousness, but it stirs and moves and heals my soul to know that He has chosen to call it something else. He sits upon mercy, grace, and love (Hebrews 4:16).

Another name for the Mercy Seat was the Atonement Cover—that’s Jesus! He is our atonement, the one who provides what we are lacking so we can enter right standing before God. This casts a different light on the imagery of Paul’s “Judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Indeed, we will all eventually stand before Christ’s judgment seat, and yet our fate will be in good hands because the judgment seat is occupied by the Mercy Seat.

Please take heart! If you or your loved one needs mercy from God, that’s exactly what He is most inclined to give.