Gravity

The scatterer has come up against you. Man the ramparts; watch the road; dress for battle; collect all your strength. For the LORD is restoring the majesty of Jacob as the majesty of Israel, for plunderers have plundered them and ruined their branches. The shield of his mighty men is red; his soldiers are clothed in scarlet. The chariots come with flashing metal on the day he musters them; the cypress spears are brandished. The chariots race madly through the streets; they rush to and fro through the squares; they gleam like torches; they dart like lightning. He remembers his officers; they stumble as they go, they hasten to the wall; the siege tower is set up. The river gates are opened; the palace melts away; its mistress is stripped; she is carried off, her slave girls lamenting, moaning like doves and beating their breasts. Nineveh is like a pool whose waters run away. “Halt! Halt!” they cry, but none turns back. Plunder the silver, plunder the gold! There is no end of the treasure or of the wealth of all precious things. (Nahum 2:1-9 ESV). Very little is known about Nahum, but from his writing we gain a sense of his keen intellectual and literary abilities, his command of certain OT themes and literatures, and perhaps most importantly his love and humility before a gracious, holy and vengeful God. The Hebrew name Nahum means “compassion,” or “comfort” and is interesting in light of God’s promises throughout the book of comfort and deliverance for his people. They were hard times for the people of Israel. I’ve noticed that in hard times, people look for something to anchor them. They need something they can count on. May I suggest gravity? You can count on gravity. It never fails. A recent survey shows more Americans than ever claim “no religion.” Gravity may be all they can believe in. But gravity doesn’t take the heart very far. There are better options for people anxious to know if there’s anything more than death in the end. Not for people in Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire. For them, the scatterer is coming. Their best efforts are as hopeless as defying gravity. Do all you may, Nahum says. Run to your battle stations (v. 1). Put extra metal plating on your chariots. Call out your elite troops. Go ahead. Run to your weapons, practice your drills (vv. 3-5). The prophet knew that Nineveh was finished, like a pool leaking water (v. 8). God’s plan, not technology or empire, was the sure and certain future for human history. What an incredible message for our day. When people have begun to live by “an abundance of caution” there is a better option. God’s love is our hope when life is scary. Our hope comes from knowing that the “Scatterer” is also the “Gatherer,” the Lord who makes safe the way of all who are his chosen children. Don’t be afraid. God is near, and in...

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The Morning After

Thus says the LORD, “Though they are at full strength and many, they will be cut down and pass away. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart.” The LORD has given commandment about you: “No more shall your name be perpetuated; from the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the metal image. I will make your grave, for you are vile.” Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off. (Nahum 1:12-15 ESV). I love this little verse tucked away into this prophecy, Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! It is an evocative image. Here we see a traveler through a rugged mountain trail with one purpose. He is bringing news of peace. We do not know the intended identity of this herald. It could have been a prophet, although we should remember the prophets were not known primarily for bringing peace. They were best known for their words of judgment. Every prophet had a warning. Sometimes their listeners had time to respond and save the day, sometimes not. It is true that the prophets included the good news that God was rich in mercy and full of steadfast love, peace was the prophets’ last word. I think it is best to see this reference as the Messiah. Peace with God was the reason Jesus came. The peace he offered was freedom from fear and friendship with God. He warned plenty, but at the end, his message was one of peace (cf. John 14:27). If it is indeed a picture of Jesus, then we see even more clearly the call for us to be such messengers. We all can be. This is not a call to special missions or vocational ministry. It is a simple call for us to bring good news while we are walking the path through the mountains of our journey. Whether our journey takes us through the mountains of the corporate world, the halls of our schools, the world of healthcare, construction, industry, or any one of dozens of other occupation, the gospel of peace should be there too. Our life’s trail should be strewn with seeds of peace. Our great calling is to give a word of care here, a piece of wise advice there, a testimony to the love of Jesus in your heart, shared freely with friends and strangers along the way. These are the blessings of a life saved from the destruction of sin. The Apostle Paul put it this way:   How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15 ESV).   Begin to think about being such a messenger as we face the opportunity of a New...

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Merry Christmas!

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:14-18 ESV). Merry Christmas! I hope today brings you the best of the Holy Day. I have chosen a reading from the Gospel of John. That may seem a bit odd since John does not mention the birth of Jesus as do Matthew and Luke. John chose to begin at the creation. If we were to read from the beginning of the book, we would see that Jesus was the Creator. It was His word that was spoken that brought everything into existence. It is John’s way of helping us to understand that Jesus did not become God after His birth. He was always God, eternally. That great God, however, did take on flesh. He became man. So, the fourth voice in our chorus of gospel witnesses belongs to John, the disciple whom Jesus loved; and, in nine short words he tells us of the mystery of the incarnation. And the Word became flesh and lived among us. These are the most encouraging words within the story of Jesus. To a youngster maliciously left out of the crowd, the Gospel writer urges us to say, And the Word became flesh and lived among us… To an elderly person painfully put in the home, the Gospel writer urges us to say, And the Word became flesh and lived among us… To a mother holding a starving child, helpless to cut the edge of her hunger, the Gospel writer urges us to say, And the Word became flesh and lived among us… To everyone, everywhere, the Gospel writer urges us to say, And the Word became flesh and lived among us… John Calvin, the spiritual forbearer of many in the Reformed tradition, writes this in a beautiful section of The Institutes of the Christian Religion: “Since we see that so great a store of every good thing abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain and from no other!” Indeed, if my hope for you is the best of this Holy Day, then we must begin at this great beginning. Jesus came to his own; he became one of his own. Jesus became flesh so that his death would be sufficient to pay our debt in exchange for eternal life. That is the best gift anyone could possibly receive! Merry...

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Christmas Eve

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14 ESV). While I am writing this Morning Devotional a few days before Christmas Eve, I anticipate being with all of our children and grandchildren by Christmas Eve. The plan is for everyone to gather in Texas. Most of them are already there, so really it is just a matter of Mary and I, along with Aaron, to travel to be with the others. It’s always a little strange to be geographically separated from them. We talk and Face Time, but somehow it’s not quite the same as being there. So much happens in between the conversations that we miss so much. That thought brings me to today’s reading. A New Yorker cartoon showed a husband standing in the kitchen, reading a note from his wife. The note said: “While you were out I won the lottery, shed 40 pounds, wrote a novel, and the kids and I moved to a villa in the south of France. Dinner’s in the fridge.” I wonder sometimes about being “out” when the important stuff happens. You’ve had this feeling. The kids grew up when you weren’t looking. Significant events came and went, and you missed them. This happened because they seemed so insignificant at the time. Those little things were innocuous at the moment. Well, let me ask you, How about Christmas? Are you going to experience Christmas this year, or will it happen while you’re out? Some folks work strenuously to make Christmas meaningful by decorating and baking, buying presents, and sending cards only to flop in a chair on Christmas night, frazzled and exhausted. Christmas happened, and they missed it. You can’t buy a meaningful Christmas. You can’t arrange it. You can’t make it happen. Christmas is a gift; you either receive it, or you don’t. So, let me make a few suggestions for you this Christmas. First, find a nice, quiet place to sit. Read the Christmas story. Then, just sit, breathe deep, be still, and receive the Christmas gift you most need, but seldom think to ask for, God himself. Second, find a way to gather your children, your grandchildren, and the people who mean so much to you; and then, sit with them. Listen to them as they talk and laugh. Share with them the stories of your history and family. Let Christ pour from you his grace. Let God cement a memory within you and them that will last a...

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Traveling Home

By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! (Psalm 137:1-6 ESV). We have been very fortunate to have had many “homes” over the years. These were not geographical locations as much as they were the places our family had settled for a time. Today Mary and I are traveling from Tennessee to Texas for the holidays. It won’t be long until we make that trip for one last time and relocate to Texas. Of course we are looking forward to being in that area because of the close proximity it will provide to our children and grandchildren. When we move back to Texas, all but our youngest son, Aaron will be within minutes of our house. Grandma and Grandpa will have lots of opportunity to be with Faith, Logan, and Maggie! However, even then, we will not be “home.” Our home is in heaven. This is the real backdrop of our reading today. The Babylonians had forced exiled Jews to sing the hymns of their homeland. “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” they taunted. What a painful, humiliating ordeal. “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” asks the psalmist. It was a cruel taunt because they didn’t really understand yet that their real home was not Jerusalem, but heaven. This is the message of Christmas. There is another issue however. We ought to ask ourselves whether we can sing happy songs when you’re feeling down; or, when circumstances change, does our faith go with us and support us in new circumstances; or, does our faith dry up and die when circumstances change for the worse? It doesn’t have to. God has shown us a better way to deal with all the challenges of life. Maybe you have been exiled to a “foreign land.” It may have been the loss of a spouse, or a child; it may have been an illness or injury. You may still live in the same house on the same street, but everything is different. Your circumstances may have changed, but God hasn’t changed. Even in our times of frustration and failure, God is leading us still. Even in our times of suffering and pain God still loves us the same. It is hard to sing the Lord’s song in our exile. However, the key is to remember that God has shown us the way by the birth of Jesus. Remember, He came to us. We did not need to travel to him. God sent his only begotten Son that we could know how to get home. No wonder Jesus encourages his disciples at the supper by telling them not to be upset. He is going to go and prepare their place with him and come again to take them home once and for...

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Black Sheep and Crooked Branches

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. (Matthew 1:17 ESV). Some of you have heard me talk about my family tree. It is “colorful” to say the least. There are some black sheep and crooked branches in it to be sure. The more research we do, the more we find other interesting things about some of the individuals who grew up in Sicily and Italy long before my grandparents immigrated to this country. The wonderful truth about the Bible is it’s tenacity to tell the whole truth. We see this in Matthew’s genealogy. At first glance it reads like a page in the telephone directory. There are a lot of names and some may be thought if as nice people, but most of them don’t really mean anything to us. This is surely the least read part of the Christmas story. Children don’t recite it in the Sunday school Christmas program; it’s never sung in any carols. A biblical genealogy is like your appendix, there’s no denying it’s there, but it’s hard to say what it’s good for. That couldn’t be further from the truth. When we look closely at some of the names we see it is like most of our families. It’s varied with wicked and godly people, men and women, and Jews and gentiles. There is no racial purity or moral superiority in God’s family tree. Wherever people may have gotten their desire to keep their families or communities “uncontaminated” by those who are different, they didn’t get it from God. If you study these names in detail, it’s almost as if God has pulled together a rogue’s gallery. I’ve already said that we don’t know about every person on this list. But of the ones we know about, nearly all of them had notable moral failures on their spiritual resumes. For instance, Abraham lied about his wife Sarah. Isaac did the same thing. Jacob was a cheater, Judah a fornicator. David was an adulterer and Solomon was a polygamist. Manasseh was the most evil king Israel ever had. And on and on we could go. This is not a list of plaster saints. Some weren’t saints at all. The best of these men had flaws and some were so flawed that it is impossible to see their good points. This is such a clear revelation of the grace of God. Think about that. Most of these men were very great sinners. It should be a great encouragement to us that God doesn’t use just famous people to accomplish his purpose. Whoever we are, when we are willing, God will accept us. God will make something out of our life. After all, isn’t that why Jesus came into our world? The Christmas story is the story of Jesus coming so that regardless of whether we have black sheep or crooked branches in our family; or even if we are those black sheep or crooked branches, Jesus can forgive and use us to bring life to others through His work of...

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