Being Poor and Needy

depressed theodysseyonline dot com

From theodyesseyonline.com

This morning as I was doing my devotions through the book of Psalms, I came across Psalm 86. The opening verse struck me.

Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.” Psalm 86:1

How often do we admit that we’re poor and needy. I’m not talking about financially poor. Nor am I talking about someone being all needy that drama follows them wherever they go. Poor and needy is a spiritual state here. A state that is created when one is completely sapped dry spiritually and has no more left to give. A state that where one is spiritually dry and in need to be filled with the Living Water. That kind of poor and needy.

And this is where David’s at.

He says later

Hear my prayer, Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.” Psalm 86:6

Now there’s something about Hebrew poetry in the Bible that’s interesting. It’s called parallelism. That’s where two sections parallel one another with different ways of saying the same thing. What I’m getting at here is that prayer and cry for mercy are parallel here.

I don’t think we always get that. I don’t think we always associate prayer with a cry for mercy. Many times we associate prayer with a time of bringing a laundry list before God telling him what we want. That’s not prayer. Prayer is giving your full heart out to God and begging him to listen to you and then waiting to hear from him. Prayer here is a a cry for mercy. A crying out to God for him to listen and hear what is being said.

David says

Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name.” Psalm 86:11

How many times do we have a divided heart? How many times does our heart get pulled in different directions? When we let God teach us his ways we learn to rely on His faithfulness. When we allow God to teach us His ways, we begin to have an undivided heart and have a deep respect for who He is.

But who is He? Who is this God that David’s crying out to, to whom David pleads for mercy and prays? He is God almighty.

David confesses who God is when he says

You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” Psalm 86:14

This is a confession, a refrain, found throughout the Old Testament. From the book of Exodus where Moses gets all up in God’s face and tells Him these exact words, to the prophets getting all up in the faces of the kings telling them of these words. These are words describing who God is. The God to whom we cry out to mercy for. A God who gives mercy, compassion, and is faithful to those who are poor and needy in spirit.

Jesus says in what is called The Sermon on the Mount

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Matthew 5:3

Blessed.

Too often we get blessed mixed up with being happy. I’ve heard sermons and Bible studies that talk about how blessed means to be happy. That’s not how it goes at all. It isn’t happy are the poor in spirit. It’s not that at all.

Blessed here has the idea of being envied. That you are given so much of something that others envy you for having it. Envied are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When you know that you are poor and needy in spirit, you know that there’s only one way you can be filled—Jesus. When you’re poor and needy in spirit, there’s only one place you can go to be filled–in the presence of God through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Are you poor and needy in spirit? Are you so dry right now that you don’t know which way to go? Cry out to God in mercy, He is slow to anger, abounding in love, compassionate and faithful. He hears your cries when you are poor and needy and He answers them.

Cry out to Jesus, cry out in your poorness and neediness and you will be filled.

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What if We Were Meant to Soar

soaring eagle

from clipartfest.com

Tom Petty has a song called Learning to Fly. Simple song but so much in it. The chorus is “I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings/Coming down is the hardest thing/Well the good ol’ days may not return/And the rocks might melt and the sea may burn” It makes me wonder (okay, that’s from Stairway, but I’m not doing anything on Led Zeppelin).  It makes me think (that’s better). We’re all learning to fly at times. But we just don’t have wings. It’s hard to fly when you don’t have wings. We’re constantly moving forward and there’ll be a day when things aren’t what they once were. Mainly because time keeps on slipping into the future (Steve Miller Band, I know). There will be a day when we’re tired, we’ve fallen, and all just doesn’t seem right.

That’s life at times. It’s life where all things just don’t seem right. It’s life when things seem so out of joint that it just doesn’t make sense. We’re tired of it all. We can get sick and tired of being sick and tired. There are times where it just doesn’t make sense that all things aren’t going well. It can come to a point where we just don’t know what’s going on.

And that’s where we get to the falling. The falling down is the hardest part (Well, the quick stop on the ground hurts pretty badly too). If we fly without wings then we will eventually fall.

We’re just not meant to fly.

But what if we were meant to soar?

We get tired and weary. We get frustrated and hurt. But there’s a promise of soaring. There’s a promise of soaring like being on eagle’s wings.

It’s in the prophet Isiah:

[God] gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 41:29-31

Even in the trying times, even in the hardest times, there is a promise that if we just place our trust, our hope, our dreams, all that we are into God’s hands, then we will soar like eagles.

Now, before y’all start nit picking a few things here, it’s important to place this in context. This is a promise to the people of Israel who were in exile in Babylon, miles away from their home town of Jerusalem and country of Judah. There is the promise that they’ll return and God will restore all things to not just how they were but how they will be when God makes all things new again. There’s a promise of restoration, not just of their town and country but of the whole world.

Why? How?

Because:

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” Isaiah 41:28-29

God’s in control. It’s hard to hear when things are going every which way but loose. It’s hard to hear when you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s hard to hear when things just are all out of joint. It’s hard to do when you’re learning to fly but you just don’t have wings.

But what if we were meant to soar?

Paul writes in his second letter to the church in Corinth

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:20

The promise to soar which was given to the people in exile in Babylon is a promise given to you as well. A promise that is “Yes” in Jesus. A promise that can be obtained in trusting in Jesus in all things.

It can be hard. It can be tough. We want to fly on our own accord but we just ain’t got wings. On the other hand, soaring doesn’t require our own effort, it requires leaning on the wind and letting it take us where we need to be. When we trust in God through Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can soar.

Where might you be trying to learn to fly, but you just ain’t got wings? When you do, coming down is the hardest part. Now in all of this, what if you choose to soar instead?

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Learning to Play the Blues

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youtube screen shot

To be honest, there’s been a lot going on lately. Hence why this is my first blog post in about a month or so. Stuff’s been going on that isn’t worth airing on social media or blogging. So I’ll just leave it  like that. (I’ll let you imaginations run wild with me being abducted by aliens who torture you by making you do complex math word problems). One thing I will say is that as I’ve been playing guitar, I’ve learned a therapeutic lean in learning to play the blues.

I’ve let my guitar teacher know a bit about the struggles and he suggested the blues. Just some basic blues licks and notes. I’ve been amazed how helpful basic minor notes can be. I’ve listened to the blues from time to time over the years (I have a blues playlist with John Lee Hooker, Lead Belly, BB King, and others on my phone). I’m not a blues expert, but I do know that the blues is the foundation for our rock n roll today. Blues has influenced so much in our culture and music. Blues is music that grew out of the Jim Crow era of the segregated south. It’s filled with pain, suffering, struggles, and reflections about the world, relationships, and life itself.

As I sit with guitar and strum those blues licks, I’ve begun to identify with those minor notes. Those minor notes sing to me in a way that I can’t fully explain. They fill the grief and pain that I’ve felt with a feeling of accompaniment. They accompany what’s been going on by filling what can’t be said with a minor note that does. Those blues licks speak when I can’t.

And then I begin to think about Scripture. I begin to think about what it means to pray when we don’t know how to pray. That’s what I feel at times. I just don’t know what to pray for.

Paul writes about this in Romans

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26

The Holy Spirit strikes the minor notes when we don’t know how to sing. The Holy Spirit fills the gap with groans of prayers to God when our hearts just don’t know how to pray. And I’ve felt that way lately. Those groans, those minor notes, speak when I can’t.

And so I learn to play the blues some more. The blues licks and notes fill the room playing out my emotions and struggles. I struggle with my fingering and rhythm. But that’s okay. Those notes ring out as do the wordless groans of the Holy Spirit. The music speaks when I can’t, the Holy Spirit prays for me when I can’t.

The thing is, is that you can’t stay in the blues forever. The song has to end sometime. As one wise person told me, you have to play a major chord or note eventually. There will be a time where the notes have to have an upward resonance.

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youtube screen shot

In Israel’s history, there was a time when the blues needed to be played. The people had been in exile, returning to their homeland 70 years later. The play was in ruins. And they began to rebuild Jerusalem and the city walls. When the city walls had been rebuilt, the people heard the word of God read by Ezra the priest. And then the people cried. They grieved. They were convicted by God’s word and knew they had done wrong in life. They saw where they had messed up. They also saw where they were in pain, struggling, hurting, and in the suckiness of life.

And then the governor Nehemiah said to them

Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

The blues was played but then they had to strike a major note. Minor notes are important but they must lead to a major note eventually.

My wife and I had a discussion about the 7th in chords. That is like a G7, a C7, D7, etc. The 7th is a lower sounding chord that is played. It’s off a bit from the major. But the thing is, is that it anticipates a major chord. In fact, it needs a major chord to complete it. Without a major chord it’s incomplete.

In the blues, in our grieving, in our praying through the Holy Spirit, we need to anticipate Jesus. He is the one it all leads up to. He’s the one who wept by the graveside of a dear friend he was about the raise from the dead. He’s the one who stood comforting parents grieving the death of a daughter that he was going to raise from the dead. Jesus lived the blues but he brought the major notes to the completion.

And so when I play the blues, I know that my struggles ring out with the minor notes. But I also know that I have a promise of the major chords. The promise that there will be something good down the road. And playing the major chords remind me of that even when I play the blues.

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Harmful Humility

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From mileswelch.com

Good humility is something that is respected in our world today. When one is humble, they are seen as being down to earth. People who are humble tend to be less materialistic and focus on the things that they have. It’s not wanting to have more in life but wanting to enjoy what they have in life more. They tend to think of others more and themselves less. And in this, good humility is something that is to be honored and striven (or is it strived…is that a word?) for.

Then there’s harmful humility. Harmful humility is where one thinks of others not because they truly care but because it’s been hammered into them that they shouldn’t think of themselves at all. It’s been hammered in that to think of yourself as anything good is a bad thing. Not just that, but if you even toot your own horn just a little bit, that’s being prideful and thinking of yourself more than you ought to.

And there’s the rub. Harmful humility is usually backed up by the Bible, especially from Romans

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” Romans 12:3

Well, it’s biblical then, right? So why is it harmful?

It’s harmful because it’s misused and misinterpreted. It’s one of those passages that gets tossed around at people out of context and in doing so harms others. It creates a life time of beating oneself up for the very purpose of trying to be humble when in reality all you’re doing is hurting yourself and not enjoying what you’ve been given.

Here’s the thing–when we think of ourselves as lowly, we then act lowly. When we think of ourselves as bad if we toot our own horn once in a while  then we lack respect for ourselves and our accomplishments. Not just that, but then you begin to think that if you even talk about something good you’ve done, then others will think you’re being all high and mighty and “I’m better than thou”ish and might try to knock you down a peg. Seriously. I’ve seen it. It’s true. This is harmful humility.

The problem is, is that Romans 12:3 and onward isn’t about being humble per se. It’s about serving the church through your gifts.

The full passage is this:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Romans 12:3

Paul then goes on to talk about spiritual gifts and how they are used in the church. For those who call on the name of Jesus Christ, we are all one body and are given gifts to help serve one another and to serve in the church. We serve God through our gifts. It’s not about being lowly and beating yourself up for things you did or didn’t do. It’s about serving in gratitude through what God has already given you.

Paul says that we each have our own functions in the church. We each play a part in the church. And we should do so in gratitude for what Jesus has done. It’s about the diversity in the church itself not about being a lowly person with a bad self image.

Too many times we think humility is having a lower self image. It’s as if we might think of ourselves as lesser people not deserving of things then we might be more humble. Nope. Not it at all.

Paul further says that this must be done out of love. When we love sincerely with the love of Christ, we serve humbling in love. When we put ourselves down in order to make someone else look good or think that if we act in a certain way people might try to knock us down a peg or two, then we’re not living a sincere love. We serve humbly by loving others. We serve humbly by loving our neighbor as ourselves.

And harmful humility forces us to not love ourselves as God loves us in Christ. How can we truly serve with sincere love if we don’t love ourselves in that way. It leads to harmful service as much as harmful humility.

Instead find ways to love graciously and sincerely. Find ways to live out the gifts that God has given you. Then true humility will find its way into your every day living. True humility will be lived through true sincere loving service to others using what God has given you to do so. Serve others in love and humility will be a produced by the Holy Spirit working through you.

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Cheesed Off Character Building

cheese

From eatwisconsincheese.com

“Don’t you know? You’re building character.” This was an oft statement given to me during a rough patch in my life some years back. It cheesed me off. It was about 10 years ago when things were going to pot. Things were in the crapper like you wouldn’t believe. Nothing was going right. All was wrong. My life just plain sucked. And well meaning people would tell me that I was building character. After over two years of hearing that, I was downright tired of building character. It cheesed me off to say the least.

What’s worse is that people who said this to me actually thought they were quoting the Bible when they told me it was building character. The Bible said that? Not the Bible I wanted to read nor read.

The Bible is filled with talking about suffering. The Psalms have more laments in them than anything else. A lament is a cry out to God for help, asking Him to remember His unfailing love (see Psalm 13, etc). These laments are filled with crying out to God in the midst of suffering, asking Him why bad things are happening when they’ve tried all they could to live a life following God’s Word. They are filled with people crying out to God wanting to know why they are suffering. Psalm 88 is the darkest of all these psalms. It’s a tough read for sure.

But never in the Psalms does a person cry out “God, thank you for building character in me.” Not once do words of assurance in the psalms say “Blessed is the one who suffers for they will build character.” No where does it say that. In fact, Jesus tells his disciples to rejoice when suffering and being persecuted for Him. James writes that we should count it all joy that we suffer. No where doe they mention building character.

So where does this come from.

It’s a misinterpretation of Romans 5:3-4

We also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4

People kept stopping at character after perseverance and never started at glorying in suffering. Now, this isn’t saying to be masochistic in suffering. Instead, the suffering is to suffer on account of Jesus and the gospel. There will be suffering. We all will go through suffering at one point in time or another if you are a follower of Jesus.

But building character?

Character today is almost synonymous with integrity. We say that someone has good character. That means they’re a good person. But if they’re a bad character, they are a bad person.

This idea of character in Romans is more along the lines of having proof that something is genuine. In other words, that the perseverance is genuine and proof that the hope we have in Jesus is genuine because of the present sufferings we go through for Jesus. It has nothing to do with being a good person and having a better character as we see it today. In fact, its more about what happens after someone goes through a trial. It’s about how one is after being through the wringer.

Building character is about building hope in Jesus Christ. It’s about having hope in who Jesus is and the promises of God that are yes in Jesus Christ. It’s not about being a good person but about being a follower of Jesus and clinging to His promises in hard times and suffering.

So, yeah, maybe I got cheesed off for no good reason. Maybe what I just said counteracts things a little bit (but hey, it’s a short blog post, what do you expect?).

When things are going rough for someone, don’t point them to building character, point them to the hope that is in Jesus. A hope that leads to a blessed assurance that Jesus is with us through all life’s hard demands. A hope that leads to an assurance that leads to a peace that passes all understanding that guards our hearts and minds. A peace that is more than just character but an ability to be sustained through the tough times in life.

In other words, platitudes suck especially when quoting the Bible in the wrong way. Point towards the hope that can help in the midst of trouble.

 

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Sunday Justice

service2

From northwestchurch.com

Sundays are about justice, not just us. That’s something hard to say and harder to swallow at times. Many times Christians look to Sundays as a day of rest. And that’s good. It should be a day of rest. Yet many Christians look to Sundays as a day to be fed, a day to be given, a day to consume rather than a day to give, a day to feed, a day to grow, and a day to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with God (this is a run on sentence, I know). Sunday isn’t about just us, it’s about justice as well.

God spoke to His people from the very beginning about being a blessing to others. He said to Abraham that he is blessed to be a blessings (check it out here). Later, God spoke to His people after He rescued them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He tells them how to live differently. How to live in such a way that they are so different that the rest of the world will know that God is the God of the nations and the universe.

God tells them In Exodus 19 that they will be a nation of priests to the rest of the nations. Priests during this time period spoke to the people for God. They were the ones who tended to the poor, helped the weak, and led the people in worshiping God.

Later, after the 10 Commandments are given to the people, at the base of Mt. Sinai, God instructs the people how to live differently. How to live in such a way that they act justly and love mercy and can walk humbly with Him.

One such way of living differently is how the people of Israel treated foreigners:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. They foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34

Sunday justice is about living differently. Being different amongst people all around us.

The Apostle Peter writes

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

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From inquiriesjournal.com

As followers of Jesus, we are to live this out. We are to live out what it means to be a priesthood–a people who speak on God’s behalf, who help the poor, who act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

But are we?

Jesus spoke of his people living differently. In the parable about the Sheep and the Goats, he speaks about how when he was hungry he was fed, when he was thirst he was given something to drink, when he was naked he was clothed, when he was sick he was looked after, when he was in prison he was visited. But the people want to know when they did all this.

Jesus’ answer is simple:

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40.

Dude.

Whoa.

Being a follower of Jesus isn’t about just us.

Yes, Jesus is a personal savior. Yes, Jesus died for you, he died for me. But he also wants us to be different. Unique. That royal priesthood, that holy nation. Abraham was blessed to be a blessing by God. As followers of Jesus, we fall in that line with Abraham, we too are blessed to be a blessing. As with the people of Israel who were to live out a different life, we too are to do the same.

This involves justice not just us.

When we have a myopic view of things, we only focus on our wants and needs. As followers of Jesus, we are to see Jesus as not only our personal savior but also see how God is calling us to be different, to be unique. We are to do this in our own weird way using the gifts and abilities God has given us.

In the Christian Reformed Church we have World Renew whom we can do justice through. The Office of Social Justice also gives suggestions on how to act justice and love mercy while walking humbly with our God.

Dear fellow Christians, when you walk through the church doors this Sunday, don’t just think about what you can get out of Sunday’s service, think about what you can do for Jesus and his desire for us to be different and unique in this world.

 

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Lagging in Training

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From blessthisstuff.com

You ever get that gut wrenching feeling of guilt right after you read about something you know you really ought to be doing. That feeling in the stomach that isn’t indigestion but something far worse, a spiritual type of indigestion? Yeah. I’ve gotten that recently.

This is Spiritual Musclehead. And I firmly believe that if you want to write about something to be practiced, you need to practice what you write about. And that’s where this confession comes in–I’ve been lagging behind. True. Honest. Really. I’m lagging behind in my own personal training. And it’s gut wrenching spiritual indigestion when I realize it too. I realized recently that I really need to be better at my spiritual training. I’m lagging behind and that ain’t good at all for me. It’s pretty bad.

Now, some of you might be saying “Don’t beat yourself up so much.” Or “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Thank you for saying that. But I’m not. I’m being honest with myself. Maybe a bit too honest with myself (But hey, I need to be honest with someone, right? Might as well be myself). There’s a reason behind why I’m hard on myself about spiritual training. It’s because I’m a leader. And because of that, I hold myself up to a different standard in my walk with the Lord (that is, following Jesus, being a Christian, however you want to say it in Christianese).

But why? Why so hard on myself? No. Why so honest with myself.

Paul says it best in 1 Corinthians

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:25-27

In other words, if he don’t practice what he preaches then what he preaches ain’t worth nothing. He goes into training because he knows the cost of what he does. He goes into training because he knows that he will be watched and judged.

Later he tells his pupil, Timothy, these words of advice

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly…godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:7-8

Dude.

Okay, hold on here.

This is what’s so important and where I’m lagging behind–I’m not training enough. I’ve been struggling with doing my devotions. I can’t even sit still long enough to sit in silence and reflect on God’s word.I have a hard time truly sitting down for prayer. I’m lagging behind and it’s showing. It’s like a big glob of grape soda dropped on an interstate highway map that you need to get home with (odd analogy, but work with me here). Direction gets smeared and hard to read, you can’t fold it like you’re supposed to anymore, and it’s just annoying and smells like grape the rest of the trip home. That’s what it’s like when you lag behind in spiritual training.

What’s even more of a guilty feeling is that I’m doing research on the Spiritual Disciplines and how one forms in the Christian faith. And in doing so, I’m feeling guilty for not doing what I’m supposed to be doing which is what and why I’m researching it in the first place.

So prayers please.

Prayers to get back on track. Prayers to get back to doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Prayers to be a solid spiritual leader that I’m supposed to be. And prayers for me as I study this more. And if you want, prayers that I’m not as hard on myself (Maybe I am…just a little bit).

I’m lagging behind in my training, please join me in not lagging along so much.

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