In the Office: Great Is Thy Faithfulness

A friend of mine recently loaned a book to me that’s titled The Holy Wild by a pastor named Mark Buchanan. Building on A. W. Tozer’s rather famous suggestion that “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us,” the book offers a series of reflections on the character of God; and the chapter that I read last night focused on God’s faithfulness.

Buchanan begins by calling our attention to the beauty of a single leaf. He then notes:

God makes these season after season, one after the other, billions upon billions, from the Garden to the New Jerusalem, most for no eye but His own. He does it faithfully, or else I would not live to tell about it, or you to hear. Perhaps of all my many sins against heaven, this ranks with the worst: Until this moment, I have never thanked God for a single leaf.

Which is the problem with faithfulness: We hardly notice it. Faithfulness is, by definition, the predictable, the habitual, the sturdy, the routine. It is the evidence of things seen, but seen so often we’ve grown blind to them. It is the substance of things expected, expected so unthinkingly that we now take them for granted.

We live amidst surpassing wonders, but most of it has become run-of-the-mill. We dwell among endless miracles that, repeated day after day, have grown tedious. We are lavished with gifts that we now expect or ignore or begrudge. Faithfulness bores us.

Mark Buchanan, The Holy Wild, pp. 54-55.

 

psalm-36-5Today, of all days (perhaps because it happens to be my birthday), I don’t want to be guilty of being “bored” by God’s faithfulness. My life, I’ll admit, is relatively ordinary; and it’s lived in a world that is crammed full with challenges that are personal, social, political, congregational, environmental, and so on. But in the midst of it all, how can I not be filled with joy and gratitude? I have a wonderful and talented wife and daughter. I serve a church family that is more gracious to me and more patient with me than I could possibly deserve. I’ve been blessed by so many friends and colleagues and teachers — most of whom I don’t get to see as often as I’d like — but all of whom have made my life deeper and more meaningful. And perhaps best of all, I trust that I am loved by a God whose purpose may sometimes remain beyond my knowing, but whose grace is sufficient for the invitation to follow Him that each day affords.

Buchanan concludes his chapter with this:

There are actually only three things God promises with a guarantee. In these three things, God is always true to Himself. These three things are the bedrock of His faithfulness. God is faithful to forgive our sins if we confess them…God is faithful to make us holy and blameless before Christ…And God is faithful to get us home. God alone made a way for you to live with Him forever. None of it depends on you. It all depends on the God who promised. And He is always true to Himself.

May you be upheld by His faithfulness today.

Advertisements

In the Office: With All My Heart

We had what I can only describe as a very special day of worship at my church yesterday. Maybe it’s because our praise team led us in a powerful time of music and reflection, focused around the question, “What Child Is This?” Maybe it’s because our sanctuary was decorated in a way that immersed us in the warmth and joy of the season. Or maybe, at a more personal level, it’s because my daughter shared a beautiful song that she herself arranged. But whether it was because of these things — or simply through these things — I was powerfully moved by what, for today, I’ll describe as the “Fragile and Indestructible Hope” of the gospel.

In the OfficeI say “Fragile,” because I was reminded that the Christ-Child came to broken and hurting people just like us. And more to the point, He came not in overwhelming might to vanquish His enemies — but in weakness and humility to serve and suffer and die for the sake of all. I say “Indestructible,” because our worship gave testimony to the fact that even after two millennia, the powers that drive us to seek “more” (instead of “enough”) and “might” (instead of “reconciliation”) and “advantage” (instead of “justice”) have been unable to extinguish the light that was kindled in Bethlehem. And I say “Hope,” because even though there never has been — nor is there currently — much “observable evidence” that the Kingdom which Jesus described is actually coming…yet, there are moments when I’m seized by its glory…and my trust in that kingdom is renewed…and I am moved to tears of “joyful longing”…just as I was in worship yesterday.

And so, it’s fitting, perhaps, that the very first sentiment that I encountered in today’s Daily Office was this one from Psalm 9:

I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.

will give thanks to you, LORD…with all my heart. May your Fragile and Indestructible Hope continue to be born in me. And may your Kingdom come, even to folks like us who’ve done such a sorry job of receiving and sharing it.

In the Office: Weekend Benediction

I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel a bit stuck in a world of contrasts these days. On the one hand, I am so richly blessed — and I’m so grateful for my family, my church family, and all the friends with whom I’m privileged to share my life. On the other hand, I often feel mildly overwhelmed by the apparent chaos of the moment — and it breaks my heart to see the many things that divide us and the many “signs of upheaval” that make one wonder how long the structures by which we organize our lives can hold.

In the OfficeBut in the midst of it all, I trust that what matters most are not my fleeting perceptions of how things are — but the rock solid promises of the One who is, and who was, and who is to come. And because He is God (and thankfully, I am not), I know that “justice will roll on like a mighty river, and righteousness like a never failing stream” (Amos 5:24). I’m confident that “our present sufferings won’t be worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). We need only have the faith to live like this is so.

And so, from today’s New Testament lesson, I offer you this “weekend benediction.” May the Lord be at work like this in all of our lives; so that — together — we may receive and share the gifts that He has promised.

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 24-25)

In the Office: Too Divided to Return?

Today’s Old Testament lesson (Amos 4:6-13) is the kind of passage that manages to frighten, inspire and frustrate me all at once. It brings a word of judgment, spoken to a people who have forsaken God’s way and who refuse to repent, despite repeated warnings. In fact, the verses of today’s reading create a monotonous litany: the LORD describes all the steps He has taken to warn His people of their sin; but their response (found in verses 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11) is always the same: “Yet, you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.

In the OfficeThese words frighten me, because I see so many ways in which we, too, have wandered from the Lord’s way and have refused to return. They inspire me, because they remind me that God is gracious and compassionate — and that He continues to call us, too, to repentance and healing. But as much as anything else, they frustrate me, because we seem so bitterly divided about the nature of our sin that we can’t even find common ground about what we need to return from — let alone take steps toward justice and righteousness. Those on the right lament the way that those on the left have ignored the value of unborn life and have forsaken personal holiness. Those on the left decry the way that those on the right have ignored the value of creation and have downplayed the needs of the poor and oppressed. But rather than acknowledging that we are messed up in all these ways and more, the most public voices among us too often seem focused on critiquing “the other guys” — and scoring political points at the expense of confronting the truth about ourselves.

In spite of all that, I generally remain hopeful — not because I have all that much faith in us — but because I have deep faith in the God who says, “Come, let us reason together; though your sins be like scarlet, they will be as white as snow!” (Isaiah 1:18) And yet, I acknowledge, too, that repentance and reconciliation is not the only way our current wandering might end. There remains the prospect of the chilling word that comes near the end of today’s lesson: “Prepare to meet your God” (verse 12).

May we not be among those who refuse to return to the Lord. Instead, may we immerse ourselves in the way and character of Jesus. And may His Spirit so transform our spirits that when we meet our God, we’ll hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servants,” rather than “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

In the Office: Forgotten or Fallow?

The sermon I’m working on this week will invite my congregation to consider some of the difficult life experiences that make us feel forgotten. At one point or another, in ways both big and small, most of us encounter times when we wonder whether God is paying attention. Like David in one of today’s psalms, we ask: “How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1) and we’re tempted to believe that either God no longer cares about our struggle, or He simply doesn’t notice it.

In the OfficeBut as Sunday’s message will suggest, what looks like a “forgotten” season to us may, in fact, be a “fallow” season from the LORD’s perspective. God may not always work on the schedule that we would prefer. But He does act at the “appointed” or “opportune” time:  the time that best serves His purposes — and that allows all the different strands of life’s tapestry to be masterfully woven together.

This, I think, is also part of the message that comes in today’s New Testament lesson (2 Peter 3:1-10). Peter is writing to a group of believers who are being persecuted by the powers that be and who are clearly wondering if they’ve been forgotten. But as Peter reminds them:

Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)

Naturally, it’s my prayer that our “forgotten” seasons will be few and far between. But even in those moments when our burdens push us into sorrow, may we be able to trust that we’re being prepared for times of greater fruitfulness. As one psalm reminds us: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy!” (Psalm 126:5)

In the Office: Do You Remember?

I came across a review the other day for a new book titled Preaching as Reminding by a professor named Jeffrey Arthurs. Although I’m not sure that the review made it sound compelling enough to find its way onto my “must read” list, it did sound intriguing; and the title itself captured what, for me, is one of the “creative tensions” of being a pastor.

rememberOn the one side, I’m thankful that it’s not my job to “invent” truth and wisdom that will guide and encourage my congregation. Instead, my responsibility (as Arthurs apparently puts it) is to be “the Lord’s remembrancer,” stirring the memory of Christ-followers and reminding them of the truths they already know. On the other side, I’m still challenged by the fact that stirring these memories in a way that allows listeners to apply them to their present situation is an ongoing challenge — and one for which I often feel both unworthy and unprepared.

It comes as a bit of a gift, therefore, that today’s New Testament lesson (2 Peter 1:12-21) touches upon this very tension. Peter tells his readers, “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.” (verse 12) And then he points them toward the two essential streams that water the garden of our faithful remembering.

The first is our experience of the Lord’s presence and activity in our lives. “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power,” Peter writes, “but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (verse 16) So, how have you been an “eyewitness of his majesty”? What are some of the ways that you’ve seen God’s Spirit at work over the years — and over the last few days?

The second is our encounter with God’s Word. “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable,” Peter says, “and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (verse 19) So, how are you allowing “the prophetic message” (the commands, promises, and stories of scripture) to remind you of the Great Story of which your life is a part and from which each moment of your life derives its purpose and hope?

May our remembering today carry us deeper into the embrace of the One who loves us and gave Himself for us; and may His promises allow us to live with purpose and confidence, even when the turmoil around us tempts us to forget His goodness.

In the Office: The Gift that Keeps On Calling

Some of my favorite biblical passages are the ones that capture the “both/and” of the gospel message; that is, they highlight the fact that everything that matters in our faith comes to us completely undeserved as a gift of God’s grace — AND — they make it clear that we are called to respond to his grace by working diligently to obey God’s will and grow in Christlikeness. The short list of these “both/and” passages include…

  • Ephesians 2:8-10 (“For it is by grace you have been saved” AND  “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works”);
  • Philippians 2:12-13 (“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” AND  “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose”);
  • And the passage that takes center stage into today’s New Testament lesson:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Pet. 1:3)

giftJust think; while we so often struggle with letting go of sinful habits and growing in the fruit of the Spirit, the plain truth of scripture declares that God has already given us everything that we need for a godly life! The gift is given; all that we need to do — in fact, all that we can do — is to receive it. AND because we’ve been given this gift, Peter goes on to say:

For this very reason (emphasis added), make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Pet. 1:5-8)

It is precisely because we are the recipients of such undeserved favor that we respond to God by using His gift in the way that it was intended. We “make every effort” to do the good works for which we were created, constantly rejoicing in the fact that God is the one who’s working in us to make those works possible.

What steps of goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love might the Lord want us to take this week — AND — what matchless grace will He provide to make those steps possible?

May it be our desire and our delight today to receive the gift that keeps on calling.