July 25, 2015

The God of Surprise Endings…


It’s not what we had hoped, not what we imagined, not what we had wished for, nevertheless, it is where we’re at…

Have you been there?

John the Baptist was.  He’d been faithful, truthful, and God-honoring.  And there he sat in a Roman prison awaiting the verdict…

Naomi was.  She’d left her home-country with her husband and sons to wait out the famine.  Her sons had married but had no children and now both husband and sons were dead.  And she found herself aged and all but alone in a foreign culture.

Samson’s parents had raised him as best they could.  They’d followed God’s directives. Perhaps they’d spoiled him just a  bit but… now he’d been captured by the enemy, blinded and put to slave labor like a common ox.  And then, he was dead—a hero of sorts, it’s true, but dead nonetheless…

Job saw the worst of it.  Disaster upon disaster. His children were all tragically killed in a single day.  His wife even failed him.  This is not how a life of faith should end, is it?

Sarah and her husband waited long years for the promised heir. Every birthday a bitter reminder that they were infertile…

A childhood friend lies in hospice care soon to breathe his last leaving a young daughter who has already lost her mother to cancer.

Sweet kids grow up to be rebellious teens wreaking havoc on their families.

Christians are brutally slaughtered for no better reason than their faith.

These would all be tragedies if it weren’t for the surprise endings God writes into their scripts.  Even death is not final.  And with God our bitter ends are only beginnings, opportunities for His eternal power to shine.

Things seldom  ‘turn out’ the way we’d imagined they would.  It doesn’t seem ‘right’…But we aren’t given the last word.  Our sense of what’s right is surely flawed.  Only eternity will show the perspective we’ve missed.  Our stories are not about us.  God is at work to showcase through us His manifold wisdom, to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (see: Eph.3:10)We are creatures locked in time while God is eternal, working out His eternal purposes in these fragile bodies and their earth-bound relationships.

John the Baptist is beheaded but his testimony lives on to the glory of God: “Verily, I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Mt.11:11

Naomi introduces a Moabite to the One true God and in so doing brings her into the family line of Jesus.  

Samson delivers Israel from oppression through his death and is written up in the Hall of Faith as one who pleased God, leaving a legacy of hope to those of us who fail to be perfect parents to perfect kids.

Job confirmed  God’s bragging rights in the heavenly realms.  “Have you seen my servant Job…” and we all know the surprise ending of his life even on this side of heaven: “So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning…”Job 42:12

Sarah was given the gift of laughter with the coming of a son in her old-age. It was the last thing she’d expected.

These are just glimpses we are given of God’s surprising ways of doing things.  Again and again He interjects hope and purpose into the worst case scenarios of life.  He takes our would-be bitterness and transforms it into better-ness.

Wherever you’re at in His story, God is not finished yet.  Who knows what He will yet do with the raw materials of our lives?!  This is no time to give up hope.  The best is yet to come!


Our best hopes are yet future.  We, like our Christian kin of old, look for a city whose designer and maker is God (Heb.11:10)  This earth is not our forever home.  Looking back at the way things might have been will not do.  (Lot’s wife learned the hard way).  God beckons us to press on for the prize awarded to those who trust Him with all the ups and downs of life.  He can be trusted to do the unexpected.

“Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.” Ps.74:12


For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. Heb.10:36

For, "Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay;  but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him."  But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Heb.10:37-39 ESV

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and Samson, and  Jephthae; David also, and Samuel, and  the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:  And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;  (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise. Heb.11:1, 32-39 KJV

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. II Cor. 4:17-18

Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Ps.30:4,5 ESV

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them."  The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. ...  Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! Ps.126:1-3, 5 ESV

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Eph. 3:20-21

July 17, 2015

Not a Check-Off List

I’ve been put in my place this week, reminded that it is not the holier-than-thou that enjoy fellowship with God, but the truly holy.  And being holy is not essentially about what I do, it’s about what Jesus has done.

It all started with a sermon on Psalm 15---“O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?” is how the ESV puts it. “Who shall dwell on your holy hill?”
A list ensues-- 
--The one who is without blame and does what’s right, who speaks the truth, not just aloud, but in his heart. 
--The one who doesn’t slander or harm his neighbor or criticize his friends…and etc.

My natural impulse sitting there listening to this list was to compare myself to it.  OK, so this is confession time, bear with me.  I tend to read down through such lists with a bent to justify myself.  I see them as check-off material, a measure of how I’m doing.  And as long as I read quickly and don’t think too carefully about the implications of each command, I’m good.  Yep.  I’ll be tenting up on the Hill tonight.

Oh dear, but the pastor didn’t let us off the hook so readily.  He got down to the nitty-gritty of these conditions.  Blameless?  Always doing the right thing? Never slandering? Always honest?  Who can meet these conditions?  Neither you nor I.  Only Jesus.  He said there are basically two ways to look at what the Bible is about. The way you see it will determine what you do with a Psalm like this one. 

Do you see the Bible as a book about what YOU need to do to approach God?  Or as the revelation of what God has done so you can access Him? One view leads eventually to despair (or to blind arrogance?), the other to hope.  One view puts the focus on me, the other on Christ.

I needed this reminder this week.  It came on the heels of days of pondering the concept of our God being a consuming fire?  There have been record numbers of wildfires raging in our neck of the woods this summer, some on our own mountain.   While we were away, lightning lit the tinder-dry slopes just outside of our town.   Meanwhile back at the coast, our old home town had smoke-laden days and ash falling from neighboring fires there.  And we, hours from there, were cycling along a lake in Washington noting smoke rising just over the hill while helicopters dipped in and out of the lake ferrying water to the spot.  Fire everywhere!  There were evacuation alerts for people we know, and some terrifyingly awesome footage emailed to us of the fire raging nearest our home. image4

It could be said to be beautiful if it weren’t so terrifying.  image1image2

I couldn’t help reflecting on what the writer of Hebrews meant when he said: “…for our God is a consuming Fire”.

image3 What does this mean!? 
It certainly precludes any notion of marching up His holy hill with my little basket of home-grown fruit to offer! Cain tried that. This is not a place for check-lists that assure me I’m ok based on what I’ve done or not done. 

Exodus 19 gives such a list: the Ten Commandments, we call them.  But the context makes clear that these are no trifling commands to be checked off in order to draw near to God.  When Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God they came to a mountain on fire, or at least lit up with lightning and resounding thunder, and shrouded in thick clouds (of smoke perhaps?).  And there was the warning: Don’t come near. Don’t even touch the mountain or you’re dead!

God was making a covenant with His people. He said: “If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Ex.19:5,6  Obey His voice?!  They were afraid to even listen to His voice. (Heb.12:19) The mountain shook.  Thunder and lightning terrified them and a very loud trumpet blast deafened them.  Moses, as a type of Christ, would be their representative.  He would go up the mountain to hear from God and return with His commands.  This was the setting for the giving of the Old Covenant with its rules and its regimens for dealing with sin when those rules were broken, as they inevitably would be.

It’s good to look back and to be reminded of the vast gulf between myself and this holy God who calls me His own.  Looking at the Old Covenant, smelling the smoke of Mt. Sinai, and reflecting on this God who is yet a consuming fire…makes me relinquish my check-lists and pause to give thanks for the One who has gone up the mountain on my behalf. Jesus has entered the Tent where God dwells. (Heb.9:11ff).  He mediates there on my behalf.

I commend to you a  reading and re-reading of Hebrews 8-12.  I’ve been browsing there today.  What an amazing thing Christ has done as the mediator of a new covenant…

‘a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.’ (Heb.9:15)

“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Heb.10:14)

Instead of check-lists that produce despair or stupid arrogance God has offered to put His laws in our minds, to write them on our hearts, and to empower us to do them by His very own Spirit within us (Heb.8:10). This is good news! Instead of living beside us in a Tent He has offered to live inside us—in these ‘tents’ we call home for a while. (II Cor.5)  He looks with pleasure not on the one who claims to have done it all (see: Mark 10:17-27 for how that goes) but on the one who in faith believes that Christ Jesus has done it all on her behalf. (Yes, Lord! Thank-you!!)

Who may sojourn in His tent?  Who will dwell on His holy hill? 

By His grace, through faith in His Son, through no merit of my own I may humbly enter there because of what He has done.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire!  (Heb.12:28)


I commend to you a careful reading of Hebrews chapters 8-12, in conjunction with Exodus 19 and Psalm 15 and Jesus’ own words in John 14 and 15.  Oh, and II Corinthians 3,4 & 5 while you’re at it!

And this hymn comes singing through my heart saying it all:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

--Augustus M. Toplady, 1776

July 10, 2015

A Many-splendored Love

I am away from my computer this week so may I leave you with just a short thought I have been pondering? 

What if we believed, really believed that all God does and all He allows in our lives is done in love…what if we saw the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ as tokens of His love at work in us?

It’s easy enough to celebrate His steadfast love when things are going well and all is ‘tickety-boo’ with us, but what about when things ‘go south’ as a friend puts it?  What if we were to see His hand at work in this too?  Always at work…for our good and His glory.

All through Scripture we are told to pay attention to what God has done, to remember, to ‘behold’, to consider…I don’t know about you but my mind runs to the blessings, the amazing ‘good’ things I’ve known Him to do.  I don’t straight way think of the hard things, the ‘disasters’, the hard things.  But these too are a product of His hand at work in our lives and in our world.

I  was just looking through  Psalm 107 for example.

It starts off well and good: “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble…”  We celebrate the redemption but what about the trouble?  Sometimes it’s the direct result of our choices.  Consequences.  But even so, it is out of the Lord’s love and mercy that we are made to suffer consequences and so turn to Him…

…then they cried to the LORD in their trouble; and he delivered them from their distress…

…:So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor” (v.12)

“Some were fools through their sinful ways and because of their iniquities suffered affliction” (v. 17)

“For he commanded and raised the stormy wind which lifted up the waves of the sea.” (v. 25)

“He turns rivers into a desert…a fruitful land into a salty waste…” (v.33,34)

Yikes!  Did I read that right?

This psalm concludes: “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;
let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.” (Ps.107:43)

There’s more to consider than at first meets the eye.  This too I am pondering.  His love endures forever, through every trial and crisis.  Does my praise?


Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard,  who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip. ...  Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me! (Ps. 66: 8,9,20)

They have lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts, but they do not regard the deeds of the LORD, or see the work of his hands. Therefore my people go into exile for lack of knowledge; their honored men go hungry, and their multitude is parched with thirst.

I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. Ps.143:5

Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not ALL His benefits!

July 3, 2015

The Best Summer Reading!

If you’ve been following my ponderings for long you know I’m a lover of the Word of God.  It is a treasure to me.  I read it, savor it, and commend it to you. [See the JUST READ IT tab on this blog’s home page!]  I aim to make it a priority in my life by reading it first and most, before man-made substitutes, and by meditating on it in order to let it shape my ponderings.

But some days, some weeks, it seems flat and lifeless to my palate.  I don’t want to read it.  And when I do, it’s just words on a page that I’ve read before.  Do you know what I mean?

This has happened to me just lately.  It all started with a road trip and an audio book randomly selected to fill the hours…The road trip ended but the book wasn’t finished.  Its ‘due date’ is looming.  I must find out what’s going to happen; I must finish the book!  So instead of filling my day’s lazy moments with the Word of God, I default to the audio book.  It’s well-composed, seems to be based on thorough research and first-hand knowledge, and is a fascinating look into a culture completely foreign to me.  But it is painfully sad, full of intense loneliness and hopelessness and of futile efforts to escape that pain.  It is a graphic picture of man without God and without hope in the world (Eph.2:12).  A remedy is suggested but because the author writes from a false worldview her remedy is nothing more than wishful thinking born of mindless meditation. She is talented and has written well but I feel as though I’ve been dragged back to the Garden and am being offered a taste of The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, as though it were the way to life.

In reality the story’s characters, representations of a whole culture, are without hope apart from a hearing of God’s Words.  As a culture they have believed lies and are reaping the deadly consequences.  No wonder the suicide rate in their country is among the highest in the world.  Death seems the only reasonable escape from a life too painful to live.

I don’t often venture into the world of fiction. I find it too captivating, too time consuming for the value gained, and too distracting from real life.  But the due date is tomorrow and the story is not quite resolved.  Will the main characters commit suicide?  Will hope arise from some unseen quarter?  Will the author give convincing evidence that Zen Buddhism is the answer to the despair that consumes her characters? 

In one sense this ‘read’ has been like an overdose of junk food, which spoils the appetite without nourishing the body.  In its offering of novelty and the knowledge of evil it has been a distraction for me from the Words of Life I am committed to living by. But it is no substitute.   It’s just the story of the Garden all over again.  The author has a thinly masked agenda.  Her storyline  is her means of proposing a better way to live-- Life is painful and confusing; God’s not noticing; try this-- and she elaborates on the virtues and methods of Zen Buddhism ad nauseum throughout her story. It is a classic case of ‘the way which seems right to a man’  but only leads to death. 

But I don’t intend a book review here. In fact despite its being a well written and researched book I won’t recommend it. But what it has done for me in the end is to send me running back to the Word for refreshment.  Too much junk food is too much.  There are no answers here, no hope, no joy.  I’ve been struck by the contrast of worlds.  I live known and loved and prone to taking this for granted.  The story has reminded me that this is not a given.  Whole cultures, whole countries of people whom God has created to know and love Him,  are ignorant of this reality.  They are in need of the hope that is only found in the God of the Bible.  Though initially my reading of (or in this case, listening to) this book suppressed my appetite for the Ultimate Story.  In the end it has sent me running back for the water of the Word. It washes off the sliming of human words and it refreshes me more deeply than human words can ever do.

Before I got out of bed this morning I sat and read life-giving Words because I didn’t want to start the day without them. Junk food doesn’t satisfy the appetite it provokes.  Only real Food can do that.
I find in the Bible the ‘God of hope’ reaching out His hands to a people who ‘walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually…’.  (Is.65).  My mind flits back to the story I’ve been reading.

‘Here am I, here am I’ God calls.

I turn to Job where he confirms that there is no hope for the godless but that the fear of the Lord is the path of wisdom, and that turning away from evil is the essence of understanding.  No amount of empty meditation will enlighten in this way. (Job 27,28)

In the pages of this Story, God Most High Possessor of heaven and earth, befriends man.  He shows Himself to be the only justifiable cause for fear and at the same time allays man’s fear: “Fear not, I am your shield and very great reward” (Gen.15). 

He rescues man from slavery and death and turns the curses against him into a blessing.(Deut.23,24) 

He pens man’s name in the Lamb’s book of Life not based on anything he can do or has done, but based on faith. (Rev.20,21)

In these pages the ‘God of hope’ introduces Himself  to mankind.  He freely reveals the Truth by which those who believe are filled with peace and joy. Then He gives His own indwelling Spirit as an eternal fountain of hope. (Rom.15)

It doesn’t matter where in these pages I turn.  There is always hope.  Here is the Story that will outlive even the best of classics.  Here are words of truth and life that make for the best summer eating!

So I commend to you this summer as you find time to relax and to read, let the Words of God be your constant companion and commentary on the words of man. Let the words of man remind you of the lostness and confusion of man without God.  Let them fuel your prayers for the lost and for those who write and speak the Words of Life into all the lost cultures of our world.  But may the words of man always drive you back to the everlasting solace of the true and living Words of God.  Then they will not have been a waste of time.


“I have given them your Word and the world has hated them because they are not of the world...” --Jesus (John 17:14)

"...as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for here, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word...Eph.5:26

Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly... Col.3:16

"All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls,  but the word of the Lord remains forever."  And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
I Pet.1:24,25


If you should need a reading plan, consider my suggestions at the ‘Just Read It’ tab on this blog’s home page. –LS