For Anyone and Everyone

Martin Luther, author of the text of Christ la...
Martin Luther (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In those days I will pour out my Spirit
e
ven on servants—men and women alike.
Joel 2:29 (NLT)

A few weeks ago I discovered that a client of mine is a history buff like me. He introduced me to a podcast called Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History and encouraged me to download the episode call “Prophets of Doom.” I’m about half-way through the 4 hour podcast and I’m hooked. Carlisle shares a fascinating true story set during the Protestant Reformation in the first part of the 16th century.

As background for the story, Carlisle spends about an hour doing an excellent summation of the social, religious and political climate of Western Europe during this period of time. The tectonic plates of history are shifting. For over a century the Bible had been the secret text of the rich and well educated. The masses were only told the parts that the religious and political leaders wanted them to hear. Manipulation of the Message to maintain wealth and power became commonplace. Then Martin Luther did something radical that would change history. He translated the Bible from the original Greek into common German language (at that point it was only hand copied in Latin). The new invention of the printing press was then used to mass produce it to be read by anyone who could read their everyday language. For the first time, every day people could read and interpret God’s Message for themselves.

One of the radical realities of Jesus’ teaching is that salvation and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are poured out on everyone regardless of age, gender, social standing, or educational level. Anyone who believes is indwelled by the Holy Spirit and a part of the “Body of Christ.” As the people in 16th century Europe began reading the Bible for themselves, they began to realize this and it became a huge part of the change in tides that would shape history to this day.

I would love to jump on my soap box and explain how I believe the leaders of the modern church have continued to manipulate the system to ensure that only select individuals of their choosing get to participate in realizing and using their spiritual gifts, but that’s another blog post.

I thought about all of this as I read the ancient prophet Joel’s words. Even in Joel’s day the idea that women and common servants could and would receive God’s favor and the gift of God’s Holy Spirit was a radical notion. This morning I am reminded that throughout history man has manipulated God’s Message to further his own ends. Jesus carried out God’s plan to pour out love, salvation and spiritual blessing to anyone who will take the step to believe and follow. Even me. Even you.

Times of Rain; Times of Drought

usfws via Flickr
usfws via Flickr

Despair, all you farmers!
    Wail, all you vine growers!
Weep, because the wheat and barley—
    all the crops of the field—are ruined.
Joel 1:11 (NLT)

Yesterday Wendy and I had meetings in Des Moines and found ourselves driving the familiar stretch of highway 163 from Pella. The road winds through some of the most beautiful and fertile farm land I’ve ever seen. My weekly, sometimes daily, trips to Des Moines are an on-going word picture of changing seasons and the state of the fields which feed the world.

It has been wet here in Iowa. On Monday we had 2.5 inches of rain in 24 hours. That came after a wet weekend. As I looked out over the fields of green on the way to Des Moines I was reminded that 20 years ago this summer we experienced a similar rainy summer. The floods of 1993 left the City of Des Moines without fresh water for 10 days. This summer doesn’t come close to that, but it is certainly reminiscent of the same wet weather patterns. We then remembered and talked about the serious drought we experienced just one year ago which now seems such a departure of our present meteorological reality.

In today’s chapter, the prophet Joel calls people to lament and pray about a serious drought and locust plague that threatens the food source and lives of an entire nation. To be sure, the effects of extreme weather in Joel’s day would have far more disastrous implications for the people of that region than what we experience in our land of plenty. Still, I am reminded today of the constancy of nature’s impact on our lives and livelihoods. It’s another case of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” It’s a great word picture. In this life journey we all experience the ebb and flow of floods and drought. We all live through seasons of plenty and of loss.

Today I am reminded to keep the faith, and to keep pressing on. You never know what next summer will bring.

It’s No Wonder We Constantly Miss the Point

David with the Head of Goliath
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lord, where is your unfailing love?
    You promised it to David with a faithful pledge.
Psalm 89:49 (NLT)

On occasion I will like a song and, after getting to know the song for a period of time, I will learn that the song is really about a particular person or event. Having not known this when I became enamored with the piece, it will suddenly layer the song I thought I knew with new meaning. It may even cause me to dig in and learn more about the person or event that inspired the song. You begin to realize that you don’t truly know the song unless you understand the story behind it.

This is the case with Ethan the Ezrahite’s one hit wonder in Psalm 89. While there are certainly lines of the lyric that are inspiring in and of themselves, it is the larger story that strikes me most profoundly. In this case, the song is about King David. David (of David and Goliath fame) was chosen by God to be king and anointed such by the prophet Samuel. This didn’t happen right away. It took many years, but David eventually united the bitterly divided tribes of Israel, established Jerusalem as the capital, and became a hugely successful warrior king.

God sends word that He is establishing David’s throne for eternity and everyone prepares for a long and glorious reign through the centuries. But, as tends to happen with human governments, everything started falling apart within two generations. David’s kingdom fractured in two when his grandson took over the throne. The northern tribes established their own king which did not follow David’s line and continued to be known as the nation of Israel. The southern tribes continued to honor David’s line in keeping with God’s promise and became known as the nation of Judah (which was David’s tribe).

Fast forward a couple hundred years. Invaders like Assyria and Babylon have decimated the area. David’s descendants in Judah have proven faithless and weak. David’s kingdom is ended. Jerusalem is destroyed along with the temple that had been David’s dream.

For the first 37 verses of Psalm 89, Ethan revisits the glory of the warrior King David. He reminds us of God’s promise to establish David’s throne forever and those glory days when it appeared David and his descendants would have a successful earthly dynasty as had never been seen before. Ethan then waxes eloquent on God’s greatness in view of these wonderful times. Then we get to verse 38 and Ethan makes a painful 180 degree turn. The current reality for Ethan is horrifically different than what everyone had been proclaiming. David’s royal line appears to be all but snuffed out. The glory of the Davidic kingdom has been reduced to rubble. Ethan’s song suddenly becomes a screaming lament of disappointment and terrorizing questions:

What happened to the promises?
What happened to the glory of David?
How long will this go on?
Where is your love, God?
What happened to your faithfulness?

I have come to believe that what we think will happen rarely happens the way we think it’s going to happen and almost never in the time in which we believe it will happen. When people tell me how convinced they are that God is going to do this or that at such and such a time, I smile and politely acknowledge the possibility that they may be right. Quietly, however, I remember my history and the lesson of Ethan’s one hit wonder. What, how, and when we think something is going to happen rarely comes to fruition. God is the most amazing author. What you think is going to happen in the story rarely does, but then when you look back with 20/20 hindsight in later chapters you realize how simple it all seemed.

Today I am reminded that we see our own lives and times with such finite eyes. We perceive all around us with such limited, earthbound thinking. We tend to hear only that which we can easily process and compartmentalize.

It’s no wonder we constantly miss the point.

How I Run Today Determines How I Finish the Race

Four ThingsFor my life is full of troubles,
    and death draws near.
Psalm 88:3 (NLT)

Over this past year, Wendy and I had the privilege of participating in a local service project through Union Street Players and the Pella Shakespeare Festival to record an audiobook for our local hospice. The book we made into an audiobook (with permission of the author and publisher, of course) is The Four Things That Matter Most by Dr. Ira Byock. Our local hospice gives a copy to all patients and their families, but most Hospice patients are not able to read, so the audio book was needed. In the book, Dr. Byock shares the four things that everyone should say and hear before dying:

  • “Please forgive me.”
  • “I forgive you.”
  • “Thank you.”
  • “I love you.”

I thought of “The Four Things” this morning as I read Heman’s lyrics in Psalm 88. The ancient song powerfully describes a person who is facing death and feeling the pain, anxiety and fear that accompanies it. Those who work in Hospice and palliative care like Dr. Byock can tell you about the spiritual and emotional pain experienced by those who are facing death and have unfinished business with loved ones. There is a writhing of spirit that can easily overshadow any physical pain the person may be feeling.

This morning I am reminded that how I end this life journey depends largely on how I handle my most important relationships today. I don’t want to hobble to the finish line in relational pain, emotional anxiety and fear. I want to finish strong surrounded by and taking comfort in loved ones with whom I’ve shared the sojourn. That will only happen if I take care of unfinished relational business today and not leave it for tomorrow.

A Unique City in All the World

Photo I took from the window of my hotel overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem.
Photo I took from the window of my hotel overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem.

Regarding Jerusalem it will be said,
    “Everyone enjoys the rights of citizenship there.”
    And the Most High will personally bless this city.
Psalm 87:5 (NLT)

Jerusalem is one of the most fascinating places on earth. It was true when the descendants of Korah penned the lyrics of today’s Psalm, and it is still true today. The Old City which lies at the heart of modern Jerusalem is sectioned into four “quarters.” There is a Jewish quarter, a Muslim quarter, a Christian quarter and an Armenian quarter. Within the old city is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which the traditional site believed to be the empty tomb of Jesus. The Church is controlled by different groups  including Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox who share responsibility for it.

When I visited Jerusalem ten years ago the famous Dome of the Rock was closed to tourists by the Muslim authorities who control it. Me and my fellow travelers wanted to see if we could get in to see it. For that, we had to talk to the Muslim authorities in a building just outside the entrance. Before we could talk to the Muslim authorities we had to get permission of the Israeli security officers outside. One of the Israeli security officers, as it turned out, was one of the few Christians who served in that position. As it turned out, we were not given permission to enter the Dome of the Rock, but we were escorted to the roof of the building and permitted to look out over the grounds for a few short (and admittedly tense) minutes.

Different nationalities, different cultures, and different faiths all claim Jerusalem home. It is just as the descendants of Korah pointed out almost 2500 years ago. It is a unique city in all the world and the setting  of many of the most climactic events in God’s story.

This morning, I am reminiscent of so many good memories. As I wrote this post I was reminded of Psalm 122:6: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And, so I shall.

 

God from a Distance; God who is Near

from a distanceO Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive,
    so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.
Psalm 86:5 (NLT)

For the past week or so we’ve been reading lyrics of psalms penned by Asaph during a period of time when Jerusalem was under siege by Babylon and eventually captured and destroyed. In those lyrics I felt a sense of God being distant, almost like a stranger. They feel to me like a corporate national cry from afar to God of whom they’ve heard about but do not necessarily know intimately.

This morning’s psalm written by David felt like a sudden and sharp contrast. The lyrics are a very personal plea to God who is near, intimate, and personally known:

  • I am devoted to you.
  • You are my God.
  • I give myself to you.
  • I call…you will answer
  • With all my heart I praise you
  • I will give glory to you
  • Your love for me is great

I am reminded this morning that our view of God is often dependent on our experience and perspective. I know many for whom God is a distant, angry, and judgmental entity because that’s the view they were presented when they were young. Others I know view God as a unknowable father who has abandoned them. For some, God is simply a stranger they’ve heard about from many different people but have never personally met.

I feel much more like David. My experience is of a thirty plus year relationship with an intimate, personal Father God of love, compassion, grace, mercy, provision, forgiveness, and patience. The songs of my heart sound much more like David and little like those of Asaph.

God is not that far off. God is longing to know and be known. As Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened.” I have found along the journey that there is a difference between observing God from a distance and actually asking, seeking, and knocking.

Consider the Farmer

Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
Our land will yield its bountiful harvest.
Psalm 85:12 (NLT)

Wendy and I were among those who were touched and enthralled by the commercial Dodge aired during this past year’s Super Bowl. Paul Harvey’s iconic voice and lyric style describing the farmers who work our land and feed the world.

Growing up and living in Iowa is an interesting experience. Despite being raised in the city and having nothing but the most rudimentary understanding of agriculture, I can’t help but be influenced by the way farming is woven into the lives and genes of the people who live here. When I read this lyric from Psalm 85, I immediately thought of the farmers and children of farmers I know whose first thought upon hearing the daily weather forecast will forever be about how it will affect the crops and their livelihood.

When your lives and income depend on the weather, and the weather is beyond your control, I’ve found that faith becomes an even more integral part of your life. When the weather cooperates and you pull in a bumper crop there is a distinct understanding that you are harvesting a blessing for which you can’t take complete credit. Like the Sons of Korah who penned the lyric above, there is a natural understanding that you have been blessed. In the same manner, when the weather does not cooperate and the crop is at risk, there is the distinct understanding that you are dependent on God to meet your needs and get you through.

Today, I am thinking about my own blessings. While I am not a farmer, I am also dependent on God’s blessing in a million different ways. It’s always a good idea to stop, consider, and offer a word of thanks and praise.